November 2009 Web Edition Issue #3
A Less-Than-Shining Example—Part One (sigh)
I freakin’ love horror movie documentaries. And I can’t wait to tell you how much I love them. But first, I have to tell you about Fuckin’ Dave, Man. Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, I don’t mean that in the verbial sense, as in I’m fuckin’ Dave, man. No, Dave’s name, according to just about everyone who knew him, was Fuckin’ Dave, Man. As in, Geez, guess who just gave the weirdest description of a movie, ever? It was Fuckin’ Dave, Man. So, now that we’ve gotten that straight, let me tell you about Fuckin’ Dave, Man so I may then finally get to how much I love horror movie documentaries.
Fuckin’ Dave, Man is one of those guys who overanalyzes everything he’s ever watched or read. Sometimes, it’s not that annoying. But, more often than not, you want to drive him out to the desert, where no one will ever find his remains. When you first meet Fuckin’ Dave, Man, you attempt to prop up or topple his ramblings by stupidly engaging in a discussion. Soon, you are hoping for the sweet relief that only death will bring—either his or yours—and wishing upon all that is holy that you had just kept your damned mouth shut.
Two quick stories come to mind about Fuckin’ Dave, Man;
One sunny day, forty years ago, a friend of mine and I headed off to see Orca at the Cinemart Theater in Hamden, CT. Guess who we met there? Fuckin’ Dave, Man. We all sat together and watched this crap-fest unspool before our eyes. Later in the parking lot, we discussed, as proper geeks often do, our feelings about the flick. My friend didn’t like it and I full-out hated it. I thought it was worse than disgusting—I thought it was cruel. But take a good guess who uttered the line (and I’m not kidding, here) “Say what you will. But I found elements of Greek tragedy in that movie.”
Fuckin’ Dave, Man!
My friend and I stood there, silently seething and wishing for Dave’s fast, yet semi- painless, demise. Greek? Fucking? Tragedy? To this day I couldn’t find Greek tragedy in Orca if it was covered in tuna and I was a cat. And while it took us all of a year and a half to, again, find ourselves in the same theater with Fuckin’ Dave, Man, that’s just what happened at a special advance screening of George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, in the very beginning of 1979—about four months before the official release. And we actually sat together again.
We were watching and enjoying Romero’s fab fun ride, and digging the hell out of the fact that we were seeing it earlier than a lot of fans. Of course, Fuckin’ Dave Man would occasionally spew out his pearls of wisdom, (“Romero is commenting on the state of our collapsing economy, here”) and my friend and I would just roll our eyes to the point that I’d occasionally see the inside of my own head. Suddenly, as a zombie was unsuccessfully navigating one of the mall’s escalators, the movie cut to an outdoor beach scene. Pretty much everyone in the audience kind of winced and started murmuring to the person or persons next to them. I looked at my friend and shrugged. In fact, the only one in the entire theater who just kept watching intently was… you guessed it… Fuckin’ Dave, Man. As my friend and I stared at him, he suddenly turned towards us and said, “You see, what Romero is attempting to do here is to juxtapose the new zombie world with the world we all used to enjoy before…”
Now I’m sure Fuckin’ Dave, Man would have prattled on for another five, or so, minutes if not for the fact that a God-like voice thundered from the theater P.A. system informing us that we would all be getting refunds due to the fact that the distributer had sent the wrong reel #3 and, instead we were going to get about 20 minutes of Malibu Beach (I think) and miss a whole shit ton of Dawn Of The Dead goodness. As it slowly sank in, Fuckin’ Dave, Man got quieter and quieter. I looked at him, trying not to miss a beat, and asked, “You were saying?”
That was the very last time, as Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead now enjoys its 38th Anniversary, that we sat in a theater with Fuckin’ Dave, Man. Chalk that up mostly to luck and the fact that none of us live in the same State anymore. But even if we did, I can promise you that record would still be intact. Because, if forced to, we would stake out every theater to make sure he was nowhere near, before we went in to take our seats about 18 seconds before the movie started.
Anyway, now that you are aware of Fuckin’ Dave, Man, we can finally get to… WTF? Nine hundred words already? Son of a bitch! I can’t believe it took me nine hundred words to describe Fuckin’ Dave, Man and I have no room left for the main reason I sat down to write, in the first place. All because of that idiot, my title; “A Less-Than-Shining Example” means absolutely dick and I’ll have to stick a Part One at the end of it. Which also means you’ll have to wait a month to find out what the hell “A Less-Than-Shining Example” has to do with anything. Crap!
Fuckin’ Dave, Man.
Until next ti… um… Part Two.[I will take this opportunity to note that I never told Schellbach he had to shut up at 900 words... No way am I taking' the heat for this.—Ed.]
The Night You Come Home With Him
We all saw those great commercials during the holidays. Grandma or Uncle Stan or the slightly off-putting neighbor Hildegarde, opens a gift and it’s that strange-looking goggle thingy that holds an iPhone sideways and makes the person who’s wearing it jump or laugh or scream or cry. We then get a tiny glimpse at what they are looking at. It’s the side of a cliff and, suddenly, we are there on the edge. We look left and right. We look up. Then, we gather our huevos and look down about 1,000 feet. As we begin to yak, we realize that this is an amazing invention that has the power to change both man and womankind. And a split second later, it hits you… This’ll be great for porn. Oh and please don’t bother telling me (or yourself, for that matter) that you didn’t go there. Cuz, I’m calling all sorts of bullshit. But I’m not here to talk about your very first thoughts. (From now on known as The Porn Thoughts.) I’m here to discuss your next thoughts;
How quickly can this thing take me inside of my favorite horror movie?
Now we’re talking, right?
I don’t know about you, but ever since I was a kid, I’ve fantasized what I would do if Leatherface, or The Wolf Man or Frankenstein’s creation were after me. Or what it would be like to dodge, then take out George A. Romero’s zombies or walkers from The Walking Dead. Can you imagine a controlled scare like that? You’re smack dab in the middle of the action. You can feel your heart racing as you and Father Merrin try to pray the Devil out of poor Regan without being overtaken by the Dark Lord. And as creepy and real as it feels, in the back of your mind, you know you are safe. Because, after all, that really is the magic of horror. Whether you’re reading, listening or watching, the best part of horror is getting the stuffing scared out of you while, at the same time, you know you’re actually safe in your living room or a movie theater.
For me, the problem with horror video games—and I’m speaking specifically about the zombie sub-genre—is that the game creators always ramp up the action as the game continues. But instead of just making higher levels contain more zombies—making it tougher to advance—they make up some kind of super zombies. Now, to non-horror fans, this next statement is going to sound a bit wonky, but if I’m playing a zombie game that I probably dropped around sixty bucks on, I want my zombie apocalypse to be as realistic as possible. I have no problem swallowing the fact that the dead have risen and are eating the flesh of the living. Just don’t force feed me any mega zombie that stands 6’ 7” carries a LARS rocket launcher on each arm and talks to me in a demonic voice, shit. Because as unlikely as it is that the dead will walk again, there is no way on God’s jolly green frickin’ Earth that any of that mega zombie shit is happening in my or anybody else’s, lifetime.
I always thought the original Dawn Of The Dead would make the perfect video game. You and a few of your friends are stuck in a mall. There are a smattering of zombies in there upon your arrival and you need to take them out. But others force their way in and the next thing you know, you’re up to your shorts in the walking dead. One after the other, your friends become corpse kibble and you need to escape from the mall via the helicopter on the roof. Simple, right? No stupid Zombi del Grande crap. Just a few zombies to fell at the beginning and a shitload at the end.
Well, soon, I won’t have to wait for someone to “invent” a game that is based on a nearly 40-year-old movie. This new technology will place me in the Monroeville Mall of 1978 and I’ll fend for myself, thank you very much. And if I screw the pooch, so be it. But I’ll climb right the hell over Peter and Francine’s living, dead or living-dead bodies to get on that chopper and get the heck out of Dodge… uh… Monroeville. The same goes for Halloween. Look, I love Laurie Strode as much as the next Geek. But if I’m teleported into that movie, I don’t have to outrun Michael Myers… I just have to outrun Laurie Strode.
I can’t count the number of horror and science fiction films I’d climb into if this new technology will be good enough to give me the chance. I would be on the Nostromo faster than feces through a fowl, even knowing that, as a whole, the crew doesn’t fare well. I would take on Hal, Colossus, even Deadites and do my very best not to get turned into a gelatin-based squeak toy. All I’m asking for is a chance to get a little closer to the things I love.
Look, I’m not asking for much. Some people can’t travel to the Grand Canyon or Great Lakes and they deserve to be able to see those sights as realistically as humanly possible. So how about a little somethin’ somethin’ for those of us who can travel anywhere except the places we really want to be?
Till next time…
An Optimistic Geek’s Guide to 2017
It may surprise some of you to learn that I am an optimist, by nature. That’s right—The guy who is quick to poo-poo a movie that’s still in pre-production or to tell you that some of our greatest directors have forgotten how to make good horror films is as optimistic as the day is long. And while I realize that many of you are feeling a bit, let’s say “tense” about the coming year, I’m here to tell you that good things are on the horizon… IF YOU’RE A GEEK.
Now before I begin, a word of warning; Please, I beg of you, don’t try this at home. Over the course of my 60-year life, I have attended many “You’re Too Optimistic To Be Sane” seminars and I also spent two full semesters at the prestigious, Internationally-known Institute Of Figuring Out Stuff ‘n Thangs. (I’ve got the emailed certificate to prove it.)
So, with politics the way they are, with the world in a collective tizzy, what, you ask, is there to be optimistic about?
LOST FILMS! To start, at least one lost film that us diehards have been aching to see, will be found in 2017. Growing up, I never thought I’d see films like The Monkey Talks, J.S. Dawley’s Frankenstein, Tarzan And The Golden Lion, and Two Arabian Knights—both with Boris Karloff in the cast—Incubus, The Ghoul, The Old Dark House, Mystery Of The Wax Museum… the list goes on and on. Well, guess what? All have been found over the years. Not only have I seen these once-thought-lost classics, I own copies of them in my home movie library. Now, I know what you’re thinking; Is 2017 the year someone is going to find that print of Lon Chaney, in London After Midnight? I’ve gazed into my crystal balls (They went crystal back in aught seven due to high pizza roll consumption) and I’m gonna say, “No”. But I hold out hope of seeing LAM before I punt the proverbial pail.
TOYS! Toys will be coming out in 2017. No, not toys for your kids. They have enough. Toys for ME! I mean us. Let’s face it, a few years ago, who thought there would be Batman (‘66) toys? Now, I can’t walk three feet without tripping over Burgess Meredith. (There’s a line you never think you’re going to use.) Even before the Batman Estate fiasco, who thought there would be Universal toys partnered with the Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney Estates? Yet, we’ve had stunning sculptures of some of our favorite horror scenes and stars—in some cases, lots of them—for more than a couple of years. We now have some of the coolest adult toys (minds out of the gutter, please) that have ever been created. And they’re being created for, and because of, us. We’ve got the money, we get the toys.
HORROR ON TV! Even with a great show like The Exorcist probably getting the axe by the time you’ve read this, if you like horror and dark stuff, you’ll get plenty of top notch goodness on TV next year. Television horror isn’t the embarrassment that it once was—mostly in the 90s and early 2Ks. In fact, the past few years have been a treasure trove of terror. Yes, the trend is slowly winding down, but my guess is that we’ll have some especially tasty dark delicacies to gnaw on, for at least a few more seasons. Even the not-quite-horror shows, like Fargo and Blacklist will give you that much-needed bleak tweak to get you through the cold Winter months.
BOOKS! They say that print is dead. Bullshit! I have to say that if I stopped buying books and magazine this very day, I’d have enough to buy an island by Sukkot! (You can remind me of this, if the zombie apocalypse begins after October 4th.) Yes, I have hundreds of horror and science fiction reference books in my library and just shy of a world class horror magazine collection. But I didn’t stop buying print when I got my kindle. My kindle is for novels. But reference books and horror magazine must be paper. (And yes, I do see the irony in the fact that you’re reading this column online.) Even though I can go to thousands of places on the web for that much-sought-after middle initial or release date, I enjoy the act of getting up from my desk, going to my reference shelves, finding that perfect book and thumbing through it to find the info I need. Sure, I realize that books are no more immune to errors than online sites. But books do feel more “real” to me. Besides, I also have the best Fail Safe on the planet. If I question my own memory and can’t find the answer I seek, I email it to Tom Weaver, to fact check me and then to Jessie Lilley to check the checks and smack it with her seal of approval. So, if after all that, I still take the big slide into Bonerville, I did all that I could do. I sent it to people much smarter than me. Look, print is God’s gift to us. Even when we have those Minority Report screens that magically appear in front of us and allow us to swipe our hands like we’re Judo Masters, books will be books will be books. And the act of turning a real paper page in a real paper book still gives me wood… No pun intended.
I completely understand that it isn’t easy being a fan of all things spooky and ooky. We lose Actors, Actresses, Writers and Artists every year—People who we grew up with. People who helped to form our fanhood. And let me tell you, 2016 was a bitch and three-quarters. Sadly, that is not going to change or even stay the same. It’s going to get worse. Because as we get older, they get older. But—and it’s a biggie—their work lives on in what we watch and what we read and in our memories. When I watch Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein, they are all still alive! Bud and Lou, Lon, Bela, Glenn, Vincent… all of them. Add House Of Frankenstein to the mix and you also get Boris, John, Lionel and George. And that’s only two movies! The history of horror lives in my house with me. It lives with you, too. It truly is “undying”, as long as people remember. Yeah, 2017 is going to be a weird one, for sure. Changes are a-comin’. But if you love the magical escape that being a fan of the macabre brings, you’ve got some pretty cool shit to be optimistic about.
Till next time…
Gore, But Not Forgotten
I miss gore—specifically R rated gore. Movie gore. I mention that because, now, I can get all the gore I want or need on TV. The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, and especially Ash vs Evil Dead and Stan Against Evil, are chockfull of the gooey stuff. Great for television, bad for moviemakers. Weird, because the R rating was designed with sex and gore in mind… Okay, mostly sex. Because it’s okay that little Billy see a woman eviscerated, as long as he can’t see her nipples. (That’s another battle. Back to our topic.) The R rating was invented to keep our virgin ears and eyes from hearing and seeing something that we shouldn’t and, in many cases, I agree with it. I mean, I’m not ready to show Lazaro, my ten-year-old grandson, Bernard Rose’s Candyman. Not because I think it will scar him for life, because it will probably scare the creamy nougat center out of him while, at the same time, messing up a few nights attempting to fall asleep in the dark. He’s not of that age yet. But when he is, oh, it’s on!
ASH VS EVIL DEAD
I was brought up on movies from the 30s, 40s and 50s. As filmed, they could be shown on TV. So, I got to see all the classics (with the very rare exception of the monster movies that were shot widescreen, at the tail end of that run) as they were intended to be seen. Most of the very best of them were made 10 to 25 years before I was born but they are as much a part of what makes me, me, as my dreamy but intense blue eyes. That said, I love horror movies from every decade. Yes, even the gory ones.
It’s not that I think gore makes a movie. It rarely does. But, when done right, it is the chunky frosting on the birthday cake—certainly in the case of John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s Scanners and The Fly, George A. Romero’s Day Of The Dead… you get the idea. These are all great films, with or without the red stuff. But in each case, the gore takes them to another level. Mind you, there have been many modern era (Post 1960s) horror films where the gore is mostly or completely implied—Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre come to mind—but, in my not-so-humble opinion, if great acting, great directing, great camerawork and great music are art forms then so is great gore. Face it, when a guy quite literally loses his head in a horror film and the fake head looks… well… fake, it takes you right out of the movie. Anything that slinks under the bar, distracts us from the journey on which the filmmakers are trying to take us.
SCANNERS | Cinemagraph from Network Awesone
In fact, I… I… Oh, I can’t let it go. I have to go back to that nudity vs gore thing. Back in the 80s, one of my best pals owned a mom and pop video store in Hamden, CT. Most of the time, during the weekdays, he ran this place alone. So, whenever I came for a visit to rent and talk ad nauseam about movies, if he needed to take a bathroom break, I’d stand behind the counter and pretend to know how to use the cash register. During one of his longer breaks, a woman came in and said, “What’s the scariest movie you have here?” She explained that her son was having a teen sleepover and she wanted something bloody and gooey. I suggested Day Of The Dead—but warned that the movie pushed the boundaries of gore like no other before it. After thinking for a moment, she asked, “Does it have nudity?” I told her that it didn’t. She perked up immediately and exclaimed, “Great! I’ll take it.” Her point being that she felt her teenage son could watch autopsy zombies get off a gurney and have the entire contents of their midsection cavity fall to the ground, but oh Lordy, Lordy, don’t let him see a pair of knockers. That would surely ruin him for life and send him to the place with all the fire, brimstone and, more than likely, Dots—you know, those candies that get so jammed in between your teeth that you need a jackhammer as an extraction tool, just to feel human again. Look, I have no problem with a teenage boy seeing the female body in all its splendor AND seeing the undead get their heads halved by a shovel. And I readily admit that decision should be left to the teen’s parents. But, come on! Nudity? Worse than gore? That’s one or two levels beyond “shit house rat” crazy.
DAY OF THE DEAD
Anyway, back to the splatter at hand.
For some strange reason, we have gone from R rated horror films in the 70s and 80s to PG-13 horror films in the 90s, till the present day. And the kickers is, it’s not because we’ve become desensitized to gore and, therefore, it only ranks a PG-13 in this day and age. If only…. No, filmmakers are actually making PG-13 horror films as a practice now. This way, they say, they can put the extras on the DVD and Blu-ray. Well, that’s just swell. So, I should pay the ten bucks to see your ball-less horror movie in the theater and when I end up giving it a big “Meh”, I should buy or rent it on disc to see if the uncut version makes it any better? Not bloody likely, my friend! If you can come up with films that don’t need gore, like the Insidious trilogy, that’s fine. But don’t you dare come out with an R-rated idea like Sinister and decide to put it out as anything else. Both Sinister and Insidious are great ideas and great horror films. But they are not interchangeable. And I, for one, am not going for the VeggieTales approach with the horror movies that need or desire to have that extra jolt. It just makes no sense to me.
I’m a big boy. I can take an extra squeeze of the ketchup bottle.
Until next time…
Do These Words Make Me Look Fat?
I started this column twice before today. It wasn’t that I hadn’t liked the subject matter—In fact, I had. It was more like the cosmos, or whatever you want to call it or them, weren’t lining up—Like the column itself, was waiting to pick this month’s subject. (Yeah, I know how that sounds.)
And then, my column did that very thing. (Yeah, I know how that sounds, too.)
For my first 35 years, I dealt with a waistline that fluctuated like the stock market. I was never huge. But I wasn’t rail thin either. I’d say I was, at any given point, ten to fifteen pounds above or below average. But never the same, month to month.
Growing up in a small town in the 1950s and 60s, I spent many a Summer’s day riding my Batcycle… um… bicycle, wearing my official Batman mask and my not-quite-as-official Batman cape. (okay, it was a towel) But when that part of my life came to an end, with the exception of Halloween, I never went back to wearing costumes, again. I hung up my towel for good. Fin.
Imagine my surprise the first time I attended a Star Trek convention, in ’72 or ’73 and saw people my age dressed up like crew members of the USS Enterprise. I wish I could say I was instantly mesmerized by the concept. But if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t get it at all. I remember turning to my best friend, Jon, and saying something akin to, “If I ever do this, please kill me.” He promised he would and that was that.
Over the next few years, I saw my fair share of 300 pound guys dressed like Captain Kirk. Was I finally enlightened? Once again, I wish I could say I was. But, it still didn’t make any sense to me. I mean, why are they dressing up like a 175lb guy if they weigh twice that? What was wrong with these people?
This isn’t easy to admit but it took way the hell too long for me to figure out that there was absolutely nothing wrong with them—everything that was wrong was inside of me. And the most embarrassing part was that I had forgotten how much fun it was for me to play Batman. Sure, my bike was red and white instead of the shiny black of the Batcycle. I didn’t have the strong physique of the Caped Crusader and, even worse, Johnny Porter; my neighbor and Boy Wonder, Robin, had no costume at all. But I was still Batman, damn it! I was Richard J. Schellbach’s version of Batman. Now, if I had been Neal Adams’ version of Batman I wouldn’t have even been in the ballpark. I was paying homage to everyone else’s Batman but I was my Batman and that was all that mattered… or should have mattered. And as Richard J. Schellbach’s Batman, I freakin’ nailed it!
I never did quite catch the bug to go to conventions dressed up as one of my favorite fictional characters. But I came to appreciate the true artistry and love involved in Cosplay. (a contraction of the words “costume” and “play”) And when I finally opened myself up to it, I realized that there is some truly amazing stuff out there. Since I became one of the enlightened, watching cosplayers has become another convention highlight. I used to go for the Media Guests, Authors, Writers and the Dealers Rooms. Now, whenever I can, I catch the Costume Contest. I also marvel at the fans who aren’t in it for the Contest—they just walk the convention floor and compare costumes with other cosplayers. They are part of a society, within our larger society of convention goers, and if you observe them, they are always, always, having a ball.
Now, I would have liked nothing better than to keep hidden the fact that I was so closed minded as to hate cosplay, in my early years. It’s absolutely nothing that I’m proud of. Shit, it embarrasses me to my core. So, you might wonder what happened to make me come out and help cement my place in history as a world class dimwit? Erica Dodd happened.
Who is Erica Dodd?
Why, she’s Bella Sparkles.
Okay, I realize that I’m not explaining this right. Bella Sparkles is an absolutely beautiful Star to her fans and a Master of Cosplay. And those of us who love, but do not participate in, cosplay know who she is and follow her escapades on a weekly basis.
And there, you have it.
Well, kind of. That explains Bella Sparkles but not Erica Dodd.
Bella Sparkles—who dresses up as so many fictional characters—is, herself, fictional. The fact is, Bella Sparkles; the cosplay celebrity, is played by Erica Dodd—a real, honest-to-goodness, no-kidding-around person. Now, while I follow Bella Sparkles on Facebook, I have just become Facebook friends with Erica. And, as many of you know, you score no points with me by crapping on my friends—Facebook or otherwise. Think I’m kidding? I voluntarily ended a nearly forty-year friendship because that “friend” of mine savaged my best friend, in print. This isn’t a subject I’m at all iffy about.
So when, a few weeks back, Bella Sparkles posted a photo of herself, dressed as Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn, and the Internet trolls started saying some truly nasty shit about the body type of my friend, Erica, compared to the body type of Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn, I got a tad rankled on myriad levels. First off, my ten to fifteen-pound fluctuating waistline, long ago hit the skids. I haven’t been considered to be on the minus side of normal in the better part of three decades. Make no mistake, I know what people think when they look at me. But I’ve yet to meet the man with the male fortitude to say it to my face. And although it would take three Erica Dodds to make one Richard J. Schellbach, the thought of her also going through that, just because she decides to cosplay a very cool character in an equally cool outfit, really knots up my junk. Erica’s Harley Quinn is amongst my all-time favorites and her weight doesn’t play into that decision in any shape, way or form.
Even when I used to roll my eyes at cosplayers, I would never have had the micro-balls to go up to one and say anything that might hurt their feelings. But because the Internet and, more to the point, social media takes away that face-to-face contact, people don’t need to steel themselves before they say anything. They can tear anybody down and stay the anonymous cowards that they really are. But cyber bullying is, in reality, just bullying. There is no place for it when it comes to shaming. Look, in a perfect world, it would be nice if we didn’t feel any prejudices at all—even in the dark recesses of our minds. But hoping for that perfect world scenario is like hoping that you can catch a unicorn by the scruff of its neck. About 99.9% of us feel something bad about someone for something they have no control over. That’s just the way it is. That said, we can do something about it. We can learn to not type and not talk! That’s right. That’s all it takes. You see, if you have a prejudice and you don’t treat that person or those people any differently than you treat everyone else—if you don’t deny them service, or call them out, or do anything to hurt them physically or mentally, or look at them sideways—then the only one that your prejudice is hurting, is you… And the second that happens is the precise second that I stop giving a shit about your—or anyone else’s—prejudices. It’s also my stance on drunk driving or anything else that is blatantly wrong. If you’re driving drunk and you wrap yourself around a majestic evergreen, I just don’t give a rat’s ass. But if anyone else gets hurt, then I’ve got a huge problem with your bad choices. Okay?
Good! Dear Offender, Let’s recap, shall we? When it comes to shaming, Erica Rocks And You Suck A Barrelful.
So, do us all a favor, the next time you see a cosplayer or anyone else who assaults your senses based solely on their weight, color, religion, height, handicap or any of the other things that mean absolutely zilch in the whole scheme of things, take it from me; just shut the fuck up. Pretend that no one cares what you think about the way people look. Because chances are, they don’t.
Until next time…
Important to Whom?
A long time ago, I learned to trust my gut—and a grand gut it is—when it comes to movies. Up until my mid-twenties, I still watched films that I was told I should see; classics like Lawrence Of Arabia, Gone With The Wind, etc. Back then, until the advent of home video, it was a hell of a lot tougher to see older classics. Many times, I would have to travel to different parts of Connecticut, New York and once, even Massachusetts (!) to obscure colleges in order to see late night showings of some of the non-genre classics that I had missed on television, over the years. (Mostly due to the fact that I was spending my TV viewing time cramming as many crawling eyes, creeping terrors and shrinking humans into my cranium as was humanly possible and there was just no room left for mundane things like Lewis, Clark, Stanley and/or Livingstone and all wars fought before 1940.) And in each and every case, on the long drive home, I found myself feeling disappointed in what I had travelled so far to see. Yes, after Major Dundee! Yes, after Grand Illusion!! Yes, after Spartacus!!! (I’ll stop, as I’m sure some of you are actually weeping, at this point.) I can’t remember what event did it for me—possibly the nearly four hours it took to sit through Gone With The Wind on vhs when I could have watched The Raven, The Black Cat, The Mask Of Fu Manchu and The Unknown in roughly the same amount of time—but when it did finally hit me, it really laid me out. (Cue the Alec Guinness voiceover) “Use the gut, Luk… er… Rich. The gut will be with you, always.” The truth is, I didn’t have an ounce of wood to see any of those classics, to begin with. Being an exuberant student of the movies, I gave in to seeking out certain films because I “should” see them. And while, at the beginning of my tutelage, I can understand that, to an extent, anything I watched in some way added to my knowledge, over time I learned that if I had absolutely no desire to see something, I should avoid it. Trusting one’s feelings is a learning process. It doesn’t often let one down.
I’m a simple guy. (No, not a simpleton.) For the most part, I like comedies, superhero flicks, spaghetti westerns, film noir, post WWI war films and anything that has Liam Neeson or Jason Statham kicking the living bunny pellets out of a bunch of asswipes. But, as I’m sure you can guess, more than anything else I love horror and science fiction movies. Pretty much the only period pieces I like were made by Hammer Studios and I’d rather drink radiator fluid than watch even a second of an historical movie, unless Boris Karloff or Vincent Price are in it.
Now, I swear to you that I don’t think Gone With The Wind or any of the other classics I mentioned are bad, or even average films. But they’re not for me.
I find it funny that no one suggests that someone watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre if they say that they don’t like horror movies. Yet the second some people learn that I’m not big on MGM musicals (save for Singing In The Rain) they say, “That’s because you haven’t seen Anchors Aweigh.” Look, I totally get that it’s a great musical from a bygone era and I’m sure fans had a blast watching it. I’m also aware that the talent of all involved is second to none… BUT, I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANCHORS AWEIGH! In fact, I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to movies, I would rather watch The Human Centipede than a classic like Easter Parade. (And you can stop judging me, right this damned minute!)
Since I turned thirty, then forty, fifty and, now, sixty, I’ve come to the realization that I have seen a good portion of the movies I want to see. But what made the first thirty years of my life different than the last is that, back then, I also saw a good portion of the movies I didn’t want to see. Not anymore. And believe me, it’s been bliss. No more “important” movies, like Twelve Years A Slave, My Left Foot, Gandhi and the rest of the top entries in history’s Snooze-a-palooza Film Fest. I’m out. So-called “important” movies are given way too much… um… well… import in this world, anyway. Do you know what films were important in my life? Universal and Hammer horrors, Karloff, Price, Cushing and Lee films, Jaws and Star Wars and Alien, along with Hitchcock, Brooks, Whale, Romero, Browning and Carpenter movies… The films that brought me to my feet. The ones that excited the kid in me, no matter what age I was at the time. Horse Feathers and Arsenic & Old Lace made me laugh. Night Of The Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre scared me to the point of making mookie-stinks in my shorts. Man On Fire and Taken made me giggle with glee. (I love a good comeuppance. I’m dark that way.) Those movies not only made me emote, they gave me reasons to cheer the art of filmmaking and the people who gave me what I truly needed. They didn’t have to teach me about slavery, genocide, child or animal abuse. I know they exist and they are abominations. I’m not the one who needs the lesson. The folks who need the lesson wouldn’t be caught dead watching Amistad, Schindler’s List or Equus. They’d rather live them. No, I want my movies to take me away to a place where my mind can play in fields of vampires, werewolves and zombies—while saucers and spaceships fly overhead and hobbits dwell below. And I have absolutely no problem staying there for the rest of my days. Wanna come too? Just click your heels together and repeat after me;
“I know what I like. I like what I like. I watch what I like. Now, piss off!”
Until next time…
You’ve finally taken enough time off from your busy day-to-day insanity to head to the theater and squeeze in the latest blockbuster. Yay you! And now, you’re more excited than anyone has the right to be at a movie. Sure, you used to go to the movies at least once a week but lately, the rigors of everyday life have sucked any entertainment out of your weekly schedule, save from plopping down on the couch in your sweatpants—you know, the ones with that stain—and watching the latest installment of abhorrent behavior from the “Hausfraus Of East Bumfuk”. But now, you’re back! Taking your seat in the darkened theater, you plunk down a trough of Mr Pibb in your lap and you are ready, steady, go for a good time.
Now, I realize the days of a movie theater usher being able to do anything, whatsoever, about unruly patrons are long over but at least theater chain bosses and theater owners post a slide on the screen before the coming attractions that reads something like;
“Dear inconsiderate assholes,
Please refrain from texting and/or talking on your phone during tonight’s entertainment. I know this is a pioneering concept but everyone who isn’t you, is trying to enjoy those little jiggly, flickering images on the screen.
The Management” (I may have paraphrased, slightly)
And while it isn’t much, at least it was something.
In April 2016, the head honcho of AMC Entertainment, Adam Aron, pissed off a whole lot of moviegoers by suggesting that he would consider allowing patrons to text once the lights went down and the show started. In part, his statement to Variety was; "When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don't ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow. You can't tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That's not how they live their life."
Well, Mr. Aron, under that batshit crazy line of thinking, the next time I go to the airport, I hope my driver isn’t 22. Same goes for the airline’s pilot and co-pilot. Should the same rules apply to the legitimate stage? Because I have to tell you that if texting was a thing back in 1988, when I paid $600.00 for a pair of tickets to see Phantom Of The Opera on Broadway, so Eileen and I could enjoy one of Michael Crawford’s final performances in New York, and somebody had tried that shit, I promise you that a team of surgeons would have labored for hours to remove said phone from the offender’s sphincter and I’d, most likely, still be in prison.
And touching on that, a couple of years back, just a few hours North of where I live, a man got shot and killed for texting during a movie. And while everyone and their mother commented on the violence that ensued after the texting, I heard no one mention anything about the act that appeared to set off the outcome. What took place was a retired police officer, Curtis Reeves, was bothered by Chad Oulson’s texting during a movie. Reeves got up, told management. Nothing happened. He returned to his seat, an argument about the texting took place, Oulson reportedly threw a bag of popcorn at Reeves and Reeves shot Oulson. Now before we go any further, let me state for the record that, no, I don’t think this inconsiderate moron, who was texting in a darkened theater, should have been killed for it. And no, I don’t think anyone should go to that extreme—that deadly force should only be used against the fear of death and/or bodily injury. But let’s be honest, all the righteous indignation was really about the gun. If, instead of using a gun, the shooter had punched the victim, rearranging his teeth and sending him for a couple thousand dollars, worth of dental work, most of us would have applauded the action. The guy who was texting was clearly being an ass-hat—not caring if he was ruining someone else’s good time and the shooter went way overboard. Again, I’m not condoning that part of it. But ask yourself, would Chad Oulson be dead if he had never been so inconsiderate as to text in a movie theater while the show was on? I’m going to go out on a limb and say, “no”.
Above photo from ScreenRant.
Now, getting back to Adam Aron’s idiotic suggestion that he can’t ask young people to stop texting because they don’t feel they can live without constantly using their phones-it took less than two days (I’m thinking less than two hours) for Mr. Aron to come to his senses, due to social media pressure, and state for the record;
“With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theaters. Not today, not tomorrow, and not in the foreseeable future.”
So, why did it come to this. Well, theaters are losing money faster than feces through a fowl. Better quality home equipment, Redbox, hundreds of cable channels, streaming, and not having to hire a babysitter, make staying home a much better option for most folks. So, to bring in the young crowd, Theater Owners, Managers and other higher ups will do just about anything short of happy ending massages, to appease them. And I wouldn’t entirely count that out, in the not-too-distant future. What they somehow fail to realize is that by allowing people to text or talk on their cellphones, all they’re really doing is keeping the people who don’t care about movies and alienating the patrons who want to see a movie on the big screen and would prefer going out to get their movie fix. Let’s face it, texters don’t give a shit whether they are in a movie seat or their couch at home. Fadists aren’t going to save the movie theaters, the Faithful are.
So when next you find yourself in a movie theater and you do anything with your phone, except to turn it off or switch it to silent mode, ask yourself if you really want to be that dickwad and risk getting your nose relocated… or worse.
Till next time…
Back in the dark ages, when I was just a kid, we had four ways to watch movies; Drive-ins, indoor theaters, home projectors that showed 8mm, Super 8mm or 16mm films and, of course, television.
Drive-ins were the best because the screen was huge and watching horror films outside made them much scarier. They also tended to show two or three movies to their buck-a-carload mobile audiences. Mind you, if it rained, you were shit outta luck. The sound (if you can even call it that) that emanated from those tiny cast aluminum window speakers was abysmal and the food was barf-inducing. Hell, it didn’t even look good in those concession stand commercials and commercials can make penny loafers look edible. Still, it was tough to pass up a massive screen that made Godzilla look to be the size of… well… Godzilla.
If you didn’t have a driver’s license or, like me, couldn’t stand watching horror movies in the 93° Connecticut summer heat while, simultaneously, attempting to swat away mosquitoes that were roughly the size of canned hams, you had good old fashioned movie theaters. The screens were a tad smaller than drive-ins but back before the multiplexes, even the small neighborhood theaters had pretty substantial screens. The sound was better, as was the food – if only a wee bit. And if that wasn’t enough, theaters were air conditioned! Growing up, these theaters were my churches. They were where I went to kneel at the feet of the Almighty Films. Collectively, they were like a second home.
Home projectors were a bit different. Not everyone had them and most families, if they were lucky enough, went the 8mm and Super 8mm route, instead of the much clearer and better 16mm. That said, home movie projectors were very cool. The screen was as big as the sheet you hung on the wall. My parents slept in a king size bed, so I had my own version of “This Is Cinerama!” (well sort of) in the den of our house. There we showed Castle and Ken Films’ condensations of some of our favorite horror films. Sure, ours were silent with awful subtitles but we had such fun watching. Oh, and the snacks were great!
Last but not least, was the television. I think the screen on our first TV was 12”. Since I was born in the “tri-state area” we got a fair amount of channels out of New Haven and New York. So, even though the screen size kept me squinting through my early teens, I had my choice of roughly a half dozen horror movies (or “Melodramas,” as they were called in the TV Guide) every weekend.
Jump ahead a quarter of a century and we had 25” screens on our heavier-than-a-Buick televisions and we could watch tons of horror flicks due to the proliferation of cable TV and videotapes. Another quarter of a century has brought us 80-plus inch High Definition TVs, streaming content and DVD/Blu-Ray discs. In plain words, the picture and sound quality of what we have at home is, in many ways, superior to what we watched on movie screens, as kids. If we follow the path we are on, it’s only going to get better.
Somewhere along the line, the size of the screen on which we watch our content zigged, instead of zagged in a big (or, more to the point, a small) way. The tech companies began telling you to take your favorite shows with you. They gave us tablets, smart phones and video watches. Now, instead of having your car take you to the movies, you can watch those same movies in your car. And while we still have the technology for bigger and better, the younger generations—in my case, there are two that are younger than mine—are watching their content on the go. And, I’m sorry to say, that drives me bonkers! Now, I’m not talking about the casual viewers here. I mean those who supposedly love movies. I don’t that they do… I just doubt their levels of sanity.
Let’s face it, there’s little to no chance that Directors like Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton and others, who love to use the entire screen, are thinking to themselves, “Gee, I can’t wait till Becky Sue and her hipster boyfriend, Bryce, watch this on their freakin’ iPhone.” I mean, come on! Movies are, in every way, a BIG deal and the thought that anyone would routinely watch one (even a small-in-scope film, like “Saw”) on something that has a screen smaller than my… well, it makes my nose hair stand on end.
People, unless this is a matter of economics, we need to stop this madness. If the box your television came in can’t double as your coffin, something is drastically wrong. The extra large size of home screens is something we’ve been moving towards since the late forties and if you, or anyone you know is planning on watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on anything where they need an electron microscope to see the opening crawl, please do us all a favor and turn them in to the proper authorities. You’ll be glad you did.
Till next time…
This is my first column in a while. Minor surgery, which felt much more major than I was led to believe it would, had me sidelined for a bit. But I’m back—sans gland—just in time to thank George Lucas for a couple of things.
STAR WARS: Old Friends...
For the record, I loved the original Star Wars trilogy. By that I mean Episodes IV, V and (to a slightly lesser extent) VI. Oh, and just to get a tad more concise, I am talking about the theatrical cuts—before Lucas proved to the world that he was as addicted to screwing with his movies as Michael Jackson was addicted to screwing with his face. My favorites, in order, are The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope and Return Of The Jedi. Jedi is third because of those damnable Ewoks and that ridiculous all-is-forgiven end shot of the “ghost of Vader past” standing next to Obi-Wan and Yoda. Yeah, sure, DV blew an entire world to space dust, for Alderan reasons… but he’s not really such a bad guy. Hell, why wasn’t Joseph McCarthy in there, too. Thanks, George, for that kumbay-odd cinematic moment.
In 1999, George took control of the reigns, returned to directing and gave us Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace—or, as I like to call it Jim Henson’s Vader Babies. Why in Sweet Chocolate Jesus’ name he thought we gave two shits about what that incorrigible little cutie patootie, Darth “I’ll kill your ass in a second” Vader, was like as a kid is completely beyond me. I kept thinking that if the little bugger had just hit a boulder, during the Podrace, millions of lives would have been saved and we would have had the distinct pleasure of seeing Cabbage Patch Vader burnt to a freakin’ cinder. Oh well. At least The Phantom Menace gave us one of the most fleshed out characters in Star Wars history, Stepin Fet… umm… I mean Jar Jar Binks. Thanks George. What’s next; “Amos And Jar Jar”?
2002 brought Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones—an even longer film about characters and battles that you don’t really give a rat’s ass about. Thankfully, gone was Jake Lloyd as Strawberry ShortVader. In other good news, there is less Jar-Jar to go around. And that’s always a good thing. Speaking of ethnic stereotypes, Watto (who was introduced in SWI:TPM) again shows up as Central Casting’s Mid-Easterner from every 1930’s movie ever made. Let’s face it, sidekick subtlety has never been one of George’s strong points. Thanks George. The general hatred for Watto is the only thing both Arabs and Jews have agreed on in centuries.
SWII: AOTC at least has a plot—flimsy as it may be—that Star Wars fans can care more about than Tiny Toon Vader’s sandlot shenanigans. When I saw Darth Vader for the first time, in SWIV: A New Hope, I didn’t automatically wonder if he had ever experienced forbidden love. (I’m guessing most of you didn’t, either.) And although we needed to show why he and Padme met and did the horizontal lightsaber, resulting in the births of Luke and Leia, I really didn’t care much about the journey because in Episodes I, II and III, George cared much more about the look (merchandising) and considerably less about characterization. Strange, because the main reason for my deep love of Episodes IV, V, VI, and American Graffiti comes from strong characters.
The end to our pain and suffering came in 2005, with the release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith—which is considered by many to be the best movie of the trilogy, which is a bit like saying that if you’re going to contract measles, German measles is the best form to have. In any other universe, it might have been king. But this is Star Wars, folks. And if you’re a fan, you deserve that extra notch or two. Thanks, George, for giving us Styrofoam instead of steel.
The truly sad part about I, II and III is the amount of amazing talent that deserved better movies. If you had asked me for a wish list of who I wanted in the Star Wars universe, Sir Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson, Terence Stamp, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman… would all be actors high on that list. I just wish they had more meat to chew on. Let’s face it, as a meal, Episodes I, II and III are a bit on the lean side.
Which brings me to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which could have been called The Franchise Awakens, The Productivity Awakens, The Quality Awakens, The Movie-making Awakens… Or any other name that shows that, in the right hands, anything is possible. And what makes it different for any other Star Wars?
The Force Awakens was the first time since 1983 that I was not only excited to be in the theater to watch Star Wars, it was the first time I was pumped, just to be waiting in line. For JJ Abrams, the trick was going to be blending the old cast with the new and to get back to a feeling that what’s on the screen is really taking place, in front of your eyes. And since the preceding three movies only had something practical in a scene when there was an actual actor in the shot, JJ’s harkening back to the time of practical effects and real stunts was the perfect way to go. I loved the story telling, the old and the new mythology and the real character exchanges enough to make SW VII my third favorite film of the series. I honestly like the new characters as much as the old ones. Not an easy feat. Mind you, if you had told me 33 years ago that I would have welcomed George Lucas stepping away from the franchise and Disney taking over, I would have asked you what you were smoking, how much it cost and where I could get some. Say what you will about The Mouse—I can damn sure guarantee you that they want this franchise to make a gazillion bucks—and to make that happen, they will listen to the fans and hire the people who can make their dreams come true. Disney is all about the Almighty $$$, which is why, for the first time in a long time, I feel I can safely say that we will get a Blu-Ray release of Episode IV, V and VI’s “theatrical” cuts so we can make those “I-screwed-with-your-childhood” Special Editions the beer coasters they deserve to be.
So, George, after admittedly taking this column to the Snark Side, (sorry, I can’t help myself) I find myself wondering if the bad—and there was a ton of it—outweighs the good or if it isn’t really the other way around. I mean, you sold the Star Wars franchise for what amounts to the gross national product of Zimbabwe and did some fantastic things with the money, by donating the 4 billion dollars to Education. You also gave Star Wars to people who actually want to make fans happy. Your second trilogy might have sucked major muck, but what I will never take away from you is the creation of the amazing Star Wars universe and the fact that, with the exception of one or two epic fails, you gave us a group of now-legendary characters to root for. And in the whole scheme of things, rooting for and against movie characters is what makes film watching so magical. You know, when it comes right down to it, I keep thinking of my 21, 24 and 27 year old selves, sitting in the theater and being submersed in the excitement and spectacle of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. And for all of that, I’d like to say, thanks George.
Till next time…
Please DON'T Watch
Series Premiere Sunday, August 23, 2015 at 9:00 PM on AMC
Didn’t expect that title did ya? Well, I’m trying to make a point, here. And, as happens most months, it’ll probably take me about 900 words to get to it.
I began reading Kirkman’s and Moore’s comic, The Walking Dead back in 2003, when issue #1 hit the stands. I instantly loved it because of the characters. The walkers were but icing on that wonderful cake. You see, I love zombies and the comic, if successful, promised to be the zombie story that never ends—that is, until Kirkman is through with it. But the main reason to read the comic is for those great multi-dimensional characters. So, when AMC brought The Walking Dead into our living rooms, on Halloween night, 2010, I felt it had some huge shoes to fill. To me, the series achieved that as soon as Rick Grimes went back to that park, found the bicycle zombie, said “I’m sorry this happened to you.” and shot it in the head to end its torture. Since then I’ve been an avid fan of the show while continuing to read the comic. I find it pretty cool to have alternate Walking Dead universes where a character lives in the show and dies in the book… or vice versa. But as cool as that is, it leads to constant speculation by folks on the web who claim to be running “spoiler” sites that are, in actuality, full of comic readers who still, after five full seasons, think they have insight to the series just because they read the comics. No real on-the-set reports or script pages. Just guys who think that because one will go one way, the other will take the same path. Thankfully, the powers that be knew enough not to have it work out that way. I can’t imagine watching a series in which I know outcomes before they happen. Really, why bother?
Lorenzo James Henrie as Chris Manawa in AMC's Fear the Walking Dead
Well, I’ve got some bad news for the comic book enthusiasts who season after season go all Carnac The Magnificent on AMC’s The Walking Dead; the show’s brand new spinoff, Fear The Walking Dead is just hours away and it’s based on NOTHING from the past. That’s right, no twelve year, twelve month or even twelve day comic book history to this baby. This is ALL NEW! The only hints out there are the ones you can catch yourself from the trailers and teasers and the little bit released in various print articles. You don’t get to compare plotlines, characters’ back stories, characters’ injuries, clothing, shoes…
Fear The Walking Dead is a show of firsts. We get to meet new characters and learn about the things that make them tick. We get to experience, through their eyes, things that can’t be taking place because they defy all worldly logic—except they are, in fact, happening. For the first time we are allowed to see how it all went down in California while Rick Grimes was in a coma in Georgia. With Los Angeles as a backdrop, we bear witness to our world going to shit. The walkers (or whatever they’re called in FTWD) will look different too. They’ll all be fairly fresh, at first, compared to the near-skeletal biters we’re used to in The Walking Dead. It’s going to take a while for these guys to start rotting away. So start thinking “moist” and bluish-beige, when it comes to the new stiffs on the block. And because absolutely no one knows what the hell is going down, many of the walkers are still going to look like Aunt Ashley or Uncle Jamie and, therefore, it’s going to be a wee bit tougher to go all Mickey Mantle on their melon with a nine iron. (And yes, Mantle played golf too. But that’s not important right now.) We’ll also see a working infrastructure grinding to a crawl firs—and then a halt. How long will there be lights, gas, generators and other things that make us feel like we’re in a summer cabin, instead of camping in the woods? What about cell phones? All of these questions will be interesting to learn the answers to, as long as the story is told right.
Which brings me to the “Can it be done?” part of our little talk. My answer is a big “Yes!” If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, you already know that these guys know how to make good television and how to develop rich, well-rounded characters. They know suspense, atmosphere and, most importantly, they’re fully aware that the best type of drama comes when no character is completely safe. They know how to tell the story. And that’s why I believe that Fear The Walking Dead is in good hands.
Now remember, we’re starting over, here. We’re in the big city, not rural plains. We’re not immediately going to feel comfortable with the characters. We don’t know them from Adam and certainly not as well as we know Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Carol. Add to that the fact that there’s going to be at least two teenagers in the cast. (I don’t know about you but I’ve wanted to bash teenagers in their heads when it wasn’t the zombie apocalypse.) The feel, the look, the ambient sound and the timing of Fear The Walking Dead is going to be different than its mother ship. And I, for one, can’t wait. That’s not a slam on the original. I have been blatantly obvious about my deep love for The Walking Dead. But the last thing I want is a spin-off that is a cookie cutter punch out! Where’s the fun in that? I want a new take on my favorite theme. Now if you disagree—if you want the old same old, do me a favor, please don’t watch Fear The Walking Dead.
Till next time…
Today is Still “Back in My Day!”
The following piece is an open letter to less than a handful of my internet friends, whom I admire… even if I don’t totally “get” them. So, I’ve taken them, rolled them into one (to protect the innocent) and I’m making a plea to them to come into the 21st century… or at least the last half of the 20th. Oh, and don’t worry, if you are reading this, you’re NOT one of them... probably.
Back in the mid-70s, I was doing piece work at a security hardware factory in Berlin, CT. My boss’ name was Frank. Frank was a nice enough guy but a bit of a curmudgeon. As far as Frank was concerned, the only things that were any good were things made in his generation. Everything made in mine was “Crap!”… And more than anything else, Frank’s theories on “Crap!” extended to the field of music. In this particular factory, we were allowed to listen to the radio as long as the volume level didn’t encroach on anyone else’s work space. So, I listened to my favorite rock station, WCCC—out of Hartford, eight hours a day, five days a week. One day, to celebrate Paul McCartney’s birthday, WCCC played Beatles songs from noon till one o’clock. And to finish up the hour, they picked Helter Skelter. Just then, Frank walked by my work station, sneered and said, “Who the hell is that?” I happily told him it was The Beatles; once the greatest rock band in the world. “I’ve heard of them,” he responded. He went on to tell me how fantastic the music was from his era and how awful rock and roll was. In fact, he thought that all of it, including The Beatles was… well, you guessed it—“Crap!” A month or so later, Frank came walking down the hallway, while whistling a peppy little tune. I stopped and asked him if he knew which song he was whistling. He told me that he didn’t but he whistled it often because he liked it so much. I informed him that the song was Norwegian Wood, that it was written by John Lennon and performed by The Beatles. It goes without saying that Frank didn’t believe me. The next day, I had to bring in a cassette of The Beatles’ version (which, of course, he didn’t like) and my History Of Rock ‘n Roll book. Reluctantly, Frank had to admit that The Beatles may have written at least one good song.
I think of Frank often, especially when I hear one of my “older” friends talking about how horror movies aren’t as good as they were in the good old days. If I may, I’d like to address that; Those wonderful black and white classic Universal horror films that we all love so much, weren’t made in any of my friends’ “good old days”. They were shot decades before we were born. Yes, they are amazing—coming from a time when moving pictures still had that new celluloid smell. But if, like me, you consider The Creature Walks Among Us to be the last film of the classic Universal monsters cycle, then I feel it important for you to know that I was four days old when that movie was released… and I’m an old dude now! Bottom line, those great classics we read about in the early days of Famous Monsters Of Filmland belonged to my parents’ generation. Not to ours. The reason many of us adopted them is because we were around when most of them debuted on TV in the late fifties and early sixties. In that one way, they were ours. And those few friends of mine who have made the decision to stop the cinematic clock around the time of poodle skirts and panty raids have, in my humble opinion, missed out on some really terrific movies. Are you one of those friends?
Because if you are, then you have probably opted out of seeing literally dozens of fantastic films from Hammer Studios’ horror reign in the later fifties through the seventies. Of course, William Castle flicks would be out too, as would Mario Bava’s, Dario Argento’s and David Cronenberg’s work. Oh, and let’s not forget the brilliance of Alan Ormsby, Bob Clark or any combination of the two. So, out go Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Deathdream, Deranged, Black Christmas… you get the idea. (Well, maybe you don’t) Sadly, you have missed Hitchcock’s Psycho, The Birds and Frenzy along with Night Of The Living Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and a crapload of cinematic hubbub created by four movies; The Exorcist, Jaws, Halloween and ALIEN.
Moving into the videotape age—both Betamax and VHS – I would love talk to you at great length about how much I enjoyed films like Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, Re-Animator, Night Of The Creeps, I Madman, Fright Night, The Howling… Well, I might as well stop there. You didn’t see them.
You’ve also decided to skip the work of a few worthwhile directors. There’s a guy named George A. Romero who’s done some spiffy little zombie films throughout the years and another dude named John Carpenter who makes thrillers of all sorts. They both have a pretty decent track record. You might have gotten a kick out of some of their stuff.
Because I like you, or you wouldn’t be my Facebook or forum friends, I truly wish the good films ended there. They didn’t. They don’t. Unfortunately, in more recent times, you’ve missed “found footage” films, like The Blair Witch Project, fun possession flicks that include Sinister, The Conjuring and Insidious and the second coming of Hammer. That’s right! The very Hammer Studios that you didn’t follow because you stopped watching new movies in the mid-fifties is back and the new guys have more hits than misses, in my opinion. I rather enjoyed both Woman In Black movies, Wake Wood, Let Me In, The Resident and The Quiet Ones. Most of them have that classic Hammer feel to them that makes one go all… I forgot. You wouldn’t know.
Look, I never said you were wrong for liking horror films from the thirties, forties and into the fifties more than “recent” entrees. (Which, for you, apparently began when Bela Lugosi was still alive.) Many of my all-time favorite movies are older than dust. Nothing gets me high like The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, The Old Dark House or the cinematography in Son Of Frankenstein. I love the whole lot of the Universal monsters. But to suggest that you enjoy the things that go bump in the night and make the conscious decision not to even check out almost 60 years of fun and amazing scares, is totally beyond my comprehension. You read new literature, right? Why stop at that? They do still make great horror films. The safe bet is that they always will. And maybe you’re a little bit right. Maybe there aren’t as many good ones as there once were. But, come on, even in the mid forties, no one was knocking down the theatre doors to see She-Wolf Of London.
So, here it is; please, I beg of you, get off the sofa, get in your Studebaker, go to the department store and buy a movie called The Woman In Black. It’s a movie that could have easily been made decades ago. A truly lovely little ghost story. (low gore, low swearing, low digital effects) Once you have the movie and a box of Jujubes, go back home, grab a can of Carling Black Label out of the icebox, sit on the sofa and enjoy the flick. I’m pretty sure you will. By the way, almost all movies are in color now. So, don’t let that throw you. And don’t worry, we’ll work our way up to Peter Jackson’s Braindead very, very, slowly.
Until next time…
I spent a fair amount of time, in the seventies, being pretty pissed off at Christopher Lee. I’m not telling you this to excuse myself. I am, in fact, extremely embarrassed by the whole thing. I ask you to please keep in mind that I was (and often still am) an idiot, who needs to be reminded on a daily basis, to get out of bed feet first.
I don’t remember where I read it but at some point I read an interview with Lee and he said something to the effect that he was not going to do any more horror movies, due to the declining quality of scripts he was reading. Sounds perfectly rational, right? Well, not to my just-out-of-high-school eyes. You see, I was trying to break into the horror entertainment biz and here was this actor, whom I admired with the whole of my being, trying to break out of it. I was aghast—hoping against all hope that the dork-breath writer had gotten the quote wrong. (For the record, he or she hadn’t and—in all due fairness—probably wasn’t a dork-breath either.)
Mind you, I had seen both The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and loved him as Rochefort. I thought his villainous portrayal of Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun was certainly the best Bond baddie of the Roger Moore era. So my anger at Christopher Lee did not, in any way, prevent me from seeing anything and everything that he was in. And when I heard that two science fiction films starring Christopher Lee were going to be at the local drive-in, I was ecstatic. I mean, sure, Science Fiction is Horror only some of the time, but it was damn sure close enough for me. Finally, I was going to see something that the great man had deemed good enough to get him back to the edges of dark cinema. And so I set off with a carload of my friends to take in the awe and splendor that was… Starship Invasions and End Of The World. If, for some reason, you haven’t seen these two amazingly bad clunkers, DON’T. I think it’s safe to say that they are to good filmmaking what Zoloft is to penny loafers.
After this nearly three hour shit sandwich, you’d think I would be even more pissed off. I wasn’t. I was finally, with my own two eyes, able to see the types of genre scripts that Lee was getting, and I immediately understood. Just a few years before, I was willing to say that Christopher Lee, in any horror movie was better than Christopher Lee in the best of his non-horror roles… and I was dead wrong. I don’t make excuses for this but my reasons for thinking that way was my mad love of horror. Many of us grew up in an era when horror movie were looked down on considerably more than they are today. And having brilliant actors like Karloff, Lugosi, Price, Carradine, Lorre, Rathbone, Cushing, Lee and the Chaneys lent credence to my favorite genre. And even though each of them, except for Chaney Sr., made at least one clunker, I hated to see it. Reluctantly, I resigned myself to the fact that Christopher Lee would be doing more mainstream movies and his days of dark features were over. Little did I know…
Before I realized it, Lee was back to his old form in 1984’s House Of The Long Shadows; a lovely little “Seven Keys To Baldpate” who-done-it, completely destroyed by the casting of Desi Arnaz, Jr. Imagine, your four possible ne’er do wells played by Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and John Carradine. An acting team capped off by the likes of Desi Arnez, Jr., who rendered it damned near impossible to watch. Everyone but the lead actor did a fantastic job but what a sad way to mark the only time in cinema history that these four masters worked together. Oh, what could have been.
The next decade brought the deaths of Carradine, Price and Cushing and in the blink of an eye Christopher Lee was the only horror megastar we had left. It remained that way for over twenty years. As our elder statesman, Lee got some wonderful roles. Even the tiniest parts just oozed greatness. Fans who grew up watching his Hammer horrors were now at the helm of some very interesting projects. He worked with Peter Jackson, George Lucas, Tim Burton, John Landis—became part of both the Hobbit/Lord Of The Rings and the Star Wars universes and had short but key scenes in The Resident for the relaunched Hammer Studios. Finally he was getting his due with people who knew what he was worth to all of us and I was thrilled for him.
With the exception of the last few weeks, there has never been a time in my life, when there wasn’t Christopher Lee—Actor. His first screen credit appeared eight years before I was born. In my lifetime, he played the lead in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave—the first time I experienced a Hammer movie on the big screen, at the Strand Theatre in Hamden, Connecticut in 1968. As of this writing, he was in the last film I watched in the theater; The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies. And now, he is gone. I will never again see him in a new movie. But the body of work he left behind—and I’m just talking about his movie and tv roles—is massive. But fear not! Thanks to the people and many of the labels who are left to tend to his past works for conversion to HD, we’re likely to see old movies looking like new for many years to come.
Rest In Peace, Sir Christopher. And thank you for everything.
Till next time…
I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of you saw Night Of The Living Dead, for the first time on a TV screen—probably in the early to mid-eighties, either on MTV or videocassette. By that time, Night Of The Living Dead was over a decade old and had changed the motion picture landscape forever.
Me? I saw it at The Strand Theatre, in Hamden, CT, in 1971. (Yes, I’m old.) [He certainly is. —Ed.] It was playing on a double bill with Equinox. So, as I had done a hundred times before, I walked the mile to the theater, paid my fifty cents, sat down and got excited as the main picture started. Equinox had everything a 14 year old boy could love. It had a ton of monsters, two good looking women, it was in color and there was a cool twisty kind of ending. Now that was 80-some-odd minutes well spent on a Saturday afternoon. After the feature, it was time for a “Coke and corn” trip to the concession stand. By the time I got back to my seat, ready in every way for the second feature to begin, I sat back and relaxed, safe in the knowledge that I had eaten, used the can and had enough soda left to get me through the movie. What a perfect day. What a fun afternoon…
That is, until movie number two started.
If I may make a brief statement about the times in 1971—inasmuch as many of us now view black and white film as an art form unto itself—in 1971, kids my age looked at black and white films as part of a bygone era. Our parents watched black and white movies when they were kids and that was like, a million years ago! Color was where it was at, man. [Roger] Corman’s “trippy” wild teenager films were making a good buck at drive-ins all over the country. Hammer had been making and exporting horror films in color for almost a decade and a half. Heck, television had shown color horror movies, even though no one that I knew even had a color TV yet.
So, when Night Of The Living Dead flickered onto the screen, most of the kids in the audience were a tad bummed. And as much as I loved the black and white Universal horror classics and reading Famous Monsters Of Filmland, I immediately found myself amongst the bummed.
Approximately ten minutes after that iconic 1967 Pontiac made its way into the Evans City Cemetery, I knew I was in deep doo-doo. Oh sure, there were monsters. But they looked like regular people till they were right on top of you. And by that time, it was way the hell too late. There were no Van Helsings to kick the collective asses of this movie’s Draculas. And, honestly the good guys were for the most part a bit assholish. The black and white that initially bummed me out was actually adding to the feeling of terror ascending my spinal column. The TV News footage looked like (gulp) TV News footage… And that’s when it hit me; someone had thrown every one of the how-a-teenage-boy-gets-through-a-horror-movie-without-fainting-like-a-schoolgirl rules right out the window. There were barely any music cues to let me know that the spit was hitting the proverbial Spam and the camera was kinda shaky—as was my stomach, by that time… I mean, seriously! Who the hell does that to a kid??? As the minutes ticked by, I felt myself getting more and more panicked. And by the time the once-alive Johnny yanks the about-to-be-dead Barbra out of the farmhouse, I couldn’t tell if the steady maraca beat in my ears was from my heart, my knees or my teeth rattling. And to make matters worse, on my walk home, I kept having to cross the street whenever I saw a guy walking towards me in the distance. As far as I was concerned, there had never been a film anything like Night Of The Living Dead. It had come from some kind of cinematic Hell to traumatize anyone who thought they knew the beats of a horror movie: how it moved; how it prepared the viewer for dark things that were to come… Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, Night Of The Living Dead did none of those things. All it did was scare me so badly that I’d never trust a movie again.
And thank God for that!
Over the years, I found that the more I stayed away from the tried and true science fiction and horror films, the more I enjoyed my experiences in movie watching. Without Night Of The Living Dead teaching me to embrace the unexpected, I would have never sought out Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Re-Animator, The Blair Witch Project, I, Madman, Altered States, Dawn, Day and Land Of The Dead and a host of other just-off-the-norm movies. Night Of The Living Dead started it all for me.
With the proliferation of home video (which for this guy, started in 1981), I began my quest to own the best possible print of Night Of The Living Dead. Since then, I’ve owned dozens of Beta and VHS tapes and two PD laserdiscs before Don May’s wonderful Elite LaserDisc of Night Of The Living Dead was released late in 1994. After that, it was just upgrading to DVD and the purchase of one less-than-legit “PD” Blu-Ray.
I’ve also had the good fortune to be able to meet almost all of the actors and actresses who starred in that groundbreaking film.
But the high point, for me, came in 2011 when I got the chance to visit the Evan City Cemetery and worship at the temple where it all began. Sacred ground, indeed. I will never forget that day and the carload of friends who came along for the ride.
Night Of The Living Dead is a magic film—all because it came at a time when horror movies where getting too comfortable for me. Oh, I didn’t realize it at the time. In fact, as late as when I was sitting watching Equinox I had no idea that I had become too comfortable. But I sure as shit did a scant few minutes later.
Till next time…
My Nearly Fifty Year Long Love Affair with Six Men and One Woman
I have been a lot of things for a very long time.
I’ve been an Oakland Raiders fan for so long, I bleed silver and black. I’ve been a collector of monster magazines, (many issues in my complete collections of the Warren/Ackerman Famous Monsters Of Filmland and Castle Of Frankenstein are the original copies I bought as a kid) I’ve been a film geek since I could first walk, and I’ve loved science fiction and horror TV series since I first saw the awe and mystery of The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone and a handful of others flicker across my television screen in the very late fifties and throughout the sixties—although, to be perfectly honest, when the really early ones like Science Fiction Theater appeared on television when I was 1 and 2 years old, I was probably more interested in using the TV’s white oak cabinet for teething, so I don’t know if those super early years really count.
Being a Geek, I’ve always prided myself on trying to be on the cutting edge of whatever is new and hot in science fiction and horror. But there was that one specific phenomenon where I not only missed the boat, I missed the entire pier;
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy on set.
When I got to high school in 1972, I hadn’t seen a single episode of Star Trek and didn’t even know who Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock were. Seriously, I hadn’t a clue. I don’t know how I had managed to avoid all the ruckus, but I had. Fortunately, around the same time, I met Jon Redmond—a guy who I’m close friends with to this day—and when he learned that I was into everything he was, except for Star Trek, he smacked me upside the head and gave me a crash course on everything from Antarian Glow Water to Zetaran Life Forms. I began watching all of the episodes in syndication (back then they were called reruns) on WPIX, Channel 11 out of New York and before I knew it, with the help of Jon and another friend, I knew my Denebian Slime Devils from my Dilithium Crystals. While I remained, first and foremost, an Outer Limits fanatic, I was well on the way to becoming a lifelong fan of that original Star Trek crew. After all, they were the ones who drew me in, everyday. It wasn’t as much the episodes—let’s face it, for every “The City On The Edge Of Forever” and “Balance Of Terror”, a hardcore fan had to sit through a “Miri” (No blah, blah, blah!) and the space hippies of “The Way To Eden.” But even during the worst episodes, I loved that crew. If Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov were up for the adventure, well then, so was I.
Shortly after seeing all of the episodes of the original series, an animated Star Trek was given the go ahead and I was on board for that too. And while it was certainly a far cry from the live action show, the gang was, for the most part, back and I thoroughly enjoyed the series as a whole. Sure, Filmation was just… well, Filmation, but some of the stories were pretty heady for Saturday morning cartoons and the rest of the episodes were, with few exceptions, kinda fun.
The next time I saw the whole gang was the 1979 release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I know it’s not really a fan favorite but there were great moments, such as seeing those amazing Klingon Battle Cruisers, bigger than life. I got such a Geek rush during those brief scenes I was all loopy for about a half hour.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan is, and most likely always will be, my favorite original-cast Star Trek movie. Instead of the tons of we-couldn’t-show-it-on-TV-so-let’s-toss-a-half-hour-of-it-into-the-movie shots that littered the first Star Trek movie, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan was more like a long, great episode from the original series. And I’m here to tell you that I couldn’t get enough of it.
Like most fans, I have my favorites list. In order, I like II, IV, III, VI, V and I. I even enjoyed the beginning of Star Trek Generations. But even my least favorite movies have something spectacular going for them… that crew. And when my friends would talk about how old they were getting, I’d always mention that, with age, they were smarter and didn’t need to rely on their youth as much.
Now, please don’t peg me as one of those TOS elitists. I’m not. I watched all of the series. I think Star Trek: The Next Generation was brilliant. I love Star Trek: Voyager and liked both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. But none of them had that wonderful original crew and that was the true magic of TOS, TAS and the first six movies. Let’s be real here—if you don’t care about the crew, you don’t care what happens to them. And that means you can’t care about the show.
When Star Trek: Enterprise left the airwaves in 2005, I was done. I had been with the franchise for over thirty years. I had really enjoyed the original cast appearances in other Trek series (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Relics”, “Unification” and “Encounter At Farpoint”, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “Trials And Tribble-ations” and Star Trek: Voyager’s “Flashback”) Now, I am very happy to sit back and enjoy TOS, TAS and those first movies till time runs out. Seriously, I’m good with that. The comfortable feeling that original crew—MY CREW—gives me is only interrupted every now and then when one of those magical actors passes away and takes the voyage home. I made it through DeForest Kelly’s passing and James Doohan’s too.
Fair Winds, Captain.
But for some unknown reason, when Leonard Nimoy died recently, it felt different—more personal. I don’t know if it’s because I’m sixteen years older than I was when Kelly passed and a decade older than I was when we lost Doohan, so my own end date—whenever that is—is less calendar pages away. Or maybe it had something to do with losing my father and brother to lung-related diseases, in the past five years. Whatever the reason, Leonard Nimoy; who had roles in Star Trek, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (in an episode with Shatner) The Outer Limits, The Simpsons, Fringe and The Big Bang Theory—all series that I’ve watched faithfully—came as a shock. Yes, I knew he was ill. Yes, I realize that, unlike Spock, Nimoy’s lifespan was going to be much closer to human than Vulcan. Yes, I get that as I become older, the news that actors, directors and writers whose work I admired as I grew into the person who I am today will come faster and more often. Yet, with everything I grok, the less I really care to.
I just miss him.
Till next time…
I love Ron Oliver; the man who directed one of the episodes of the Showtime series Chris Cross, that I wrote in the early 90s. I love Gary Gerani, Len Brown and Claudia Canny who worked with me, to varying degrees, on the two sets of ALF cards I wrote for Topps. (Len and Claudia also helped me when I designed the set of cards for the Fox hit, In Living Color, but I already loved them by then.) I love Carol Paradis; my contact at Macmillian Publishing when I was charged with writing two humor books about ALF and his stay with the Tanner family. Brad Lineweaver and Paul Fusco are on that list too. Brad has always been the guy who put his belief in me into action. We might just be each others’ biggest fans. Paul is the man and friend who gave me so many shots in television, early on and there’s only one other person on earth who I enjoy laughing with as much I do with Paul. And on the very top of that “love” list (picture Barry White reading that) is Jessie Lilley, my Editor. Jessie has been my Editor at Famous Monsters of Filmland, Mondo Cult Magazine (both print and web) and Cinefantastique’s Ultimate Guide To Zombies. But when I say she’s MY Editor, I mean it. She is my Editor-of-choice for anything I do. And no matter if you love me or loathe me, believe me you’d think a bunch less of me without her golden touch.
Why this love fest? Well, as much as folks think that Writers work alone—and Writers are some of the worst purveyors of that myth—we don’t. Far from it, in fact.
We like to see ourselves as dark, mysterious, creators who forge their iron world with only the help of a carton of Camels and a fifth of rye. I get it. I really do. It sounds sexy as hell. I’m pretty certain it got me laid once or twice, over a quarter of a century ago. Sure, I did my vats of Seagram’s 7s and smoked till it became a four-plus-pack-per-day habit, but that had not one iota to do with anyone recognizing my name, these days. A portion of that—less than you’d think—has to do with good writing. Some of it has to do with a group of folks who like my style. Add to that, a shitload of extremely hard work I’ve put in over the last 30 plus years. But the rest of it—an incalculable percentage—has to do with that all-important list.
One of my favorite examples is Ron Oliver’s direction of a Chris Cross script I wrote called "The Creeper". In it, the Headmaster of a prominent school (and the series’ main baddy) is trying to pin a series of midnight pranks on two students who are the bane of his existence. As he sets his plan into motion, the fire in the fireplace flairs up, making him look decidedly more devilish. Now, as much as I’d love to tell you that little ditty was on the page, it wasn’t. Ron did that. In doing so, it brought the episode up to the next level. Because of that and so many other touches of brilliance, "The Creeper" is routinely talked about as being among the best of the series, to those fans who remember this short-lived show. And because Ron took such care with my script, it ends up making me look that much better than I am. And that’s what everyone on my “love” list has in common; they make me look better.
Because he knew me and the detail I put into my work, Len Brown gave me the In Living Color card set to design. Not just to write copy for it, while others did the graphic work… No, I got to design the entire look and feel of the set. And when you’ve grown up with Topps trading cards, that is a major deal.
Paul didn’t know I could write. He just knew we had the same sense of humor. So when I was reading someone else’s work that we were completely underwhelmed with and I said, “I could do this.” He told me to go ahead and do it. From that point on I wrote an ALF-Tales episode, an episode of SpaceCats, a sizeable amount of the stuff in ALF Magazine and the rest of the million pieces of ALF merchandise.
One of my favorite things ever said about my work was from Jessie. At one point she told me to do a short piece for a magazine. I said, “Short? Jessie, you know I love my adjectives and adverbs.” to which she responded, “Yeah and when you can’t find anything that fits what your shooting for, you’ll make them up.” You see, Jessie gets me. Because I almost exclusively write columns now, she realizes that the work has to sound like my voice. It has to be the way I talk. And while my high school English teacher, Mr. White, is most assuredly spinning in his casket—keeping in mind that he was about 97 when he taught me in 1974 to 1975—because of Jessie, I get to use words like “kinda” and “sorta” when I write for her. Don’t think for one minute that she’s that bad. It’s because she’s that good that she realizes what my columns are all about. In almost every case, they are approximately 900 words from one huge geeky fan to other geeky fans. No more. No less.
I have a lot of friends who write for a living. To them I say, if you don’t have a good Editor, find one. If you have one and don’t trust her or him with your life or if they don’t make you look better than you actually are, lose them like a bad burrito. Find someone who gets you. Oh, and if you are lucky enough to make a living with your words, please do not walk around saying that you are your own island. You’re not. It makes the rest of us look bad and makes you look like a bit of a simp. And we don’t need anymore simpletageriodomites.
Till next time…
I’ve never been a big Kaiju fan. I understand that I’m in the minority, here, but that’s okay. We all love the sub-genres of horror, science fiction and fantasy films to varying degrees. I’m a huge fan of Twilight Zone-type endings, like those found in Planet Of The Apes and The Sixth Sense. Others find them too manipulative and feel that they are oft-times crowbarred in. To paraphrase Sly Stone; “Different sub-genres for different folks”. So, not being a man-in-suit guy, I felt it a bit strange for me to write my column in Famous Monsters 262—the annual Kaiju issue. I had opted out of issue 256 (Phil Kim’s first one) because Phil, Jessie and I all felt I had nothing to say on the subject. But a few months after 256 hit the stands, I remembered my mad love for War Of The Gargantuas. So, when 262 came around, I was ready and waiting.
In that column, I mentioned that War Of The Gargantuas was one of my “guilty pleasures”. I meant it, at the time… or at least I thought so. When August Ragone—FM’s guest Editor for the annual Kaiju issues—disagreed with my use of the phrase, I kind of brushed it off. But I certainly appreciated him not changing it. The guy’s a pro. I didn’t think he would. I’ll admit, I thought about what he said more than a few times over the months. But that was about it.
A few weeks back, I was listening to Howard Stern interviewing Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters front man, Dave Grohl. They were talking about some of the music Dave listens to and when a much-hated song came up and he said he liked it, Howard asked if it was a guilty pleasure. Grohl went on to say that he didn’t like the term. “Don’t be guilty about liking something. If you like it, like it.” And that’s when I finally got it. In actuality, I’m not the least bit embarrassed by my love of The Horror Of Party Beach, War Of The Gargantuas or—God help me—The Last Shark. Hell, I love them and if that makes certain movie historians see me as “low rent”, so be it. I’ve been called much worse things over the years.
As horror fans, we’ve been made to feel guilty, pretty much since day one. When I was growing up, if a kid walked into a drug store with his allowance and bought an armload of candy, no one looked at him or her twice. Same thing if they bought superhero comics, baseball cards or something off of the Wham-O rack. But walk out of the store with an issue of Famous Monsters Of Filmland or Castle Of Frankenstein and, faster than dung through a duck, everybody and their brother wanted to know if something was wrong with Billy. (or, in my case, Ricky.) Yep, for some unknown reason, if you liked being scared, a viewing at the Hermann Rorschach Gallery Del Arte was probably in your immediate future. Now let me ask you all something; has anyone ever asked you why you like comedies? Of course not! Westerns? God frickin’ forbid! I don’t even get flack for loving Singing In The Rain! But, try to remember one sixteenth of the thousands of people who, over the years, have asked you why you like horror movies, all the while grimacing like they just ate a fermented lemon out of someone’s stankhole, and your melon will pop like a four day old zit. And if you think that after a lifetime of trying to explain why I love classics like Frankenstein, The Black Cat, The Invisible Man, Night Of The Living Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and ReAnimator, I’m going to start justifying my deep affection for the lower rung of the horror ladder to every Tom, Dickhead and Harry, you’ve got another thing coming. Hell, I’d rather hot glue my armpit hair to a pogo stick!
You know, I started smoking because of peer pressure. Same with drinking. Like most teenagers, what other kids my age thought of me trumped just about everything else. That’s the way of the world, when you first hit the double digits. But if you had told me that, at age 58, I still had something to learn about peer pressure, I would have thought you were as crazy as an outhouse rat. I’d use “guilty pleasure” to convey to another geek that even though I liked a certain film, deep down, I knew I shouldn’t. And that, I’m sorry to say, was a huge copout. Grohl was right. I will never use “Guilty pleasure” again, nor will I lower my eyes and mumble my adoration for movies, books and series’ that no one likes, any more than I would for the ones that everyone likes. I’m done… and I like that.
Till next time…
In case the title doesn’t give it away, this month’s column is about some of my favorite less-than-stellar motion pictures. Yes, as much as it pains me, I put the word “Turkeys” in the title. But, if I’m being completely honest, I abhor the word being used to describe movies that I grew up with and have a warm, fuzzy fondness for.
To me, turkeys have always been big budget boners – whether they be vanity projects that big-name stars just had to see committed to film (“Battlefield Earth”, “After Earth”) or just directors/producers who believed they had a handwritten invitation to the last supper (“Heaven’s Gate”, “The Postman”). But when a filmmaker – mega talented or falling a tad short – takes $1.87 cold hard American cash that he or she earned from a paper route and, along with a booklet of S&H Green Stamps, makes a movie, no matter how epic the fail, I have a hard time classifying it as a turkey. Take Ed Wood, William Beaudine, Del Tenney, Don Dohler and other directors whom the lubberly Medved brothers love to slam. It may not be the most popular of opinions but I find more passion in their work than I found in a single frame of “Heaven’s Gate” – apologies to Michael Cimino because I honestly love much of his writing and directing.
As a child, I sat in the dark of the Strand Theatre in Hamden, CT and had more fun than a kid should have, watching “The Horror Of Party Beach”, “Billy The Kid Vs Dracula”, Dinosaurus!”, “The Curse Of The Living Corpse”, “Skullduggery”, “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” and others too numerous to mention. Stale popcorn be damned, I still remember them, clearly, as some of the very best Saturdays of my young life. All I did on the bike ride home from the theater was think about what a grand time I had and how I’d love to be a part of the worlds that those movies took me to, each week. How is someone going to come along and tell me that those little eighty minute gems are turkeys?
Not the greatest? Yeah, I’m right there with ya.
Not a chance.
And to a film geek, that’s the way things should be. These films transport most of us back to a time when we were first learning to fall in love with movies – a wonderful time because those films were specifically made for us. “Battlefield Earth” and “The Postman” sure as hell weren’t. (Although, to be fair, I still don’t know who in the wide blue yonder “The Postman” was made for. I mean really!)
More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving represents family. Ask most Northeastern tri-state area monsterkids about the Thanksgivings of their childhood and they’ll mention watching “Mighty Joe Young”, “King Kong” and “Son Of Kong” on WOR Channel 9, followed the next day, by Godzilla movies. Often, those memories will include Dad “sleeping” through all the movies (actually, he was in a tryptophan-induced coma), while siblings crawled all over each other to see which of them could save a makeshift kitchen-chair-and-blanket “Tokyo” before Godzilla (usually the largest kid) destroyed it and its inhabitants. Well, by the many “turkeys” from my childhood, infusing themselves into my monsterkid memories, each time I pop one in the DVD/BD player, I’m back in footy pjs and the “holiday” becomes any day that ends in the letter “y”. And if you’re even remotely like me, you’re not going to find anything closer to an actual time machine in this lifetime. Movies have that power and movie geeks know exactly how to harness it.
As another Thanksgiving is upon us, please let me offer you this wish; may you get to spend time with family - be it the family you’ve been given or the family you’ve chosen and should you find yourself in a particular frame of mind – one that, fortunately, I’m in constantly – slide a disc into the tray and travel back a few decades.
Till next time…
Question: What’s the Reason You’re Probably Not Watching Hannibal?
There are two types of people in this world; those of us who are watching NBC’s Hannibal and those who aren’t and think we’re milky in the filbert for doing so. Hey, I get it. Why would anybody in their right mind waste what amounts to 13 hours a year watching a show about an iconic character that was played three times by an iconic actor and five times on-screen total? (More than 5 times, really. But no one cares about those.) The short answer is, it’s a damned good show. But if you weren’t attracted to the series when you first heard of it over two years ago, the short answer isn’t going to do a thing to reel you in.
One of the tastiest properties Martha De Laurentiis’ production company; DEG owns is Hannibal Lecter. And as students of the dark, we all know that Sir Anthony Hopkins is, and always will be, Hannibal. No matter that Brian Cox played him before and Gaspard Ulliel since, Hopkins’ three turns as Hannibal the Cannibal have been so sharply etched into our subconscious and our culture, that if you consider yourself brave enough to close your eyes and think about the good Doctor, Hopkins’ face is the first thing your mind sees. So the idea of making a TV series about Lector without Sir Anthony seems ridiculous. That actually was the first thing I thought when I heard what DEG and Bryan Fuller were foolishly planning on doing. And I’m pretty sure you were on the same page.
The series takes place before Red Dragon/Manhunter and centers, primarily, around the working relationship between Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham and Mads Mikkelsen’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter. (Yes, Lecter is played by a guy named Mads—Although, to be fair, the name is pronounced Mas. The “d” is silent.)
So, you ask, does the series take place in the early 1980s? It does not. It is present day America, all the way.
Well then, does Mikkelsen do an impression of either Brian Cox or Sir Anthony Hopkins? He does not. In fact, his Hannibal Lecter speaks in a heavy European accent.
You see, the series “lives” in a world in which Thomas Harris never wrote Red Dragon, The Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal or Hannibal Rising and all four of the movies, plus “Manhunter”, were never committed to film. Lecter’s name is neither the punch line of jokes nor the boogeyman who hides under a child’s bed at night. This Hannibal Lecter is a noted psychiatrist and is known to help the FBI, at certain times... And that’s, for the most part, all that anyone knows.
As difficult as that is to wrap your head around, remember that a TV series often lives in a world that doesn’t acknowledge its source material or inspiration. The Bates Motel series does the same thing. In the world that The Walking Dead takes place, George Romero never shot any of his zombie movies and, it appears, zombies don’t exist in any form of modern or ancient mythology. If they did, Sherriff Rick and the rest of the gang wouldn’t be calling them “walkers.” They’d be referred to as “zombies”—the name every one of us calls them. And as difficult as you think it will be to separate Hannibal Lecter from Sir Anthony Hopkins, it’s not an impossible feat. Take M*A*S*H and The Odd Couple. Ask 100 people which actors played Hawkeye and Hot Lips or Felix and Oscar and don’t be surprised if the names Gould, Kellerman, Lemmon and Matthau come up but five to ten times. Each of those two movies ran under two hours. The series, about 130 hours and 60 hours, respectively. It’s not to say that one actor played the role better than the other, it has to do with the amount that each fine performance was given to burn into our psyche. Well, add all three movies where Hopkins played Lecter and the series beat that time about halfway through the first season. We’re now starting season three.
My suggestion to you is that you give Hannibal a whirl. Walmart sells season 1 for only $13.00. Netflix, On Demand, etc. have the first two seasons—only 26 episodes, total—and you have a while before season three begins.
Because I’m hoping that some of you will hop on board, I’ll tell you only that Hannibal is very much an opera—Graham against Lecter. The acting is superb, the music is grand and the scripts—the storyline—will shock you with their brilliance. Do I wish it was about a handful of characters who I’ve never heard of? Yes. It would have been great if the powers that be had tried something brand spankin’ new. But that begs the question, if it was called “Smith” would those of you not watching have tuned in while those of us who were drawn to the show, bowed out? That question will have to remain unanswered. But what I do know is, if I owned the rights to Hannibal Lecter, you can bet your organ meats that I’d be using the hell out of it.
Till next time…
July 10th 2014 started out like any other day. I was half asleep with a Dunkin Donuts iv drip in my arm and a heaping bowl of Corn Wackies in front of me. (It’s part of a nutritious balanced breakfast.) As I do each morning, I checked Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, Mondo Cult Online and Facebook. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was going to be a crap sandwich of a day.
The Emmy noms were out and I was going to spend a good portion of my week in a full-tilt-rant mood. Now, I’m not one of those “I have no time or desire to watch television. I’m into the fine arts,” assholes. I own a ton of TVs and devote more hours than I care to count watching them all. As much as some of my friends love to lament that this is nothing like the Golden Age of TV back in the 1950s and 1960s, I respectfully cry “Bullshit!” Sure, we grew up with Playhouse 90, The Twilight Zone, The Honeymooners, The Outer Limits, I Love Lucy and other shows that would be considered classics in any arena. But for all of the wheat the TV Gods gave us back then, we had a whole bunch of chaff to winnow; Crap like My Mother The Car, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, Here Come The Brides, Gilligan’s Island, etc. (And, yes, I know Gilligan’s Island ran for three seasons and saw three TV movies and two animated series produced. But come on! To call this one a dog would be an insult to actual dogs.) I tend to hang with folks who, like me, are into great television, no matter what era it comes from. Had I been mentally stuck back in the past, I would have missed M*A*S*H, The West Wing, Firefly, Arrested Development, The X-Files, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, Boston Legal and dozens of other shows that, in one way or another, raised the bar by feet, yards and, in the very best of cases, miles. So, even though giving credence to awards shows is not quite the popular thing to do, I eagerly await the Emmy nominations each year… well, except when it comes to The Walking Dead.
Even though, with 700 channels creating content, there is no “television season” anymore, 2013/2014 was a good “period” for horror and dark-themes on TV. Besides being The Walking Dead’s fourth season, American Horror Story was going strong – as were True Detective, Hannibal, The Following, The Black List, Bates Motel, Fargo, Penny Dreadful, From Dusk Till Dawn and a bunch of other thrillers. Each of them grabbed a loyal (and, in some cases, huge) group of fans.
Which leads me to the question I ask in this column’s title; WHO does The Walking Dead have to blow to get Emmy recognition??? I mean, it’s not like the Emmys don’t dig the dark stuff. Hell, if I had an inch for every nomination American Horror Story, True Detective and Fargo got this year, I’d make John Holmes look like John Bobbitt.
Now, I totally get the disconnect between popular shows and Emmy nods. Popularity does not an Emmy winner make. But come on! The premiere episode of The Walking Dead’s fourth season was watched by 16.2 million viewers. Are you trying to tell me that none of the nineteen thousand voting members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences were anywhere among those viewers? Because if any of you believe that, I have a Sasquatch in Brooklyn to sell you. In the past, (2011 and 2012) the show has won the Emmy for Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Miniseries, Movie, or Special. No shit? Ballsy move there, guys. Those should have automatically gone to The Walking Dead! They shouldn’t have even bothered nominating any other show. Hell, the only thing worse than not automatically giving The Walking Dead the Emmy for Prosthetic Makeup would be not to nominate them at all – WHICH THE EMMYS DIDN’T DO THIS YEAR!!! I’ll give you a minute for that to sink in. That’s right, my friends. The Walking Dead was NOT even nominated for Prosthetic Makeup in 2013! In fact, the only two things the Emmys felt The Walking Dead did that warranted nominations this time were for Outstanding Sound Editing For A Series and Outstanding Special And Visual Effects In A Supporting Role and that’s it! No writing, music, editing, cinematography, directing, makeup, ACTING… I mean, if that doesn’t cause you to wonder what exactly made The Walking Dead the Emmys’ Ebony Ewe, I don’t know what will.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that some of you might not think The Walking Dead is television’s equivalent of the second coming. (Although, if you really think about it – oh, never mind.) But unless you hate the show with every fiber of your being, you’d have to admit that it deserves an acting nomination or two (“Look at the flowers, Lizzie”) or something for the writing and directing. Hell, at this point I’d settle for the matching set of American Tourister luggage.
So, if you’re like me, you’ll be hunkered down in front of your televisions this coming Monday evening, watching the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards on NBC. Just don’t expect 2013/2014 to be the year of the walkers… AGAIN!
Till next time…
World War Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
I’ve got a swell idea; let’s all purchase a zombie property – a book or manuscript or something along those lines. Let’s make sure it’s hefty in weight, massive in scope and a metaphor for the way the world works in uncertain times. But if we’re going to purchase this epic tome, let’s make sure we’ve fallen ass-over-teakettle in love with it. You know, something we have a need, not a mere desire, to see produced. I’m willing to part with my poker winnings. So if you guys can all toss in a few bucks too, we’ll be able to plunk down some serious scratch for this property. Once secured, let’s find an international box office star to sign on, get in touch with the world press, announce the project and make sure we let it be known that we revere this property as a brilliant modern masterpiece.
Okay, now that all of the preliminary stuff has been handled, let’s take this property, that takes place ten years after a global war that pitted the human race against the onslaught of zombies whose armies grow by one with almost every human death, gut it like a carp and, instead, make our script about a guy getting back to his wife and kids – you know, like a human take on “Lassie Come Home”.
What do you mean that’s an incredibly stupid thing to do? It’s already been done once.
I have to tell you, I do massive amounts of eye-rolling each and every time a book that I love is made into a movie. The last time this happened was, thankfully, way back in 1983, when John Carpenter – a favorite of mine – destroyed “Christine” in the first five minutes. What followed was, in my opinion, a poop-filled diaper of a film. Oh, sure, the car was cool to look at. But I would rather have looked at it in some other film.
But I digress.
When I heard about “World War Z” becoming a movie, I went from simple eye-rolling to optical revolutions fast enough to make my eyelashes melt. (Not a good look for me or anyone else.) Max Brooks’ “World War Z” was the last book that made me swoon. It’s a history book with zombies. Seriously, what’s better than that? So, early on, hope sprang eternal as I imagined the movie as a mockumentary along the lines of “Zelig”, sans the chuckles. Something like “Man Bites Dog”, “The Blair Witch Project” or, better yet, the two “M*A*S*H” episodes; “The Interview” and “Our Finest Hour”, in which actual war correspondent Clete Roberts interviews the members of the 4077th. In both cases the result is a See It Now-type of hour in black and white that made the viewer believe that these characters and their life events had actually happened. (Especially because that’s the way the unabridged “World War Z” audio book was done.) I had hoped there would be no name actors and actresses to help fortify the illusion, but I would have been okay with movie stars if the producers felt it would bolster the box office. The movie would have been chock full of “archival” news footage, “found” film, etc. with some face time with interviewers and interviewees. And if the powers that be wanted to go the television route, that was fine with me too. After all, “The Walking Dead”, “True Detective” and “Game Of Thrones” get plenty of blood, gore, guts and language onto the screen.
Of course, my “World War Z” fantasy took a nose dive when reality whacked me upside the melon. Brad Pitt, his company and more than one studio took the book he fell in love with (enough to buy the rights to) and decided to remove anything and everything that made the book so great. In plain words, they decided not to make a zombie movie. The producers so obviously wanted to make a mass-market movie that they shot for and got a PG-13 from the MPAA. (Funny, because “The Walking Dead” seems to attracted a fair amount of viewers and they can’t all be zombie fans. They did that by giving us characters we actually care about.) Instead, the characters in “World War Z” are as stiff as boards while the zombies are so fluid and boneless in appearance that they move as though they were a collaboration of Art Clokey Studios and Cirque du Soleil. They run so fast that, outside of the lab scene, you get zero chances to see any detail. (And, let’s face it, when it comes to zombies, we are all about the details.) But even if you put all of that aside, for me the worst part of all was that sending Pitt’s character, Gerry, on a globetrotting trip to find Patient Zero (75% of the plot of the film.) meant absolutely nothing because, at the end of the day, Patient Zero had nothing to do with the war ending.
It amazes me that a movie that cost upward of 220 million dollars had so little of anything worthwhile on the screen. But hearing that figure initially allowed me to be able to sleep at night. Obviously, I thought, with a budget like that, “World War Z” could never possibly make enough cash to warrant a sequel. It would just die with the reputation of being the worst zombie movie ever made. Right? And then it happened; “The Little Crapfest That Could” did roughly 500 million internationally and, as sure as eggs is eggs, we’re off to Sequel City. And, before you know it, that sequel will be here. Of course, I’m going to take a pass, this time, thank you very much. To be honest, I have a bit of a problem paying ten bucks to see a so-called zombie movie that isn’t even in the same league as the zombies I get to watch on TV for free.
Till next time…
Okay, let’s get it out of the way early on; this month’s column doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot to do with horror, science fiction, fantasy or writing. It has more to do with the reasons I was considered such an odd child. Many of the people I call friends are afflicted with the same “problem” from which I suffer. The strange thing about it is, we really don’t want to change any aspect of it. I think the medical term for it is Triviosic Insipidus. (But you should probably consult a Doctor or any guy smarter than me.)
Back when I was in school, my report card never reflected it, but I actually had and still have, to this day, a fairly functional brain in my head. And, while I haven’t retained the majority of information I learned in Social Studies, Geography, Science, Math and even Gym, the smidgen of school knowledge that is still inside of my skull is surrounded by boatloads of trivia about everything in the entertainment field; movies, television, radio, books, magazines, music, commercials, print ads, theater… the list goes on and on. Yes, far from a trivial aspect of my life, trivia has served me fairly well in my 58 year journey through life—most especially in the past 14 years, in my role as a magazine columnist.
Actually, I’m not as much of an oddity as it seems on the surface. Everyone has their special talent. Entertainment trivia happens to be mine. But when I have a car problem, I call my brother; our family’s automobile genius. I have personally experienced my brother diagnosing a car problem over the telephone. He could tell by the sound the car was making. My wife, Eileen, knows Word and Excel better than the programmers who invented them. Each time I forget how to make macros for scriptwriting, she’s my first call. I have a cousin who’s an expert on Depression glass. I even met a guy last week who can figure out the angles for Crown molding—a real nightmare—in any room, even if the walls and ceiling aren’t at right angles. I wouldn’t call any of these people freakish—especially my younger brother Bob… cause he’s much bigger than I am. I’m not, either. It’s just that my special talent doesn’t seem quite as essential for getting through life as a whole slew of other folks’.
Which fast food company had “Where’s The Beef?” as their slogan? Which famous movie’s poster did “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2” ad campaign copy, as a joke? Who was The Beatles’ tour drummer when Ringo Starr fell ill in Australia in 1964? Who played Frankenstein’s monster in the very first screen incarnation of “Frankenstein”? *
For whatever reason, I’m actually proud to know the answers to this stuff. After watching “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” or “Lured”, I enjoy telling Eileen that Boris Karloff won a Grammy Award in 1968 in the Best Recording For Children category, as the narrator of “Dr. Seuss: How The Grinch Stole Christmas” —Not that I think she cares one iota about the history of the Grammy Awards but to show just how multi-talented this fine actor was. Every geek I hang with tosses out dozens of these nuggets on a daily basis, not so much for bragging rights—more just to be able to pass on the information to others. Oh sure, there are some who constantly correct people in public by stating these little factoids with that Cliffy Clavin air of superiority but they’re not true geeks—they’re just… well, why speak ill of others. Suffice it to say, they’re no friends of mine.
Eileen always comments that it’s a shame I can’t use my knowledge of useless trivia to make piles and piles of money. And while she makes a semi-valid point, she says it the way the good doctor in all those Columbia and Universal classics always comments on the evil doctor; “If only he used his genius to help mankind instead of for his own sinister goals.” Truth be told, the only argument I have with her statement is her use of the word “useless.” Useless? I beg to differ! I’ve gotten calls from movie sets, from my friend Al, asking me the name of a certain actor. My friend Bob has called from the set of a television show asking me the title of a film he couldn’t remember. But my number one caller is, believe it or not, Eileen! At least twice a month she calls from work because one of her workmates can’t remember a title or a song or an actress or… I bet she doesn’t say to them, “Wait, I’ll call my husband; the keeper of useless trivia. I’m sure he’ll answer your dopey question for you.” No, it’s probably more like, “I’ll call Rich. He knows everything about that stuff.” And if you don’t think those kinds of things are important, just wait till next time you have a name on the tip of your tongue or a famous character actor—you can almost see his face… but not quite. Try going to sleep with that rolling around in your noggin. You can’t do it! It’s nearly impossible. That’s where I come in. And while I’d love to be the entertainment-only version of Bullwinkle’s Mr. Know-It-All and make a half a bazillion dollars per week, that’s not going to happen… especially with the Internet only a few keystrokes away from everyone’s fingertips. But I enjoy answering those questions for friends and friends of friends and that’s good enough for me.
By the way, did you know that Humphrey Bogart was not the Gerber’s Baby Food baby, as urban legend would have you believe? But a portrait his mother drew of him in 1900 was purchased by the Mellins Infant Food Company—so he was a Mellins baby. (You know, just in case that ever comes up in conversation.)
Till next time…
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It's reMaking me Sick
Sometime, within the next ten years, I'm going to be trolling the internet – probably in the early morning in a half-open robe, coffee in hand and an hour away from a much-needed shower and shave – and I'm going to come across a headline that will make those little veins in my eyes go all wonky and my teeth begin to itch. In a failed attempt to get my anger in check, I'll go outside, find a palm tree and begin yelling at it. Believe me when I tell you that I'm not proud of the fact that I'll end up saying things that even a tree shouldn't have to hear. With luck, the majestic palm will understand that I'm just blowing off a little steam to help still the Banner-esque rage that has built up inside me. Yeah, I'll be that pissed. Now, I don't want to get all Nostradamus on you, but even though this little event could be as much as 120 months away, I can tell you precisely what that offending headline will be;
CITIZEN KANE REMAKE IN WORKS
I know that, right about now, you're thinking these two things:
a) Citizen Kane is widely believed to be the greatest American film of all time. Do you honestly think that someone would or could remake it?
b) Should any mentally stable human being ever get that insanely angry over a movie remake?
I'll be happy to answer them in order.
a) They have remade giants in every genre. Halloween, High Noon, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Breathless, Swept Away, Psycho… why should there be an invisible line drawn in the sand at the feet of Citizen Kane?
b) I refuse to answer this until I'm in the company of my lawyers.
I will be the first to admit that some directors who've remade classics got it right. I have long been an admirer of Cronenberg's The Fly, Savini's Night Of The Living Dead, Carpenter's The Thing, Reeves' Let Me In and a handful of others. But, let's face it, most fail miserably. In my not-altogether-humble opinion, the only legit artistic reasons a director can give for a remake is that he/she feels they can make a better picture than the original or feels that the plot can be taken in another direction. The rest of the excuses or reasons are all bulldookie. And, let's face it, if you're suggesting that you can best Halloween, or Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Psycho - Yeah, I'm talking to you Zombie, Nispel and Van Sant - you'd need do a far sight better than the pieces of crap you pinched out.
And that, my dear friends, brings me to the crux of this month's column. A few days back, I got smacked upside the noggin by an honest to goodness, humpbacked, six-legged epiphany. It's not really that I despise the idea of remakes so much. Let's face it, Hollywood is not going to invest money or time in new ideas. That concept went out the window with unlimited beer, wine and sangria at Beefsteak Charlies. Studio heads basically know nothing about moviemaking. It's all about the bottom line. It's been like that for decades. So, as long as remakes are here to stay, perhaps we can ask two – and only two – teeny weeny things of our filmmakers and studio heads;
First off, stop taking the name of the original. Don't give me a movie called Dawn Of The Dead, which is your remake of a movie called Dawn Of The Dead because, inevitably, when I tell you that your version left much to be desired, you're going to tell me that it's unfair to COMPARE IT TO THE ORIGINAL! Why? They both have the same name! Should I, instead, compare it to Hold That Ghost or, perhaps, Mr. Arkadin? If you really think you have the huevos to take on a classic, then take it on without the title. Make it good enough to stand on its own.
Okay, with that out of the way, let's move on to the second teeny weeny thing we can ask of our filmmakers and studio heads - because it's actually the most important. It's that they stop, at all costs, giving us backstory! We don't want, nor do we need, backstory on any of our monsters, creatures and especially our boogeymen. I don't care if it was a Venus probe or bad corn chowder that made the dead come back to life in Night Of The Living Dead. And, fortunately for us, neither the original NOTLD nor its 1990 remake wasted our time with such drivel.
I mean, do any of you give a rodent's keister that Leatherface's real name is Thomas Brown Hewitt? Of course not! That little tidbit wasn't in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre; it was in the 2003 remake. That's because Tobe Hooper and company took the time they could have spent feeding the audience worthless exposition and decided, instead, to use it to scare the bunny pellets out of us. And if naming Leatherface wasn't bad enough, here's one for ya; according to TCM 2003, Leatherface wears masks because of a skin condition that made his nose fall off. If that's right, why the hell did he become a mass killer? He could have gone into music. That's what Michael Jackson did and he made a fortune without a nose. (Still too soon?) In this time of throw-everything-at-the-audience-including-the kitchen-sink-and-toilet filmmaking, almost no one realizes that less is not only more, it's scarier.
Take John Carpenter's version of Halloween. I don't know about you but I find the idea of a fairly ordinary kid, from a middle class, suburban, two-parent family suddenly going bat-shat crazy and killing his sister to be extremely unnerving. It's something that you never saw coming. Now look at Rob Zombie's Halloween (if you absolutely have to). Zombie, for what seems like the fiftieth time, drags us kicking and screaming into his backwoods-hillbilly-coon-dog-front-porch-banjo-pickin' world and introduces us to a young boy whose mom is a stripper, dad is an out of work drunken woman beater, yada, yada, yada… Of course the kid comes out damaged. To be honest, Sister Bertrille would have been a meth junkie if she grew up like that. All that Rob Zombie did was to give Michael Myers a cinematic excuse for being the way he was and help demystify another of our cherished horror icons. Do the new guys honestly think that leaving exposition out of the original movies was nothing more than just a case of lazy filmmaking? It wasn't. These choices were deliberately made, by artists, to make the movie flow better and I'm here to tell ya that in almost all cases it worked like a charm.
So, there it is. I got everything off my chest about remakes and the idiot choices made while writing and filming them. I actually feel a tad better! Now, if you don't mind, I think I'll get into my thinking clothes and go back to trying to figure out if Will Smith will be able to pull off a believable Charles Foster Kane.
Till next time…
From Real to Reel
In 1989, I had been called out to California to work as the Story Editor for the fourth and final season of ALF. (This is not to say that I was the reason it got cancelled – at least not the only reason.) I was never crazy about the "other coast" but being out in LA-LA-Land had its strong points; the money was great, it gave my son something to brag about to his friends and my schedule was pretty sweet. I stayed out in California for 16 days and then, during our "hiatus," got to fly home for 13 days – back and forth, throughout my tenure as Story Editor. On one such hiatus, I was home alone. Mike was at school and Eileen was at work. About an hour before Mike was due home the doorbell rang. I answered to find a ten year old boy, my son's age, seated on a beautiful red bicycle. In a Russian accent, he asked if Michael was home. Other than the fact that most of his friends called my son Mike and not Michael, there was nothing out of the ordinary about this boy or his question. And when I said that Mike wasn't yet home from school and that he should stop back in an hour or so, the boy said, "Okay," turned his bike around and rode off before I could find out his name. No big deal. I mean, how many Russian friends with big red bicycles could he possibly have?
Later, when Mike got home, I told him that his Russian friend had stopped by. He had no idea who I was talking about. I told him it was the kid who owned the red bicycle. Still nothing. Mike asked me if I had gotten the kid's name and I had to tell him that I had not… which got a bit dicey, as I had reminded Mike time after time after time that if someone called or stopped by asking for me or mom to make sure he wrote down their name. So, once again, I found myself eating parental crow. (Funny, with Mike having just turned 35, you'd think I'd be used to the taste by now.) Anyway, after dropping the subject, I remembered that a Russian family had moved in a few doors down, two or three weeks back. I had met the parents but hadn't met their kids yet. So, the next day, when I saw my two new neighbors walking towards their car, I greeted them and mentioned that I had met their son the day before. They asked me which son – the older or the younger – and, when I told them it was the son with the red bicycle, they both looked at each other. Puzzled, they told me that neither son had a bicycle. So for the seven-hundredth or so time in my life, I heard my brain said "Oops!" and I apologized for my mistake. Walking away, I was positive that from that moment on I would forever be labeled as "that crazy American neighbor of ours."
Now, I have been either blessed or cursed with a writer's mind. I can't tell you how many times a week I see something that looks a bit odd and then mentally "write" an entire scenario around that short visual snippet. I've been that way ever since I can remember. It was a curse in school – leading to many after-school detentions for daydreaming in class. But in my professional life, it has served me well – never more than it did for this incident. Within days of having that bicycle-riding kid come to my front door, I had concocted a short ghost story about a mother who gets a visit from a child like the one I encountered that day. He asks for Michael and is told that Mike isn't home. In this case, we learn that the dad's name is also Michael and this child is was really an old schoolmate of the father's… oh, and he looks so young because he's been dead for decades. It turns out that this bike-riding child is an aberration who has come back to warn the father that he is in danger. Now, at the time, I was known mostly for my comedy writing, even though my first love has always been horror. So, I tucked the story away and went on with my bi-coastal TV life.
A few years later, I had just finished writing an episode of the NBC cartoon series "SpaceCats" when my wife read a blurb in the TV Guide about an upcoming horror anthology for kids premiering in a few months on Nickelodeon. It was to be called "Are You Afraid Of The Dark?" and it would be much like a televised version of the popular Goosebumps series of childrens' horror books. My wife, Eileen, suggested I get in touch with them. Initially, I balked at the idea – explaining that by the time a new series was reported in the TV Guide, most if not all of the episodes were well past the writing stage. But she shot me that glance that she's been shooting me for over twenty-five years and in the span of only a few seconds, I wisely had changed my mind. So, I called Nickelodeon, got the production company's name and wrote them a short letter, offering my services should they need more writers. About a week later, I got a call from Ned Kandel at the production office and he informed me that they were in need of one more script for the upcoming season – did I have any ideas? And that's when my little friend on the red bicycle popped back into my head. I wrote the treatment and faxed it off. A day or so later, Ned called to ask if I could make it more from a kid's point of view – that, like the Charlie Brown Specials, the less interference from adults, the better. So, instead of the spirit on the red bicycle coming back to help a father, he now came back to help a friend save his younger brother from an accident in a nearby river. This time, it clicked with the producers and, just like that, I got the go-ahead for the script.
Six months later, my son got to sit in front of the tv and watch an episode of "Are You Afraid Of The Dark?" called "The Tale Of The Shiny Red Bicycle", written by yours truly. It was written under the name Cassandra Schafhausen, (I know, I know, it's a long story and I don't have the space here.) but I knew that going in so I packed it full of in-jokes so anyone who didn't know it was me… would know it was me.
So there you have it; my ghost story that started from a real life incident. And just to creep people out, I always tell them that episode came from something that actually happened to me. Hey, if The Texas Chain Saw Massacre gets away with it, why the hell shouldn't I?
Oh, and just in case you were wondering… no, I never did find out who the Russian kid on the shiny red bicycle was. Creepy, huh?
Till next time…
You can check out the episode here: