Tuesday, October 29, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 40

Forry phones it in for the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #89 with a lackluster still from an equally lackluster film, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (in which FJA has a cameo appearance). Other features include the Graveyard Examiner, previews of new monster movies and the always popular more photos, more stories, more features. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

THE FOG

I saw John Carpenter's THE FOG (1980) when it was first released. The film played in Austin at the old (and not missed)  Northcross Six which was one of the worst movie theaters in town for a long time. The poster above is somewhat misleading as it depicts "scream queen" Jamie Lee Curtis as the star of the film when in reality, she's part of an ensemble cast that includes Adrienne Barbeau (Carpenter's wife), Hal Holbrook, John Houseman (for about two minutes of screen time) and Curtis's real-life mother, Janet Leigh.

I thought at the time that THE FOG was one of the best E.C. Comics influenced films I'd ever seen. I watched the film again this afternoon and that assessment still holds up. THE FOG was Carpenter's fourth film as a director, following DARK STAR (1974), ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976),  and the blockbuster, genre-defining HALLOWEEN (1978). THE FOG is a simple, classic ghost story involving the murderous spirits of dead sailors who come back to exact their revenge on the town that killed them one-hundred years earlier.

 It's amazing what Carpenter is able to achieve with fog machines and well placed lights. The ghosts are kept to the shadows and appear mostly as sinister silhouettes with glowing red eyes. As I said, if you've ever read an E.C. horror comic book, you're familiar with the trope of rotting corpses returned from the dead to punish their killers.

The cast is good, the location photography is lovely and Carpenter's direction is assured. THE FOG isn't a great film and it's not Carpenter's best work but it's a very good, solid little piece of genre film making that I enjoyed watching this afternoon just as much as I did thirty-three years ago.

By the way, I had the honor of meeting Janet Leigh at a monster movie convention in Washington, D.C. in 2000. I bought a copy of her book about the making of PSYCHO and had her sign it for me. She was an incredibly petite but extremely gracious lady and it was a genuine thrill to meet her.

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 39

Waste not, want not are the by-words for FAMOUS MONSTERS #87 which recycles both an article and a cover image of THE SHE-CREATURE from a mid-'60s issue of MONSTER WORLD. There's also a photo-film book of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (also a reprint), Monster Comics and a preview of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

STRINGS FOR A VAMPIRE

Just to set the record straight, not all of my experiences with classic films and live music on the UT campus were as bad as that PHANTOM OF THE OPERA debacle I wrote about in my previous post. In fact, I had one of the greatest experiences of my movie-going life on the University of Texas campus back in 2000.

The date was November 5th (I know because Judy framed the ticket and promotional postcard for me, a treasured memento which sits proudly on my desk here at home). The event was a screening of the original 1931 DRACULA, the film that made Bela Lugosi immortal.

I'd seen the film many times over the years but never like this. Those of you who have seen the movie will recall that there is no musical score to the film. Other than some cues from SWAN LAKE, which are played under the opening credits, the film does not have an original musical score. Nor does the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN. Both of these films were early sound productions, just barely out of the silent era and the sound quality of both has never been very good. I don't know that the absence of music helps or hurts the films. After all, that's just the way they are. But in 2000, music was added to DRACULA in a very unique way.

Composer Philip Glass wrote an original musical score for DRACULA in 2000 and he and the Kronos Quartet toured the country performing the music live on stage behind the movie screen while the film was projected. Judy and I had the honor of being there at the Bass Concert Hall to see this once-in-a-lifetime experience. DRACULA has always been one of my all-time favorite horror films and to see it presented this way with an appropriately moody, atmospheric and haunting live accompaniment was a real treat. I later purchased both the CD "soundtrack" and the DVD of DRACULA which features the score as an alternate audio track.

This magnificent performance of film and music did much to purge the bad taste left by the PHANTOM abomination. I loved every minute of it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

SHOOT THE ORGAN PLAYER...PLEASE (WITH APOLOGIES TO FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT)

A long-standing Halloween tradition on the University of Texas campus was the annual autumnal screening of the legendary silent horror film THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). This Universal Studios production was a mammoth undertaking sporting immense sets, Norman Kerry, Mary Philbin  and, as the poster pictured here says, a cast of 5000 others. Oh, and one other very important player.

The great Lon Chaney starred as Erik, the haunted Phantom of the Paris Opera House in a role that brought the supremely talented Chaney his greatest measure of cinematic immortality. Chaney's performance is full of both menace and pathos and the unmasking scene in which Erik's true face is revealed remains one of the single greatest moments in the cinema of the fantastic. Chaney's make-up creation is nothing short of incredible and his skull-faced visage still retains the power to shock and disturb.

My father used to tell  me about the time he and his brother went to see THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA as a first-run film in a movie palace in downtown Cleveland, Ohio (he grew up in Euclid, just outside of Cleveland). He told me that the moment when Mary Philbin ripped the mask off of Chaney to reveal his face was the scariest thing he had ever seen. According to him, he and his brother literally got under their seats and remained there until the movie was over. That was a mistake because by the time the film was over, night had fallen and they had to walk home in the dark, both of them terrified out of their wits by what they had just seen.

At least, that's the story he told me before he died in 1965. I have no way to confirm this tale but it has the ring of veracity to it and it's a story told by a father to a son that I cherish and one that I will believe to my dying day.

I grew up knowing about THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA thanks to my dad and Forry Ackerman. I read about the film in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS and I bought and built the Aurora plastic model kit of the Phantom. I saw the Hammer Studios version of PHANTOM starring the great Herbert Lom but I went for many, many years without seeing the Chaney version.

Several years ago, Judy and I attended the annual Halloween screening of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA on the UT campus. The film was shown in the Bass Recital Hall which is home to an enormous pipe organ. The screening of the film was accompanied by an organist playing the huge instrument. What could be better than a classic silent horror film with live musical accompaniment?

What could be worse was the fact that the print of the film was in horrible condition. It was full of splices and badly scratched and looked as if it had been roller skated upon. This was definitely not a restored print. It was a cheap 16mm version that had been around for who knows how many years and was probably the same one UT rented and showed every year.

To make matters worse, the organist didn't play music that was written for the film, nor did he play music that was appropriate to the film. Instead, he "mickey moused" it up, playing cute little "funny" cues, tunes and themes. When something that modern day audiences might find amusing happened on the screen, he underscored the action with music that encouraged people to laugh at how silly those old time silent movie actors looked and acted.

In short, it was an absolute abomination. The trouble is, Judy and I were probably the only people in the concert hall that were appalled by the desecration of the film. The audience roared with laughter and everyone seemed to enjoy this delightfully "camp" experience. Not us, especially not me.

I would have dearly loved to have seen a pristine fully restored (with hand-tinted color sequences) print of PHANTOM with either an organist or full orchestra playing the original film score or something that was much more in keeping with the times in which the film was made. What I got was one of the most unpleasant movie-going experiences I've ever had.

 Come to think of it, my dad and his brother had the right idea.

 I should have gotten under my seat.

And stayed there.

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 38

I've gotta confess, I'm not impressed by the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #84. Sure, it's a cool color photo of Christopher Lee, blood-shot eyes and blood-stained fangs and all, but that's all it is. A color photo. There's no fabulous Basil Gogos artwork, no cover copy to let us know what's inside this issue, no nothing. It's a very generic cover image that could be found on any monster magazine.

Of course, I bought it when it came out and I still have it in my collection. My best guess is that perhaps both Forry and publisher James Warren were up against an impending publication deadline and they had to throw something together at the very last minute. Can any readers confirm or deny my theory? Let me know.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"THE COLD LIGHT OF REASON"

"Sometimes it's better not to know"

I first encountered the classic British horror film CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957) when the demon from the film was depicted on the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #38. I bought the issue and devoured the article about the film but it was years before I finally saw the movie. I've since seen it several times over the years. I watched it again yesterday and I was once again struck by what a literate, well-made little shocker of a film it is.

Loosely based on the the 1911 story "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James, CURSE is the story of  American scientist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) who journeys to London for a conference on the paranormal. Holden is a major league skeptic who believes that there is a scientific explanation for so-called "paranormal phenomenon" and that things such as witchcraft, hexes and curses are all hogwash and absolute rubbish.

The trouble is, he's wrong. At the beginning of the film, we're shown the death by demon of Professor Harrington (Maurice Denham), who has been investigating the goings-on of a satanic cult led by the supremely charming, urbane and oh-so-evil Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Harrington's death looks like an accident (he appears to have been electrocuted by falling power lines) but how to explain the fact that his body was mutilated? Besides, we the viewers know what really happened as we are shown the demon in all his horrific glory at the very start of the film.

Holden and Karswell quickly cross swords and Karswell manages to pass onto Holden a piece of paper with runes written upon it. He also tells Holden the exact day and time of his foretold death. Holden, aided by Prof. Harrington's niece, Joanna (Peggy Cummins) investigate Karswell's threat. Joanna believes Holden is in real danger after what happened to her uncle while Holden continues to scoff at the fantastic claims until he's finally forced to confront the truth.

A race to the death ensues between Holden and Karswell. Holden manages to transfer the rune script to Karswell which marks him for death by the demon, a dramatic denouement that takes place on railroad tracks with trains whizzing by. Karswell is killed by the demon but onlookers think he was struck by a train. But how do you explain those claw marks on his body? As Holden says to Joanna, "sometimes it's better not to know."

Originally released in Great Britain under the title NIGHT OF THE DEMON, the film was cut from a 95 minute running time down to 83 minutes and released in the U.S. as CURSE OF THE DEMON. The version I watched yesterday is the original British cut of the film. Director Jacques Tourneur does a great job of evoking atmosphere and everything is played extremely straight. However, Tourneur did not want to show the demon in the film, preferring instead to leave the creature's appearance up to the imaginations of viewers. After principal production was completed, producer Hal E. Chester had scenes of the demon shot and edited into the film. While I usually object to an artist's work being tampered with, I must confess that I rather like the appearances of the demon in the film. They're well-staged and imaginatively shot with some very nice special effects work.

CURSE OF THE DEMON is a straight-forward horror story, a clash between science and the supernatural. The script, by Charles Bennett, Hal E. Chester and an uncredited Cy Endfield is first-rate as is the cast (MacGinnis is superb). The production design is by Ken Adam who would go on to do career defining work on DR. STRANGELOVE and the first few James Bond films.

CURSE OF THE DEMON gets my highest recommendation. If you've never seen this sharp, intelligent horror film, you're in for a treat.



Friday, October 18, 2013

SUPERHEROES: THE NEVER-ENDING BATTLE

 I just finished watching all three hours of SUPERHEROES: THE NEVER-ENDING BATTLE, the new documentary that ran on PBS earlier this week.

At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all, I didn't learn anything that I didn't already know. After all, I've been reading comic books (and books about comic books) for more than fifty years. That said, the show gets my highest recommendation. It takes on a huge subject and does so in commendable style with great production values, terrific graphics and a veritable "who's-who" of "talking heads" including important comic book artists, writers, scholars, publishers, editors, actors, actresses and more.

The show hits all of the high-points in the development of the superhero comic book but because of the fact that it's produced and aimed at a more general audience, there are many things that are left out. I understand that and that's fine. If you go off into the weeds too deeply you'll lose the audience.

I do however wish that there had been more about Jack Kirby. The material that's there (including one talking head appearance by Mark Evanier) is good but I would have liked to have seen more. At some point, someone (I forget who) does say that in the history of comic book artists, there's art before Jack Kirby and there's art after Jack Kirby, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree.

It was nice to see Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino and Jerry Robinson all appear on camera. All three men have passed away within the last year and a half and it's still a shock to realize that they're gone.

One thing that struck me watching the program is that Lynda Carter is still breathtakingly beautiful and if the powers-that-be ever green light a Wonder Woman film, Carter should get the first phone call asking her to play Hippolyta, Diana's mother and queen of the Amazons. It was also nice to see the legendary Adam West, which reminded me that I need to post my Adam West story here sometime soon.
A lot of very colorful and important history is covered in three hours and if you're a comic book fan, you'll love SUPERHEROES: THE NEVER-ENDING BATTLE. If you're not, you'll still enjoy it because, as the program states, even people who have never read a comic book now know who most of these characters are thanks mainly to television, films and merchandising.

 

THE WARLORD OF THE AIR

I recently finished reading THE WARLORD OF THE AIR by Michael Moorcock. It's the first book in a trilogy entitled "A Nomad of the Time Streams." First published in 1971, WARLORD (and the other two titles in the series, THE LAND LEVIATHAN and THE STEEL TSAR) has recently been reprinted by Titan Books.

The series concerns the adventures of Oswald Bastable, a British soldier of the early 20th century who becomes unstuck in time and travels to points in the future of various alternative time lines. In WARLORD, the story begins in 1903 when Bastable is sent to negotiate with the leader of a legendary city located deep within the vastness of the Himalayas. Through a process that is never fully explained, Bastable is hurled seventy years into the future into the world of 1973. But it's not the 1973 recorded in our history books.

In this world, neither WWI nor WWII ever occurred and as a result, the imperial powers that were in existence at the beginning of the 20th century are still well and thriving. The British, German, Japanese and American empires (along with a few smaller powers) are in control of a world in which the primary mode of transportation, commerce and warfare are one and the same: airships.

The first two thirds of this rather short (215 pages) novel is mostly a travelogue of Bastable and his adventures as a stranger in a strange land. The titular character, the Warlord of the Air, doesn't make his appearance until page 150. The Warlord is an Asian of mixed descent who has built a veritable Shangri-la in a hidden valley in China. Here, in a perfect utopia, he hopes to bring to fruition all of the best pursuits of mankind: arts, science, philosophy, agriculture, spirituality and more. It's a perfectly level playing field in which all men, women and children are equal.

 But in the midst of some interesting discussions about various political ideologies, war breaks out when the valley is attacked by airships from the imperial powers. There are some terrific aerial combat sequences that are far too short. In order to stop the war, Bastable and the Warlord must fly an airship out of China to Japan, specifically Hiroshima, where the airships of the imperial powers are being repaired and refueled at a massive airbase. Once above the base, the Warlord drops his secret weapon, an atomic bomb and the subsequent blast hurls Bastable back to 1903. But it's not our 1903. To be continued...

THE WARLORD OF THE AIR is an engaging novel. It reads quickly and I did enjoy it but I wish  Moorcock had gotten to the real heart of the story, the Warlord and the conflict that follows, a bit faster. I have copies of the other two books in the series and I will definitely read them but not before I read something else for a change first.

Michael Moorcock is a major figure in the history of science-fiction, both as a writer and editor. He was editor in the 1960s of  NEW WORLDS,  a British science fiction magazine. During his tenure as editor, Moorcock published many important works by authors of the "New Wave" movement of science fiction. He's written dozens of novels and currently resides in the Central Texas area in, of all places, Bastrop. I've never met him but I'd like to do so one day. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

PREY AKA CUJO WITH LIONS

I watched PREY (2007) yesterday. This direct to DVD potboiler stars the increasingly gruesome looking Peter (ROBOCOP) Weller and Bridget Moynahan. They're husband and new second wife on a working vacation in Africa. Mom Bridget and her two step-children, a boy and a girl, go on a wildlife viewing safari while dad Peter works on a new dam. Their driver and guide decides to go off-road for a closer look at some big game when the son has to go to the bathroom. And not in a bottle. The guide escorts the boy to a tree behind which he can do his business and that's when the trouble begins. Lions.

The lion attacks are filmed from the lions' point-of-view, using a streaky visual effect that, in the good old days, would have been advertised as being filmed in "Lion-O-Vision" or "LionScope". The attacks are actually a fairly good mix of real animals, really big puppets and CGI. Before you know it, the guide is dead and mom and the kids are trapped in their Range Rover. Lesson here: when you've got to poop in the wild in Africa, you damned well better just pinch it off for as long as you can.

To add to the dramatic tension, the step-daughter and step-mom Bridget do NOT get along. Their ordeal continues over the course of a couple of days while dad Peter and big game hunter Jamie Bartlett search for them.

PREY isn't a bad movie. It reminds me of one of those "nature strikes back" thrillers of the 1970s. Shot on location in Africa, the film has acceptable production values and a decent cast. The script tries to throw as many curves as possible into the trio's predicament but nothing can change the fact that we KNOW none of them are going to die. It's just not that kind of a movie.

While watching the film, I was reminded of the non-fiction books of real-life big game hunter Peter Hathaway Capstick. His first book, DEATH IN THE LONG GRASS, which I read and enjoyed many years ago, would make one helluva good movie.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

THE GOLDBERGS

I don't watch prime-time episodic network television. I haven't done so for almost thirty years. I can count on one hand the network television shows that I've actually watched on a regular basis over the last few decades on one hand: THE WONDER YEARS, NORTHERN EXPOSURE, THE X-FILES and SEINFELD. That's pretty much it as far as shows that I really wanted to see every week and made an effort to do so.

A few years back, Judy and I watched the first few episodes of COMMUNITY and MODERN FAMILY. We enjoyed them but not enough to make us want to see those shows every week.

But I am watching AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D on ABC this fall (I'll post about that show in the future) and when setting the DVR to get AGENTS, I noticed the show, THE GOLDBERGS,  that follows it at 8:00 p.m. CST.  Judy and I had seen a few commercials for this show (the spots aired during prime-time college football games, which I do watch) and it looked like it might be worth taking a chance on. I made a point to record the show. We've seen the first three episodes and so far, so good.

THE GOLDBERGS is a Jewish version of THE WONDER YEARS set in the 1980s. There's an off camera adult narrator recounting the trials and tribulations of his family during that decade. There's the gruff dad who takes his pants off immediately after entering the house when he gets home from work. The over-protective mother who refuses to cut the apron strings. The semi-moronic older brother who seems doomed to fail at every endeavor. There's an older, high school age sister who is the least developed character on the show. And there's grandfather Pops, who is played by the great George Segal (a favorite actor of mine). Segal is the only actor on this show that I recognize.

The episodes we've seen thus far are fairly heavily saturated with '80s nostalgia and humorous situations. The top loader JVS VCR with the big color buttons on the front that's seen at the beginning of each episode? I had one of those. There are references to films such as POLTERGEIST, TOP GUN, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, STAR WARS, etc, as well as shout-outs to '80s toys such as Rubik's Cube, Transformers and G.I.Joe. Each episode thus far consists of two separate story lines, an "A" plot and a "B" plot an approach that gives maximum exposure to the entire cast.

THE GOLDBERGS isn't nearly as well written and acted as THE WONDER YEARS was but it's a funny little show that we're enjoying while it lasts. Will it last? Probably not. I suspect a large part of whatever audience it's attracting owes a lot to having AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. as a lead in but only time (and ratings) will tell if it makes it past mid-season. One thing ABC can do to help ensure its' survival is to keep it where it is on the prime-time schedule and don't move it to another night and time which seems to almost always result in cancellation.

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 37

The cover image for FAMOUS MONSTERS #86 is taken from the one-sheet for the film THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (a film I reviewed on this blog last year). There's also the annual preview of upcoming horror, fantasy and science fiction films, some of which were actually produced and released, while others never advanced past the option stage. 

CASTING SET FOR THIS ISLAND EARTH REMAKE

Universal Studios announced today plans to remake the 1955 science fiction classic THIS ISLAND EARTH. 

The part of Exeter


which was played by Jeff Morrow in the original film, will be played by this man



Friday, October 11, 2013

SANTO VS. THE MARTIAN INVASION


I blame it all on the current issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS, #270, which, among other features, devotes several full color pages to those sublimely bizarre and oh-so-surreal Mexican super-hero wrestler movies, better known as Las Luchadores. While reading the issue the other day, I got to thinking that it had been many years since I sat down and watched a masked wrestler epic. I decided to scratch that itch this afternoon by watching SANTO VS. THE MARTIAN INVASION (1966) and it's a shame that the film isn't nearly as good as the poster pictured above.

Santo, the wrestling super-hero, starred in many films produced in Mexico from the 1950s to the 1970s. In the films, he's always clad in his trademark silver mask (actually a full head hood), cape and tights. In some films, he wears a coat and tie or a dinner jacket in place of his wrestling togs but he is always, always, masked. Santo operates as both a wrestler and a super-hero and over the course of his cinematic career he tangled with a variety of monsters and menaces.

As you can surmise from the title, Santo takes on a band of invading martians in the film I watched this afternoon. There's a lot of stock footage. There's a flying saucer. There are muscle bound Martian men and zaftig Martian women. There are wrestling scenes. A lot of wrestling scenes. There's one extremely long bout that may still be taking place somewhere in Mexico City for all I know.

The plot of this film is about as solid as a loaf of bread. There are continuity errors, the invasion plan of the Martians doesn't make a lick of sense, Santo uses a tricked up transistor radio to locate the Martian saucer and the streets of Mexico City (one of the most densely populated urban areas on the entire planet) are oddly deserted. Did I mention that there's wrestling?

SANTO VS. THE MARTIAN INVASION plays like an issue of a Golden Age comic book from a poverty row publisher with a story and art that was cobbled together over a weekend in order to meet a deadline. The DVD I watched had English subtitles over a nice print of the film. I consider subtitles on foreign language films far preferable to badly dubbed English.

If you've never seen one of these films, you owe it to yourself to check one out. The Las Luchadores movies are like nothing you've ever seen before.

THE BOY WHO LOVED MONSTERS AND THE GIRL WHO LOVED PEAS

I thoroughly enjoyed the premiere performance of THE BOY WHO LOVED MONSTERS AND THE GIRL WHO LOVED PEAS at the Long Center this morning. It's the latest play by the award-winning Pollyanna Theatre Company and if you've ever seen a Pollyanna production, you know how good they are. If you've never seen a Pollyanna show, now is your chance.

The play runs this weekend and next and you 'll find more information at www.pollyannatheatrecompany.org. If you're a parent of young children, get tickets and go! If you're a middle-aged married person without kids like me, get tickets and go. I loved it and I guarantee you will too. Highest recommendation.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

THE WAR LOVER

I watched THE WAR LOVER the other day. It's a 1962 British black-and-white film based on the novel by John Hersey (which, sad to say, I've never read). The film stars Steve McQueen, Robert Wagner and British actress Shirley Anne Field, who is a dead ringer for American actress Tatum O'Neal.

McQueen is definitely cast against type in this film. Instead of exuding his trademark '60s cool, McQueen gives off crazy vibes in his portrayal of a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber pilot. He's the captain of the crew and he's the best damn pilot flying against the Germans in 1943. He loves his job. Really loves his job. He loves his job so much that on the bombing mission that opens the film, he continues on to the target and drops his payload of bombs even though the attack has been called off by the high command and all of the other bombers in his squadron have been ordered to return to base.

Co-star Robert Wagner is McQueen's second-in-command and co-pilot. The men have a love-hate relationship. They don't have much in common but Wagner respects McQueen's uncanny flying skills and ability. Wagner falls for a beautiful British woman (Field) but McQueen finds himself incapable of loving anyone or anything other than war itself.

When a bombing run over Germany goes wrong at the end of the film, it's up to a wounded McQueen to get his plane and crew back safely to England. Most of the crew survive. McQueen doesn't. How's that for a downbeat film?

Capably directed by Philip Leacock, THE WAR LOVER is a good psychological portrait of men at war. It's more concerned with the characters and their mental states than on combat itself but the flying sequences at the beginning and end of the film are superbly staged.

I'm a big fan of McQueen and he gives a good performance here in a film that isn't usually included when critics assess his body of work. That's a shame because THE WAR LOVER is a very good film.

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 36

An appropriately spooky piece of art and one helluva lot of copy grace the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #66. As you can read for yourself, the big feature in this issue is a filmbook of THE OLD DARK HOUSE, one of four classic horror films directed by James Whale for Universal Studios in the 1930s. The other three? FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

MODERN DADS

I must confess that Judy and I have been enjoying MODERN DADS, the new reality television show on A&E. In fact, it's quickly become one of our favorite current programs. The filmed in Austin (look, there's Pease Park! look, there's Precision Camera! look, there's Terra Toys! look there's Callahan's General Store! look there's Central Market! you get the picture) show features four stay-at-home dads who hang out together at Pease Park and get into all sorts of misadventures.

The cast includes Nathan, the new dad, Rick, the veteran dad, Sean, the step-dad and Stone, the single dad. Each episode has provided us with several laugh-out-loud moments and one line in one episode in particular ("this tastes like a hobo's ass") made me laugh very long, hard and loud. If you've ever heard me laugh, you know what that sounds like. If you've never had the pleasure, it's the sound of a braying jackass that has been known to frighten young children and timid adults.

Is it great television? Heck no. It's on A&E. But it is fun to see Austin featured in a television series and while I'm not a dad and will never be one, I enjoy spending thirty minutes with these guys each week. Check it out.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

THE PITCH

Judy and I have enjoyed watching recent episodes of THE PITCH on AMC. Based on the enormous popularity of MAD MEN (a program which I have yet to see an episode of), AMC began running this hour-long reality series last year. I was unaware of it during the first season but we've seen several of the second season episodes that are currently being aired.

The premise is simple. A company engages two advertising agencies. The companies and agencies are located in such diverse locales as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Nashville. They all meet at the beginning of the episode and the company presents its brand, product, needs and desires to the agencies. The agencies then have one week to come up with a "pitch" for an ad campaign. At the end of the week, each agency makes their pitch to the company and the company decides which agency will get the contract.

The show provides a fascinating peek behind-the-scenes at what goes on in a 21st century advertising agency. Many of the agencies featured on the show are small. Some have been in the business for years while others are new-kids-on-the-block. Judy and I almost immediately choose the agency we want to see win and keep our fingers crossed throughout the episode. We almost never like some of the younger, hipper agencies presented on the show as they seem to be pompous, arrogant, and oh-so-full of themselves. They think it's all about them and not about the company whose business they're trying to win. Unfortunately, many of these hipster agencies are the ones that do win the accounts, due primarily to their grasp of all things social media and digital.

The episodes we've seen thus far have featured the following companies: Bliss, SquareTrade, Tommy Bahama, Little Caesars Pizza, Gibson Brands, 1-800-Flowers and The Fuller Brush Company. We've enjoyed watching all of these episodes and look forward to seeing more.

 THE PITCH. Check it out.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

DIAL 'M' FOR MURDER

As I mentioned in my post about Dirty's earlier today, Judy and I enjoyed seeing DIAL 'M' FOR MURDER on the UT campus last night. The stage production was at the B. Iden Payne Theater and featured a cast of student actors. One of the interesting things about this production is the use of music during key moments of suspense and drama throughout the play. The music that is heard is from Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO. The magnificent score to that film was by Bernard Herrmann and Judy and I both recognized it the first time we heard it last night. I wonder if any other audience members recognized it as well. The play was written by Frederick Knott in 1952 and filmed, in 3-D no less, by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954. The movie version stars Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, Anthony Dawson and John Williams (the actor, not the composer).

The story is a familiar one. Cheated-upon husband plans to murder his wife and creates the perfect alibi for himself so that no suspicion will fall upon him. He blackmails an old college chum into performing the evil deed but things do not go as planned. The would-be victim wife ends up killing her attacker and is subsequently charged and convicted for the murder. The husband looks to have gotten away with it but things start to unravel and his "perfect crime" turns out to not be so perfect.

Seen in retrospect, DIAL 'M' FOR MURDER is a blueprint for the long-running television series COLUMBO. We see the killer make his plans. We see a murder occur. We know who is responsible for all of this and then, in the second act, enter a police detective who keeps asking "just one more question" as he tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The suspense in DIAL 'M' lies in watching the murderous husband get caught in a scheme of his own devising, not in figuring out "whodunit."

Several years ago, we screened DIAL 'M' at the Paramount as part of the Summer Film Classics series. It was not the 3-D version but it was a visually interesting film nonetheless because every other reel of the film was somehow flip-flopped. In one reel, a door of the apartment set would be on the right, Ray Milland would part his hair on the left, etc. In the next reel, the same door would be on the left of the frame, Milland's hair would be parted on the right and so on. The entire film played like this. The funny thing is, the magnetic soundtrack strip was unaffected by the whole thing. It didn't hurt the enjoyment of the film, but it did make for some disorienting interior design moments. Wait, wasn't that picture over there a minute ago?

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 35

A scene from the Universal B-picture CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN graces the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #81. In my opinion, this is one of the weakest pieces of cover art to appear in the first 100 issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS. It just doesn't seem up to the usual standards. Features on ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (got it!) and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (ditto!) round out this issue. 

DIRTY'S

I know that Dirty Martin's Kumbak Place, the venerable hamburger dive/joint on Guadalupe just north of the UT campus, has a menu. I'm sure they do. Every restaurant does. It's just that I've never had to look at it.

That's because I've ordered the exact same thing every time I've eaten there in the last forty plus years. Judy and I dined there last night before attending a production of DIAL M FOR MURDER on the UT campus and I had what I always have: an OT Special (double cheeseburger with bacon, mayo, lettuce and tomato), onion rings and a cherry Coke. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The first time I went to Dirty's was when I was in junior high school. My brother and I, along with a couple of his buddies, had gone to see a movie one night. I cannot recall what movie or where we saw it but I do know that after the show, we stopped in at Dirty's for a late night burger. We sat at the counter and watched Wesley (the grill cook that seemed to work there forever) cook our burgers. You can't get any fresher than that. And it was love at first bite for me when I ate my first Dirty's burger. I've been eating there on a semi-regular basis ever since.

When I was in high school, those of us lucky enough to have a car could leave campus for a forty-five minute lunch break. One day, my friend Smiley (Robert Morgan) and I decided to go to lunch in his car. I said, "Let's go to Dirty's." He said, "What's Dirty's?" I said, "Just drive, I'll get us there."

 When we pulled up in the parking lot, Smiley exclaimed, "Oh, you mean the Koom Bock place!"

"The what?" I asked.

"The Koom Bock, just like it says on the sign," he said, pointing at the white and green banner that reads "Martin's Kumbak place."

"That's pronounced come back, " I said, "not Koom Bock. What in the hell did you think a Koom Bock was?"

"I don't know," he said. "I just know they have good hamburgers here"

And they do. Dirty's, a ramshackle,cramped building on a spit of land where two streets form a 'Y", has been serving hamburgers to UT students, alumnus and Austinites since 1926. They've cleaned the place up quite a bit since I first started going there. They've increased the seating capacity and added several flat screen televisions. I don't know that they've changed the grease though and that's a good thing because a Dirty's burger is a thing of beauty, a dripping, greasy masterpiece of the art of the hamburger.

After a UT home football game when I was in college, I was at Dirty's with my buddies Steve Cook and Terry Porter. We were waiting to meet up with our pal Ray Kohler, who was one of Bertha's Boys in the Longhorn Band. While we were waiting at a picnic table outside, we were "befriended" by a drunken derelict who shared such gems of wisdom with us as the fact that Lubbock policemen (UT had just beaten Texas Tech) don't like Toyotas and that instead of hanging out at Dirty's, all three of us should be at Scholz Garten "getting some pussy." We declined his advice and departed as soon as Ray got there.

When Judy and I got married in 2005, we hired a great photographer named Mark Gaynor to shoot all of our wedding photos. In our initial meeting with him he told us that he liked to shoot wedding pictures that are different and original if possible. I looked him in the eye and asked, "Could you shoot my groomsmen pictures at Dirty's?"

"Sure," he said without missing a beat.

And so, on the afternoon of my wedding day, my groomsmen and I all gathered in the parking lot of Dirty's for group pictures. It was only one great moment of a great day.

That's how much I love Dirty's.

Friday, October 4, 2013

CAN WE GET A FACT CHECK ON AISLE THREE? SECOND CALL


In today's edition of Austin 360, the weekly entertainment section of the Austin American-Statesman, two articles are devoted to the new film about the JFK assassination, PARKLAND. One article is a review of the film and the other is a sidebar about Peter Landesman, the writer-director of the film.

In the Matthew Odam written sidebar, the following appears: "We all know about Abraham Zapruder and his black-and-white film..".

I've seen the Zapruder film. Saw it for the first time when I was in high school back in the '70s. That's a frame from the film shown above. I dunno, looks like a color film to me.

In Joe Gross's review of the film, we find this: "Too many years have past...". Um, no, I don't think so. Fifty years have passed since that day in Dallas, a tragic event that occurred in the past.

Does the Statesman even have a copy editor on staff these days?





MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 34

FAMOUS MONSTERS #80 was the issue that followed FAMOUS MONSTERS #69. What? Huh? How did that happen? Where are issues numbers #70-79?

Forry had an answer for the change in issue numbering. In the mid-'60s, Warren Publishing produced ten issues of MONSTER WORLD magazine (also edited by Forry) which was a companion horror film mag to FM. MONSTER WORLD was essentially FAMOUS MONSTERS. There was no difference whatsoever in the editorial content in terms of articles and photos. So Forry figured that since those ten issues of MONSTER WORLD were really issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS, they should be incorporated into the overall FAMOUS MONSTERS run and counted as issues #70-79. It makes sense (sorta) and it doesn't make sense (sorta). I've always suspected that it was a cheap and easy way to get FAMOUS MONSTERS closer to issue #100, which would be a very big deal in terms of longevity for a monster movie magazine.

FAMOUS MONSTERS #80 features a still from BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, the sequel to PLANET OF THE APES. Oddly enough, the original POTA had never been cover featured in FM and this issue marks the first cover for the franchise. (Note: the misspelling of "sequal" on the cover). Also featured are BLOOD OF FRANKENSTEIN and Bela Lugosi in CHANDU.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

FROM THE LAND OF SKY BLUE WATERS

When I was a kid, I used to see television commercials for Hamm's beer all of the time. The commercials, you may recall, featured an animated bear and a catchy jingle about how Hamm's beer was from "the land of sky blue waters".  Obviously, I never purchased Hamm's beer when I was a kid and when I was old enough to start buying and consuming beer, I never chose Hamm's. In fact, until this week, I'd never tried a Hamm's beer.

For the last few years I've been experimenting with different brands and styles of beer on an off-and-on basis. Most of the time, when I drink beer, I prefer Miller Lite but I've sampled several different brands over the years and have found many to be to my liking. Lately, I've left the beer experiment choices up to my lovely wife Judy. When she's grocery shopping without me, she'll pick a six-pack of something based either on the label art, the price (beers on sale are always a good thing) or both.

The other day we were shopping together at H.E.B. after church and found ourselves in front of the beer cooler. There was Hamm's beer, not on sale, but priced very cheaply. I thought, why not? It's been around for years, I've never tried it, let's give it a shot.

When we got to the checkout line, we were informed that since it was a couple of minutes before noon (this was on a Sunday, remember), we couldn't purchase the beer at that time. All of our other grocery items were rung up first and we waited a couple of minutes until it was legal to buy the beer.

Let's make this clear. I had to wait to buy this stuff and I did so. Willingly.

According to the label on the cans of beer we bought, Hamm's has been brewed since 1865. I think the batch I bought was brewed in 1866. Hamm's is an astonishingly light beer (this from someone who generally prefers light, lager style beers). And it's not that this beer tastes bad. It's that this beer has no taste. None. It's unlike any other beer I've ever had. I'll finish the six-pack because I don't like to waste food and/or beverages. After all, I did wait to buy it. And hey, it was cheap.

But damn it, that cartoon bear sure let me down.

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The immortal Lon Chaney Sr. makes the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS #69, an issue that features a filmbook of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, the legendary silent film directed by Tod Browning and starring Chaney. I'm not sure how Forry managed to make a filmbook about a film that at the time (and to this day) remains lost. Stills and a screenplay are all we have of this holy grail of silent horror cinema.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 32

FAMOUS MONSTERS #67 sports a great cover image of Lon Chaney Jr menacing a helpless young woman to lead off a special Witches and Witchcraft themed issue. Among the features, THE BLACK CAT starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, which, after THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, is my second all-time favorite Universal horror film.