Monday, May 30, 2011
This was my second attempt at creating a 3D ZOMBY comic, and I think this one turned out better than the first one. Seriously, put on your red-and-blue glasses and then back up from your screen a foot or two. It's really neat. The sadness and desperation seem to follow you around the room. So... uh, look out, James Cameron.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
In Dante Alighieri's Inferno, the outermost -- and therefore least severe -- circle of Hell is called Limbo and is reserved for the unbaptized and for virtuous pagans who did not accept Christ. Here one will find sinners whose punishment is living in a diminshed, though still fairly nice, version of Heaven. Meanwhile, in the Mill Creek DVD boxed set Drive-In Cult Classics: 32 Movie Collection, the outermost circle of Hell is reserved for films which are rated 5.5 to 5.4 on the Internet Movie Database. Yep, that's as lofty as the films in this set get, which isn't suprising considering that (I think) all of them come from Crown International Pictures.
Here, traveler, you will find reviews of the following films:
Separate Ways (1981)
The Babysitter (1969)
Carnival of Crime (1962)
Let us begin our journey.
Few remember it now, but there was a time in this country when soapy domestic melodramas actually had a shot of making it big at the box office. Separate Ways was Crown International's somewhat feeble attempt to cash in on the trend. Fortunately, they recruited two fine cult movie actors, Karen Black and Tony Lo Bianco (both quite good here), to play the squabbling couple. Lo Bianco's an ex-racecar driver whose auto dealership is failing. Black is a stay-at-home mom who finds her marriage unsatisfying. They have trouble communicating. They argue. They have affairs. They go through a trial separation. She finds employment at a sleazy club called the Foxy Lady. Blah, blah, blah. Cut out the nudity and the profanity, and this would be perfect for the Lifetime network. Mill Creek gives us an acceptable but slightly muddy full-frame transfer which probably doesn't do Dean Cundey's cinematography justice. GRADE: C
Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? Probably not. If so, just barely. Ms. Black does at least three nude scenes, but these are brief and not quite satisfying. The scenes at the Foxy Lady are also far too tame to sate the drive-in audience. Meanwhile, there's some auto racing action at the beginning and end of the film, but this is really just the same not-too-exciting footage used twice. The filmmakers, admirably, did try to spice up one of the couple's fights by having it take place in a moving car which is driven crazily and dangerously by Lo Bianco's character. But for the most part, Separate Ways is just talk, talk, talk.
Another film about an upper-middle-class couple whose marriage is in trouble, The Babysitter tells the story of a rather stodgy district attorney who decides to cheat on his even-stodgier wife with the couple's free-spirited hippie babysitter, Candy. Meanwhile, some junkie delinquents find out about the DA's extracurricular actitivies and try to blackmail him in an attempt to free one of their loser junkie friends. The Babysitter is definitely one of those time capsule movies which probably felt out-of-date a week after it was released, but that doesn't make it any less fun. In fact, I enjoyed the heck out of this, despite about a hundred boring parts. The full-frame transfer is pretty rotten (just try pausing the picture and see what you get), but somehow I didn't mind it much. GRADE: B
Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? With flying colors, even though it's in black-and-white. The Babysitter wallows in sleaze and scandal for virtually its entire running time. There's plenty of nudity, debauchery, and sadism along the way, including at least two scenes in which women's bras are removed at knifepoint. The only real drawback is that we have some great Manson Family-looking bikers in the movie, but there's not much in the way of biker gang action. But the drive-in crowd definitely got their money's worth with this flick.
Carnival of Crime
Ay! With a title like that, you might think Carnival of Crime would be about the felonious goings-on at a circus sideshow or something, but sadly this is not the case. The "carnival" in question is the one they have in Brazil. This is a dubbed, B&W cheapie about an architect whose adulterous (and, frankly, mean) wife goes missing. She's later discovered murdered, and guess who's wrongly accused of her death? It's up to the architect to solve the murder, which involves talking to a lot of sleazy-looking men I would describe as cads. To blatantly pad out the running time, there's a completely unrelated, tacked-on subplot about two assassins arguing amongst themselves in the jungle. The only really interesting thing about Carnival of Crime, though, is the stock footage of some neat-looking Brazilian architecture from the 1960s. The transfer, it must be said, is horrendous even by Mill Creek standards. GRADE: D
Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? Not hardly. Slow, talky, and horrendously dubbed, Carnival of Crime leaves virtually all the sex and violence off-screen. Even Brazil's Carnival itself seems fairly dull here. There's almost nothing to look at and even less to get excited about.
COMING UP! The Second Circle - Lust - featuring Van Nuys Blvd., The Pom Pom Girls, The Sister-in-Law, and The Teacher.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
So good to be back, my dear readers, if only temporarily.
A couple of weeks ago, a horrendous, stubborn, and expensive virus attached itself to my computer like one of those face-huggers from Alien. That and an increased work schedule effectively kept me from updating this blog recently. But the computer is now (hopefully!) repaired, and I have a three-day Memorial Day weekend with no real plans. So I'll probably put some new Zomby cartoons and other assorted articles on the blog over the next few days. Hope you'll be around to read them!
How have you been, by the way? I've missed you.
Yours most truly,
President, Spokesman and Founder of Dead 2 Rights
Monday, May 16, 2011
Hello, one and all.
It seems I had some kind of virus on my computer, and now I'm basically out of commission. So no updates on this blog for the foreseeable future, including ZOMBY.
As soon as it is technically possible to do so, I will start updating this blog again.
Thanks for your patience,
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Those of you who are familiar with Mill Creek Entertainment's multiple-movie DVD boxed sets will know what I mean when I say that watching them is pretty much the cinematic equivalent of descending into a fiery pit of doomed sinners. I don't know where Mill Creek finds these films exactly, but the company's specality is taking low-budget flicks that have fallen into the public domain and rounding them up into massive (yet quite affordable) collections with names like Chilling Classics. Pretty much anywhere DVDs are sold, you're likely to find a bargain bin with Mill Creek sets, sometimes grouped by theme or genre (sci-fi, Westerns, horror). The movies themselves are often highly dubious in quality and the transfers range from acceptable to horrendous, but these are the risks you are taking when you buy cinema in bulk.
Recently while grocery shopping, I found a bin of bargain DVDs including some Mill Creek sets. I knew I could not resist their siren song, so I settled on one called Drive-In Cult Classics: 32 Movie Collection. It contained a handful of movies I'd seen and mostly hated, but the vast majority were new to me and at $10 (or about 31 cents per flick) the price was certainly right. Besides, with the TV season ending, I was looking for a summer movie reviewing project.
But how to attack a set like this? I decided to base the project on the depiction of Hell in Dante's Inferno. What does this mean? Well, Dante divided his version of Hell into nine different layers or circles, each lower than the last depending on the severity of the sins. As one descends from one circle to the next, one comes closer to Satan himself who resides in the Ninth Circle. So I took the 32 films in the Mill Creek set and divided them into nine different circles depending on their current user ratings on the Internet Movie Database. I will be watching the films in descending order of IMDb scores, with the absolute worst coming at the very end.
Here is a chart of how the project will progress.
FIRST CIRCLE: LIMBO
(IMDb ratings 5.5 to 5.4)
(IMDb ratings 5.5 to 5.4)
Separate Ways (1981)
The Babysitter (1969)
Carnival of Crime (1962)
SECOND CIRCLE: LUST
(IMDb ratings 5.3 to 5.0)
(IMDb ratings 5.3 to 5.0)
Van Nuys Blvd. (1979)
The Pom Pom Girls (1976)
The Sister-in-Law (1974)
The Teacher (1974)
THIRD CIRCLE: GLUTTONY
(IMDb ratings 4.9 to 4.8)
(IMDb ratings 4.9 to 4.8)
Blue Money (1972)
Best Friends (1975)
Pink Angels (1976)
FOURTH CIRCLE: AVARICE AND PRODIGALITY
(IMDb ratings 4.7 to 4.4)
(IMDb ratings 4.7 to 4.4)
Malibu High (1979)
Double Exposure (1983)
The Devil's Hand (1962)
Hot Target (1985)
FIFTH CIRCLE: WRATH AND SULLENNESS
(IMDb rating 4.3)
(IMDb rating 4.3)
Malibu Beach (1978)
Single Room Furnished (1968)
Cindy and Donna (1970)
SIXTH CIRCLE: HERESY
(IMDb ratings 4.2 to 4.0)
(IMDb ratings 4.2 to 4.0)
The Hearse (1980)
Land of the Minotaur (1976)
The Stepmother (1972)
SEVENTH CIRCLE: VIOLENCE
(IMDb ratings 3.7 to 3.1)
(IMDb ratings 3.7 to 3.1)
Night Club (1989)
Trip With the Teacher (1975)
Blood Mania (1970)
EIGHTH CIRCLE: FRAUD
(IMDb ratings 2.7 to 2.1)
(IMDb ratings 2.7 to 2.1)
Madmen of Mandoras (1963)
Click: the Calendar Girl Killer (1990)
They Saved Hitler's Brain (1968)
NINTH CIRCLE: TREACHERY
(IMDb rating 1.9)
(IMDb rating 1.9)
The Creeping Terror (1964)
Weekend With the Babysitter (1970)
I hope you will join me on my journey over the coming weeks as I descend further and further into the Mill Creek Inferno. Either way, I hope you will pray for me.
|The eyes of Lindsey Buckingham.|
On those occasions when you think of Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road," the theme song from National Lampoon's Vacation, what images come to mind? Do you think of a family going on a summer vacation? Or, rather, do you think about a dreary, totalitarian corporate prison where the miserable employees toil at rows of identical desks, the windows have iron bars, and there is toxic-looking blue liquid in the water cooler?
I generally think of the first scenario. Lindsey Buckingham, though, thinks of that second one, the business-prison one. At least that's what I gleaned from the song's truly nutty music video:
You keep thinking that Lindsey's gonna turn things around and a party is gonna break out in that office with Hawaiian shirts and binge drinking. But, no, the mood stays grim right up to the end, when "business Lindsey" sees "sexy time Lindsey" walk mysteriously into the fog-shrouded woods. (Full disclosure: I don't think I get what's supposed to be happening at the end of this video.)
Overall, I can't say that I've ever seen such disparity between an upbeat 1980s pop song and its music video. It would be like taking "Walking on Sunshine" and setting the video in a gulag. I can only imagine what inspired Mr. Buckingham to do this. But there it is, for you to enjoy.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
|Len Cella, both as himself and as a giant cat|
|Truffaut's to blame.|
But what if there were a true cinematic auteur, someone who literally did it all, i.e. wrote, directed, starred, edited, the works? Might that individual be the ultimate cinematic auteur?
Such an artist is Len Cella.
What? You've never heard of Len Cella? He's directed literally hundreds of films, and his work has been seen by (no exaggeration) millions of people. Born in 1937 in Pennsylvania, Cella's first few decades of life were largely undistinguished. He dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania, attempted careers in sportswriting and advertising without much success, and by his mid-forties was living off the $500 a month he was making as a house painter. But all this time, he was still flogging away at his creative pursuits. Three novels went unpublished, and his attempt to start a humor magazine failed. But then in the mid-1980s, Cella got into filmmaking, specifically making ultra-brief homemade comedy films which generally lasted anywhere from 10 to 50 seconds. He called these dadaist creations Moron Movies, and they had self-explanatory titles like Jello Makes a Lousy Doorstop and Pea Abuse.
This, as they say, was the turning point.
There was no Internet to speak of back in 1983 and no sites like YouTube, Funny or Die, Daily Motion, or Metacafe where short comedy clips could find a ready audience. So Len Cella would show his absurd Moron Movies at a small screening room at the Lansdowne Theater, outside Philadelphia. These screenings were successful enough to warrant the release of two VHS compilations, Moron Movies and More Moron Movies. More importantly, though, they caught the eye of a television producer and were featured on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson from 1983 to 1985. From 1984 to 1988, Len's movies also turned up on another Carson-produced show, TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes, where they were redubbed "Len Cella's Silly Cinema" (a name Cella himself hated).
It was the Bloopers show where I first saw Len's work. The distinctive Cella comedy style is tough to describe but easy to identify and impossible to miss. The man himself plays all the roles, of course, so his face and voice will soon be familiar to any viewer. He looks and talks a bit like Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it's like Larry David has been lobotomized, shot up with Novocaine, and left in a freezer overnight. The only emotion Len Cella ever really displays is a kind of low-level, curmudgeonly crankiness. His humor at first seems to be utterly imbecilic, but it's the kind of pure, undiluted stupidity that only a smart-alecky nerd would ever come up with. This is only humor in the most abstract sense of that word. Each of Cella's little movies is like a sub-atomic particle of comedy, a concept so small it barely even counts as a joke. Here, watch a few:
You catch on pretty quickly to the Len Cella formula. A cryptic title card appears, then Cella himself deadpans some kind of absurdist half-joke directly to the camera (or manipulates some incredibly shabby props from off-screen), and then we repeat that process over and over. "Low energy" hardly begins to describe it. On The Tonight Show and Bloopers, these clips were made more "palatable" with the laughter of the studio audience and the selection of more conventionally jokey clips. But on their own, viewed one after another, there's a kind of eerie purity to it all. You start to notice just how much silence there is between Cella's "jokes," and how the man himself seems to have a hopelessly nihilistic view of the world. The clips themselves are generally very quiet and often static, so there's a kind of weirdly hypnotic quality to them. Watching Cella's work for a protracted amount of time is the comedic equivalent of transcendental meditation. Try for yourself:
So whatever became of Len Cella? Well, in 1987, he did use his marginal television fame to finally get a book published. It was titled Things To Worry About (In Case You Run Out), and it's been described as a collection of absurd phobias, which is in keeping with the utterly dour, paranoid pessimism of Cella's film work. As for the man himself, he's about 74 now and still maintains a marginal presence on the Internet. There's his Twitter feed, which consists of seven tweets from March 6, 2009, and absolutely nothing else. (Another example of Cella's minimalism?) He maintains -- and apparently still uses -- his MySpace page, which contains a darkly fascinating anecdote about Red Skelton among other things.
And in 2007, Cella released a new compilation of his short comedic films entitled Crap. He's older and crankier now and his thoughts are much more on sex and scatology, but otherwise the Cella approach has not changed. Here's a NSFW trailer:
The address given at the end at the end of the CRAP trailer appears to be a private residence, so I'd imagine that Cella is still living in Pennsylvania and distributed the film out of his home. If anything, his accent has gotten thicker over the years.
|Len Cella in The Last Temptation o f Fluffy.|
UPDATE: In 2010, Len Cella appeared as "Dave Priest" in a comedic sci-fi short entitled The Last Temptation of Fluffy, written and directed by Bob C. Cooke and Larry Dixon. It's the third film in Cooke and Dixon's so-called "Fluffy trilogy" about a cute but deadly alien invader. Fittingly, Len did all his scenes alone in an office. It would be wrong somehow to have cinema's loneliest loner share the screen with anyone else.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
HOW TO MAKE A ZOMBIE COCKTAIL
- 1 1/4 oz lemon juice
- 1 oz dark rum
- 3/4 oz orange juice
- 1/2 oz cherry brandy
- 1/2 oz light rum
- 1/2 oz high-proof dark rum
- 2 dashes grenadine
- Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake well.
- Strain into a highball glass with crushed ice.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Sunday, May 8, 2011
|The surviving Beatles and George Martin at Abbey Road studios.|
"As far as I'm concerned, there won't be a Beatles reunion as long as John remains dead."
-George Harrison (1989)
The late George Harrison spoke those words a mere five years before his participation in The Beatles Anthology, a multi-media project that was essentially sold to the public as the next best thing to a Beatles reunion.
No mere TV special, the Anthology would encompass an eight-part documentary series on ABC (which would temporarily rechristen itself A-Beatles-C for the occasion), three double albums of musical outtakes and rarities, and finally a mammoth coffee table book. This material trickled out over the course of several years. The TV show aired in 1995. The albums were released in 1995 and 1996. The coffee table book, for whatever reason, didn't come out until 2000. All, of course, were tremendous financial successes and conquered their respective charts (the Nielsen ratings, the Billboard charts, and the New York Times best-seller list).
But the Anthology project concluded over a decade ago, and I thought it was high time we reexamined it to see how it has held up over the years.
First of all, it's important to remember that for many years, there really wasn't that much "new" Beatle material on the market for fans to collect and obsess over. The group as we know it, i.e. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, only existed for about seven tumultuous years. During that time, the group released roughly a baker's dozen LPs, some non-album singles and B-sides (enough to fill up an additional double LP), and a few feature films.
When you come right down to the numbers, the Beatles canon (and their legacy) consists of about 212 songs: 187 originals and 25 covers. That's it. You could easily get through their entire catalog in about half a day and have plenty of time for meals, breaks, siestas, whatever. Following the group's demise in 1969 or 1970 (depending which timeline you're following), those same 212 songs were mixed and matched in endless combinations and resold to the public again and again. Apart from the Live at the Hollywood Bowl LP (recorded in 1964 and '65 but not released until 1977), it was mainly just recycled bits from the now-very-familiar canon.
But the Anthology project opened the floodgates, and since its time there have been a number of "official" new releases of archival Beatle material, such as Let It Be (Naked), Live at the BBC, and Love, a soundtrack album which weaves together parts of various Beatle songs into a sort of audio collage. So now, instead of having 212 Beatles songs on my iPod, I have well over 500 (closer to 600). The rarities and outtakes the Beatles have released after the demise of the band now outnumber the tracks they actually released during their time together! Is this a good thing, or does it somehow make the canonical 212 Beatle songs a little less special? That is ultimately a question for rock historians to decide. As for the various elements of The Beatles Anthology, here are my thoughts:
The television series (1995)
|John is back from the grave in this group shot.|
After an experience like that, The Beatles Anthology feels weirdly impersonal. The Anthology series focuses almost entirely on the group's professional life and tries its best to record the basic facts of the group's career: essentially, what they did and when they did it. But the series offers very little insight into the group members' private lives or their interpersonal dynamics.
And this is very much an officially-sanctioned Beatles product, so the series downplays a lot of the negative aspects of their story such as the petty financial squabbling of the group's final years. Where Anthology excels is in assembling lots and lots of vintage Beatle audio and video into an exciting, well-paced compilation. There are television appearances, press interviews, live concerts, and promotional films galore here for your viewing enjoyment. It's a mother lode of Sixties nostalgia, and the sound mix is absolutely magnificent.
As for the much-vaunted new interviews with the surviving Beatles, it's interesting how much the musicians inadvertently reveal about themselves.
Paul remains the consummate show-off, the teacher's pet who has to constantly remind himself to appear humble. (One of the series' oddest touches is the decision to film a distracted Paul while he's steering a yacht.)
George, recently described by Rolling Stone as "the first to sour" on any project, is the one who is obviously the least impressed by the Beatles legacy.
And good old Ringo seems like the nicest, least pretentious chap in the world. He can be quite funny, too, as when he very candidly discusses John's decision to pose nude on an album cover.
The series occasionally gathers the three surviving Beatles for roundtable discussions, and it's remarkable how much they've changed since their heyday. It's hard to believe that these guys were once at the center of a maelstrom. They all resemble slightly dilapidated old hippies who should really cut their hair and start wearing suits at this point in their lives. Ringo's scruffy beard and ballcap actually make him look a bit like a panhandler at times.
Sometimes, you really can't go home again.
The most intelligent and well-spoken commentator is not any of the Beatles themselves but rather their producer, George Martin, who brings an insider's knowledge of the Beatles recordings to his interviews. I think the emotional high point of the entire series is the scene in which Martin listens to a take of John singing "A Day in the Life" and simply reacts to it.
The albums (1995-1996)
|The three album covers formed a triptych.|
Divest yourself of the notion that these three double LPs are going to be a treasure trove of unreleased Beatle songs. Such a trove does not exist. There are only a handful of tracks that the Beatles recorded but did not use, and these were already very familiar to Beatle fans due to their inclusion on bootleg albums.
So what will you find on the Anthology LPs?
Well, live recordings for one, though these of course taper off during Anthology 2 since the Beatles stopped touring in mid-career. The rest of the tracks are alternate versions of songs you already know very well: demo recordings and unused takes from their recording sessions. Your interest in this material will largely depend on your interest in the Beatles' creative process. If you want to enter the restaurant through the kitchen, so to speak, this is your opportunity.
There are a couple of revelatory moments along the way, such as the evolution of John's "Strawberry Fields Forever," the isolated backing tracks for "Eleanor Rigby" and "Within You, Without You," and an a cappella mix of "Because." The Anthology albums are not really designed for straight-through listening sessions, but these tracks can be quite entertaining in small doses. You can skip around them freely, stopping here and there depending on your interest level.
I suppose this is also the place to talk about the most controversial and highly-publicized aspect of the entire Anthology project: the two "new" Beatles songs which were created by taking unfinished demos that John recorded in the 1970s and adding new vocals and instrumental backing to them.
Some observers were put off by the "ghoulish," grave-robbing aspect of these recordings, and others griped that producer Jeff Lynne made the two new songs sound less like the Beatles and more like his own band, ELO. Personally, I had no real moral qualms over tampering with John's demo recordings, and I kind of like ELO.
That said, it should be noted that "Free as a Bird" comes from a very shaky, nowhere-near-finished demo recording, so the audio quality of John's lead vocal is quite poor. "Real Love" was much closer to completion, so its transformation into a post-mortem Beatles song is less dramatic. But by the same token, I think "Real Love" is a stronger song than "Free as a Bird." Either way, these songs are pleasant curiosities. Nothing to get hung about.
The coffee table book (2000)
|Try taking this bad boy to the beach.|
A ridiculously oversized and hefty tome, this is a book that all but defies you to actually sit down and read it. An oral history pieced together from quotes from the four Beatles, this book also contains many hundreds of photos and archival documents and should be a vital resource to the earnest Beatlemaniac.
Unfortunately, its sheer weight and size prevent it from being portable, and its very busy and cluttered layout (an attempt, I guess, to recapture the chaotic visual aesthetic of the Swinging Sixties) basically prevent it from being readable. The Anthology coffee table book is perfect for casual browsing, but I wish it had been released as a nice, sensible, B&W paperback.
|Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair are mother and daughter in The Exorcist.|
Of all the possible combinations of parents and children, it is mothers and daughters whose relationships have made for some of the most fascinating horror films of all time. Sure, thanks to Psycho, we have lots of mother-son horror films with unhinged mama's boys going on homicidal sprees due to unresolved Oedipal trauma. But for the most part, this is just garden variety Freudian stuff, straight out of a Pysch 101 textbook. Meanwhile, the mother-daughter dichotomy is not so narrowly defined and can thus be explored in any number of ways, and horror films have done so more than movies of any other genre or category.
|Cinderella's wicked stepmom.|
One key theme that runs through fairy tales is the often vicious rivalry between older women and young girls, with the former being bitterly jealous of the latter. Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty are all about girls who are relentlessly plagued by envious, aging women. Latter-day authors seeking to create new fairy tales borrowed this theme for their own stories. In The Little Mermaid (1837), for instance, Hans Christian Andersen has his guileless title character enter into a sinister pact with a Sea Witch (re-imagined as "Ursula" in the Disney film), while of course L. Frank Baum gives his Dorothy a rival in the Wicked Witch of the West and Lewis Carroll's Alice memorably incurs the wrath of the Queen of Hearts. ("Off with her head!") Even modern authors cannot escape this theme. Joyce Carol Oates, for instance, has stated that there is an undercurrent of "sexual jealousy" between the mother and daughter characters in her fairy-tale-like short story, "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?"
Horror movies take this theme one step further. Whereas in fairy tales, the older woman is usually some kind of mother surrogate (The Evil Stepmother, The Evil Queen, The Evil Witch, etc.), horror films cut right to the chase and explore the mother-daughter relationship directly. As I said before, though, these cinematic relationships are complex and multifaceted. It isn't always a case of the mother being jealous of the daughter, but I'd say that theme is always buried somewhere down deep in each of these films.
The Bad Seed (1956), directed by Mervyn LeRoy
|Patty McCormack stares blankly at Nancy Kelly in The Bad Seed.|
Based on the hit stage play, The Bad Seed tells the marvelously overwrought story of a frantic mother (Nancy Kelly) who slowly comes to the horrifying realization that her "perfect" daughter (Patty McCormack) is a serial murderess who kills without remorse and seemingly possesses no moral compass whatsoever. What's a mother to do when the person she loves the most in the world is also a monster who must be destroyed? Filled with highly stylized acting and eminently quotable dialogue (South Park's Cartman has been known to quote Patty McCormack's infamous Rhoda Penmark character), The Bad Seed is a deliriously enjoyable camp fest thatf also tells a gut-wrenching story.
Straight-Jacket (1964), directed by William Castle
Berserk (1967), directed by Jim O'Connolly
|Diane Baker and Joan Crawford have their problems in 1964's Straight-Jacket.|
Of course, we couldn't get through the theme of "mother-daughter horror" without mentioning Ms. Joan Crawford, now could we? Luckily for us, Joan made a few films in the 1960s that deal with the theme very directly. In Straight-Jacket, Joan beheads her cheating husband with an ax in the presence of the couple's daughter. After a long stint in an asylum, a still-shaky Crawford tries to resume her former life and reconnect with her now-grown daughter. That age-old theme of "sexual jealousy" comes to the forefront almost immediately here, as Crawford tries vainly to recapture her youthful appearance and even makes a drunken play for her daughter's boyfriend! Berserk is in a similar vein, though set in a circus milieu and not nearly as good. It's still worth watching, though, for some classic Joan Crawford-style histrionics and several absurd murder scenarios. The mother-daughter relationship in Berserk is no healthier than the one in Straight-Jacket.
The Exorcist (1973), directed by William Friedkin
|A rare peaceful mother-daughter moment in The Exorcist.|
What really amazed me when I revisited The Exorcist in recent years is that, until the late-in-the-film exorcism itself, this is really a story about Ellen Burstyn's character, a mother watching in helpless horror as her daughter becomes possessed by Satan. In a lot of ways, Burstyn's dilemma is similar to what Nancy Kelly faced in The Bad Seed. She has a strong, overwhelming urge to help and protect her daughter even when that daughter is turning into a dangerous, homicidal monster. I said earlier that the theme of "sexual jealousy" may be buried down deep in the subtext of these films. Is it mere coincidence that the daughter is on the cusp of adolescence, perhaps on the verge of entering puberty, while the mother is an aging actress who is employed in the youth-and-beauty-obsessed world of Hollywood motion pictures and whose own marriage is failing? Perhaps the demonic possession is a physical manifestation of the anxiety Burstyn feels about her daughter's oncoming sexuality and her own fears about being "replaced" by a younger woman.
Carrie (1976), directed by Brian DePalma
|Sissy Spacek is about to be ambushed by Piper Laurie in Carrie.|
Brian DePalma, typically, has no time for subtlety or subtext and gets right to the heart of things. God bless him for that. The theme of "sexual jealousy" between mother and daughter is front and center here, and the onset of sexuality is unmistakably linked to a torrent of blood and violence. Adapted from the Stephen King novel, Carrie tells the story of an awkward teenage girl (Sissy Spacek) whose late-arriving menstruation and mysterious telekinetic powers spell doom for herself, her classmates, and her highly-religious mother (Piper Laurie), who cruelly seeks to repress any signs of her daughter's burgeoning womanhood. (She ruefully refers to her daughter's breasts as "dirty pillows.") The mother's deep seeded sexual repression is memorably revealed in this speech that Laurie delivers to Spacek near the end of the film:
I should've killed myself when he put it in me. After the first time, before we were married, Ralph promised never again. He promised, and I believed him. But sin never dies. Sin never dies. At first, it was all right. We lived sinlessly. We slept in the same bed, but we never did it. And then, that night, I saw him looking down at me that way. We got down on our knees to pray for strength. I smelled the whiskey on his breath. Then he took me. He took me, with the stink of filthy roadhouse whiskey on his breath, and I liked it. I liked it! With all that dirty touching of his hands all over me. I should've given you to God when you were born, but I was weak and backsliding, and now the devil has come home. We'll pray.
Mommie Dearest (1981), directed by Frank Perry
|Mara Hobel and Faye Dunaway are the (false) picture of perfection in Mommie Dearest.|
We close out the list with a little more Joan Crawford, albeit of the second-hand variety. I am including Mommie Dearest in this article because it is, at heart, a Gothic horror film, complete with a house that holds terrible secrets. Here, Faye Dunaway brilliantly portrays the great screen star Crawford in a biopic that may or may not have any connection to reality. The next time you watch it, I suggest you try to forget Mommie Dearest has any connection to real life and simply enjoy it for its operatic qualities. That's really what this is: an opera without singing. In fact, the actors, particularly Dunaway, are practically singing their dialogue anyway, especially during the movie's infamous "night raid" scene. In a lot of ways, this film feels like the mirror image of The Bad Seed. I've long felt that both of these cinematic mother-daughter pairs simply had the misfortune of being mismatched by the cruel hand of fate. Imagine how happy poor Nancy Kelly would have been with a daughter like Mara Hobel's Christina Crawford (or, later in the film, Diana Scarwid's Christina Crawford). And in a mother like Joan Crawford, bad seed Rhoda Penmark might have finally met her match! One wonders: would those two have battled each other to the death or would they have teamed up to prey on others?
Saturday, May 7, 2011
|Elliott Gould delights us all in Dead Men Don't Die.|
Recently, the host of the Mail Order Zombie podcast, Derek "Brother D" Koch, sent me three (!) full-length zombie movies on DVD. One of these was the infamous Buddy Bebop Vs. The Living Dead, which both Brother D and Scott "Need-a-Nickname Scott" Morris awarded a score of 1 headshot out of a possible 5. Not a promising sign. But Brother D said he compensated for this by sending me at least one "good" movie to balance out the awfulness of Buddy Bebop. Unfortunately, he couldn't remember exactly what he did send me, so I guess it's up to me to figure out which one that is.
With only three movies, my odds of finding the elusive "good" one are fairly high. And since Brother D has already acknowledged that Buddy Bebop is not it, my chances are getting even better. It has to be one of the other two films, right? I began my quest tonight with a 1990 film called Dead Men Don't Die starring Elliott Gould. Could this obscure comedy be the chosen one?
In a word, no. In two words, fuck no.
Right away, the film's packaging caused me to have serious doubts as to its quality. Dead Men Don't Die didn't come in a standard DVD box but rather a cheap case made of clear hard plastic with the title of the movie printed on flaps at the top and bottom. If you regularly buy your movies at the same place you buy off-brand laundry detergent and expired candy, you know the kind of case I mean. Besides this, the cover also depicted Elliott Gould seemingly dressed as a clown or mime and making a "funny" face like he was receiving a digital rectal exam from Freddy Krueger. Add to this some wacky mismatched fonts, and you have the kind of packaging that screams, "Ignore me! I am a waste of your time! Do not purchase me or rent me!"
Dead Men Don't Die somehow manages to be even worse on the inside than it is on the outside. Tedious beyond belief, relentlessly unfunny, and embarrassingly racist, this was quite a chore to sit through. The film's ugly and cheap costumes, shabby scenery, unconvincing makeup, and insipid music combine to make it an assault on the eyes and ears.
Briefly, the plot concerns an egotistical newsman (Gould) who is murdered while snooping on some drug dealers but is revived as a "voodoo zombie" by a Jamaican cleaning woman (Mabel King). Thrown into the mix are a bumbling cop, an ambitious female anchor, various thugs, and some other people you won't care about.
Dead Men is trying, I guess, to be a farce, but the writer-director forgets that farce depends on a furious and escalating pace and instead allows his film to become unforgivably sluggish and repetitive. The acting is very hammy and sitcom-ish for the most part, while Gould (who has given brilliant performances in the past) spends most of the film making moronic faces and grunting. Meanwhile, Mabel King's stereotypical character seems like a holdover from another era entirely. How sad that this was her last role.
To make matters worse, virtually the entire film takes place within one very unremarkable office building, so we spend a great deal of screen time looking at narrow hallways with low-pile carpet and drop-panel ceilings. It gets very monotonous, to say the least. The only element of visual interest here is a boom mic that enters the frame in nearly every scene. Seriously, the microphone gets so much screen time it should be listed in the cast.
I can only imagine that Dead Men Don't Die was made as some sort of tax write-off or as a way to launder money. There is no other reasonable excuse for making such a film. I cannot begin to catalog all the ways in which it insults the viewer's intelligence. Dead Men fails in seemingly every way a movie can fail. The people responsible for making it should be ashamed for having wasted perfectly good money and resources.
So in summary, this was not the good one.
Friday, May 6, 2011
Thursday, May 5, 2011
For the first ten years of his career, maverick Baltimore auteur John Waters scored all of his movies the same way: with "stolen" songs, mostly R&B oldies, from his own personal record collection. But for his 1974 magnum opus, Female Trouble, he wanted to have a newly-penned theme sung performed by his top-billed star, the 300-lb. female impersonator Divine. On the film's DVD commentary track, Waters reveals that the song's backing track is taken from a pre-existing song called "Black Velvet Soul."
Well, thanks to the magic of the Internet, it is now possible to compare these two historic tracks. The original "Black Velvet Soul" was written by Bob Harvey, a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, and performed by R&B singer Cookie Thomas.
Anyway, here's Divine's version:
And here's the original:
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Zomby's eyes take up more room on his head than Ziggy's eyes do. So whenever Tom Wilson draws Ziggy with a hat, I actually have to move the character's nose down a little to make room for the eyes. Please, Tom Wilson, don't draw Ziggy with a hat. It adds, like, seven seconds to the process on my end.
And now you know.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
|Our former nemesis, now zombified.|
The headlines today have been dominated by the death of notorious terrorist Osama bin Laden. In what must be considered a journalistic coup for Dead 2 Rights, I have wrangled an interview with the deceased al-Qaida leader as he begins his new "life" as one of the living impaired.
WK: So... big day, huh?
OBL: I'll say.
How do you feel?
Weird. Tired from the move, mainly.
I'll bet. Are you surprised not to find yourself in paradise with 72 dark-eyed virgins?
Honestly? No. Death clarified a lot of issues for me, like, instantaneously. It's like the picture had been all blurry and then suddenly came into focus. Namely, I realized that the living version of Osama bin Laden was a complete shitheel. I don't know what I was thinking, to tell you the truth. Wow. I was way, way off. I realize that's not much consolation, but there you are.
So I take it you won't resume your old ways as a quote-unquote "zombie"?
Me? No. I have a ton of atoning to do, so I'd better get started. I'm thinking of changing my name, disguising my appearance, and joining Greenpeace.
Classy. Do you mind discussing your recent demise?
Not at all.
Well, the paper said you died in a "firefight" in a "mansion." That sounds a lot like Al Pacino in Scarface.
You sound tentative.
I don't know what that is, the thing you're referring to.
You've never seen the movie Scarface?
I was a terrorist, kid. We didn't keep up with movies. We were too busy... you know, terrorizing.
Bummer. If only you'd had Netflix, maybe everything would have been different.
Tell me about it.
Will you be catching up on what you missed?
No. Like I said, I've got plenty to atone for, and that's how I'm going to spend my time. From here on out, it's nothing but peace, love, and charity for me.
That's... uh, refreshing I guess. Tell me, of all the media outlets in the world, why did you choose to speak to me?
Don't take this the wrong way, kid, but I wanted to keep a low profile and I've seen your readership numbers. There's literally no lower media profile than this blog.
Oh. I don't know how to respond to that, so I guess we'll wrap this up.
Do you validate parking?
Not for you. Sorry.
No. I totally understand.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
|A more serious Chubby Checker on the cover of one-and-only psychedelic album.|
"I wouldn't want to meet that m*therf*cker!"
-comedian DAVE CHAPPELLE on CHUBBY CHECKER
Hold on, Dave. You just might want to meet him after all.
The Sixties were a time of such social and cultural upheaval that a person could be considered the epitome of cool at one end of the decade and the very antithesis of cool at the other. Such was surely the case with singer Ernest Evans, a.k.a. Chubby Checker. At the beginning of that tumultuous decade, Chubby ruled the charts with such great dance-friendly pop R&B hits as "The Twist," "Limbo Rock," "Pony Time," and (best of all) "Let's Twist Again." Chubby's reign as the king of pop came during one of those awkward, in-between eras of rock music. The first wave of rock (Elvis, Chuck Berry, etc.) had subsided and the second wave (The Beatles, Stones, etc.) had not yet begun. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, something had to bridge the gap, and that something was twist music. For a heartfelt tribute to this era, please see John Waters' original 1988 version of Hairspray, a film which features roughly a half-dozen great Chubby Checker songs on the soundtrack (though, for legal reasons, not on the soundtrack album).
By the time the 1970s rolled around, Chubby Checker's reign on the top was definitely over. By 1973, he had already moved to the nostalgia circuit (as recorded in the massively-entertaining concert documentary Let The Good Times Roll), which is where he remains to this day. But in 1971, Chubby had not quite given up yet, so he did what any sensible person would do: he went to Holland and recorded a psychedelic rock-soul masterpiece with Jimi Hendrix's producer, Ed Chaplin. The resulting disc, known alternately as Chequered or New Revelation, apparently did not set the pop world aflame, and Chubby himself has basically disowned the thing. Perhaps he knew his future lay in giving "twist" demonstrations on morning talk shows.
But none of that stops Chequered from being awesome. Here, check out the lead track -- a slow-cooking, spaced-out jam called "Goodbye Victoria":
Quite a change from "Limbo Rock," right? You can see from the LP cover how Chubby was trying to change his image. Gone were the greasy pompadour and the fixed smile of his twistin' years. Now he was wearing his hair naturally and sneering at the camera. Maybe that's why this record didn't go over big at the time. Or maybe it was because the songs on the LP had titles like "Stoned in the Bathroom" and "Love Tunnel," which didn't fit Chubby's squeaky-clean image. Who knows? The good news is that the album is easy to find -- free! -- nowadays. Just do a Google search for "chubby checker" chequered and you'll find any number of places to download it.
Here. I've done it for you.