little white lies magazine #26

 

Now available in the new issue of Little White Lies magazine is my essay on director Spike Jonze and the “fabled filmmaking class of ’99″ entitled “Taking Over the Asylum.” The issue is chock full of Jonze tidbits including an interview with the man. So check it out if you’re inclined. But act fast if you’re interested in snagging a hard copy version of the magazine since they typically sell out. An online version of the magazine will be up in a month or so, though. But I can’t stress enough how wonderful Little White Lies looks in the hard copy format. Great stuff.

Purchase your copy here.

A shorter version of my Jonze piece will also be in the upcoming issue of surf/skateboarding/snowboarding mag Huck… out soon.

I should add that the covers for both magazines are visually linked too. Very nice.

david carradine

Saddened by the death of actor David Carradine, I’ve been wanting to post something about him but I’ve been unable to get a handle on what I wanted to say.  The “perversity” surrounding the manner of his death doesn’t really interest me… and it’s too bad that so many people are focusing on that aspect, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Actors like Carradine–geniunely weird, eccentric, volatile, and frequently great–are a dying breed.  Back when I was eleven or twelve, I came into possession of a treasure trove of Playboy magazines and read an article on Carradine back when he was still riding that post-Kung Fu wave.  I don’t recall specifically what it was in the piece that freaked me out, but I remember being shocked by how untamed and unpolished he came across, shattering my tiny mind regarding how I thought actors were supposed to behave away from the cameras.  Of course, if you can’t deliver on talent to balance out the wildness, then you’re just out-of-control.  Carradine delivered.

Anyway… here’s a link to a piece on David Carradine that pretty much sums up (more eloquently) what I think as well.

charlie kaufman film poll

Over at the always interesting Moon in the Gutter blog, Monsieur Richey is holding a Charlie Kaufman film poll in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Kaufman/Spike Jonze feature Being John Malkovich… our first real encounter with these (still) extraordinary filmmakers.

So head on over and vote.  I’m curious to see what the results are myself.  I’m choosing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York for my two faves.  Who’s with me?!

bettie page

bettiepage

I woke up this morning to hear of the death of iconic pin-up girl Bettie Page.  She’d suffered a heart attack a little over a week ago and so the news wasn’t a surprise but it’s still sad.  My first exposure to the lovely Bettie was through the late Dave Stevens‘ marvelous The Rocketeer comic book in the mid-1980s, where “Betty” (later named Jenny and played by Jennifer Connelly in the 1991 film of the same name) was idealized in pen and ink for a new generation of (mostly) young men who had never yet seen any of her original nudie, bondage, and cheesecake photos from the late 1940s and 1950s.  By the early 1990s, the Bettie Page revolution was in full swing and if you knew where to look, it wasn’t difficult to see her influence everywhere–books, movies, comic books, postcards, posters, porn.  And if it wasn’t the dirty, fun, girl next door Bettie herself, it was  some swishy hottie who wanted to look and be just like her.  Remember that hot retro chick who used to work the bar down at your favorite watering hole, the one with the bangs, the sneer, and the purr every time Johnny Cash came roaring over the juke?  That was Bettie.  Revved-up for a new generation.

The real Bettie, the one beyond the image, didn’t have the easiest life after she quit posing for fetish pictures in the late 1950s.  She became a Christian, spent some time in Portland, Oregon (I was told when I lived there), Florida, and then eventually moved back to Los Angeles.  There were plenty of mostly downs and you can read more about that here, but it seems that in her final years Bettie recouped some of the money that had been made off of her image throughout the decades.

She’ll live on–in books, movies, comic books, postcards, posters, and porn.  Legends only grow hotter with the passage of time.

uncle forry

fmof054

The great Forrest J. Ackerman, the man who unleashed countless monster kids into the world with the publication of his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, died last night in Hollywood at the age of 92.  He will be missed.

I got a chance to meet Forry back in the late 1990s at the World Horror Convention in Phoenix, Arizona and he was kind enough to pose for a picture with me and some friends as well as show us the rings he received from the legendary Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  He also talked about those iconic masters of horror and I could have listened to Uncle Forry, as he was widely known as to his many fans, all night.  I always meant to journey down to Hollywood to visit his fabled Ackermansion, his treasure trove of a house filled with cinematic arcana devoted to science fiction, horror, and fantasy… but alas, I never did.

You can read more about the king of genre fandom here.

R.I.P.

forry1

the triffids are back

I’ve long been a fan of John Wyndham’s apocalyptic science fiction novel Day of the Triffids.  For such a ludicrous concept–giant carnivorous plants, possibly man-made, stalk the earth and leave humanity dead, wounded, or scrambling to fight them off–the book is a gripping read, mostly due to how Wyndham superbly delineates the power struggles between the different gangs of survivors in the waning twilight of civilization.  The relatively mindless terror of the triffids is bad enough.  But with the added pressure of argued, reasoned, collectivized tyranny enforced by a group of soldiers upon our protagonists, it’s difficult to decide what grim fate is worse.

Published in 1951, Wyndham’s novel has influenced everyone from George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland (28 Days Later), as well as spawning two direct screen adaptations.  The first one was a 1962 version starring Howard Keel–sort of fun in a Saturday morning movie and cold cereal kind of way–and from what I can remember it’s not very faithful.  The other version, made for British television back in the early 1980s, lacks the cinematic oomph! that the story demands, but its earnest acting and faithfulness to the source material make it essential viewing.

Here’s a clip from it:

Now, 57 years since its original publication, Wyndham’s monstrous veggies are getting a new chance at life with news that the BBC has commissioned a new mini-series from writer Patrick Harbinson (ER, Law & Order).  The show won’t hit television screens until 2009, so if you’ve never read the book… you have plenty of time to rectify that.

I’m not sure if the majority of Americans truly understand how vibrant triffids are to the collective imagination of people hailing from England, Scotland, and Ireland.  It’s sort of like the difference between Dr. Who in England (it’s part of the culture at large, not relegated to cult status) and Star Trek in the States (cult phenom).  Triffids are part of the culture.  Here in Ireland, hidden away in the wilds, I was more than amused hearing people toss out the word “triffid” to describe an overgrown plant or savage looking nettle.  Thank the gods above and below that I haven’t seen any plant(s) actually move around in the jungle of weeds behind our cottage, but there is a rather large and intimidating looking beast of a plant nestled between the back door and the window that distresses me.  The cat seems to like it, though, so I’m not completely ready to burn it down yet.  But at the slightest sign of aggression… it’s broccoli.

You can read more about the allure of triffids and the perverse love of watching the end of the world in films here.

underrated halloween movie picks

[This was actually supposed to be posted on Wednesday October 29.  Then on Thursday... and then Halloween came around and it still wasn't up.  Now it's November 2 and well... Halloween really is every day for those who love horror and the macabre.

You love horror movies and want to host a marathon of them for Halloween… only problem is: you’ve seen everything!  What to do?  You’ve seen all of the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies, you’ve had your fill of zombies, you’ve worn out your discs of Argento, Bava, and you want something a little edgier than your beloved Universal monsters, Hammer horrors, and wispy Val Lewtons.  What to do?  Here are my picks for some underrated horror films sure to scare, disturb, or freak you out.

Possession (1981)

Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neil are a married couple in peril.  She wants a divorce and her emotionally detached husband doesn’t.  So she does what any person would do in her situation… she has an affair with a monster.  Or something like that.  Crazy, brutal, surreal, bloody, and did I mention… crazy?  This is the trailer for the shorter American cut of the film, thankfully no longer available.

The Keep (1983)

Not a great movie by any means.  In fact, the second half is downright unintentionally hilarious, hideous, and memorable in all the wrong ways.  Up to that point, though, Michael Mann’s one foray into the eldritch regions of cosmic horror is pretty damn good and is a faithful interpretation of F. Paul Wilson’s Lovecraftian-styled vampire novel.  I think this film’s unavailibility on DVD has helped it generate a cult appeal that… well, would wear off pretty quickly if people actually watched it.

Having said that… there are some amazingly hypnotic scenes early on–e.g. the opening few minutes, the discovery by the two Wehrmacht soldiers of the hidden tomb, Scott Glenn’s “awakening” and his subsequent journey to the Keep–that easily separated this from the glut of slasher and gore films flooding the screens around the same time.  Hopefully, Paramount will unleash Mann’s “director’s cut” (rumored to be 180 mins) onto BluRay and DVD soon and I’ll be pleasantly surprised by how wrong I am about that second half.

Prince of Darkness (1987)

This is one of director John Carpenter’s lesser known movies, but one that has always had its share of supporters… me being one of them, though I didn’t come on board until the mid-1990s.  It has two terrible lead performances by Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount, some hilarious unintentionally funny scenes, and yet… yet… it scares me.  In fact, it contains one of the scariest moments that I’ve ever seen in film.  And no, it has nothing to do with Jameson Parker.  My gods, what was Carpenter thinking when he hired him?  Guess he came cheap.

Santa Sangre (1989)

Director Alejandro Jodorowsky, no stranger to surrealism and provocative subject matter (see the cult classics El Topo and The Holy Mountain), here conjures up what is arguably his most cohesive and overall best film.  It’s also a strangely moving film, while never abandoning the grotesqueness and violence that frequently shape Jodorowsky’s films.

The Reflecting Skin (1990)

The nightmare of childhood indeed.  Plenty of great films have been made about the loneliness, pain, and horrors of adolescence–Bunuel’s Los Olvidados, Victor Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive, Robert Mulligan’s The Other, Jean-Claude Lauzon’s Leolo, and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, to name just a few–and though I don’t think Philip Ridley’s feature debut deserves to be placed in the pantheon, it sure does pull you down into its dark undercurrents, leaving you unsettled and lost afterward.  I haven’t seen it since 1990, so my recollection of it may be a bit foggy.  But I often think back upon the film’s American gothic sensibility and surrealistic touches… and that awful moment with the frog.  And then there’s that thing in the barn… and those greasers in the car… and that vampire….

Here’s the trailer.  Also look out for the great Viggo Mortensen in an early role.  Mortensen would team up again with Ridley for the director’s second film, The Passion of Darkly Noon.

Dust Devil (1992)

When South African director Richard Stanley’s post-modernist science fiction/horror Hardware was released in 1990, it seemed like the work of a true stylist and pessimistic visionary… a long fetid industrial howl in complete opposition to the overblown escapist fantasies that the Hollywood studies churn out and have perfected.  Hardware felt like a true cinematic comrade to the so-called cyberpunk literary sub-genre that was already burning out around that time.

Hardware wasn’t a hit when it came out and it quickly disappeared from theater screens in the US.  I managed to see it three times at the cinema and eagerly wanted to know where this Richard Stanley was going to lure us next.

But when Dust Devil was finally released a few years later, it arrived straight to video from Paramount as an 87 minute mess (courtesy of Harvey Weinstein at Miramax) and I was left frustrated by its incoherence. Then I read a review in Sight & Sound where a longer cut of it had been released, fleshing out the film’s more mythic ideas as well as the storyline involving Zakes Mokae as cop on the hunt of the supernatural serial killer played by Robert Burke.  Thankfully, the “Final Cut” and an even longer workprint are readily available on DVD, giving us an opportunity to reevaluate it.  Now, if only Stanley would direct a new feature.

Here’s the video trailer for the “Final Cut.”  Warning: graphic violence.

Dark Waters (1993)

The 1990s were not a great time for the supernatural horror film, especially of the European variety.  But for lovers of Argento and Fulci, Mariano Baino’s feature-length debut is a hot shot of sinister atmosphere and monstrous evil.  While pretty much ignored in the years after its release, the film has garnered a much deserved cult audience since its stellar US DVD release a few years back from NoShame.  A minor classic to be sure.

Cemetery Man (1994)

Here’s another brilliant, inspired Euro cult classic from around the same time as Baino’s film.  Although most serious horror aficionados were familiar with director Michele Soavi from his numerous supporting roles in films like Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, Lamberto Bava’s Demons, and many others, as well as his own directoral work with StageFright and The Church, it was Dellamorte Dellamore aka Cemetery Man that made many of us realize how brilliant Soavi truly was.  Based on the long-running Italian fumetti (comic book) Dylan Dog, the film was unavailable legally for years in the US before finally being given a disastrous theatrical run a couple of years later.  The best Italian horror film of the 1990s, without a doubt.  And a zombie film to boot… when zombies were far from being hip.

Dead Birds (2004)

Now for one of the best American horror films from this decade, the supernatural Western Dead Birds.  Starting off like The Wild Bunch when a group of AWOL Confederate soldiers rob and shoot up a bank, the film careens into Lovecraftian cosmic horror when the bandits retreat to an abandoned plantation mansion.  Strong performances, especially from Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, Michael Shannon, and Isaiah Washington, and a deliberate pace help draw us into the creeping inevitable doom these characters face.  Highly recommended.  Why this wasn’t given a proper theatrical release from Columbia Pictures is beyond me.

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

Premiering at the 2005 HP Lovecraft Film Festival in my hometown Portland, Oregon (where I first saw it and reviewed it for VideoScope magazine), this short is a true labor of love.  Based on Lovecraft’s tale of eldritch terror and madness from beyond the stars, the film is a black and white homage to silent film (think Guy Maddin mixed with Weird Tales) and is surprisingly faithful as well.  Until Guillermo Del Toro finally makes the long rumored At the Mountains of Madness… this is the supreme Lovecraft adaptation around.  And there’s even a stop-motion sequence too!

halloween music a go-go!

Ah, yes… horror and music.  They fit together like movies and popcorn, beer and pizza, and Japan and robots.  Ever since the opening bell echoed in the doom and gloom on Black Sabbath’s eponymous first LP, heavy metal bands have utilized the horror genre for lyrical and stylistic inspiration, not to mention earning blood buckets full of cash in the process.  It’s a potent mix perfectly fitted for monster-minded kids warped for rebellion and shock.  And though many metal bands today have upped the stakes for a bloodier, brutal, and more jaded age, the essential reasons why they do it remain the same.

It’s a blast.

But metalheads aren’t the only ones attracted to the darkside.  Whether it’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the Cramps, or the surf/garage rock sounds of the Ghastly Ones, horror and music don’t always equal downtuned riffs.  The following videos are a few of my favorites and, I think, make for the perfect accompaniment for Halloween.

First up… the infamous Screaming Lord Sutch, groovy Brit garage rock circa 1964.  He’s most famous for his song “Jack the Ripper,” but I dig this one even more.  Lord Sutch, who was a representative for the National Teenage Party and founded the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, was influenced by Screamin’ Jay and likewise influenced the brilliant and totally underrated Alice Cooper.  Here’s Lord Sutch singing “Dracula’s Daughter.”

And speaking of Alice… he used to scare the hell out of me as a kid in the 1970s.  Between him and KISS, I couldn’t believe such demonic majesty was even legal!  Having said that… I couldn’t get enough of them.  Cooper pretty much dropped off my radar after the age of ten, as did KISS, but a few years ago I was seduced by those early Alice Cooper band albums (Pretties for You, Easy Action, Love it to Death, Killer, School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies, Muscle of Love, and Welcome to My Nightmare) and struck by the sly word play, the melodies, irony, and the monstrous riffs.  Oh, yeah, there was also the imagery.  After all this time, Cooper’s outlandish stage theatrics still put a smile on my lips.  Here’s a clip from one of my all-time favorites, “The Ballad of Dwight Fry,” taken from Cooper’s ABC television special in 1975.

I love Blue Oyster Cult.  From their spacey, literary horror references (HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and many others) to the fact that science fiction/fantasy writers Michael Moorcock and John Shirley have both penned songs for the band, BOC is favorite around these parts.  They pretty much scored the soundtrack for my three months in Spain back in the spring.  How that happened, I couldn’t tell you.  Wisdom of the stars, I guess.  This is their 1977 song “Nosferatu” edited to clips from the film.  Good stuff.

The next clip is from the legendary and brilliant Roky Erickson, the father of psychedelic garage rock.  Erickson has had more tragedy, insanity, and god knows what else happen to him.  But he’s still alive and touring… and from all accounts healthy.  But there was a time, I think before he thought he was an alien, that he thought he was the Devil.  He might have written this song around that time.  Bad time… but great song.  And if you ever walk by my cottage in the middle of the night… you might hear me or Lynda singing it at the top of our lungs.

God how I loved the Misfits when I was in my mid-to-late teens.  I still love them.  Best horror punk band ever.  Just don’t think what Glenn Danzig turned into post-Misfits or Samhain… simply remember what he was.  Here, the band performs “Night of the Living Dead.”  Hail, horror hail.

And then there was Fantomas.  Named after the French anarchist pulp hero, this avant-garde band is one of the strangest, most exciting, and hilariously talented groups around.  A mix of grinding metal, black metal howls, John Zorn mischief jazz, and outrageous vocalizations courtesy of Mike Patton, Fantomas is a wellspring of imagination and creativity.  This track, “Der Golem,” is from their second full-length The Director’s Cut, an album of film covers ranging from The Godfather to Rosemary’s Baby to Charade.  It’s masterful stuff and has to be heard to be believed.

horror movie trailers from the 1960s

Horror movies were a big, pivotal influence on me during my youth, especially in the post-Halloween years.  In the 1980s I watched everything I could get my claws on, whether in the theater (it was a time when the local theaters could care less if you were underage, just as long as your mom popped her head in the box office and gave the ticket cashier the “okay”), on cable, or on videocassette.  I watched things I probably shouldn’t have (Maniac, Don’t Go in the House, Don’t Answer the Phone, et al).  But I also viewed movies that branded themselves in my overactive brain, ruining me forever in the best of ways (John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Shining, Dawn of the Dead, Phantasm, Scanners, Gates of Hell,  and so many more), and have never failed to entertain, fascinate, and disturb me to this day.

Although a steady diet of slashers, Italian zombies, and rubbery over-the-top gore fests were what kept me sane through my teenage years, it was horror films of an earlier vintage that put their hooks in me.  My first real memories are of monsters, ghouls, and creatures from beyond the grave–King Kong, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Godzilla, and all the rest.  Back in the early 1970s in Portland the local television station KATU would air a program on Saturday nights at 11:30 called Sinister Cinema, that would show a double-feature of old horror movies hosted by a bearded Victor Ives in Dracula cape, along with his sidekick the late Jimmy Hollister.  It was monstertastic, to say the least, and the perfect entertainment for a monster kid like myself.  Not to get too nostalgic… but I sometimes feel sad that kids now don’t get programs like Sinister Cinema or Creature Features (a Bay Area program that I used to see whenever we’d visit relatives down in San Jose every summer).  Then again, cable television and DVDs have made it a whole lot easier for monster-minded parents to indoctrinate their horror-happy tyke with a wider variety of scaretastic goodies in ways that I couldn’t have dreamed of as a wee lad.  There’s simply so much more out there to offer up.  And I say cheers to that!  But sadly, the horror hosts seem to have left the mausoleum for good.

As we creep toward another Halloween, I thought I’d post some trailers from a few of my favorite horror films.  I’ll start with some from the 1960s, one of my favorite eras.  Not necessarily the best trailers, but definitely my favorite films.  Now, outside of Rosemary’s Baby (which I remember seeing on television when it aired on ABC when I was around six), I sadly didn’t see any of these until my late teens or in my twenties.  Nevertheless, they’re faves and I revisit them often.

The first trailer is for Georges Franju’s lyrical masterpiece Les Yeux sans Visage (1959), aka Eyes Without a Face.  Although the American trailer–double-billed with the deliriously enjoyable though campy The Manster–makes it seem over-the-top, this French film is anything but despite the plot elements straight from a 1930s pulp magazine.  It’s a haunting, strangely moving experience and one that sets the tone for other serious-minded, atmospheric, fetishistic, and extreme Euro horrors that would be released over the next two decades.  Though no film, except for perhaps moments in Argento’s Suspiria or Inferno would be able to capture the dark poetry so integral to Franju’s parable.

The second clip is for the Italian film The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962), starring the iconic Barbara Steele.  Talk about fetishistic!  It’s one of my all-time favorite horror films and why it hasn’t been released on DVD is a crime.  You can read more about the film here, which was written by Glenn Erickson aka DVD Savant originally for the online web zine Images (a site I also wrote reviews for).  The trailer doesn’t really sell it correctly… but don’t let that stop you from seeing the film if you run across a cassette of it.  It’s brilliant.

The third trailer is for Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966).  If the first five minutes doesn’t pull you into its fierce, hallucinatory design… then you may just not like horror films.  Bava’s a favorite around my house and he has more than one great film in his long resume.  But there’s something about this one–the period setting, the little girl revenant, the score–that nails me every time.  It obviously made an impact on Fellini as well, since he pays wonderful homage to it in his Toby Dammit segment of Spirits of the Dead.  And one can’t help but think that Martin Scorsese had Bava on the brain when he made The Last Temptation of Christ, personifying Satan in the guise of a little girl to tempt Jesus from the cross.

The fourth trailer is for the great Hammer horror film, The Devil Rides Out (1968).  Based on the Dennis Wheatley novel of the same name, this is one of the best non-monster movies that the famed British studio ever put out, if not the best.  Black magic, an Aleister Crowley-type villain, Christopher Lee as the suave hero Duc de Richleau, satanic orgies, and a blitzkrieg-paced script by Richard Matheson… what’s not to love?  This is old school Hammer horror at its finest.

And then there’s Rosemary’s Baby.  This is Roman Polanski at his most fiendishly polished and enjoyable.  Along with William Friedkin’s The Exorcist it’s also one of the best big studio horror productions ever.

rex reed plunges into a charlie kaufman “cesspool”

New York Observer film critic Rex Reed, whose overwrought verbiage and sloppy analysis makes Armond White seem lucid and well… sane, tells us all what he thinks of Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York.

Considering his loathing of Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, et al, I’m sure he’ll love my book about said filmmakers.

You can be assaulted by Reed’s review here.  Be warned, though, to wear protective goggles.