December 16, 2014.
As the birthday of the Zombie Jesus rapidly approaches and the chill of winter sets in down in the heart of Texas, I find that many things have changed. There is constant pain in my body, as I learn to live with my new bionic leg, but also constant hope, as I work like the devil every single day to be normal again. Whatever normal really is. Which brings us to Halloween For Christmas.
Halloween is my favorite holiday, obviously, which means all sorts of goblins and demons and stuff. I’ve always found it more than a little suspicious that Christmas follows so closely on the heels of such a celebration of Pure Evil, and have often wondered why we don’t just combine both activities into one big commercialized clusterbomb, full of crucified zombies and bloodthirsty reindeer and full-grown men dressed as Freddy Kruger. The first time I came up with this notion, I think, was when I realized that on both holidays we get a whole lot of miniature candies. Or maybe I just think Santa Claus is the devil. Also, I am terribly afraid of the Easter Bunny . . .
During this past Halloween season, as with most months this year, I was forced into a lot of nights at home, where I rested my broken bones after hard days of physical therapy. The schedule was (and remains) basically like this: Work real hard one day, rest the next day. For those of you who don’t know, I was nearly killed in April of this year in a really bad traffic accident and have been re-learning how to walk again since the day after I sent six hours in emergency surgery. Since Halloween is traditionally horror movie time around here anyway, my brutal schedule of rest-every-other-day meant injecting steroids into my usual fright flick countdown to the second of November (last day of Die De Muetros). This year, I started the marathon early and decided to expand the typical parameters of horror with a lot of new ideas about what makes a true monster. That was this year’s theme—monsters. GODZILLA 2014 was actually the first movie I got to see in a theatre after the accident, when I was still hardly in one piece and stuck in a wheelchair. Which was kind of special, really. Everyone could use a special pal like Godzilla in our darkest hour. I highly recommend him.
I also highly recommend my many real-life friends, who have been there with me in the dark.
If it hadn’t been for THEM, I might not be alive right now.
But let’s keep this one light shall we?
I invited all my friends and even a few strangers to accompany me on my 33 day journey through the heart of Monsterville USA. Only a few brave souls showed up regularly. I watched a minimum of three, and sometimes up to five horror movies on a daily basis. All told, more than 100 of the bad little buggers were devoured in just over one month. And I added scary BOOKS, too, because I was “banned from the library” a lot this year, due to prescription pain med addiction, and have been voraciously reading since I kicked the stuff and my eyes became accustomed to following words in print again.
I kept a journal of my travels with monsters. These notes served as the basis of a novella-length blog, and will be presented here at the Express FOR FREE in THREE PARTS, as a Christmas present for my friends, and the die hards among you who care about such things. It begins here on December 16 and the final part will go live on CHRISTMAS DAY. Which means I’m making good on my lifelong obsession with turning Halloween into Christmas. Which also means, most likely, that I have finally gone completely batshit crazy. But you’ll find some of the experiment amusing, I’m sure. This is also a present to myself, this Holiday season. I get to be ME again for a while. I kinda miss being me, at least at this blog. But the funny thing is—and the funny thing you find, even after resurrecting yourself from the Worst Place On Earth— is that you never stopped being you. There are things you lose forever and things that never left. Things you learn and things you discard. My obsessive love of monster movies and oceans of arcane knowledge about them is part of what kept me alive this year. And, obviously, my friends and I are the most awesome people you know about. So why not hang with the COOL KIDS?
And, so . . .
HALLOWEEN FOR CHRISTMAS
Starting with DAY ONE . . . which was . . .
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 1, 2014: Oliver Stone’s SEIZURE and HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD
EVERYONE shows up tonight. EVERYONE. It’s always wild when so many people arrive on cue at my house, because my house is freaking TINY, and people have to climb on top of each other to see the damn movie, which happens to be Oliver Stone’s first-ever movie, which is kind of amazing. On the surface it’s a home invasion tale about a bunch of assholes who get terrorized by a hot chick in a black dress and her midget sidekick, played by Hervé Villechaize from FANTASY ISLAND . . . but, boiling somewhere in the mix is a lot of other weird shit, about dreams and reality, guilt and regret, love and money, god and death. And because it’s an Ollie Stone film, none of that stuff is hard to see. He was never very subtle, even on a good day, and when he makes a low budget horror film, he’s about as coy as a knife to the groin. Is it any good? Sure. Just don’t show it to a room full of half-drunk friends. They’ll laugh a lot at the midget and miss most of the dialogue. Our second feature, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, was written by the director of TROLL 2, so you know right off where it’s coming from. It’s a low-rent Italian zombie rip-off, released in 1983 in America as NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (I dutifully saw it in an honest-to-god multiplex theater “back in the day,” as they say) and it’s truly one of the scummiest films ever made. One of those special gems that kinda makes you feel dirty while you watch it, because it stoops to the low level of archive documentary footage depicting authentic maggoty corpses, replete with cannibalistic native types. I mean, they’re really eating maggots, man! But what the hell? We can’t all have the dwarf from FANTASY ISLAND around to class things up, now can we?
See this image? This is a SNEAKY SNEAK PREVIEW section of a poster I created/painted/designed for the inaugural screening. It’s actually one of 13 retro movie art pieces based on obscure films I’m preparing to show soon in a special online gallery project!
Tonight, I also start reading THE KILLING OF THE UNICORN, by Peter Bogdonavich. It’s all about how he fell in love with Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten, just before she was murdered by her monster husband. You remember this story, right? They made a movie out of it called STAR 80. The opening chapters are chilling, clearly written by a man with axes to grind and monsters to crucify. You get the feeling right off that he’d like to hammer a particularly sharp stake into the heart of Hugh Hefner, whom he partially blames for Stratten’s death. This certainly cannot be called objective reportage, but it sure is a chilling monster story.
Thursday, October 2: GODZILLA 1985, KILLERFISH and AMADEUS
KILLERFISH is not really a horror movie; it’s a heist flick about diamond thieves/smugglers. But it has killer fish in it. And Lee Majors. So it’s way cool. For the culturally illiterate, Lee Majors was THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. Um. That was a TV show in the 1970s. Steve Austin was the original TERMINATOR, sort of. He wore leisure suits and jumped over brick walls in slow motion because his legs were… ahem, BIONIC. (“He’s a CYBORG, you idiot!” said Dick Jones.) In fact, the show was based on a novel called CYBORG, which makes it extra cool. Anyway, Lee leads an all-star genre cast here and looks like he’d rather be somewhere else most of the time. For Exploitation Nerds Like Us, it’s pretty ambitious cinema by one of Italy’s great blue-collar genre guys, Antonio Margheriti, clocking in here under his usual American nom de plume Anthony Dawson. I end up watching it twice today. There’s a lot of instruction to be found in a movie this quantum-mechanically dreadful/incredible. On the one hand, it’s textbook low budget cinema that achieves big, even thrilling things. On the other hand . . . well, everything else. And please keep your comments about “it’s so bad it’s good.” You are not welcome here. It’s more complicated than that. Films like KILLERFISH are part of a fascinating, storied and long-lost age in film, and must be studied “seriously” on multiple levels. You can laugh and call it crap, too. We’re not complete snobs. For more on this philosophy, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW to check out my blog on the films of John “Bud” Cardos:
Anyway . . . enough with the killer fish. On to a REAL MONSTER MOVIE.
This film actually—and very obviously—contains one of the All Time Great Movie Monsters. That’s Antonio Salieri to you, mediocre music hack and arch enemy of Mixmaster Wolfie-A.M. The actor playing him even won an Oscar. If you don’t walk away from a screening of this film horrified and repulsed at the evils mankind is capable of—not to mention the desperately passionate, cynically wise, and unflinchingly dark worldview on display here—you aren’t part of the same human race I belong to. This is, quite simply, one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen, and continues to be so, even on my 57th viewing of it. (Not ONE of my friends arrive for this screening, by the way—because, let’s face it, what normal person wants to watch Amadeus for the 57th time?) And for the total snobs who think I’m full of shit (why are you reading this?) . . . well, the final message of the film may well be the most chillingly accurate view of post-modern-man to appear in a movie of this pedigree. It goes something like this:
My old pal. Everybody’s old pal.
Ladies and gentlemen . . . The King of the Monsters.
He’s always there, deeply imbedded in the public psyche, no matter what the next comic or novel or action figure or movie makes him look like or act like. For the sake of history and other things, I have written a somewhat lengthy primer on the timelines and history of the entire Godzilla film series, which you can jump to by clicking the IMAGE ABOVE, if you’re feeling especially curious (or masochistic). Go read it. I’ll wait.
Okay, now that you know ALL the Godzilla history, let’s get into watching some of the films. I’ve decided to run all the movies in the Heisei and Millennium GODZILLA eras this year. I’ve started our marathon in ‘85 because most of the Showa series (1955-1975), including the original film, were watched (some valiantly struggled through) earlier this year. There’s a fine line between hero worship and outright self-punishment.
So, yeah, ever forward . . .
WORTHLESS HISTORY LESSON NUMBER 1985: When I first saw GODZILLA 1985 on home video, it was on a CED VIDEO DISC machine, like the one pictured above. This was an ancient form of entertainment delivery, also known as Capacitance Electronic Disc, in which the entire movie came encoded on a thin grooved 12-inch vinyl record and was actually read by a needle, inside the machine. The record was encased within a super thick hard plastic cartridge (also pictured above) that you shoved into that machine with both hands—KAH-CHUNCK!—and when you pulled it out, the record was inside. From what I understand, the technology was so unstable that the records had to be manufactured in robotic “clean rooms” with absolutely sterile instruments. This makes a lot of sense, because the video actually popped and skipped after a few plays, just like record albums do. Eventually a typical CED would crash and burn pretty hard, and you’d be watching your favorite monster chew his way across Japan through a haze of murky video roadrash that made the worst VHS static look like a calm walk in the park. But I still have my Godzilla disc, baby. Battle scarred and 30 years old. It says something about a nerd when he owns the entire GODZILLA series on Blu-ray and yet he turns on an archaic piece of post-nuke technology like this to re-live his youth. And Inflict it on all his friends. Reminds me of being 15 again. I inflicted this movie on my friends back then, too. The lead guitar player in my high school band, Jammin’ Jeff Maximum (yeah, that’s his REAL NAME), hated me for weeks after forcing him into a movie theatre to sit through this on the day it was released in America. I also made him slog through MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME in the same theatre. Twice.
But I digress.
GODZILLA 1985, presented tonight in patented CED Skip-Jump-Confuso-Static-Vison, is a reboot of the entire series, in which Godzilla HATES US and is the BAD GUY. Doesn’t even fight another monster here, just kicks the shit outta civilization and eventually is dropped down a volcano, when we puny humans realize there’s just no way to kill the guy. I really love the music score in this particular film. Not many of the Heisi era Godzillas had great music scores, so it’s a rare treat. Also, here’s some trivia for you: This Americanized “Raymond Burrization” of the movie, which is now lost forever and available ONLY on post-nuke technology like this, was supervised and produced by the guy who directed HELLRAISER II.
Ahh, Godzilla . . . you truly are the KING of monsters.
I finish up reading the Dorothy Stratten book tonight. It’s heartbreaking in tone and detailed in its obsession with the crime and just painful as hell to struggle to the end of. I find myself leveling the same kind of stodgy criticism that oldsters like Roger Ebert used to fling at films like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. “Well, it’s great if you like that kind of thing, but who on earth WOULD like that kind of thing?” For those who are interested in the film career of Peter Bogdonavich and the death of Stratten, it may be required reading, but I kind of wish I had read something else instead.
Friday October 3-Sunday October 5: BIG ASS SPIDER!, THE EQUALIZER, GONE GIRL and William Castle’s BUG, plus RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 1 and 2 and FORBIDDEN WORLD
BIG ASS SPIDER! I watch by myself on Friday. It’s marginally passable horror-comedy nonsense, the kind that usually gets made these days for Sy Fi Channel and eventually gets regurgitated into the lowbrow streaming site ghetto of Netflix and such. It’s much better than it has to be, but I do pine (perhaps unfairly) for more style and substance in films like this. And so I decide to work in a couple of current-release big studio blockbusters over the weekend, which just so happen to be every bit as exploitative and trashy as anything else we’ve been watching. I do this, you know, to teach myself a lesson about style and substance. Also, these films have lots of monsters. I start with THE EQUALIZER on Friday night with my buddy Scott. This is an especially glum enterprise about horrible people doing horrible things to each other. It starts great and ends boring. Denzel is pretty good, though. He’s always a reliable terrible person. He’s so good at brutally killing people in this movie and so indestructible that he actually starts reminding me of Michael Myers in the Halloween films about midway through. It’s about as gory as one of those Michael movies too. So we’re not as off-topic as you might have initially thought, folks. At all.
Later on that evening . . . it’s time for BUG.
This is the first Halloween Marathon film I do with THE MOVIE CHAT BRIGADE, who are a motley crew comprised of myself, and three others. By name, they are Robert Jacques (pronounced “Jacks”), Teighlor Darr (pronounced “Miss Beastmaster”) and Joe Fay (pronounced Joe Fay), who now lives in New Haven. I’ve known these amazing people for so long that I’ve named characters in all my books after them. We get together online at least once a week and watch first-rate films like TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS on our respective TV sets and type comments to each other on our laptops in a blur of IM silliness. Teighlor thinks of herself as the “newbie,” though I’ve known her for ten years and have used most of that time to show her all the stuff she missed out on as a kid, like John Carpenter’s THE THING, which instantly became one of her favorite films. (Yeah, these are the kinds of hot chicks you wanna hang out with, right?) Joe and Rob are die hard movie freaks, and were the founding members of this whole chat group. Joe’s big thing is the Jason films. Rob’s big thing is everything else. The three of us used to live in a house that looked like this:
That was my room. It was a wild, glorious technicolor nightmare that none of us ever wanted to wake up from. We honor those days still by doing this chat thing, which keeps us together, even as our bodies scatter to the four winds. This year was bittersweet, because we lost Robin Williams and Menaham Golan, two great and immortal titans of the silver screen. FOUR CROWNS was a Golan and Globus tribute screening. To honor Robin, we watched THE SURVIVORS, which is still my favorite film of his. The movie chat guys are an awesome bunch, obviously, and I sometimes immortalize our screenings with gag posters based on our zippiest one-liners, such as the following.
So, yeah, tonight, I make them all watch a movie I picked, which is a movie about killer cockroaches from hell. No, really. That’s what BUG is literally about. The earth opens up and killer cockroaches come out and crawl up people’s ears and set them on fire. In spite of how ridiculous that may sound, it’s bracing, creepy stuff—a well-made horror film with the courage of its convictions. I wish films like BIG ASS SPIDER! were more like this. And here’s something else to think about: the director of this film was a french auteur named Jennot Szwrac, who was also behind JAWS 2 and a spectacularly heartbreaking romance story called SOMEWHERE IN TIME, written by Richard Matheson and starring Christopher Reeve. Um. And then he made SUPERGIRL. Kinda shows you that there’s no lifeguard in the gene pool of Hollywood, doesn’t it? BUG also happens to be a William Castle production, one from his 1970s period, when he also made ROSEMARY’S BABY. (If you don’t already know who William Castle is, I cannot imagine why you would be giving me the time of day and I’m not going to waste any more words explaining it to you.) Teighlor and Rob get really freaked out by the Satanic cockroaches. They are truly disgusted by them. Joe calls them pussies a lot. I sit back and watch the world end and laugh a lot. It’s kind of awesome. This group has meant a lot to me over the past couple of years, not just because it allows friends to get together regularly over long distances, but because it continues to address my theory about what makes films like this truly great—beyond the fact that they are “so bad, they’re good” to some people. For me, it’s more about there being no divisions at all between high art and low art. BUG might seem like dated trash to some, but to us it’s truly special. And disgusting. And perverted. And first-rate. Take that, high art!
On SATURDAY, Joe Fay, from the Movie Chat Brigade, joins me on all three films. Joe is a real trooper. He makes these things more regularly than anyone, really, and he lives thousands of miles away and has twin daughters. Honestly, I don’t know how he does it. So when we finish watching RETURN OF THE LIVNG DEAD 1, I have no problem at all with indulging him on number 2, which we sort of do on impulse. I’ve always thought RETURN 2 was a real piece of shit, but I haven’t seen it in 20 years and Joe has a lot of childhood nostalgia feelings for it, and who are any of us to deny those? (Particularly the man who forced GODZILLA 1985 in ShitVision on an unsuspecting crowd of innocent people the other day.) THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART 2 was directed by the man who gave us SHOCK WAVES, after all. Um. Yeah. There is that, isn’t there? Obviously, the original film is a zombie classic. I saw it in first run when it came out. Changed my life and all that. Clu Gulager, one of my personal heroes, was never better in his twilight years. (See last years HALLOWEEN BLOG for a funny story about how I met him.) One thing that never gets mentioned much about RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is how great the acting is. Dan O’Bannon rehearsed these guys for a week before shooting and it shows. Joe and I decide tonight that the film ultimately works because it never gives into self-satire in the convicted performances, even though the whole thing is basically hilarious. Takes some kinda genius to pull a magic act like that off. Rest in peace, Dan-O. You done good.
It’s real late when we wrap RETURN 2, but Joe is still good to go. So we do FORBIDDEN WORLD. Also known as MUTANT.
This is one of the greatest 1980s sci-fi outer space monster movies ever made. It is sleazy, gory, hilarious, stupid, even badly made in places—check out those futuristic sets made from take out food containers—but there’s a new wave/avant garde genius to the director’s approach that transcends damn near every spec of that. And, by, god, it is the only movie you will EVER see in which the hero saves the day by yanking out someone’s cancerous liver with his bare hands and feeding it to the monster.
Need I say more?
In the wee hours of the morning, after Joe is long gone and dawn is almost upon us, I pick a book to re-read by one of my favorite writers.
This turns out to be just the thing. I love, love LOVES me some Francesca Lia Block, and this book is bittersweet and amazing. THE ROSE AND THE BEAST was a gift from a woman I once loved. It reads like magic—fairytales reinvented as contemporary fables, glowing with neon and lace. And TONS of scary monsters! I read the whole thing in an hour and pass out with the book in my arms, breaking dawn creeping through my window like the calm voice of some ancient girl goddess . . .
On SUNDAY, I watch Big-Ass Spider again for some reason. Maybe I’m just fascinated with what these kids today seem to be so into. I study it carefully, like an old man in the fifties trying to understand bee-bop music. I think almost get it this time. And then I hobble out by myself to see GONE GIRL. It is a very literal adaptation of the great novel by Gillian Flynn, which I liked a lot more. Not that the film isn’t well made, well acted and directed by David Fincher. It is all of those things and more. But. Well here’s the thing: It is also one of those winding, treacherous, full-of-twists thriller stories that probably really only works right if you don’t know the twists going in. Which makes the whole point of this film seem kind of redundant for me after a few minutes. So you have this really great novel that’s a big bestseller and everybody loves it, right? So we all go to see the movie, yes? And it’s the same exact damn thing, huh? So why did I go see it? When people ask me how it was later, I honestly have no idea what to tell them. Sure, it’s better than THE EQUALIZER, but . . . well, never mind, I guess. No need to be all spoilery.
Monday October 6: AMERICAN BEAUTY, COLD IN JULY and THE FINAL TERROR
You can’t get much rawer than what we’re up to this week, without bringing out actual hellfire demons. And what fun are hellfire demons when we have all these scary guys around? AMERICAN BEAUTY contains my absolute favorite depiction of the lowest common human depths inside one of the best all around movies I’ve ever seen. Joe Fay again joins us and we breeze through it in a fog, in awe all over again, like teenage girls seeing THE PRINCESS BRIDE for the 100th time. If you don’t know, it’s about a guy who starts out jacking off in the shower and ends up as a human sacrifice for all the sins around him. That’s my take on it anyway. Joe’s take is: “I never watch this film without taking something new and illuminating away from it.” My favorite scene is Annette Benning’s breakdown at the start of the film. It is chilling, heartbreaking and epic art. The finale is even more epic. And it’s really, really scary. My friend Stuart, who also joins us tonight in the flesh, is fascinated by the idea of AMERICAN BEAUTY as a horror film. It keeps him mystified the whole night through, and I think he likes it. Quantum Physics. Gotta love it.
And, oh yes. Thora. Sigh . . .
COLD IN JULY is a smaller film and less ambitious. It owes a lot of its existence to revenge cinema on the order of ROLLING THUNDER. But what I really love about this thing is that few of the characters doing the revenging have actually been wronged by anybody. They just decide to tool up and kick ass on some real scumbags—because, well, hell that’s what old Abraham Van-H would do, wouldn’t he? This is also, obviously, written by my good buddy and legendary scribe Joe Lansdale, so there’s that. He’s a badass too. Don’t fuck with Joe. My friend Scott comes by for this one. He and I are Lansdale nerds from way back. We met Joe together for the first time in a comic book store.
Ahh, my wasted youth . . .
THE FINAL TERROR is a real treat also. I watch this by myself, after everyone leaves. It’s a grotty 1980s slasher thing and you couldn’t get a much more basic scenario—kids in woods stalked by killer, who then kills most of them and gets killed at the end—but the gritty, obviously guerrilla filmmaking going on here makes up for all that. In fact, it’s even nostalgic. They just don’t make ‘em like this no more, kids. At all. (See BIG ASS SPIDER!) And it has Rachel Ward and Daryl Hannah. And Joe Pantoliano, too. He plays the guy who turns out not to be the killer at the end. Oh, sorry. Did I just give away something?
Tonight I start a new book, because last night’s was very short and I read it all at once. INVISIBLE MONSTERS REMIX by Chuck Palahniuk. It’s a classic novel reinvented in a batshit way. It makes you work hard to understand it. Books like this inspire me to be better at what I do, because guys like Chuck are from some other fuckin’ planet, man. See that picture up there? It’s backwards on purpose. To illustrate how weird reading this book is. You literally have to hold certain chapters up to a godamn MIRROR to translate it.
Tuesday October 7: THEY, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN
THEY is a horror film from the early oughts that gets watched by myself on a whim, because I remember the monsters were kind of cool. I’d forgotten all about what a shitty early oughts horror film surrounded those monsters. But hey, shitty early oughts horror films need love too. You can’t win every time, can you? This is where we get into some splitting hairs business on the whole high-art/low-art thing. The way I see it, even a lifeless pice of shit like this is art. It’s just a matter of weather or not you LIKE IT, right? As I get older, I have less and less patience with ghoulish weirdo monster thingies hiding out the in the shadows and going “boo!” every now and then (that’s why I hated BLACK SWAN by the way) . . . but this silly thing is redeemed somewhat in the end because it has the great Ethan Embry in it, and any excuse to wind him up and watch him go is a good excuse. I worked with Ethan once on a film I wrote, and he was truly an amazing, learned, method actor who scared the living shit out of me every single day he was on set. Here’s a rare moment from that set when he actually smiled:
See how red my face is? That’s PURE TERROR I’m struggling with, man.
People forget that even the worst movies can be loaded with great craft. THEY has some of that in there. Ethan rocks it hard. Don’t expect much else.
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING is also watched solo. And it may contain the worst monsters of all. And they are played as the GOOD GUYS, which makes this film’s mission twice as hard and it’s ultimate triumph ten times more impressive than most standard-issue horror flicks. It’s about a cigarette lobbyist and his journey through a very dark night, beset on all sides by the righteous, the unrighteous and Katie Holmes, who was never much yummier, even when she got naked in that other horror film. I really like this movie a lot. It speaks to me in many ways. I screen OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN later in the evening with several buddies and it goes over like greased lighting. We decide that it may just be the greatest movie ever made about a man versus a giant rat. Period. Watch it now if you’ve never seen it. No spoilers. JUST WATCH THE THING. It even has a hot chick in it. The one married to Gene Simmons. As a matter of fact, I’ll make you a bet. If, by the time Robocop/Buckaroo Banzai tools up to kill his feisty/furry/toothy home invader by any means necessary, you are not cheering and/or yelling back at the screen a lot like we were . . . well, I’ll give you a prize or something. Right before I kick your ass for being such a jerk.
Heh. I love sounding stupid when I blog. Katie Holmes is hawt. Yer a prick and I’m gonna kick yer ass. Duh-herr, gonna hit a tailgate party now . . .
Back to the Chuck Palahniuk book. INVISIBLE MONSTERS REMIX gets better with each chapter, which he spreads all over the expanse of the novel in weird jumps, where you are directed to go to certain pages to continue the story. This has the rather genius effect of keeping the suspense level high, as you just don’t have any idea when the fucking thing is going to end. Sure, I read this before—several times—but it’s working on me now in a whole new way. The story is about a supermodel with a blown-off face who goes on a drug-seeking road trip with Brandy The Tranny and her merry band of pranksters. Why David Lynch has not made the movie yet is beyond me.
Wednesday, October 8: TEENAGE COMET ZOMBIES and LEVIATHAN
The final release title of our first attraction tonight was NIGHT OF THE COMET, but I absolutely refuse to refer to this film by that name. TEENAGE COMET ZOMBIES is just too perfect. So is this totally awesome, egregiously clumsy slice of period Americana horror, in which the world comes to an end in 1984 and girls just wanna have fun. So, um, they go shopping and stuff. Sure, you could rail for hours about what is wrong with this movie, like a lot of people do tonight . . . but none of that matters. It rules. Because not only is it set in the 80s, but I SAW IT in the eighties and I’m better than all these jerks.
My brain . . . turning stupid again . . . must blog on . . .
LEVIATHAN is not exactly a movie for entry-level humans, but darn close. It gets bashed a lot by guys who think it’s unoriginal (it is) or badly made (it partially is), but what really makes it work, at least in the first two-thirds, is the great cast they’ve assembled and the well-written characters they are playing. In fact, if this had just been a movie about coal miners at the bottom of the sea, I would have been damn happy. It’s only when they trot out the monster, nearly an hour into the film, that things get dicey . . . then lame . . . then reaaaaaly lame. And then they KILL ERNIE HUDSON TWO MINUTES BEFORE FADE-OUT! WHAT THE FUCK, GUYS?!!! This film is another quantum-mechanical marvel: At once, it deserves to be used as a case study in film classes on exactly how NOT to make a film like this, and yet is a primer course in Screenwriting 101 for building believable and compelling characters. Unfortunately, they are much more interesting than the monster, which looks like a rubber chicken wearing a lobster suit. (See above) Then again, that may not be such a bad thing. Lobsters are pretty scary sometimes, aren’t they? Um. Yeah, like that. Turning dumber . . .
I finish the Chuck Palahniuk book tonight. Brilliant as always. This was, as many know, actually his FIRST NOVEL before FIGHT CLUB, and was rejected as “too disgusting.” Well, the first rule about disgusting is . . . keep getting back in people’s faces with it, because it’s all art, baby.
Thursday, October 9: FRIGHTMARE and LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM
First feature is about crazy people, second about silly demon stuff. We like the silly demon movie better. It’s surreal and comedic in tone, goofily obsessed in execution, going in for tons of the usual Ken Russell masturbation-cinema tropes. Remember, this is the director who had Ann Margret fuck a roomful of baked beans, you know—just because, man. He even stops the whole movie dead middle so that Hugh Grant can step into a dream sequence in which the two female leads battle to the death in a sweaty, sadistic catfight which has literally nothing whatsoever to do with anything. Gotta love a horror film that dares to dream. Um. In case you’re wondering, the rest of the movie is about a giant demon worm, but is really more about the hot chick who kills people to resurrect it from the dead or something. Who cares? We’ve got plenty of leftover baked beans. And the movie is kind of an epic fail upwards, if you get me? It was a super low-budget affair tossed together overnight by the theatrical film production wing of Vestron Video—one of the big VHS titans of the 1980s. I think they probably spent less than half a million on this. Few films made for such low sums and released straight to video were as batshit crazy or “visionary” as this. WORM actually had a brief theatrical life before the cassette release—and came with a killer trailer, which ended with the narrator warning the audience: “Watch your asp.” FRIGHTMARE is sort of boring by comparison. No baked beans in that movie. And a lame ending, too. Damn.
I start reading VIRGIN PLANET by Poul Anderson tonight. One great gem from my extensive pulp sci-fi paperback collection. I have so many of these that I haven’t read yet, some superstitiously kept back for various reasons. I like this type of character-based old school science fiction stuff because it reeks of pre-cyber-age innocence. Spaceships floating on gravity beams and intriguing characters with thin personalities, but real stories. Loaded social issues and mediocre prose. I don’t much care for the style on display here, obviously, but hey . . . we can’t all be Ken Russell.
Friday, October 10: A TOUCH OF EVIL, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, and ZAPPED!
Kate Winslet’s favorite monster (Orson Welles) was never more monstrous than he is in the classic TOUCH OF EVIL. But what humanizes this great monster is the nuanced performance and the jaw-dropping three-dimensional filmmaking style that set new bars for future work in thrillers. Obviously, the opening shot is great and all—but check out what Orson does in the Hotel room. And the finale. Oh my god I just LOVE THIS FUCKING MOVIE. TURNING DUMB AGAIN . . . . MUST STOP BLOGGING . . . .
KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS makes me even dumber. Obviously. It’s a John “Bud” Cardos movie. It’s filled with delightful, furry lovelies that are supposed to be all terrifying and shit. I chat this movie with Teighlor and we keep remarking that the cute little tarantulas are like silly little puppies who just want to play and keep getting stepped on by mean old William Shatner. We’re feeling pretty good after this, so we run the 1980s Scott Baio teen-skin classic ZAPPED! In this epic film, Scott becomes a telepathic, psychokinetic superhero who makes Heather Thomas’s bra explode on cue, revealing a different woman’s stunt boobs in all the close-ups. There are monsters aplenty. And Scatman Crothers riding a bike with Albert Einstein. Don’t ask. I mean, really, don’t ask. I’m too stupid now to explain such genius . . .
Saturday, October 11: DEAD HEAT, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, FIGHT CLUB, THE BLACK HOLE and DRIVE
By the end of today, my brain feels like it’s made of guacamole. I watched almost all of the movies alone and showed myself no mercy. Started early, with a zombie classic, ended with a contemporary thriller classic, and covered the entire spectrum, from Total Suck Knob, all the way back to Childhood Obsession Department. DEAD HEAT comprises the sucky part of the day, but it’s also sort of brilliant in how amazingly, blindingly, to-its-molecules-dumb the entire enterprise is. It’s a zombie version of D.O.A., in which a cop played by the ever-reliable Treat Williams is murdered, then comes back as a rotting corpse and must solve that murder. It probably sounded good on paper. Then they called Joe Piscopo to play Treat’s partner. Then all became madness and muscles. You start getting smarter when you stand near a movie as lunkheaded as this. But you know what? They mean well, these guys. They obviously really do. And I still really love this movie. I remember renting it for first time in 1988, from a local video store in Austin called Aardvark Video. Just being old enough to tell that story automatically makes DEAD HEAT one of the greatest movies ever made.
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS and FIGHT CLUB help, too. As you may have gathered, I’m a big fan of the darkness in films about human monsters, particularly when it involves breaking the bad guy and forcing him to explain why he is such a monster. That’s a killer scene in SHARKS, and of course Kevin Spacey is back to class things up. For all three of you who are unawares, this is one of those all-in-one-night-with-flashbacks type of things, in which a terrible person is brutally tortured by another terrible person. And you get to know ’em all reaaaaaaly darn well. One of Robert Rodriguez’s great contributions to post-modern cinema was that the guy who gave him a couch to sleep on in LA during his hazing on EL MARIACHI—a fella named George Huang—became so inspired by the Texas Wonderkid’s meteoric rise through the system that he was inspired to quit his regular industry gig, write this script and direct this movie. SWIMMING WITH SHARKS is truly great cinema. So is FIGHT CLUB. I won’t say a word about that one. You already know how it ends.
Many hundreds of words about . . .
THE BLACK HOLE wants to be truly great cinema. But it’s simply great, in a lot of quantum mechanical ways. This was the Disney answer to STAR WARS in 1979, in which they reheated an old script that had been in development for years, and then threw all the money they had into reverse-engineering the computerized motion control systems pioneered by Industrial Light and Magic. You know, so they could be all dazzling with the outer space stuff. This was back when you still had to use CAMERAS to make special effects, and the computers only controlled the movements of those cameras. These were giant towering motion picture rigs that filled entire rooms and went under many patent names. The Disney motion control system was called A.C.E.S. and it looked like this:
To be fair, the Disney engineers had come up with the concept for ACES in 1971, but it was THE BLACK HOLE that brought the plans out of moth balls.
(And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m the guy who has an entire reference library of actual printed-on paper books about stuff like this. Which is one of the reasons why it falls on guys like me to preserve history when irresponsible senior citizens like George Lucas try to re-paint it all in digital ones and zeros. But I DIGRESS, DAMMIT.)
Unfortunately for Disney, someone, somewhere decided to make their STAR WARS riff a gothic horror film instead of straight space opera and nobody really knew what the hell to do with the final product in 1979. In their infinite wisdom, the marketing geniuses at The Big Mouse even decided to make this thing their big Christmas season release, and it was the first film in the company’s history to be RATED PG. Which might as well have been hard R, for all the negative press it generated. Plus, the film was slaughtered by pretty much every critic who saw it. It’s all about a mad scientist on a ship of zombies and killer robots who wants to journey into a black hole to find the “mind of God,” but instead goes straight to hell. Story and dialogue-wise, it’s a gloriously overwrought/re-written/out-to-lunch mess, and the characters look like they’re superimposed into the scenes most of the time, along with every word they speak. Even the great Robert Forster appears to be powerless to save us from the shitheaded implausibility that permeates the very air our heroes breathe onboard The Cygnus—a sprawling intergalactic death ship that looks fucking awesome, yet explodes instantly when the evil mad scientist turns the engines on. But, see, in spite of—or maybe because of—all these things that are wrong with the film, I still was obsessed with it as a child. I mean, I knew it was bad, even then! And I still couldn’t stop thinking about how cool it was. I even made my fifth grade school project an elaborate audio-visual presentation about THE BLACK HOLE. What do I think of it now?
Still gospel, baby.
And I know every damn thing about how this movie was made, too.
I watch it twice today.
I have a hard time taking my eyes off this movie, and I have the entire soundtrack memorized because I had the storybook album when I was a kid, which condenses all the best parts into a sort of “radio play,” narrated by Percy Rodriguez, who is also the iconic trailer voice of JAWS (and every other horror film made in the 70s and 80s). I can literally recite each and every line from THE BLACK HOLE on instinct, without even looking at the screen. So I may not be the most objective critic. But I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that, technically, the film is something of a marvel, nearly 40 years after it was made. Watch the HD version available at Amazon and you’ll see that the craft in the giant scale model spaceships is staggering. The sheer number of matte paintings on display here was also unprecedented at the time. (150 in total.) These effects remain awe-inspiring in that old school, hand-crafted-art kind of way, which is now—unfortunately—gone forever. Also gone forever is the late film maestro John Barry, whose BLACK HOLE score contains my absolute favorite work of his. (I am biased because the music actually means a lot more to me than this silly movie, but whatever, we all have our hang-ups.) It’s this haunting waltz, called SIX ROBOTS, which sets the glum, despairing, gothic horror tone of the entire film:
It’s such a beautifully, disturbingly hopeless piece of music that it even manages to derail the more heroic refrains that Barry proffers later when the heroes shoot it out with the bad guys in all the nifty laser gun battles. The final effect of THE BLACK HOLE is creepy, lopsided, depressing and dumber than an asteroid. Oh, and there’s asteroids in this movie, too. And Norman Bates gets hacked to pieces by one of the killer robots. What’s not to love?
DRIVE ends the week, and this blog, with an object lesson. Kick in all the heads you want. Be as voyeuristic, clinical and fetish-heavy with your bad guys all you like. Make your hero an alienated, monosyllabic freak. But SEX APPEAL redeems everything. This movie is something of an anomaly in Nicholas Winding Refin’s career, in that it’s almost unbelievably sleek and seductive in tone—your standard car chase thriller/heist story with a super hot love angle—but it never actually shows anyone having sex. That’s one of the great powers that film possesses as an art form. I don’t know one woman alive who did not love this film, in spite of the fact that it’s at least as depressing as THE BLACK HOLE.
Case in point: So I’m watching this film with Teighlor, and she’s never seen it before and it’s just seducing the hell out of her, and finally we get to the great sleazy motel sequence, in which our monosyllabic hero Ryan Gosling punches super-babe Christina Hendricks in the face, straddles her on the bed and threatens to beat the holy tar out of her if she doesn’t co-operate with him—it’s the closest thing to a sex scene we ever get in this film—and Teighlor kind of startles next to me and says:
“Wow, that’s kind of shocking. I was really starting to like this guy . . .”
To which, I smirked and said, “So you’re telling me YOU wouldn’t like being roughed up by Ryan Gosling in a sleazy motel room?”
To which Teighlor could not tell a lie.
“Um. Well . . . . yeah, I guess I’d like that. A lot.”
I’m not making that up. It’s what she really said. Political correctness be damned right?
And speaking of complex men/women relationships . . . later on tonight, I finish up the VIRGIN PLANET sci-fi book. An impressive, dice-rolling story, and way ahead of the zeitgeist for 1959. It’s about a planet of women, trying to be like men, as they await the Coming of Man. And of course, there’s this man who comes along and screws up everything. But nobody believes he’s a man, see? And there’s this big battle to prove who’s more manly—the man who’s actually a man, or the women who want to pretend they’re like men.
Somebody tell this Poul Anderson guy to stop being so smart.
It could be dangerous these days.