Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween and Pop Song of the Week: "Surfin' Spooks"

Because even a diehard Halloween music fan like myself can only listen to "Monster Mash" so many times.

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Movie Song of the Week: "Mad Monster Party"

Jazz singer Ethel Ennis' Shirley Basseylike rendition of the title song from the 1967 animated movie Mad Monster Party.

I meant to post it sooner but due to personal illness, I was delayed in posting anything this week. Oh, well. Better late than never.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Mockingbird Lane: “Pilot”

I did not think it was possible, but the new Munsters reboot that goes by the name of Mockingbird Lane actually proved to be more watchable than I had imagined it would be when I first heard about the project. Of course, time will tell whether it will make a successful series as well -- especially since it seems more interested in catering to the type of people who watch cable shows like Dexter and True Blood and less to the hardcore fans of the original Munsters.

However, unlike the recent Night Stalker reboot that debuted a few years back, this show appears to have been made by people who have a healthy affection for the original series. True, they can't resist teasing the TV audience by, say, showing us a brief glimpse of an image that looked like a silhouette of the original Herman Munster's head, but for the most part, the show's producers show more respect for the original show than I expected.

Of course, they did a bit of updating the show as well. The current Herman and Lily Munster look more like normal human beings than the originals and even their son Eddie (played by Mason Cook) looks more like an average kid than the original Eddie Munster. Portia de Rossi's Lily has easily one of the most memorable character entrances I've seen on any TV show in a long while -- apparently episode writer Bryan Fuller is not shy about having the Munsters do things on this show that the TV censors of the 1960s would have never allowed on the original series -- and Jerry O'Connell makes for a likable -- if seemingly unlikely -- Herman Munster, who is a lot more physically affectionate with his wife than the original ever had the opportunity to be.

The new Marilyn (played by Charity Wakefield) seems a lot more odder than the original Marilyn Munster -- almost as if the writers were trying to compensate for the lack of ghoulish makeup in the rest of the cast. She whistles at ravens and shows no qualms about making a bid on a house once owned by a serial killer. For that matter, the new Grandpa (played by Eddie Izzard) is a lot more aggressive about his vampirism, at one point actually devouring a wild beast before the eyes of his own grandson.

However, the main difference between the new Munsters and the old is that the old Munsters made little if any effort to assimilate with the rest of the world. As far as they were concerned, they were the normal ones, and it was outsiders who looked like Marilyn who were deserving of pity. The new Munsters are more obsessed with appearance's sake. For example, when they find out that Eddie is a werewolf, they seem more worried about how it would look to the neighbors than about the more obvious downside of having a lycanthropic son. Only Grandpa doesn't worry about fitting in but then Grandpa is hardly an apt role model for any generation. Why his behavior doesn't have a legion of Van Helsing wannabes pursuing him is a question the episode never quite answers.

In any event, I can't help hoping that Mockingbird Lane will indeed become a series, if only to answer all the questions the pilot episode conjures up. And while my inner teenager can probably go on and on about Lily Munster's big entrance, I must confess that the one part of the show that really excited my inner Munsters geek -- a part of me that I had presumed dead for years, if not decades -- was the entrance of a very special Munsters character in the episode's last five minutes.

Apparently Mockingbird Lane creator/producer/writer Bryan Fuller really is a fan of the original series. Either that or he knows us Munster geeks better than we know ourselves.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween and Pop Song of the Week: "Spooky"

Who says that you can't find romance in a Halloween song?

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Book of the Week

If nothing else, Fritz Leiber's novel Our Lady of Darkness certainly has one of the creepiest paperback covers I have ever seen. That alone makes it worth recommending. However, to be fair, the writing is good too.

Author Fritz Leiber virtually invented the genre of urban horror. Of course, he also helped make sword and sorcery stories popular when he was not writing horror stories but that's a topic for another time.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Movie Song of the Week: "The Piper Dreams"

Oddly enough, this song appeared on the soundtrack album for the 1976 horror movie The Omen but was never all that audible during the actual movie. Could that have been vocalist Carol Heather's* way of ensuring record sales? Who knows? Perhaps it's a mystery mere mortals were never meant to figure out...

* Also known as Carol Heather Goldsmith, wife and widow of the late Jerry Goldsmith.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Just because I cannot see it doesn't mean I can't believe it.
--Danny Elfman, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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TV Quote of the Week

When we're together, darling, every night is Halloween.
--Carolyn Jones, The Addams Family, "Halloween with the Addams Family"

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Song Quote of the Week

Just like a ghost, you've been a-hauntin' my dreams.
So I'll propose on Halloween.
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you.
--Buddy Buie, James Cobb, Harry Middlebrooks Jr. and Mike Shapiro, “Spooky”

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Question of the Week

Vampires are what?

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

R.I.P. George McGovern

Former U.S. Senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern finished his last campaign this past Sunday at age 90.

He will be missed.

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Halloween and Pop Song of the Week: "Werewolf"

From Canada's Five Man Electrical Band, it's one of the few Halloween-themed songs from the 1970s that did not appear on the Dark Shadows soundtrack this year.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Hey, let’s get the stuff we need. I’ll get a television and a radio.
--Ken Foree, Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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TV Quote of the Week

We’ve just averted a disaster. Can you imagine plastic politicians?
--Diana Rigg, The Avengers, "Never, Never Say Die"

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Something Fishy This Way Comes

I took a female friend to a local store last week because she needed some food and medicine, and while we were there, we stopped by the pet department where she promptly noticed that at least two of the fish tanks in that department contained at least one dead fish. As if that wasn't bad enough, the fish that were still alive were obviously starving. Fortunately, there was some fish food nearby which we could use to feed them but the sight of those poor fish so hurriedly gobbling up the fish flakes as if they had not been fed for days was enough to break one's heart. Worse yet, the chart for the tanks seemed to indicate that the last time the tanks had been cleaned was in February of this year.

I don't know what was going on with that store's management but one would think that common sense alone would indicate that it not be a good idea to sell fish if you don't have enough store employees to maintain them. Moreover, one would think that sheer fear of bad publicity would reinforce that opinion since it seemed obvious that the store management wasn't being motivated by sheer common decency. In any event, it was lucky for the fish that my friend and I had come by that day, but such fish shouldn't have to depend on sympathetic customers in order to get fed. And I'm both shocked and surprised that no one working at that store could see that.

Ay caramba!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Movie Song of the Week: “Main Theme from Dawn of the Dead (1978)”

Music to watch the apocalypse to.

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It Was Never Just About the Mall

It begins with the sight of a red shag carpet wall. And then we see a young blonde woman leaning against the wall while she sleeps. But her slumber is not peaceful. It becomes obvious to even the least observant viewer that she is having a bad dream and when she finally gets woken up, it becomes obvious why she is having them.

The place she awakens to is a TV news studio. The woman's name is Francine Parker and she is part of the crew that works there. Currently the crew is trying to film a talk show in which the latest guest is a doctor talking about the latest epidemic. However, the epidemic in question is not AIDS or swine flu. It's zombism and it seems obvious to the casual observer that the doctor's society isn't exactly controlling this epidemic very well. The whole station is in chaos with the doctor being heckled by some of the very people filming him and the station manager preferring to send out false information about rescue stations rather than risk bad ratings. People are already starting to abandon the TV station and when Francine's boyfriend Stephen comes by and suggests a similar plan, she does not need much persuasion before she too agrees to abandon her post and head for the hills. After all, society is falling apart all around her. So why should she stay? Why not take off and seek sanctuary from the growing zombie plague?

Thus begins director George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, a movie released in 1978 that has been often interpreted as being little more than an empty-headed horror film with pretensions to social commentary. As far as most critics are concerned, Dawn of the Dead begins and ends with the abandoned shopping mall that Francine, Stephen and two other characters end up occupying partway through the movie. And to be fair, the movie's somewhat heavyhanded comparisons between mall shoppers and zombies do tend to prove the critics' point -- especially if you choose to ignore the rest of the movie.

But George Romero's Dawn of the Dead is not just about shopping malls; it is about society. American society. And the brief glimpses it gives at the beginning of the film of the America surrounding the mall are as scary and intriguing as anything that takes place within the mall itself. In this bizarre world which looks so similar to our own, inner city apartment dwellers fight over the right to retain the bodies of their dead neighbors and loved ones, a racist cop feels free to use the chaos of a SWAT raid to conduct his own private war against minorities, and rural folk treat the whole zombie epidemic as little more than an excuse for a hunting party.

When Francine and Stephen leave the city in a stolen TV news helicopter, they are in the company of two SWAT team members named Peter and Roger and are not inclined to trust anyone else. A simple request for cigarettes from a fellow refugee goes ignored and a simple stop for fuel almost proves to be the death of them.

Tension grows within the group. Stephen's lousy marksmanship nearly proves to be the death of one group member and by the time the group comes to the abandoned shopping mall mentioned up above, the group members are quite eager to use it for a temporary resting place. Then they discover the abundance of consumer goods that are available in the mall and Roger and Peter decide to take to help themselves to some free goodies. However, the mall is crawling with zombies and the quartet has to work together to both get rid of the zombies and avoid getting killed in the process. Then things get even more complicated when they discover that one group member -- Francine, of course -- is pregnant.

Even when the gang finally achieves a victory over the mall zombies, there is an air of sadness to said event. Romero films the final view of the dead mall zombies not so much as an act of triumph but as an act of tragedy. Realistically, there was perhaps no way the humans and the zombies could have co-existed in the same mall, but the quartet is nevertheless reminded all too often that they are not just killing zombies but also killing former human beings.

In any event, the relief said victory gives them from the zombie epidemic proves to be only temporary. One group member succumbs to a bite he received during the battle against the zombies and news programs from the outside world become increasingly rare. Pretty soon the television and the radio are only broadcasting static. Francine and Stephen fight over an attempted marriage proposal and life seems very bleak indeed. Then a band of fellow humans discovers the mall and the quartet-turned-trio is forced to face an enemy that is even worse than the zombies...

It would be easy to concentrate just on the blood and guts that are frequently displayed in the last ten minutes of the movie and just see the flick as a simple-minded horror flick. But it seems obvious that Romero didn't want it to be seen just that way. After all, it is no accident that the film begins not in the shopping mall or in the helicopter but in the TV station. The story starts with one character, moves on to another and then yet another until we are back to the character we started with. The movie gives us ample glimpses of a society in chaos with no signs that things are likely to get better.

The last scene in the film appears to be one of triumph. The helicopter takes off with the surviving members of the quartet and the zombies are left behind to take over the shopping mall. However, it is pointed out that the helicopter is low on fuel. And that the zombies outside the mall are still far more numerous than the humans.

Thus the ending seems both hopeful and grim. Yes, the survivors have accomplished their escape from the mall. But where do they go next? And how will they manage to get there?

Mercifully, Romero never shows us the answers to these questions.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

R.I.P. Gary Collins

American actor Gary Collins, most famous for performing as Master of Ceremonies for the Miss America Pageant as well as for hosting the syndicated TV talk show Hour Magazine and for his role as Michael Rhodes in the 1970s TV drama series The Sixth Sense, finished his last hosting gig early Saturday at age 74.

He will be missed.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Movie Quote of the Week

Don't know... Mongo only pawn in game of life.
--Alex Karras, Blazing Saddles (1974)

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TV Quote of the Week

Blimy! Fish in space have never been so... buxom.
--Matt Smith, Doctor Who (The Second Series), "Vampires of Venice"

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Question of the Week

So which is it?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

R.I.P. Alex Karras

Former athlete and actor Alex Karras, most famous for his years as a NFL Detroit Lions defensive tackle, his role as Mongo in the 1974 movie Blazing Saddles, and his role as the father in the 1980s TV sitcom Webster, went to the showers for the last time today at age 77.

He will be missed.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Favorite Halloween Videos from Years Past


1. “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” -- Concrete Blonde.

A musical foray into Anne Rice territory.

2. “Dracula's Tango” -- Toto Coelo.

The one video from the 1980s few of my generation have ever heard of. And to think we make fun of Twilight movies.

3. “Hammer Horror” -- Kate Bush.

Not only can Kate sing but she really knows how to make an entrance as well.

4. “Swingin' at the Seance” -- The Moon Rays.

An obscure video which deserves more publicity than it got.

Plus as a special bonus:

5. “Monster Mash” -- The Monster Club Soundtrack.

“Maestro... Our song.”


Friday, October 05, 2012

Halloween and Pop Song of the Week: "Hell"

The Squirrel Nut Zippers may not have talent on loan from God but they definitely have connections with the Other Guy.

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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Movie Quote of the Week

Reality isn't what it used to be!
--Wilhelm von Homburg, In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

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TV Quote of the Week

You know you were a lot more fun when you didn't have a soul.
--Emma Caulfield, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Sleeper”

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Six Feet Under and Could Have Been Kissed

Necrophilia is admittedly not a common subject to see in the movies, even in art films. Female necrophiles are even rarer a subject -- perhaps because like female exhibitionists, they seem like too much like a guy's fantasy -- especially a weird guy's fantasy -- to take seriously. Or perhaps it's more likely that we would like to think women are above that kind of stuff. After all, there's relatively little one could write about a man's sex life that one would not believe, no matter how weird it is. But women, of course, are supposed to be different. And anyway, if we have to explore such fantasies, wouldn't a film like Eyes Wide Shut or Nine and a Half Weeks seem like a safer direction to go?

In any event, the 1996 movie Kissed does attempt to go in such a direction -- though for a while, it seems determined to shadow the far darker movie Heavenly Creatures. It starts out with a young girl named Sandra Larson (played by Molly Parker) who is obsessed with death to the extent of devising her own private rituals to deal with it -- rituals so weird even her would-be friend gets freaked out by them. Eventually, she grows up and gets a job in a funeral parlor where she learns to subliminate her obsession with death by "kissing" the bodies of young dead males.

Of course, she does a lot more than just kiss them but alas, there is no verb in English one could use as an adequate substitute. "Embrace" sounds like way too mild an euphemism and a more sexually explicit term would imply that mere lust was Ms. Larson's sole motivation. Indeed, while the film does not pretend that Ms. Larson's horizontal activities are exactly normal, it does not pretend that mere sex is Mr. Larson's sole motive either -- unless one prefers to argue that Ms. Larson's obsession with death is merely a substitute for a more "normal" obsession with sex. And even then one would have to ignore the quasi-religious overtones of Ms. Larson's obsession -- though one might argue that Sandra would hardly be the first person to confuse sex with religion...

Anyway, Sandra eventually gets the chance to have a conventional sexual relationship, only to frustrate her would-be boyfriend with her apparent lack of interest. Then her boyfriend discovers her real secret and decides upon the ultimate solution to their relationship problems...

If there's one flaw in Kissed, it's that in the end, it settles for an all too conventional ending. Granted, they had to end the movie somehow but it still seemed strange that a movie originally focused upon a female character ended up being centered on the fate of a male character.

For that matter, I can't help feeling a bit uneasy about the film's efforts to portray necrophilia as a "natural" impulse. After all, it's easy to argue that such a practice would be harmless if practiced by cute young women like Molly Parker but it's usually not women like Ms. Parker who go in for such a practice in real life. More often than not, such women are the victims of would-be necrophiles, not their kindred spirits. And it can be argued that necrophilia is the ultimate form of sexual assault since there is no way the victim could give consent even if he or she wanted to. And even if one were to make an airtight legal case on behalf of such a practice, there would still be something sad about a person who voluntarily chose to embrace the dead instead of the living. Even if the living are a bit hard to put up with these days.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Movie Song of the Week: “Main Title from Beetlejuice

A blast from the dear dead past when director Tim Burton made more spirited movies.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Night Gallery: “Pickman's Model”

Well, you know how it is. You think you're going to have a nice quiet evening at home and then company drops by unexpectedly. Not just any company but that crazy girl you met in art class who seemed to be flirting with you earlier in the day. No sooner than you realize this but you get a second shock. It turns out that some of your no-account kinfolk have taken it upon themselves to drop by as well and you just know that if they ever meet your lady visitor, things will turn out badly for everyone. For you in particular.

Of course, a lot more than this happens in the Night Gallery episode entitled “Pickman's Model” and yet that above paragraph sums up the whole episode better than anything else I can think of. It certainly can't be summed up by the H. P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. As much as I would like to bla -- er -- give credit to the late Mr. Lovecraft for this episode, it owes a lot more to screenwriter Alvin Sapinsley's invention than to Lovecraft's work. And perhaps that's a good thing. Rest assured that Lovecraft had no room for romances in his version of the Pickman story -- he barely had room for plot and character. And yet this episode managed to be memorable despite all that.

Of course, the first time I saw this episode, I was still in grade school -- and thus easily impressed by tales of ghosts, ghouls and monsters. Despite what Rod Serling once said in an interview, I did not tune into Night Gallery expecting Mannix in a shroud -- or even Peyton Place in a crypt. In fact, it was my late father who originally introduced me to the show -- and what he saw in it, I'll never know. Then again, he was a big fan of the original Twilight Zone and it was his influence, no doubt, that got me hooked on the work of Rod Serling to begin with. And through Rod Serling, I eventually got introduced to the work of other writers such as Fritz Leiber, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Manley Wade Wellman and eventually... H. P. Lovecraft.

In any event, when I first discovered Night Gallery, I was still into late night creature features so I tended to like the scary episodes (which were rarely written by Mr. Serling) far more than the intellectual think-pieces (which were more often than not Mr. Serling's work) -- and of course, “Pickman's Model” was one of my favorites. It didn't hurt that when I first saw this episode, it seemed a lot more scary to me than it does today. I was not yet burnt out on umpteen hundred horror movies and horror shows. Nor was I was so blase that I automatically looked for the zipper on the back of the poor monster's suit. The revelation concerning actor Bradford Dillman's Richard Upton Pickman character--an eccentric artist prone to painting weird and morbid subjects -- seemed a lot more surprising to my young eyes than it probably would be to today's pre-teen viewers. And of course, the twist ending seemed a lot more ominous to my young self -- ominous enough to make for quite a few sleepless nights.

And yet even today I still continue to be fascinated by those aspects of the Pickman story which the screenwriter did not explain. Why exactly did an unmarried artist like Pickman live in a big old house by himself? What did the poor guy do on Mother's Day? For that matter, what did he do on Father's Day? If he hated human company so much, why was he hanging around them so much? Why didn't he just give up his residence and move in with his relatives?

Alas, none of these questions will ever be answered and I wonder if I might not be the only viewer of this episode who really cares. I am especially appalled that screenwriter Alvin Sapinsley chose to end the episode with hints about Pickman's mysterious disappearance because it would have been more interesting if the episode had had a less conventional ending.

Perhaps Miss Goldsmith (Pickman's would-be love interest) could have persuaded Pickman to paint more commercial subjects like, say, soup cans. True, her family and his might have had a few conflicts when she and Pickman became a couple, but on the other hand, true love has survived more daunting obstacles. Besides, Louise Sorel -- the actress who played Miss Goldsmith -- was so sweet that she probably could have charmed the dead right out of their graves. And surely Pickman's kinfolk would have had no problem with that.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

R.I.P. Michael Clarke Duncan

American actor Michael Clarke Duncan, best known for his role as John Coffey in the 1999 film The Green Mile, took his last bow on September 3 at age 54.

He will be missed.

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