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Friday, January 29, 2016

SPOT THE LOONEY: NY SUBWAY EDITION

Today's "SPOT THE LOONEY: NY SUBWAY EDITION" kicked off when a loud and belligerent black dude entered the Brooklyn-bound 5 train.
Looney: RADIATION! Microwaves make radiation, muthafukkas!!! Just like the phones! RADIATION!!! (sits down, rhythmically pounds seat for emphasis, pauses briefly before resuming) I'm gonna get me a white girl! (pause) I'm gonna get me a CHINESE girl!!! (pause) But I don't know about the Spanish girls...I FUCKIN' HATE SPICS!!! Fuckin' HATE those muthafukkas!!!
(At this point, the stunned silence was broken by much commentary from the numerous people of Spanish-speaking descent who were passengers, all of whom found the sudden turn toward ethnic hatred to be extremely amusing.)
Latina subway rider: This nigga must be for Trump! (laughter from surrounding riders)
Looney (not missing a beat): Yeah, I'm for Trump! That muthafukka has ALL the money! He's got the right idea! Mexicans have ALL the jobs! Fuckin' Puerto Ricans!!! Ruinin' the fuckin' country! (pause) RADIATION!!! Microwave make radiation! GO BACK TO SCHOOL, MUTHAFUKKAS!!!
(His ranting continued along those lines for two more stops, at which point I disembarked.)

Friday, January 01, 2016

HAPPY 2016!!!

What's the new year without Charles Bronson killing an entire neighborhood in the immortal DEATH WISH 3 (1985)?

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

IT WAS 35 YEARS AGO TODAY...

Dear Vaulties-

here's a re-run from the past couple of years, complete with the title change and a few edits to render the accurate passage of time. Bear with it, because this has become an annual fixture.
NOTE : every word of the following story is true (or rather remembered as exactly as humanly possible given that over three decades have elapsed since it happened), and if you find some of it offensive at this late date, imagine being in my shoes at age fifteen!

December 9th, 1980-

It was the start of my tenth grade school day morning and I was disgruntled (as usual) at being denied sleep and instead being herded along with the rest of the cattle at Westport', CT's Staples High School into yet another inane class. The first item of regurgitation/education of the morning was English with Mr. Dyskolos (not his real name; changed for reasons soon to be apparent), a late-forty-something red-headed guy who then resembled what Danny Bonaduce looks like today who was also among the minute handful of teachers whose classes would keep students awake because he was genuinely interesting, did not talk down to the kids, and had not allowed the thankless teaching system to beat him down and force him to consider his job a mocking reminder of wage-slavery (I'm the son of a teacher, so I speak with a working knowledge of such things).

As the students took their chairs we all noticed that Mr. Dyskolos's usual laid-back manner seemed somewhat "off" that morning and after nearly a minute of total silence as he stared into space as though contemplating some cosmic truth or inevitability, he suddenly focused himself, looked at us and said, as serious as a heart attack, "By the look of you, you haven't heard what happened this morning. I'll just get right to it. John Lennon, de facto leader of the Beatles, was shot dead by some lunatic fan." Most of the class had indeed not heard about Lennon's murder and those of us who hadn't, myself among them, were stunned. But before the horrible truth could fully set in, Mr. Dyskolos continued. "You kids probably know a lot about the Beatles from what your parents or maybe your older brothers and sisters played for you, but you can't even begin to imagine the worldwide pop culture impact those guys had at the time. Obviously I was there for the 1960's and can tell you firsthand what it was like, but I'm gonna spare you that nauseating, self-indulgent trip down memory lane. I guarantee you that all your other teachers are going to suspend actual teaching for the day and drag you along for their reminiscences of their flower-power salad days, but I'm not gonna do that to you. Instead, I'm gonna tell you a few truths that you won't hear anywhere else in this school, or damn near anywhere else, on what's gonna no doubt be a day of worldwide mourning."

He leaned forward in his chair, his face a mask of utmost solemnity, and uttered words that blew the minds of the roomful of privileged suburban white kids (and me): "The Beatles sucked. They were a bunch of marginally talented 'heads' who started out ripping off the work of their black American influences and made a hell of a lot of money for no good reason, killing real rock 'n' roll in the process and unleashing legions of even less-talented imitators in that godawful British Invasion nonsense. And then they went to India, supposedly to gain 'enlightenment' or some other George Harrison-inspired bee-ess, but if you ask me all it did was make their music more annoying." To emphasize that point of criticism, Mr. Dyskolos began making a nasal and high-pitched "neeeeeeer neeeeeer neeeeeeeeeee neeeer" sound by way of approximating the tones of a sitar.

By this point in his diatribe you could have heard an amoeba fart. Young eyes practically bugged out of their sockets and jaws had fallen into laps. This was rock 'n' roll blasphemy in the extreme, and on the morning of the senseless slaughter of a man held by most in the room to be a hero of peace, love and great music, no less. Our worlds were shaken to the core. And then Mr. Dyskolos continued, still looking solemn, but his mouth betrayed a slight half-smile as he was very obviously enjoying his class' speechless outrage.

"Then they put out that asinine White Album that had exactly two good songs on it — 'Birthday" and 'Back in the U.S.S.R.,' and those two were good because they sound like actual rock 'n' roll! — and they had the fucking unbelievable nerve to include that 'Revolution 9' horseshit! What the hell was that? (assumes comedic Liverpudlian accent) 'Noombuh nine? Noombuh nine?' What a load of crap! I'm telling you kids right here and now, remember how 'deep' that bullshit is when you decide to give acid a try!" (NOTE: this was the first time I ever hear a teacher curse when not discussing some of the content in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.)

Before he could say another word, Mr. Dyskolos was cut off and drowned out by an aural assault of irate dissenting opinion, his every word being tarred as the rantings of an anti-peace & love curmudgeon who "just didn't get it." "Who do you think you are???" shrieked several of my classmates. "The Beatles were the most important band in history! John Lennon and Paul McCartney were two of the greatest songwriters who ever lived! Are you crazy?" Dyskolos responded with a sneer that would have done Vincent Price proud and uttered my favorite comeback heard in all of my teenage years, whether I agreed with him or not: "What the hell did they ever write that was worth a goddamn? 'We all live in a yellow submarine?' Puh-leeeeze. The only reason you kids enshrine those hacks is because of nostalgia filtered down from parents who were barely your age when the Beatles showed up and absorbed by the general public and your older brothers and sisters who used that garbage as a soundtrack for when they'd sneak off to smoke weed in the back of a van. Which also explains how anybody could ever find the stomach to listen to those Doors assholes! Face it, kids. For some of what are supposed to be this country's brightest young minds, you sure are a bunch of programmed parrots!" And when one of the students blurted out that John Lennon was a symbol of "give peace a chance," our sage teacher batted that one aside with "You've obviously never heard about the time when Mr. Give Peace A Chance went to some club and hung out with a Kotex stuck to his forehead," a then-shocking truth that only elicited more teenage keening.

That was the real meat of it but the back and forth ranting went on for the class's full hour, with order barely being restored with the ringing of the bell marking the rotation to the next class. Each of my classmates and I zombied off to the next class and swiftly discovered that Mr. Dyskolos had been correct in his auguring. Indeed, each and every teacher I had to endure for the rest of the day derailed the planned curriculum in favor of rose-colored reminiscences of "a more innocent time" full of free love, "the people getting together, man!"and how the Beatles were the troubadours that saw them through all of it and changed to reflect the time. That was all well and good in theory, but not for hours on end as heard from speakers of wildly varying levels of eloquence (to say nothing of interest), with lunch being the day's only respite from what was essentially the same story only with the most minor of variations.

When the day finally ended I headed downtown to do my volunteer teaching of a cartooning class at the local YMCA and the journey allowed me some time to process the events of the day and the "truths" imparted. I'd grown up liking the Beatles quite a lot but didn't own any of their albums on vinyl thanks to their many hits being available in endless rotation on some of the nascent stations that played what would come to be known as "classic rock," and as the seventies ended I avoided the agonizing repetition of disco and such by listening to the excellent oldies station WBLI out of Long Island, a radio entity that served to plant the seeds of my passion for pre-1970's rock that was either primitive and raw or bizarre and very much off the beaten path. WBLI played some of the standard Beatles hits, but they also threw stuff like "Devil in Her Heart," "Dig A Pony" and "Rain" (nowadays my favorite Beatles tune of all) into the mix and showed me just how much the classic rock stations played the same Fab Four songs over and over and over and over and over again, ad nauseum, and taking into account the espoused theory — voiced with absolute certainty of its veracity — that myself and my fellow students may have been a bunch of programmed drones, I began to wonder if Mr. Dyskolos had in fact done his young charges a favor by showing none of the rote reverence extended to the favorite sons of Liverpool by all who drew breath. He had effectively "killed our idol" on the day when one would expect nothing but 100% adherence to the party line, and that greatly intrigued my punk rock-influenced sensibilities.

As I pondered these thoughts, I wandered past Westport Record and Tape, one of the town's most accessible record stores, and greeted Jean, the sweet southern proprietor. I asked her if the shooting of John Lennon had affected her sales that day and she said, "Honey, look over at the Beatles and John Lennon sections. Whadda you see? Tumbleweeds 'n' cattle skulls, that's what! Folks came in and cleaned the place out like they were a bunch of vinyl-eatin' locusts! On sales of Beatles and Lennon records alone, I could close early today." And it was true. Every single Beatles/Lennon platter had vanished into the Westport ether, bought up by fools who believed those perennial best-sellers (okay, maybe not SOMETIME IN NEW YORK CITY) would become instant collector's items.

Later that night as I lay there in my bed staring up at the white stucco ceiling, I listened to my cassette tape of SERGEANT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (the only Beatles album I owned at the time) and experienced it in a way that I never had before. I'd listened to it about two dozen times since acquiring it a couple of years previous, but now it served as a poignant grave marker for my favorite member of the Beatles and its words took on a whole new timbre. No one would be "fixing a hole" in Lennon and ensuring he would live to see sixty-four and beyond. He would not be getting better and there would be no more good mornings for him. Yet tragic though it was, this was just another day in the collective life, and that life would go on without John Lennon (though obviously not "within").

I remember the hue and cry when Elvis Presley, the so-called King of Rock 'n' Roll, gave up the ghost and people acted as though the world had come to an end, and I frankly didn't get it. I liked some of Elvis's music, but it didn't really speak to me in the way that the Beatles had and I now chalk that up to the Beatles happening during what could arguably be considered the most pivotal period of the twentieth century, a time that redefined much of American culture and into which my generation was born. We didn't grow up with Elvis, whose music helped set the template of rock 'n' roll, but we did come along during the rise of the Beatles and reached early sentience while under the influence of their sound. We couldn't know at the time just what their contribution meant, but we did know that we liked it. Obsessive poring over the minutia of the whys and wherefores of their lives, art and careers would come later. At that point in our young lives love was indeed all we needed, and in the wake of the plastic disco era and what small impact punk had in the U.S. at the time, that wasn't a bad thing.

So today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of John Lennon's senseless slaughter and for me the day that it happened becomes ever more remote, so I figured I'd jot down my experience of it before age robs it of what clarity remains. If any of you have tales of that day, please write in and share.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

NO COMMENT

As seen on the Metro North train while returning to NYC from Thanksgiving. As Tom Lehrer once so astutely observed, "When correctly viewed, everything is lewd."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

WORDS TO LIVE BY


Saturday, October 31, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2015-Day 31: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS

Not a scene from DAS BUTT.

Director Matthias Dinter's German-made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS has quite accurately been likened to what would likely result if George Romero had directed AMERICAN PIE, and as such it's an unexpected treat and a hell of a lot of better than it has any right to be.

Phillip (Tino Mewes), Wurst (Manuel Cortez) and Konrad (Thomas Schmieder) are their high school's favorite punching bags, a trio marked for bullying and general abuse, especially uber-nerd Konrad, who has kept a detailed log of every indignity he's suffered at the fists of bullies since he was in primary school. Phillip has hopeless ambitions of nailing the snotty and openly hostile rich class hottie and Traci Lords lookalike, Uschi (Nadine Germann), while Wurst is the trio's priapic happy-go-lucky stoner/all-around party-boy (I'm figuring his lack of popularity is due to the company he keeps). Rounding out the core group of protagonists is Phillip's next door neighbor, Rebecca (Collien Fernandes), a pretty and rather self-aware Goth who was Phillip's closest friend during childhood but when adolescence hit the two briefly drifted apart and now Rebecca harbors other-than-friend feelings for Phillip, but he's too busy thinking with his cock and setting his sights on the rich bitch to notice that a good thing is staring him right in the face.

Our zeroes, er, heroes: (L-R) Rebecca (Collien Fernandes), Konrad (Thomas Schmieder), Phillip (Tino Mewes) and Wurst (Manuel Cortez).

When Phillip's attempt at asking Uschi out to the big dance results in he and his buddies receiving their umpteenth beating from Uschi's preppy Hitler Youth poster child-looking boyfriend, Wolf (Hendrik Borgmann), the desperate lads enlist the aid of Rebecca and her Goth friends to enact a Haitian voodoo ritual that will theoretically give the boys the ability to get any woman they want to fall in love with them (which does not sit well with Rebecca). The ritual goes awry and while driving back to Phillip's parents' house, the guys get into a bonghit-instigated car accident that kills all three of them. (The other two die of cranial impact injuries, while Philip's heart is pierced by a windshield wiper, so their corpses still look pretty good, all things considered.) While the love spell aspect of the voodoo ritual may not have worked, the lads soon awaken in the local morgue as fully-fledged zombies, now super-strong and impervious to pain. Making their way back to Phillip's house (it should be noted that his parents are gone for a few days), the guys discover that they are also flesh-eaters and that they can sate their carnivorous urges with raw meat.

Back from the dead and enjoying some raw steaks.

Upon returning to school the next day, the trio begin a campaign of vengeance against the bullies and jocks that results in them becoming instantly popular. Milking this, the boys announce a massive party at Phillip's house and the whole school is invited, including the now turned-on Uschi who makes no bones about her intent to fuck the newly-appointed Alpha male Phillip. During all of this, Phillip's relationship with Rebecca takes some interesting turns while Konrad, flush with power for the first time in his put-upon life, begins to go over to the Dark Side and lets his monstrous urges run rampant, igniting a humorously dire chain of events that can only be remedied if Rebecca can come up with an antidote to reverse the boys' zombie state. As the guys deal with the revolting realities of decomposition (somewhat remedied by a handy and judiciously applied staple gun), undead cannibalism and Konrad's increasing confidence and evil, the counter-spell must be pulled off within thirty-six hours of the initial zombification, so time is swiftly running out. And Konrad will not give up his newfound badassery willingly...

Working stylistically very much within the mold of American-made high school raunch flicks, the film looks and feels just like an American R-rated teen comedy, only everyone in it speaks German. And it certainly earns its R-rating thanks to liberal doses of filthy dialogue, gore, nudity, sexual situations (some of which could rightly be classified as necrophilia), drug and alcohol use, an illegal May/December romance (although admittedly I have no idea how the laws in Germany stand on teacher/underage student flings) and all the other stuff you'd expect from a film of this genre, only this time with zombies thrown into the formula for good measure. The performances are uniformly good, the script is tight and very funny and the whole thing just plain works. In fact, I would even go so far as to say NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS is the best horror comedy to come along since SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which came out barely two months prior to this. I'm guessing the reason this film didn't get the kind of attention the British SHAUN got over here has everything to do with it being in German, and while the DVD does include an English dub (watch the subtitled version to preserve the original performances), I don't recall the film ever getting a U.S. theatrical release or any kind of marketing hoopla being made when it hit DVD. That's a shame because, as previously stated, this film is a real winner and fans of horror-comedy and general audiences alike would eat it up (pun intended). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Oh, and included among the extras is the fourteen-minute alternate ending, which is worth a look to illustrate how the wrong ending could totally scuttle what would have otherwise been a perfect picture. The alternate ending seems like it was intentionally calculated to include every trite and wrong teen comedy element that we've seen beaten to death since the 1980's, and while watching it I was thanking the gods of cinema that Dinter wisely chose not to use it and go with a climax that not only made sense, but that was also as satisfying of an ending as you could want for this film.

Poster for the German theatrical release.

Friday, October 30, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2015-Day 30: CRUEL JAWS (1995)


"I'll get you, motherfuckin' shark!!!"
—crazed shotgun-wielding Mafioso.

There are JAWS ripoffs and then there is CRUEL JAWS, a USA/Italian-made marvel of copyright infringement that liberally (and illegally) cribs its shark attack footage from JAWS, JAWS 2, JAWS 3-D, DEEP BLOOD and even the infamous LAST SHARK, itself one of the most outrageously  flagrant ripoffs ever made. I was alerted to this work of patchwork art a few years back by my pal Mindless Kirby, himself already well-schooled in bad movies by the relatively early age of eighteen, and I could not believe there could possibly be a JAWS ripoff more in-your-face than Enzo Castellari's LAST SHARK, a film withdrawn after legal action was threatened by Universal Pictures. Seriously, there was just no way. But what I did not take into account was that there would be an Italian filmmaker possessed of balls big enough to actually — and very poorly — steal footage from all of the aforementioned movies, rather than merely lift the basic template of "gigantic man-eating shark terrorizes beach resort until hunted to explosive death by a disparate crew of pursuers." And, as if that were not enough, the film also "borrows" snippets from one of the most famous movie soundtracks of all time, specifically the original STAR WARS, and even lists JAWS author Peter Benchley as one of its scripters. (It goes without saying that he was not actually involved.)

Helmed by "William Snyder" — aka Bruno Mattei, the virtuoso behind such classics as S.S. EXTERMINATION LOVE CAMP (1977), PORNO HOLOCAUST (1981), CALIGULA'S PERVERSIONS (1981), VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN'S PRISON (1982) and RATS IN MANHATTAN (1984) — CRUEL JAWS follows the tried and true formula of the films it rips off and splices together, mostly drawing its plot particulars from JAWS and JAWS 2. Aside from the familiar narrative template, the story gives viewers a gaggle of disposable characters that are impossible to care about, and in most cases you'll end up praying for them all to end up as the next day's floating shark's turds. There's the nerdy shark expert, a Hulk Hogan lookalike with a cute and treacly little daughter in a wheelchair (who spends her time playing with dolphins and seals at her dad's low-rent aqua show), a pitiful pack of local bullies, one of whom is the mayor's son, and, of course, the corrupt mayor who pooh-poohs the shark attacks and refuses to call off the upcoming regatta for fear of losing tourist's bucks, and their performances are uniformly piss-poor. As the so-called story perfunctorily goes through the motions, there's also a jaw-dropping subplot where the mayor — after failing to call off the regatta, which ends up with the deaths of innocents and loses tons of money as a result — is called on the carpet by his previously unseen Mafia masters and told that they will send a pair of stereotypical goombahs to take care of the shark and claim the $100,000 reward. These two morons, suddenly and inexplicably expert at handling motorboats, set off onto the high seas to kick some shark ass, armed with various firearms. Needless to say, they are horribly killed almost immediately.

As the story nears the long-overdue finish line, it is eventually revealed that the shark is actually the result of a navy experiment that has been trained to attack any enemies within its home territory — in this case a sunken Naval transport — and that revelation adds nothing whatsoever to the plot or the viewer's interest. Oh, and while the shark is described as being of the Tiger variety, all of the stock nature documentary footage and stolen segments clearly depict Great Whites.

The film's soundtrack is replete with totally inappropriate music — mostly ten-years-out-of-date generic '80's-style pop that will make you want to put your head through the nearest wall — and the cinematography is often murky as hell, rendering much of the original footage quite dark, and the editing is often incomprehensible. But what makes this mess absolutely worth sitting through is its sheer nerve as a Frankenstein's monster of cobbled-together footage from other movies, and the jarring juxtaposition of it all is akin to reliving a bad tequila and cough syrup bender. From moment to moment, the shark morphs from live nature footage to a number of fake-looking animatronics and puppets, and when the shark is blown up at the end it explodes three times, each detonation culled from different movies. CRUEL JAWS is complete and utter crap and its shamelessness is Homeric in scale, but a film of this magnitude of outrageousness is a must-see for all followers of bad movies in general and lovers of ridiculous shark flicks in particular.

Packaging art for one of the film's DVD releases. This totally doesn't rip off the classic JAWS poster art because this image includes an explosion!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2015-Day 29: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)


When the beast within gains the reins.

David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman are two American youths on a walking tour of Europe who find themselves in the isolated rustic Northern English town of East Proctor, the kind of place where the locals are close-mouthed around outsiders and where remnants of a pagan past are evident. Earning the displeasure of the regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb pub after Jack asks them why there's a big pentagram on the wall — a symbol that he notes to David is the sign of the werewolf (Jack's obviously seen THE WOLF MAN) — the hapless tourists find themselves booted from the establishment and, against the advice of the creepy, tight-lipped indigenous populace, wander off the roads and into the fog-enshrouded moors during a full moon, where they fall prey to…well, you have a pretty good idea if you’ve noticed the film's title. Jack doesn’t survive the attack, but David awakens weeks later in a London hospital under the care of a mouth-watering nurse (the one and only Jenny Agutter) and is visited by the mangled corpse of his best buddy. The disturbingly-mutilated Jack — who has lost none of his friendliness, charm, and sense of humor in the wake of his horrific murder — warns David that he’s now a werewolf and must kill himself before the next full moon, but if the disbelieving David had killed himself the movie would have been about twenty minutes long and pissed off an audience that came expecting some righteous monster action, so you can guess the rest.

Rearing its shaggy head just four months after the equally-classic lycanthropy opus THE HOWLING, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON upped the shape-shifting ante by having a major studio budget, a writer/director who wielded no small amount of clout in the wake of the success of his NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) and THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980), picturesque UK locations, the toothsome and talented Jenny Agutter, and FX badass Rick Baker on the makeup/creature effects, so how could it lose? Frankly, it didn’t and almost thirty-five years after the fact it still vies with THE HOWLING for top position in the hearts of most werewolf mavens. (Hell, I paid to see it three nights in a row when it came out!).

A horror movie for grownups that came out during the avalanche of brain-dead and juvenile1980's slasher pictures — their gore and nudity/sex notwithstanding — and provided a welcome alternative, AMERICAN WEREWOLF fires on all cylinders, engaging its audience with likable characters, a doomed love story, and some of the most indelible moments of cinematic horror of its decade. The foreboding atmosphere during the sequences in East Proctor fairly screams old school Universal Horror transplanted to the early 1980's, a soundtrack loaded to the rafters with songs referencing the moon is intelligently handled and never grows corny or trite, and the film especially gets extra points for Griffin Dunne's unforgettable performance as Jack, the most cheerful mangled and steadily decomposing corpse you’ll ever see.

Griffin Dunne as Jack: if ever there was a supporting role that completely steals the film it's in, this is it.

The film is also to be commended for opting to depict the cinematically-rare (though more mythically-common) fully non-human four-legged variety of "Shaggy McNasty" as opposed to the usual bipedal guy with a terminal case of five o'clock shadow. Rick Baker's practical effects puppet of David's lupine form features a spectacular and original design that skews waaaaaaay into monster territory and is about as far removed fro Lon Chaney Jr. as one could hope to get. It looks more like a demonically-possessed giant wolverine than a wolf, and as such it is scary as a motherfucker. Though only occasionally glimpsed, the beast is a nightmarish creation whose stalking of innocents through the London night and later rampage in and around a porno theater are realized to maximum visceral effect.

The beast's P.O.V. of its prey.

But perhaps the element that the film is best remembered for these days is its signature transformation sequence. A masterpiece of practical effects wizardry, David's metamorphosis into a ravenous engine of death brings what would no doubt be an grueling, agonizing physical process to vivid life, with each morphing, distending, and re-structuring of the man's anatomy shown under clear lighting and with horrifying sounds of creaking bones and muscle as the icing on the visceral cake.


David (David Naughton) looks on as his body rebels.


Very entertaining and engaging from start to finish, some find AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON's blend of humor and horror to be somewhat jarring and as a result feel that film is deeply flawed by a schizophrenic tone, but I vehemently disagree with that assessment. THE HOWLING is also quite amusing — admittedly, provided you get the in-jokes that are aimed squarely at those well-versed in their horror movie minutia — but no one ever bitches about it being a mess, which leads me to wonder if AMERICAN WEREWOLF's detractors are more willing to cut a "smaller" flick a bit more slack. Whatever the case, you’ll just have to judge AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON for yourself. Me, I fucking love it. Werewolves are my favorite monsters, thanks to their often tragic and unwilling connection to nature and all of its more rapacious and unrestrained aspects, so a werewolf story of this level of quality was more than tailor-made for the likes of myself. It had a tremendous impact on me and my friends way back when and it helped me get through a particularly rough and frustrating section of my troubled adolescence, so for that I will always have a warm place in my heart and mind for its collision of the mundane with supernatural horror of the most wrenching order. Definitely my favorite werewolf movie (alongside the original THE WOLF MAN) and also one of my very favorite films of any genre, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON get my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

A treasure: My autographed photo of David Naughton during his transformation.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2015-Day 28: GE GE GE NO KITARO (2007)

Meet the Yokai.

In recent years the Japanese film industry has rebooted many of the classic manga properties as live action features, especially now that special effects technology has caught up with the wild imaginings of the comics' creators. Unfortunately the majority of the reboots are turgid, uninvolving bores that amount to nothing more than something that could be used as a studio's FX resume reel, and that's a major disappointment when one considers just how awesome projects like DEVILMAN and TETSUJIN #28 (better known to us western barbarians as GIGANTOR) could have been if they had scripts that lived up to the visuals. DEVILMAN was especially trying since the studio opted to attract a larger audience by making Go Nagai's famously gory and ultra-violent story more teen-friendly, consequently cutting the balls off of a genre classic. In fact, if you ask me the only genuinely good and thoroughly entertaining classic manga reboot was the charmingly goofy CUTIE HONEY from 2004, based on another Go Nagai classic and also cleaned up for a larger audience. Or should I say it was the only good manga reboot until this first live-action GE GE GE NO KITARO adaptation?

Considering that it's a product of a culture with one of the world's richest myth bases, it was only a matter of time until the venerable GE GE GE NO KITARO (loose translation: "Kitaro of Ge Ge Ge Forest") got the live action treatment. For a decent overview of this manga and anime landmark, check in over at the Wikipedia, but the short version is that creator Shigeru Mizuki's stories revolve around Kitaro, a spirit — or yokai — boy who lives in creepy Ge Ge Ge forest with his equally supernatural family and friends, a wild assortment of creatures culled from Japanese myths and legends. Kitaro is something of a nexus between the human and yokai realms, coming to the aid of humans who fall afoul of the more sinister of his brethren, and much humor and magical mayhem ensues.

Kitaro and friends, as seen in the manga.

Kitaro and friends have been animated several times since the 1960's, both for television and the movies, and I love them without reservation. There have been countless international takes on the whole supernatural co-existing alongside our mundane existence thing — BEWITCHED and Harry Potter being the two examples that spring immediately to mind — but none have the charm and sheer fun found in Mizuki's works, and I'm very happy to say that none of it is lost in the translation to live action.

German-American/Japanese pop star Eiji Wentz as Kitaro.

As "progress" causes the forests of Japan to dwindle, the indigenous spirits are being driven from their ancestral homes and they're none too happy about it. A bunch of Kitsune, powerfully and ancient fox creatures, seek to drive out the inhabitants of the housing developments going up over what used to be their forest by any means necessary and hire the disreputable Rat Man (Yo Oizumi) and his gang of monsters-for-hire to get the job done. Tired of being (harmlessly) terrorized by the unruly yokai, a little boy who dwells in the development sends a letter — via the supernatural mailbox located deep in a nearby forest — to good guy yokai Kitaro in hope that the spirit can get the other monsters to knock off their nightly harassment. Kitaro receives the plea and soon puts things right, but that's just the first ten minutes of the film, which leaves plenty of time for world-class asshole Rat Man, the yokai answer to Eric Cartman, to get up to more self-serving mischief, namely stealing a magical gem of incredible power from the Kitsune so he can hock it at a human gem dealer's shop (NOTE: humans know that monsters exist, so this isn't that big of a deal, although some humans still need a bit of convincing).

Yo Oizumi as the amusingly offensive Rat Man: if ever there was a towering douchebag who just doesn't give a fuck, it's this guy. And, God help me, I love him.

This theft sets all manner of mishegoss into motion and it's up to Kitaro and his bizarro group of friends to save the day, lest an angry Kitsune lord destroy the human world and rebuild things under his own rule.

GE GE GE NO KITARO is a hell of a lot of fun and a visual feast featuring a who's who of mythological critters, seamless CGI and makeup effects, a yokai nightclub that you'll want to hang out at, and the latest rendition of the famous and infectious Kitaro theme tune, a song familiar to native anime fans since the 1960's and heard in every filming of the series since. I can hear it even now: "Ge...Ge...Ge Ge Ge no Ge..." (And you can too if you click here for a link to three of the animated series openings, ranging from the B&W sixties intro through the current TV version.) Plus there's a doomed romance between immortal Kitaro and a human girl thrown in for good measure; Kitaro's dad warns him against getting involved with a mortal female because humans can die, something of which he is only too painfully aware. And while the movie is based on a children's comic, what may fly as suitable entertainment for kids in Japan doesn't necessarily work over here insomuch as the look of the monsters and some of the effects could be perceived as scary by the very little ones in the audience, so know your tyke's limitations before throwing this one into the DVD player. I'd say this is safe for the six-and-olders.

Bottom line: if you're unfamiliar with the monsters of Japanese myths and legends, creatures as well-known over there as Dracula, Frankenstein, Jason, and Freddy are to us, place your trust in me and immediately rent GE GE GE NO KITARO. It's out on DVD in the States, and for more yokai fun I also recommend — though not as strongly — YOKAI MONSTERS: 100 MONSTERS (1968), YOKAI MONSTERS: SPOOK WARFARE (1968, the best of this series), YOKAI MONSTERS: ALONG WITH GHOSTS (1969), and THE GREAT YOKAI WAR (2005). And keep your eyes open for the sequel, GE GE GE NO KITARO 2: SONG OF THE THOUSAND-YEAR CURSE (2008), which is aimed at an older audience, so it's a much darker animal than this first installment.

Poster for the original theatrical release.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2015-Day 27: DR. CYCLOPS (1940)

A publicity shot that's not in the movie but one that ABSOLUTELY gets across the point of its scale-derived horrors.

Visually-impaired Dr. Alexander Thorkel (Albert Dekker) summons a trio of fellow scientists — two biologists and a mineralogist — to his remote Peruvian lab so they can confirm some of his findings that his borderline-blind eyesight prevents him from verifying for himself. Along with an unexpected extra scientist, the visitors are dismissed by the incredibly rude Thorkel once their usefulness to him is done, but they opt to stick around after being intrigued by what appears to be Thorkel's discovery of a rich vein of the radium/uranium ore pitchblende, while questions are raised as to what exactly has happened to the considerable number of experimental animals that Thorkel had imported for his research. When the doctor's native assistant, Pedro (Frank Frank Yaconelli), notes that his beloved horse has gone missing and yet hears the animal's signature whinny, Thorkel reveals just what he's been up to, namely utilizing a radiation process to shrink living mammals down to doll-size. Acting all nice, Thorkel invites the party into the lab's shrinking chamber to see the shrinking apparatus up close, at which point they are locked in and, to their abject horror, reduced against their will. Now around a foot tall, the shrunken victims escape into the doctor's yard, an area surrounded by Peruvian jungle and populated with all manner of wildlife that could easily do them in at a moment's notice. 

Meet the good doctor's cat, Satanus.

But the true menace is Dr. Thorkel, whose general assholism pales in comparison to his amoral, complete and utter madness and evil. When he discovers that the shrinking effect is not permanent and that that his victims are slowly returning to their original proportions, the doctor's veneer of scientific obsession drops away and he stands revealed as a cruel and murderous giant, not unlike the cyclops of classical myth.

The concept of humans being reduced to assorted small sizes is an old sci-fi trope that has been explored endlessly, on 1960's TV in LAND OF THE GIANTS (1968-1970), most recently in ANT MAN (2015), and perhaps to most classic effect in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), but that film's take on the shrinking angle was more about the human/existential experience of such a happenstance, while DR. CYCLOPS goes  straight for the jugular when depicting just how awful it would be to find oneself trapped at a size where virtually every living thing around you is suddenly an oversized apex predator. A small caiman becomes a ravenous dragon and a common house cat gains the gravitas of a rampaging tiger when one is stuck at one foot tall, and the film milks the horror of skewed proportions for all it's worth. Though ostensibly a sci-fi entry, DR. CYCLOPS is at heart a straight-up horror yarn whose impact is like a sledgehammer to the guts. Looking like a vintage pulp magazine cover brought to life, thanks to its early Technicolor process lending it an unnatural semi-sepia effect, the film's narrative provides several sequences of outright terror that are intense even by today's standards and must have been truly shocking some seventy-five years ago. I won't reveal everything but the scene where Thorkel kills Dr. Bullfinch (Charles Halton) by smothering him with a wad of cotton held in calipers is imbued with a sense of no-way-out dread that really messed with my head when I was an under-ten.

Dr. Thorkel (Albert Dekker) prepares to murder rival scientist Dr. Bullfinch (Charles Halton).

Fast-paced and genuinely scary, DR. CYCLOPS is an old school treasure of the highest order that holds up quite well and is suitable for the whole family, though it does contain some material that can warp the kiddies if they take some time to really think it through. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Poster from the original theatrical release.