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  • 09/16/14--22:18: The Opening Shot
  • To the few people who know me from my old blog, Midnite Media, and the fewer people who actually followed me over here to my new digs, I just want to give a heartfelt thank you. I posted at Midnite Media for years, though lately you may have noticed that things have slowed down quite a bit over there. My interest in what I had been doing—standard, run-of-the-mill reviews—has waned considerably, and I've been dedicating most of my free time as of late developing content for my new home here at Flag on the Moon.

    The name comes from a random piece of bad narration from the infamously un-classic film BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, which I believe belongs in a rare class of film that isn't so-bad-it's-good, but rather so-bad-it's-fascinating. The goal here will not be your standard film review (though there surely will be some of those from time to time, as well), but rather to discuss these films more in-depth and in longer form—to cut them open and really see what their insides look like. Basically, I'll be thinking about these movies waaaay too hard, but in order to do so, I can't live in fear of the dreaded spoiler, so if you haven't seen the movie in question and don't want it ruined for you, then don't read the post. Simple as that. If you have seen the movie, then please, get out your scalpels and meet me in the comment section. Let's dissect this little bugger.

    Note: If a blog post is labeled as a "review" in the title, it will remain spoiler free. Anything else, though, has the potential to be spoileriffic.

    Another fun thing that I will be instituting is theme posts that will run regularly throughout the month. Each month will concentrate on a different phobia, discussing films and television shows that fit into that theme. And at the end of the month, all of those theme posts will be collected into a free .pdf file that you can download (potentially with exclusive bonus content), and you will have the option of reading it on your computer or mobile device like an e-zine, or print out a copy and read it like a real zine. Send me a photograph of you holding your physical copy, and I'll give a free plug to your website, band, etc. here on the blog and in the next issue!

    Sound good? Then please stick around. We'll be going live with real content very soon, but in the meantime, please excuse the clutter. I'm still redecorating.

    --J/Metro

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  • 09/18/14--15:39: Goodies In The Mail!
  • This was actually delivered to my apartment's office a few days ago, but I wasn't able to collect it until today.  I didn't even know that it was coming (Thanks, Hazmat Media!), so it was a pleasant little surprise.  I had wanted to see THE GUEST even before this arrived, but now I have to see it. 

    Adam Wingard's THE GUEST - Goodie Pack
    The Guest Goodie Pack
    That's a shot glass (with a recipe for the Blowjob Shot), coaster, postcard, bootleg-looking version of the official soundtrack, and yes...a condom.  (Be careful who you let in, indeed!)

    From the official synopsis: 
    A mysterious soldier befriends the family of a fallen comrade and quickly makes himself an indispensible part of their lives, but the secrets he’s hiding put them all in danger in The Guest, a nail-biting, retro-stylish thriller from director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett (You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die).
    THE GUEST is in select theaters right now, and opens everywhere October 3rd.  Click HERE to visit the official website, and to find out if/when THE GUEST is playing near you.

    --J/Metro

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    YOU ASKED FOR IT was an odd spin on the variety show format that originally aired on the defunct DuMont Network beginning in 1950.  Viewers would write in to the show and request segments covering subjects that they were interested in, and host Art Baker would read their letters and postcards, and introduce the segments.

    In this episode from 1953, Mrs. Harriet Frasier from Springfield, Massachussets wrote: "Ever since seing DRACULA, I have been an ardent admirer of that fine character actor Bela Lugosi.  I have missed his unusual roles on the screen recently.  Could you arrange for me to see him on your show?"

    Bela Lugosi on YOU ASKED FOR IT (1953)
    Bela Lugosi, Master Illusionist

    Art Baker declares that Bela Lugosi shall be premiering a new role on the program tonight, that of a "master illusionist" who will perform the "weird vampire bat illusion".

    It doesn't seem like a new role, though.  It just seems as if Dracula has taken up the hobby of cheap parlor tricks as Bela, aided by his hunchbacked assistant, emerges from a coffin in his typical vampire garb.  A beautiful blonde girl (Shirley Patterson) is fetched for Bela...but not to be feasted on.  Instead, the girl (wearing a subtle inverted cross on her dress) is hypnotized, placed into a magician's cabinet and, after a bit of silly showmanship, transformed into a bat.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Weird Vampire Bat Illusion.

    Bela Lugosi and Shirley Patterson on YOU ASKED FOR IT (1953)
    Bela Lugosi & Shirley Patterson

    Following the segment, both Bela Lugosi and Shirley Patterson join Art Baker on stage to discuss their current and upcoming projects.  Shirley promotes the film SECOND CHANCE, the first 3D movie to feature "Important Stars" (which I'm sure was a blow to a lot of actors who had appeared in 3D films previously).  It does seem rather unusual that Shirley would be used to promote the film, though, since her role, whatever it was, was so minor that it went uncredited.  

    Bela then went on to plug his upcoming projects, the 3D feature film THE PHANTOM GHOUL, and a television series entitled DR. ACULA--not DRACULA, as he is quick to point out.  Unfortunately, neither of these projects ever came to fruition.

    It's not a terribly fascinating bit of television, but it is a lot of fun to see Bela Lugosi hamming it up for the camera in a more obscure setting.  Vamp fans should definitely take a look.  The 10-minute Lugosi segment is available to view for free at the Internet Archive by clicking HERE.

    --J/Metro

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  • 09/24/14--07:20: Short Film: The Hole (1962)
  • This short animated film from 1962 features a pair of well-acquainted construction workers whose idle chit-chat grows serious when the subject of the nuclear threat is breached.  Could Armageddon be brought on by nothing more than a minor accident, now that so many nations possess doomsday devices?  And since we have willingly brought ourselves to this point, could even an accident be considered blameless?  That's what THE HOLE wants you to consider.

    This is not your standard animation.  It's somewhat limited (an artistic choice, I'm sure), and feels grittier and more urban than your typical cartoon, which is perfectly fitting with every aspect of the film.  It was a bit difficult to tell what was going on at times, but the effect created with the newspaper (where the headlines were frequently shifting) was very cool.  This is an attempt at art, and wasn't intended for mass consumption, and so it's not going to be as easily digested by everyone as a Disney or Warner Brothers cartoon.

    THE HOLE - Dizzy Gillespie
    Dizzy Gillespie in The Hole

    Whatever minor amount of dislike one might have for the animation should be counteracted by an appreciation for the dialogue between the two characters.  This can't be attributed to a scriptwriter, as it was entirely improvised by it's two stars--jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and actor George Matthews.  Their conversation flowed freely and believably, as if they truly were longtime friends.  Jazz is a largely-improvisational art form,  and this short proves that Dizzy is just as adept at improvising dialogue as he is at improvising musical compositions. Matthews was often cast in films as heavies and ruffians, but he also had an extensive stage career and a great intelligence, which may explain why he was able to keep up with Dizzy.

    My favorite exchange between the two involved Dizzy discussing how he broke a drinking glass while he was doing dishes, much to his wife's chagrin.  Matthews retorts, "You know the reason you broke the glass?  You didn't want to do the dishes in the first place."

    THE HOLE was made by animators John and Faith Hubley, who collaborated on almost every film they made during their lives together.  John had begun in animation as a background and layout artist at Disney, pitching in on some of the studio's most cherished productions such as PINOCCHIO, DUMBO, and FANTASIA, and he is also co-creator of the character Mr. Magoo.  Two of the Hubley children grew up into a spotlight of their own: Georgia Hubley is a founding member of the band Yo La Tengo; and Emily Hubley supplied animated segments for the musical HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.

    THE HOLE won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1962, and in 2013 was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the U.S. National Film Registry.  It can be viewed online at the Internet Archive by clicking HERE.

    --J/Metro

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    I have a distinct memory from my early childhood of watching a portion of a movie on television. I only recall one scene and a few extraneous details:

    The film took place in a large city, and everyone was on edge, as they were being terrorized by a madman. The scene that I recall occurred within a highrise apartment complex. There was a lengthy silence, interrupted by the loud and shrill sound of the telephone. The woman who lived in this apartment hesitated to answer it, because...and this is where it gets weird...the madman has declared that he will blow up the world if anybody answers their telephone.

    Weirder still, she answered it, though I don't recall the world ending.

    That's it. That's all that I remember. 

    The fact that I can't figure out what this movie was drives me crazy a few times a year. What drives me even crazier is that, in all likelihood, I will never figure it out. I mean, a terrorist who will destroy the world if ANYONE answers their phone? That doesn't even make any sense. I obviously misunderstood what was going on as a child, and I have carried that misunderstanding with me throughout the years.

    Still...I want to watch it again to figure out what was actually going on.

    And then I want somebody to make a movie where a madman will blow up the world if anyone answers their phone.  Because I still think it would be pretty cool.

    --J/Metro

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    The Great Gabbo - Theatrical Poster
    The Great Gabbo Poster
    This elderly piece of cinema follows the romantic and professional misadventures of ventriloquist Gabbo and his amazing dummy Otto. Gabbo (Erich Von Stroheim) is rather renowned for his skill in the ventriloquial arts, and that unfortunately has gone to his head. He is cruel, egocentric, and obsessed with the dummy. One might even go so far as to say that he is a little bit mad.

    Gabbo's beautiful assistant-slash-girlfriend Mary (Betty Compson) has had to put up with his nonsense for far too long, and so she walks out on him. Being abandoned by Mary pushes him further over the edge, and in no time at all, Gabbo is treating Otto as if he were a real live boy.

    This is demonstrated most prominently in the scene which takes place some two years later, where Gabbo and Otto go out for dinner at an expensive restaurant. Otto is given his own seat and orders his own meal. Other patrons speculate that this is perhaps some wild publicity stunt, but the truth is not quite so simple.

    This is the same scene where Mary is reunited with the talkative duo. She has become something of a success herself, landing a gig as a dancing girl for a fancy New York revue, and has taken a new paramour, Frank (Donald Douglas), who is none too happy with the attention that Otto and Gabbo begin to shower upon Mary.

    The Great Gabbo - Gabbo Punches Otto
    Gabbo Punches Otto
    Gabbo believes that now that Mary has proven herself, she will be willing to return to his life. He is completely disheartened when he learns that Mary is not going to leave Frank for him, and not only that, but the two of them are married. When she says goodbye, she does so only to Otto. "I love you," she tells the dummy. "I always have...and I think I always will." In a fit of rage, Gabbo punches Otto in the face, but he is promptly remorseful when he realizes that he has nobody else left in the world. Gabbo storms the stage of the theater during the closing number, loses the last tenuous grip he held on reason, and shouts insanities at the audience until he breaks down in tears and is dragged from the stage. He is quickly fired for his outburst, and a destitute Gabbo watches in shame as his name is removed from the marquee.

    This is truly a bizarre movie from start to finish, and I don't say that because of the plot. I say that because of everything else going on that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. It is simply astounding how many full-length song and dance numbers that director James Cruze crammed into this movie, especially when you consider that most of them didn't involve Gabbo in the least. I'm assuming that he was attempting to capture the feeling of being at one of the live theater events around which this movie revolves, but this definitely ventured into overkill territory.

    Speaking of song and dance numbers, Otto is rather fond of singing, as well (though he mercifully refrains from dancing. I do believe that would be concentrated nightmare fuel). He has a couple of oddball musical performances, which he delivers in a ghostly, child-like intonation that will haunt your subconscious for years to come. Although I must admit that the chorus to "I'm Laughing" is rather catchy—I've caught myself singing "Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee-hee, ho-ho-ho, I'm laughing" more times than I care to admit—it remains difficult to listen to "Icky (Lollipop Song)" with a straight face. The lyrics, at least when viewed through the prism of today, are far too suggestive:

    "Oh, it makes me sick with the way it smears
    How the stuff do stick in your hair and ears
    With the lemon bean I'm always clean
    But a lollipop, all icky
    I've tried and tried, but never could find
    A lollipop that's even halfway refined
    So, I'd rather suck on a lemon drop
    Than to try my luck with a lollipop
    'Cause I always drop my lollipop
    And it gets all over icky"

    Not convinced? Imagine those words coming out of Nicki Minaj's mouth, and then you will understand what I'm talking about. If someone were to tell me that ‘lemon drop’ is old Vaudeville slang for a clitoris, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

    Beyond all the singing and dancing, there are also the extended scenes where Gabbo and Otto are performing. One or two truncated performances is to be expected, but we are shown endless minutes of stage time in which Otto tells mildly-amusing jokes while Gabbo drinks wine, smokes cigarettes, eats dinner, and shoves silk scarves into his gaping maw. They don't wear on you quite as much as the musical numbers, but at a certain point, you've already seen everything that you need to see...and then you realize that you're only halfway through. The movie is based on the short story "The Rival Dummy" by Ben Hecht, so I suppose they had to pad the running time somehow, but honestly, if someone were to edit out all of the fluff and foma, we would be left with a fairly decent 30-minute television episode.

    The Great Gabbo - Gabbo and Otto: Portrait of Terror
    Gabbo and Otto: Portrait of Terror
    This isn't a horror film. It isn't intended to be, and shouldn't be judged by the same standards. I'm not quite sure what it is, or what it was intended to be, which makes it very hard to judge, indeed. Horror or not, it remains the great-grandfather of many an evil dummy film, though the roles are noticeably switched here. The ventriloquist is the rotten scoundrel in this equation, and it's only when speaking through the dummy that Gabbo isn't something of a right bastard. He has transferred all of his good qualities into Otto, leaving behind the showbiz equivalent of a ruthless shark, more than likely the only way that he felt he would make it to the top. Well, that and by abiding by many a superstition. At the onset of the film, he goes off the rails on Mary because she set his hat on the bed, and at the finale, he purposefully avoids walking beneath a ladder, meaning, perhaps, that he hopes to someday reclaim his fame.

    Once viewed as Otto being the warehouse for Gabbo's good side, it’s easier to understand why Mary put up with Gabbo's abuse for so long, and why she professed her love to the dummy and not to the man when saying her last goodbyes. But after Gabbo's attack on Otto, and his near-immediate descent into madness, is there any of his good side left?

    Sometime down the line, filmmakers would realize that the central conceit of this film could be manipulated into a much more interesting dynamic by switching the personality traits of Gabbo and Otto. There are dozens of evil dummy movies out there, but they all started here, whether they know it or not. THE GREAT GABBO remains a milestone in this peculiar subgenre for this reason, and for flipping the script decades before the script was even written.

    --J/Metro

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    FULL DARK, NO STARS - Stephen King - Cover Image
    Cover Image

    1922 is the opening novella in Stephen King’s 2010 collection FULL DARK, NO STARS, and it takes the form of a written murder confession by farmer Wilfred Leland James, scrawled in a motel room in 1930, eight years after the crime.

    Wilf’s wife, a bit of a harpy named Arlette, has inherited one hundred acres of farmland from her father, and refuses to give into her husband’s wishes of folding that property into his existing acreage.  Instead, she wants to sell it to a large corporation and move to the city, where she dreams of opening up a little dress shop of her own.  Wilf, who usually gives into Arlette’s demands, steadfastly refuses to sell.  But as this property is in Arlette’s name, there is really nothing that he can do.

    Or is there?

    Using his wife’s crude behavior against her, Wilf manipulates their 14 year old son Hank into assisting in Arlette’s murder and concealing the crime.  The official story is that she stole some cash and ran off on her family, never to be seen again.  In seven years’ time, if she is not found, Wilf can declare her legally dead and do with the land as he pleases.  Until then, it sits in limbo, though he’s not the only one who believes it is rightfully his.  Andrew Lester, a lawyer retained by the Farrington Livestock Company, wants to lay claim to it, but first he must find Arlette and have her sign on the dotted line.  And that is to say nothing of Sheriff Jones who comes sniffing around, searching for evidence of foul play.

    Lester and Sheriff Jones aren’t their worst adversaries, though.  For Hank, that title goes to his own conscience and the dark evolution that it sparks; for Wilf, it would be the spirit of Arlette herself, and her small army of flesh-hungry rats—if they do, in fact, exist.  Are they supernatural manifestations, or manifestations of natural guilt?  But more on that later.

    This bulk of this story takes place in the fictional Hemingford Home, Nebraska (not to be confused with the real Hemingford, NE), which originally appeared in King’s novel THE STAND, as home to the spiritual Mother Abigail, and has been referenced in other of his works.  King's Dark Tower series seems to suggest that there are multiple versions of the world (i.e., alternate realities) stacked atop each other, although from what I have gathered, King's works generally depict only a few: the aforementioned Dark Tower cycle (which I am, admittedly, not well-versed in); the fairy tale-esque reality from EYES OF THE DRAGON; and the two that we are most concerned with here, the Apocalyptic reality of THE STAND, and King's "mainstream" reality, where the bulk of his work exists in—which we know, because the tales often overlap. Although THE STAND is the only other story where Hemingford Home features prominently, it definitely exists in the Mainstream Reality, too, as evidenced by casual references in CHILDREN OF THE CORN and IT. Since this story takes place well before the opening of THE STAND, it is conceivable that it takes place in that reality, but with no other ties than a central locale, I would venture to guess that it belongs to his primary continuity.

    Wilfred is not our hero.  As far as heroes go in this story, there are none—not really.  There is the country sheriff, but he never performs as a major character, and doesn’t do a good enough job in his investigation for us to root for him.  Wilfred is not even an anti-hero, in the strictest sense of the word.  He is, in truth, a lowly criminal.  This is the story of an antagonist in a world without protagonists, and because we have nobody else to root for, we root for the villain.  By using Wilfred’s voice to tell the story, and by laying on the table all that was stacked against him, King manages to make him a sympathetic bad guy.  It is perhaps not until the end of the story that we stop and realize that we have been cheering on a man who murdered his wife in cold blood, dragging his young son to Hell in the process.  Some will just shrug, chuckle and move on.  Others will stop to contemplate the implications, which I suspect is precisely what King was aiming for.

    Wilf is not what you might consider a typical farmer of the era.  He is not some dusty good ol’ boy spouting off bits of country wisdom through the tobacco smoke of his corncob pipe.  He is a very smart man, deviously so, and a voracious reader, well-versed in Greek myth (all of his cows are named after mythological characters).  He is a self-taught man, like a downhome version of Sartre’s character trope.  The following passage from NAUSEA could just as easily be describing Wilfred:
    "He has passed brutally from the study of coleopterae to the quantum theory, from a work on Tamerlaine to a Catholic pamphlet against Darwinism, he has never been disconcerted for an instant. He has read everything; he has stored up in his head most of what anyone knows about parthenogenesis, and half the arguments against vivisection. There is a universe behind and before him. And the day is approaching when closing the last book on the last shelf on the far left: he will say to himself, ‘Now what?’”
    In the case of Wilfred, the “Now what?” is murder.

    It has, from the start, been established that Arlette was a troublesome woman.  She drank too much and talked too much, she was headstrong and stubborn, and she henpecked her husband until he gave into her every whim.  So why, of all the things that she demanded through the years, was it the issue of land rights that finally drove him over the brink?  It is true that his land provided the income, but if they were to sell Arlette’s land, they both would have stood to earn enough money for them to live comfortably for some time.  It is also true that  folding Arlette’s 100 acres into his own 80 acres would have increased their income substantially, but in murdering her, he would have to hold out for seven long years before that could become a reality—and nobody murders today for a payout in seven years.  Wilf claims that he could not allow her to sell because he wouldn’t be able to stand the stench of the slaughterhouse or the sight of the rivers of blood that would surely flow from it, but this sounds like a desperate man grasping at straws, hoping to rationalize an irrational reaction.  It seems quite possible that the truth is something simpler.

    Having always given in to his wife, Wilfred was somewhat emasculated (especially in those long ago, less-enlightened days).  If her owning more land than him would be a slap in the face, then her dreams of using the money earned from selling the land to open up her own dress shop would have been like a shot to the heart.  In those days, a woman’s place was in the home, preferably in the kitchen or, when the lights went out, in the bedroom.  They were not to be out in the world, holding down jobs…especially when they threatened to earn more than the husband.  Wilf was an intelligent man, but he was an intelligent man of his time.  These wild dreams of hers would have been the ultimate symbolic castration, and I think it’s likely that this is what finally drove him to murder.  Kill the woman to save the man.

    Given the tenuous connection to Sartre’s NAUSEA, it’s no surprise that Wif’s narration is sprinkled with bits of homespun existential philosophy (which is distinctly at odds with the Bible verses and proverbs that those around him are quick to quote).  He ponders on life, death and what comes after with a casual coldness that is not often associated with the American heartland:
    "Sooner or later even the stoutest coffin must collapse and let in life to feed on death. It's the way of the world, and what did it matter? When the heart stops and the brain asphyxiates, our spirits either go somewhere else, or simply wink out. Either way, we aren't there to feel the gnawing as our flesh is eaten from our bones." 
    His notion of the “nesting dolls” that make up humanity is an intriguing one.  On the outside, Wilf is a kindhearted, intelligent farmer, but within that is his more devious nature which he refers to as the Conniving Man.  Within the Conniving Man is another man, a hopeful man that believes everything will come out okay in the end.  It is the farmer that hangs onto the past, the hopeful man that longs for the future, and the Conniving Man in the present that commits the heinous acts that are meant to tie the two together.

    When Wilfred (as the Conniving Man) manipulates his son into assisting with Arlette’s murder, Hank is young and innocent, but in the wake of the horrible crime that they have committed, he changes drastically.  He quickly becomes dark and brooding, aged beyond his years.  Even in 1922, girls tended to go for the dark and brooding type, so his sweetheart Shannon Coterie (daughter of Wilf’s friend and rival Harlan Coterie) becomes putty in his hands.  Wilf theorizes that it is because Arlette is no longer around, thus leaving Hank in need of feminine love, that Hank pressures Shannon into a physical relationship too early.  This results in Shannon’s pregnancy, the dissolution of Wilf and Harlan’s friendship, and the next step in Hank’s dark evolution.

    As was common in those days, the young mother-to-be was shipped off to a private school, where she could quietly give birth without embarrassing her family.  Hank, believing that he is in love, goes after her—and it only makes sense.  The baby would be given up for adoption and Shannon was surely forbidden from ever seeing him again.  Having already had a helping hand in the destruction of his own family, he was willing to do whatever it took to create a new one.  He has obviously inherited a good deal of his father’s devious intelligence, because he does not just storm the castle, so to speak.  The headmistresses of Shannon’s school would be waiting for him, ready to call upon the authorities if he should approach.  Instead, he lays in wait, lingering in dark alleyways outside of local hangouts, scouting for a member of the bad girls club who can deliver Shannon a message.  A message that amounts to this: You and me against the world.

    Hank and Shannon embark on a traveling crime spree, robbing (and occasionally murdering) in order to survive, headed toward some unattainable but dream-like future together.  The media refers to them as Handsome Hank and Sweet Shannon, the Sweetheart Bandits.  For the depiction of their crimes, King more than likely drew inspiration from Bonnie and Clyde, whose exploits were still ten years away from the date this story takes place.  But for all intents and purposes, 1922 may as well be 1932.  A decade didn’t bring about nearly as much change back then as it does today.

    Although the Sweetheart Bandits may be based on Bonnie and Clyde, the modern audience may find similarities to a later case…even if they don’t realize it.  Charles Starkweather and his teenage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate began their own crime spree in late December 1957, which lasted until the end of the following month.  Although you don’t hear about the Starkweather case very often these days, their legend lives on through popular cinema, being the inspiration for BADLANDS, TRUE ROMANCE, and NATURAL BORN KILLERS, among numerous other films.  It’s doubtful that Starkweather based their crimes on any previous criminals (he was more of a James Dean fan, and tried to emulate him in style and dress), but the parallels were still strong enough for the media of the day to grab hold of, calling them modern day equivalents of Bonnie and Clyde.

    The crimes of the Sweetheart Bandits come to a screeching halt, though, in a manner all their own.  The pregnant Shannon is mortally injured during a robbery, and when she expires in an abandoned house, Hank takes his own life.  And in the end, the rats get them both.

    The story wraps up with a news article that describes the strange death of Wilfred, apparently by self-inflicted bite wounds. Throughout the entirety of the story, we were led by Wilf to believe that the rats were real, sent out by the spirit of his deceased wife to wreak havoc and vengeance upon those who had destroyed her, but if this epilogue is to be believed, it was merely the work of a psyche shattered by guilt...much like the nameless narrator in Poe's THE TELL-TALE HEART. That story is also told as a confession to murder, the narrator equally desperate to convince others of his sanity, and is pursued, not by the rodent familiars of his victim but by the steady and insistent heartbeat that emanates from beneath the floorboards.

    Nearly any analysis of THE TELL-TALE HEART will state that the story is being told by an Unreliable Narrator. The same people who wrote those analyses would very likely attach the same label to Wilfred. Whether he is an unreliable narrator or not, of course, depends on what side of the fence you sit on when it comes to the supernatural nuances of these tales. Was the heart of the old man under the floorboards really beating, detectable only by the murderer, whose senses were terribly acute, or was he merely mad? Was Wilf really pursued, judged, and executed by monstrous rats sent by his deceased wife, or were they simply hallucinations of a deranged mind? Both Poe and King are too smart to say for sure, and instead leave it up to the reader to decide.  But any astute observer will tell you that neither answers lies outside the realm of the author's possibilities. 

    In other words, madness is just as likely as monsters. 

    No matter which side of the fence you fall on, almost certainly at least a few of the rats that Wilf sees along the way are real. Living in a farm out in "the middle", they would be a commonplace sight, and there were indeed provable consequences to their presence—among them, the attack on Achelois the cow, and the bite on Wilf's hand that grew so infected it had to be amputated. Unless, of course, even these attacks were performed by Wilf in some sort of mad fugue, as the news report that closes out the story may seem to imply. Death by self-inflicted bite wounds is bad enough, but imagining Wilf gnawing off a poor cow's teat is almost unthinkable.

    Some readers will be quick to point out that the ghost of Arlette comes to Wilf to prophesy the impending doom of Hank and Shannon, using this as proof that the supernatural elements in this story are indeed genuine.  But even Wilf, who steadfastly declares that he knows the things he does because his dead wife told him, admits that he later read of his son’s crime spree in the newspapers (which “only confirmed what I already knew”), and that he was also suffering from a severe infection around that time, which disoriented him to the extent that he couldn’t tell if one day had passed or three—which makes his chronology of these days suspect, at best.  Even after the infection has cleared, Wilf makes no real effort to seek out his son or to prevent his death, which seems like a logical (even if futile) course of action.  It is just as likely that he learned of the deaths of Hank and Shannon after the fact, and in hindsight, turned his fears into prophecy—Wilf being manipulated by his own Conniving Man, as it were.

    Nobody can say with any certainty if the supernatural truly exists in this story, probably not even King himself.  I don’t lean one way or the other with any degree of certainty.  I do, however, believe that Wilfred believes.  

    And as a reader, that is good enough for me.

    --J/Metro


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    Things may seem dire in the theaters some days, but we are living in a Horror Heyday of television. AMERICAN HORROR STORY and SUPERNATURAL are both original ratings giants, but look at the adaptations that are bringing in viewers: BATES MOTEL, HANNIBAL, THE WALKING DEAD, TRUE BLOOD, HEMLOCK GROVE, and many others. It seems that with the proper source material and a solid creative team behind it, genre television is a force that cannot be stopped. That's why I have put together this list of five television adaptations that I would love to see.

    CASTLE ROCK: Stephen King is no stranger to television. Many of his novels and stories have been adapted into miniseries, and with the (arguable) success of UNDER THE DOME, networks are seeing that his work has the ability to be crafted as an ongoing series, as well. THE DEAD ZONE, THE BODY, CUJO, NEEDFUL THINGS and THE DARK HALF all took place in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. My idea is that this series would not adapt any of these particular stories, but follow the denizens of Castle Rock as they go through their daily lives, dealing with the unusual circumstances that seem to go hand-in-hand with the area. Imagine a cross between TWIN PEAKS and PICKET FENCES.

    FULL MOON ANIMATED: Full Moon films produced many a cult classic back in the day, including SUBSPECIES and PUPPET MASTER. In my vision of this animated show, all of their creations exist in a shared universe, and they crossover into each other's adventures on a regular basis. Think about it: The PUPPET MASTER puppets teaming up with Jack Deth to take down Killjoy one week, and the DEMONIC TOYS battling Radu the vampire the next. I envision it as a weekly version of Rob Zombie's THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPER BEASTO, with a dash of Marvel Comics' SUPERHERO SQUAD.

    S-MART: There have long been rumors of a fourth film in the EVIL DEAD series, but with the gory remake released in 2013, it seems that if a new film is produced, it will probably be a sequel to the remake, not to the original series. Fans, though, are still clamoring for more Bruce Campbell. That's where this series would come in. An older, wiser, grumpier Ash Williams mentors a small group of young S-Mart employees on the woes of retail and how to deal with the supernatural forces that are threatening to take over their town. It probably couldn't help but receive comparisons to REAPER, but hell, bring back the cast of that show and add Bruce Campbell, and I'm sold.

    I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER: With DEXTER all wrapped up, I think that a series based on the trilogy of books by Dan Wells could fill that void quite ably. For the uninitiated, John Wayne Cleaver is a young sociopath who wants desperately to escape what seems to be his destiny—becoming a serial killer. He draws up a list of rules for himself to follow that will prevent him from journeying down that dark road, but finds his true nature trying to break the surface when he becomes entangled in a murder investigation. If it sounds a lot like the show that I said it should replace, that's because it is...at least on the surface. The characters actually prove to be quite different from one another, and having a teenage antihero opens it up to a whole new range of possibilities. And let's not forget, while Dexter chooses to hunt other serial killers, John Wayne Cleaver hunts demons that take human form.

    HELLRAISER: At its best, the HELLRAISER series from Epic Comics that began in 1990 was sort of like Marvel's licensed answer to their distinguished competitor's SANDMAN title. It was an anthology series that visited different realms and eras, expanding on the mythos of the franchise in artistically diverse ways. That's the method that I would want this series to use, focusing on varying subjects and how they fit into the mythology. With a little creative fine-tuning, the universe could be expanded greatly enough that the puzzle box wouldn’t have to figure in every episode and the Cenobites could be reserved for "special occasions", in order to keep things fresh. There are a whole lot of vile things in Hell. Frankly, I believe we've only scratched the surface.

    There we have it, my list of top 5 horror works that I would like to see adapted for television. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that that the heyday continues long enough for at least a few of these dreams to become a reality.

    What adaptations would you like to see?  Let me know in the comments section!
    --J/Metro

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    DEAD OF NIGHT is a very well-respected British horror anthology film from 1945, notable for being among the first of its kind and setting the template for those that would follow. A group of guests at a country home recount their brushes with the supernatural, and although any one of their tales would be suitable for a write-up, for our purposes here, we are concerned only with the final segment of the film..."The Ventriloquist's Dummy".

    Dead of Night - Theatrical Poster
    Theatrical Poster

    Ventriloquist Maxwell Frere and his dummy Hugo are quite a popular duo. During their performances, they are not tied to the stage, but rather they move freely throughout the room, engaging with the audience and conversing with them as they enjoy their two-drink-minimum cocktails. During the performance that we are privy to, the duo spots Sylvester Kee, another ventriloquist, among the patrons. Hugo leaps into action and attempts to recruit Kee as his new partner. The audience finds it all quite amusing until Hugo calls Maxwell a "cheap ham", and Maxwell slaps his dummy with resounding aplomb. There are perhaps a few nervous chuckles around the room, but more than anything, this seems like a genuine falling out between performers, right in the public eye.

    After the show, Kee arrives at Maxwell's dressing room, at Hugo's invitation. Kee is greatly impressed by Maxwell's skill, as the dummy is capable of holding a conversation even while the ventriloquist is away in the next room. Irritated by the intrusion and fearful that Hugo might really leave him, Maxwell gives Kee the boot.

    Sometime later, Kee runs into Maxwell and Hugo again at a bar. Maxwell is obviously intoxicated, though Hugo speaks with the clarity of a sober mind. After Hugo insults a young lady, Maxwell finds himself on the receiving end of a beating, and Kee has to half-carry him to his hotel room. The camera is careful to show us that Kee leaves Hugo at the foot of Maxwell’s bed. And yet, the next morning, Maxwell awakens to find Hugo missing. Enraged, he storms Kee's room and finds his dummy hidden there. Maxwell accuses Kee of being a "dirty, thieving swine", pulls a gun, and shoots him twice.

    Dead of Night - Hugo the Dummy
    Hugo the Dummy
    Maxwell is arrested for attempted murder and questioned about his crimes, but he insists that Hugo is just as guilty as he is. Psychiatrist Dr. Van Straaten is brought in to assess Maxwell's mental state, which is, to say the least, quite fragile. As Maxwell believes that Hugo is a separate entity, the doctor gives the dummy back to Maxwell so that they can get his side of the story. In a locked cell awaiting the next round of questioning, Hugo begins to goad his partner, stating that while Maxwell will be locked in an institution, he will team up with Sylvester Kee. This statement finally pushes Maxwell over the edge, and he smothers Hugo with a pillow before throwing him to the ground and stomping his head into sawdust. Dr. Van Straaten witnesses this through the barred windows of the holding cell and begins to panic, as if Maxwell were killing an actual witness. In a way, I suppose he was. It is a truly disturbing scene, probably one of the most haunting in the entire film.

    After the "death" of Hugo, Maxwell is rendered catatonic. Lying in a hospital bed, he is shocked back into some semblance of life by the appearance of Sylvester Kee at his bedside; but when Maxwell speaks, it isn't with his own voice. It is with the voice of Hugo. It appears as if Hugo has returned from the dead, as it were, and is now using poor Maxwell as his dummy.

    This is a tale of madness, yes, but it is also a tale of jealousy. Were you to replace the character of Hugo with a Vegas showgirl, nobody would have blinked an eye. Had Maxwell's beautiful assistant attempted to flee from him in the arms of another man, such as Sylvester Kee, the story would remain the same but our perceptions of the story would be quite altered. Furthermore, any sympathy that we may feel for Maxwell would simply melt away. No longer would he be the poor, unbalanced man who believes that his dummy is alive. He would be the raging lunatic who slapped a woman on stage, and drove her to his rival to seek comfort and protection.

    Dead of Night - Maxwell & Hugo: Partners?
    Maxwell & Hugo: Partners?
    My point is that Maxwell does not behave like a man who is betrayed by his business partner. He behaves like a man who has been scorned by his lover. The only reason that we do not assume it is a romantic obsession that Maxwell has for Hugo is because they are both male...not because one of them is made of wood. If Hugo were portrayed by a female dummy, even if the dialog and all other aspects of the script remained completely unchanged, would there not at least be speculation about the relationship between the two? I do believe that there would be.

    This excellent segment was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti and written by John Baines, but it was based (uncredited) on the short story "The Extraordinarily Horrible Dummy" by Gerald Kersh. Hartley Power and Frederick Valk did fine jobs at portraying Sylvester Kee and Dr. Van Straaten respectively, but both are outshined by Michael Redgrave turning in a fantastic performance as the tortured Maxwell Frere. He took this role because he was interested in portraying a schizophrenic character, opting to ignore any of the supernatural possibilities. In order to fully prepare for the role, he studied with famed ventriloquist Peter Brough, and became quite adept at throwing his voice.

    Many viewers who saw this movie televised late at night during their childhood remember it primarily for this particular segment, though purists are quick to argue that at least one of the other segments is superior—"The Haunted Mirror". But in the mind of a child, whose bed-rooms are filled with dolls and other such playthings, the prospect of a living dummy is much more terrifying than a mirror whose reflection shows a different room, no matter what horrible event may have happened there.

    --J/Metro

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    OPEN HOUSE - Serial Killer Claims Fourth Victim

    Today's headline comes from the 1988 real estate-based slasher flick OPEN HOUSE.  The headline pretty much sums up everything you need to know about the movie...except for the fact that Adrienne Barbeau shows up in S&M garb and offers up a nipple to the camera.

    --J/Metro

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    Devil Doll? - by Daniel Clowes - Eightball #1
    Title Panel

    At one time or another, most all of us have been given or stumbled upon one of those "Chick Tracts"--pocket sized comic books that rally against the evils of the world and invite you to accept a Jesus Christ into your heart as the one true savior. Hell, I remember getting them in my Trick 'R' Treat bags on Halloween as a kid. They are woefully out of touch with today's world, even by modern religious standards, but they can be appreciated by both the angels and the demons of society--one seriously and one ironically.

    One of my favorite pieces by indie comic icon Daniel Clowes is the story "Devil Doll?" from EIGHTBALL #1 (and subsequently reprinted in 20th CENTURY EIGHTBALL). Clowes deftly captures the style and tone of the Chick Tract while gleefully turning it into a grotesque mockery of what it is intended to be.

    Devil Doll? - by Daniel Clowes - Eightball #1
    The Salvation of Pat
    Teenage beauty Pat has square parents who want her to attend church functions and the like, but she's been spending a lot of time with Dr. and Ms. (decidedly not Mrs.) Nimrod lately. The Nimrods introduce her to all the things that endanger the teenage soul--namely satanic role playing games ("Dungeons & Druids"), heavy metal music (the band Vommitt), new age mysticism (Ouija boards), pagan holidays (the Autumnal equinox), and ruffians with names like "The Ram" and "Bad Bill". You know, all the things that your parents warned you about.

    Within a week, Pat is sporting a pentagram tattoo on her forehead, is whacked out of her mind on drugs and singing the praises of Satan. But then, in an odd meta moment, a boy offers her a religious tract by "Goose Gander", and her soul is redeemed (while the sinners that lead her astray get their just desserts).

    Take that, evil!
    --J/Metro


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    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: And So Died Riabouchinska - Title Screen
    Title Screen
    Lieutenant Krovinch is called in to investigate the murder of a man named Luke Ockham at an old theater. Initially, not much is known about Ockham other than that he had come around numerous times, asking to speak to John Fabian, the theater's resident ventriloquist. Despite Fabian and his wife Alice denying that they knew the dead man, the deeper that Krovinch digs into Ockham's past, the more likely it seems that Fabian was in some way involved. Lucky for Krovinch, there is one witness who is willing to speak out: Riabouchinska, Fabian's dummy.

    Riabouchinska doesn't look like your typical ventriloquist dummy. For starters, she's a female, and you don't see many of those in these scenarios. Secondly, she's not a grotesque exaggeration of the human character. She is very life-like, almost like a large-scale version of a girl's pretty princess doll. There is a scene where Fabian relates in creepy detail how he crafted her, ending with an assertion that when he was done, Riabouchinska moved by herself and declared her love for him. The man is obviously broken, his psyche cracked, and it all has to do with a woman.

    Riabouchinska isn't just some doll. Her appearance was based on a real woman that Fabian once knew—his former assistant from the days when he was billed as "Fabian and Sweet William". Fabian fell in love with her, acted obsessively, and scared her off. After spending much time trying to find her, it became obvious to Fabian that she was not going to be coming back to him. Instead, he carved Riabouchinska in her likeness as a means to possess her in a manner that was within his control.

    Alice is obviously jealous of the amount of attention that her husband pays to the puppet, which explains why she sought solace in the arms of another man, Mel Roberts. Fabian is so enamored with his wooden girl that he doesn't even mind that his wife is stepping out on him, and so Alice's affair continues in full sight of her husband. And, in turn, Fabian's affair with Riabouchinska continues in full sight of Alice…and pretty much anyone in the audience.

    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: And So Died Riabouchinska - Primary Cast
    Krovinch,Fabian and Riabouchinska
    It isn't long into the investigation before Krovinch realizes that although Fabian is more than willing to tell an untruth in order to save his skin, Riabouchinska always seems to tell the truth. His badgering of the ventriloquist isn't getting him anywhere, so he does what needs to be done: he stoops down and actually interrogates the dummy!

    Like the real Riabouchinska, Ockham is a character from Fabian's past. He had come around to blackmail his old acquaintance, threatening to reveal to the world the unnatural love between Fabian and his dummy. Obviously knowing on some level that this relationship was taboo, Fabian opted to murder Ockham to keep his secret...an action that Riabouchinska simply could not condone.

    After her confession, Riabouchinska tells her master that she can't stay with him any longer, and her voice slowly fades from existence until she is gone. Fabian breaks down (as all of these mad ventriloquists tend to in the end), declaring "She's gone. I can't find her. She's run away." Losing his love for the second time is more than he can bear, and Fabian allows himself to be taken away by Krovinch without so much as an utterance of protest. It is the most powerful moment of the episode, and is nearly heart-breaking if you don't stop to think about how absurd the whole thing is.

    This is a television program from the 1950s, so if there was anything beyond a chaste relationship between Fabian and Riabouchinska, it is never explicitly mentioned, though there does seem to be a plethora of disturbing possibilities bubbling beneath the surface. Were this remade today, the filmmakers would likely insinuate (if not provide outright visual proof of) Fabian's sexual deviancy.

    I bet Hitch would have had a real field day with that.

    This was the 20th episode from the first season of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, originally airing on February 12, 1956. The episode was based on a short story by author Ray Bradbury, and scripted by Mel Dinelli, who had already adapted the story for the radio show SUSPENSE. This was the only episode of this series that he worked on, but had previously written THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) for director Robert Siodmak and HOUSE BY THE RIVER (1949) for Fritz Lang.

    This was the second of seven episodes of the series to be directed by Robert Stevenson, who had been behind the camera for nearly 25 years at this point in his career. He is arguably best known for the multitude of Disney films that he helmed, including THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) and its sequel SON OF FLUBBER (1963), MARY POPPINS (1964), THE LOVE BUG (1968), and BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971).

    Our two primary stars are both well known for roles on opposite sides of the spectrum from each other. Claude Rains, who perfectly portrays the imbalanced ventriloquist, started out with a small part in 1920's silent BUILD THY HOUSE, and didn't have another film role for 13 years. His performance as the titular character in Universal's THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) really kickstarted his screen career and he went on to appear in two more of the studio's most well-known shockers: THE WOLF MAN (1941) and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943). In 1946, Rains had appeared in the Hitchcock film NOTORIOUS, alongside Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. This was the first of five appearances that he would make in the series, a man of genuine class until his dying day.

    The role of Krovinch was filled by eternal tough guy Charles Bronson. Although he first began appearing in films in 1951, he didn't make much of an impression on audiences until being cast alongside Vincent Price in 1953's HOUSE OF WAX. In 1958, he scored the lead role in the television series MAN WITH A CAMERA, following it up with an array of macho man roles. To genre fans, he is most fondly remembered for his series of DEATH WISH films, which began in 1974. This was the first of three times that Bronson would appear.

    The voice of Riabouchinska was supplied by actress Virginia Gregg, by the way, who went on to voice another not-quite-living woman: Norma Bates in the first three PSYCHO films.

    Ray Bradbury Theater: And So Died Riabouchinska
    Ray Bradbury Theater: Riabouchinska
    Fans of this episode may be tempted to view its other television adaptation, from the second season of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER (1988). Alan Bates, who plays Fabian in the Bradbury version, is constantly pawing at his throat when Riabouchinska is speaking, hammering home the point that the dummy is not actually alive. There are a few interesting alterations in the plot, including the revelation that the real Riabouchinska didn't merely go missing but was murdered by Fabian, but not enough to overwrite the power of this episode. Being scripted by the same man who wrote the short story it was based on may give it an extra air of authenticity, but the Hitchcock production remains far, far superior.

    --J/Metro

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    Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls - Alissa Nutting - Cover Image
    Cover Image
    I had received this book in a discounted multi-pack of indie authors some years ago, and never got around to reading it until recently. It's a damn shame that I waited so long.

    This collection of short fiction by Alissa Nutting runs the gamut from slice-of-life pieces to science fiction, but there is an emotional, almost-absurdist quality that runs beneath all of them. Occasionally morose, always darkly amusing, and full of hopeful nihilism, many of these tales made me feel as if I were reading the female counterpart of Chuck Palahniuk--and I mean that in the best possible way.

    Dinner: Our narrator is being cooked in a kettle with five other people, and while this seems like a scene out of a vintage jungle adventure film, this is a very modern story of seeking comfort and connection from a very limited selection.

    Model's Assistant: A frumpy nobody finds herself on the verge of being somebody when she befriends a beautiful fashion model. This was where I first started noticing the Palahniuk similarities, as this could easily be a chapter from one of his unfinished novels.

    Porn Star: Presumably sometime in the future, reality show contestants compete to have sex with porn stars. Our narrator is one such celebrity whose back door has been promised to the winner...and it will take place on the moon. This story makes you feel sad, lonely, and definitely unclean.

    Zookeeper: The shortest piece in the book is one of the most oddly moving. A zookeeper steals a baby panda from work and tries to hide it from the world.

    Bandleader's Girlfriend: The longest story in the book and probably my least favorite. A rock star's girlfriend parades through life in a drugged up, sexed up, new age haze, a constant embarrassment to her straight-laced sister. A bit of bad news brings them closer together, however briefly.

    Ant Colony: This bizarre story has its roots in drive-in flicks of the 1950s, and the opening paragraph will tell you everything you need to know: "When space on earth became very limited, it was declared all people had to host another organism on or inside their bodies. Many people chose something noninvasive, such as barnacles or wig-voles. Some women had breast operations that allowed them to accommodate small aquatic life within implants. But because I was already perfectly-breasted (and, admittedly, vain) I sought out a doctor who, for several thousands of dollars, drilled holes into my bones to make room for an ant colony."

    Knife-Thrower: On the surface, this is an unorthodox ghost story, but in reality, it is a tale about loss and struggling to retain the memory of and keep connected with the dead.

    Deliverywoman: An intergalactic delivery woman falls for a man online, shortly before coming into possession of her criminal mother's cryogenically frozen body. It's Catfish for the space age...only a little more over-the-top.

    Corpse Smoker: This is a haunting love story that utilizes a gimmick very similar to an idea I had come up with myself a while back--reliving the memories of the dead via drug-like consumption of their remains. If I had to discover that someone else did it before I got around to it, I'm certainly glad that it was Nutting.

    Cat Owner: If Cathy Guisewite's eponymous comic strip character was on the verge of being a crazy cat lady, was desperate for sexual intercourse, and fell head first into innovative fiction, this would be the result.

    Teenager: A pregnant teenager does what she believes she must in order to save the relationship with her boyfriend, but it does not go as planned. A stark and bitterly realistic story that only a woman would have the balls to write.

    Ice Melter: Our narrator here has quite a ludicrous job--melting down ice sculptures with a garden hose once the party is over. Offended by the subject matter of one such sculpture, she digs a hole for herself deeper and deeper.

    Hellion: This fantastic and offbeat story (possibly my favorite in the collection) follows a husband-killer into hell, which really isn't as bad as you might suspect. Her breast size increases, she is allowed to drink (non-alcoholic) beer and ride on roller coasters, and she even has an illicit love affair with Satan, who almost seems like a decent sort. I will definitely be reading this one again.

    Alcoholic: A woman attends a class reunion with her ex-boyfriend, leading to disastrous results. We're privy only to the aftermath, and it ends abruptly, leaving you to question both the past and the future of these two souls.

    Gardener: This one is basically an erotic fairy tale, as an aging and unfulfilled woman falls for the virile garden gnome that comes to life at night. At first, she is content just to watch his wild sexual exploits, but before long she desires to feel his touch.

    Dancing Rat: The costumed star of a children's television show is equally drawn to and repulsed by her bratty kiddy co-star, possibly the result of a barren womb or a ticking biological clock. Or maybe she just likes torturing herself. It's about discovering what you want out of life, and the ways you fool yourself when you discover that you can't have it.

    She-Man: This is a tragic story of a transgendered person whose recently-assembled life comes crashing down when the truth of her past comes out. Although it comes off a bit arch at times, it is an all-too-believable account of lies, love and identity.

    The Magician: Trying to help her disabled brother bring some lightness into his life, our narrator purchases him a brightly colored bird. The lightness, and the bird, are both gifts he does not want, however, and she realizes the damage done to him runs deeper than the flesh.

    This is an absolutely emphatic BUY THIS BOOK.  I can not say it enough.

    --J/Metro

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    Wicked Wicked - Movie Poster
    Poster Image
    I've been wanting to see this film ever since I first read about it, years ago, in Michael Weldon's irreplaceable Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.  Here's what he wrote about it:
    A comic psycho movie in "Duo-vision." The entire feature employs the split-screen technique used in parts of SISTERS and WOODSTOCK.  As a handyman at a seacoast hotel Randolph Roberts wears a monster mask while he kills and dismembers women with blond hair.  From the ads: "See the hunter, see the hunted, both at the same time."
    Unfortunately, this movie has never received an official home video release.  It does, reportedly, crop up on TCM from time-to-time, but I was never lucky enough to catch it back when I had cable (TCM, by the way, is the only channel that I truly miss).  There are a few bootleg copies floating around out there, but I'd much rather see a legit release.

    By all reports, it's not a great film and the gimmick gets tiresome rather quickly.  I don't care about all that.  This is simply one of those movies that I need to see...simply so I can say that I have seen it.

    Click HERE to visit the Turner Classic Movies page, featuring seven different movie clips.

    --J/Metro

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    Today's iconography comes from the 2002 sequel HELLRAISER 6.  This mysterious business card is only one clue in a brain-melting mystery that Kirsty's husband has to unravel in order to pull his fat out of the fire.

    --J/Metro

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    Alfred Hitchcock Presents - The Glass Eye
    Title Screen
    When Julia Lester passes away a lonely old spinster, she leaves all of her belongings to her cousins Dorothy and Jim Whitely. Amongst these items, they locate a most unusual curio, the only memento of the time that Julia very nearly found love. That item is the titular glass eye.


    The story behind the glass eye is one that is, conveniently, unknown to Dorothy, and so Jim recounts it to her--and the audience as well.  Through Jim's narration, we learn that Dorothy, in her mid-thirties, was desperately lonely and had only the days in which she babysat a neighborhood boy to look forward to.  One day, she took the boy to the theater and she became enamored with a ventriloquist act, Max Collodi and his puppet George.  She laughs her way through the act, and then returns for the next show...and the next...and the next.  She begins to travel all over the city to watch Collodi, collecting his posters and playbills which she stares at before falling asleep in a presumably masturbatory glow.


    When Julia learns that Collodi is going on an international tour, she refuses to let him go.  Instead, she quits her job and follows him on tour, living off of her life savings like a prototype Deadhead.  She writes letters to the ventriloquist in hopes of arranging a meeting, and after much begging, he finally agrees.  She dolls herself up and arrives at Collodi's hotel room to find him sitting at a table, cloaked in shadows (citing "an aversion to light"), with the ever-present George perched beside him.


    They talk from a distance, and Julia learns that Collodi is just as lonely as she is, as George is his only companion in this world. What better way to cure two lonely hearts than by bringing them together?


    Alfred Hitchcock Presents - The Glass Eye
    The Titular Glass Eye
    To express her affection for Collodi, Julia crosses the distance of the room and kisses his hand. The man falls lifelessly to the floor, and as Julia tries to revive him, his head falls from his neck, a lonely glass eyeball rolling from its socket.  Julia shrieks in horror when George the dummy rises to his feet.  After only a moment of fearful thought, she realizes the truth: that "George" is the real Max Collodi, and "Collodi" was the dummy all along.


    The real Collodi, a little person wearing a mask, stands atop his chair and begins stomping his feet rapidly, like a child in the midst of a tantrum.  "Get out of here!  Get out of here!", he shouts, and Julia is all too eager to obey, somehow fleeing the scene with the glass eye in hand.


    That is the end of the story of Julia Lester and Max Collodi.  Following the encounter, Collodi dropped out of the theater circuit and disappeared from the public eye, though Jim tells us that he has heard rumors of a small traveling circus somewhere in the provinces, which has a strange clown with a beautiful voice who is very funny but so very sad.


    From the moment that we are introduced to Collodi and George on stage, they are filmed from a distance, almost as if the camera were sitting in the cheap seats.  Even when Collodi and Julia finally meet, they are separated by a fair distance, presumably at Collodi's request.  This was by design, of course, to make the grand reveal seem a tad more plausible.  Even if we do believe that the dummy was a real man in disguise the entire time, it is still a bit hard to swallow that the man we believed to be Collodi was in fact the dummy.  Collodi was never exactly animated during his performances, but could an entire audience be fooled time and time again into believing that a wooden caricature was a real man?  It seems unlikely, but perceptions are easily altered by expectations.  For the viewers of this episode, though, a little suspension of disbelief will go a long way.


    Alfred Hitchcock Presents - The Glass Eye
    Max Collodi & George
    A number of other commentators have mentioned the correlation between this episode and the experience of online dating. They're certainly not incorrect, I just wished that I had thought of it first. Although using analog rather than digital means, Collodi misrepresents himself regarding his physical stature and appearance, while Julia had mailed him an old photograph of herself, misrepresenting her age. When they finally meet, the lies that they were hiding behind become too much to bear. In essence, Julia and Collodi had catfished each other decades before the term even existed.


    The wrap-up portion of the story which reveals that Collodi ended up in a circus seems tacked-on, and it would have played better had they just left it open-ended.  I never would have finished watching this episode and taken to pondering what happened to Collodi.  His story began with Julia and it should have ended with Julia, but it's a small complaint for a very solid episode.


    The final scene, which shows Collodi on horseback (presumably part of a circus caravan), does offer up a bit of confusion for the astute observer. Collodi is wearing an eye patch. But why is he wearing an eye patch if the glass eye belonged to his dummy?  Although this is never addressed in the episode, this is based on a short story by John Keir Cross, and in the source material it is hinted to be a symbolic gesture, a means of honoring the part of himself that he lost, as well as the love that got away.


    This was the first episode of season 3 of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, originally airing on October 6, 1957.  The script was written by Stirling Silliphant, who wrote a total of eleven episodes of the series.  He also wrote the script for VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960), THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), and THE SWARM (1978), and created the classic hipster television series ROUTE 66 (which ran from 1960-1964).


    It was directed by Robert Stevens (not to be confused with Robert Stevenson, director of another dummy-themed episode of the series, "And So Dies Riabouchinska"), who directed an epic total of 44 episodes of this series, and an additional five of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR.  Even that number can't compete with his run on SUSPENSE, where he racked up 105 episodes.   


    The small part of Dorothy Whitely was portrayed by Rosemary Harris, who made two other appearances in the series.  Although she has been appearing onscreen since 1952 (and still continuing to this day), she is recognized by the modern audience mostly for playing Aunt May in the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN trilogy.


    Alfred Hitchcock Presents - The Glass Eye
    Max Collodi IS George!
    William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself, took on the role of our narrator Jim Whitely in a decidedly toned-down manor.  He appeared in one additional episode of the series, as well other anthology series like THRILLER, NAKED CITY, TWILIGHT ZONE, and THE OUTER LIMITS.  In 1973, he landed the lead in STAR TREK, and the rest is (intergalactic) history.    


    "Big" Max Collodi was portrayed by Tom Conway, who had a pretty varied career in Hollywood.  He appeared in the Val Lewton features CAT PEOPLE (1942), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), and THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943), the low-budget Curt Siodmak feature BRIDE OF THE GORILLA (1951), and he lent his voice to a few Disney productions with the animated PETER PAN (1953) and 101 DALMATIANS (1961).  Sadly, he is probably best remembered for being the brother of the more-successful George Sanders, and he sunk into alcoholism in his later years, dying of cirrhosis of the liver in 1967.  This was the first of three appearances he would make in the series.


    George/"Little" Max Collodi was played by Billy Barty, the 3' 9" actor who had worked alongside Mickey Rooney in a number of short films in the "Mickey McGuire" series since the age of three.  He would go on to appear in the Roger Corman film THE UNDEAD (1957), Ralph Bakshi's THE LORD OF THE RINGS (1978), LEGEND (1985), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987), and WILLOW (1988).  He founded the advocacy and awareness group Little People of America in 1957, which is now 6,000 members strong.  Billy passed away in 2000 from heart failure at the age of 76.  This was his only appearance in the series, though he did return for a single episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR in 1964.


    This episode could not have been a success without the proper casting of the lead.  Jessica Tandy, eternally a senior-citizen in many people's minds, played the young-ish Julia Lester with just the right amount of palpable loneliness and desperation.  She appeared in two more episodes of the series, and Hitchcock cast her in his film THE BIRDS (1963). She defied the odds by working right up until her death in 1994 at the age of 85, appearing in COCOON (1985) and its sequel COCOON II: THE RETURN (1988), BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED (1987), DRIVING MISS DAISY (1989), and FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991).  She brought a sincerity to each of her roles that is rarely seen in modern day.



    --J/Metro

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    On the Beach (1959) - advertisement

    I've never actually seen 1959's ON THE BEACH from director Stanley Kramer.  I don't know why I haven't bothered to see it--it's a post-apocalyptic drama with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins.  It certainly seems like something I need to see, but that's neither here nor there.

    I have always been fascinated with the above image, which I first saw in in the film's entry in one of Michael Weldon's PSYCHOTRONIC books.  I have been unable to find any relevant information on the image, which only intrigues me more.

    Obviously this is an advertisement that would appear either in or on a taxicab, most likely in major metropolitan areas like New York, and appears to have been part of a word-of-mouth campaign for the film.  If I had to guess, I would say that cab drivers were given a free screening of the movie in exchange for placing the ad in their vehicle, which is really quite ingenious.  Cabdrivers are expected to hold conversations with their patrons, and patrons are often at a loss for what to talk to them about.  But if you saw this hanging in the cab, you've got an instant topic of conversation.

    Indie regional films should think about making use of this sort of campaign, but don't stop at cabdrivers.  What about all of the other people you are forced to make awkward conversation with on a daily basis?  Bartenders...cashiers...psychiatrists!  The possibilities are endless.

    That's marketing gold, baby.
    --J/Metro


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    I was recently contacted by Alexandra from Man Crates: Gifts for Men, challenging me to compile a list of supplies that I would want in my Man Crate if I were trapped in a horror movie.  I checked out the website, and their business seems like a pretty cool idea--and besides, it sounded like a fun idea for a post.  So here's what I would pack in my Horror Movie Survival Crate.

    Man Crates Logo - Awesome Gifts For Men
    Man Crates: Awesome Gifts For Men


    If I were to pack a survival kit for life in a horror movie, the first thing that springs to mind is a gun. However, I'm no Charlton Heston. If anything, I'm Barney Fife. For the safety of myself and everyone around me, I would only be allowed one bullet that I would have to keep in my pocket. So let's find some things that would have more practical value.

    First thing I would pack is a calendar. This may not seem like much, but knowing what day it is could certainly save your life within the confines of a horror film. If it's Halloween, or Friday the 13th, or April Fools Day, or basically any other holiday, it's really much safer if I do not leave the house. 

    If, however, I am forced to venture out into the world, I would be sure to pack an extra can of gas. While it's true that you rarely see someone in a horror movie actually run out of gas, the trouble always seems to kick off when they stop in some small country town to fuel up. If my tank starts dipping towards empty, that extra bit of fuel will hopefully be enough to get me past Hornswoggle Gulch and into the next big city. 

    Next up, I would pack a satellite phone. As we all know, cellular service is far beyond spotty in horror films; it straight up doesn't exist. If I need to reach out and touch someone before a maniac in a wrestling mask reaches out and touches me (to death), a satellite phone is what's going to make that happen. 

    I would also require extra batteries. In horror films, everyone has a flashlight, but they must be running off of cellular towers because they die out at the most inopportune of times. If I'm going to be running through the woods at night, or some abandoned mental hospital, I damn sure want to be able to see where I'm going. 

    Forget your fancy shoes that lace up. I want a pair that tightens with Velcro. How many times have you seen a victim in a horror movie fleeing from the machete-wielding madman, only to trip over absolutely nothing? I can only guess that they've actually tripped over their laces, and my Velcro shoes will give me one less obstacle that I need to worry about. 

    And finally, I would make sure to pack my iPod, so that I can score my own death. Let's face it, we all gotta go sometime, and if I have to go down, I want to make sure that I go down to something epic like "Black Angel's Death Song" by the Velvet Underground or "Two Headed Dog" by Roky Erickson, and not "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows"

    Though come to think of it, that might make for a truly memorable scene.

    That's my crate.  What's in yours?
    --J/Metro

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    The Red Balloon - Cover Image
    The Red Balloon - Cover Image
    One of the films that scared me the most as a child wasn't even a horror movie. Ostensibly, it was a family-friendly fantasy... but it certainly didn't seem that way to me.

    1956's RED BALLOON was a French import that, running just over 30 minutes, found a second life here in American schools. It was the perfect running time for young children with short attention spans, and because it was foreign, it could immediately pass as educational.

    Here's the synopsis, taken from the IMDB:

    "A red balloon with a life of its own follows a little boy around the streets of Paris."

    While most of the kids in the class saw the balloon as a friend of the little boy, I couldn't help but see its "following" as "stalking". I was sure that it was an evil creature, or at least possessed by an evil spirit, and that it was out to kill the boy.

    For years, I assumed that I was the only one who felt this way, but thanks to the Internet, I see that I am not alone. All these years later, the film is easily accessible, but I'm yet to revisit it. I'm not sure if I'm afraid that my interpretation will remain the same, of if I'm afraid that it won't.

    Regardless, I recently discovered that there was a full-length sequel to THE RED BALLOON called STOWAWAY IN THE SKY, produced four years later.

    Presumably, the balloon finally gets his prey.

    --J/Metro


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    The Dummy - 1982 Short Film
    The Blood-Spattered Dummy

    There's not a lot of story in this short film, and clocking in at only about 7.5 minutes, there's not much room for any, either. After arguing with her husband about an impending visit from her in-laws, a woman is left alone in the apartment with the creepy ventriloquist dummy that the man has owned since he was a kid. Upon getting out of the shower, she finds the dummy poised on the toilet, watching her. She is understandably unsettled for a moment, and then quickly laughs it off, assuming her husband is playing a practical joke on her. The laughter stops when the dummy continues to move around the apartment on its own and begins to terrorize her, going so far as to attack her with a knife.


    There's not a lot of technology or inventive special effects here, as it is all done practically. The dummy is obviously manipulated by human hands just outside of view—but at least they are outside of view, which is better than can be said for some films. This is obviously the work of someone who is still learning their trade, but it is equally obvious that they know more than most. The filmmaker makes the best of what he had, and there are a number of creepy close-ups of the dummy's shadowy face. It is quite unnerving to see his mouth chattering mechanically while he is covered in human blood.

    It has been said that this was the inspiration for CHILD'S PLAY (1988), but that could well be said for a number of films that came before this one. Still, it does make good use of a number of slasher film tropes that we would see in that series of movies, including an unyielding antagonist who attempts to slash their victim through the cracks of a closed door, and the fact that it isn't over...even when you're sure it should be. Here, the dummy literally loses his head in the battle, and as the woman lets loose a sigh of relief, the headless dummy sits up and we fade to black.

    The musical score works suitably with the tension onscreen, but I must make mention of a single cartoonish sound effect—a zippy sort of Looney Tunes whistle when the dummy darts off camera—that seems completely out of place with the straight sense of horror that the rest of the short appears to be striving for. It was an unusual choice, to say the least.

    THE DUMMY was a student film written and directed by Louis LaVolpe. During the burgeoning days of cable television, networks were hungry for content and the short was purchased to help fill out gaps in running time. It ran for nearly ten years on HBO, Showtime, The Movie Channel, and even on the USA Network in between full-length features. It has since been circulating on the Internet, and more recently has landed in rotation on FEARNET.

    LaVolpe only has one other film on his resume—the 2010 short feature SARAH—but he has managed to turn a passion for movies into a living, regardless. He has been the NYU Film School's production supervisor for more than two decades, and is the founder of the online education portal FilmSchoolOnline.com.

    I contacted Louis LaVolpe regarding this film, and he was kind enough to answer all of my questions—the complete interview will be included in the first FREE issue of the 'Phobia zine, available to download here on the first of next month.  In the meantime, click HERE to view it yourself at the FilmSchoolOnline official Youtube channel.

    --J/Metro

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