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  • 10/16/14--11:07: [Comic] Deadly Burlesque
  • To be honest, there's not a hell of a lot of story to this one-shot comic book from small publisher Freaktown Comics, but to a certain extent, that's okay.  The official synopsis will probably tell you everything you need to know:
    "The Bowery, Lower Manhattan, 1980. The New York burlesque scene has faded away, replaced by strip joints, peep shows and porno palaces. One small club of indomitable performers – the Luxury Lounge - still holds out against the tide.
    The art of burlesque is dying. For one person, it isn’t dying fast enough. As the bodies pile up, so do the suspects – could the killer be desperate club owner Mr Barnett? Cantankerous juggler The Amazing Ralph? Stale stand-up comic Martin Stevens?
    A performer can die onstage a thousand times. Offstage, once is enough."
    Deadly Burlesque - Freaktown Comics - Interior Page
    Deadly Burlesque: Interior Page

    So, to sum up...someone is killing off the performers at a burlesque club, and, well...that's pretty much it.  This comic reputedly takes its cue from 1980s slasher films, and it almost captures that feeling.  What it's missing is everything that takes place before, after and in between the kills: primarily, even the slightest hint of story or character development.  The creative team attempts to compress a would-be 90 minute movie into a scant 24 pages, but doesn't quite succeed.  Instead, it feels only like a graphic representation of the climax of said slasher film.  We all love the wrap-up, sure.  But without the first two acts, the final one just isn't quite so compelling.

    DEADLY BURLESQUE is written by Russell Hillman and illustrated by Daniel Bell.  It will be released at the Thought Bubble Comic Convention in Leeds, England this November, with a digital release to follow.

    *Special thanks to Freaktown Comics for the review copy*


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  • 10/17/14--09:42: Horror Patents 1
  • For whatever reason, I've been entranced with the illustrations over at Google Patents ever since I discovered it.  They're intended to be clinical and descriptive, however they hold a certain and unmistakable charm for me.  I think of them as unintentional pieces of outsider art in and of themselves--and some of them would make much better framed posters than they would actual products.  Below are five examples.  Click on the description to view the full patent.

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    The Ventriloquist - Kevin Spacey Short Film 2012 - Frank & Mr. Higgins
    Frank & Mr. Higgins
    Frank and Mr. Higgins are a ventriloquist act, but they're not selling out theaters or performing in front of crowds. They are street performers, bantering back and forth on the corner in hopes of scoring a little pocket change from the pedestrians.

    Nothing quite so unusual about that. Any downtown district is going to have its fair share of people performing for money. And maybe it's not quite so unusual when Mr. Higgins tries to score Frank a date with Stephanie, the cute coffee girl that he's been crushing on. Maybe Frank is trying to impress her with his skill, or thinks that she will find it endearing. (Never mind the fact that she tells Mr. Higgins that Frank is too old, and says maybe she would rather go out with the dummy instead).

    It is, however, slightly more unusual when Mr. Higgins begins to harass a litterbug on the street, continuing on even when things begin to get heated, right up until the point that Frank gets punched in the face. Still, one could force himself to believe that Frank is an ecologically-minded person, and his principals surpass his need for well-being. Perhaps he spoke through Mr. Higgins in an attempt to cut the tension...though it obviously wasn't working.

    Things take a left-turn into very unusual, though, when Frank and Mr. Higgins call it quits and head home for the day. The dummy, no longer anywhere near Frank, continues to speak (and move) of his own accord, demanding a better career trajectory and more of an effort on Frank's part. Frank, growing tired of the control his dummy wields over him, breaks down and demands that Mr. Higgins just stop talking. The next morning, it seems that Frank has gotten his wish, and then some. Mr. Higgins is gone, and furthermore, he has taken the cute coffee girl with him.

    Without his partner, Frank is despondent and left without a voice. He takes a seat on a public bench to ponder his past, present and future, but when an attractive woman sits next to him, Frank greets her with a smile and symbolically removes his bowtie, shunning the costume that had acted as shackles for so long.

    Frank doesn't need Mr. Higgins any longer. Maybe he never did.

    Even after we witnessed Mr. Higgins moving about without Frank's assistance, it would have been easy enough to assume that the dummy was just a manifestation of Frank's repressed id. After all, nobody else was around to see it. It might have merely been Frank's imagination as he argued with himself. But the fact that Mr. Higgins was gone the next morning strongly implies that the dummy actually was alive, after all. The only other explanation would be that Frank truly is insane, and in a fugue, disposed of Mr. Higgins and then murdered Stephanie. Frank doesn't appear crazy, though, and it is unlikely that this is the scenario that the filmmaker had in mind. Still, it offers an intriguing alternate view that lends a darker air to the proceedings.

    This short film is a brilliant and entertaining piece of cinema. It's no wonder that it won the first Jameson First Shot short film competition that was launched by Trigger Street Productions and Jameson whiskey in 2012. Fledgling filmmakers from the USA, Russia, and South Africa were invited to submit their scripts to the jury, and the winning script from each country was filmed with Kevin Spacey in the starring role. THE VENTRILOQUIST was the American winner, written and directed by Benjamin Leavitt.

    Spacey, of course, portrays Frank in the film, and does a remarkable job. The scene where he is shouting at Mr. Higgins to shut up is truly powerful, making it obvious that he is bringing the same intensity to this short film as he would to a big budget Hollywood production. The minor part of Stephanie the coffee girl is played by Erin Cahill, who played the Pink Ranger in the POWER RANGERS TIME FORCE television series.

    The other two winners in the 2012 competition were SPIRIT OF A DENTURE (South Africa) about a dentist who finds adventure by treating a pirate suffering from a toothache, and ENVELOPE (Russia) about a man who finds himself wrapped up in political intrigue after receiving a letter from a supposedly-imaginary person—both of which star Kevin Spacey, as well. The celebrity for the 2013 competition was Willem Dafoe, and it has been announced that the 2014 celebrity will be Uma Thurman, so keep an eye out for her films in the near future.

    I had the opportunity to ask filmmaker Benjamin Leavitt a few questions via e-mail—the transcript of which will be included in the FREE 'Phobia Zine, available to download here on the first of next month.  In the meantime, click HERE to watch the film at the official Jameson Whiskey Youtube channel.


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    I distinctly remember in 2004 that a theater not far from home was playing SHAUN OF THE DEAD on opening night, and the newspaper advertisement declared that if you attended the showing dressed as a zombie, you would get a free promotional beanie.  It was black, with a target on the forehead and the slogan "Aim For The Head." I desperately wanted to go, but all of my friends who should have been interested didn't think that the movie would be any good.

    Flash forward to six months or so down the line after they had all seen the film on DVD, and they were proclaiming it the funniest thing that they had seen all year.

    So I never got my SHAUN OF THE DEAD beanie.  I'm not sure how many there are in existence, but they must be pretty rare--I could scarcely find any information about it on the internet.  There were a few old message board posts by people who had received one, but that's pretty much it.  I scoured the web for literal hours, looking for a scan of the newspaper ad that offered the beanie but came up empty.  In fact, the only visual proof that I could find was this very small photograph from an E-bay auction that has already ended.

    Shaun of the Dead - Promotional Hat and Shirt
    Aim for the Head

    Hopefully some day one of these beanies will turn up on my radar at a reasonable price.  Though it might be dangerous for me to actually wear it if I decide to dress up like the undead for Halloween.


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    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski - Cover Image

    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
    Probably the most well-known novel to be found on this list, HOUSE OF LEAVES seems to exist in a love-it-or-hate-it universe--there is no middle ground. It's a post-modern haunted house tale with elements of Greek mythology tossed in for good measure. Presented as a scholarly discourse analyzing a documentary film which does not exist, complete with footnotes and endnotes added by multiple sources, comprehensive appendices, stacked narratives, various fonts and colors, and text that weaves itself creatively around the page, this is just as much an art project as anything else. There is so much happening both on and below the surface that I find something new to appreciate every time I read it.

    Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall - Cover Image

    Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
    This metafictional mashup of JAWS and MEMENTO was being composed at roughly the same time as HOUSE OF LEAVES, and reads like a more accessible version of that novel. It is more the concepts than the format that makes this book exceptional, but a visual highlight is when it turns into a flip-book, depicting a great white shark, composed entirely of text, swimming closer to the reader.

    The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen - Cover Image

    The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
    This novel follows a young junior cartographer on his way to the Smithsonian, and the many adventures he has on the way. The margins of this book are peppered with the unlikely "maps" that he draws as part of his daily life.

    Frank's World by George Mangels - Cover Image

    Frank's World by George Mangels
    While not as blatantly form-shattering as the other books on this list, it still qualifies, and I will never pass up an opportunity to share its greasy gospel. This Post-Lynchian fable tells the story of Frank, a man so vile that he ruins the lives of everyone that he comes in contact with. The long and narrow dimensions of the book are perfectly suited for the seemingly endless run-on sentences and paragraphs that go on for days, replete with vulgarities, pop culture references aplenty, and metaphysical rants that will break your brain. It's bizarro fiction for people who don't like bizarro fiction.


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    Moving Takahashi - Title Card

    Craig, an unscrupulous employee of Takahashi Moving, is planning on taking the belongings from the wealthy family that hired him and selling it all on the black market for a pretty tidy sum.  Things take a turn when Juliana, the petulant daughter, tells him that she has swallowed every pill in the house and will be dead within twenty minutes.  Finding himself in an unexpected situation, Craig has to decide whether or not Juliana's impending demise is his problem.

    This short film looks absolutely stunning.  Shot on film with a true eye for detail and framing, any number of freezeframed images would be suitable for use on the poster or lobby card.  The script was great, as well, and all of the lines were delivered believably by the two leads.

    Craig is played by Boyd Holbrook, who appeared in the television series THE BIG C and HATFIELDS & MCCOYS.  He's a scruffy sort of fellow who reminded me a little bit of Sawyer from LOST, but more instantly likable.  Kristin Malko, who portrayed the suicidal Juliana, had previously played Debra Jean Belle in PRISON BREAK (one of my favorite TV series, I confess) and can be seen in a number of other short films.  Both characters are deeply human and deeply flawed, but by the end of the ten minute running time, you begin to feel as if they can help put each other on the mend.

    I absolutely loved this movie, and bookmarked it so that I can show it to my wife at a later date. Most short films that I enjoy make me wish that it would be turned into a feature-length production, so it must be a testament to this movie's strength that I'm completely satisfied with it the way it is. Drawing it out and opening it up couldn't possibly add anything except for padding.  And who needs that?

    Moving Takahashi from Josh Soskin on Vimeo.


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    Making Contact AKA Joey - Theatrical Poster
    Theatrical Poster
    After the death of his father, young Joey discovers the newfound ability of telekinesis, and furthermore, an unlikely means of communicating with his deceased daddy—via a glowing red toy telephone. A short time later, Joey discovers a creepy ventriloquist dummy in an abandoned house, but the dummy is no mere plaything. It is housing an evil entity with powers similar to, but superior to, Joey's own. Joey has to fend off the evil dummy's increasingly dark magic, as well as the bullying of his peers, in order to save himself, his family, and the entire neighborhood from destruction.

    This is a decidedly confusing film, which throws so many elements into a cinematic blender that there was really no hope for it to make a ton of sense. A son talking to his dead father could have been an entire movie (FREQUENCY). A youngster developing telekinetic abilities could have been an entire movie (CARRIE). A boy being pursued by a doll instilled with life could have been an entire movie (CHILD'S PLAY). But when you throw them all together, with nary a plot thread to connect them, you wind up with something a little less than coherent.

    Viewing this as a child, it might not have mattered so much. There would have been an awful lot onscreen to distract you from the fact that one thing seldom, if ever, lead to another in a logical way—especially if you were an American child. Nearly every scene is absolutely littered with pop cultural Americana. Mickey Mouse, Sesame Street, and so many Star Wars toys that you would think this was produced in cooperation with George Lucas himself. Children of the era were likely too busy 'oohing' and 'ahhing' to pay much attention to the finer points. Viewed through adult eyes, though, it really starts to fall apart at the seams.

    One of the most bewildering aspects of the whole movie was just how, exactly, Joey's toy robot Charlie
    Making Contact AKA Joey - Joey's Robot Pal, Charlie
    Joey's Robot Pal, Charlie
    came to life. Assuming that Joey's latent telekinetic ability came about because of the emotional distress brought on by his father's death (and I am only assuming here, because the cause of this new ability is never even hinted at), I can understand Joey using it to make his toy spaceships fly and that sort of thing. But the robot (who appears to be an adorable R2D2 knockoff) operates with its own intelligence, to the point where it becomes almost like a pet—indeed, there is even one scene that depicts the boy taking his dog and his robot out for a walk! Unfortunately, Charlie's stay is all too brief, shot down in his prime by the local bullies. Had he stuck around long enough for the audience to develop any sort of emotional attachment to him, this might have been an emotionally impactful scene. Instead, what could have been a major plot point turns out to be just another throwaway occurrence without reason or explanation.

    Making Contact AKA Joey - Creepy Ol' Fletcher
    Creepy Ol' Fletcher
    The villainous dummy Fletcher is only slightly more grotesque than your average ventriloquist's partner. However, he growls an awful lot and shoots psychic lightning beams from his eyes, which elevates him to a whole new level. He never wields an actual weapon, per se, but he does use his telekinesis to hurl knives about.

    Much as I would have liked to see Fletcher slicing and dicing his way through the running time, I guess the filmmakers thought that would be too intense for younger viewers. It's an odd mix they achieve here, though, equal parts horror and flights-of-fancy. It goes from the utterly silly (a killer, sentient hamburger) to the overwhelmingly dark (Joey is, spoiler alert, pronounced dead). This imbalance is, to say the least, unsettling...and not in a good way.

    Tracing the lineage of this particular film is a bit difficult, but I will attempt it: It takes place in America, used an American cast, and was originally shot in English, but only a few small parts were shot in America. It's actually a German film, though it tries exceedingly hard to make you think otherwise. Aside from all the American pop cultural references already mentioned, Krispy Kreme donut shops are shown in the background numerous times, and there is even a scene shoehorned in where children sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee".

    Aside from the confused heritage, there are also at least two cuts of the film. There is the American cut,
    Making Contact AKA Joey - The Red Dead Phone
    The Red Dead Phone
    which utilizes an English-language track; and the German cut, which is dubbed into German (but now available with English subtitles); The American cut is shorter, some scenes are edited differently or played in a different order all together, and an alternate musical score was used, so they are, in some aspects, drastically different films.

    Despite all of the drawbacks, this family-oriented fantasy from Roland Emmerich, the director of INDEPENDENCE DAY has a peculiar magic all its own, and if it made some effort of being cohesive, it might have ranked with such fare as THE GOONIES, EXPLORERS, or E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL. As it stands, a fun but headscratching mess, it is strictly second-tier material, like 1988’S MAC AND ME.


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  • 10/23/14--12:02: The Poster Art of Saul Bass
  • For my money, two of the most striking movie posters have always been those for Otto Preminger's THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955) and ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959).  Both feature stark colors and a minimalist design that convey not only the basic plot of the film, but the very mood of it as well.  The first shows the perils of heroin addiction, while the second showcases a corpse (which has been cut into seven distinct sections).  Both have obvious similarities, but being for films from the same director within the same era, why wouldn't they?

    Saul Bass - The Man with the Golden Arm - Poster Image

    Saul Bass - Anatomy of a Murder - Poster Image

    It wasn't until I took a hard look at the poster artwork for Preminger's 1965 film BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING that I realized all three of the images were likely created by the same artist.  Poster art is a field that I am woefully ignorant of, so the only thing I knew for certain was that this wasn't the work of Drew Struzan.

    Saul Bass - Bunny Lake is Missing - Poster Image

    With minimal effort, I discovered that the man behind this artwork was Saul Bass (also famous for his opening title sequences), who crafted a number of memorable movie posters, including the pair of VERTIGO (1958) posters below for Alfred Hitchcock.

    Saul Bass - Vertigo - Poster Image
    Saul Bass - Vertigo - Poster Image

    But perhaps nothing in his extensive catalog of work is so familiar to genre film fans as his poster of Stanley Kubrick's Stephen King adaptation THE SHINING (1980).

    Saul Bass - The Shining - Poster Image

    Probably seen less-often, though, is the concept art for the poster which was denied by the studio--I actually like this one much better (though I may not be the best judge, as I think THE SHINING is an overrated film.  Let the crucifixion begin.)

    Saul Bass - The Shining - Concept Art

    On a side note, there was a bit of controversy in 1995 when Spike Lee's film CLOCKERS was released with a poster image that bore more than a slight resemblance to Bass's ANATOMY FOR A MURDER.

    Art Sims - Clockers - Poster Image

    Designer Art Sims declared that it was an "homage" and "a salute" but Bass forever saw it as a rip-off.


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    With the new OUIJA movie opening today, I thought we'd take a look at some of the real-life devices upon which the movie is based.  As stated in a previous post, the graphics which accompany patent paperwork can easily be viewed as outsider art, and genre fans would be happy to have any of these hanging in their nightmare gallery.  Click on the caption to be taken to the online paperwork, courtesy of Google Patents.

    Toy or Game, 1891
    Design for a Ouija Board, 1920
    Psychic Instrument, 1923
    Salem Witchboard, 1999


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    Twilight Zone: The Dummy - Jerry & Willie
    Jerry & Willie
    Jerry Etherson and his dummy Willie are actually quite a talented duo, but their agent Frank is the first to admit that they are stuck performing in smoky nightclubs instead of living it up at the top of the world because of Jerry's demons. He drinks too much, he has been diagnosed by psychiatrists as schizophrenic, and he also believes that Willie is really alive. In Frank's words, Jerry is a "self-indulgent sot with an overactive imagination," and he gives him 24 hours to clean up his act and get his head on straight, or find himself another agent.

    For his next performance, Jerry gives Willie the cold shoulder and tries things out with Goofy Goggles, whom Jerry is quick to point out is just a dummy. The performance goes well enough, and so Jerry decides to make a break for it. Willie, though, despite being locked in his trunk, is not going to allow himself to be replaced so easily.

    Now, Jerry is obviously an unbalanced man—he's a drunk, he suffers from nightmares and after a rough
    Twilight Zone: The Dummy - Jerry & Goofy Goggles
    Jerry & Goofy Googgles
    encounter with a showgirl, it becomes apparent that he is always precariously balanced on the edge. What isn't so obvious, however, is if he believes that Willie is alive because he is so unbalanced, or if he is so unbalanced because Willie really is alive. That is to say, is Jerry's madness the cause or the effect?

    Jerry's mental state progressively worsens during the short running time of this episode, beautifully demonstrated by the tilted camera-work which becomes more and more severe until it seems as if we have wandered into a funhouse of German Expressionism. Jerry's warped perceptions of reality, as well as the fact that he hears Willie in his head, do seem to lend credence to his psychiatric analysis, but one must remember, this is THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

    In the build-up to the episode’s finale, there is a struggle between man and dummy which should be ludicrous, but somehow isn't. It's actually rather sad when we learn that Willie tricked Jerry into "murdering" Goofy Goggles in his place, which says something about the strength of this outing.

    Twilight Zone: The Dummy - The Old Switcheroo
    The Old Switcheroo
    In the bizarre wrap-up, the dynamic duo of Jerry and Willie are back onstage, but there has been what Rod Serling calls "the old switcheroo". The dummy now resembles Jerry and the ventriloquist now resembles Willie. How such a transformation occurred is never explored, of course, but we finally see who has been pulling the strings all along…as if there was ever any doubt.

    This was the 33rd episode of the third season, and it originally aired on May 4, 1962. Rod Serling himself scripted the episode (based on a story idea by Lee Polk), and Abner Biberman ably directed it, but the success of it all lands squarely on the shoulders of Cliff Robertson, who plays our man Jerry. Robertson is very convincing as the tortured soul, which should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with his résumé. He had a knack for capturing the quirks and mannerisms of troubled and off-kilter characters. Those of a geekier persuasion may recall that he played the villainous Shame in the 1960s BATMAN series, and many years later, the inspirational Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN trilogy. SPIDER-MAN 3 was the final role he took before passing away in 2011. At least he went out playing a true hero.


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    The Video Dead - Zombie Blood Nightmare

    Today's iconography comes from 1987's THE VIDEO DEAD.  The plot revolves around a magical TV of sorts, and the zombies that crawl out from the screen to prey on the suburbs stem from this cheap-movie-within-a-cheap-movie...



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    Twilight Zone: Caesar and Me - Jonathan West, Ventriloquist Extraordinaire
    Jonathan West, Ventriloquist Extraordinaire
    Jonathan West is a down-on-his-luck ventriloquist, forced to pawn his personal belongings just to make ends meet. He's got a pretty good act with his dummy Caesar, but there just doesn't seem to be anybody willing to give him a chance. Which is unfortunate, really, because he is rapidly running out of belongings to sell.

    Luckily for West, though, his partner in ventriloquism is also his partner in crime. Caesar is not only very much alive, but he's also something of a lowlife. "There's all kinds of ways to get money," Caesar tells him, resembling nothing so much as a Chicagoland thug. From his affected accent to his fedora, suit, and burning cigar, Caesar is pure puppet goodfella.

    West, who seems to be a perfectly upstanding gentleman most of the time, is in such dire straits that he gives into Caesar's criminal instincts, knocking over a delicatessen in something of a practice run before moving onto the big event: emptying out the safe at the popular night club that earlier refused to hire them.

    Caesar and West appear to be free and clear after their big heist, until nosy neighbor girl Susan overhears
    Twilight Zone: Caesar and Me - Susan the Brat
    Susan the Brat
    their chatter. More so out of general brattiness than any sort of civic duty, Susan drops dime on the pair, and the police promptly arrive to haul West away. He nearly breaks down in tears in an absolutely heartbreaking scene as he tries to get Caesar to speak up and bail him out of this jam, but suddenly the dummy is not so talkative.

    With West out of the picture, Caesar is going to have to find a new human companion. With few other options, he sets his sights on young Susan and is promising her the world as the episode fades to black.

    The script for this episode was written by Adele T. Strassfield, who was the secretary of producer William Froug. Strassfield's screenwriting career was a very minor one, with only three credits to her name. Episode director Robert Butler worked on relatively few episodes of a great number of television programs. His most impressive run on any one series was actually his credit as co-creator of REMINGTON STEELE. The two working together crafted a fairly memorable episode.

    Jackie Cooper began acting at a very young age, eventually becoming a lead in the OUR GANG comedies. At one time, he was most recognizable for his part in the military sitcom HENNESEY (1959-1962), though many people these days recognize him as Perry White from the Christopher Reeves SUPERMAN films. He was great here in the role of ventriloquist Jonathan West, a good man whose bad luck and bad choices nudged him into a life of crime. He’s short on common sense and is easily manipulated, but you still get a sense that he has a golden heart. He spoke with a fairly believable Irish brogue that was possibly used as a means to obscure the fact that Cooper was also voicing Caesar.

    Twilight Zone: Caesar and Me - Goodfella Caesar
    Goodfella Caesar
    The chunk of wood that plays Caesar here had already been used in the earlier episode "The Dummy", and was presumably invited back based on the strength of his previous performance. Fans of the series are quick to tear this episode apart, but I still found it quite enjoyable. Although this is something of rehashed material, and "The Dummy" is easily the stronger episode, Caesar has much more personality than Willie ever did. When THE TWILIGHT ZONE was relaunched in 2002 with Forest Whitaker as the host, the series revisited a few old characters on at least one occasion to see what had become of them ("It's Still A Good Life"). It's too bad that we never got to catch up with Caesar and Susan. I bet theirs would have been a great story.


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    To go along with this month's theme of AUTOMATONOPHOBIA (the fear of ventriloquist dummies, naturally), I thought we would take a look at the inside of these creepy bastards to find out what makes them tick.  As always, outsider art courtesy of Google Patents.
    Automatonophobia - Ventriloquist Dummy - Patent Art
    Ventriloquist's Doll, 1956
    Automatonophobia - Ventriloquist Dummy - Patent Art
    Ventriloquist's Dummy, 1938
    Automatonophobia - Ventriloquist Dummy - Patent Art
    Ventriloquial Figure, 2010
    Automatonophobia - Ventriloquist Dummy - Patent Art
    Animated Dummy, 1958
    Automatonophobia - Ventriloquist Dummy - Patent Art
    Doll Head, 1941

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  • 10/29/14--21:36: Moon Memories: The Crush
  • THE CRUSH - Movie Poster

    When THE CRUSH came out in 1993, I had a pretty big crush myself on that film's Lolita villainess, Alicia Silverstone. I had seen it numerous times between the theater and home video, and when I saw that it was going to be on a cable movie channel one summer while visiting my father, I talked the family into watching it with me.

    "Is it any good?" my dad asked.

    "Look at the commercial!" I implored him. "When you see a hot chick smashing things with a baseball bat, you know it's gonna be a good movie!"

    They were less than impressed with the film, and with my love interest, whom my stepmother called a "flash-in-the-pan teenybopper."

    Unfamiliar with this phrase, I had registered it as something else. I rose to my feet, incredulous, and shouted, "She's got nice pantinibops! Why shouldn't she flash them!?"

    All these years later, I still stand by my assessment.


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    Tales From The Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy - Title Screen
    Title Screen
    Ever since he was a young boy, Billy Goldman has only wanted to be a ventriloquist. On the verge of making his first public appearance, Billy seeks out his hero Mr. Ingles, hoping that the elder ventriloquist will watch his show and offer up some career advice. Ingles is not quite the same man that he used to be, though. After losing his hand in a fire fifteen years ago (a fire that Billy himself witnessed), Ingalls has not been able to perform. He has become a morphine-addicted recluse, fiercely protective of his privacy...and of his dummy Morty.

    After some cajoling, Billy convinces Ingles to attend the show, which Billy promptly bombs. Ingles tells him to give up on his dream and find another career path. Dejected, Billy leaves the club and stumbles upon a crime scene. A young woman has been murdered, her corpse doused in gasoline, but her killer was interrupted before he had the chance to set her on fire. Billy, remembering the fire from 15 years ago, somehow deduces that the culprit is none other than his childhood hero. Maybe Billy should have been pursuing a career in law enforcement. Anyway, he confronts Ingles about his crimes, but the ventriloquist insists that it wasn't was Morty. Morty hates women, he shouts, because he's never been able to have one.

    Tales From The Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy - Billy & His Friend
    Billy & His Friend
    Now at this point in the story, anybody who has ever watched a deadly dummy movie knows that there are only two possible explanations here: either Ingles is something of a nut, and his fractured psyche has taken on the role of his dummy; or the dummy truly is alive, possessed by some sort of malevolent entity.

    And that's why this episode is really so astounding. You know a twist is coming, but you are not even remotely prepared for what that twist is.

    Billy pulls Morty's trunk down from the shelf in order to prove to Ingles that he's not alive, and finds only a dummy's body and a tiny wooden mask. Ingles unwraps the bandage from his supposedly fire-ravaged hand to expose the truth: Morty is Ingles' deformed conjoined twin brother, little more than a head and tentacle-like appendages, attached to his wrist!

    Morty begins to belittle Ingles, barking orders to kill Billy now that he knows their secret. After a few attempts, Ingles opts instead to free himself from his twisted brother once and for all, severing their ties with a meat cleaver. Only it's not Ingles that has been set free, it is Morty. Morty murders his brother and then sets his sights on Billy, but Billy turns the tables by shoving the mutant freak into a meat grinder (uttering the timeless line, "I'm making an asshole casserole!"). Looking to save his own life, Morty makes a bargain with Billy.

    Cut to a short time down the road, and Billy is onstage, really raking in the laughter, with little Morty perched on his knee. The laughter abruptly stops when Billy cries out in pain. The audience flees in terror as the facade falls away, and we see Morty somehow grafting himself to Billy's hand, ensuring that the new act stays together.

    This episode was definitely over-the-top, but in a good way, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. The special effects were a little shoddy, but that only adds to the overall splatter film feel of the episode, and shouldn't be held against it. It's difficult to take this serious as straight horror, but some of the best cult genre films are dark comedies with horrific elements (or vice versa),and viewed in this way, I think it works quite well.

    “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” was the tenth episode from season two of this HBO anthology series, originally airing on June 5, 1990. It was based on a story by William Gaines that originally appeared in the TALES FROM THE CRYPT comic book series. It was adapted by Frank Darabont, who has worked almost exclusively in genre films. He got his start in 1983 with the short film THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM, which was an adaptation of a Stephen King story. Darabont went on to script other acclaimed King adaptations, as well, with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), THE GREEN MILE (1999), and THE MIST (2007). He was one of four writers credited with the script of fan-favorite A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987), worked on the YOUNG INDIANA JONES franchise, and was instrumental in the development of THE WALKING DEAD television show. This was one of two scripts that he contributed to the series.
    Tales From The Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy - Morty Revealed
    Morty Revealed

    Director Richard Donner started off in television in the 1960s, working on series such as THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW and WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, but found real fame with movies like THE OMEN (1976), SUPERMAN (1978), THE GOONIES (1985), and all four of the LETHAL WEAPON films (1987-1998). He also directed six episodes of the original TWILIGHT ZONE, and this was one of three episodes he would direct for TALES FROM THE CRYPT.

    Don Rickles was perfectly cast as the ventriloquist Mr. Ingles, a routinely-grouchy comedian with a tendency to incorporate insults directed toward the audience into his act. Although this was his only appearance in the series, he was no stranger to the genre. He appeared in THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1961), the movie X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964) and THE MUNSTERS (1965), and the John Landis film INNOCENT BLOOD (1992). Children are probably aware of him, too, without even knowing it, as he supplied the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the TOY STORY franchise.

    Bobcat Goldthwait (Billy) is, well, Bobcat Goldthwait. He was a pretty big deal back in the 1980s when stand-up comedians who yelled a lot were all the rage. Most people remember him fondly as Zed from the POLICE ACADEMY series of films, but he has more than 80 other screen credits to his name, as well. Though he still acts, he has recently been "reborn" behind the camera, directing an impressive number of episodes of JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE, as well as CHAPPELLE'S SHOW, IMPORTANT THINGS WITH DEMETRI MARTIN, and his divisive 2011 movie GOD BLESS AMERICA. This was one of two appearances he would make in the series.

    The writer-director team of Darabont and Donner teamed up for a second episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, 1992's "Showdown", which was later edited into the anthology film TWO-FISTED TALES the same year. Donner and Goldthwait met up twice more over the course of their careers, once again in this series with the episode "The Third Pig" (1996), and another in the holiday favorite SCROOGED, starring Bill Murray (1988).

    Many fans have fuzzy, gooey memories of this episode, and for good reason. It takes the best of horror comics, the best of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and the best of genre cinema and shoves them all into one pastiche-laden morsel. It’s like those food pills that they used to swallow on THE JETSONS, only instead of keeping you full and nourished, it keeps you entertained and gives you nightmares! Despite the few genre credits to the man's name, this doesn't feel like a Richard Donner flick. Instead, it feels like something that Frank Henenlotter would have thrown together during his heyday. They should have skipped over the last TALES FROM THE CRYPT movie and just let Henenlotter adapt this into feature-length, instead. Lord knows I would have bought a ticket.


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  • 10/31/14--09:00: Happy Halloween!

    Happy Halloween!

    This ends my first full month blogging here at my new home of Flag on the Moon, and tomorrow will see the release of the first issue of the 'Phobia Zine--AUTOMATONOPHOBIA, the Fear of Ventriloquist Dummies--so be sure to swing back around to download your copy.  At my previous blog, a Halloween Blogathon had become something of a tradition...unfortunately, I was too busy getting things set up around here to prepare such an endeavor (there's always next year!).

    To the few of you who have been reading my posts, thank you so much.  If you know of anyone else who may be interested in the films that I cover, please send them the link.  I don't want to beg, but... I'm begging you!

    Have a boo-tiful day!

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    The AUTOMATONOPHOBIA 'zine is now available to download for absolutely free, simply by clicking HERE!

    Automatonophobia - Cover Image
    Automatonophobia: The Fear of Dummies

    Included in this issue:

    • The Great Gabbo, 1929
    • Dead of Night, 1945
    • Alfred Hitchcock Presents: And So Died Riabouchinska, 1956
    • Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Glass Eye, 1957
    • Short Film: The Dummy, 1982 (+ bonus interview with director Louis LaVolpe)
    • Short Film: The Ventriloquist, 2012 (+ bonus interview with director Benjamin  Leavitt)
    • Making Contact AKA Joey, 1985
    • Twilight Zone: The Dummy, 1962
    • Twilight Zone: Caesar and Me, 1964
    • Tales From the Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy, 1990

    Remember: This can be viewed as a .pdf file and treated as an e-zine, or it can be printed out and read as an honest-to-god 'zine.  If you send me a photograph of you holding your physical copy of the 'zine, I'll give you a free plug on the blog and in the next issue!

    JonnyxMetro [at]


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    I always find it interesting how Hollywood films depict the bedrooms of "average" teenagers.  While watching the original FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) the other day, I was struck by the bizarre combination of things that were packed into Charley Brewster's room, and decided to take a closer look.

    Television, always playing horror movies

    Distinctly 80s bedding; classic Nike's slung around bed post, laces knotted so as to render them unwearable; Vintage corded telephone, with real buttons; massive clock radio; pair of skis, posed ingeniously next to an anonymous skiing poster

    Desk number 1 of 2, with a Pixar lamp, pile of school books, and portrait of his girlfriend Amy Peterson; jacket slung casually over chair, for when a breeze blows through the ever-open bedroom window; steering wheel hanging randomly on the wall

    And what teenager's room is complete without a pachinko machine?

    Desk number 2 of 2, with ridiculously oversized boombox, state of the art gaming system with dual phallic joysticks; glowing neon Coors sign

    Bookshelf poised above the television, containing random hardcovers, football helmet, and complete set of the World Book Encyclopedias

    'No Trespassing' sign on bedroom door (which nobody pays any attention to); 'Stop' and 'Postal Telegraph' signs hung on wall

    Large red-and-white model sailboat, mysteriously attached to the wall

    'Girls Locker Room' sign; automobile posters can be seen in many of these pics, but here we see a bulletin board full of snapshots of cars, making Charley seem less like an enthusiast and more like an unusual stalker

    Floor littered with empty Coca-Cola cans, discarded bags of Lays potato chips, candy wrappers, and just a hint of pornography

    And, finally, a pillow fort/sex den on the floor, completely unmindful of the fact that the bed is right there.  Because Amy likes it dirty...

    I vaguely remember there being a vampire in this movie, too.

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    Today's artwork comes from 1987's RETURN TO HORROR HIGH.  With the neck of a turtle and the mane of a (red) lion, this mystery man must have had all of the cheerleaders taking numbers to meet him beneath the bleachers.


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    Lifelong horror fan Kyle Kuchta attended his first horror convention at age fifteen.  Years later, he returned to the convention circuit with a camera to document the events, and attempt to capture the heart and the spirit of them.  Interviewing fans, stars, filmmakers and merchants alike, he often fails to portray the experience of attending, but it is, at least, an honorable attempt.  The problems with these sorts of documentaries, which rely primarily on “talking head” footage, is that all they do is talk—and it’s exceedingly difficult to capture an experience simply by talkingabout an experience.  That is something that a good documentary does, but a great documentary will somehow manage to show you.

    Morgan Spurlock surely faced a similar challenge when putting together his COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE (2012).  Quality of that documentary aside, Spurlock knew that there is no universal experience when it comes to these sorts of things, and wisely chose a small handful of attendees, and followed them through their experiences.  It wasn’t a personal journey—at least not to the filmmaker—but it gave the documentary a narrative flow and helped to encapsulate something as large as the San Diego Comic-Con into digestible morsels.

    Kuchta’s documentary, though, is a highly personal affair.  He goes in with something of a glassy-eyed innocence (which is honestly just a rather catty way of saying that he hasn't yet become jaded), and it shows in the final product.  All of the interviewees offer up sweetly sentimental accounts of the sense of community that is to be found at these conventions (one of the central themes to be found here), and while that’s surely true, hearing it repeatedly from the mouths of different folk didn’t do much in propelling the film to the next level.  The documentary followed no narrative structure whatsoever—there was no story to tell—it was just a series of people telling us why they like the very convention that they are currently attending.

    All that being said, I didn’t wholly dislike the film, despite the fact that it comes across more like a naïve love letter than an actual documentary.  Kuchta’s innocence is refreshing, and it’s nice to see that the sense of community that it extolls still exists.  Spending any amount of time on the internet will have you cringing at the venom and bile espoused by fans, and it makes you wonder why said community tends to turn so villainous when they are protected by anonymity.  The vast majority of us horror fans have at one time or another felt that we didn’t fit in.  Reading some of these tweets, blogs or Facebook posts is enough to make you wonder why you should even botherto fit in.  But FANTASM is trying to tell us that we do fit in somewhere, and it is worth it. 

    And as far as I’m concerned, that ain’t a half bad message.

    FANTASM will be released on DVD November 11th, and is currently available for pre-order (with free autograph from Kutcha) at the film's StoreEnvy page by clicking HERE.

    (Special thanks to Simply Legendary for the screener!)


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