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    The Beatniks - Theatrical Poster
    Theatrical Poster
    Four young hoods in masks get their kicking-around money by knocking over local businesses at gunpoint, while the sole lady of the group waits behind the wheel of their getaway vehicle. After the latest robbery turns up enough scratch for chicken fried steaks at the local diner, Iris (Karen Kadler), drops a couple of shiny nickels in the juke box and pleads to her gang leader boyfriend, "Sing to me, Eddy." Which he does, an interesting little novelty tune with the unforgettable lyrics "Sideburns don't need your sympathy."

    After years of living a hard knock life, fate has finally smiled upon Eddy (Tony Travis) in the form of Harry Bayliss (Charles Delaney), a show biz agent who happens to be using the pay phone during Eddy's impromptu performance. Impressed by the crooning vocalist, he offers Eddy an audition in the big city and from there it is a whirlwind of activity that takes him from a Podunk diner to the city's most prominent recording studio.

    Eddy wants something better out of life than the petty crimes and pointless kicks he had, up until now, been accustomed to—and that includes his girl Iris, whom he quickly trades in for Bayliss's secretary Helen (Joyce Terry). It is rather surprising how quickly Eddy has a change of heart, attempting to escape the gutter and ride his rising star to the top, but nobody is quite as surprised as Iris, and the other members of the gang.

    Iris, along with Red, Chuck and Moon (Sam Edwards, Bob Wells and Peter Breck respectively) begin as an entourage in Eddy's rocket to stardom, but they quickly become an anchor around his neck. Every time he tries to pull himself up, the others go and pull him back down again. Bound by a sense of loyalty, Eddy refuses to quit them all together, which proves to be his downfall.

    After a night of celebration, things get out of hand, resulting in Red being shot and another man being
    The Beatniks - Title Screen
    Title Screen
    murdered by Moon. Even Bayliss, who tries to get the kids to release Eddy from whatever hold they've got over him, winds up stabbed for his efforts.

    There's no happy ending here for anyone, except maybe Bayliss. Sure, he nearly got gutted, but his new attraction at least managed to record the album moments before being arrested. He wasn't your typical sleazy media mogul, though, and came across as more of a father figure than anything else. He, Helen and Eddy nearly comprised a haphazard family unit by the end of the film. Between Helen and Bayliss, they almost turned Eddy's life around completely. He would've found himself with a hell of a future, if only he had been able to say goodbye to his past.

    With a title like THE BEATNIKS, this really should have been the iconic Beatsploitation film. Unfortunately, there isn't a black turtleneck, beret, goatee, coffee shop, or poetry reading anywhere to be found. These are not beatniks in the least. These are just a bunch of dimestore lowlifes.

    Hollywood was never exactly kind to followers of the Beat Generation. The core members of that literary group were just that: literary. They were men of passion and men of letters. They associated with, and in many cases mythologized, a certain criminal element, but were for the most part relatively innocent themselves. The beatniks who molded themselves after these characters were perhaps even more innocent. They were anti-establishment, to be sure, but in general broke no laws greater than drug use and the grey-area of peaceful assembly. It was just as much accouterment as it was actual philosophy or way of life, but they were mistrusted by an older generation who was used to a clean cut and hardworking existence. This mistrust made the beatniks big news, and when there is a buzz about anything, there will be somebody there to exploit it.

    If filmmakers had shown how the typical beatnik really spent his day—smoking grass, listening to records, and reading On The Road for the hundredth time—there probably wouldn't have been much fear left to capitalize on. Instead, beatniks were cast as thieving, murderous scumbags...who just so happened to dress in dark costume, speak in indecipherable slang, and snap their fingers in the air.

    The Beatniks - Madman Moon
    Madman Moon
    In this movie, they couldn't even get that much right. Out of all the characters here, the closest to the "authentic" Hollywood beatnik is Moon. He's an amusing and interesting character, moving with a casual slouch and well-oiled joints, sliding across the set with a dangerous cackle. He's casual and laid back one moment, and then erupting into violence the next. He appears to be a loose cannon from the very start, but when it seems inevitable that he will be abandoned by his leader, Moon evolves from sociopath to full-fledged psychopath. Perhaps that is why Eddy couldn't bring himself to leave his friends behind. Without him there to keep Moon in check, the whole damn gang would go off the rails.

    What is perhaps most disappointing about this movie is the soundtrack, as performed by the crooning Eddy Crane. Despite the fact that these are just your average juvenile delinquents and not the beatniks promised to us by the title, it is still difficult to imagine that these young hardasses would listen to such preening pop ballads. Aside from the first song that Eddy performed in the diner (which, I admit, holds a bit of a curious appeal), all of the lyrics were romantic drivel that would be more at home on a Pat Boone record. The Sideburns Song, while still delivered in a crooning manner, was at least tangentially about "The Life". It's too bad that the others didn't follow in the same vein, otherwise Eddy might have been the first gangsta rapper. Minus the rapping, of course.

    It's no real surprise that this movie got it all wrong. Paul Frees was pushing 40 by the time he wrote and directed this feature, the one and only time he received either of those credits in his expansive career. Frees was one of the premier voice over actors of his time, putting in work for Disney, Hanna-Barbera, MGM, Rankin-Bass, and many others. For Jay Ward Productions, he voiced Boris Badanov on THE ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE SHOW, which is maybe a little ironic, as Boris's lady friend Natasha Fatale had more Beat leanings than anybody in THE BEATNIKS.
    The Beatniks - The Amazing Eddy Crane
    The Amazing Eddy Crane

    Our protagonist, Eddy Crane, is played by actor Tony Travis, who amassed less than a dozen roles during his career, none of them very impressive. I wish it could at least be said that he sang his own songs here, but he didn't. He lip-synched along with them, and not very believably, either, appearing as if he were chewing cud much of the time.

    Peter Breck managed a large number of roles in TV and film, many of them westerns. He is most remembered for his lengthy run as Nick Barkley on THE BIG VALLEY, but he was also the lead in Samuel Fuller's fantastic SHOCK CORRIDOR and the less-fantastic THE CRAWLING HAND (both 1963). Although his performance here is frequently over-the-top, it is also the most memorable and consistently entertaining in the entire film. It has already been stated that his Moon was the most beat out of all these so-called beatniks, and that may be attributed to his father, Joseph "Jobie" Breck, a jazz musician who played with many top artists of his day. When you grow up around cool, cool comes natural to you.

    THE BEATNIKS gets a bad rap, and the two-star rating it currently has on IMDB is probably unjustified. It is by no means a great film, but it can be a fun watch for fans of this sort of thing. It was riffed amusingly on an episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, and as much as I love that program, I do believe that it can have the unintentional side effect of making people believe that the movies they feature are worse than they actually are. Don't feel bad for this movie, though, no matter how misjudged it may be.

    THE BEATNIKS, like sideburns, don't need your sympathy.


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    Not to be confused with 1956's THE RED BALLOON, this 2010 short film from directors Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot is something of a twist on the "babysitter-in-danger" subgenre of films.  Julie (the beautiful Rachel Bright) is babysitting young Dorothy (Niamh Palmer Watson), who is having difficulty sleeping.  Julie first assumes that the girl is suffering from nightmares, but as we soon discover...the nightmare is hers.

    Clocking in at only 13 minutes, there isn't a lot of time for character development, but the filmmakers still manage to squeeze in an impressive amount of feats.  There is a definite creep factor on display the entire way through, not only through the character interactions but also through some less-noticeable background elements that help to weave the fear into a more complete tapestry (i.e., the news report on television, and the unusual family photo).  There are also some truly fantastic shots, such as when the camera backs through the house, through a glass vase, through the pierced ear of a Buddha statue, through the window, and into the garden before reversing its trajectory and taking us into the upstairs bedroom.

    The character design showcased at the end was pretty cool looking, although it was never clearly shown.  It would be an unnecessary move to turn this into a full-length feature as the short pretty much stands on its own, but I would still be in line to see it.  Picture this as an epic pre-credit sequence to a movie that unfolds on a grander scale, and you would probably be in line, too.

    RED BALLOON from Alexis Wajsbrot on Vimeo.

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    A crew of documentary filmmakers (Michelle Ang, Brett Gentile and Jeremy DeCarlos) looking to make a thesis film on Alzheimer's contacts the Logan family, hoping to document the effects of the disease on both the sufferer and the family. Daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay) is all for the project, as the stipend they will receive will go a long way towards paying off the increasing medical bills. Mother Deborah (Jill Larson), though, is hesitant, fearful of being exploited. Exploitation is a fine line, though, and she is eventually convinced that their motives are pure. 

    The effects of the disease are horrifying and otherworldly in and of themselves, but they are very much grounded in reality. They are captured on film by our documentarians, but eventually symptoms begin to manifest that can't readily be explained by medical texts. It seems that Mrs. Logan—along with the too-protective neighbor Harris (Ryan Cutrona)—has a secret history, and it is finally catching up to her.

    THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN is a possession film, and it is a found footage film—both of which may be a turn off to genre fans that are burned out on one, the other, or the combination of the two. This is, however, a possession film and a found footage film done right, and because of that, it shouldn’t be judged solely by the method used to tell the story.

    Despite the modest budget, filmmakers Adam Robitel and Gavin Herffernan manage to whip up some solid special effects and pull commendable performances from a solid cast (indeed, the fact that a few familiar faces can be found, and it still doesn't pull you out of the found footage reality is impressive in and of itself).  The horror begins in the real world, but spirals so effortlessly into the unreal that it’s difficult to tell where one begins and the other one ends.

    I was initially concerned that the movie would be somewhat exploitative, but as I said before, exploitation is a fine line. The filmmakers obviously did their homework, and the subject matter was handled with intelligence and sensitivity. This is not exploitation at work, but rather metaphor, exploring what the disease does to those around it: replacing the person that you loved with an alien "other" that you can scarcely even recognize.

    It is simultaneously heartbreaking and horrifying, offering up at least one sincerely "Holy Shit" moment that will make you stand at attention for the rest of the running time. If it starts off a little shaky (as many found footage films do), it certainly finds its footing along the way and becomes one of the best fright flicks of 2014, in my humble opinion.

    Watch it.

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  • 11/08/14--09:19: The Poster Art of Jakub Erol
  • In recent years, blog posts celebrating foreign editions of popular American movie posters have become rather common.  These alternate versions seem quite alien to our Western eyes, almost as if they had fallen from a different dimension and landed on our doorstep.  One of my favorites has always been this Polish poster for ALIEN, which is as amazing as it is inexplicable.

    Turns out that this is from artist Jakub Erol, whose posters are routinely surreal. A quick search at the Movie Poster Database turned up a number of other sterling examples, my favorites of which that I have included here.

    In this poster for KING KONG, our great ape looks more like an angry sasquatch...but I still wouldn't want to meet him on the dark side of Skull Island.

    The image on the POLTERGEIST poster may look like a gathering of the undead Knights Templar from Ossorio's films, but have no fear. They are merely the earthly remains of human beings floating to the surface of your swimming pool.

    CHRISTINE may have been a killer car, but she never actually sprouted a mouth with which to consume people, which is too bad.  Human blood is much cheaper than unleaded.

    This poster for MY STEP MOTHER IS AN ALIEN is actually quite a beautiful use of negative space. Plus, looks like stepmama has a great figure, and isn't too ashamed of the nip slip.

    Had I not known any better, I would have thought that this was a promotional image for AMERICAN HORROR STORY. However, it is actually for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, with Indie's whip snaking through the skull of one of Lovecraft's elder gods, apparently.

    This poster for HOWARD THE DUCK is fairly straight forward, though it looks like some strange bit of fowl propaganda. It also demonstrates Erol's fascination with hands.

    HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS was a movie about peace loving hippies? Who knew?

    As was SHORT CIRCUIT, apparently. I know that Johnny-Five (who was alive, incidentally) was a peaceful robot...but I don't think he had the proper digits to craft the peace sign.

    Would you believe that this is the poster for WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S? Great as it is, it doesn't fully capture the epic and emotional story of a dead man and his friends.


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    Teenagers From Outer Space - Theatrical Poster
    Theatrical Poster
    A scouting group of extraterrestrials land on earth to determine if the conditions are suitable to support their primary food source, a mysterious creature called the gargon. When the results come back positive, they plan to leave one gargon behind as a test subject, and return later with the rest of the intergalactic livestock in tow. Sensitive alien Derek realizes that the planet is populated with civilized beings and doesn't want to turn it into a feeding and breeding ground for the lethal gargon. Dubbed a traitor and threatened with torture by the rest of his crew, he flees the scene. Alpha-male Thor is dispatched to capture him while the others return to base.

    Derek becomes entwined with the pretty human Betty and her kindhearted Grandfather, accidentally placing them in danger as Thor vaporizes anyone who stands in his way. Derek has to not only stay one step ahead of his pursuer, but also find a way to halt the impending invasion that will leave the planet in decimation...and maybe, just maybe, find love.

    All of the marketing for this picture is slightly misleading. The taglines read "Thrill-crazed space kids 
    Teenagers From Outer Space - Newspaper Ad
    From The Sarasota Herald-Tribune 06.22.55

    blasting the flesh off humans!"and "Teenage hoodlums from another world on a horrendous rampage!", but both Derek and Thor are only ostensibly teenagers. In fact, their ages are never given, and they both appear to be quite a bit older. Writer-director Tom Graeff had originally titled the movie INVASION OF THE GARGON, but after it was picked up by Warner Brothers for distribution (to be double-billed with GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER), it was retitled TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE in order to cash in on the teenage movie trend and put more youthful asses in seats. They did their best to make it sound like a real wild romp, but the whole teenage angle wasn't played on at all. Anyone wanting a real teenybopper-style movie with aliens will have to check out 1964's PAJAMA PARTY instead, with Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and Tommy Kirk as a Martian named Gogo.

    The film was produced on a very small budget, and it definitely shows. The performances were often stiff and wooden, which may work when it comes to the aliens, but is a detriment to the human characters. The special effects nearly all the way around were of the cheap variety, but it was never so apparent as when the gargon, which had become monstrous in size, made its appearance. Seen only in shadow, the creature is obviously a lobster being backlit by a powerful lamp. If the aliens are feasting on giant lobster every day, they must be living pretty large on their home planet.

    Teenagers From Outer Space - Thor & The Focusing Disintegrator Gun
    Thor & The Focusing Disintegrator Gun
    The Focusing Disintegrator Gun, as the aliens’ weapon was called, was reportedly just a Hubley's brand Atomic Disintegrator toy (some sources state that it was a Buck Rogers cap gun) that many children of the era recognized as being part of their own collection. When aimed at a living creature, the ray reduced it to nothing more than a skeleton. It's actually a pretty damn cool effect...the first time you see it. Unfortunately, it's used so frequently that it loses its appeal after a while. When the focusing ray is directed at the giant gargon, it does indeed die, but it is not skeletonized, which, amazingly, has confused some viewers. The aliens themselves tell us at one point in the film that the ray disintegrates all but the solid parts, i.e., the skeleton. The lobster, of course, wears his skeleton on the outside, and, presumably, the gargon does too. We have no reason to believe that the gargon's fleshy insides were not disintegrated just as everyone else's fleshy outsides were.

    TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE has something of a cult following, and some view it as a minor camp classic. This may be due in no small part to its appearance on an episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, not to mention ELVIRA'S MOVIE MACABRE and other horror host features.

    Watching it straight as I did, though, didn't hold nearly as much appeal. I initially found it rather dull and not nearly as much fun as I was expecting. It's a good bad movie, but not any better than most of the good bad movies that came from this era. However, a little research lead me to discover that the real life story which unfolded behind and around the scenes was much more fascinating than that which was captured on camera—and it made me appreciate the end result all the more.

    Teenagers From Outer Space - Derek & Betty
    Derek & Betty
    Tom Graeff had only three short films and one full-length comedic feature under his belt when he was hired on as assistant to the director Roger Corman for the 1957 movie NOT OF THIS EARTH, where he also appeared onscreen as "Car Park Attendant". Inspired to create his own science fiction film, Graeff posted ads in the trade papers, seeking investors for his next project. These ads were answered by actors Bryan Pearson and Gene Sterling, who supplied funding in exchange for roles in the film.

    Pearson had previously acted on numerous shows for the BBC and was cast as the villainous Thor (billed as Bryan Grant). Sterling portrayed the alien Leader, and made only one more appearance in film (the 1961 Western HALFWAY TO HELL) before retiring from the industry. Pearson's then-wife Ursula got in on the action, too, as college secretary Hilda. Billed as Ursula Hansen, this was her only appearance in film, but some may know her as the author of Surviving the Judas Factor: A Childhood Entombed in Nazi Germany, her memoirs of the time she spent under Hitler's regime. Graeff cast his boyfriend David Love (real name Chuck Roberts) as our hero Derek, and even cast himself as reporter Joe Rogers (credited as Tom Lockyear). Most of the other actors in the film had few, if any, memorable credits aside from this one, with two notable exceptions: Harvey B. Dunn, who played Gramps here, also appeared in Ed Wood's BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955), NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (1959), and THE SINISTER URGE (1960), while King Moody, who portrayed the captain of the spaceship, is most well-known as Shtarker from GET SMART and the TV movie follow-up GET SMART, AGAIN. Although it is difficult to tell beneath all of that greasepaint, he was also the original Ronald McDonald on television commercials from 1972 to the mid-1980s.

    The movie was shot guerrilla-style around Hollywood in the fall of 1956 through the winter of 1957. After several name changes and multiple attempts at selling the film, it was finally purchased for distribution by Warner Brothers for a reported $28,000—roughly twice the film's meager budget.

    Teenagers From Outer Space - Attack of the Gargon
    Attack Of The Gargon
    TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE premiered in Los Angeles on June 2, 1959. Because of the conditions of the sale, Graeff never received a portion of the film's profits. The movie was slammed by critics (though some did have a few kind words for Graeff himself), and the stress of the situation seemingly caused a mental breakdown that would become a part of his unfortunate legacy. He took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times, proclaiming that Jesus had spoken to him and put him in charge of spreading his love across the globe. The following month, he took out another ad, this time declaring that he would be changing his name to Jesus Christ II, and giving a list of dates and locations where believers could gather to hear a sermon that he would be delivering. The ad was pulled from circulation quickly, but not quickly enough that Time Magazine didn't pick up on it, mocking both Graeff and the newspaper that accepted his ad.

    Graeff did indeed appear at the locations that he listed, many of them without permission. People showed up, too, mostly out of curiosity and to see him be escorted off the property. He filed paperwork to legally change his name to Christ II, but it was denied after a protest by the Christian Defense League. His antics continued, becoming more and more outrageous, until he was arrested and found himself facing criminal charges of disturbing the peace in early 1961.

    Graeff was sentenced to 90 days in jail, but he fled from justice. He was eventually caught and forced into residency at a mental institution, where he received electroshock treatments. He was released, and in 1964 he edited the film THE WIZARD OF MARS for producer David Hewitt. It would prove to be his final film credit.

    In 1968, Graeff placed an ad in Variety announcing that his screenplay, entitled ORF, was for sale to interested parties for the exorbitant sum of $500,000. Los Angeles Times columnist Joyce Haber caught wind of the farce, and she lambasted Graeff for insinuating that Robert Wise and Carl Reiner were attached to the project—which Wise, at least, denied. Graeff fired back at the columnist with an open letter, claiming that Haber had misquoted him and was altering the facts in a purposeful attempt to inhibit the sale of the script. Haber retaliated once again, this time calling attention to the fact that Graeff was the same man who had pronounced himself to be Christ a decade or so earlier.

    Publicly humiliated and unable to find work, Graeff abandoned hope of his film career and moved to La
    Teenagers From Outer Space - Tom Graeff
    Tom Graeff
    Mesa, California. There, he created a mail order business called Evolutionary Data Foundation, which sold vinyl records of a lecture that he had once given at a church. The lecture stated that man was bisexual by nature, and that forced heterosexuality was oftentimes the cause of suicide among young people who were unable or unwilling to deal with their true feelings.

    That this record was promoted as something of a cure to these suicides makes the end of this story even sadder. On December 19, 1970, Graeff was found dead at age 41, having committed suicide in his garage by carbon monoxide poisoning. He was buried a few days later, without receiving so much as an obituary. And just like that, this strange, mad little man was gone from this world.

    Graeff left behind three short films (TOAST TO OUR BROTHER, THE ORANGE COAST COLLEGE STORY, and ISLAND SUNRISE), two features (THE NOBLE EXPERIMENT and TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE), at least one unproduced script, and a bizarre record album; but out of all of these projects, the only one that is readily available is the film covered here. As he was never truly in the public eye, much of the information about Graeff is untrustworthy at best, as speculation, rumor and gossip have taken the place of actual fact.

    Indeed, entire decades passed where the public at large believed that Tom Graeff and David Love were actually the same person. It wasn't until the eleventh issue of film journal Scarlet Street was released in 1993, featuring an article on Graeff by Richard Valley and Jessie Lilley in which they interviewed Ursula Pearson, that the truth finally started to come out. I have done my best to separate the fact from fiction (even on the rare instances when the fiction was more interesting), but it is still quite possible that a few fallacies have slipped through.

    There are two upcoming projects which may be of interest to fans of TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE, both of which I am greatly looking forward to (and both of whose websites were invaluable to the completion of this article). The first is the biography Smacks of Brilliance: the Forgotten Life of Filmmaker Tom Graeff, currently being written by author Jim Tushinski. The second is the documentary THE BOY FROM OUT OF THIS WORLD from Attention Soldier Productions. Both projects have the unenviable task of sorting through the fallacies to find the real story, as well as connecting the dots between one known event and another.

    There are some out there who refer to Tom Graeff as "the gay Ed Wood", but really that comparison is unfair to both filmmakers. Sure, they both worked outside the studio system and acted as writer-director-producer-performer-etcetera on their projects. However, Wood was an extremely prolific filmmaker, and to compare him to some-one with such a small filmography would only serve to belittle the tenacity that it took to achieve that. And while both Wood and Graeff were all passion when it came to their movies, Graeff had a certain competence that Wood could never approach. Both had their own separate strengths, and Lord knows they had their own separate weaknesses.

    That being said, though, if Tim Burton decided to craft a biopic of Graeff in the same manner that he did for Ed Wood, I would be the first in line to buy a ticket.


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  • 11/10/14--10:47: Moon Memories: Addams Groove
  • To coincide with the new big-screen adaptation of cult favorite characters THE ADDAMS FAMILY  in 1991, Hammer (having recently dropped the MC from his name) released the hit single Addams Groove, which appeared not only the film's soundtrack, but also on his new album Too Legit To Quit.

    MC Hammer - Addams Groove

    I was only 12 years old, and my taste in music obviously hadn't matured much, as I fell in love first with the music video and then with the song itself.  Can you blame me?  Check out these lyrics: 

    I remember the day I needed to borrow
    A little of pepper (for my chicken)
    The next thing you know, comin' at me
    Was a hand with the fingers high steppin' (I'm witcha)
    Now I tried to play it along (you know)
    And act like I was havin' a ball (ha ha)
    But what do I see (yo) a perm with feet (cousin it)
    Standin' about three feet tall (I'm outta here)

    Should I be ashamed to admit that I purchased Too Legit To Quit at the onset of some long road trip and sat in the back seat with my Walkman (yes, a Walkman!), listening to that song over-and-over again, practically ignoring the rest of the album?  I listened to it so much that I wore the tape straight through.

    And then, when we got home, I pieced it back together with Scotch tape. 

     And I proceeded to wear it out again.


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    Dexter Series by Jeff Lindsay
    Darkly Dreaming Dexter (2004), Dearly Devoted Dexter (2005), Dexter in the Dark (2007), Dexter by Design (2009), Dexter is Delicious (2010), Double Dexter (2011), Dexter's Final Cut (2013)

    If you've only seen the cable television series, you're missing half the fun. Season one followed the plot of the first novel fairly closely, but after that, both mediums ran off in drastically different directions--almost as if they are alternate universe adventures of the same character. In Book Dexter's world, there are serial killer children, mutilated enemy cops, supernatural cults, mad artists, cannibals, and much more to contend with. It may not be the Dexter you know, but any additional tales of a cult favorite anti-hero like this one deserve a fair shake.

    John Wayne Cleaver Trilogy by Dan Wells

    I Am Not a Serial Killer (2009), Mr. Monster (2010),  I Don't Want To Kill You (2011)

    If Dexter was a teenage serial killer who preyed on demons instead of other serial killers, it might look a little something like this. That's a rudimentary comparison for brevity's sake, but really this series has a rock solid identity all its own. Many retailers list them as "Young Adult Fiction", but don't let that fool you...despite having a teen protagonist, these are grown up works. Wells has told me that he didn't write them with a young audience in mind, nor did he write them with an adult audience in mind. "I just wrote stories I thought were can read whatever you want, and screw the labels on the cover."

    Anno Dracula Series by Kim Newman
    Anno Dracula (1992), The Bloody Red Baron (1995), Dracula Cha Cha Cha (1998), Johnny Alucard (2013)

    Imagine a world in which Bram Stoker's Dracula was grounded in reality, but rather than being killed by Van Helsing and his rough riders, he survived and went on to marry Queen Victoria.  Vampires, now having an increased social status, come out of the shadows to become an acceptable part of society--though things are not all roses.  Over the course of the series, we see Jack the Ripper emerge in the 19th century to murder vampire prostitutes; the bloodsucking Red Baron lead a squadron of flying shapeshifters in World War I; a large gathering of socialite vampires converging in Rome for Dracula's wedding to his new wife, which is interrupted by murder and Ian Fleming-like spy play; and a son of Dracula arrive in America to take a bite out of the 1980s.  Each novel is filled to overflowing with pop cultural references, and characters both historic and fictional.  Newman draws his inspiration from various cultural interpretations of the vampire myths, so along with the more familiar Dracula-style vamp, we also get Chinese hopping vampires and other less-familiar breeds.

    The Blue Rose Series by Peter Straub

    Koko (1988), Mystery (1990), The Throat (1993), The Juniper Tree and Other Blue Rose Stories (2010)

    Although only tangentially tied together, these books feature recurring characters, themes, and references to an old crime known as the Blue Rose Murders.  Each book feels very different from the others, but they also feel intrinsically related.  This is the series where Straub introduced Timothy Underhill, in my opinion one of the greatest modern literary creations, and where he began to experiment with metafiction and new ways of telling a story.  I discovered Straub through his collaborations with Stephen King (The Talisman and Black House), moved onto his Blue Rose books, and never looked back.

    Phineas Poe Series by Will Christopher Baer
    Kiss Me, Judas (1999), Penny Dreadful (2000), Hell's Half Acre (2004)

    Though not strictly horror, this series of modern noir fiction is dark and nihilistic enough that horror fans should almost certainly find it of value.  Phineas Poe is a former police officer (and, more recently, a former mental patient), who beds down with a woman and wakes up the next morning in a bathtub of ice, minus one kidney.  He wants his kidney back, but most of all, he wants the girl back...and that's really the least of his adventures.  Gritty, sexy, violent, poetic, and a little insane, that describes the character of Phineas Poe just as well as it does this series.


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    Theatrical Poster
    I've never been to Los Angeles, but from what I understand (based solely on film and television that depicts it, mind you), it is a cold and shallow place. It's a mecca where dreamers go to achieve success, thinking that they will somehow beat the odds and emerge as stars. Nine times out of ten, they are chewed up and spit out by the entertainment machine, a broken and drug-addled mess. If they are lucky, they might land halfheartedly in the porn industry. But if they're really, really lucky, they just might find their big break.

    Welcome to La La Land, ladies and gentlemen, where nothing and nobody is what they seem.

    Sarah Walker is young and attractive, and while she might appear to be just your average waitress at the local Big Taters establishment (Think a spud-centric Hooters), she's actually—surprise, surprise—an actress just playing the part of potato pusher until she hits the big time. Between auditions and work shifts, she hangs out with a bunch of other struggling Hollywood types (her apartment complex is lousy with them) and attends some pretentious art crowd parties. It's no wonder she's so desperate to make a name for herself, so she can move on to bigger and better things.

    An online casting call lands her an audition for the upcoming horror film The Silver Scream, from Astraeus Pictures, a once-renowned studio primed to make a resurgence. When she doesn't make the cut, she falls back on her old stress-reliever: trichotillomania. The casting agents catch wind of this and urge her to recreate it for them. She does so reluctantly, earning her a callback.

    What follows is a series of more extreme auditions as we see just how far Sarah is willing to go to land the role. First she sells her dignity, then she sells her body. How long can it be until she sells her soul?

    The Big Tater Girls
    STARRY EYES is a lot of different films all rolled into one—it’s a show business melodrama; it’s an occult thriller; and it’s even a body horror film.  It goes from MELROSE PLACE to CONTRACTED to HOUSE OF THE DEVIL without missing a beat. Impressively, all of these elements work together to make a pretty satisfying whole, rather than feeling like disparate and patchwork parts.  It successfully peels back the layers of an industry that desperately wants to appear glamorous, exposing the grease and grit that lies beneath.

    This is a movie that relies heavily on the performance of our lead, and Alex Essoe knocks it out of the park as Sarah, a believable combination of ambition and disorder.  Support is offered from the rest of the cast, including fan-favorite Pat Healy as her boss Carl, Amanda Fuller as her put-upon roommate Tracy, Fabianne Therese as her passive-aggressive rival Erin, and Noah Segan as her possible love interest and indie filmmaker Danny.  The older Louis Dezseran plays the nameless Producer, giving an unbelievably arch, but effectively creepy, performance.  He’s the one pulling all of the strings, and can be felt on nearly every frame of the film, even when he’s nowhere to be seen.

    It is a slow-burning horror that may occasionally test your patience, but it will also test the strength of your stomach.  Just hold on tight and go with it.  It’s merely the big wigs at Astraeus Pictures seeing if you have what it takes.  Stick it out long enough, though, and the payoff will be fantastic.  You won’t see your name on a marquee, but you will be witness to a piece of cinema that is both shocking and beautiful.

    And more than just a little bit gross.

    Hail, Astraeus!

    (Special thanks to MPI for the screener)


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    Village Of The Giants - Theatrical Poster
    Theatrical Poster
    A group of city kids out looking for kicks wreck their car and have to walk three miles to the nearest town—Hainesville, CA. Their leader Fred (Beau Bridges) makes an executive decision to spend a while checking out the local scene, so they find a crash pad in an abandoned theater.

    Meanwhile across town, a young boy known as Genius (Ron Howard) is showing off the formula he created to his older sister Nancy (Charla Doherty) and her boyfriend Mike (Tommy Kirk). The formula, which he dubs Goo, has the power to increase the size of animals roughly six-fold when it is consumed. First a stray cat and then Genius's pet dog are accidentally giantized, and then they feed it to a few ducks, apparently just to be sure that it works. While Mike and Nancy are busy pontificating how to make a quick buck with the Goo (while simultaneously solving the world hunger crisis), the ducks fly away, threatening their plan to keep the Goo a secret until they can file a patent.

    The city kids and the townies meet when Mike and Nancy chase the ducks to a real swinging party that Fred and his cohorts have crashed. While the Beau Brummels perform in the background, all the teenagers—and the giant ducks—shake their tail feathers in a modishly surreal scene that must be viewed to be believed. The ducks are a huge hit amongst the teens, but in a cruel twist, Mike roasts them up and feeds the whole town with them the following day.

    When all the jumping and jiving is complete, and Mike has accidentally let slip that it is a secret formula
    Village Of The Giants - The Giant Teenagers
    The Giant Teenagers
    responsible for the duck's growth, Fred's gang decides that they need to get their hands on it—you know, for kicks, man. Kicks. When they finally manage to procure the Goo, it is divvied out amongst them and, like a drugsploitation movie, those who do not want to participate are peer pressured into it. Upon consuming the Goo, they grow to 30 feet tall, shredding their clothes in an almost-revealing moment that surely frustrated thousands of libidos that were watching this at the drive-in. They are, momentarily at least, regretful of their decision, but quickly decide to make the best of their situation by taking over the town. These giant teens speak at normal speed, move at normal speed, and basically do everything at normal speed...unless they're doing something important. At that point, they move painfully slowly, lumbering about as if through molasses, possibly only as a means to give our protagonists a fighting chance at defeating them.

    In many teen movies (at least those that were actually aimed at teens), it is the adults who are cast as the antagonists, whereas here the adults are mostly just ineffectual. In movieland, outsider often equals bad guy, and teenagers view adults as outsiders (and vice versa) so those roles make sense. Here, though, it is the big city delinquent teenagers playing the outsider role, following in the footsteps of the BEACH PARTY films. The townie teenagers are forced to step up and solve the problem themselves—with a little help from the boy genius who accidentally started it all.

    The local teenagers would be the underdogs even if Fred's gang didn't have the height advantage. His group rolled into town with good dance moves and a bad attitude, instantly making them a threat to Mike's mostly-wholesome circle. It is no coincidence that the clothes the city kids piece together after being giantized look like glitzy versions of something out of a Hollywood Biblical epic. This isn't just the Little Guy versus the Big Guy. This is David versus Goliath, which is never as apparent as when Mike takes on Fred with an honest-to-God sling in the final showdown.

    This is a truly offbeat affair, and not just because of the combination of "monster" movie and teen comedy. It features performances by three genuine musical acts that just so happen to be hanging around in this sleepy California town, all at the same time: The aforementioned Beau Brummels, Freddy Cannon and Mike Clifford. Everybody in town must have medical marijuana cards, too, because there's not a single person who seems all that surprised that there are giant teenagers roaming the streets. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the kids are well aware of it. They get down with the go-go dancing at the drop of a hat, and for sustained periods of time.

    Village Of The Giants - Giant Cleavage
    Giant Cleavage
    There are an awful lot of close-ups of jiggling breasts, gyrating hips, and shimmying posteriors to keep the male audience member interested. And this may be a given, but there is something wildly erotic about a 30 foot tall young woman shaking her goods in super slow motion. When she picks up a normal sized male and clutches him to her chest, leaving him hanging on to her mammoth cleavage for dear life, that's frankly something that reality just can't hold a candle to. For the fetishists out there, the movie opens with a crazed dance scene in the rain (featuring plenty of shots of feet sloshing about in the mud) that eventually devolves into a full-fledged mud fight. Right out of the gate, it was apparent that this movie was going to be absolutely drenched in teenage hormones.

    And yet, despite all of the suggestive gyrations and exposed flesh, there's a certain undeniable innocence here. It seems entirely quaint in a post-Two Girls, One Cup world, mere flirtation as opposed to outright seduction. And that, oddly enough, makes it all the more appealing.

    This movie was ostensibly based on the H.G. Wells book The Food Of The Gods, but that is something of an overstatement. Writer-director-producer Bert I. Gordon would adapt the book again in 1976 under the original title, which proved to be a somewhat more authentic adaptation. Perhaps inspired by his initials (B.I.G.), Gordon made multiple films that dealt with normal-sized things becoming giant-sized things, including THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957), EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958), and EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977). He did the reverse with ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (1958), though the basic concept remains the same.

    Village Of The Giants - Original Newspaper Ad
    From The Victoria Advocate, 09.11.1966
    VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS is a downright goofy movie. There is absolutely no denying that. But it is fully conscious of its status and doesn’t try to be anything else, somehow managing to never breakdown into self-parody. Because of this, it remains a hell of a lot of fun, no matter what the haters say. It may be exploitation...but it is exploitation of the most sugary kind. And everybody’s got a sweet tooth.


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  • 11/14/14--11:05: Artwork: Troll Hunter

    Today's artwork comes from the 2010 film TROLL HUNTER.  These sketches are found in hunter Hans' headquarters, detailing a few of the mythical creatures that he is tracking. Godspeed, Hans!


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    I'm of the belief that Coffin Joe is the coolest horror movie villain in existence.  Sure, he's not as well known as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, but those who do know him tend to love him. Nowhere, though, is he quite so beloved as he is in his home country of Brazil.

    With his black suit, top hat, cape, and obscenely long fingernails, Coffin Joe (played by writer-director Jose Mojica Marins) first appeared in 1963's AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL, and went on to appear in THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (1967) and EMBODIMENT OF EVIL (2008).  Although these three films comprise the official Coffin Joe Trilogy, the character appeared in other films of Marins, as well as TV shows.

    Only a selection of these appearances are available to the English-speaking world (and, in the case of the TV appearances, some are lost all together).  But what I truly crave is the combination of freakery and geekery that can only be found in the art of the horror comic.

    Coffin Joe appeared in a six-issue series of comic books entitled THE STRANGE WORLD OF COFFIN JOE in 1969, as well as comic book adaptations of AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL and THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE in the 1990s. Further, the graphic novel PRONTUARIO 666: COFFIN JOE'S YEARS OF IMPRISONMENT details the years that passed between entries from 1967 to 2008.  The sad part, however, is that very few of these are available in English.

    In 2001, Fantoma released a boxed set of three of the Coffin Joe films, including miniaturized versions of a few of the STRANGE WORLD comics, translated into English--though trimmed down to a single story instead of the two that were originally presented. Obviously they had access to the issues and the rights to reprint them.  What I would love to see is translated reprints of the complete Coffin Joe comics, either in collected or single issue form.  I'm not picky.

    But please, somebody, make it happen.


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    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Young One - Title Screen
    Title Screen
    Teenager Janice is tired of living under the old fashioned rules of her stodgy aunt Mae, always dreaming of living a life of luxury and freedom to do whatever she damn well pleases. She has latched onto Stan, wrapping him around her pretty little finger in an attempt to manipulate him into rescuing her. He is only 18, though, unemployed and unable to take her away from this life of doldrums.

    Janice decides that she needs an older man, and so in the midst of her date with Stan, she breaks into a swing dance that earns the attention of the much older blue collar bad boy Tex. They have a fantastic bit of give-and-take, and he appears interested in her but ultimately blows her off when she tries to persuade him to run away with her. Rejected, she says she has to return to Stan, who has already stormed off in a huff but is waiting for her outside. How does she know he’s waiting? Because that’s what Stan does. “He always waits."

    Stan leaves her at her house, apologetic for such a lousy evening, and Janice proceeds to get in a row with her aunt about her whereabouts. Funny thing, though. Mae doesn't seem anything at all like the repressive old shrew that Janice makes her out to be. In fact, she seems quite caring and compassionate, maybe a little old fashioned, but doing her best to raise Janice the proper way. Janice will have none of her aunt's concern and worrying, though, launching into one emotional fit after another before screaming "Why can't you leave me alone!? Just leave me alone!"

    We flash forward to a bit later that night, where Janice has returned to the disreputable juke joint that Stan had taken her to earlier. Tex is still there, milling about, and there is some mild flirtations between the two that is interrupted by a police officer (acting as a small town Chris Hansen) who tells Janice to go home, and that he will stop by later to make sure that she is there. Janice leaves, all right, but unbeknownst to the cop, Tex goes along with her.

    Back at Janice’s house, he coerces himself inside, on the prowl for some teenage tail. She leads him through
    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Young One - Janice's Dance of Seduction
    Janice's Dance of Seduction
    the darkened entryway and into the sitting room, but keeps stalling and stringing him along. Hearing the police car pull up out front, Janice quickly sets the scene—tearing her blouse and knocking a lamp to the floor to simulate a struggle. She runs outside, feigning tears, with a story that Tex tried to rape her...and murdered her poor aunt Mae. The officer rushes inside and finds Mae's corpse at the foot of the stairs in the entryway, right where Janice had left her.

    On any other show, Tex might be handcuffed and hauled off to prison for a crime he didn't commit. But this is ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, so the real wrap-up begins moments later when Stan arrives, already in shock, babbling about how he came back to see Janice earlier but she was gone...and Mae was already dead.

    Caught, Janice collapses and in a chilling, almost child-like voice, she declares "I didn't want to kill her. It's just that, she wouldn't leave me alone."

    Aside from the whole framing-a-man-for-murder angle, most of Janice's rebellion, which may have been shocking at the time, seems pretty tame by today's standards. She orders a beer but gets served lemonade, she takes a single puff on a cigarette before snuffing it out, and she runs around with her boyfriend Stan, whom her aunt Mae actually does approve of. It's unlikely that Janice has any real interest in Tex, seeing him only as a possible escape. Then again, she probably has no real interest in Stan, either. She dreams of freedom and getting away from the town that she feels stuck in, but who didn't feel that way as a teenager? Very few of us went to such heights to make those dreams a reality, though.

    Janice is beautiful, has a baby face, and occasionally speaks in a childish voice. She appears at first glance to be an icon of innocence, but after spending any amount of time with her it becomes obvious that she is a Bad Seed and a Lolita character rolled into one. Deceitful, manipulative and, in the end, downright evil, she looks like sugar but she tastes like salt.

    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Young One - Emotionally Unstable
    Emotionally Unstable
    It was obvious from her confrontation with Mae that Janice was not an emotionally stable person. She alternated between fury and depression at the drop of a hat, which makes you wonder about the root cause of it all. It is stated that her parents are deceased, but it is never made clear how. As both parents apparently passed at the same time, the logical guess is that they were in an accident of some sort. This might have been the cause of abandonment issues in another child, but Janice seems to suffer from the reverse. She's not afraid of being left alone, she's afraid of not being left alone.

    The only hint of her childhood that we are given is when Janice says that she misses the luxuries that she had grown up with. Mae reminds her that those luxuries were not hers, but rather belonged to the family that her parents worked for. Janice insists that the wealthy family that employed her parents loved and adored her, and wanted her as their own. After her parents died, Mae then ruined everything by taking custody of her.

    It is not stated bluntly, nor is it really implied, but it seems to me quite possible that Janice, as a child, murdered her parents under the false day dreams that the wealthy family would take her in and give her everything that she had ever hoped for. If she is capable of murdering a parental figure, then why not her parents themselves?

    If she did murder her parents, she got away with it so well that not even the scriptwriters knew about it. She might have gotten away with it this time as well, if she didn't have poor Stan so well trained. Not only did he always wait for her, but he always came back for her, too, and that proved to be her downfall.

    This was the third season's ninth episode, originally airing on December 1, 1957. It was an early directorial effort for Robert Altman, who started off making educational and industrial shorts and eventually went on to direct MASH (1970), POPEYE (1980), GOSFORD PARK (2001) and many others. The same year as this episode aired, he had helmed THE DELINQUENTS, starring Tom "Billy Jack" Laughlin, which would have fit in quite nicely with this month's theme.

    Stan was portrayed by Stephen Joyce, who appeared on many TV series over the course of his career but
    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Young One - Stan & Janice
    Stan & Janice
    managed very few notable big screen roles aside from parts in Sean S. Cunningham's A STRANGER IS WATCHING (1982) and BILLY BATHGATE (1991). The role of Aunt Mae was filled by veteran actress Jeanette Nolan, who already had over 50 credits to her name by the time filming began. This was the first of four appearances she would make on the series, and she sup-plied the voice of Norma Bates in Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960).

    Vince Edwards played the not-quite-innocent Tex here four years before landing his most iconic role as the titular doctor in BEN CASEY. Carol Lynley had only been in a few television episodes when she was cast as Janice. She would later appear in a 1962 episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, and had a pretty impressive career, including roles in Samuel Fuller's SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963) with Roddy McDowell, Otto Preminger's fantastic BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965), and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972, also with Roddy McDowell).

    THE YOUNG ONE was written by Sarett Rudley, who doesn't seem to have had much of a career aside from 9 episodes for Hitch and a few other television series, which is a shame, really, because the dialogue is pretty damn good, though obviously a little dated. The back-and-forth that Janice has with Tex and her aunt Mae might be slightly melodramatic at times, but it is seamless and solidly entertaining. There is also little biographical information about Rudley to be found, but I have to imagine it was quite the thrill and privilege that one of his episodes, MR. BLANCHARD’S SECRET (1956), was directed by Mr. Hitchcock himself.


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  • 11/17/14--20:00: Visit Me at Wicked Horror!
  • Hello reader!

    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up that I have been asked to contribute to up-and-coming website Wicked Horror as a regular writer, so I hope that you will check me out over there.  Flag on the Moon will remain my home, but there's enough genre love in me to spread around.

    My first article, A Guide to Robert Bloch's Psycho Trilogy, went live today, so please click HERE to give it a read.

    Many thanks!

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    In 2009, filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills brought us CROPSEY, a fantastic documentary
    Poster Image
    that began as an investigation into a local legend and ended up delving into a true murder mystery and examining the treatment of the mentally ill.  In this long-anticipated (and sorely unpublicized) follow-up, Zeman and Mills give similar treatment to urban legends that extend beyond their hometown of Staten Island and into America at large.  Four different legends are explored, uncovering the possible real-life origins of the myths, or at the very least, genuine examples.

    The first segment covers the myth of the Hook, in which young people on Lover’s Lane narrowly escape with their lives from an escaped convict with a hook for a hand.  Taken as a warning, this is an early example of the slasher-film trope that sex equals death, but it’s feasible that there is a kernel of truth to the story.  Only a few short years before the legend began making its way across America, the Moonlight Murders rocked the town of Texarkana, Texas.  A masked character known as the Phantom was murdering teenagers found in such locations, a crime spree that would eventually become the basis of the horror film THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976) and its 2014 remake.  In what is either a brilliant or tasteless move, the Texarkana Parks & Rec department puts on an annual showing of the original film in the area of the actual crime scenes.

    The second segment discusses the prevailing urban legend of tainted candy and apples with razor blades being passed out to Trick ‘r’ Treaters on Halloween.  There appears to be only one documented case of this actually happening—the Candy Man case—in which a young boy was poisoned with a cyanide-laced Pixie Stick.  The revelation in this segment is quite shocking if you’re not familiar with the story, and will make you question the worth of humanity in general.  On a side note, vintage news footage was shown of a Phoenix area hospital that was offering to x-ray bags of Halloween candy to calm parental fear of tampering—the exact same footage that I remember seeing as a child growing up there.

    The third segment details a real example of the Babysitter Murders (“The call is coming from inside the house!”), in which Columbia, MO saw a string of young babysitters being raped and murdered by an unknown man.  Overturned convictions and lack of evidence give this story a chillingly incomplete conclusion.

    Zeman & Mills
    The fourth and final segment covers the Killer Clown archetype, especially in regards to the strange cycle of evil clown sightings that crop up periodically in Chicago.  It would be easy to attribute these reports to hysteria in the wake of John Wayne Gacy, but these sightings began years prior to that.  Again, I spent the early years of my life in the Chicago area, and distinctly remember the stories of clowns abducting children from school yards, so this was of particular interest to me (and likely explains my fascination with clown, circus and carnival horror motifs).

    Zeman and Mills did a commendable job of condensing four stories into a 90-minute running time, especially considering each segment could easily have filled out a full-length documentary of its own.  Some of the cases discussed here are well-known, so if you’re a true crime buff, this likely won’t uncover any facts that you’re not already aware of.  But for those with a casual interest in the subject matter, or for horror movie fans, this will likely be of great interest to you.  It’s not as grand or as sweeping as CROPSEY, but still a fascinating anthology and a worthy follow-up.

    Kudos to Chiller for getting this doc made.  But for the love of God, can somebody get these two an ongoing series!?


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    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Memo From Purgatory - Title Screen
    Title Screen
    Aspiring author Jay Shaw wants to write a novel about youth gangs, but he's not content to sit at his desk in the Midwest and hammer out some piece of pulp fiction that draws only on that which he has read about elsewhere. No, Shaw wants to go full gonzo for his art, so he moves to the infamous Red Hook neighborhood of New York, crafts a new identity for himself, and plans to infiltrate a youth gang under the guise of Phil Beldone.

    It's not happenstance that Shaw stumbles into the soda shop that the Barons frequent, channeling the raw machismo of Marlon Brando. He had already done his research, and knew exactly where to find them, and who he had to impress when he got there. After a dust-up with prickly members Fish and Candle, Shaw is granted an audience with their fearless leader Tiger. Suitably impressed with the way that Shaw handled himself, Tiger offers him membership into the gang. But before he can earn his Baron jacket, he has to pass a three-step initiation process.

    Step one: Run the gauntlet through a line of gang members lashing at you with their belts, the buckles freshly sharpened.

    Step two: Bed down with the "deb" (gang girlfriend) that has been assigned to you—in this case a young filly named Filene.

    Step three: Jump a random passerby, and murder him.

    Let's forget about the headscratcher that is step two—have sex with an attractive girl, how harrowing—and concentrate on steps one and three. Shaw is perfectly willing to take a bit of a beating to gain inside access to the street gang, but he's certainly not going to extinguish the life of some innocent for it. In the end, he passes all three Herculean trials (yes, even step two) through innovation, deception, or merely talking his way around it—but never actually completing the tasks as assigned.

    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Memo From Purgatory - On Trial
    On Trial
    Tiger grants him membership to the Barons just the same, earning him even more ire from Fish and Candle, who break into Shaw's rented room and discover the notes that he had been keeping on the gang members all along. Believing him to be an undercover police officer, he is put on trial by his criminal peers, much like in Fritz Lang's 1931 classic M.

    Shaw does manage to convince them that he's not a narc, rather an author who wants to portray them fairly and accurately. Tiger grants him 24 hours to get out of town, but that offer is quickly revoked when Tiger reads what Shaw has written about him. Shaw has noted that Tiger bounces from girl to girl in order to keep up masculine appearances, but in reality he is terrified of women. Although not allowed to state so in these more conservative days of television, the subtext of Tiger's implied homosexuality remains clear. Enraged by the implications, Tiger declares that Shaw will follow them into war with rival gang the Fliers, where he will be killed one way or another.

    Shaw does manage to escape by getting himself arrested. After a brief stint in jail, he is told that his "girlfriend" has posted his bail. Shaw leaves, determined to flee the city, but is ambushed by Tiger and his top officers. There is a skirmish, and in a fateful accident, Filene is critically stabbed. Holding his dying deb in his arms, Shaw watches as the light fades from her eyes, while at the same time red and blue lights flood the alley.

    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Memo From Purgatory - Jay Shaw/Phil Beldone
    Jay Shaw/Phil Beldone
    This was the tenth episode from season three of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, originally airing on December 21, 1964, and was one of five episodes to be directed by Joseph Pevney. It was based on portions of the nonfiction Harlan Ellison book Memos From Purgatory, and adapted to the screen by Ellison himself. Shaw was portrayed by a young James Caan, who would go on to perfect the tough guy role many times over. Shaw's deb, Filene, was played by Lynn Loring, who worked her way up from child star to president of MGM/UA Television Productions. Tony Musante filled the role of Candle, and later played on all sides of the law—as a police officer in the TV series TOMA (1973), a mobster in the series OZ (1997), and a victim in Dario Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970). Fish was played by Zalman King, who was an actor before finding his calling as writer, director and producer of softcore smut such as RED SHOE DIARIES (1992-1996). Gang leader Tiger was played by Walter Koenig, who will forever be remembered as Chekov in the original STAR TREK series.

    Memos From Purgatory was originally published in 1961, but "The Gang", the section of the book upon which this episode was based, depicts events that happened in 1954. Harlan Ellison had always wanted to be a writer, and attended Ohio State University with that occupation in mind until he was reportedly expelled for assaulting a professor who belittled his written work. He had only a few short stories under his belt when he began planning work on his first novel, Web Of The City, which was to be about youth gangs.

    Assuming the guise of Phil "Cheech" Beldone, Ellison did join the Barons in the name of research, and there were members named Candle, Fish and Filene... But that's basically where the similarities end. The belt-beating that Ellison received as part of his initiation was much more brutal than the one that Shaw received, and although he seems to skirt around the issue, one definitely gets the feeling that he committed statutory rape with Filene, rather than convincing her to lie about it, as Shaw had done. He never talked his way out of the random assault of a passing stranger, but he did get into an officially-orchestrated knife fight with Candle, effectively ending his nemesis's involvement in the gang. But most importantly, the gang never learned that Ellison was a writer, and he did participate in the big rumble against the Fliers, an episode so bloody and violent that it caused him to quit his research and run away from the Barons, never to return.

    I'm unsure why Ellison made so many changes from his original story, but I would venture a guess that
    Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Memo From Purgatory - Memos From Purgatory by Ellison
    Memos From Purgatory by Ellison
    Standards and Practices forced him to tone down the violence, and perhaps had Shaw being found out as some sort of preventative measure, lest others find themselves "inspired" by this episode. The death of Filene was surely added as the requisite tragedy that is the cornerstone of good drama, while also serving as proof that they were not glamorizing the gang life.

    Ellison is primarily known for his work in the wide-ranging genre of Speculative Fiction, so his early J.D. novels and this memoir eventually became something of an anomaly in his bibliography. Within his usual choice of genres, Ellison is something of an anomaly himself, with his tough-guy attitude and bullying antics sticking out like a sore thumb among his more sedate colleagues. Memos From Purgatory reads like an early book-length foray into the field of the so-called New Journalism, normally associated with the likes of Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and Gay Talese. More than a decade before Hunter S. Thompson would take the same basic conceit, douse it in Jack Daniels, and set it aflame with Hell’s Angels: The Strange And Terrible Saga Of The Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Ellison had already broken that ground, albeit on a slightly less-public scale.

    The television adaptation is a fine example of good youth drama, with solid performances by memorable actors, and should not be missed. It is, however, not a very good example of an adaptation. Watch the episode first for its entertainment value, but then read the book for the truth. Somewhere in the middle lies genius.


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    Right around the time that CHILD'S PLAY 2 was first being shown on cable television, my cousin
    Adam was spending the night at my house. After our usual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure fights, we settled down to watch Chucky do his thing on TV.

    I remember very few moments from this particular viewing, but I do recall Adam's reaction when one of the characters drove into frame in a red car--which I now know to be a 1986 Ford Taurus station wagon.

    "Wow!", he shouted, likely spraying sour cream and onion potato chips across the room. "That's a nice car!"

    "Uh, yeah," I said outwardly.

    But inside, I was thinking, "What an idiot."


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    Today's headline comes from the 2005 horror flick HELLRAISER 7.  American expat reporter Amy Klein may be known for her hard hitting stories, but it's really her headlines that pull you in.  Dig a little deeper into the article, though, and you find this isn't a step-by-step guide, after all.  What a rip-off!


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  • 11/22/14--09:15: [Ephebiphobia] If.... (1968)
  • If.... - Theatrical Poster
    Theatrical Poster
    Classes are back in session for the student body of a British boarding school, and that means that the students are going to have to reorient themselves to the strict rules and discipline that go hand-in-hand with attending. Some fall quickly in line, but others are developing something of a rebellious streak.

    Chief among the rebellious boys are Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell in his first major film role), Wallace (Richard Warwick) and Johnny (David Wood), all three of them roommates in their junior year. Initially, they act out in the expected ways—drinking, smoking, growing their hair out, and disrespecting authority figures—but as the punishment they are meted out intensifies, so does their behavior.

    Interestingly enough, most of the discipline isn't carried out by the faculty of the school, but rather by the seniors who have been entrusted with the responsibility in exchange for certain privileges—much like trustees in prison. These seniors deliver a brutal caning to Mick and his cohorts in a scene that is as difficult to watch for its violence as it is fascinating to watch for Mick's smooth and graceful acceptance of the punishment. After his friends have taken their lashings in the next room, Mick throws open the door and practically glides in, offering up a subtle smirk before assuming the position. He refuses to cry out in pain or allow them to break his spirit, even as they break his body. This was a supremely performed scene that seemed familiar even the first time that I watched it. I later found out why: It was, in fact, Malcolm McDowell's performance in this scene that inspired his entire performance in the timeless A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

    Following their punishment, the boys get themselves into trouble again during a school-wide war games
    If.... - The Rebels
    The Rebels
    event. While everyone else is shooting blanks, they are firing real rounds—not actually injuring anyone, mind you, just scaring the hell out of them. This time, they are forced to clean out a storage area beneath the stage in the school auditorium. In a rather unlikely turn of events, amongst the clutter and forgotten stage props they find a sizeable stash of weaponry and ammunition. Wishing, perhaps, that they had taken their war games prank to another level, they arm themselves to reach that elevation now.

    A short time later, they smoke out a school meeting, and as the attendees flee the building, the boys are on a rooftop opposite them, heavily armed and opening fire—a finale that may have courted controversy at the time, but would probably never even hit celluloid in these darker days.

    IF.... is frequently cited as one of the best British films of all time, and although there may be a case for that, it is sometimes a difficult film to get your head around. It is certainly beautiful, and fascinating on all levels, yet I can't help but wonder if there are parts of the movie that I simply didn't "get", or if there are parts of the movie that are specifically designed to make you feel as if you simply don't "get" them.

    For starters, I spent a great deal of time pondering the significance of some scenes being shot in color and some scenes being shot in black and white. After a few of my theories were invalidated, I went to the Internet in search of answers, only to find that it was not an artistic choice after all—the cast and crew later went on record stating that it was completely arbitrary, as processing the entire feature in color was cost prohibitive.

    If.... - Mick Vs. The Girl
    Mick Vs. The Girl
    At one point in the film, Mick and a cohort steal a motorcycle from a dealership and drive to the outskirts of the city, where they arrive at a diner. Here they meet a waitress known only as The Girl, and in a slightly-surreal scene (just one of many), she and Mick get into a squabble, both of them imitating jungle cats. They are fully-clothed one moment, naked the next, and then clothed once again.

    It is scenes like these that make you wonder how much is "real" (within the confines of the film), and how much is fantasy. The nude cat-fight could certainly be considered a glimpse into Mick's psyche, seeing himself involved in an animalistic mating ritual with the beautiful girl, but if we accept the more surreal moments as fleeting fantasies, it calls into question the reality of other scenes. Did the shooting at the film's end really occur, or is this just another angsty teenage daydream manifesting itself before the camera? Immediately after the film ends, a title card appears on screen reading "If...", which may imply it is a fantasy (as in, "If I did this..." or "If this happened..."). Further questioning the reality of the shooting is the fact that McDowell portrays Mick Travis in two more films by director Lindsay Anderson (1973's O LUCKY MAN! and 1982's BRITANNIA HOSPITAL), neither of which hearken back to the events of this film at all.

    The Girl herself shows up on a few more occasions, all of them rather unlikely. In one, Mick peers through a telescope and spies her through a window, which is doubtful as Mick is positioned at an all-boy's school. She shows up again, quite suddenly and from out of nowhere, when the boys discover the stash of weapons hidden in the storage area. She is even there during the climactic gunfight, firing at the staff right alongside the boys—a battle that she has absolutely no stake in. It is entirely feasible that her first appearance at the diner was her only genuine one, while all the ones that followed were merely Mick's wishful thinking.

    If this movie were viewed solely as a scathing satire of the British boarding school system, it would be an
    If... - Newspaper Ad
    From Village Voice 03.06.69
    experience that relatively few could truly relate to. However, if viewed as an allegory of youthful rebellion as a whole, it opens it up to greater heights. The faculty of the school represents the System at its most corrupt, and each of the grades represents various stages of youth in response to that System. The freshmen are frightened and awed by the power of those above them, and follow the rules blindly. The sophomores, having been through the ringer a few times, are slowly growing wary. The juniors have started to rebel, believing that they are capable of making a significant change. And by the time the students are seniors, they have given up the rebellion and either sold out or bought in, effectively becoming the System. It is the sad and soul-crushing evolution of societal life.

    The whole film is open to interpretation. Whether The Girl is real or not, whether the shooting is real or not, whether anything at all in the entire film is real or not, this is one movie that invites armchair analysis, spirited debate and booze-driven discussion. So have at it.


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  • 11/23/14--08:01: More reading at WickedHorror
  • It's a few days old at this point, but I failed to mention it earlier.  I have a new post up over at, where I rewatched all four of the SCREAM films back-to-back in order to gear up for the impending MTV television series.

    A Viewing Guide to the Scream Franchise.

    Also, I seem to be getting a lot of hits on my Top Ten Urban Legends That Should Be Horror Movies, so make with the clickity-clickty and give that a read, too.

    Check 'em out!

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    Rock 'N' Roll High School - Theatrical Poster
    Theatrical Poster
    When severe disciplinarian Evelyn Togar takes over as principal of Vince Lombardi High, she has one goal in mind: whipping the rebellious student body into shape. The method in which she plans to do this is by an outright war on rock music, which, she assures us, has proven dangerous to lab mice during scientific trials. The students aren't so keen on falling into line, though, especially rock fanatic Riff, whose sole ambition in life is writing songs for the Ramones...and basically just rockin' the hell out.

    There's something of a romantic subplot involving a love triangle between the teens—Riff's best friend Kate (Dey Young) is crushing on football quarterback Tom (Vincent Van Patten), but Tom only has eyes for Riff—but basically the majority of the film is about rebelling against an oppressive system, scrambling to get to a rock concert, and then combining both into a (literally) explosive finale.

    As fine cinema, it hardly rates a mention, but as a counterculture comedy, it still stands up even today. It's fairly light on plot, and what little there is bounces around rather haphazardly, but the anarchic happenings will keep you locked in and entertained, nevertheless. Rock movies aren't really about plot, anyway, they're about the overall experience. Remember the Monkees in the movie HEAD (1968)? Talk about an experience. It was the spirit of these classic rock movies that the filmmakers were trying to capture for a new generation.

    This is highly regarded as something of a cult classic, and with good reason. It's a teen-centric film of rebellion that falls somewhere between the bubblegum goodness of the BEACH PARTY films (1963+) and the atomic warhead of PUMP UP THE VOLUME (1990). It's mostly good-natured fun with a solid cast of actors, but some of the comedy was a little too David Zucker for my tastes. The human-sized mice and other jokes of that ilk seem at odds with the more clever points in the script—like when a nerd implores "I'm allergic to violence. I break out in blood!" or when Riff declares "Tom Roberts is so boring, his brother is an only child."

    The characterization is pretty flimsy, but what is admirable is that the filmmakers didn't always go for the standard character tropes. For instance, Tom is a handsome jock, but he's not portrayed as a preening, braying stud. Instead, he is incredibly self-conscious and awkward, unable to speak to girls about anything more substantial than the weather. Kate wears glasses and is undoubtedly the smartest girl in school, and yet she's not the subject of ridicule from her peers or outcast from them in any way.

    Eaglebauer (Clint Howard), though, is the requisite mover-and-shaker character found in almost every high school movie, the kind of guy who has an office in the men's room and can get you anything for a price. I never knew a guy like this in high school (I'm not entirely convinced that they actually exist), but I always wanted to, even though I get the feeling that these are the same guys who wind up in prison movies, operating the black market out of the cafeteria.

    Rock 'N' Roll High School - P.J. & The Ramones
    P.J. & The Ramones
    Riff is played by the effervescent P.J. Soles, and she is downright adorable in the role. Interestingly, this Ramones superfan had never even heard of the band in real life before being cast, so she had to receive a crash course before filming began. She also chose and paid for her own wardrobe, so all of the snarky internet commenters who claim "A real Ramones fan would never wear that!" can feel pretty good about themselves, knowing that the character of Riff was a Ramones fan being dressed by a non-Ramones fan.

    Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov) barked an awful lot, but she bit very little, assuming that the students would instantly cower in fear if she yelled loud enough and sent out her perverted and ineffectual hall monitors to do her bidding. Music teacher Mr. McGree is initially rather snooty, but he eventually succumbs to the allure of rock music and joins the kids in their revolution, evolving into a "hip professor" character in the same vein as Robert Cummings' Professor Sutwell from BEACH PARTY.

    Any weak points in the film are easily overlooked, as the success of this film rests largely on the musical performances and God damn, do they deliver. The lengthy concert that the Ramones stage in the final third of the movie would have seemed like filler in just about any other outing, but here we know it is exactly what everything has been leading up to. I had forgotten how good the Ramones really were, until "I Want You Around" and "I Just Want To Have Something To Do" were cued up onscreen, and five minutes after the movie ended, they were downloading to my iPod, too.

    Rock 'N' Roll High School - Togar's Final Solution
    Togar's Final Solution
    In the end of the film, Togar burns the students' record albums, which she calls "the final solution." This is also what Hitler called his extermination of the Jewish people, solidifying Togar's role as a senseless dictator, while also echoing the book and record burnings that have plagued society for ages. Togar's final solution proves to be the final straw, though, and Riff leads the kids (and the Ramones) into the hallowed halls of education to truly turn it into the Rock 'n' Roll High School that the title suggests. When the police threaten to storm the building (including Corman stalwart Dick Miller in his usual cameo), the teens relinquish control of the school back to Togar...and then promptly blow it up.

    When the students blew up the school in ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, it was comically subversive. When they did it in HEATHERS (1988), it was darkly anarchic. If it were to happen in a movie today, unfortunately, it would be deemed domestic terrorism and blamed for the next spate of violent attacks. It's a much different world we're living in now.

    Allan Arkush directed this for Roger Corman's New World Pictures in 1979, and it seems as if they were purposefully crafting a cult movie—they even went so far as to crawl the lyrics to the Ramones song "Teenage Lobotomy" across the bottom of the screen, which is just begging for audience participation. Had there been more moments available for viewer interaction, this might be playing on midnight marquees across the nation opposite THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975).

    No matter how you feel about the Ramones and their music, there is surely something that we can all agree on: It’s a good thing that this wasn't filmed as the disco movie that it was originally meant to be.

    DISCO HIGH SCHOOL just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


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