Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Morgue: The Zuni Festish Doll had a killer manager

I quite like TRILOGY OF TERROR, even though I acknowledge that it's not an especially good movie. The film's following is based on two things: the performance of Karen Black, and the presence of the "Zuni Fetish Warrior" doll in the TV movie's final chapter.

According to the March 1, 1975, issue of TV Guide, director Dan Curtis spent a tidy sum on the "Zuni Fetish Warrior." There were three versions of the doll Ugly, Uglier, and Ugliest. The motorized version able to "run" in the film's distance shots cost about $15,000 to create, which is about $65,000 today when adjusted for inflation. You can get a look at the variations in the character in the TV Guide ad at the bottom of this post.

The doll was the work of designer Erik von Buelow, who has all of three production credits to his name (the others are EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and THE FOOD OF THE GODS). While Curtis certainly got his moneys worth from Von Buelow's creation, the doll's aftermarket value wasn't great. It was sold to a private collection through a 1991 auction for a modest $4,400.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Danny Elfman's DARK SHADOWS score is streaming on Amazon

If you're got Amazon Prime you can listen to Danny Elfman's 2012 score for DARK SHADOWS for no additional charge. The 21 tracks include an extended version of the prologue, sequence, which was abridged in the final version of the film. It's a pretty good score and features some of Elfman's best compositions since 2003's HULK.

What's interesting to me is that Elfman's work highlights what Tim Burton was trying to accomplish with DARK SHADOWS. It's a rich, moody soundtrack that would have been right at home on the original television show, even though it lacks all of Robert Cobert's signature melodies from that series. Burton's film had a wonky, interesting tone and was visually lush ... but was hobbled by one of the laziest screenplays this side of a Michael Bay film. Luckily for Elfman, the dumb script isn't really a problem for the score.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Monster Serial: THE HUNGER, 1983


When you mention David Bowie to me, I’m like any other man, really.  The first thing that occurs to me is “tasteful restraint.”

No, really.  I’m not making the ha-ha, either.

I have an amazing blind spot for music written after 1945 or so.  I just call it all “rock.”  This drives music fans crazy, but it’s always been (mostly) incomprehensible noise to me, and I’m forever grateful to Todd Loren for allowing me to write a treatise on the subject in ELVIS SHRUGGED. 

Music fans are usually split into three groups when I chat about this.  One third?  Driven into a gibbering rage, as if I’d wrapped a fetus in the flag and then burned it on a stack of Bibles.  The second?  They wave it all away with, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”  The third?  They just feel a strange pity.
Yeah, I’m missing out.  Yeah, I don’t know what I’m talking about.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But I have one great advantage: when musicians make the transition to film, I carry no baggage.  (Or I’m relieved that I can finally understand what they’re saying.)  Sting?  He’ll always be Feyd.  Ringo?  There will never be a finer caveman.  KISS?  Will the mad Dr. Abner Devereaux ever face more cunning opponents?  And several years after he fell to Earth — but before he melded with Tammy Faye Baker to become the Goblin King — David Bowie was the Saddest Vampire in Town.

In 1983’s THE HUNGER, Bowie plays vampire, John Blalock, the companion to a much, um, Queenier vampire, Miriam (Catherine Deneuve).  I mean “Queen,” literally.  She’s an alpha, giving immortality to her chosen lover/companions.  Unfortunately, “immortal” and “ageless” are not synonymous in THE HUNGER.  John’s been around for a few centuries, but when he begins to age, the effect is voraciously rapid.  In a stark counterpoint to the pristine and sunlit (!) New York luxury in which they live, Bowie becomes an elderly mess in a matter of days, dwindling away so far that his hunting (done by both vampires with bladed ankhs rather than fangs) is reduced to victimizing those equally helpless. 

One surprise is that Bowie is in very little of the film.  That’s always a surprise, considering how much he was highlighted in the advertising.  The film pretty much starts moving when he discovers that the decades are catching up with him, and the storytelling moves deceptively briskly for a film that seems so stately.  Once his character reaches total enfeeblement, Miriam simply carts him upstairs and crates him away with an impressive collection of former lovers that stretches back thousands of years.  All are doomed to live, yet are too weak to feed or move… unless they are really, really, really motivated.  Which happens.

Before that: lesbians!

Okay, stand down.  Yellow alert.  No need to go to battle stations.  Don’t text the SJW’s of Tumblr on my tail quite yet.  I’ll be no more sensationalistic than was the film in 1983.

Back then, on-screen lesbians were few and far between.  They were rough and ready punchlines and never eroticized (to my recollection).  But gentle, elegant, feminine, lesbians having slow lesbianesque lesbianism with lots of white, billowy curtains and soft, haunting music caressing the ears? 

Nope.  Hadn’t had that.

My mom was always up for a good vampire movie, and I talked her into this one with promises of the classy cast and copious opera music.  But between the agreement to see the film and the actual viewing was a period of intense suspense.  If she got wind of the, ahem, other stuff, it would have been a massacre.  Dammit if I didn’t pull off the scheme.  After all, Catherine Deneuve was classy, right?  French.  See?  It’s art right there.  And Tony Scott (a vastly underrated director who had the tragic habit of usually picking terrible material) handled it with such classy finesse that it all qualified as not just art, but High Art.  Maybe too High?  It was so classy, in fact, that the film can only be seen as erotic by people so pretentious that sex is totally wasted on them. 

Thank goodness that Dan Hedaya is in the film.  The movie is so beautiful that Dan’s heavy mug is a welcomed reminder that real people exist in this world, too.  He plays the equivalent of THE EXORCIST’s Kinderman in the movie, and seeing him made me miss the days when it was okay to be frumpy. 

Okay, the story.  I guess now that David Bowie and the Great Lesbian Caper of 1983 are out of the way, I guess I should address the rest of the story.  Back before he got abducted, went crazy, and became the first spokesman for the Aneros, Whitley Strieber was a heckuva writer.  THE HUNGER comes from his imagination, and the resulting film really saves vampirism from its own cliches.  It’s much the way that he modernized the werewolf with the nearly forgotten gem, WOLFEN.

What are these vampires? Well, before the sequel books in which Strieber revealed them to be (sigh) aliens, they are “simply” blood-drinking immortals.  No fangs.  No bats.  No sleeping in coffins (until you’re too old to sleep in anything else).  With John out of the story, Miriam wastes no time in finding a replacement in gerontologist, Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon).  Sarah is obsessed with the concepts of aging and immortality, and she became familiar with the Blaylocks when John sought her help — to no avail.  Clouding the bliss is Sarah’s boyfriend, Tom.  I primarily mention him because he was played by Cliff De Young, who played the twin brothers Brad Majors and Farley Flavors in ROCKY HORROR’s savvy sequel, SHOCK TREATMENT.  Seeing him alongside Susan Sarandon, the original Janet Weiss, makes it feel like it should be called CRISIS IN INFINITE DENTONS. 

Oh, yeah, she kills him and drinks his blood, too.

As the film ends, Sarah’s conscience defeats Miriam’s wiles.  Using Miriam’s own blade, Sarah stabs herself and forces Miriam to drink her blood.  Somehow, this sacrifice/poisoning awakens her ex-lovers, who attack Miriam.  Sarah has inherited the mantle of Queen as the film ends.

How?  I don’t know.  How do these creatures live forever?  What am I, Kreskin?  The ending — like the rest of the film — is so gorgeous (while never ponderous) that it works despite the ambiguities.  

It had been a long, long time since I’d seen THE HUNGER.  I was afraid that it would be pretentious, overblown, and obsessed with its own beauty.  Hardly, although it’s about the tragedy of people who are pretentious, overblown, and obsessed with their own beauty.  As a vehicle for that story, it is like Bowie, himself.  The cinematic Bowie, anyway.  It’s intelligent, nimble, dignified, and well aware of the easy traps of vanity. 

For a lot of the music fans I know, David Bowie’s movie appearances get treated like some sort of weird, in-the-know punchlines.  For me?  He’s simply one of my favorite actors.  I’d like to keep it that way.  And for the part of him that is a serious actor, I suspect that he would, as well. 

PATRICK McCRAY is a well known comic book author who resides in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5, and is a frequent contributor to The Collinsport Historical Society. You can find him at The Collins Foundation.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Children's SUSPIRIA Book & Record Set (record not included)

This is one of those Photoshop experiments I knocked together on a whim earlier this week. I dumped the original designs on Tumblr (which also includes fake "book & record" art for HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, THE EVIL DEAD and HALLOWEEN) but thought it might be fun to take a stab (har har) at the interiors. After gathering some text from various places around the Internet (thank you, Wikipedia) I built a few pages for some of SUSPIRIA's more memorable scenes. Enjoy!

Barnabas Collins makes his four-color debut

This week marks the 48th anniversary of the first appearance of Barnabas Collins on DARK SHADOWS. To celebrate the occasion, The Collinsport Historical Society is spending the week looking back at the "introductions" of the character in various media.


By 1969, everybody wanted a piece of DARK SHADOWS. The television show was a pop culture phenomenon, with Jonathan Frid's likeness appearing on everything from Halloween costumes to the sleeves of Top 40 albums. With children of all ages going nuts for Barnabas Collins it seemed like a natural to translate DARK SHADOWS into a four-color comicbook. There was only one problem:

Formed in 1954, the Comics Code Authority was a blight on the comics industry and set the medium back decades. It was the end result of a congressional witch hunt, which alleged that comics were turning America's youth into a bunch of drug-crazed, homosexual criminals. In order to appease congress, the industry agreed to create the Comics Code Authority, a self-governing body that would make sure icky material no longer found its way into American comic books.

It was a pretty shitty deal.

Darth Vader represents congress. Lando Calrissian is the comics industry. Boba Fett is present for scale.
The larger publishers began to abuse their power almost immediately, creating "rules" designed to muscle some publishers out of the industry. EC Comics is the most famous victim of the code, which brought an end to its lines of horror and crime comics. Among the subjects declared off limits by the CCA were zombies, werewolves and vampires.

So when DARK SHADOWS became a thing, Marvel and DC were unable to pick up the license for the series. Third-tier publisher Gold Key had no such problems because they didn't give a shit about the CCA. They were among the few publishers to opt out of the deal and continued publishing whatever the hell they wanted.

At the start of 1969, Gold Key added DARK SHADOWS to a roster that already included STAR TREK, TARZAN and BORIS KARLOFF: TALES OF MYSTERY. While I admire Gold Key's magnificent pair of brass balls, I wish I could say their bravado was worthwhile. Their comics kinda sucked.

The first issue of DARK SHADOWS hits the ground running, summarizing Barnabas Collin' background in a single page. From there, the comic begins to introduce a cast that includes a red-headed Angelique, Willie Loomis and Dr. Julia Hoffman. The tale is a lot more elaborate than it needs to be and told with the manic aggression of a pathological liar: It feels as though the story is being made-up as it goes along, ending as soon as the creators hit their required page count.

Here's a thumbnail synopsis of the story, titled "The Vampire's Prey": Two college kids visit Collinsport to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of their ancestors, one Reverend Trask. Barnabas is naturally concerned because he bricked up Trask in the walls of his home many years earlier and is concerned the kids might find him out. Angelique intervenes to make his life miserable and bad things happen. And these "bad things" are surprisingly boring.

The biggest problem with Gold Key's DARK SHADOWS comic is an utter absence of character. If you were to read the comic's dialogue out of context you'd have a difficult time trying to figure out who was supposed to be saying it. It's not only faceless, it's propped up by artificial drama: The characters spend the duration of the issue shouting at each other, no matter how relaxed the situation. Literally every line of dialogue in this issue ends with either an exclamation point or a question mark. Adding to the story's false sense of urgency is Barnabas' insistence on running everywhere he goes.

Still, the book sold well enough, even outlasting the original television series by several years. But you won't find a lot of "art" in the series, despite its healthy run. While other publishers hired writers and artists with a desire to lift the medium from its illegitimate status, Gold Key had other ideas. Their books were just "stuff" produced to satisfy market demand and are only interesting today as relics. I wish things were otherwise. Perhaps in a parallel time fans got to read a DARK SHADOWS book created by folks like Steve Ditko, Michael Fleisher, Gene Colan and Roy Thomas ... in their prime, no less.

Here's a photo of an adorable kitten to help offset whatever depression might result from that previous paragraph.

Praise for Grayson Hall from Richard Burton

Matt Hall made an interesting discovery while going through the effects of his late father, Sam Hall: A letter from actor Richard Burton to Myrna Loy. Burton appeared opposite Matt Hall's mother, Grayson Hall, in 1964's THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, for which Grayson received an Academy Award nomination for best actress.
"Richard Burton knew Myrna Loy. He wrote her a letter from the set of Iguana in Mexico, extolling the virtues and acting ability of my mother. After Iguana, back in New York, my parents were swept for a period into Myrna Loy’s social circle. She gave them Burton’s letter."
You can read a sample of the letter below. Matt Hall has scanned the complete letter and envelopes, which you can see at his website, Nantucket '73.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Trapped in the clutches of a MADMAN renaissance

We interrupt this broadcast for some news you're probably not going to care about.

The 1982 grindhouse feature MADMAN is having a bit of a renaissance. The film has dropped in and out of circulation over the years, thanks almost exclusively because of lack of interest. I'm a MADMAN agnostic: While I want to believe there are other fans out there besides myself, I've never seen any tangible evidence that they exist. The movie (whose biggest star is Gaylen Ross) is an acquired taste.

Next month, Vinegar Syndrome is securing its place in Valhalla by releasing a 4K (!) remastered version of MADMAN on Blu-ray. (You can pre-order it HERE from Amazon.) I wish those crazy bastards the best of luck.

Not to be outdone, Death Waltz Recording Co. announced during a recent screening of the film that they will be releasing Stephen Horelick's MADMAN score on vinyl, CD and MP3 in 2016.

So hooray!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

WATCH: David Selby participating in Lincoln commemoration

David Selby, Katie Couric and James Earl Jones greet President Barack Obama at the Ford’s Theatre Reopening Celebration, February 11, 2009. Photo by Reflections Photography, Washington, D.C.

David Selby is among the guests participating today in Ford’s Theatre’s tribute event “Now He Belongs to the Ages: A Lincoln Commemoration.” PBS NewsHour will livestream  the event, which will include Civil War-era music, readings of Lincoln’s words and stories and excerpts from his favorite theater and operas. The event will feature operatic soprano Alyson Cambridge, singer-songwriter Judy Collins, political satirist Mark Russell and civil rights leader Julian Bond at 9 p.m. EDT April 14.

Watch the live stream below:

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
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