Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kelly and (not) Michael talk DARK SHADOWS

Ugh. It pains me to share this, because I loathe everything associated with the one-time "Regis and Kathie Lee" show. Kelly Ripa is sorta tolerable if you're able to ignore the obvious evil lurking just beneath her smile. But I'd still rather shave my head with a cheese grater than watch this show.

A lot has changed since I last saw the series, which is now called "Live with Kelly and Michael." Wikiepedia tells me that "Michael" is actually former football player Michael Strahan ... who is not in this video. Instead, Kelly appears to be sharing the couch with her husband, Mark Consuelos. I had to put a surprising amount of research into this bullshit post and I'm not even sure it's 100% correct.

Anyhoo, during what passes for banter* between husband and wife, it's mentioned that Mark (apparently a former soap actor) might have been perpetuating a lie. The story goes that Mark learned to speak English by watching "All My Children" as a child, a series he later appeared on. He admits in this video that he doesn't really remember seeing the series, and that he preferred "The Price is Right" and DARK SHADOWS. The two share a high five at the latter's mention.

It's been a slow news week.  Still, my thanks to Eric L. Spencer for the tip.

(* This "banter" wouldn't be any less fake if Bob Heironimus strolled by in a Bigfoot costume.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dynamite's DARK SHADOWS does the time warp (again)

UPDATED: Previously scheduled to be released this summer, Dynamite's second collection of DARK SHADOWS comics has been pushed back until early in 2015 July 7, 2015. I'm no longer holding my breath.

This is at least the second third time the release date has been delayed on this book, which collects an unspecified number of issues from the now-cancelled DARK SHADOWS on-going series. This could mean any number of things:
  • Dynamite has something planned for the license in 2015 and wants to get the most bang for their marketing buck; 
  • Dynamite is mulling its options for the DARK SHADOWS license and has delayed the book until a course of action is decided; 
  • Dynamite simply has too many trade paperbacks in the production queue and DARK SHADOWS was the easiest title to shove further down the list of priorities.
The constant changes in scheduling might even be a product of error. Remember when Entertainment Earth had the DARK SHADOWS dolls available for pre-order for almost a year before finally acknowledging they were never going to be released?  Who the hell knows at this point.

Keep in mind that all of the possible scenarios I've discussed are conjecture on my part. I sent an e-mail to Dynamite's marketing department yesterday to ask about the future of their DARK SHADOWS comics, and have yet to receive a response. Nothing was announced during last weekend's DARK SHADOWS festival, either.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Monster Serial: THE RAVEN, 1963


It’s the world of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe.  Visually lush.  Masterfully acted.  Written with lean intensity by one of the great writers of the horror and fantasy genre. 

The inspiration?  That poem most associated with Poe.

Oh, yeah, and there’s Vincent Price quietly giving the camera the finger.

On purpose.

And then he smells it.  As Boris Karloff looks on. 

Welcome to THE RAVEN.

If you’re not sold on the film by that, I can’t help you.  Really, please go away and never contact me again. 

Alternately, if that image makes you giggle like a demented pre-adolescent, embrace me and call me brother.

The more I watch the film, the more I appreciate its legitimate wordplay, lazzi, and shtick (which is also the name of my law firm), and the fact that the entire ensemble (Corman and screenwriter Richard Matheson included) are trying to get away with as much as possible under the radar.

I think it’s easy to think that wit, broad humor, and bawdiness are mutually exclusive.  In THE RAVEN, Corman and Matheson make a marvelous argument that the heartiest wit is not an effete matter of utter discretion, but a banquet of quiet irony and crass delights.    

What else can you say about a film in which Boris Karloff is desperate to find out the secret of Vincent Price’s “hand manipulations,” a phrase used again and again in the film?  And what are you going to do with adapting the poem, anyway?  Poe is commercial. The name,  instantly recognizable, might be money in the bank, but what do you actually do with it?  Universal was stumped when they put Karloff and Lugosi in an “adaptation” of it in 1935, creating one of their silliest offerings.

Corman must have known there was little horror film inspiration to be had in the words.  Yes, there is beautiful music to the poem’s language, but the storytelling meat is less substantial.  So, at last, let them have fun.  “Them” as in the audience and “them” as in the ensemble.

The plot is just solid enough to give them an excuse to goof around.  One sorcerer, Craven (Vincent Price), mourns for his lost wife, Lenore (the reliably stunning Hazel Court), not knowing that she’s joined forces with his jealous nemesis, Scarabus (Boris Karloff.)  A third mage, Peter Lorre’s Bedlo, is recruited to lure Craven to Scarabus’ lair, where the two duel for the secrets of “hand manipulation” as well as Hazel Court.  (And, I can hope, some combination of the two.) 
This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
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That’s pretty much it. But the plot is wholly irrelevant.  In many cases, Corman just sets up the camera and allows three giants (Lorre, Price, and Karloff) to make hay with Matheson’s one-liners, all of which are too pithy to ruin with repetition, here.  All three earn their reputations as great actors in the “dying is easy, comedy is hard” department by making it look like a cakewalk.  All three play with the tropes and rhetoric of the genre with what seems like magnificent relief.  Neither Lorre nor Karloff were athletes, resulting in laughs that come from situations and comebacks rather than pratfalls.  Oh, and a comedic pair of giant raven wings with which Lorre spends much of the film flapping about. 

The real art of THE RAVEN comes from the ability of Price and Karloff to show discretion.  It would be so easy to topple the film by breaking the fourth wall one too many times.  Wisely, they remain just serious enough to make what’s going on around them look even more ludicrous.  Well, mostly.

While Price and Lorre are noted comedians, Karloff was less so.  When he would find himself in a comedy — such as his eternal fixture in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE — he had to play it totally oblivious to the fact.  In this, we see him finally flaunting those chops.  He knows it’s a comedy, and it gives an in-depth visit with the humanity that always hummed under the surface of his characters. 

Frankenstein’s Monster is such a heartbreaking performance because we somehow sense all of the potential this creature has, humor included. As Scarabus, Karloff justifies our suspicion.  Just as he inevitably brought menace to each part, he also blended in humor.  Now, we see it on full parade… tastefully, lustily, and with marvelous relish, but as the featured quality.

PATRICK McCRAY is a 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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Baby, I'm a Star

Lachele Carl and Daniel Collard have joined the cast of DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST.
#HumbleBrag loading in 3... 2... 1...

Set the wayback machine to May 31 this year. My wife and I are attending ConCarolinas in Charlotte, N.C., and having dinner with Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott during one of their rare trips to the South. My wife, Sara, was still pregnant at the time. We knew we were having a boy, but hadn't settled on a name. As it turns out, we wouldn't make that decision until a few days after he was born, and even then it took constant prodding from the hospital staff to make us commit to a name.

Back in May, though, I had a name in mind: "Barnabas."

The topic of discussion was born in July.
It was a complicated idea, and one that gave me some amusement. I had no intention of making "Barnabas" the child's christian name, or even his middle name. Instead, I was going to bury the name a little deeper as a secondary middle name. I had this image of my son, two decades from now, filling out a passport application and having to find a spot on the form for that goddamn name. "Barnabas" would be an occasional reminder to him that his father was always a little nutty.

Sara found polite ways to avoid talking about the idea. Lara and Kathryn, having met a number of fans who have changed their names to those of DARK SHADOWS characters over the years, were openly appalled by it. Kathryn sounded a little like she was negotiating a hostage crisis when she asked me not inflict a child with the name "Barnabas." As a compromise, Lara suggested using the name "Quentin." It was a name that would come up again several months later in the hospital, following one of those "You really need to name your baby" visits from nurses. Sara, whacked out on pain killers following her surgery, suggested "Quentin." Our son was a little on the hairy side, you see.

I didn't think it was fair to hold Sara to a decision made under the influence of narcotics, and she took "Quentin" off the table the next day. To make a long story short, we ultimately named the boy Edgar.

What does all of this have to do with DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST? Well, a few weeks back, the folks at Big Finish invited me to make a cameo appearance in the upcoming serial. I've been sworn to secrecy, but my involvement was announced on the official website today (along with the casting of legitimate actors Lachele Carl and Daniel Collard). I've seen only a handful of script pages from the serial, but can promise you BLOODLUST is going to be epic.

And what's my role? I'm playing a radio newscaster originally named "Wallace McBride." As a gift to my son (and, admittedly, a way to maybe get him interested in DARK SHADOWS later) I asked them to change the character's name to "Edgar McBride." They happily agreed.

A few hours later it occurred to me that I failed in naming my son after a character from DARK SHADOWS ... but I succeeded in getting a DARK SHADOWS character named after him. I'm not sure if the name "Edgar McBride" is ever actually uttered in BLOODLUST, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it. 

DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST is a 13-part miniseries released across January and February 2015. It's available to pre-order HERE. Go get it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

TWIN PEAKS is returning in 2016 ... but should it?

"The owls are not what they seem."

Yes, TWIN PEAKS is coming back. We've pretty much known that since David Lynch and Mark Frost shared identical (and appropriately cryptic) tweets on Oct. 3:
The Internet quickly went batshit, just as it should have. TWIN PEAKS was a series ahead of its time in so many ways andhas only gotten better with age. Its inventiveness ultimately proved toxic to its narrative, though. When the second season began, a television show built on the pretense of a finite mystery ("Who Killed Laura Palmer?") suddenly had to justify its own existence in prime time. How do you resolve a show's central conceit without bringing everything to a crashing halt?

The minds behind TWIN PEAKS never adequately answered that question. By the time they unmasked the killer, nobody much cared anymore. Today's the show's cult following has glossed over that bit of history, but it's important to remember that TWIN PEAKS died with a whimper, not a bang.

This is the 100,000th website to use this image during the last 24 hours.
So, is it good news that TWIN PEAKS is returning to the air waves in 2016? Suggesting they've learned from past mistakes, Lynch and Frost quickly explained their earlier tweets, announcing this week that TWIN PEAKS would be returning as a nine-part "limited series" on Showtime. (For those of you keeping score, TWIN PEAKS aired only eight episodes during its first season.) That certainly solves the original riddle of TWIN PEAKS' open-ended narrative. But that's hardly the only problem facing an attempt to bring back a television series after more than two decades.

Frost and Lynch have spent the last few days in pitched combat with the media, which has been aggressively pursuing information about the show. So far, the two men have let very little slip. Frost revealed he and Lynch have been edging closer to a TWIN PEAKS revival since the release of the "Gold Box" DVD collection a few years ago, and that their occasional interactions gradually led to inspiration. Frost also told The Hollywood Reporter that the new series will eschew "binge watching" by taking a traditional weekly broadcast schedule, as opposed to the full-series dump favored by Netflix and Amazon.

 Then, on Monday, Kyle MacLachlan shared the following via Twitter:

We can assume this means that MacLachlan will be appearing in the new series. Besides that, we don't know much else about the TWIN PEAKS revival.

Except we sorta do.

Ignoring the reality that revivals tend to satisfy nobody (90 percent of all online discussions about STAR WARS devolve into arguments about THE PHANTOM MENACE, according to statistics I just made up), neither Lynch nor Frost are the people they were back in 1990. Lynch's work has only grown more Lynchian over the years, and he's hardly made anything resembling a traditional film since THE STRAIGHT STORY in 1999.

And then there's Mark Frost. While he's done some good work since TWIN PEAKS ended, none of that success has migrated to the screen. His novels, such as THE LIST OF SEVEN, are great fun. But his work on the two FANTASTIC FOUR screenplays have created the kind of karmic stain that will hopefully follow him through several reincarnations.

There are other factors at play that are almost certainly working against the revival. The original series ended in a way that will make it difficult to resurrect TWIN PEAKS in a recognizable way. By all rights, much of the principle cast should not be returning. The TWIN PEAKS that was cancelled looked very little like the TWIN PEAKS of the pilot, but the show's early episodes are what people generally remember. The show's many catch phrases are still part of popular culture, but what about Windome Earle? Or Denise/Dennis Bryson, the cross-dresser/transvestite/transgender DEA agent played by David Duchovny? Or that Agent Cooper, when last we saw him, was possessed by the spirit of Killer Bob? Is Lucy still working as a receptionist at the sheriff's office 25 YEARS LATER?

Because Lynch hired adults to play teens on the original series, the entire cast looks disproportionately older today ... which is fine. I've always admired how MacLachlan flaunts his gray streaks, but he's a man and will be judged by a much lower standard than his female co-stars. And what about the show's phantoms? Are we to believe that Laura, the Giant and the diminutive "Man from Another Place" have been subject to the ravages of time in the Black Lodge? Will we see them at all?

And, without these elements, is the show still TWIN PEAKS? There's a very real threat that a new series will spend more time answering "What ever happened to ...?" questions than in telling a story.

This column isn't meant to be an exercise in parade pissing, but fandom has a habit of throwing victory celebrations before the contest even begins. (Remember all those cosplayers who trotted out TRON LEGACY costumes in advance of the film's release?) We tend to raise our expectations to grotesquely unrealistic levels, leading to the inevitable conflagration of disappointment on the Internet. And the Internet is something the original TWIN PEAKS never had to deal with.

I'm cautiously, maybe even foolishly, optimistic about the return of TWIN PEAKS. If Lynch has an original, independent concept in mind that's connected -- but not dependent -- on the original series, that might be interesting. But there are some incredibly high hurdles to clear, and Lynch's long-standing refusal to revisit the town of Twin Peaks, Washington, has only built them higher.

Monday, October 6, 2014


If the reviews on this site seem a little one sided, it's not your imagination. When it comes to DARK SHADOWS media, it's my goal to review everything that comes down the pipeline for better or worse. For the most part, it's not a bad job. Things like WOLF MOON RISING, THE CRIMSON PEARL and (eventually) DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE make my job pretty easy.

Dreck like DARK SHADOWS/VAMPIRELLA, on the other hand ... well, the less said about that, the better.

I barely have enough time in the day to meet my DARK SHADOWS obligations, so I don't like wasting my time (or yours) writing about things I don't like.  It seems more practical to use this space to discuss things you might actually enjoy.

Which should be the case for TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, a series of audiodramas that have managed to stay off my radar until until this past week. A DARK SHADOWS fan by the name of Glenn McQuaid dropped me a line to compliment the website, and pointed me in the direction of the series. TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE has been in production since 2011, but somehow has eluded me. McQuaid is one of the show's "curators."

While McQuaid's name didn't ring a bell, it turns out I was familiar with his work. He directed a segment of V/H/S and the feature film I SELL THE DEAD. And I'd recently seen the show's other curator, Larry Fessenden, in JUGFACE, one of the more interesting horror movies of 2013.

But, when I sat down to give the series a spin, their names were still a mystery to me. As a blogger, creators are always trying to get my attention, and much of what they're peddling sucks. That's not to suggest they're bad people; just that the work they're doing isn't especially interesting to me. So, when I paid my first visit to the TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE website, my expectations were low.

After listening to a sample provided on the website, I decided to gamble $2.99 on an episode. I selected one of the tales written by McQuaid, put on the headphones and let the story have its way with me.

And I'm glad I did. THE TRAWLER, a tale of New England fishermen that run afoul of sea monsters, is an incredible piece of work. I'm kinda stunned by how much I loved it and frustrated by how little I can actually say about it without spoiling things. (Part of me also worries that my affection might be crossing the line into full-blown infidelity, but Big Finish Productions knows I still love them.)

THE TRAWLER is Lovecraftian in a way that doesn't draw too much attention to itself: Three fishermen abandon a failing expedition, turn the boat toward a storm and begin a search for mythical sea fare better suited for a museum than the fish market. Since this is a horror story, you can probably imagine that things don't work out in their favor.

For a story that involves only three people (and is almost entirely confined to a small fishing boat) THE TRAWLER manages to mine a great deal of dramatic tension from its cast. This isn't a story about stock characters filling airtime until meeting their inevitable demise; there's a sense of desperation about the cast from the very start. These abrasive characters also help to establish an interesting tone, balancing menace and humor in a very delicate way. While there's a sense of doom hanging over the episode, it's never oppressive.

And that's about all I can say about THE TRAWLER without spilling every bean. I'm not in the habit of doling out unqualified blowjobs in my reviews, but TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE is good stuff. If you don't enjoy it, it's a sign that you've got a character defect that needs immediate attention.

Monster Serial: THE TOXIC AVENGER, 1984


There’s a scene in the 1984 film THE TOXIC AVENGER where armed robbers bend a blind woman over the counter of a fast food restaurant with the intention of sodomizing her. “I always did wanna cornhole me a blind bitch,” one of them declares.

A few years later, someone made a Saturday morning cartoon based on this movie. Not to be outdone, Marvel Comics (now a proud property of The Walt Disney Company!) produced a comicbook inspired by THE TOXIC AVENGER. God bless America.

While the idea of a TOXIC AVENGER children’s show seems misguided, at least Marvel had some experience with this kind of story. The film’s plot is a modern archetype of superheroism, the kind of thingmarvel had been doing well since the 1960s. In short, the film concerns a bullied loser who falls into a vat of toxic waste, turns into a lumpy hulk and becomes a misunderstood vigilante. Mayhem ensues.

It's like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, only with more phlegm.
That the impulses of the movie's hero are almost always murderous doesn’t matter, because his hometown is Tromaville, N.J., a locale that makes MAD MAX look like PLEASANTVILLE. It’s a city where toxic waste is left parked in open containers in the streets, juvenile delinquents run over children for sport and the film’s criminal citizenry are as flamboyant as extras in a Michael Jackson video. Toxie, as his fans call him, is both the hero Tromaville needs, and the one it deserves.

THE TOXIC AVENGER remains the crown jewel in the scuzzy media empire of Lloyd Kaufman and Troma Entertainment. Troma was making films in the spirit of SHARKNADO and MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID years before those films’ creators were born. (At least, I presume that’s the case. Many of the directors of the modern “schlockbuster” have incomplete biographies on IMDB, which is either a result of shame or promotional inexperience.) But here’s something the creators of schlockbusters forget to include in their “so bad it’s good” formula: The “good.”

Despite what this photo suggests, Mickey Rourke is actually not in THE TOXIC AVENGER.
 What makes a Troma picture work is difficult to define. There’s a certain pandering to the audience involved, but at a level that transcends something as pedestrian as a goofy film title. Once you’ve heard the title of a film like SHARKNADO, you’ve pretty much experienced the entire film. It’s a concept that works like gangbusters on a two-dimensional movie poster, but falls flat when that third essential dimension is added for film. Schlockbusters are camp created by people who believe they’re above their own product, and delivered to an audience that shares that sentiment. If this isn’t true, then Debbie Gibson must be taking some world-class antidepressants, because her career rejuvenation would make Bela Lugosi look away in embarrassment.

Troma’s real competition has never been other studios or filmmakers. Instead, the studio is in competition with its low-minded fans, who buy their tickets with the understanding that they’re going to see something pretty goddamn disgusting. This isn’t “bottom of the barrel” entertainment; Troma is the entertainment that’s living in that cold, damp spot beneath the barrel. If Kaufman and crew can’t shock their own audience, then everybody’s time has been wasted. And that’s the secret to a good Troma film. It’s might also be the reason why the studio’s trademark brand of misanthropy ceased being interesting a long time ago: Troma simply collapsed under the weight of its own competitive aesthetic. Short of shooting an actual snuff movie, Troma had no place left to go.
This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
Buy it today on Amazon!

But, in 1984, Troma was still cranking out films that played like Wendy O. Williams’ nightmares. THE TOXIC AVENGER capitalizes on New Jersey’s less-than-stellar reputation by not only refusing to shoot the state from any of its good sides, but showcasing the dullest and grimiest areas of its location, Boonton, N.J. Curiously, Boonton’s official website makes no mention of its connection to THE TOXIC AVENGER. If you’re willing to go rooting around in the town’s historical society records, though, you’ll see the film mentioned in discussion as recently as 2013, during an explanation of the movies made in Boonton.

The public rape of a disabled woman is hardly the only reason Boonton is treating THE TOXIC AVENGER with the respect due an errant nose hair. The town’s fictional counterpart is branded with the sign “Welcome to Tromaville: Toxic Chemical Capital of the World,” which undoubtedly delighted the Boonton Chamber of Commerce. If that didn’t piss them off, here’s a brief recount of the film’s many crimes against taste:

•    A man is killed by being force-fed with a milkshake machine.
•    A dog is shot and killed.
•    A character named “Dr. Snodburger” appears and contributes nothing to the plot except for opportunity to use a name that sounds like “Dr. Snotburger.”
•    A child’s head is crushed under the wheels of a car.
•    An old lady is killed after being stuffed into an industrial-strength dryer. But she was the head of a “white slavery” ring, so that one’s OK.

Alone, these charges would be enough to earn THE TOXIC AVENGER a spot in some kind of “hall of fame,” but the film is an overachiever in every regard. THE TOXIC AVENGER is as thoroughly peppered (and maybe assaulted, haha? I’m sorry.) with groin punches, eye gouging, dismemberments and WTF? sex scenes to keep an entire movie franchise afloat. Clearly, this is sophisticated entertainment.

"What's the matter, pal? LACTOSE INTOLERANT?"
 It was the “milkshake scene” that first captured my imagination as a child. The movie garnered a tiny story in Twilight Zone Magazine that suggested its midnight movie status was waning, while also mentioning the “milkshake scene” with a quiet kind of reverence. Looking back, it’s possible the writer felt relatively safe mentioning that particular scene in the film without looking like too much of a weirdo. Bragging about your favorite scene in THE TOXIC AVENGER is a little like bragging about the best gangbang you ever took part in. If you feel compelled to mention it, it’s best to keep the details to a minimum.

(When he's not coining gangbang metaphors, Wallace McBride runs The Collinsport Historical Society.)

Friday, October 3, 2014


DARK SHADOWS fans met at the Pike Drive-In last month for a screening of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

DARK SHADOWS fans gathered in Montgomery, Pa., the weekend of Sept. 19-20 for a pair of outdoor screenings of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

The Pike Drive-In hosted a retro horror marathon which not only featured HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, but also WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS, THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE (aka DEATH WEEKEND) and DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT. It's common these days for retro screenings to rely on DVD and Blu-ray discs, but the event at the Pike managed to secure a 35mm print from Warner Brothers of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

"Each night sold over 100 tickets," said DARK SHADOWS fan Gene Caruso. "Saturday night was very busy with a line of cars arriving an hour in advance of the gates opening. When the film rolled on Saturday night you could hear the claps and screams echoing throughout the drive-in."

Members of the Facebook group Dark Shadows Lives were in attendance both nights. Caruso sent photos from the event, which you can see below.

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