Friday, October 31, 2014

What the hell is SNOWFLAKE?


That's the question a lot of people will be asking when visiting the Big Finish Productions website today. The file appeared in the company's podcast queue as a free Halloween gift to its customers. If you're one of those types who thinks anything qualifies as a potential spoiler, you might want to stop reading here.

SNOWFLAKE is a short horror tale published today without any kind of identifying markers. Fans of this site will pick up on the clues rather quickly, though. The (free!) audiodrama is set in Collinsport and should give DARK SHADOWS fans an idea of what to expect in the coming year. And that's all I'm really comfortable saying about it.

So what are you waiting for? Go get it! LINK

Daniel Collard as Victor Frost.

What's next from BIG FINISH in 2015?


It's a weird time for fans of the DARK SHADOW line of audiodramas from Big Finish. While there's been a lot of chatter about the upcoming "Bloodlust" serial, that ambitious project has created one of the longest periods between new releases in quite a while. The 13-part serial scheduled to begin in January is monopolizing the time of writers, producers and cast, leaving a six-month gap between releases.

And, after "Bloodlust," there's been no word on what to expect from the DARK SHADOWS line for the rest of 2015.

Today, though, producers have announced the titles and writers for the three stories slated to follow "Bloodlust" next year. May sees the release of "Panic" by Roy Gill. New to DARK SHADOWS, Gill has previously written for Big Finish's THE CONFESSIONS OF DORIAN GRAY, as well as his own original Young Adult novel series.

"Panic" is followed by "The Curse of Shurafa," written by Rob Morris.

And finally, in July, there's "And Red All Over..." by Cody Schell, writer of the award-nominated "Dark Shadows: The Flip Side."

“We weren't going to announce these stories until February next year,” said series co-producer Joseph Lidster. “But Big Finish said they're received a number of emails asking if the Dramatic Reading was continuing after 'Bloodlust.' We're pleased to say that it is! Full details for each of the stories will be released in February next year.”

You'll note a lack of information in this statement about which cast members are appearing in these stories. I've been privy to a tiny bit of information about next year's cast and promise you'll be excited.

"Bloodlust", the 13-part murder mystery, is available to pre-order HERE, with further casting announcements to come shortly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dan Curtis' DRACULA streaming on Hulu Plus


Dan Curtis' 1973-ish adaption of DRACULA is now streaming on Hulu Plus.

Originally scheduled to air on CBS for the Halloween season in 1973, the film was preempted by President Richard Nixon, who felt one of his inexplicable compulsions to remind the public that he was an asshole. And also that his accomplice in crime, Vice President Spiro Agnew, was resigning. The film was pushed back to the following year, and even received a theatrical release in Europe.

Originally titled BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, the story goes that Columbia struck a deal with Curtis for the exclusive rights to the title. Frankly, DAN CURTIS' DRACULA is a more apt title for the film, anyway. It's actually less faithful to the source material than Francis Ford Coppola's film.

MPI Home Video recently released a remastered version of Curtis' adaption on DVD and Blu-ray. The new release features the theatrical cut of the film, which include a few additional seconds of gore. While I haven't had time to inspect the version streaming on Hulu Plus, it's most likely the bloodier version that was screened in Europe.

I've got mixed feelings about the film. Despite a screenplay by Richard Matheson, DRACULA is a bit of a slog. It's gorgeously shot and showcases some great location work in England and Yugoslavia, but much of the cast goes to waste. The story just meanders around, occasionally stopping to shoehorn a flashback into the narrative to include scenes and plot points brazenly lifted from DARK SHADOWS. It's not a terrible film, but it's not especially good, either. You're better off watching HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, which is a nastier take on the same tale.

If you want to give it a look, you can find it on Hulu Plus HERE.

DARK SHADOWS News Bulletins


* More than a month after the death of DARK SHADOWS writer Sam Hall, his son Matthew has written a second eulogy for the man.

It was through Matthew's blog that the world learned of Sam's death, with a simple post that read: Sam Hall, March 11, 1921-September 26, 2014. A few days later he elaborated by sharing a eulogy he delivered to friends and family at a church service. This morning he posted a second eulogy for the late writer, one delivered during a recent memorial service. Here's an excerpt: 

"In that sense, my father was an entirely self-invented man. Writing was his form of self-creation; it allowed him to escape whoever that person was in Carrollton, Ohio whom he had refused to be. It allowed him to build a successful life with my mother and me in New York based entirely on writing. It allowed him, after my mother died, to become the figure of both charm and gravitas—and power, in his way he was immensely powerful—you all knew him to be in Rhinebeck. In a sense, he wrote himself into existence; his enormous writing talent—and it was prodigious, the largest talent I have ever known or ever will know—allowed him to become precisely who he wanted to be."

Read the entire piece HERE. You won't regret it.

* Speaking of Sam Hall, he makes this list of "Northeast Ohio All-Star trick-or-treat team," along with folks like Harlan Ellison, Wes Craven and David J. Skal.  LINK

* Kathryn Leigh Scott is participating in "A Murder of Authors," an online Facebook chat scheduled for Oct. 30. Kathryn will be chatting live from 3-3:30 p.m. EST, and will be giving away signed copies of her books "Dark Passages" and "Return to Collinwood." LINK

Meanwhile, Scott is also having a Halloween sale at her official website. Purchase a print copy of "Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood" for $24.95 from her during the month of October 2014 and receive a free print copy of "Dark Passages" and a signed photograph of Josette.

You can find her new Facebook author page HERE.

 

* Tim Burton's 2012 DARK SHADOWS is being featured as part of ABC Family’s “13 Nights of Halloween.” It airs Friday, Oct. 31 at 4:30 pm EST. I'm rather curious to see how ABC Family will work around the scene depicted above.


* Bloody Disgusting things you should binge watch DARK SHADOWS this Halloween. While I hate the term "binge watch," I fully endorse this proposal. LINK

* Episode #291 of DARK SHADOWS makes The A.V. Club's highlights list of "Vampire TV."  LINK

Monday, October 27, 2014

Monster Serial: SPIDER BABY, 1968


By PATRICK McCRAY

Lon Chaney Jr. and sex. 

Read your mind, didn’t I?

In fact, I could probably probe your mind while reading any essay and you’d be thinking the same thing?

Yes?  No?

Well, the two are on my mind.  At least when talking about SPIDER BABY.  I promise.  That’s it.  That’s really the only time I think of those things together.  And I don’t mean sex with Lon Chaney, Jr. or Lon Chaney, Jr. having sex.  I mean those as two different ideas.  But they both leap to mind when I think about SPIDER BABY.  Separately.

(Hey, look, I could have started the piece with a definition of California Gothic, but we’ve all been spared and I suspect you’re still reading.  And if you are, the combination lock on my Knoxville storage unit opens when you dial in “carl.”  If those reels of STAR WARS get stolen, I’ll know the book’s a success.)

Notice how this goes in all directions, but you’re still paying attention?  SPIDER BABY accomplishes the same thing.  Only much, much better.  And that’s only one of its many amazing attributes.


Thanks to a botched release and legal mumbo-jumbo, SPIDER BABY has been unseen for much of its history since it first came to the screen in 1968.  Had it found better distribution, I think its fame would be on par with PSYCHO, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and DR. STRANGELOVE.  In some ways, it combines the best of all three with a healthy dose of THE LOVED ONE thrown in for good measure.

But, like THE LOVED ONE, it remains a strange jewel, often hidden until one fan hands it down to another. 

That certainly was the case with me.  My dear friend Tobin Fields, a man infinitely smarter than I’ll ever be, with the unerring taste to prove it, worked diligently to get me to watch the movie for years.  But I found the title unappealing and was enough of a chump to think, “Lon Chaney.  So what?”

Yeah, I admit it.  Not proud, but it’s part of the narrative.  I assumed it was some grainy bore and passed.

But then I discovered Jack Hill.  COFFY.  FOXY BROWN.  THE BIG DOLL HOUSE.  THE BIG BIRD CAGE.  He amazed me as a director.  Hill is able to satisfy the most base and basic of an audience’s desires and be literate, urbane, witty, wry, and often very honestly touching.  Watch FOXY BROWN or COFFY to see what I mean.  The motivations and range of Pam Grier’s characters are as deep and as honestly written as anything Horton Foote might have conjured.  And then there’s a severed penis in a jar, too.


Having been forged in the same grindhouse furnace as his one-time (and I’ll argue inferior) contemporary, Francis Ford Coppola, Hill was fully ready to seize his first opportunity at a feature.  You would never know that it was his first.  Or that it was made with only $65,000 in twelve days.  Like all of Hill’s movies, it looks and feels much more expensive than it is.  Part of that was his training under Roger Corman.  Part of that is that Hill’s movies are always carefully constructed from the ground up to never feature anything that isn’t reasonable on a budget.  You don’t miss anything because it’s not required by the story, and because Hill’s dialog is so sharp. 

I have always said that good writing is the cheapest ignored resource in Hollywood.  You can make a smart movie that satisfies the most base and basic needs of the audience at the same time.  I know, since my tastes are largely base and basic.  Despite this, I like all of SPIDER BABY.

The story?  A ramshackle mansion in the middle of Nowhere, California has been inherited by a distant relative of the Merrye family, square-jawed, bright Peter Howe.  (God, I love the passive voice.)  This should be no problem, except that the Merrye clan has an odd problem in one strain… due to inbreeding, we’re told.  The current residents will be difficult to relocate, as Peter soon learns.  They should be ordinary college kids, but they are far from average.  Virginia, Elizabeth, and Ralphie (the latter of whom is played in a brilliant, method performance by a young Sid Haig) occupy the house under the watchful eye of their weary, nervous, and loving caretaker, Bruno, played by Lon Chaney, Jr.  All but Bruno (a hired hand) suffer from various stages of the Merrye Syndrome, which strikes in adolescence and causes mental maturity to reverse as the sufferer ages.  Oh, and it makes them psychotic cannibals, too.  Bad combination.

In short, chaos erupts!  Not only is there the looming threat of death, but of even more twisted fates, since the Merrye kids’ post-pubescent libidos are too hardwired in to evaporate.  And they sort of know it.  Dressed in weird pinafores but flirting with a sugary directness, both ladies set their eyes on Peter ... more to kill than to mate, but that seems on the agenda, as well.  Worse is Ralphie, clad in a perverse Buster Brown outfit, zooming around the house in a dumbwaiter, and moving like the lovechild of a chimpanzee and a crab, and leering at Carol Ohmart.  Ohmart sashays about in an amazing corset-and-stockings ensemble that’s shocking in a 1964 film and has the same impact today.  It’s as if Elmer Batters had taken over the costuming and provided the sort of outfit that men point out to girlfriends as sexy before they pick out flannel jammies, instead.



Back to SPIDER BABY.  Bruno, knowing that his situation with the children has been exposed and that authorities will be contacted, demolishes the kids, himself, and the house in a — you guessed it — BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN moment of, “We belong dead.”  Unlike Karloff’s heartbroken plea, Chaney’s moment at the plunger has an almost impish shrug.  One more game for the kids?

I had never been a big fan of Lon Chaney.  He was miscast in almost everything Universal did.  Even as Frankenstein’s monster, he seemed suspiciously plump.  This got even worse when he played the Mummy.  Those are some incredibly robust reanimated corpses.  As the son of Claude Rains?  Even stranger.  Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN?  That’s more like it.  And just as Hill wrote to make his budget look great, he also wrote in the same way for his actors.  In SPIDER BABY, Chaney’s sweaty, gruff, gentle American everyman is the perfect core of humanity for the rest of the characters to spin around.  Half are insane.  The other half are bewildered.  And Chaney’s in the middle, trying to keep everyone on his best behavior. 
This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 
Buy it today on Amazon!

The greatest and most unexpected element to the character of Bruno is his enormously loving heart.  Despite their madness, Bruno not only loves them, but please for them to love each other.  It’s his ardent belief, I sense, that their capacity for love might ultimately outweigh their capacity for murder.  When he learns that this will never be the case, he does the only loving thing that he can; he saves them from themselves, atones for his naiveté, and protects others from them as well.  His smile and shrug at the end?  It says all of those things.  And more. 

It is impossible not to see the classic monsters — even well-cast — as anything other than friends.  They speak to the outcast in all of us.  Despite the wonky casting early on, that awkwardness saves Chaney’s Universal outings from disaster and makes them strangely endearing.  In SPIDER BABY, he goes out as the ultimate outcast, and the wise uncle to us all.  There is a lot of wry humor in SPIDER BABY.

Hilarious moments.  Those are swell.  But it’s the sense of empathy and affection that I remember best.  It grows every time I watch it.  This is Jack Hill’s love letter to Lon Chaney as much as it is anything else.  When a movie has enough wild elements, we can forget that it’s the sense of heart that makes them truly memorable.  Beyond anything else, SPIDER BABY has heart.  Even if the main characters eat it from time to time.

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.

DARK SHADOWS in 9:16




A few weeks back, artist Nick Acosta built composite images to illustrate how the original STAR TREK series might have looked in Cinerama. The results were gorgeous and immediately had me thinking about DARK SHADOWS.

So, using a selection screencaps from various DARK SHADOWS DVDs, I set about trying to recreate the experiment in Collinsport. Instead of aiming for Cinerama dimensions, I opted for the more modest 16:9 of modern television screens. The idea wasn’t to take an existing image and crop it to fit; the images you see above are composites of panning shots. As the camera moved, I took screenshots of the scene, piecing them together in Photoshop to make one image.

Some of these images turned out a bit kooky. The photography of DARK SHADOWS had a tendency to follow a specific actor throughout a shot, giving me a lot to work with. The images at the bottom show how long  sweeping these shots could sometimes be, with the same actor sometimes appearing more than once in a single composite.

STAR TREK was shot on film and has been lovingly (if controversially) restored in HD. DARK SHADOWS is not so lucky. Shot on video tape, it’s unlikely there will ever be a technology that will allow DARK SHADOWS to make a genuine leap to high definition. As it stands, the show's picture is inherently soft and blurry and will never look as good as STAR TREK.

So, here they are for your enjoyment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the results.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS #TCMParty Hangover


If you were asleep during the wee hours of the morning, you missed out on a fun dialogue that took place on Twitter during the Turner Classic Movies broadcast of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS. The film aired this morning at 2 a.m., and the #TCMParty gathered on Twitter to share their thoughts on the film.

A few of us (cough cough) actually gathered at 2 a.m. the previous morning, though, thanks to the confusing scheduling format of TCM's website. Even though the film has long been slated to air at 2 a.m. Oct. 23, TCM counts the early morning hours as part of the previous day's cycle. In other words: 2 a.m. Oct. 23 is actually 2 a.m. Oct. 24. Patrick McCray and I found this out the hard way on Thursday morning. We spent about half an hour chatting about NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, while the regularly scheduled #TCMParty was discussing John Carpenter's THE FOG. Oops

When the film began at it's allotted (if cryptic) time this morning, though, fans turned out in solid numbers, despite the punishing viewing hour. It was my first of these kind of "live" events and I had a blast. Below are some of the highlights from the NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS #TCMParty.














Marie Wallace, Jerry Lacy return for DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST


Big Finish has added two more original DARK SHADOWS cast members to the upcoming serial, BLOODLUST.

Jerry Lacy and Marie Wallace
Marie Wallace is reprising her role as landlady Jessica Griffin. Jessica arrived in Collinsport in "Kingdom of the Dead" to support her son after his wife's death.

“Ed’s wife, Susan, died,” says co-producer Joseph Lidster, “so he’s a broken man. Luckily, his mother, Jessica, has returned to Collinsport to run the Blue Whale. Jessica's the town gossip - she knows everything about everyone. Or so she thinks…”

Dark Shadows veteran, Jerry Lacy, is also returning, reprising his role as the Reverend Isaiah Trask.

“Trask is a defeated man,” says co-producer David Darlington. “He’s lost his faith, and is often to be found propping up the bar in the Blue Whale. But where does he go at night ...?”

Could Jessica's gossip make her a target for the killer? Could Isaiah be meting out justice on those he believes to be sinners?

You can hear Jessica and Isaiah introducing themselves here, and they've been added to the extensive cast gallery here.

Dark Shadows: Bloodlust is a 13-part miniseries released in January and February 2015. It's available to pre-order here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gab with us about NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS


In just a few hours, Turner Classic Movies will be airing 1971's NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS. It's possibly the first time the film has ever aired on TCM, and there's a group of us braving the wee hours of the morning to "Live Tweet" the event. The film airs at 2 a.m. the morning of Oct. 24, and I hope you'll join us.

Believe it or not, this is the first time I've tried to participate in this kind of thing. It's courtesy of TCM Party, who you can find on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TCM_Party. If you take part in this morning's chat, make sure to mark your tweets with #TCMParty, otherwise your thoughts will be lost to the ether. It's possible some of this morning's participants have never seen the film, while others are veterans of the controversial film. NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS has not only drawn the ire of Dark Shadows Fundamentalists, but of critics like Roger Ebert, who took serious issue with it's nihilistic tone. Worse, NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS was famously butchered at the 11th hour for no other reason than to reduce its running time, making for an occasionally confusing narrative. Still, the film has its defenders, and even its most ardent opponents have to admit NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is a visionary piece of cinema despite its flaws.

Meanwhile, don't forget to follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CousinBarnabas. I anticipate posting a summary of the mornings Twitter dialogue tomorrow, but don't let that be a reason to go to bed early.

Join the DARK SHADOWS VAMPIRE CLUB!



I missed out on the chance to take part in the original DARK SHADOWS craze of the 1960s, thanks to not having been born yet. But why let a little thing like the absence of corporeal form and temporal desynchronizing get in the way of a good time?

With that in mind, I present to you these vintage DARK SHADOWS VAMPIRE CLUB membership documents.  These are high-resolution reproductions of the original fanclub keepsakes from the 1960s, and should print smoothly.

Included in the ZIP file are:
  • The DARK SHADOWS VAMPIRE CLUB membership certificate
  • A DARK SHADOWS VAMPIRE CLUB ID card
  • Two pieces of "Ghoul Pad" DARK SHADOWS stationary
  • A Barnabas Collins "Ghoul Mark," used to keep your place in books
All this for the low low price of absolutely nothing.

Print them! Sign them! Share them!

Click HERE to download them

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

DARK SHADOWS cast members star in MADAME LaSOEUR



A new film from Ansel Faraj is now streaming for free on Youtube.

MADAME LaSOEUR is a short featuring original DARK SHADOWS cast members Jerry Lacy, Christopher Pennock, Lara Parker and Lisa Richards. Set during the 1960s, the film follows the investigation of Dr. Henry Markway (Lacy), who is searching for a man who disappeared during a séance conducted by spiritualist Madame LeSoeur.

Faraj has a number of films streaming at the official Youtube channel of Hollinsworth Productions. You can find the company online at www.hollinsworthproductions.com.

Monday, October 20, 2014

DARK SHADOWS reunion to take place at Epic-Con


Five original cast members from DARK SHADOWS are scheduled to attend the second annual Epic-Con Ohio: Geek Fest this weekend.

Set to appear are Jerry Lacy, Sharon Sharon Lentz, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Marie Wallace. Epic-Con Ohio takes place Oct. 24-26  at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Dayton, Ohio.

The event will be donating $5 from each ticket to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.


Click HERE for more details.

DARK SHADOWS is Amazon's Deal of the Week



If you follow us on Facebook, you know we keep track of the fluctuating price of DARK SHADOWS: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL SERIES on Amazon. For the last few months, the series has been hovering around the $350 mark ... expensive, but still significantly cheaper than the $600 retail price that originally accompanied it.

The collection has been know to drop below the $300 threshold from time to time and is dropping again this week, just in time for Halloween: Amazon currently has the set on sale for $267.49.

Here's what you get:
  • 131 DVDs with all 1,225 Complete Episodes
  • Commemorative large coffin package housing 22 amarays
  • Deluxe booklet with episode summaries & photographs
  • Special Bloopers, Treasures & Behind The Scenes DVDs
  • Over 120 Bonus Cast & Crew Video Interviews
  • Other features include nickel hinges, matte/foil coating
  • Box dimensions: (Coffin), 13 ½ L x 11 ¼ W (at widest) x 5 ¾ D.
  • Weight: Shipping carton with contents – 15.5lbs
Click HERE to visit the Amazon sales listing.

Monster Serial: THE THING, 1982


By PATRICK McCRAY

One of the many elements I like about THE THING is its happy ending.  Yeah, they’re going to die, but what were their lives, anyway?  They were up there for a reason.  See, from what I can tell, MacReady and Childs are still human, because The Thing would have manifested itself.  And they both innately trust each other or else they wouldn’t be drinking out of the same bottle.  If they were Things, they’d just make wacky sounds at each other.  So, enjoy that terrible brand of scotch, boys.  Mission accomplished. 

I know there’s an alternate ending on a Navy submarine that’s rescued MacReady, and I really wish that John Carpenter had buckled to studio pressure and released that ending. 

The reason is that a good Carpenter ending lives somewhere between ambiguity and a total certainty that the worst outcome possible is about to happen.  His approach is brilliant that way because it lets the filmgoing process keep happening.  In an age when limp sequels were not yet the rule, this would have set up the most exciting tension possible; The Thing gets loose on the boat.  Unlike the research station, that vehicle would actually have a heading. 

I digress. 

But digressing is the point.  Fewer films in the horror genre mean so many things to so many different people.  Ironic, the creature itself is formless, morphing and surviving as a situation demands.  Similarly, the film containing it is almost kaleidoscopic in the shifting mysteries it presents.  I watch it two or three times a year with different groups, and it never gets old — and I never get the same message or feeling from it twice.  Sometimes, it’s the ultimate lament about Dealing With Women.  Sometimes it’s about the necessity of trust when we’re old enough to know better.

"Diabetus."
The last THING-oriented essay that I just couldn’t finish was all about the the fact that this movie was the last bastion for sensitive, post-feminist men to talk about their fears, anger and anxieties regarding the honeys.  But that only went so far.  When the first MONSTER SERIAL came out and I saw the words “morbid love letters” regarding horror movies, I immediately realized what a wrong turn I’d made at Albuquerque regarding the essay.

If you haven’t seen the film, the members of an Antarctic research station happen upon the ruins of a station from Norway where the staff has been subjected to unspeakably surreal and dysmorphic carnage.  Upon return to their own camp, they realize that an infectious, shape-shifting alien has begun to consume and duplicate their ranks.  The film then becomes a game of chess and poker as the heroes try to suss out good from bad, not knowing whether they, themselves, are duplicates. 
So these are significant elements that I love about THE THING.

For one thing, it was part of that astounding summer of 1982 that has been written about in volume one.  The infuriating part of that summer is that all of the great films that were being released got over shadowed by the obvious, unfunny and saccharine E.T.  THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL.


 (I’m so much happier when people associate Mary Hart’s gams with the initials “E.T.” rather than that misshapen dwarf with the creepy finger.  I wonder where Mary Hart is now.  I don’t mean in her career.  I mean, right now.  I’m writing this in a lonely basement in Louisville after cleaning out family mementos from a storage unit.  It’s been a tough weekend.  Where is Mary Hart?  What of her legs?  Maybe she’s shaving them.  Or waxing them.  Or walking through a swanky restaurant, with her legs making a swish-swish sound as they brush together in nylons woven with a shiny hint of lycra.  As much as I love THE THING, I may love this image even more.  I’m just going to pour a drink and think about that.  I need it.  It’s been a difficult day.  Hang on.)

Okay, I’m back.

Talk about the finger.  THE THING is John Carpenter’s ultimate bird to that love piddling homunculus leering at Henry Thomas and his sister.  It’s a manly film.  It’s the film that Elliot would have preferred watching to E.T. during a “sick day.”  How’s that for irony?
 

 For seasoned fans of THE THING, there is not only a sense of triumph in how well it has aged, but in how engaging and complex it remains.  Upon the second viewing —and for the many viewings after that — it’s impossible not to play “Who’s-infected-when?”  I can think of no other film that so rigorously engages the audience in the storytelling process without alienating them and/or making them feel dumb.  This last time I watched it, I was struck by a new, key mystery: do MacReady, Copper, and Norris go into the spaceship?  The Thing clearly came out a big hole — look at the size of the ice block it was in.  So, they could probably go in.  Wouldn’t you go in?  Wouldn’t you go back to the base and yell, “Hey guys, we found these gross bodies, but even cooler is a GIANT SPACESHIP IN THE ICE!  You gotta come see!”

These are men starved for entertainment.  There is no such thing as common sense in such a gathering.  And they’re scientists.  (What are they studying?  It’s never clear.  Their lines, I guess.)  Of course they’d go in.  But do they?  No.  Why?  The more I think about it, the more that becomes the central mystery of the film.  Unless ...


Now, Norris is a Thing pretty early on.  The film sets this up because we see the creepy dog walk into a shadowy someone’s quarters, and the only two men that curvaceous in silhouette are Norris and Wilford Brimley.  But it can’t be Wilford Brimley.  He’s more of an apple in the fat department, and the shadow we see is more of a pear.  That means it’s got to be Norris.  So, what if Norris went into the spaceship and got infected?  Maybe he infects the dog?  Maybe the dog is innocent.  I was raised to assume that any dog being shot at by Ibsen-crazed Norwegians in a helicopter must be infected with alien spores, but what if my parents were wrong?  Were they naive or just lying to me?  It doesn’t matter.  The dog may have been innocent the whole time.  Your honor, my client would like to change his plea.
This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 
Buy it today on Amazon!

See, this is what contemplating THE THING will do to you.  CLOVERFIELD can kiss my ass.  That’s not Lovecraftian.  This is Lovecraftian.  Lovecraft fans (and why didn’t we ever have an adult film star named “Linda Lovecraft”?) always talk about how you “go mad just by seeing these creatures.”  Hogwash.  You go mad by trying to figure out what the hell’s going on to whom and when in THE THING.

That’s the beauty of it.  These guys are in totally over their heads, but they never lose theirs.  In fact, like me while succumbing to an attack of nausea, the worse things get, the funnier they get.  The film has two great laugh lines that I won’t share.  But they’re maybe the funniest moments in all of 1982 cinema that are not in a film called VICTOR/VICTORIA.  Or TRON. 

Have I sold you on this film?  Do I care?  If you miss it, you’ll miss out on a film that is dark and bleak, but never depressing.  Humanity just keeps slugging away.  It remains unvanquished by arguably the greatest chess player of a movie monster ever not-entirely-seen.  If you haven’t yet seen it, I envy you.  If you have seen it, go watch it again.  It is an entirely different film than you thought it was.  And it will have that same quality each time you watch it.  That is an artistic response in full accord with the film that inspires it. 

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.

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.

Thoughts?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monster Serial: THE RAVEN, 1963


By PATRICK McCRAY

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 
horror essays written by contributors to 
THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 
Buy it today on Amazon!

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!
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