Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Joan Bennett in STAGE DOOR, 1937

As an actress, Joan Bennett's calling was always the silver screen.

Her career was almost inevitable. The daughter of Richard Bennett, a world famous star of the "legitimate theatre," Joan's mother Adrienne Morrison and sisters Constance and Barbara were also actors. Unlike her father, though, Joan never had much interest in live theater. At the age of 18 she appeared on stage with her father in JARNEGAN, which ran for more than 130 performances on Broadway. Despite that success, though, almost a decade would pass before she'd agree to appear in another live stage production.

The opportunity presented itself with STAGE DOOR, a collaboration between Algonquin Round Table members George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. The early history of the play was turbulent: STAGE DOOR opened in 1936 and made headlines when actress Margaret Sullivan "deserted Hollywood" to take a lead role in the Manhattan production. It abruptly closed 22 weeks later when Sullivan became pregnant.

RKO Pictures then bought the screen rights to the film for $125,000 and cast Kathryn Hepburn and Ginger Rogers as the leads. By the end of 1937, STAGE DOOR was revived for the stage as a traveling production for Joan Bennett.

The offer to star in STAGE DOOR arrived shortly after Bennett's divorce from screenwriter Gene Markey. In her memoirs "The Bennett Playbill," Bennett said she accepted the role because it offered her a temporary escape from Hollywood. She soon found out there was no escape from the press, though. A young, attractive celebrity has a way of drawing attention without distinction, which earned her some occasionally creepy headlines. In October, 1937, The Harvard Crimson published a stalker-esque news brief about a sighting of the actress:
Star of "Stage Door" Was Traced Surreptitiously to Copley Hotel
October 25, 1937 
A wandering gentleman-in-the-making took his girl slumming in the Ritz Saturday night only to have her spot Miss Joan Bennett standing on the stairway resplendent in white fox. Miss Bennett, accompanied by a friend entered a cab and swirled off down Arlington Street pursued by the slummers in their own car. The quarry alighted at the Copley.

Knowing her whereabouts on lonely evenings, any red-blooded Freshman may now avail himself of this information.

"It sacred me half to death," Bennett wrote, "but I loved every minute of it. For me, there was another important factor, a factor that most Hollywood actors had to cope with, and that was the strong desire to make good on a medium from what they've been absent for a long time or had never tried."

Bennett joined the touring company two weeks before opening in Hartford, Connecticut. The tour lasted six months, with the final four weeks spent in Chicago. "The management asked me to extend the run, but there were some professional and personal reasons that called me home," Bennett wrote.

Terrific SEIZURE fan art by Stephen Romano

Just when you thought there was nothing left to say about SEIZURE, along comes Stephen Romano with this amazing custom poster for the film. Here's what he's got to say about how Oliver Stone's 1974 directorial debut influenced the design of the poster:
The poster you see ... is based on Oliver Stone’s original vision. It is created, obviously, in the style of 70s Amicus and Hammer films, though the lower-budget Queen was far more visionary. The elaborate portrait approach allowed me to really present the souls of the characters — and the soul of the film itself. Compared to other freshman moviemaking efforts such as Night of the Living Dead and Halloween, Ollie’s maiden voyage is something of a unique marvel: creepy, uncompromising “intellectual horror” on a shoestring. Seek it out. It’s truly worth the effort.
You can read more of Romano's thoughts on SEIZURE at Dread Central. And click on the image above to download a full-sized version of the poster, suitable for printing.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Trust No One (except maybe Netflix)

Netflix has quietly been providing all the excuse you need to revisit THE X-FILES.

The on-demand Internet streaming media service has most of the first season of the show now streaming in HD, re-formatted in a way that doesn't appear to damage the show's original photography.

"This is a respectful, near-flawless remastering, with Fox returning to original, widescreen source materials for the first time since the initial broadcast," writes Will McKinley, commissioner of the #AspectRatioPolice. "Episodes that have looked soft and washed out in TV reruns for years now look sharp and (appropriately) bright, with a fresh, more-cinematic patina."

Will has an excellent piece over at his website, cinematically insane, that discusses the pros and cons of retrofitting classic television shows for HD presentations. You should read it.


"In the Twinkling of an Eye" cast Alexandra Donnachie and Ryan Wichert, and writer Penelope Faith.
If you haven't listened to DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST yet, let me go ahead and spoil something for you: Marie Wallace turns in a terrific performance as Blue Whale proprietor Jessica Griffin. It's her easily her most low-key DARK SHADOWS performance, but still managed to be one of the tale's most likable (and relatable) characters.

Wallace (and Jessica Griffin) will return this year in the upcoming DARK SHADOWS audiodrama "In the Twinkling of an Eye."

Here's the official synopsis from Big Finish:
Fully recovered from her hospital stay and back behind the bar of The Blue Whale, Jessica Griffin welcomes Nate, a stranger in town claiming to be ‘just passing through’.

But how come he knows so much about her and why is he so keen to lure her back to the house she hasn't set foot in since the death of her husband?

And he really is so very familiar…

In the photo at the top, actor Ryan Wichert is holding a copy of Wallace's memoirs, "On Stage and In Shadows," which features introductions by Ruth Buzzi and Jonathan Frid. If you haven't read it, you really should.

"In the Twinkling of an Eye" is among six new DARK SHADOWS audiodramas slated for release in 2015. The list of titles include "Panic," "The Curse of Shurafa," "Deliver Us From Evil," "And Red All Over," and "Tainted Love," which are all available for pre-order from Big Finish.


Selby and Sullivan on FALCON CREST.
Big Finish has released a free preview to its upcoming DARK SHADOWS episode, "Panic," which is due out in a few short weeks. The story sees Quentin Collins (David Selby) telling his great-great grandson Tom (Michael Shon) about how he came to be married to Doctor Lela Quick. The story is written by novelist Roy Gill and features Selby's FALCON CREST co-star Susan Sullivan.

The cast also includes John Askew, plus DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST alumni Alexandra Donnachie and Daniel Collard.

"Panic" is available for pre-order from Big Finish HERE.

Friday, April 24, 2015



Of all the classic monster archetypes, the one most dependent on the forms of belief is the vampire. Belief or disbelief in the creature’s existence is often pivotal to the plot, there is a realignment of each victim’s faith and allegiance after each new seductive attack, and the fiend suffers from its vulnerability to the religious iconography of the crucifix when backed up by strong conviction.  While, for example, the Frankenstein monster or the Black Lagoon’s creature just attack victims and are defeated in straightforward fashion, vampire movies usually deal with the interplay of credence and conviction. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in 1968’s DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, the third film in the Hammer series starring Christopher Lee.

The story begins with a flashback sequence set during the notorious count’s previous reign of terror in 1966’s Dracula - Prince of Darkness, which ended with the undead being’s plunge into the icy waters outside his castle. A young altar boy rides up to his village church one morning and discovers blood covering the bell pull as he attempts to sound the call for mass. The priest then visits the belfry and discovers a murdered young woman hanging upside down within the mouth of the bell, her life fluids draining and dripping down the rope. “Dear God!” he exclaims, “When shall we be free of his evil?”

In the narrative’s present day, one year later, the same priest says mass before his altar boy in an otherwise empty church, then quickly adjourns to the nearest inn to start drinking. The behavior of the landlord and villagers in the room indicate the priest’s morning visit and the early start to his imbibing are by no means unusual. Times are hard for the local parish. The events last year left their place of worship desecrated and the villagers are reluctant to enter. The deserted church sits metaphorically and literally in the shadow of Dracula’s mountaintop castle and the evil it represents.

The solid and curly mutton-chopped actor Rupert Davies arrives. He plays a travelling monsignor, the priest’s denominational superior, who quickly assesses the situation and chastises the man for his inaction. Now that Dracula is vanquished, why hasn’t the priest exorcised and spiritually cleansed both the church and the castle? The answer, we can plainly see, is that the man is paralyzed with terror of the supernatural evil. He is quaking in his cassock, shaking in his vestments. His frailty and fragility are character flaws which becomes integral as the tale unfolds.

“There is no evil in the house of God!” The monsignor insists sternly, before taking his cleric aside.

“You can’t imagine what it’s like,” the priest insists, pleading with his eyes.

Clearly there are different gradations of belief operational here. The older man’s clarity, moral strength and the forceful impregnability of his faith far outstrip the poor priest’s.

The monsignor orders his subordinate to meet him the next morning a half hour before dawn to begin what will be a daylong trek to the castle. Although it’s near enough to cast a shadow—and even though it’s accessible by horse and cart both in previous films and at the end of this movie—they must inexplicably journey all day through the fog-shrouded forest and climb the rocky mountain on foot to reach it. This is as much a symbolic journey as a physical one. The pilgrims must progress. The monsignor carries the church’s huge golden Gothic cross strapped to his back like a knapsack. The priest, out of shape from his year of depressed inactivity and drunkenness, can’t keep up with his superior even though the man appears 30 years older and as many pounds heavier. As sunset nears the cleric cannot go on. The monsignor takes pity on his weakness and continues up to the castle without him. As soon as he is out of sight, the priest pulls out a bottle and resumes his drinking.

Good use is made of echo as the monsignor stands at the castle door and begins chanting his Latin exorcism. Dark clouds roll in and lightning fills the sky. The priest, somewhere down the side of the precipice, is scared by the cosmic forces at work and starts to flee. He trips and tumbles down the mountainside, knocking himself out and cutting open his forehead. He lands atop an ice-covered stream, his impact cracking the surface and exposing the body of Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula. As the winds pick up and the monsignor attaches the giant golden crucifix to the castle door, far below the blood trickles from the priest’s forehead directly into the mouth of the hibernating vampire. Its lips start to move as it swallows.

Exorcism over, the monsignor descends and returns to the village. The count, meanwhile, has woken up and towers behind the priest as he regains consciousness. Oddly, the cleric first glimpses the vampire standing behind him by seeing its reflection in the water. This is an odd gaffe, since the undead cannot traditionally be seen in reflections.

Dracula discovers his castle has now been reverse-desecrated with a huge gleaming cross attached to the front door. He demands the priest, whose weak will he easily enslaves, tell him who perpetrated this atrocity. The vampire learns it was the monsignor and vows revenge.

 All of this, which transpires during the first 22 minutes of the film, is merely the setup. When the monsignor returns home to the township of Kleinenberg, the other main characters are introduced. His household consists of his dead brother’s wife Anna and his niece Maria (Veronica Carlson), a twentyish blonde with obvious endowments whose appearance virtually screams “Hammer Film vixen” from the moment we see her. It is through seeking to destroy her purity that the vampire will pursue his revenge on the monsignor.

Maria is in love with Paul, a young scholar played by Barry Andrews, who resembles The Who’s Roger Daltrey enough to make viewers uncomfortable. When we first see him he is dressed in his finest suit to have dinner at Maria’s and meet her mother for the first time (he doesn’t know that her uncle the monsignor has arrived back home yet). He foolishly allows himself be talked into playing a college boys’ bar game, where a tall glass of frothy ale is balanced on the handle of a broomstick so that the top of the glass touches the cafe’s dirty ceiling beam—because beer presumably tastes better with wood splinters and dust. The person clutching the handle must turn in circles and drink their own ale at the same time.  The inevitable happens and Paul spills the fragrant brew all over his suit. He has no time to change, so he ends up going to Maria’s birthday dinner this way.

Both this slapstick and the comic interactions with his irascible but paternal boss Max fall flat, but the beer dousing and resultant aroma do contribute to the young man’s uneasiness as he unexpectedly meets Maria’s prim and proper uncle for the first time and their worldviews collide. Paul is a second class pastry cook but a pragmatic scholar, and while the year the film takes place is never specified (although the date on the coffin Dracula steals is 1905), in the real world it is 1968—two years after Time magazine’s cover notoriously asked if God was dead. The youth is a fervent atheist, and Monsignor Ernst by nature and profession most assuredly is not. Paul is, however, a young man of noble and admirable character. We know this because in John Elder’s script he helpfully describes himself as “young, hard-working, good-looking (and) abstemious” in a conversation with his boss.
“What I don’t understand is what you hope to get out of those books of yours,” Max grouches amiably.

“What life’s about, something of The Truth,” Paul replies. He may not be on a magic bus, but we can call this Daltrey lookalike The Seeker.

The dinner party with the monsignor starts off pleasantly enough. The young man’s earnest manner impresses Ernst, who proclaims “Not enough people say what they really mean these days. Many people speak only to impress, not stopping to think if what they say is really true.”

When he is queried as to which church he goes to, Maria quickly tries to make excuses. She says he is very busy with his baking and studying. Paul, not carrying if people will try to put him d-d-down, will have none of it. He is forthright. The truth will set him free. “I don’t go to church, sir.”

He’s not trying to cause a b-b-big  s-s-sensation, but Ernst reacts with horror. “You’re not a Protestant, are you?”

No such luck. “I’m an atheist, sir,” says Paul.

“You mean you deny the existence of God?” The Monsignor is stunned.

“I don’t deny it. I just don’t believe it. It’s my own opinion, sir.” Paul replies, revealing both his heartfelt conviction and that he may not have taken a class in Logic just yet.

He offers to leave and the mother, Anna, understandably says that might be best. She doesn’t mention it, but we know this is Ernst’s first night back after a long trip hiking up and down mountains, exorcising the home of a vampire, etc. Putting a stake through an atheist may be his next instinctual act. Better he gets more rest and settles down.

Paul lives upstairs in Max’s cafe, where he also does his baking and beer balancing. He goes home from Maria’s and gets drunk. He’s completely frustrated, having simply spoken with honesty and still coming into conflict with not only the monsignor’s beliefs, but his very profession. Using the interconnected rooftops of Kleinenberg as a private highway, Maria visits him to make amends for her uncle’s reaction and see that he’s okay. Supposed hilarity ensues as she and the barmaid with a heart of gold (talk about archetypes!) help him into bed. “What have you done with my legs?” Wah wah.

The rooftops see a lot of traffic. Not only do characters use them to commute back and forth, but there is also a memorable chase and confrontation a reel or two later as the monsignor interrupts an attack by Dracula and pursues him. This is a very symbolic film, and the action operates on several planes, both physical and spiritual. All through the story the local residents of Kleinenberg have no idea anything supernatural is going on. The only people Dracula’s presence affects are those who work at the inn and those living at the monsignor’s house. As far as the rest of town is concerned, nothing out of the ordinary takes place. The great spiritual and demonic contest takes place beyond their awareness, at a different level. It might just as well be a normal Tuesday.

In brisk succession, Dracula and his corrupted priest arrive in town, the vampire bites and enslaves the kindly barmaid, and through her influence the priest rents a room at the inn and stashes the master’s coffin/bunk deep in the basement in a huge unused larder. Director Freddie Francis keeps things moving along at a rapid pace, and the action never slows down during the 92 minute film.

Although the barmaid is vampified and destroyed, Maria is only bitten once, in her own bed. The director manages a nice touch as she grabs the arm of her doll during the bite, but shoves it away a moment later before it ends—effectively pushing away her innocence. The monsignor later examines her neck and immediately realizes what is happening. He delves into his books to find out what must be done to thwart his undead foe. After interrupting the creature’s second attack he chases him across the rooftops and is waylaid by the priest. “You!” he exclaims, as the man strikes him down with a heavy object.

After crawling along the gables and awnings to get home, the monsignor has no strength left. Maria’s mother Anna helps him over the railing and back into the house, but it is clear he is dying. He entreats Anna to fetch Paul. She is amazed. Paul? The atheist? Yes, Paul. He obviously cares for Maria and may be her one best hope for protection.

Paul comes round at once. Unexpectedly and impulsively, he brings along the inn’s lodger—the enslaved priest who happens to be the enemy’s manservant. Monsignor Ernst tells Paul that Maria is being stalked by a vampire. Paul accepts this truth with a perfectly straight face. These books of the monsignor’s will tell him what to do, but he should swear in the name of the Lord that he will protect her. Paul cannot do this. His atheism again gets in the way. Instead, he says he will give his word. Ernst realizes that will have to be enough. Regardless of the disparity in their worldviews, the men are united in their love for Maria. The old man looks up, catches sight of the priest who attacked him standing in the room, and dies before he can utter a recrimination or warning.

Drafting the priest to help him by translating the Latin books aloud, Paul spreads garlic around doorframes and does the traditional things to ward off vampiric attack. It is not clear why the priest goes along with this at first, since he’s still under the power of Dracula. Surely he would not willingly aid in putting these talismans in place to ward him off. It is the first sign that the priest may be experiencing his own spiritual struggle. He knows helping perpetuate the evil is wrong, yet his will is so weak he cannot resist for long. This becomes apparent when he slugs Paul from behind and tries to remove the protective cross from Maria’s chest.

Only stunned, Paul wakes in time to stop him. He realizes the priest has been dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight, to employ a Jokerism. “What are you trying to do?...You, a priest!” He forces the weak willed man to take him to Dracula’s lair. Paul successfully plunges a large stake into the sleeping vampire’s chest, but it doesn’t kill him. “Pray! You must pray!” the priest exclaims. Belief, more than in any other film, is here essential to kill the monster. Paul still cannot do this. All he has effectively done is awoken his enemy. Dracula pulls out the stake and flees, dodging a shovelful of flaming coals from the bakery oven.

A nightgowned Maria seeks out Dracula on the rooftop. The priest takes her and the sleeping vampire by cart to his homeland. While the priest drives, the entranced Maria is in back literally fondling the coffin—another unusual but effective choice by the director. These touches combine to depict the moral corruption the creature’s power has. After it awakes they have to walk some distance through the woods and hills, and Maria’s bare feet are clearly cut up by the terrain, but they obviously ascend to the castle in considerably less time than it took the monsignor and the priest earlier in the film. The hours of night are shorter and no representational purpose will be achieved by drawing out the journey this time.

The vampire has Maria remove the giant golden crucifix from the castle door and hurl it over the stone railing. It lands upright far below between the rocks. Now its revenge is absolutely complete. Not only is the monsignor dead, but his beautiful niece is completely under its power and has restored its ability to enter the property. Dracula — and by extension evil — has triumphed.
This essay is one of dozens featured in our new
book, "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial."

Yet Paul is a man of his word. He vowed to protect Maria and has followed them from Kleinenberg. He shields Maria from the undead monster and Dracula grabs him. Together they tumble over the rampart, Paul grabbing a tree branch to save himself but his opponent falling squarely on the upper arm of the golden cross below. It pierces his back, protruding out of his chest. This may be the most memorable image of any Hammer Dracula film, as the impaled vampire struggles helplessly, blood dripping from his eyes.

The priest, in the same echo-enriched voice the monsignor used earlier to exorcise the castle, prays to the heavens in Latin and Dracula is destroyed. With yet another memorable visual flourish, director Francis shows us his cloak lying at the foot of the cross — a reverse evil image that might resonate with those who know what the centurions gambled over thousands of years ago. The cleric has found the strength to do what is right. Finally his faith has triumphed over his enslaved will. At last he has done what the monsignor asked him to do at the beginning of the film.

Paul witnesses all of this. Maria is free. As these two people bearing biblical names stand holding one another after evil has been vanquished, Paul can no longer doubt the spiritual reality of unseen powers. He now believes. This former atheist makes the sign of the cross and the film ends.

Peter Cushing, who often starred alongside Christopher Lee as Professor Van Helsing, found Hammer Films—for all their colorful gore and graphic evil—to be intensely moral. This resonated with his personal faith, and explained why he continued to make movies about monstrous events.

“It’s not His will that has caused disasters throughout the ages, but man’s disobedience and disregard. But he knows the human race will eventually learn what is right and what is wrong, suffering in the process,” Cushing said in the pages of Famous Monsters magazine. “Faith will sustain us during that journey...if we will let it.”

This is the key to his portrayal of Van Helsing, and indeed supplies the underlying message behind most Hammer horror tales. The filmmakers seem to suggest an ultimate good which shall emerge triumphant over evil — provided the protagonists display certitude and resolution.

The vampire is more dependent on, and vulnerable to, belief than any other cinematic monster. As this film tells us, and so memorably depicts, its evil can hardly be defeated without it. 

Belief — and vigilance, lest evil return.

FRANK JAY GRUBER In addition to his freelance writing and editing gigs, Frank Jay Gruber teaches literature, composition and online course development at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. He sometimes covers New York and Philadelphia area events for TrekMovie.com, appears on convention panels and writes for genre websites like The Collinsport Historical Society. CNN interviewed him about Star Trek in his collectible-covered lair and consulted him about Dark Shadows after Jonathan Frid’s death in 2012. You can read his extremely infrequent musings at TheWearyProfessor.com and follow him on Twitter @FrankJayGruber.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Read the first two chapters of Clive Barker's SCARLET GOSPELS

It's been a while since I checked in with Clive Barker. He was one of those authors I adored as a teen, but our sensibilities gradually drifted apart over the years.His upcoming novel promises a return to his roots, though. THE SCARLET GOSPELS pits Barker's paranormal investigator Harry D'Amour (of "The Last Illusion" and "Everville") against the author's most notorious creations, the Cenobites from "The Hellbound Heart."

Here's an official plot synopsis:
"The Scarlet Gospels takes readers back many years to the early days of two of Barker's most iconic characters in a battle of good and evil as old as time: The long-beleaguered detective Harry D'Amour, investigator of all supernatural, magical, and malevolent crimes faces off against his formidable, and intensely evil rival, Pinhead, the priest of hell. Barker devotees have been waiting for The Scarlet Gospels with bated breath for years, and it's everything they've begged for and more. Bloody, terrifying, and brilliantly complex, fans and newcomers alike will not be disappointed by the epic, visionary tale that is The Scarlet Gospels. Barker's horror will make your worst nightmares seem like bedtime stories. The Gospels are coming. Are you ready?"
The publisher has made the first two chapters of THE SCARLET GOSPELS available as a free excerpt, which you can download as a PDF file by clicking HERE. There's an audiobook excerpt of the novel below.

THE SCARLET GOSPELS is slated for a hardcover release on May 19.

Video store sleaze rises from the grave

Once upon a time, our national landscape was littered with video stores. And it was beautiful.

My first video store was near Colts Neck, N.J., and looked very different from the unholy corporate monstrosities later spawned by the likes of Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and Moovies. The tapes (both VHS and Betamax) were in translucent plastic shelves behind the counter. The only "browsing" you did was through the store's photocopied catalog, which was nothing more than an typed list of movie titles in alphabetical order. When new titles arrived, they were added as hand-written notes on the final page of the catalog.

It took about 15 minutes for this business model to change.

During their prime, video stores were equal parts "show room" and "freak show," a place for vendors to display their wares in full exploitative bloom. This wasn't a marketing aesthetic reserved only for horror movies. Back in the day, everybody had cranked their marketing to 11. Video store shelves often looked like the Joker had vomited on them, with garish colors and bizarro imagery all fighting to get your attention. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss those days a little.

A lot of this nostalgia is rooted in my distaste for the disposable trash that replaced it. During the 1990s movie posters became an interchangeable cavalcade of floating heads and lens flares. Adding insult to injury, many "older" titles were given botched plastic surgeries courtesy of Photoshop. Even Lucasfilm — a studio that made its bones by lovingly repackaging nostalgia — got in on the game, creating bad Photoshop renditions of the original STAR WARS movie posters for home video releases. Nothing was sacred.

It's been a joy to see the independent home video market gradually reject this ideology during the last decade. Companies like Mondo Tees, Waxwork Records and Arrow Video have worked to distinguish themselves by, you know, distinguishing themselves. While the major studios competed to be more like everyone else than everyone else, the indies said "Fuck It" and decided to have some fun.

Which is how we find ourselves with a release like SATAN'S BLADE, a 1984 slasher flick that's coming to Blu-ray next month. I like to think I know a little something about horror movies, but SATAN'S BLADE is a film that's managed to evade my radar. Here's the grammatically tragic summary from IMDB:
"At a mountain resort, a local resident is possessed by the evil spirit of an ancient mountain man, and terrorizes a ski lodge."

SATAN'S BLADE was originally released on VHS by Mogul Communications, a company that thrived on filling video shelves with terrible movies back in the '80s. There's a very real possibility that SATAN'S BLADE is just fodder for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, but it's kind of thrilling that this kind of rubbish is getting an HD release in the era of Redbox. The Blu-ray also features the film's original Motörhead-esque poster art, which probably has nothing to do with the actual movie. I'd be kinda disappointed if it did.

(Note: You can see alternate VHS box art for SATAN'S BLADE at the Basement of Ghoulish Delights.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What the f*ck is ROAR LIKE A DOVE?

If the 1964 production of ROAR LIKE A DOVE is remembered for anything today, it's for the shirttail presence of Jonathan Frid.

In the days following the debut as vampire Barnabas Collins on DARK SHADOWS, the public was clamoring to know about the actor behind the role. A photo of a bearded Frid was widely circulated at the time, and was credited to his appearance in ROAR LIKE A DOVE. Frid's association with the production was actually a lot less glamorous, though. In the playbill, his lead credit is as assistant stage manager.

ROAR was directed by Cyril Ritchard, best known for his turns on stage as Captain Hook in PETER PAN. The star of the show was Betsy Palmer,who would appear opposite David Selby in a 1976 production of THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE.

Technically, Frid was a member of the cast, and was an understudy for three roles in the play. The press materials never bothered to mention which role the promotional photo depicted, but it didn't really matter by 1967. The production was shut down after just 20 performances, closing June 6, 1964. The short run probably gave Frid few opportunities to act. Charlie Ruggles, who provided the voice of Aesop for the "Aesop & Son" feature on THE ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE SHOW, was also there.

Jessie Royce Landis, Betsy Palmer and Charlie Ruggles in rehearsal for ROAR LIKE A DOVE, 1964.

The press was not kind to ROAR LIKE A DOVE. "The program of Leslie Storm's 'Roar Like a Dove' says that the comedy ran three years in London; it ran damn near that long this evening in the Booth Theatre," wrote John Chapman, a drama critic for the New York Daily News. History has continued to be unkind to the production, with Playbill Vault providing this hi-larious summary for the comedy: "A Scottish nobleman's American wife refuses to try to conceive a son with him after they have had six daughters." 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Has Google located the Loch Ness Monster?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Hell No.

Google has deployed its "Street View" cameras at Loch Ness and is strongly implying that it's photographed its fabled "monster." And by "monster," I mean "crap floating in the water."

"We were surprised by this sighting too," a faceless Google spokesperson said after some debris was spotted in one of their images. "Is it a log, a bird or ... the monster?!"

Well, guys, it's not a goddamn monster. So cool your tits. Part of me wants to write a Dana Scully-infused history of Nessie Hoaxes (which are among the lamest hoaxes of the 20th century), but one biography of a fictitious amphibian monster is probably enough for this week.


Big Finish's take on THE PRISONER comes into focus

Big Finish's "re-imagining" of the cult television series THE PRISONER is headed your way in 2016. Announced back in January, not  much was known about the series besides the presence of writer/director Nicholas Briggs. The company recently updated the sales listing for the audiodrama, which includes four episode titles and summaries, as well as brief commentary by Briggs.

"The first story, 'Departure and Arrival' gives a tiny bit more of a tantalizing glimpse into Number Six’s backstory," Briggs said. "But really only the tiniest of glimpses. Like the original series, this version of the THE PRISONER is still very much crammed with mystery and misdirection."
Episode One: Departure and Arrival: A failed meeting in Belgium catalyses Agent ZM-73 to resign from his top secret post, but when he wakes the following morning  everything has changed — even his name. Trapped in a bizarre coastal village, and with his every move monitored by the mysterious Number Two, the man now known as Number Six struggles to make sense of it all.
Two of the remaining three stories have titles that will be familiar to fans. "'The Schizoid Man" and "The Chimes of Big Ben" are adaptations of the original TV episodes with those titles, Briggs said. ‘They are faithful to the themes of the originals, but they contain new twists and turns ... and they fit into a new narrative arc that will, to varying degrees, flow through all the stories," he said.
Episode Two: The Schizoid Man: Six finds himself fascinated by a strange bond which has suddenly developed between himself and Number Nine. But the next morning, Six wakes to find himself changed. A moustache, different hair, and… a new name. Number Twelve.
The third story, "Your Beautiful Village," is an entirely new episode by Briggs. "The themes of this one are sense deprivation and the destruction of a personality," he said. "It’s an early, forceful challenge from the Village’s regime. An attempt to eliminate Number Six’s resistance completely… and it has very serious consequences for him."
Episode Three: Your Beautiful Village: Something is very wrong, as Six experiences the most disturbing sensual deprivation. Almost complete darkness, filled with haunting sounds, fragments of conversations, and a desperate call from Nine start to test his reason.
Episode Four: The Chimes of Big Ben: A new prisoner arrives in the village. The woman is strong-minded, independent, and refuses to accept her new number — Eight. She is not a number, she is Nadia. And Six is convinced that she is his ticket out of the village.
Big Finish says pre-production on the series is "continuing apace," which probably means we can expect a casting announcement in the near future.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Christopher Pennock, Lisa Richards returning to Collinsport

"The Enemy Within" was one of the best surprises from Big Finish in 2013. Not only did the episode feature a terrific performance from Christopher Pennock, it also included the incarnation of Cyrus Longworth from DARK SHADOWS' central timeline.

In the original series, Longworth was a Henry Jekyll-esque scientist, whose alter ego John Yaeger caused quite a bit of trouble in "Parallel Time" Collinsport. But Longworth was one of a handful of PT characters that didn't have counterparts in the main timeband. Big Finish corrected that oversight, introducing the character into Collinsport Prime in the episode "The Fall of the House of Trask."

If you thought Yaeger was a nasty piece of work in the original series, he's nothing compared to the secret lurking within Longworth 2.0. The character (as well as Lisa Richards as Sabrina Jennings) is set to return this year in "Deliver Us From Evil" and I'm pretty excited about it.

From Big Finish:
Following the announced release of "Panic" and "The Curse of Shurafa," in May and June, comes "In The Twinkling Of An Eye" by new writer, Penelope Faith. The story stars Marie Wallace as Jessica Griffin, the landlady of the Blue Whale in Collinsport. Jessica has recovered from her recent attack and is now back behind the bar and back to her usual gossipy self. However, when a mysterious stranger (played by Ryan Wichert) arrives in town, could a secret from her past be revealed? The story also sees the return of Alexandra Donnachie as local teen Jacqueline Tate.

August’s release is "Deliver Us From Evil" by Aaron Lamont – writer of  "The Haunted Refrain" and "Beyond The Grave" – and sees the return to DARK SHADOWS of Christopher Pennock as Cyrus Longworth and Lisa Richards as Sabrina Jennings. Amy Cunningham (Stephanie Ellyne) meets up with her estranged sister-in-law, Sabrina, who tells her of what happened ten years before when she was reunited with Cyrus and the two were confronted by serial killers Alfie Chapman (Simon Kent) and Danielle Rogét (Brigid Lohrey). Cyrus and Sabrina previously appeared in the drama "The Enemy Within" and Alfie and Danielle previously appeared in "Beneath The Veil."

“I’m very proud of these two releases,” said co-producer Joseph Lidster, “because they couldn't be more different from each other. 'In The Twinkling Of An Eye' is a very poetic, beautiful character study whereas 'Deliver Us From Evil' is a dark, twisted tale of what happens when a man with the son of the Devil in his head and his ex-werewolf ex-girlfriend meet a young British serial killer and his possessed-by-an-18th-century-serial-killer-girlfriend. At Christmas.”

The Evolution of (Gill)Man


At the start of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON we see a team of geologists unearth the fossil of a webbed, skeletal hand at an excavation somewhere in the Amazon. While we never really learn exactly where this excavation is taking place, an even more interesting bit of trivia is revealed: The fossil dates back to the Devonian Period. It was probably a WOW! moment for all of the paleontologists in the house, but was essentially meaningless to those of us in gen pop.

Universal Monsters movies aren't the best place to learn about any science other than the “mad” variety. All you're supposed to infer from the use of the word Devonian is that the fossil was old (something also implied by the word "fossil"). But the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s ancestor was a lot older — and tougher — than you might think.

The Earth was a very different place at the start of the Devonian Period, which began about 416 million years ago. Citing “creative differences,” the original supercontinent of Pangaea had divided into two supercontinents. One of them, named Gondwana, would continue to fragment, eventually creating South America and Africa.

The Devonian period was part of the Paleozoic era, sometimes referred to as the Age of Fishes. In this case, “Fishes” means “Bio-mechanical Nightmares,” because many of the sea creatures swimming around Earth’s oceans during this period were not to be fucked with. National Geographic describes a variety of armored placoderms that patrolled the waterways that had “powerful jaws lined with bladelike plates that acted as teeth.” After spending some quality time with evolution, these monsters grew as large as 33 feet in length.

If Devonian life wasn't shitty enough, the period ended on an extremely dour note: The Earth endured one of its five major extinction events during its final act. And it didn't happen all at once, either. Depending on who you ask, the gods went all George RR Martin on this planet for anywhere between 500,000 and 25 million years. The words “mass” and “extinction” are used frequently when discussing the Devonian period. Approximately 70 percent of all invertebrate life on Earth died during this time.

When the apocalyptic dust settled, though, our fictional Gillman (and his kin) must have spent the next few million of years on vacation. As the neighborhood Apex Predator, the Creature from the Black Lagoon appears to have had only two genuine threats: Man and himself. If the Black Lagoon’s modest “creature” population is evidence of anything, it’s that they either died off from boredom, depleted their food sources or had a Panda-esque aversion to reproduction.

The Gillman's fascination with Julie Adams suggests otherwise, though.

Had our intrepid archaeologists ventured further into the Amazon, they might have found a thriving community of Gillmen and Gillwomen. It’s even possible that the one we meet in this movie was kicked out of the tribe like so much Jar Jar Binks, and there are hundreds more living the Life of Riley somewhere deeper in the Amazon. But: These were tough, dangerous creatures that managed to survive millions of years against the meanest and nastiest lifeforms to ever roam the Earth. Because these creatures aren't popping up on beaches all over the world, we can assume there aren't many left by the time Julie Adams took her first dip in the Black Lagoon. When the Gillman is seen walking into the water at the end of 1956's THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, it almost certainly marks the extinction of this rugged and unlikely life form.

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



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!

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