Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days Has October: Anniversary

Early in the movie The Crow, a character asks, "Who the f*ck gets married on Halloween?" Well, my wife and I tied the hangman's knot eleven years ago today. It still astounds me that I found someone to marry me at all, and that she's hung around this long still surprises me. Yet, here she remains, and we're still remarkably happy. Sure, life could be better - money and medical issues cast an omnipresent pall over our day-to-day existence - but our union remains strong and passionate.

So to my beloved Brandi - and to all who chose this haunted holiday to marry -- Happy Anniversary!

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days Has October: Our FRINGE Binge

One thing that's been eating into our Halloween horror film watching has been the fact that the Blu-rays of the second season of Fringe have been showing up this month from Netflix, and Brandi and I keep binging on episodes. We didn't catch the show when it premiered - we didn't (and still don't) have cable - but a year or so ago, we found the first season on Blu-ray new at Wal-Mart for a ridiculously low price. As Brandi was a huge fan of Lost, and Fringe was from the same creator, (J.J. Abrams) we decided to pick it up.

We really enjoyed the show, but subsequent season sets were priced beyond our means. Eventually, we put the show on our Netflix DVD queue, and they started showing up in our mailbox a few weeks ago. We've just finished watching Season 2, and Season 3 discs should start showing up next week.

It's a fun show with a fascinating premise and a good cast. My particular favorite is John Noble as Dr. Walter Bishop. I love the fact that he's a mad scientist; a direct descendent of the characters that Boris Karloff played in all those Columbia B-movies back in the 1940s. In fact, I think the reason I like the show so much isn't because of the weird X-Files-like mysteries or the "alternate universe" mythology, but because it's the only TV show where a mad scientist is (essentially) the main character.

And although it's taken our attention away from the scary movies I'd intended to concentrate on these last few weeks, the show contains enough creepy and spooky stuff to still qualify as legitimate Halloween viewing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

31 Days Has October/Wednesday Cover: TOMB OF DRACULA

"Gaze into the eyes of Dracula, human fool...!" A delightfully psychedelic cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, from Marvel's Tomb Of Dracula #55.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

31 Days Has October: Decorations

This is the Halloween wreath created by my beloved wife Brandi for this year's holiday. Each year, she spends hours decorating the house for Halloween, coming up with her own creations, carving pumpkins, and planning outdoor displays, basically imbuing this old place with the spirit of the season.

This weekend - weather permitting - we'll be putting up the Styrofoam cemetery in the front yard and hanging the ghouls from the trees...

Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days Has October: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Over the weekend, I watched the new Phantom Of The Opera (1925) Blu-ray from Image Entertainment. I still have to work my way through the other features (including the 1929 re-release versions of the film) before I can write my full review (for DVD Late Show), but the restoration of this silent film classic is really quite amazing. It's impressive how engaging and thrilling a cinematic experience it is, even now, after nearly a century.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

31 Days Has October: GHOSTBUSTERS

One of the least-scary but most financially successful "spooky" comedies of all time is Ghostbusters, but that was our Countdown to Halloween movie tonight. Neither of us was in the mood for anything heavy, Brandi had to go to bed early, and we hadn't watched the Ghostbusters Blu-ray we bought a few months ago yet. So.... anyway, sometimes it's relaxing to just revisit a movie that you know by heart.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

31 Days Has October: VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED

Tonight's Countdown To Halloween movie: Village Of The Damned, from 1960. Earlier today, we re-watched Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. Boy, even with Tom Atkins and Dan O'Herily, that film was a complete misfire. Intriguing premise, but unfortunately lackluster execution. Still - I can't get that damned Silver Shamrock jingle out of my head.

William Castle week didn't really go all that well, unfortunately - Brandi's been having a rough time at work lately, and she really wanted to burn our way through the Fringe season 2 Blu-rays that we've been renting from Netflix. So most of the week, we concentrated on those episodes, and she tried to get to bed earlier than usual. This left no time for our nightly fright features.

On Friday night/early Saturday morning, I did watch the new Blu-ray edition of the 1925 Lon Chaney Phantom Of The Opera. It looks great, and the film still holds up as a remarkable cinematic experience.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

31 Days Has October: Bela Lugosi Day

Remembering the immortal Be'la Ferenc Dezso Blasko on the anniversary of his birth. Hollywood's boogieman supreme, now and forever.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

31 Days Has October: THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL


Confession: the wife and I did not watch any scary movies tonight. Brandi was really tired, and we kinda got hooked on watching Psych episodes on Netflix.

But, as I'm determined to post something Halloween-related every day this month, here's the original theatrical trailer for William Castle's classic, The House On Haunted Hill, from 1958. I love this movie, and I even like the 1999 remake. In fact, I'm thinking we'll probably watch a double feature of both versions on Friday night. Maybe....

Monday, October 17, 2011

31 Days Has October: THE TINGLER and William Castle

We kicked off the third week in October - which I have deemed "William Castle Week" - with the producer/director's 1959 chiller, The Tingler, starring the great Vincent Price. I'm a huge fan of Castle's gimmicky spook shows - he brought old fashioned showmanship and a sense of tongue-in-cheek gallows humor to his productions, a combination that seems very much in the spirit of the Halloween holiday to me.

Tomorrow night, I'm thinking we'll be watching The House On Haunted Hill or maybe Mr. Sardonicus....

Sunday, October 16, 2011

31 Days Has October: NOSFERATU

Tonight I'll be digging out my old Image laserdisc of F.W. Murnau's 1922 unauthorized silent adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Nosferatu, and giving it a spin in my old LD player. For some reason, I never picked up any of the DVD versions of this film over the last decade or so. I'm looking forward to seeing how the picture holds up on our HD big screen television.

I first saw the movie in high school, a 16mm print rented by the library. I don't remember why - I don't think it was Halloween, and we definitely didn't read Dracula in class - but even then I wasn't turned off by a silent film. I really enjoyed the nightmare quality of the imagery, and to this day, Nosferatu remains one of my favorite vampire movies... and the pseudonymous Max Shreck remains one of the best Count Draculas - even if he's operating under the alias of "Orlok."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

31 Days Has October: THE MAN WITH THE HEX


Brandi and I have been watching the 2002 animated series, What's New Scooby-Doo this week on DVD (I picked up the complete first season for $3 at Big Lots). While it's not as innovative and/or clever as the newer Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated series that we've been enjoying, it's not bad - a decently written and animated modern updating of the original 1969 series. One thing that's interesting is that it incorporates lots of contemporary (circa 2000) pop songs by real bands (including The Ramones!), and I'm actually discovering some artists I was previously unaware of.

In one episode, the Scooby Gang is chased around a New Orleans amusement park by a couple of Civil War phantoms, accompanied by the tune "The Man with the Hex," performed by the jump blues/swing band, The Atomic Fireballs. I loved the song. Apparently it's been featured on a number of film soundtracks, but hey... I don't watch stuff like American Pie.

In any case, it's a great Halloween tune...

Friday, October 14, 2011

31 Days Has October: THE WEREWOLF

We're wrapping up Week 2 (Werewolf Week) of the greatest month of the year with The Werewolf, a 1956 Sam Katzman production that puts a Fifties, Atomic Age twist on classic lycanthropic lore. Ordinary businessman Duncan Marsh (Steven Ritch) becomes a bipedal, bloodthirsty werebeast not through any sin of his own doing, nor through an unfortunate, violent encounter with a rabid wolfman, but through the machinations of a couple of remarkably irresponsible scientists. This pair of geniuses take this survivor of an automobile accident, and impulsively decide to test their latest experimental "radioactive wolf blood" serum on him. Obviously, these guys skipped the ethics class.

Anyway, though produced by the notoriously cheap Katzman, The Werewolf is a nifty little monster flick, that benefits from some picturesque natural location work, shot around Big Bear Lake in the San Bernadino National Forest in Northern California. The werewolf make-up is cool, too; created and executed by Clay Campbell, it is nearly identical to the one he created for actor Matt Willis  a decade earlier for the 1944 Bela Lugosi chiller, The Return Of The Vampire, just a little shaggier.

The script is exciting and even thoughtful, populated by a cast of characters that come across as real people. The characters evince sympathy for the tortured human within the monster, and try to take him alive with the intent of trying to get him help. It's only when the body count gets too high and the wolf overcomes the man that the townspeople, led by the compassionate sheriff (Don McGowan), realize they have no choice but to shoot to kill. And that's another cool thing about the movie - as this werewolf is a creature of science, there's no need for silver bullets or full moons or any of the other traditional trappings.

The Werewolf is not a horror "classic," but it's a much better-than-average 50s B-monster flick, and one of my favorites.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

31 Days Has October: DOG SOLDIERS

Neil Marshall's debut film, 2002's Dog Soldiers, is a great little action horror film pitting a handful of British soldiers in the Scotland highlands for training exercises against a vicious pack of exquisitely-designed werewolves. Fast-paced, with good performances from Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd and the rest of the cast. The script is relatively smart, too, with some genuinely inventive suspense sequences and a nice, black sense of humor.

I bought the DVD back in '03 or so, and really enjoyed it, but hadn't watched it again since. Spinning it tonight reminded me how much I liked it - it's a fun, different kind of werewolf movie. I haven't liked all of Marshall's follow-up films, but his cave-crawling thriller The Descent is a damned good scary flick, too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

31 Days Has October/Wednesday Cover: WEREWOLF BY NIGHT

When monster titans clash! Art by the incomparable Mike Ploog.

BTW - Tonight's Countdown To Halloween movie was John Landis' An American Werewolf in London on Blu-ray. I still really love that flick.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

31 Days Has October: WEREWOLF OF LONDON

The second night of werewolf week was spent with Universal Studios' first lycanthropic effort, 1935's Werewolf Of London, starring Henry Hull, Warner Oland and Valerie Hobson. It's not a great movie - Hull's cold Dr. Glendon is a remarkably unsympathetic protagonist, and the melodramatic plot hasn't much bite - but I very much like Jack Pierce's design for Hull's hairy alter ego. It's quite different from the one he would design for Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man, six years later:


While more man than wolf, I definitely think it's scarier than the more famous Wolf Man make-up.

Monday, October 10, 2011

31 Days Has October: SILVER BULLET/CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF

Every night in October, the wife and I are watching scary movies, and each week of the month, we're choosing a theme. The first week of the month were Amicus Productions horror anthologies from the 60s and 70s, and this week - to accompany the full moon - we're watching werewolf flicks. We kicked Wolf Week off tonight with 1985' Silver Bullet, adapted by Stephen King from his illustrated novella, The Cycle Of The Werewolf.

It's a fun movie - very 80s - with a good cast, including Gary Busey, Megan Follows, Corey Haim, Terrence O'Quinn and Everett McGill.

The animatronic werewolf effects created by Carlo Rambaldi aren't quite up to the level of Rob Bottin's work on the first Howling film, or Rick Baker's American Werewolf In London effects, but they're effective enough, and still preferable to today's computer-animated cartoons. Too bad the actual creature looks more like a bear than a wolf.

I hadn't seen the movie in about ten years, and it's been longer than that since I read King's book. I have often pulled it off the shelf to enjoy the great illustrations by Berni Wrightson, though.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

31 Days Has October: THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST

I'm a big fan of 40's Poverty Row mystery, crime and horror films, so I was pleased to discover, thanks to a post from a Facebook friend early this morning, that the 1945 Republic Pictures chiller, The Vampire's Ghost, was currently available for streaming through Netflix Instant.

Set in Colonial Africa, The Vampire's Ghost eschews the usual Gothic or contemporary urban trappings of the genre, and sets its action in a European-inhabited African community surrounded by jungle. (Interestingly the map shown at the beginning of the film indicates a decidedly landlocked, mid-Continent location for its fictional city, yet there are numerous sailors present in the film's tavern, and mention of a seaport...). Into this environment comes gawky Webb Fallon (John Abbot), who takes over proprietorship of the local tavern. Soon, mysterious deaths are occurring both within the European enclave and the surrounding native villages, and the jungle drums soon spread the word: a vampire stalks the jungle.

The story and script are by acclaimed author and screenwriter, Leigh Brackett, and it's a bit of a departure from her screenplays for Howard Hawks. Brackett's script is surprisingly thoughtful for a B-horror programmer, from its unusual African setting to its imaginative interpretation of the cinematic "rules" of vampirism. Unfortunately, the film is almost completely miscast - John Abbot plays the role of an urbane, 400 year-old bloodsucker reasonably well, but lacks screen presence and bears an unfortunate physical resemblance to a depressed Don Knotts. I'm convinced that if Republic had cast Bela Lugosi or John Carradine - or even someone like Lionel Atwill or Henry Daniell - in the role, the film would be remembered today as a Poverty Row "classic."

Burly Grant Withers - who I know mostly as the first screen Jungle Jim and as Police Detective Bill Street in Monogram's Mr. Wong series - makes an unconvincing Catholic missionary/priest. I suppose they were going for a Pat O'Brien type of cleric, but Withers just didn't pull it off. Fortunately, both of the major female characters come across well, especially sexy Adele Mara as the dancer at Fallon's saloon.

The movie is solid fun, smartly-told, and at a brisk 59 minutes, it never wears out its welcome. It's cool to discover a new Halloween treasure, especially one written by one of my favorite authors. If you have Netflix Instant, I recommend checking it out.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

31 Days Has October: The Ghastly Ones


The greatest horror-surf band of them all, The Ghastly Ones, and their classic "Haulin' Hearse." Dig that gorgeous go-go- ghoul!

Friday, October 07, 2011

31 Days Has October: THE CREATURE COMMANDOS


The Batman: Brave And the Bold team do it again! The Creature Commandos & Batman vs the Ultra-Humanite on Dinosaur Island in "The War That time Forgot!"

Why can't actual comic books be this much fun anymore?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

31 Days Has October: TALES FROM THE CRYPT

For my money, the best of the Amicus horror anthologies is their version of the EC Comic, Tales From The Crypt. Featuring Sir Ralph Richardson as a remarkably dignified Crypt Keeper, and a top-notch cast of English thesps in a quintet of excellent adaptations of the some of the best stories from the comic book.

I never thought Fredddie Francis was a particularly good director - his movies tend to be a bit too leisurely-paced and too restrained by good taste for fright flicks - but he's a helluva cameraman, and, like all of his films, Tales is exceptionally well-shot. Virtually every frame is beautifully composed for maximum visual impact.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

31 Days Has October/Wednesday Covers: NIGHTMARK

The first Wednesday Cover of this 31 Days Has October "celebration" is from the 1994 one-shot comic, The Nightmark Mystery Special. The character of Gideon King, The Nightmark, was my first published creator-owned property. King was a 1940s Boston private eye who had been chosen by unnamed powers to be the Nightmark - a grim & gritty champion against supernatural evil.

Obviously, I threw just about everything I loved into the mix - noir private eye fiction, Lovecraft, Kolchak, Hammett, Spillane -- but it never quite caught on. I wrote five Nightmark comics (and actually drew one of them) published by Alpha Productions between 1990 and '94, and revived the character in the Shadow House series for another five issues in 1997-'98. The cover above was drawn by artist Steven Butler, but I forget who rendered the colors....

 And here's Gideon King on the cover of Shadow House #1, painted by the great Dan Brereton!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

31 Days Has October: THE VAULT OF HORROR

Tuesday's Amicus anthology was the studio's 1973 film version of the classic EC horror comic series, The Vault Of Horror. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the film adapted five stories from the notorious comic, with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, the 20th Century Fox/MGM "Midnite Movies" DVD appears to use the television syndication cut, as several seconds are missing and/or optically obscured.


Still it's a fun film, with some delightfully tacky early 70's decor and fashion, a fine British cast including the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker and Bond villain Curt Jurgens (no Peter Cushing this time, though - a serious omission, IMO), and some creepy moments. Its companion feature, Tales From The Crypt - also based on a famous EC title - is better, as I recall. We'll probably watch that one tomorrow.

Monday, October 03, 2011

31 Days Has October: TORTURE GARDEN

Our second Amicus horror anthology based on the works of Robert Bloch, is 1967's Torture Garden. I enjoy the film, especially the exquisite camerawork of director Freddie Francis, but it's not all that scary, mostly because three of the four Bloch stories chosen to be adapted simply don't work very well on film.

The first segment is quite a bit of classic, Old School Gothic horror fun, but the second tale just doesn't work in this format, though I think, with a better director and a sharper, more satirical script, it could make a helluva movie on its own. The third story, in which a young woman becomes romantically involved with a concert pianist only to incur the jealous rage of his piano, is just way too friggin' goofy. The final segment, "The Man Who Collected Poe," is probably the best of the quartet, mostly because stars Peter Cushing and Jack Palance seem to be having a ball filming it.


I reviewed the Sony DVD for my DVD Late Show column back in 2005, and hadn't seen it since. It's fun, but probably my least favorite of the Amicus films I've seen....

Sunday, October 02, 2011

31 Days Has October: Amicus Anthologies & THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD

Our Halloween film festival kicked off this evening with the 1971 horror anthology, The House That Dripped Blood. Four creepy classics from the blood-tipped pen of the great Robert Bloch, presented in that inimitable Amicus Studios style, with a superb cast including Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt, Denholm Elliot and Doctor number Three, John Pertwee in a delightfully comic turn.


Over the next few evenings, I think we'll spin a few more of the studios' trademark anthologies, including Torture Garden, Asylum, The Vault Of Horror and Tales From The Crypt...

Saturday, October 01, 2011

31 Days Has October: Count Chocula

As a kid growing up, my absolute favorite sweetened (i.e. sugar) breakfast cereal was Count Chocula. Well, apparently General Mills has decided that these days, they'll be selling Count Chocula (and Frankenberry) only during the month of October. I don't eat any cereal anymore, but I bought a box today, figuring that it wouldn't hurt me, and it'd be a good way to kick off my favorite month of the year.

And it was!

Brandi and I also watched the entire Scream trilogy (we saw part four a week or so ago) on Blu-ray. The Countdown to Halloween has begun!