Monday, October 20, 2008

The Return of Cryptique!

Yes, the lovely Miko Macabre (who I first discussed here) and her acerbic but hilarious take on trashy horror films is back with a new episode of her show Cryptique. She's got a new look, better lighting and improved audio, though I have to say the editing still needs some tightening. Still, the show is a lot of fun and this time Miko skewers the Frank Henenlotter classic Basket Case. You can link directly to the Cryptique sight here, and check out the new episode below.

QUARANTINE: Movie Review

Quarantine has taken a lot of crap, being slammed as an unnecessary remake of the Spanish film [REC], but I think such statements are short-sighted. I would love to have seen [REC] on the big screen, but a subtitled film's chance of getting a wide theatrical release in the States are about as good as a guy in a red shirt making it back to the Enterprise in one piece. No, this doesn't say much for the attention span of the American film-going audience, but [REC] had no chance of getting big theatrical play here. Let's move past it, people.

So that leaves us with Quarantine, a film which does pretty damn well on its own. Jennifer Carpenter of the way cool Showtime series Dexter plays Angela Vidal, a TV news reporter shadowing a group of Los Angeles firefighters on the overnight shift. The entire film is seen through the eye of her camera operated by Scott Percival (Steve Harris). The evening gets off to a slow start so we see Angela sliding down the fire pole, flirting with a firefighter named Jake (Hostel's Jay Hernandez) and lamenting that the whole night might be a washout. Finally a call comes in and the paramedics are called to an apartment building to aid an elderly woman who is infected with something that is contagious via contact with bodily fluids. To borrow a phrase from Shaun of the Dead, the old girl is a bit bitey and her violent and murderous nature quickly spreads among the tenants. Before Angela and the others can flee the building has been surrounded by operatives of the Center for Disease Control, and the space suits they're wearing and their readiness to shoot anyone that tries to leave doesn't bode well for our heroes.

Like 28 Days Later this is a zombie film without zombies. No one is coming back from the dead, but victims of this infection quickly degenerate into slobbering lunatics, not unlike what you see in Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving. After a beginning that is intentionally slow to build suspense, things ramp up with the film balancing action and exposition nicely. As with any of these pseudo documentary films like The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield the question of why are these people still filming while they're running for their lives is a valid one. Director John Erick Dowdle (who also helmed The Poughkeepsie Tapes) does a respectable job of keeping the gimmick believable. Occasional bits are inserted to provide a reason for the fact that Scott is still shooting, but it isn't overdone as it was in Diary of the Dead, in which George Romero's frequent references to the fact were just distracting. Dowdle might have further aided the illusion by casting unknowns, but recognizable faces are presumably a necessity in getting financing, even if we're not talking about huge stars.

The Spanish version will likely hit DVD around the same time or shortly after Quarantine does, and the publicity surrounding the remake will have a trickle down effect, bringing far more attention to the U.S. DVD release of [REC] than it would have gotten on its own.

Monday, September 22, 2008

BLOGS THAT ROCK - Monster Crazy

Pierre Fournier, the blogger behind Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog which I discussed here is also the guy behind Monster Crazy, a blog that knows when to keep its mouth shut. Text is kept to a minimum, with all manner of classic horror imagery being the focus. Movie posters, stills, old horror mag interiors and covers, and random works of monstrous art. This is one cool ass blog.

Miko Macabre's Cryptique

Introducing Miko Macabre. I stumbled across Miko's show Cryptique while searching for horror reviews on Youtube and frankly I'm surprised these videos have so few hits. Cryptique presents the capsule versions of trashy horror flicks with Miko adding her two cents throughout. There are two episodes currently posted covering Night of the Demons and Burial Ground: Nights of Terror, with each installment broken into three parts. As Miko points out in her first episode, the use of these copyrighted films really pushes the limits of "fair use" but the Cryptique versions of these flicks are a lot more entertaining than the originals ever were.

The resemblance to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is obvious, with the combination of innuendo, cleavage and cornball humor, but Miko has the distinct advantage of actually being funny. Elvira had camp appeal, but she never actually made me laugh. Cryptique has recently launched a new site, though there's nothing there yet. There is a pretty cool Youtube video promoting the upcoming season, but for a real taste of what the show has to offer, check out the three installments of Episode 2 embedded below. I think this project has a lot of potential and I'm anxious to see where it goes.

Cryptique Episode 2, Part 1

Cryptique Episode 2, Part 2

Cryptique Episode 2, Part 3


I'm a bit of a latecomer to the whole Death Note phenomenon, but in the last few weeks I've read several volumes of the manga, caught a few episodes of the anime TV series and now, for the purposes of this review, I've had a chance to screen the 2006 live action film.

Melding the elements of both horror and detective stories, Death Note is the tale of Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara) a brilliant law student who has grown disillusioned with the legal system because of a widespread conspiracy concealing just how many criminals are going free. Light finds a notebook that says whoever's name is written in the book will die. On a lark, he jots down the name of a murderer who has escaped justice, and Light watches as the killer dies in exactly the way he described in the notebook. Light is soon visited by Ryuk, a shinigami or death god, a CGI construct that looks like a shaggy goth circus clown. Ryuk explains the notebook was originally his, but is now Light's to do with as he pleases. Whoever possesses the notebook can kill anyone by writing his or her name while picturing his or her face. If no cause of death is written the victim will die of a heart attack.

A human who uses the death note can enter neither heaven nor hell upon his death, but Light looks past that little glitch, planning to use the book to make the world a better place by eliminating violent criminals. As murderers, rapists and snotty convenience store clerks around the world start dropping dead in droves, people start to take notice. The media gives the name "Kira" to whoever is striking down these criminals and Light becomes a hero to many. To the National Police Association, however, Kira is the greatest serial killer of all time and a task force is formed to capture him under the direction the mysterious L (Ken'ichi Matsuyama). At first L only communicates with the task force via digitally scrambled audio, but he is finally revealed to be a young androgynous sugar junkie with a genius level talent for deduction. Light and L are cut from the same cloth, it seems, making for an interesting cat and mouse game.

In a bent sort of way the premise reminds me of Harry Potter. Both stories spring from an adolescent form of wish fulfillment. Harry is a put upon orphan who learns he is in fact something special — not just a wizard, but one of the greatest wizards of all time. Death Note rings of a darker adolescent desire in which the victimized youth starts keeping a list of peers who have done him wrong and deserve to die, representing the seamier fantasies of the post-Columbine generation.

Light is more humanized here, at least at the beginning of the film, which makes it difficult to account for some of his actions. In the comic Light starts out as a remorseless sociopath, so when he ends up using the Death Note to kill innocent people to prevent his own arrest it's not that big a stretch. In this version, the decision to murder innocents seems jarring, making me wonder if posession of the Death Note is supposed to have some side effect on human personalities.

With a few exceptions, the film is quite faithful to the manga. Director Shusuke Kaneko (the man behind the marvelously titled Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack) does a decent job of packing a lot of the comic's elements into just over two hours. The comics are quite detailed, giving every nuance of Light's reasoning and L's deduction process, so streamlining the story for film was a necessity. Unfortunately, just as we're getting into the thick of the L/Light sparring match, the movie comes to a somewhat abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. The sequel Death Note: The Last Name was released in Japan in 2006 and was presumably shot back to back with the first film, so I imagine that one picks up where this one leaves off. Still, Death Note has an intriguing premise and some interesting characters. Definitely worth a look.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


I'm imagining some ill-informed pseudo-intellectual heading on down to the multiplex thinking he's about to see an adaptation of Albert Camus' The Stranger. I'm imagining sitting behind this person and shrieking "I've got your existentialism right here!" right before one character gets his face shotgunned into a substance resembling a hearty chili con carné. Yes, I need to get out more.

No, think Wes Craven rather than Camus. Specifically, The Strangers reminded me of Last House on the Left, with it's brutal victimization of two people, and its pervasive sense of dread and nihilism. The movie definitely earns its R-rating, but this isn't from the gore for gore's sake school of movie making. There are several examples of the classic Hitchcock definition of suspense in which the audience is shown the danger but the characters are not, and despite a few missteps The Strangers proves to be a white knuckle ride worthy of the best that Six Flags has to offer.

James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) arrive at James's family's secluded vacation home in the wee hours of the morning following a friend's wedding reception. The evening has not gone well. James's proposal to Kristen having been met with rejection, we watch the two struggle through an awkward civility, and we get the distinct impression that this is a deal-breaker for the relationship. A knock comes on the door during what may well prove to be a round of break up sex. Concealed in the shadows, a young woman asks the couple if Tamara is home.

James and Kristen tell the girl she has the wrong house and send her on her way. She doesn't go far, though, and she's not alone. The girl and her two companions, a man and another woman, mount an increasingly tense series of assaults upon the couple. The assailants faces are covered by eerily simplistic yet horrifying masks and they want only to do very bad things.

Sometimes horror works best when it functions as a nightmare. No reason is given for the terror, it just is. I had been wondering if The Strangers could sustain those scares from the trailer that I'm not ashamed to classify as the "oh God I just peed a little" kind. I applaud writer/director Bryan Bertino's decision to leave certain things unexplained and to give the the film a less than upbeat ending. The Strangers is pretty dark, so dark that when you leave the theater you'll want to go home, find someone you love and hug them. Just make sure they're not carrying a big freakin' knife.

As for the "inspired by true events" claim, I call shenanigans on whoever decided to make that claim. I suspect it may be another intentional homage to 70s horror, and that this film's relationship to true events is about as accurate as that of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is to say "not very."

Saturday, May 31, 2008

New Cinematic Titanic Trailer Hits

The second release from Cinematic Titanic is due in mid-June and you can check out the trailer below. This project features former cast and writers from the late great Mystery Science Theater 3000, including series creator Joel Hodgson. Cinematic Titanic's first release was The Oozing Skull (which I reviewed for Cinematical) and this new episode has them making sport of The Doomsday Machine, a movie so awful it'll make you want to slap your mama. As with the previous installment, the new episode will be available on DVD or as a digital download from EZ Takes.

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Not One But TWO new Ed Wood Films

Tim Lucas of Video Watchblog recently posted links to these rough trailers for Andre Perkowski's two Ed Wood collaborations. Granted, these movies were made two decades after Edward D. Wood Jr.'s death, so I guess homage is a better term, but they are based on his writing. These things are pretty whacked, but unlike Wood's own films they come by their whackness (yes, I'm making up words) by design rather than accident. I'm dying to see the full versions of these and Lucas promises to let his readership know if and when further news should surface about these films obtaining any kind of release.

The retro juvenile delinquent flick Devil Girls was shot in 1999 on 8mm and 16mm film (yes, FILM, people) with the footage laying undeveloped for years. Devil Girls is culled from one of the trashy novels Wood wrote to support himself later in life.

Vampire's Tomb is from an unfilmed script that was to have starred Bela Lugosi and I think it's my favorite of the two. I just love that bit with the giant spider and what the hell is going on with that floating trombone? Also shot on 8mm and 16mm, the grainy black and white really works in the film's favor, and it's downright Wood-ian.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is Watchmen's Comedian Being Played By Commander USA?

This image from the upcoming Watchmen movie surfaced the other day on Ain't It Cool News (thanks to Topless Robot for pointing it out), and yes it's got me all tingly in my nether regions. This is a very faithful reproduction of an image that features prominently in the graphic novel depicting The Minutemen, the World War II era super heroes of the Watchmen universe. Click on the image for a closer look. Left to right we have The Silhouette, Moth Man, Dollar Bill, the original Nite-Owl, Captain Metropolis, the original Silk Spectre, Hooded Justice, and kneeling in front we have Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian... or do we?

IMDB states that Morgan will be playing The Comedian, but a quick comparison of the two images below proves otherwise. The domino mask, the cigar, the graying temples...
The Comedian is obviously being played by former USA Network horror movie host Commander USA who emceed Commander USA's Groovie Movies from 1985-1989. Need more convincing? How about this:
Pretty f**king devastating, huh? No doubt director Zack Snyder is waiting until we're closer to the March 6, 2009 release date to officially acknowledge this, but remember you heard it here first.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Andromeda Strain - Review

The first episode of The Andromeda Strain, which aired last night on A&E has shown this new version to be a skillful modernization of Michael Crichton's story which was previously adapted as a feature film in 1971.

As in the original, the small secluded town of Piedmont, Utah is wiped out almost instantly by a disease spread by a downed satellite. The only survivors are an old man and an infant. The infection, dubbed Andromeda, causes either immediate death or extreme suicidal (one victim decapitates himself with a chainsaw) or homicidal tendencies. A team of medical experts led by Dr. Jeremy Stone (Benjamin Bratt) is assembled at a state of the art government facility called Wildfire, a multi-level subterranean installation design for the study of infectious diseases. Risk of infection leaking into the outside world is not an option, and the entire base is sitting on top of a nuclear device that will be detonated if containment is breached. Further, the decision whether or not to drop a nuclear device on the infected town.

The original film saw our scientist heroes dealing with government bureaucracy, but this remake adds more modern concerns to the mix. Dr. Tsui Chou (Daniel Dae Kim) is part of the Wildfire team, but he previously worked for the Chinese government developing bio-weapons. Certain factions of the government and military have their own agendas, not all of which are in the public's best interest. The satellite is part of a mysterious Project Scoop, whose true purpose is kept from the investigating team until episode's end. A North Korean satellite was nearby when the Scoop satellite fell out of orbit, raising the possibility that Andromeda may be part of an elaborate biological attack. Meanwhile, reporter Jack Nash (Eric McCormack) is following a lead on the Piedmont incident, a lead that has already gotten his source killed.

This first episode has left me itching for part 2, even though having seen the original film I have a pretty good idea where the story is going. Modern effects technology is put to good use, letting us see things that couldn't be effectively shown the first time around, like Andromeda's attack on a fighter jet, and the devastation of Piedmont. The cast is strong, and the addition of the Nash character allows the story to go places it couldn't before. The DVD is already available for pre-order, so if you miss the broadcast you still have a chance to catch this one.

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To the list of words I never new existed I can now add "neo-kaiju" which I assume refers to more recent giant Japanese monsters, although I'm not sure exactly white time frame this covers. I found the word over at the Omni-Monster blog which blogger Geozilla describes as "A place to share pictures and information about Japanese vinyl kaiju toys, figures, and collectibles, whether vintage kaiju or neo-kaiju." This stuff is just awesome, and I'm assuming these toys and figures are primarily available in Japan and hard to come by here in the States. I recognize some of the Godzilla and Ultraman characters, but most of these are new to me. Text is in both English and Japanese.

Monday, May 26, 2008

VHS Flashback: Paragon Video

I recently reviewed the new DVD release of Boarding House for my Killer B's on DVD mini-feature over on (check it out here). I first saw this movie on VHS from Paragon Video, a long defunct label whose magnificently lurid box covers graced video stores everywhere during the hey day of VHS. Paragon was one of those companies responsible for making obscure trash cinema available to the common man, and God bless 'em for it.

I found this way cool gallery of Paragon tape box covers over at the Critical Condition website, and phrases like "adjust tracking for best picture" and of course "be kind rewind" have been running through my head ever since. Some of these I've seen, some I haven't, but the art really grabs the imagination. Iconic 42nd Street gore flick Dr. Butcher, M.D. is there, as is something called Death Promise whose cover is obviously done by comics legend Neil Adams, and you can see art for minor classics like Blood on Satan's Claw, Tombs of the Blind Dead, Kiss Me Kill Me and Silent Night Bloody Night. This stuff is awesome.

Here's the Paragon Video logo as it appeared onscreen.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Whatever happened to Dark Floors?

I got to wondering tonight what happened to Dark Floors. I do the weekly Trailer Park column over at and I did a write up on the Dark Floors preview back in December. The film got its world premiere in its native Finland on February 6, and has since been released in Iceland and Estonia (I'm embarrassed to say I don't even know where that is) but I haven't heard any news of a U.S. release. Well, the Internet is a pretty awesome thing and I quickly learned (thanks to an article over at that the film has been picked up by Ghost House Underground, a new direct-to-video branch of Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures that will be releasing the film in October.

Dark Floors stars the band Lordi, a Finnish rock group who wear some very cool and downright horrific monster costumes as part of their act. When a man removes hist autistic daughter from her doctor's care and attempts to the leave the hospital, they and a handful of others step off the elevator onto a floor that shouldn't exist. The place is strewn with corpses, and they find themselves stalked by monstrous demons, played by the members of Lordi. This looks awesome enough for me to ignore the slight resemblance to Silent Hill. I checked out the movie's official site which is a pretty cool Flash driven affair. Take a look at the trailer below, and beneath that you'll find a Lordi video that proves they've seen The Evil Dead in Finland.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Andromeda Strain - Memorial Day on A&E

I've known the 1971 version of The Andromeda Strain for decades. Today it's charmingly dated, a prime example of relatively hardware-free pre-Star Wars science fiction. Based on a novel by Michael Crichton and directed by Robert Wise (whose incredible resume includes such far ranging projects as The Haunting, The Sound of Music, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture) the film tells the story of a group of specialists assembled by the government to combat a virus of extraterrestrial origin, a virus so lethal that it could destroy every living thing on the planet.

A&E will be broadcasting a new adaptation starting at 9:00 PM eastern/8:00 PM central on Memorial day, Monday, May 26, 2008 and continuing on May 27. The cast has plenty of familiar faces including Benjamin Bratt, Eric McCormack, Daniel Dae Kim and Ricky Schroeder and the show's official website is pretty cool and worth a look. Obviously this will be a slicker take on the story, and I'm curious enough that I've already set the DVR so I won't miss it. Check out the trailer:


We've got a pair of new posters for M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening which opens on Friday June 13. I have to say I prefer the aerial view German poster to the warped city poster. Click on either image for a closer look.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Latest Red Band Trailer for M. Night Shyamalan's THE HAPPENING

In case you don't know, a red band trailer indicates R-rated content, as opposed to the standard green band ones you see in theaters. My fingers are crossed that this is a return to greatness for Shyamalan. I loved The Sixth Sense and Signs, really liked Unbreakable, and was so disappointed by The Village that I still haven't seen Lady in the Water. Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel and John Leguizamo star in this film about an apocalyptic phenomenon that results in a massive outbreak of suicide.

An Indiana Jones Knock Off You May Have Missed

The interwebs are abuzz this week with all things Jonesian. Indiana that is. Harrison Ford is dusting off his bullwhip (so that's what they're calling it now) for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull which opens this Friday. This is the first new installment the series has seen in nearly twenty years, and by this time next week an amount equal to the combined gross national product of several European countries will have been forked over to see it.

Like any hugely successful film, Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels have spawned imitators. Tomb Raider added feminine curves and pouty lips to the swashbuckling adventurer, The Mummy used an alleged remake of a Universal monster flick as an excuse to delve into Jones-like territory, and Tales of the Gold Monkey (anybody else remember that one?) briefly brought Jones style adventure to the small screen. This new film has already spawned it's own imitator by way of a public domain literary character, resulting in The Asylum's Allan Quatermain and the Temple of the Skulls.

I've got a Raiders inspired knock-off that I'm betting you've never heard of. The Ark of the Sun God is a 1983 film that was released on DVD a few years ago as part of a double feature called Tales of Voodoo Vol.4 and misleadingly marketed as a horror film. This Italian/Turkish co-production is directed by Anthony M. Dawson, a.k.a. Antonio Margheriti, maker of such films as the excellent and eerie Barbara Steele film Castle of Blood (1964), and the Pasta Land Chunkblower classic Cannibal Apocalypse (1980), among many others.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film stars Italian horror film legend David Warbeck. Not all of his movies are classics--I recently watched Warbeck’s Panic (1976), which totally bites--but his presence in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond has earned him many cool points. Also noteworthy is the appearance of character actor Luciano Pigozzi, who appeared in several other Margheriti flicks, as well as the Mario Bava films Baron Blood and Blood and Black Lace.

Warbeck plays Rick Spear, a cat burglar of some repute who has business in Istanbul. While attempting to steal a rare artifact, Spear is caught and recruited by Lord Dean. The plan is for Spear to locate the Temple of the Sun God, the presumed resting place of Gilgamesh, a king who was half man and half demon. Dean wants Spear to enter the temple using the aforementioned artifact as a key and steal a jeweled scepter. The Brits are concerned about the political implications of the scepter falling into the wrong hands. Unbeknownst to anyone, though, the room is bugged, and the exchange is overheard by an Arab prince and his henchmen, members of the Demons of Gilgamesh who want the scepter for their own purposes.

What follows is kidnapping, murder, gun play, car chases, Indiana Jones-style archeology (particularly in a very Raiders-esque snake pit sequence, and a rather modest tarantula attack), and various other acts of daring do on the part of our hero. The action scenes are fun, though sometimes they seem randomly placed, and their order in the film could probably be rearranged without much trouble. There's even a car chase in which the stunts are achieved using some well done but fairly obvious miniatures.

Little attempt is made to disguise the James Bond connection. While wearing his black cat burglar clothes, Spear very much resembles Sean Connery. He comments to Lord Dean, “Why didn’t you tell me this job called for Roger Moore?” Even Spear’s girlfriend Carol is more often than not referred to as “Pussycat,” possibly a reference to Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore character from Goldfinger. The entire third act just screams Indiana Jones, right down to the snake pit scene and the Arab sidekick who resembles John Rhys-Davies’ character from Raiders.

Not a masterpiece, but a fun little bit of hokum. The picture is grainy, but watchable, though a few night scenes are hard to make out. The image is letterboxed, but info seems to be lost on the left and right sides of the screen.

Here's the trailer for The Ark of the Sun God:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Evil Head clip

I daresay this clip is priceless (and I hasten to add, probably not safe for work). I found this over at at, the official web presence of Night of the Living Podcast, a weekly horror movie podcast that I never miss. This is a PG-13 preview for Evil Head, a hardcore porn film parody of the Evil Dead movies from the makers of Repenetrator. The satire is dead on, and if I'm not mistaken that is actual dialog from one of the Evil Dead flicks at the beginning. The black and white is a nice touch too. My only question is will a porn audience go for this? If you're looking to watch some down and dirty smut are you going to sit through an admittedly cool but unerotic horror movie parody? Anyway, check it out:

Dawn of the 3-D Dead

The original 1978 Dawn of the Dead is being retro-fitted as a 3-D film and will be re-released to theaters. The Hollywood Reporter tells us the project is being undertaken by New Amsterdam Entertainment and In-Three who will be using their proprietary dimensionalization software to add depth to what, in my humble opinion, is one of the greatest horror films ever to grace a strip of celluloid.

The only other film ever to be retroactively turned into 3-D is A Nightmare Before Christmas. Nightmare was a stop-motion animated feature and Beowulf, whose amazing 3-D spectacle damn near made me soil myself, was computer generated, so I'm curious how well the process will work on a live action film. Frankly, I'd be glad to see a 2-D version of Dawn on the big screen, but what I'm wondering is will this be a truncated version of the film? Dawn was originally released unrated to theaters, but you can't really get away with that today. Most theater chains will not carry unrated films, and newspapers will not carry ads for them. There was also an R-rated version of the film floating around at one point, so is this the one that's going to get the 3-D treatment? Maybe the uncut version could be resubmitted, but damn, those long lingering scenes of disembowelment would be hard pressed to get an R even today.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Diarrhea of the Dead

In honor of the DVD release of George A. Romero's latest zombie opus Diary of the Dead, here's an early version of the film's poster. Evidently focus groups didn't care for this scatological approach to the walking dead, so the final film took a different approach.

TRAILER: The Strangers

The Strangers opens on May 30, and I'm really hoping the movie is as balls to the wall creepy as the trailer is. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple who are the target of a horrifying home invasion by several people wearing masks. Come, partake of the terror...

Six Mistakes the New Captain America Movie Should Avoid

Yes, box offices across the world are growing fat with Iron Man cash. Ol' Shell Head was the number one movie for two weeks in a row, and I bet the folks over at Marvel are pretty darn proud of themselves. Of course this means that we'll be seeing more super hero movies in the not too distant future, and I say bring it on. One such film currently in the early stages is The First Avenger: Captain America, featuring one of Marvel's oldest creations. I've enjoyed the character in the comics, particularly John Byrne's run on the book, and The Invaders series which told of the wartime adventures of Cap, his sidekick Bucky, The Submariner, The Human Torch and Toro.

For the sake of perspective, though, I'd like to remind everyone that Marvel has been associated with some seriously crappy films in the past, and four of those crappy films have starred Marvel's super soldier Captain America. I'm not saying this new film version is cursed, but it certainly has a lot to live down.

The most recent of these star-spangled atrocities is the steaming dog turd (the mushy kind with the swirly on top like soft-serve ice cream) that is the 1990 film Captain America which starred Matt Salinger. Reb Brown played Cap in two made for TV films in 1979 (Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon) that thankfully never got picked up as a series. Fourthly, the Captain's first big screen appearance happened in 1944 when he was the subject of a 15 chapter serial (again titled Captain America but rereleased as The Return of Captain America), that took far more liberties with the character than should be allowed.

So what can the makers of this new Captain America flick learn from these previous versions?

  1. Fake rubber ears are a bad idea. Seriously. Look closely. Captain America has traditionally been drawn with his ears poking out the side of his cowl. To replicate this look for the 1990 film, fake ears were applied to the outside of the mask, and they look pretty awful in closeup. Ironically, adding ears to the headpiece probably rendered actor Matt Salinger deaf as a post.

  2. Try not to be embarrassed that your main character is wearing long johns. Cap disappears in the middle of the movie, and we only see his civilian guise of Steve Rogers for a long stretch. Salinger actually looked fairly convincing in the red, white, and blue tights, but the costume gets relatively little screen time. If you're embarrassed to have your main character running around in a super hero costume, maybe you should be making romantic comedies.

  3. Just the teensiest bit of logic would be appreciated. As the missile to which Captain America is strapped is about to launch our hero grabs the villainous Red Skull and threatens to take him along for the ride. The Skull will have none of that and produces a large knife which he uses to cut off... HIS OWN HAND????? WTF?

  4. Cap's shield was made by government scientists, not the R&D division of Wham-O. In short, it ain't a Frisbee, people. The shield Reb Brown carried in the two made-for-TV Captain America movies was made of transparent plastic. Unless he's fighting nazis at a beach party, this just doesn't work for me.

  5. Shouldn't he at least LOOK like Captain America? No film adaptation is ever going to be 100% faithful to the source material, but the liberties taken with Captain America's costume for the first of the made-for-TV flicks made our hero look more like Eval Kneival than a super hero. For the second film Brown was sporting a more traditional version of the costume, but jeez, that helmet...

  6. Shouldn't he at least to some degree BE Captain America? For the 1944 serial, the costume was more or less accurate, it's just every single other aspect of the character that was changed. Rather than being a G.I. named Steve Rogers, our hero is a crusading District Attorney named Grant Gardner (played by Dick Purcell, who died of a heart attack the same year this serial was released), he doesn't carry a shield but he does pack a gun. Essentially, this is a generic Saturday afternoon action serial using Captain America's name and likeness, but nothing else. Interestingly, I think the look of the recently rebooted Captain in the comics owes a debt to this take on the character.
Anybody else got any advice we can offer to the folks at Marvel Productions?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Wonderful World of Wolverton

The always entertaining Datajunkie blog has just posted a handful of Basil Wolverton cover illustrations. Wolverton was a truly unique comic book illustrator in the 1950s, whose horror and science fiction art has long been a favorite of mine. I'm not clear on the significance of "Weirdass Tales of the Future" as this is obviously not an actual comic book title, but any chance to pass some Wolverton art onto the public is worth taking.

Actor John Phillip Law Dies

As has been reported in several places including the LA Times and Tim Lucas's Video Watchblog, actor John Phillip Law died Tuesday May 13, 2008 at the age of 70 of pancreatic cancer. He was an American born actor with -- according to IMDB -- 81 acting credits. I believe I first became aware of Law when he starred opposite several of Ray Harryhausen's magnificent stop motion creations in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974), but I will remember him best as the master criminal Diabolik (pictured above) in Mario Bava's fantastic and trippy Danger: Diabolik (1968). Tim Lucas worked with Law on the audio commentary for Danger: Diabolik, and Lucas has recently posted several informative and heartfelt remembrances.

One of the strangest films in Law's resume is Night Train to Terror (1985), an omnibus horror film that condenses footage from an uncompleted John Phillip Law movie and uses it as one of the film's three segments. The resulting story makes little sense, but it's so fast paced and chock full of gore and nudity it's hard not to love it. Footage from this same unfinished movie was also combined with newer footage to make Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (1992).

While Law has credits as recent as 2008, the last film I saw him in was Roman Coppola's wonderful CQ in 2001, which made Law's participation even more memorable by including several nods to Danger: Diabolik. Notably, it has been just under a year since we lost another Harryhausen Sinbad actor, Kerwin Matthews, star of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, who passed away on July 5, 2007.

Here is the original theatrical trailer for Danger: Diabolik:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

LOL Omega

Just so you don't think the whole LOL cat phenomenon has escaped me:

Pulp of the Day

Pulp of the Day is a simple no nonsense blog that shows a different cover scan from a classic pulp magazine every day. There's a caption contest, but for me the art is the main attraction. They don't play favorites with genres here, so detective, action, science fiction, western and war mags are all represented. You'll want to subscribe to the RSS feed as the main page only displays the current day's cover image.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Horrors of it All

I used to regularly purchase Overstreet's Comic Book Price Guide and drool over all those golden age and silver age comics that were just too ridiculously expensive to buy. The horror comics were of particular interest, especially since the ones published before the advent of the Comics Code Authority were far darker and more daring than the code approved comics that were the only game in town when I was a kid.

Well, now I need drool no longer. The Horrors of it All, which is put together and frequently updated by a blogger calling himself Karswell, features scans of entire stories from pre-code horror comics. If this is your sort of thing, this site will keep you busy for awhile. He's got 358 postings for 2007 and 291 so far for 2008.

Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog

Of all the classic monsters, Frankenstein's undying creature was always my favorite, whether it be the box-headed bolt-knecked beastie from the classic Universal series, the somewhat gorier creatures from the Hammer period, or the nose- up- between- the- eyes of Dick Briefer's pre-code comic book version. I've recently come across a blog that shares my affection for Mary Shelley's patchwork creation called Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog which is the brainchild of blogger Pierre Fournier.

Recent posts have included a look at Frankenstein on postage stamps, a look back at the character Jonathan Brewster from the stage play and film Arsenic and Old Lace (a stitch-faced character, played many times by Boris Karloff), a discussion of the original lost pilot for The Munsters, and postings about Valerie Hobson and Hazel Court, two of the best remembered actresses to play the often doomed (depending on which version you're watching) Elizabeth Frankenstein. If you think the subject too limiting I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the wealth of material Fournier and his guest bloggers have assembled.

The Shadmock

Wonder not why your hair stiffly bristles,
just abandon all hope when the shadmock whistles.

Lately I've been reading and enjoying the hell out of The Mammoth Book of Monsters edited by Stephen Jones. It's roughly 500 pages of short horror stories from a variety of authors, with each tale containing some sort of monster. What's not to like? A nice little surprise was the inclusion of "The Shadmock" by late British horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes. I knew the story from its adaptation as part of The Monster Club, a 1980 horror flick noteworthy for containing Vincent Price's only portrayal of a vampire and being the last gasp of a cycle of horror anthology films that included the likes of Tales From the Crypt and The House That Dripped Blood.

Both the film and short story explain that years of interbreeding by various creatures of the night has resulted in some new variations, including shaddies mocks, and maddies, and if a mock and a maddy marry their offspring will be a shadmock. To summarize, vampires sup, werewolves hunt, ghouls tear, shaddies lick, maddies yawn, mocks blow, shadmocks only whistle.

Interestingly, other than featuring a shadmock and making the reader or viewer wonder exactly what sort of devastation might be wrought if this guy were to forget himself and start whistling "Smoke on the Water," the story and film adaptation have practically nothing in common. In the film our shadmock is a wealthy pigeon loving recluse named Raven, with a young couple named George and Angela attempting to swindle him out of his fortune. Angela attempts to woo Raven, but when she loses her temper and tells him how his corpse-like visage disgusts her, he lets loose with a whistle that essentially liquifies much of her skin.

In the original story, our shadmock is a servant rather than a millionaire. Sheridan and Caroline, a married couple have purchased an estate in a remote area of the English countryside. The mansion comes with a family of servants who have lived there all their lives, and they include an elderly shaddy, a mock, a maddy as well as the offspring of the last two, a handsome young shadmock named Marvin. Caroline takes a fancy to Marvin who also has eyes for Caroline despite the fact that once they've removed Sheridan's soul and made him a creature of the night like them, they plan to drain Caroline of her bodily fluids and use her remains to fertilize Marvin's garden. Even Marvin's own family is careful not to upset him, as shadmock's have a tendency to whistle when angered, but in an attempt to save Caroline he turns his ability on his own family with devastating results.

The story is a great read, written in a reserved British style, and has more substance than the filmed version, though the movie is still worth seeing as well. All three of the film's stories are based on the works of R. Chetwynd-Hayes, with the story that features a Humghoul (another product of monstrous interbreeding) being the high point. Have a look at the trailer:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I Am Not Iron Man, But I Really Like His Movie

By now the web is riddled with reviews of Iron Man, the film that launches the 2008 Summer movie season, so rather than adding to the glut I'm just going to give some quick impressions. Movies like X-Men and Batman Begins have set the bar pretty high for big screen super hero adaptations while Daredevil and Ghost Rider have shown just how low the form can get. In a nutshell, Iron Man is pretty awesome. Robert Downey, Jr. is pitch perfect as the charismatic, booze swilling billionaire weapons manufacturer Tony Stark who after seeing first hand the terrible things his company's products can do dedicates himself and his company to more people friendly pursuits. Stark builds a high tech but bulky suit of armor that allows him to escape from his terrorist captors, then devotes himself to perfecting the suit until he becomes one of the most badass superheroes the screen has ever seen. The effects are spectacular, characters are well-rounded, providing a satisfying plot to action ratio.

I first saw the character as part of The Marvel Superheroes animated TV show that debuted in 1966, a series that could be produced today by a brain damaged monkey with a passing understanding of Adobe Flash. Here's a glimpse at the Iron Man intro from that show:

I followed the character off and on over the years in his regular comic series and in Marvel's superhero knitting circle The Avengers. I was reading the comic when it was first established that Tony Stark was an alcoholic. Admittedly that was pretty groundbreaking stuff at the time, but the issue is oversimplified by having him get off the sauce after only an issue or two. A few years later when Stark began drinking again, the alcoholism went from oversimplified to ridiculously exaggerated with Stark living on the street as a wino.

Even if you haven't seen the film yet, I'm sure you've heard that you need to stay all the way through the closing credits for an important coda. Suffice it to say, this little reward for those who sit through all of the credits (and there are a lot of them) had this comic book geek grinning like an idiot.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

DVD Review

When Cartoon Network's Adult Swim began producing shows to fit a fifteen minute time slot I chalked it up to the dwindling attention span of the internet generation. I've since revised that assessment after having seen and fallen in love with shows like Robot Chicken, Metalocalypse and (most importantly) Frisky Dingo. These shows are the animated equivalent of frozen concentrated orange juice, packing more laughs into a quarter hour of broadcast time (less without commercials) than should be allowed by law.

The first season of Frisky Dingo recently hit the DVD racks. The animation is simple, presumably produced in Adobe Flash, and reminiscent of the limited animation shows that populated Saturday morning TV back in the 70's (yes, I was there). The design work often includes photo backgrounds that have been Photoshopped to hell and back to look like drawings, and character designs that often look like they have been traced over photos of real people.

Our story opens as the nefarious Killface is recording a video which he hopes will strike terror into the heart of... well, pretty much everybody. He has built a doomsday device called The Annihilatrix that, when activated, will push the Earth directly into the sun. Why does he want to do this? Who the hell knows? Meanwhile, a superhero named Awesome X has rid the city (which is never named) of the last super villain, leaving his civilian alter ego multi-millionaire Xander Crews free to run the family company. Crews doesn't want to give up the superhero game, though, and he wants to focus the company's assetts on manufacturing Awesome X action figures. When it's pointed out that he'll need a villain to make the toy line cell, Crews sets out to get Killface to sign over his likeness rights.

To say the story meanders is an understatement on the same scale as saying "Hitler was naughty." Killface runs into financial troubles, there's a keyboard with an ant farm built into it, we discover why super heroes and villains alike should have medical insurance for their minions, and Xander Crews spends several episodes buck naked with a wig glued to his head. The show is magnificently weird, and one of the most consistently funny things on TV in recent years. The first season is on DVD, with Season 2 available through ITunes (as Killface helpfully reminds us at one point when he's too busy to summarize previous episodes). Here's hoping for a Season 3. You can watch full episodes of a Frisky Dingo and lots of other Adult Swim programming by going here, and you can check out and Ode to Killface below:

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