Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween 2010: October 31 - HALLOWEEN

And so Halloween has come and gone again. My neighborhood doesn't get many trick-or-treaters and I'm a misanthropic social pariah who scorns party-like merry-making. So, instead of doing that stuff, on Halloween night I traveled down to the Winchester Alamo Drafthouse again, for a chance to met Count Gore de Vol. For those you don't know, the Count was the horror host in the Virginia area back in the seventies and eighties. Look him up, he's a cool guy. The day of local channel late night creature features are long gone but he continues his show on-line at his website. Read more about that below!

Anyway, on with the reviews!


“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “The Youth Killer”
What makes this episode a good one is seeing Kolchak mingling among the dating world. The premise is basically Vincenzo wants a traditional story about swingers and, while investigating it, Carl naturally stumbles onto some supernatural mystery. I wander if the writers were running out of ideas once they decided to retrofit Helen of Troy into a paranormal murderer. Once again, what ends up saving an episode with a weak premise is Kolchak typically wily reaction to a series of guest stars. An early scene with Kathleen Freeman is really funny, even if its completely extraneous. One of the most interesting things about this series is how Carl always lacked a love interest of some sort and this scene confronts that head-on. Later on, Carl milks a Greek cabbie for information about mythology. It’s a stretch, as far as story writing goes, but it’s also a funny scene, once mayonnaise becomes involved. Vincenzo trying to maintain a healthy life-style adds an especially funny subplot. The sequence of people growing older in minutes are pretty effective. The climax, which involves Kolchak going into Helen of Troy’s temple and just smashing shit, is sort of subversively funny. He then manages to outsmart the Greek gods. The epilogue is cute, with Kolchak directly addressing the audience. Again, this maybe isn’t the best story but still manages to be an entertaining episode. (7/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “The Sentry”
I don’t know if the writers and producers of this episode realized it would be the final one of the series, but I can imagine the writers just throwing their hands up, after sorting through all the other monster ideas, just shouting “Let’s just have him fight a fucking dinosaur!” I know McGavin had mixed thoughts concerning the show, expressing his frustration over it becoming a “monster-of-the-week” show instead of a darker look into the paranormal. The fact that he acts opposite his wife in this one suggests to me that they just wanted this last episode to be a casual, easy-going event. Starting the story in media res was a smart decision and adds some excitement and tension to a some what ho-hum story. The creature design is hopelessly unconvincing, looking more like an overgrown gecko then any sort of monster. Recently deceased Tom Bosely shows up for a small supporting role. The underground setting does add some nice atmosphere, especially in the final confrontation between Carl and the monster, in a dark cave lit by only a flickering torch. The way he goes up against authority figures trying to stop his story throughout is definitive of the series’ main themes. Carl’s final-final speech about running away from unknown fears is a pretty good note to take the series out on. I guess I would have liked a more final note to end things on, but obviously this will have to do. It’s not the strongest episode, but the series did manage to pick up in quality before the end, after a slump in the middle. (6/10)

Psycho (1960)
I read Robert Bloch’s original novel this month and decided that I needed to revisit the movie in order to compare and contrast. This is a pretty straight adaptation and the changes Hitchcock made were improvements. There are two big changes. First off, Marion’s boyfriend, Sam Loomis, is very cold and distant in the novel, overly practical to the point of uncaring. Their relationship is redesigned right from the beginning of the movie as deeply passionate and physical. Also dropped is the chance of romance between Sam and Lila suggested at in the book. The other big difference, which you probably all ready know about, is the changes made to Norman Bates. A fat, balding, alcoholic, blatantly unpleasant character in the book is played by the boyishly handsome Anthony Perkins and made deliberately sympathetic, almost to the point of deconstruction. This is naturally in tune with Hitchcock’s potentially amoral plan to make the audience root for a deranged psychopath, a desire that would also crop up in “Frenzy” and in the unfinished “Kaleidoscope.” I’d say the movie is just slightly better then the book, a fine piece of pulp, because it doesn’t lay down the cards concerning Bates’ madness quite as early or as obviously.

As for the movie itself? I doubt there is any other genre film (or film in general) that has been studied, imitated, picked apart, or read into more then this one. Is “Psycho” still scary, when everything about it is common knowledge? The shower murder is still one of the greatest horror sequence ever put to the film, and is easily still unsettling. It’s such a brilliantly shot and edited moment. Arbogast’s murder is also finely constructed to be as unexpected and disorientating for the audience as it is for the character. I also love the opening credits, which feel remarkably modern even forty years after the fact. After reading the book, I love the way Marion’s internal conflict about her actions are shown on her face. It seems foolhardy to point out any flaws with “Psycho,” widely, and rightly, consider one of the best films of all time, but I think the voice-overs added throughout are unnecessary. And the heavy handed exposition of the end brings the pace to a complete stop. (Though I was startled to see Simon Oakland looking so young after watching “Kolchak” all month.) Maybe “Psycho” can’t shock the way it did originally, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a better made movie.

Every Other Day is Halloween (2010)
So it’s true. Meeting the director and stars of a movie does directly affect your opinion of a movie. “Every Other Day is Halloween” is a pretty solid documentary about the career of Dick Dyszel, better known to DC area kids of the seventies and eighties as Count Gore de Vol and/or Captain 20. All of that was before my time, naturally, but I have been a fan of the Count’s online show for a while. The movie is fascinating and entertaining as long as it focuses on Mr. Dyszel, a naturally charismatic figure even to this day. Later on, it shifts focus to other member of the internet Horror Host Underground, and the movie begins to drag a bit. I would have liked to have seen more footage of Count Gore handing candy out on Halloween night or filming his show in his basement. I hope there’s more of that candid footage on the DVD.

But, you know what? You feel like a real jerk for criticizing a film after talking to the people who made it, especially when those people are really really nice. After a screening of the film at my local Alamo Drafthouse, I ended up chatting with the Count, director Curtis Prather, and fellow horror host Karlos Borloff in the lobby for about a half hour. These are really some of the friendliest, amicably chatty people I’ve ever met. We talked about the artistic and business side of film making, the perils of independent short making, recent zombie movie “Colin,” and all sorts of stuff. Mr. Prather also runs the Spooky Movie Festival in DC, and invited me to participate in next year’s festival. (I hope to be there.) It was a fantastically fun evening. Dick, or The Count I suppose, was really willing to talk about anything and offered a wealth of advice. I got a signed poster, a signed DVD of the movie, and Mr. Borloff also gave me a free DVD of his show “Monster Madhouse,” which I have not watched yet but the footage I saw in the movie made it look like great fun. I was just overwhelmed at how nice these folks were and what a wonderfully fun time I had this evening.

So, if you get a chance to see “Every Other Day is Halloween,” please give it a look. Absolutely see it if you remember watching Count Gore de Vol’s show or if you even have a passing interest in the horror host world.

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
This was probably the first “grown-up” movie I ever saw in the theater. The year this came out I was obsessed with the Mothman phenomenon, as it was my local monster and I was naturally as monster crazy as any other fourteen year old boy. (The cool ones, anyway.) I had poured over the book again and again before watching the movie and was a pretty big John Keel fan. Anyway, I was disappointed at the film at the time because it wasn’t slavishly faithful to the book. (I was one of those kids.) At the time, I remember finding a number of sequences in the films effective but that the movie didn’t really work as a whole. That opinion stands for the most part. The director ends up padding a lot of the film with odd stylistic decisions. The pace is very dreary, slow-paced and introspective. It’s not really about the Mothman. It’s not even really about Indrid Cold or the contactees. Instead, it’s got some big questions about fate and faith. More then anything else, this is the story of a man getting over the death of his wife. Not exactly the paranormal expose I was hoping for at the time, but the movie is to be admired for sticking to its guns. The movie does have some fabulously creepy moments, like just about any of John and Indrid’s phone calls. Richard Gere’s performance is kind of a mixed bag but Laura Linney’s excellent supporting turn makes up for it. The monologue about her dream is one of the highlights of the film. The other highlights is, naturally, the climatic collapse of the Silver Bridge. It’s an intense, extremely well made sequence. These two scenes lift the whole film up. Adapting a nonfiction book into a fictional film must be a strange process and it’s probably because of that, that the movie has something of an episodic feel. Ultimately, I don’t know how I feel about them altering John’s story so drastically. Still, this is an easy recommendation. (7/10)

Waxwork (1988)

Is this movie any good? I ask this question because I legitimately like this movie. This is strictly because of nostalgia. I saw this around thirteen and, as a monster-nuts modern teenager, I liked it a lot. It’s a monster mash taken up to eleven, featuring just about every type of monster you’d want. It’s got that and it’s got plenty of gore, some sleazy sexual content, and plenty of good nature stupidity. This really does feel like it was scripted from the ramblings of a twelve year old. The plot is convoluted and barely makes sense. The lead character is an abrasive, selfish asshole. The teenagers in this movie dress like it’s the fifties and act like rejects from eighties sitcoms. It plays like the mostly unfiltered brain droppings of a hyper-active twelve year old raised on monster movies and bad television. (They turn the Marquis de Sade into a pirate.) If I didn’t know for a fact that it actually existed, I’d think this movie was something one of my middle school friends made up off the top of his head. It feels that unhinged and slapped together.

It’s got all the stupidity of that age with little of the energy or spark. A vampire gets impaled on wine-bottles, there’s exactly one shot of swooping “Evil Dead” style camera movement, and a midget gets fed to a pot-slash-Audrey-II. But that’s about it as far as stupid-awesome qualities go. The only thing keeping it from being total Bleeding Skull level late eighties trash are the quality of the special effects. The monster make-up is, with a few exceptions, quite good. The Werewolf and the Mummy get two major sequences and both of them look really cool. Also, David Warner hamming it up as the bad guy adds another layer of fun. The Indestructible John Rhys-Davis shows up to for exactly one scene.

But the movie isn’t charming like a lot of other films from the same era. There’s a weird mean-streak of casual misogyny running under the whole thing and it features the worse Dracula this side of Al Adamson. Anthony Hickox is part hack, part mediocre schlock slinger, with an obvious fanboy love of the genre fighting to get out of him somewhere. Ultimately, the final sequence, in which just about every monster you’d ever care about get plucked down into one room to fight it out with a group of pitchfork, torch wielding monster fighters, makes the whole damn mess of the movie worth seeing, if just because, yes, it is awesome, in the same way the stories and games my friends and I cooked up when we were twelve were awesome. Is this movie any good? No, not really. Do I like it anyway? Kind of.

So that was my Halloween experience this year. I'd say it was a major improvement over last. I had more fun this past weekend then I think I've had during the entire month of October in years. I watched 77 movies and 22 television episodes. My main goals for this month were to watch all of "Kolchak" and finish the George Romero report card, both of which I accomplished. I'd say this Halloween was a success in every way.

I'll see you guys again soon, with my next report card. But as for everyone else, see you again next year! Hope it's even better then this one!