Welcome to the Crypt!

Welcome to the Crypt!

Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

What's this? TWO updates to the Crypt in one month? That's right, fright-fans, the Unimonster is sending even more Halloween goodness your way! If only someone would perfect downloadable candy.....

Happy Halloween, and ... STAY SCARY!

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07 October, 2016

Halloweens, Past and Present




Adults measure time in dates… the date your mortgage payment is due each month, the date of your next physical, the date of your next business trip.  Children measure time in events … the time you broke your arm climbing a tree, the Christmas you got a BB gun, the grade you were in when you had your first kiss.  Childhood memories tend to flow together, mingling like streams feeding a large river, until it’s impossible to distinguish one from the other.  Only the major happenings of life stand upright, like islands in the river.

To be sure, there were the usual milestones in the life of a young Unimonster, as well.  My first kiss was in Sixth Grade; my little brother and I got matching BB guns for Christmas 1978, over the objections of my mother (thanks, big brother!); and I’ve never had a broken bone … despite totaling a Cadillac that hit me as I dashed across a busy highway when I was 15.  But along with these, rather mundane, highlights of my life are those of a more … unusual nature.  And some of the most prominent “islands” in the river of my memory center around my love of Monsters, Horror, and Halloween.

Halloween when I was a child was quite different from the two-month-long shopping extravaganza that it is now.  Now, Halloween is celebrated by nearly everyone, of nearly every age, and is second only to Christmas in terms of sales generated.  Halloween decorating is big business, with dozens of companies supplying everything the home-bound haunter could desire for their porch-side graveyard, from 99¢ hokey rubber bats to animatronic reanimated corpses costing hundreds, even thousands of dollars.  The same people who go overboard when decorating for Christmas have taken to Halloween with gusto, pushing the bar ever higher with scary, gory, creative displays.  And costumes have progressed far from the screen-printed vinyl pajamas of my youth.  Today’s parents routinely spend $40, $50, even $100 on costumes for their children … and even more on their own outfits, something of which my parents never would have dreamed.

In the early 70’s, my peak Trick-or-Treating years, any house with a Jack o’Lantern on the porch was considered decorated and fair game for a visit.  We thought ourselves fortunate if stores had Halloween supplies two weeks before the big day, and even then, the selection left much to be desired.  That never mattered to me, as once I was old enough to know better







the thought of wearing a store-bought costume was simply unacceptable.  Store-bought costumes, at least in my childhood, were anything but scary.  Rather than making a costume that would allow your average MonsterKid to in some way resemble Frankenstein's Monster, the companies that produced them gave you a cheap plastic one-piece with a picture of the Monster (and not a very good one, at that …) printed on the front, with the word FRANKENSTEIN in large block letters underneath.  Add to that a thin polystyrene mask, with a rubber band that was guaranteed to break before you got home with the loot and a far too narrow mouth opening that cut your tongue every time you tried to talk, and it’s easy to see I wasn’t missing much by passing on the mass-produced monster togs.  Not to mention the fact that, if you had to have the name of the monster you were Trick-or-Treating as stamped on your chest in order for others to identify you, then it wasn’t much of a costume.

No, for my cousin, my brother, and me, only homemade costumes would do.  As I’ve mentioned previously in this column, my usual alter-ego was a vampire; smooth, scary, but most of all cheap ‘n’ easy.  But that wasn’t the only creature I was capable of pulling together on a $2.00 budget.  I could be a very convincing zombie, with some fake blood, some mud and dirt for that crusty, just-dug-my-way-out-of-a-hole look, and some tattered clothes for the basic raw materials.  Once I was “Dr. Death,” complete with saw, stethoscope, and blood-soaked lab coat.

Once costuming was out of the way, then the hunt began for pillowcases.  This was before the days of fancy manufactured bags, buckets, and pails for the collection of our Trick-or-Treating loot.  We had two options—paper grocery sacks, which were tough to carry and prone to tearing; and pillowcases.  Pillowcases were strong, they were large, and they were convenient.  There was only one problem with them.  They were my mother’s.

There was no chance of us using her good linen, of course … we knew enough not to even try that.  But like everyone, we had some old, faded, stained, ragged sheets and pillowcases in the back of the closet.  We had precisely three cases with enough structural integrity to carry a load of candy:  one was white, one avocado green, (hey, it was the ‘70’s, after all …) and one a flowered print.  You did not want to Trick-or-Treat carrying a sack with flowers printed all over it … at least, not where I grew up.

Our preparations complete, we would set out on our route with the resolve of Caesar's legions off to vanquish the Gauls.  The ritual was the same from year to year, never varying.  We would wait until it was dark, and then head out.  We would then immediately turn around and ring our own doorbell, shouting “TRICK-OR-TREAT!” when my mother opened the door.  She would grumble, but nonetheless dropped a few pieces of candy in each of our sacks.  Then the adventure would begin in earnest.

For those readers who are parents of young children; no, our mothers and fathers weren’t exceedingly neglectful or careless of their offspring.  That was a different time, and only babies went Trick-or-Treating before sundown, or accompanied by their parents.  We knew our neighborhood, and felt completely safe and comfortable in it … even at night.  That confidence was doubled on Halloween, when we always traveled in a pack, constantly crossing paths with other, similar packs doing the same.  As we passed we would hail each other, like old-fashioned sailing ships meeting far out at sea.  We would exchange information on the houses we had visited; who was giving out the good stuff, who was tossing out the cheap crap, who wasn’t handing out anything at all.  It was a cooperative hunt, and like wolves word would’ve traveled swiftly of any threat to the pack.

Quite frankly, it never occurred to us that there could be any threat … at least, not the immediate kind.  We had all heard the stories about razor blades and broken glass in treats, of course, and our parents always told us not to eat anything before they checked it out.  We never were overly concerned about that, however.  Personally, I thought that was just an excuse to give the adults first crack at their favorite treats.

Once we had thoroughly covered the neighborhood we would stop somewhere, typically the 7-11 just down the street, and take stock of the night’s haul.  Seldom were we satisfied with the results of our officially sanctioned panhandling, but there’s a fine line between persistence and obnoxiousness, and we usually tried not to cross it.  Contrary to our parent’s instructions, we would eat a few pieces of candy while deciding on our next move.  Occasionally, we would have some change in our sacks, from people too busy or too disinterested to shop for candy, and sorting that out was a high priority.  As always at that age, if I had 25¢ to my name, it was going to be spent on a comic book … ordinarily, it would be Batman, Action Comics, or The Flash, but not on Halloween.  On Halloween it had to be Ghosts, or House of Mystery, or The Unexpected.  Not that I didn’t buy those titles throughout the year, but they were must-haves to cap off the perfect Halloween night.

When we finally did straggle on home, we would camp in front of the TV, watching a holiday-appropriate Creature Feature on one of the local stations, as we munched happily on our Halloween bounty.  My dachshund would throw herself protectively on the sack beside me, snarling menacingly at anyone who dared approach it—especially my little sister.  This never failed to earn her a treat; butterscotches a particular favorite, though she also had a fondness for Mary Jane’s.  The sight of her working her way through a piece of peanut butter taffy was guaranteed to bring laughs.
 
All too soon, the night would end.  We would be sent upstairs to bathe and prepare for bed, and as we scrubbed the residue of fake blood and Hershey’s miniatures off ourselves, another Halloween would officially draw to a close.  Those days are more than forty years in the past now, and I’ve known great joys in my life since then, as well as the heartaches that all of us are familiar with.

But I’ve never known pure happiness like Halloween nights when I was a child.

30 September, 2016

Halloween—Unimonster Style



As long-time readers of this column are no doubt aware, Halloween is, and has always been, a special time of the year for the Unimonster.  Most of my happiest childhood memories revolve around the month of October, and I’ve been pleased to share many of them with you.  Whether it was the effort expended in trying to come up with the perfect homemade costume, or the pleasure of sitting on the living room floor after a successful Trick-or-Treating expedition, bag of candy in my lap, dog by my side, and Lon Chaney, Jr. on the TV screen, my Halloween memories represent some of the simplest, purest joys one can experience.
But some have asked me if Halloween still holds that same charm, that same appeal for the middle-aged Unimonster, and obviously the answer is no.  I’m no longer that wide-eyed, (mostly) innocent MonsterKid, living in a much simpler time, and society does seem to frown on 45-year-old Trick-or-Treaters.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t found new ways to celebrate my favorite holiday, or that I’ve outgrown all of my childhood traditions.



Though there’s something of a chicken-or-egg quality to it, there’s no denying that my love of Halloween and my love of Horror Films are directly related, and those beloved Horror Films have assumed top priority in my seasonal planning.  Just as I used to plan my Trick-or-Treating well in advance, I now spend weeks scheduling my assault on the October Couch Potato Film Festival title [An October Tradition, October 24th, 2009].  I carefully choose the movies I’ll be viewing throughout the month, with more consideration given to quantity than quality, I will admit, but I never forget my favorites.  There are some movies that just have to be viewed each October; without them, the month would seem incomplete.  Some of these I discussed in a recent column [Halloween Movies to Watch, October 10th, 2009].

The first of these films is ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.  This 1944 classic, starring Cary Grant and Raymond Massey, is pure comedic gold; a shining example of Hollywood in its heyday.  I often devote an entire day during the month to Horror Comedies, and this one always makes that list, along with movies such as GALAXY QUEST, SCARY MOVIE, and of course the Abbott & Costello Monster pics.
Other days during the month are devoted to different themes…  Alien Invasions, Slasher Films, Euro-Horrors, and Giant Bug movies are favorite themes during the days leading up to Halloween.  Halloween night itself is devoted to the best of the genre, from DRACULA to the one movie that must be viewed to end the season—John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.

But movies aren’t my only means of celebrating the holiday.  While the Crypt always has a ‘Halloween’ feel to it, from the middle of September to early November it is decked out from top to bottom (or as much as the Unimonster’s budget will allow…) with Ghosts, Goblins, Witches, and that most necessary and iconic of Halloween symbols, the Jack O’Lantern.  Real ones, plastic ones, foam ones, even glass ones… nothing screams “Halloween” at the Unimonster as loudly as Jack does.  In fact there are always three on display in the living room—a foam one that stays lit 24/7; a vintage plastic blow-molded one that was a gift from a dear friend, and is exactly like one I had as a child; and a glass candy bowl, that I try to keep full.  There are others that appear during the season, and of course, the highlight of the year is carving a real Jack for the front porch.

As I’ve mentioned before, my artistic talents, such as they are, start and end with the written word.  Though I can visualize the fantastic Jack O’Lanterns I’d love to carve, when I sit down in front of blank pumpkin, the same Jack always emerges—two triangular eyes, a triangular nose, a lopsided grin, vaguely triangular, with three or four triangular teeth—let’s just say that I handle curves like an overloaded minivan.  Not even those booklets of pre-printed stencils help… besides, that’s cheating.

Finally, everything comes together for the big night.  The Crypt is decorated, the Jack is glowing on the front porch, and Bela is waxing poetic over the music of his night-children.  And the large empty skull by the front door is filled with candy for the Trick-or-Treaters.  Now I’ve mentioned before that my friends and I had considered ourselves ‘candy connoisseurs’ once upon a time, and I can still remember the disappointment I felt as someone would thoughtlessly drop a handful of crappy candy, or even worse, a box of raisins, into my bag.  I resolved as a young Trick-or-Treater that I would always pass out the ‘good stuff’—M&M’s, Hershey’s Kisses, Tootsie Pops—when it came to be my turn at the door, and I still hold true to that resolution.  So here I sit—lights low, the room lit by the yellow glow of electric Jacks and the silver gleam of Lugosi and Karloff, skull full of candy—waiting for that first knock on my door, remembering the thrill and joy of being the vampire, ghost, or ghoul on the other side.

05 November, 2014

Getting their Freeky Creek On! by Bobbie Culbertson



It was a cold and windy night dampened by misty rain as we drove out to Fairmount, Illinois, a cozy rural community just south of Oakwood and a few scant miles east of the 'Paign.  Only one reason was good enough to take us from our toasty home...the 5th Annual Freeky Creek Short Film Festival.  The festival, held at Sleepy Creek Vineyards (8254 E 1425 North Rd., Fairmount, Il. 61841) is the brainchild of Sleepy Creek owners, Joe and Dawn Taylor who annually choose short video submissions from over 600 entrants from around the world to show in their comfortable and tastefully decorated wine tasting rooms.  While this first evening wasn't sold out as the next two nights are, almost every seat in the place was filled with costumed Fest-attendees.

Master of Ceremony was Bill Kephart, dressed as an irreverent, cigar-chomping Easter Bunny, who throughout the three intermissions, would attempt to free his friend Naughty-Kitty who had been arrested and taken to the Humane Shelter for neutering.  Aided in these attempts by his friend, Jean Claude Van Damme, a warrior-like door greeter at Wal-Mart. (Don't ask!  You had to be there!)  Anyway ... on with the show(s).

The submitted short films ran from less than a minute to over 16 minutes in length.  And most, if not all, had the same things going for them—excellent production values and above par acting!  Some had frightening CGI effects at would rival top studios (6 Shooter with its "Alien" internal attackers springs to mind).  Animation proved to be an audience favorite (my vote would go to Office Kingdom with its resigned but dedicated clerk).  Gore checked in with Vasle a Pancienne (The Waltz) and showed itself to be stomach turning.

Comedy made a good showing with, in my opinion, If I Only... winning hands down (or, in this case, hands applauding wildly!).  Dead Hearts, the longest of this evening's fare at 16 minutes, proved true love never truly dies!  That said, all were entertaining, fascinating and professionally rendered.  At the evening's end, the audience was invited to cast their ballots for the best films in several categories:
Freekin' Creepy Award (best horror)
Freekin' Artsy Award (best animation)
Freekin' Pretty Award (best looking)
Freekin' Thespian Award (best acting)
Freekin' Funny Award (best comedy)
Freekin' Fake Award (best fake commercial or doc)
Freekin' Best of the Freekin' Fest Award!  (overall most votes)

The Festival ended Nov 1 and the winners have been announced on the Freeky Creek Facebook page:


Joe and Dawn Taylor have thoughtfully uploaded Youtube links to the various winner of this year's Freeky Creek Short Film Festival!  So, head on over to their Facebook page for a frighteningly good time!  And should you, dear readers, find yourselves in East-Central Illinois on or near Halloween, please check out the Freeky Creek Short film Festival at Sleepy Creek vineyards.  You won't be sorry!
Complete list of submissions (*= premier)
Act 1
On Broken Wings by Walter Arnold (US, 4:00 min)
The Man From Arctica by Nils J. Nesse (Norway, 1:00 min)
The Devil You Know IBC by Brian Osborne (Local, 0:48 min)
Armor* by Jennifer Bechtel (Local, 2:00 min)
Office Kingdom by Salvatore Centoducati (Italy, 7:00 min)
Under Age by Joonas Makkonen (Finland, 4:45 min)
ZHS Trailer* by Dan Drake (Local, 1:00 min)
Castcom Cable* by Thomas Nicol (Local, 5:27 min)
Christopher Columbo* by Jiani Bach Nygard (Local, 2:00 min)
Volunteer by Javier Marco (Spain, 3:52 min)
Clowns Are Not Scary* by Mike Trippiedi (Local, 2:36 min)
Ruins by Daniel Ueno (Brazil, 4:05 min)
The Headless Nun by Nuno Sa Pessoa (Portugal, 6:43 min)

Act 2
Heavy Metal Reflections by Shawn Wickens (USA, 2:59 min)
Valse a Pancienne (The Waltz) by Bourreau Francois-Xavier (France, 2:46 min)
If I Only...* by Mike Trippiedi (Local, 2:08 min)
The Contest by Mike Osborne (USA, 0:45 min)
Awkward by Toni Lopez Bautista (Spain, 7:20 min)
6 Shooter by Lauren Parker (UK, 3:30 min)
NO, IT'S NOT THAT by Aitor Arenas (Spain, 3:30 min)
Wacky Robot by Chris Deir (USA), 4:48 min)
Like His Father by Toni Lopez Bautista (Spain, 5:00 min)
Grandma (Lola) by Joey Agbayani (Philippines, 7:00 min)
The Low Road, Baby by Mark Roeder (USA, 4:00 min)

Act 3
Death Of the First Born Egyptians* by Nina Paley (Local, 7:06 min)
Little Baby's Ice Cream by Doug Garth Williams (USA, 0:50 min)
Sister And Brother In the Cemetery* by Mike Trippiedi (Local, 2:54 min)
Piscis by Juan Carlos Camardella (Argentina, 3:15 min)
Tuck Me In by Ignacio F. Rodo (Spain, 1:00 min
Invocation by Robert Morgan (UK, 3:10 min)
Dead Hearts by Stephen Martin (Canada, 16:00 min)

Bobbie





Something Weird on the Screen: The Wild, Bizarre and Wacky World of Scare-Your-Children Movies, Exploitation Shorts and Stag Films



As I may have mentioned a time or two (or forty …) in this column, I love cheesy movies … the cheesier, the better, especially if it cost less than the price of a new car to produce.  Give me a movie that’s the celluloid counterpart of a twenty-pound block of Velveeta®, something that could put a deathgrip on King Kong’s colon, and was done on the cheap, and you have one happy Unimonster.  And from THE BLOB to BUBBA HO-TEP, no type of film does low-budget cheese better than the Genre film—specifically the five associated genres of Horror, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Fantasy, and Exploitation.

Why is it that I enjoy these types of movies so much more than their mega-buck Hollywood blockbuster cousins?  Well, one answer is lowered expectations.  When a major studio pours $180 million into a picture, it had damn well better make me stand up and cheer; anything less is just a disappointment.  Movies such as INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY, or THE DARK KNIGHT demand huge budgets, but the finished product is well worth the filmmakers’ investment.  But when a big-budget film flops, it’s usually a disaster of biblical proportions, sometimes ending the careers of those involved.  The best-known example of this was 1980’s HEAVEN’S GATE, the boring, bloated, Box-Office bomb that sank the career of heretofore-promising director Michael Cimino.  With a budget that ballooned to five times the original estimate, and a running time that was north of three-and-a-half hours, it was Box-Office death, earning less than three-and-a-half million on a thirty-five million dollar investment.  However, when no one expects anything from a movie, it’s hard to be disappointed.

And that brings me to another reason for my love of cheap movies … they’re so much more entertaining.  Let’s face facts—most people go to the movies to be entertained.  Not enlightened, not educated, not indoctrinated … simply to relax and have a good time.  That’s hard to do when the director is trying to beat some socially relevant message into your head; even harder when the beating lasts for three or more hours.  There are people who enjoy that sort of thing; there are also people who prefer tofu to rib-eye.  I have little use for either sort of person.
I for one want entertainment from the movies I watch.  If I want enlightenment, I play golf.  If I want education, I read a book.  And I scrupulously try to avoid indoctrination.  All I seek from my hard-earned movie-buying dollar is a couple of hours of mindless entertainment… not a disguised thought exercise.  I don’t think I differ greatly from the average movie fan in that regard, either.  The average movie fan just wants a little something to take him or her out of their mundane, everyday existence—something that they can’t get in their normal lives.  Sometimes that’s a thrilling adventure yarn, sometimes a historical drama, and sometimes, it’s something just a little further afield.  Something strange, something unusual, something… weird.

For nearly two decades, there’s been a small company catering to those of us who share a love of the cinematic equivalent of a ripe wedge of Roquefort, movies that define the term, “So bad it’s good …”  Something Weird Video is precisely that—something weird, indeed anything weird, that has been captured on film or video.

Say you have a fondness for 1950’s vintage High School hygiene films … SWV has you covered.  You consider yourself a fan of the films of Harry Novak?  They've got what you’re looking for.  Need a Bettie Page or Tempest Storm stag reel for your next bachelor party?  Something Weird is the place for that, and virtually every other type of low-brow, low-class, and low-budget film you can imagine.

Founded in 1990 by Mike Vraney, SWV has grown into a major distributor of classic, and unusual, genre films.  They also specialize in the type of short films that collector’s love, but that every other distributor ignores.  Industrial films, propaganda films, educational films—name an obscure form of video, and chances are they have it in stock.  From a 1959 film produced by the Kansas State Board of Health on the dangers of Syphilis, to ‘60’s-vintage Police training films on how to spot signs of marijuana use, to a promotional film put out by Karo Syrup entitled THE ENCHANTED POT, virtually every taste and interest is catered to by the company.  But by far, their stock in trade is the good, old-fashioned, Exploitation Film.

Precursor to both the Grindhouse films of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and the X-Rated adult features of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, Exploitations became big business as the silent era transitioned into sound.  A small group of producer/distributors, part con-men, part Hollywood mogul, and with a stiff measure of carnival huckster thrown in, came to dominate the Exploitation circuits, playing in dingy downtown theaters and out-of-the-way rural Drive-Ins.  Known collectively as “the Forty Thieves”, these showmen traveled the country exhibiting their films to curious crowds, always promising the raw, uncensored, unvarnished truth about a myriad of social ills, from child marriage to the dangers of sexual promiscuity and drug abuse… and delivering just enough to keep the rubes and yokels happy.

The Exploitations were the cinematic equivalent of a traveling sideshow; talk up the crowds, get them excited about whatever symptom of moral decay was the topic of that week’s film, get them to lay down their money for a ticket, and then give them pretty much what they were expecting—a little entertainment, a little skin, a little naughtiness, all wrapped up in a package that they could regard with a sense of moral outrage and indignation—while secretly wishing that they themselves could indulge in some of that naughtiness.

The kings of the Exploitation circuits made fortunes with these films, often recycling them over and over by splicing new title cards into the prints, or by trading them to other distributors in exchange for films that had already worn out their welcome on other circuits.  Names like Kroger Babb, Dave Friedman, and Dan Sonney might mean little today, but in their era, and in their arena, they were as powerful and influential as Samuel Goldwyn, Darryl F. Zanuck, or Walt Disney.  They were the moguls of Exploitation; the men who worked beyond Hollywood’s pale, creating films no “respectable” distributor would dare touch.  In the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, they, and others like them, fought for an end to censorship of motion pictures and increased freedom for filmmakers, even if ‘mainstream’ filmmakers looked down their collective nose at them.

As the ‘50’s gave way to the ‘60’s, the Exploitations began to change.  The moral message that had been such a prominent part of the “Road Show” era of Exploitation films fell by the wayside as the courts struck down, one by one, the draconian censorship laws on the motion picture industry.  Without the need to justify their more salacious or risqué content, a new breed of filmmakers, people such as Harry Novak, Doris Wishman, and Mike and Roberta Findlay began producing a new breed of Exploitation film.

These were truly exploitative films, lacking any pretense of cultural or educational value.  From Wishman’s ‘Nudie Cuties’ to Herschell G. Lewis’ gore-filled horrors, the early ‘60’s were an explosion of new trends in movies, and those on the leading edge of those trends were the Exploitation filmmakers.  The same year that audiences were shocked by the sight of Janet Leigh dressed only in her undergarments following an afternoon tryst in PSYCHO, moviegoers in New York City’s 42nd Street grindhouses were watching Wishman’s NUDE ON THE MOON, a Sci-Fi “epic” filmed at a Florida nudist colony.  Three years before Peter Fonda starred in the landmark film EASY RIDER, he starred in a not-so-vaguely similar movie, THE WILD ANGELS, directed by Roger Corman for American-International Pictures.

But the Exploitations would go where Hollywood dared not follow, and do so in ways that the major studios wouldn’t think of emulating.  At a time when Hollywood was still struggling to come to terms with homosexuality, racism, drug abuse, and a rapidly changing cultural landscape, the Exploitations were treating all of these topics in an open, frank manner… even if that treatment was less than honest—or flattering.  These were key themes for the “grindhouse” cinema, the infamous strip of theaters along 42nd Street in Manhattan.  A few blocks away might be the bright lights of Broadway, but here all was darkness and shadow, and it was populated by those who shunned the light.  The grindhouses of “The Deuce,” as the strip was christened by authors Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford in their book, Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square, were where the Exploitation film reached it’s zenith.  There you could find an endless variety of perversion and prurient delights… if you were willing to risk your wallet, or perhaps your life, for the experience.

While those who frequented the theaters that made up the “Deuce” profess fond memories of the experience, the truth is slightly different.  The grindhouse area was, in fact, a filthy, crime-ridden, two-by-eight block section of the city that was a breeding ground for prostitution, assault, robbery, and disease.  The only reason fans of these movies traveled to such a blighted zone was because that was the only place that you could see these films… and despite their low-quality and frequently tasteless subject matter, many of these films were worth seeking out.

New York City’s efforts to remake it’s public image led to the end of the “Deuce,” as theater after theater was razed upon the altar of ‘urban renewal’.  For the most part the fans of Exploitations weren't displeased … with the growth of Home Video and the newfound freedom to watch whatever you might choose in the privacy of your own home, why brave the dimly-lit alleyways of 42nd Street?  And as Hollywood’s standards changed, the line between what was “mainstream” and what wasn’t began, first to blur, then to vanish altogether.  This began as early as 1969 when an X-Rated film, John Schlesinger’s MIDNIGHT COWBOY, won the Oscar® for Best Picture.  Ironically, this film examined the lives of two Times Square hustlers played by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, and their struggle to survive as denizens of the “Deuce.”  This led to a spate of semi-respectable adult films—DEEP THROAT and BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR were two notable titles—that were shown in first-run theaters.  With Hollywood now free to explore many of the topics that were previously the sole province of the Exploitation filmmakers, many of them moved into the final stage in the life cycle of the Exploitation filmmaker—hardcore pornography—and the true Exploitation film died a slow, lingering death.  But the movies that made up the more than five decades of the Exploitation period haven’t died, though it was only the efforts of a dedicated few who kept the memory of these films alive, people like Mike Vraney, Bill Landis, Michelle Clifford, Dave Friedman, Harry Novak, and others who have worked to preserve these films, and history of the Exploitation Cinema.

While it’s easy to dismiss these movies as trashy, lewd, and without redeeming value, I believe that is far too harsh a judgment.  Yes, these films were trashy, designed primarily to titillate and tease their audiences … and to that, I say, “So what?”  Could not the same be said for most of the motion picture industry?  The goal of producers and distributors hasn't changed since Edison screened his GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY in the 1890’s—to put asses in seats—at whatever ticket price the market would bear.  If the Exploitation filmmakers hadn't given the movie-going public what they wanted, then they wouldn’t have accomplished this.  And if they hadn't accomplished the task of selling tickets, then they wouldn’t have lasted as long as they did.  Trashy—yes.  Lewd, lascivious, exploitive, prurient, pandering, coarse, vulgar, bawdy … yes, they were all of the above.


But they were also entertaining.  Sometimes that’s good enough.  Sometimes, that’s just what you’re in the mood for.  And thanks to Mike Vraney and his Something Weird Video, we can indulge that mood whenever it strikes.  And not in some run-down, flea-ridden, rat-infested den of iniquity with a movie screen, but in the comfort of our own homes.






DVD Review: GOJIRA / GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS 2-Disc Collector’s Set

Title:  GOJIRA / GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS 2-Disc Collector’s Set

Year of Release—Film:  1954

Year of Release—DVD:  2006

DVD Label:  Sony / Classic Media


THE MOVIE

          GOJIRA—(1954)

          For fifty years, American audiences have known only one version of the definitive Japanese Monster Movie, GOJIRA; the edited-for-American distribution version entitled GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS.  Though VHS tapes of the original Japanese edit, while hard to find, were available here, for most of us the version that had been pieced together with footage of Raymond Burr was the only GODZILLA to which we had access.  That all changed earlier this month with the release of Classic Media’s gorgeous 2-disc GOJIRA Collector’s Set.

          Those of you who think you know this movie really must see the original.  Everything that serves to detract from the quality of the Hollywood version is gone, and we can see just how much was cut, both to tone down the serious message of the Japanese film, and to make room for the spliced-in scenes.  This movie, which for all the excitement and affection it engenders has always seemed a weakly-plotted mish-mash driven only by action, now stands revealed in its unadulterated form as a thoughtful, literate film, nearly twenty minutes longer than the U.S. edit. 

          Moments that wound up on a cutting-room floor in Hollywood help to convey the original intent of the film’s creators:  Gojira isn’t just some honked-off dinosaur out for a meal.  He is the very incarnation of the hell Japan brought down upon itself during World War II, including the embodiment of Japan’s ultimate nightmare, the Atomic Bomb.  In a telling line of dialogue that failed to make it into the Hollywood edit, a young couple is discussing finding a shelter if Gojira should attack Tokyo.  Another man, hearing this, comments “Not the shelters again… that really stinks!”  Memories of the war were still fresh in the collective Japanese conscious, and comment similar to this throughout the film, while having tremendous relevance for Japanese audiences of the mid-‘50’s, would have been problematic at best for audiences in the U.S.

          I’ve waited a lifetime to see this version of one of my favorite films, only to discover that they are two different movies entirely.  But I certainly wasn’t disappointed, and now have an even deeper appreciation for the Big G.


          GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS—(1956)

          I reviewed this movie once already during Kaijû Month here at CreatureScape, and there isn’t much I can say to alter my original opinions of this film.  It remains one of my favorites, and has been for most of my life.

          The one thing that I can add to that assessment is that, as much as I do love this version, to deny that it is vastly inferior to the original GOJIRA would be intellectually dishonest; having them together for direct comparison only serves to highlight those inferiorities.  The thoughtful, deliberate pacing and intelligent scripting of the original is completely lost here, as a 98-minute film is condensed into less than 80 minutes, eliminating most of the plot and virtually all of the character development.

          Still, this is the version I first saw decades ago as a young MonsterKid, and it was impressive enough, even in its heavily-altered form, to inspire a life-long love of Kaijû movies.  It’s nowhere near as good as the original… but that still makes it better than any other giant monster movie of its era.



THE DISC

          This 2-disc set is beautifully packaged in a stout Digipak case like the ones used for the Universal Legacy Collections.  If anything, the graphic design is nicer than that for the Universal sets, and far superior to the standard artwork used for most of the Toho films released to DVD, much more subdued and somber, fitting the mood of the films inside.

          In keeping with Japanese packaging standards, the whole is surrounded by a belly-band containing the DVD specifications, making a very attractive package indeed.

          The two discs contained within all this beautiful packaging are certainly worthy of the advance press, though I can’t help thinking that they could be better.  The print used for the GOJIRA transfer looked great to me, though I have seen complaints about it being an inferior print.  Frankly, I think such complaints are typical videophile snobbery.  The transfer is far superior to any print of GODZILLA that I’ve previously seen, and that’s good enough to satisfy me.  I’m not sure how much you can expect from fifty-year old celluloid.  And as for the GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS transfer, while it is much better than any I’ve seen before, doesn’t quite match the quality of the GOJIRA print.  Perhaps this is due to the original masters not being equal in quality.  Still, the transfer is superior to any I’ve seen before.

          The one flaw that is present is the audio quality on GODZILLA.  I understand that they are working with aging recordings, but still, some effort could’ve been made to clean the tracks up for this release.  Barring that, at least provide subtitles for GODZILLA.  (GOJIRA, with the original Japanese audio, is already subtitled…)

          On the whole, this is a beautiful set, and is just one more in a list of terrific releases of classic Horror and Sci-Fi films that we’ve been blessed with over the past few years.  It’s a trend I hope to see continue.  Fortunately, Classic Media has two additional releases scheduled for November that will follow this format:  GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN and GODZILLA vs. MOTHRA.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

          In terms of special features on these discs, there’s not a lot present that really impresses.  What’s there is good, but this isn't a set that people will buy because of the extras.

          The GOJIRA disc has the lion’s share of extras, with two featurettes; one on the story development, and one on the design of the first Goji-suits.  Both of these are sparse and cheap-looking, composed primarily of still photographs and voice-over narration.  Still, they are fascinating glimpses at the genesis of the king of kaijû, and are worth watching.

          The commentaries on each film, well done by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godiziszewski, are interesting and informative, avoiding becoming pedantic and lecturing.  They even manage to slip a rather obvious “Brokeback Mountain” reference in during one of Raymond Burr’s GODZILLA scenes.

          The only real extra on the GODZILLA disc, other than the commentary, is the original trailer for the U.S. release.

          Overall, while these extras do add to the set, they’re not why you want to buy this DVD.  The opportunity to finally own the original GOJIRA, uncut and unedited, is all the “special feature” you need for that.



IN CONCLUSION


          As I said earlier, I’ve waited a lifetime to see the original GOJIRA, and I was not disappointed.  My affection for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, the version I grew up with, hasn't changed.  I still love it despite all its flaws and faults.  But it is badly flawed, and that can’t be ignored.  Now you can see, in direct comparison, just how good the original was, and why, even adulterated the way it was, it still had the power to enthrall generations.