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.....

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29 October, 2014

Packing for Transylvania

Recently, Alexandra of Mancrates Gifts for Men contacted your friendly ol’ Unimonster.  Mancrates is a site that specializes in manly gifts for manly men (so, of course they came to me, natch)—no frou-frou wrapping paper or frilly bows … the lucky recipient of a Man Crate gets just that, a crate and a crowbar.  The crate comes packed with a chosen assortment of everything a man could wish for—well, almost everything.  From video games, to barware featuring your favorite team’s logo, to enough beef jerky to carry you through any movie marathon or from the earliest pre-game show on Sunday morning through to Chris Collinsworth’s final words fifteen hours later, mancrates.com will box it up and ship it out.  And the question that Alexandra and mancrates wished to pose to the Unimonster was, “If you could have us crate up a kit to help you survive in a horror film, what would it contain?”
Most horror fans, when posed this question, would think ‘zombie apocalypse’ and start assembling weapons, ammo … and giant, economy sized cans of pudding.  Personally, I’m going to go in another direction.  I already have weapons and ammo, and I’m not all that crazy about pudding.  What I am crazy about is classic horror—vampires and werewolves, mummies and monsters, ghosts and ghouls.  And few have done classic horror as well as Hammer Films.  Beginning in 1957, this British studio resurrected classic horror from the depths to which it had plunged following World War 2, making it ‘cool’ again for a generation of movie goers.
Yvonne Furneaux-- The Mummy
Yvonne Monlaur-- The Brides of Dracula
Yvonne Romain-- Curse of the Werewolf, Night Creatures
And that’s the horror film into which I’d place myself.  One of the great, period horrors of the late 1950s, when Hammer was at it’s peak, artistically speaking.  There are several reasons for my selection.  First, no one’s starving in a Hammer film.  In fact, the vampires usually do one the courtesy of a sumptuous meal before the fangs come out and they get down to business.  Second, while I’ve never been accused of being a fashion plate, I do like to bathe and change my clothes more than once a year.  And lastly, we have the lovely ladies of Hammer Horror.  Now, if I have to fight my way through hordes of undead walkers, then Carol and Michonne are my picks.  But for sheer good looks, give me Hammer’s three Yvonnes—Yvonne Monlaur, Yvonne Furneaux, and Yvonne Romain.
So now that that’s decided, I need to pack for the trip.  The first thing mancrates will be putting in that box is some holy water.  I’m not talking about some tiny little vial—I want a gallon jug, preferably blessed by both Popes.  And a Hudson sprayer.  Throw in a box of crucifixes … the more the merrier.  Why Peter Cushing could never bother with packing more than one has always baffled me.  A little foresight and he wouldn’t have had to improvise with a pair of candlesticks.  Besides, vampires, at least in Hammer’s take on the species, tend to travel in packs.  Two more items to take care of the vampire set—a good, heavy mallet and a brace of stakes.  Maybe eighteen or twenty in a quiver would be nice.
Now, compared to vampires, werewolves are relatively easy to kill, if one knows the secret of how to do it.  Silver bullets; a box of fifty should be sufficient.  But not just any cartridge will suffice.  I’d like to keep things as period authentic as possible.  So let’s start with a handgun that’s quintessentially Victorian, with a bit of a ‘Steampunk’ vibe, the Webley Mk. I, chambered for the .455 cartridge.

One last item needs to be taken care of, and then mancrates can nail my crate shut, cover it in duct tape, and ship it out.  As Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and a host of their fellows demonstrated time and again, one simply does not battle monsters unless one is suitably attired; at least, not if one is a gentleman.  I’m not sure how a tweed jacket or white tie and tails helps a person kill monsters … but why take a chance?

05 October, 2014

Hangin’ with My Horror-peeps: Unimonster’s Crypt goes to HorrorHound Indy 2014!

As long time readers of these pages will attest, I love conventions.  The chance to gather with your fellows, to bask in an environment so fully given over to something that’s so much a part of who you are, whatever that might be, is regenerative and exhilarating.  Even the Unimonster can tire of Horror, and even the Unimonster occasionally needs to be reminded of why this genre has held him enthralled for a lifetime.  Nothing does that like a convention, and rubbing shoulders with those who share that love.
For several years now, the HorrorHound Weekend has visited Indianapolis’ eastside, haunting the Marriott East hotel the first weekend in September, making it the perfect lead-in to the fall season, and the beginning of the extended bacchanalia that is the celebration of Halloween in the Crypt.  For most of that time, I’ve been attending the convention, and have happily watched it grow into a major event on the calendars of central Indiana Horror fans.  As usual, this year I and the Crypt’s devoted photographer (and Uni-sister) Cathy Willis arrived early, but not so bright, at the soon-to-be-jammed venue, secured our parking spot, and walked next door for what has become a pre-convention tradition for us, breakfast at the Lincoln Square restaurant. 
Normally, this doesn’t warrant mentioning, as in the past the food has been enjoyable.  Not great, not spectacular, but good, well-prepared, and filling; just what’s needed to fuel us up for a busy day.  This time it was not.  In fact, both Cathy and I found the food to be so disappointing as to merit special attention here.  I hope that this was just an aberration, and next year it will return to its previous level of satisfactory service.  Unfortunately, the staff of the Unimonster’s Crypt will probably remain ignorant of the answer, as our pre-convention breakfast will in all likelihood shift to the nearby Bob Evans.
Once we’ve checked in and gotten our credentials in order, my first priority is connecting with old friends who I only get to see at conventions.  This year, I was lucky enough to run into Count Gore De Vol practically upon walking in the door.  The Count is an old friend, and a reunion with him is always the highlight of a convention.
Another familiar face was Tom Sullivan, the Special Effects wizard behind the original Evil Dead.  One of the first interviews I conducted as the Unimonster was with Sullivan, at the 2004 Horrorfind convention in Baltimore, and it was a pleasure to reconnect with him here in Indy.  It was also a pleasure to introduce Cathy to him, as together we were able to convince her that The Evil Dead is a movie that she should see—hopefully sooner rather than later.
The next old friend of the Crypt that we encountered was artist Chris Kuchta (The Monsters in Monotone: The Horror Art of Chris Kuchta—28 February 2009).  I’ve been a fan of Chris’ artwork for years now, ever since I interviewed him for the Crypt, and that art has only gotten better.  I’m no more an art critic than I was then, but I know what I like, and I like Chris’ art!
 After renewing old acquaintances, the next item on my agenda was touring the HMA-Mask Fest exhibits.  The HMA, or Halloween Mask Association, has been an integral part of HorrorHound Indy for several years now, and for me, one of the highlights of the convention.  For someone whose childhood was spent fixated on the ads for Don Post’s iconic creature masks in the back of Famous Monsters magazine, it’s like letting a chocoholic into the Hershey’s factory.  The artists and craftsmen who make up the HMA never fail to disappoint me with their creativity and imagination, and this year was no exception. 
The Mask room holds far more than just masks, however.  Dark arts and crafts of all types are on display here, and one of the first tables we stopped at belonged to Evil Pumpkins [http://evilpumpkins.com/], owned by a Tennessee couple, Tanya and Jeano Roid.  Dealing in handmade jewelry, sculptures, and other curios, they specialize in, fittingly enough, evil little pumpkins.  Pumpkin necklaces, pumpkin pins, pumpkin magnets … and my favorite, pumpkins in graveyards.  Their pumpkins have a unique look, a blend of the comical and the macabre, kind of like Scooby-Doo with rabies.  However you describe them, they work for me.
Their most interesting product, however, is their ‘Evil Dead Dirt’, dirt taken from the former site of the cabin used for the filming of Sam Raimi’s 1982 classic The Evil Dead.  Such tangible connections to history, whether of the cinema or real world, have always held great significance to me.  I once owned a chunk of the Berlin Wall, and one of my most prized possessions is a working speaker from a Drive-In Theater.  A vial of soil taken from the filming location of one of my favorite movies would be a prized addition to my collection, and to many of yours, as well.  Check out their site, listed above, which will direct you to both their Etsy storefront, and their Facebook page.
Another young artist deserving of your attention is John Lanouette, owner and creative force behind Enchanted Sculptures [http://www.enchantedsculptures.com/].  What made his display stand out from the hordes of gore-covered zombies, slashers, and demons surrounding it was the fun, almost whimsical nature of his work.  Rows of foam rubber anthropomorphic candy corn, friendly gargoyles, and smiling vegetables ready for harvest evoke memories of a simpler, more innocent Halloween, and while those memories may be very distant for the Unimonster, they’re still capable of summoning a smile or two.
Eventually, we made our way to the main exhibit hall, containing the dealers’ room.  As always, this room was the center of most of the activity, and the location of most of the people attending the convention.  For many of the attendees, this was the convention, the place where they could mingle with the stars, check out new merchandise, or track down that long-sought collectible.
One negative that must be mentioned is the poor level of customer service provided by the convention volunteers.  While it’s understandably difficult dealing with the large crowds that attend horror conventions, those who represent those conventions need to remember that their attitudes and action will define how the experience is remembered by those that they are there to serve.
That issue aside, however, I, as always, left the convention feeling refreshed and renewed, and fired up for the Halloween season to come.  Ready for another year of bringing you the best … and the worst … in the world of Horror, Science-Fiction, and Fantasy entertainment.

(The Unimonster’s Crypt wishes to thank Nathan Hanneman and the staff of HorrorHound for their kind assistance and hospitality.)

Darkest Knight: Batman Turns 75

In the early spring of 1939, National Publications, publisher of such popular Comic Book titles as Adventure, Action, More Fun, and the publisher’s flagship title (from which it would someday take its corporate name), Detective Comics, had a rather happy problem on its hands.  The first costumed superhero, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman, had debuted a year before in the premiere issue of Action Comics, and the success enjoyed by the last son of Krypton meant the company was looking to strike four-color gold again.  They issued a notice to their in-house writers and artists—come up with ideas for the next costumed “mystery-man.” 
First appearance of Batman, Detective Comics 27, May 1939
Bob Kane, an artist then working on several strips for National, including “Oscar the Gumshoe,” appearing in issues of Detective, had a hero concept that he had roughed out, a cross between matinee idol Douglas Fairbanks and a mix of such literary figures as the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro.  His original sketch of the character featured a masked man, in a red and blue costume, without gloves, and with rigid bat wings.  He showed the sketch to Bill Finger, a colleague of his who was the ghostwriter for some of Kane’s strips.  Finger made a couple of suggestions … a cowl instead of a mask, gloves to avoid fingerprints, ditch the red in favor of dark blues and grays to blend into the darkness, and a cape with scallops instead of the batwings. 
With Finger writing the story, and Kane’s art, National had their, “next big thing,” and the Bat-Man debuted in the May 1939 issue of Detective Comics, number 27, in “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.”  Six pages, fifty-five panels of art and text, and from that would emerge what is arguably the greatest superhero creation ever, second only to Superman.  This year, Batman turns seventy-five, and both DC Comics and its fans have been celebrating enthusiastically.
Batman, in his earliest incarnation, was a vigilante, wanted by the law even as he battled the criminals they couldn't catch.  While millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne hob-nobbed with Gotham City’s police commissioner Gordon, his alter ego, Batman, used gossip from Gordon as intelligence in his war on crime.  These early adventures of the Caped Crusader are some of the best in the Batman’s canon, with Batman at his most basic, without the gadgets and devices that would come later.  There was no Batmobile; Batman arrived on the scene in Wayne’s powerful roadster.  There was no bat-signal or bat-phone; no batcave, Alfred, or even Robin.  There was just Batman, and his unrelenting, unceasing war against the evil that robbed him of his parents and his childhood.
Soon, he would be joined in his crusade by a young boy who, like Bruce Wayne twenty years before, watched the murder of his parents.  Dick Grayson would become Bruce Wayne’s ward, and, as Robin, the Boy Wonder, fight alongside his mentor against the criminals of Gotham City.  The character would evolve throughout the forties and fifties, from the caped vigilante of his early adventures, to a globetrotting law enforcement agent, to a superhero who regularly traveled to both other worlds and other times.  By the early 1960s, Batman had become a campy caricature of himself, more often battling aliens or medieval monsters than common criminals.
It was during this period that his ‘rogue’s gallery’ was at its peak.  These costumed supervillains, each with their own trademarked style and shtick, became one of the most recognizable features of Batman’s comic book adventures, and an integral part of the 1960s television series.  The Penguin, the Riddler, Two-Face, Clayface … and dozens more, including the two who would become the most important, and enduring, members of that gallery, the Catwoman and the Joker.
Selina Kyle, aka the Catwoman, first appeared in Batman 1, spring 1940.  At first, she was a society jewel thief who called herself the Cat, robbing the wealthy passengers on an ocean liner.  Soon however, she had changed her name, and by her third appearance had become the first costumed villainess in comic book history.  She was unique in her relationship with the Caped Crusader, a thief but never a killer; a criminal who was Batman’s most serious romantic interest.
The Joker also made his debut in Batman 1, and with his sadistic sense of humor, psychopathic eagerness to kill, and insane gimmicks, he rapidly became Batman’s most persistent, and dangerous, foe.  Though he too became campier into the 1950s and ‘60s, beginning in 1956 there was a transformation in the DC creative offices that would eventually see a renaissance in the character of Batman, and in his world.
When DC’s Silver age began in the 1950’s (for Batman, it began with Detective Comics 236, October, 1956), the Golden age superheroes—Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern—were reinvented for contemporary readers.  Then Editor Julius Schwartz conceived of one of the defining concepts of comic book history, the DC Multiverse.
The Golden age superheroes were revealed to have existed in a parallel universe, on an Earth now known as Earth-2.  Their modern incarnations lived on Earth-1.  We, the fans and readers, exist on Earth-Prime.  And these were only three of the universes available for the writers and artists at DC to play with.  Eventually, we would see heroes from Earth-3, Earth-S (the Captain Marvel family of superheroes, formerly published by Fawcett and acquired by DC in the ‘70s), and Earth-X (home to the Freedom Fighters, likewise a recent acquisition of DC’s, who were a group of heroes originally published by Quality).
While initially there was little difference between the Golden and Silver Age versions of DC’s big three—Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, as time passed the divergence became greater and greater.  In the late 1960s, the popularity of the TV series had boosted sales of Batman’s titles to near-record levels, with the circulation of Detective Comics approaching 900,000 copies a month.  Elements from the series began to infiltrate the ‘real world’ of the comic books, most notably the high camp of the series.  Though the books had been bordering on silly for more than twenty years, the publisher pushed Schwartz to bring the books more in line with the series—and the long time fans weren’t pleased at the results.
Another change that’s usually, but incorrectly, credited to the television show is the introduction of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara as the new Batgirl.  While Yvonne Craig’s debut as Barbara Gordon on the third season premiere got more attention, the character was actually introduced in Detective Comics 359, January, 1967—more than ten months prior to her TV debut.
When the series was cancelled after the 1967-68 season ended, the circulation numbers, booming due to the exposure of the series, fell off sharply.  Editorially, the decision was made to make the character more relevant and relatable, to bring Batman into the ‘age of Aquarius.’  One of the first stories to reflect this new direction was “The Cry of the Night is—Sudden Death!” in Detective Comics 387, May, 1969.  This was the thirtieth anniversary of Batman’s first appearance, and for the occasion writer Mike Friedrich updated the first Batman story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” transforming it into a topical, thought-provoking exploration of the generation gap that was so large an issue with the teen demographic DC was aiming to capture.
However, it took a new creative team to take Batman back to his roots.  The new lead writer on Batman, Denny O’Neil, spent time in the DC archives, trying to recapture the original feel of the character, the intent that Kane and Finger had when they created him.  He wanted to bring Batman back to that darkness that was so much a part of the character in the beginning, to restore him to the Darknight Detective he was conceived to be.  To give the reinvented hero form, DC enlisted the services of a popular new artist—Neal Adams.  Adams, then working on a pair of humor books for DC, was eager to work on Batman, but had been rebuffed when he had originally asked Schwartz for the assignment.  He went to Murray Boltinoff, the editor of The Brave and the Bold, the Batman team-up mag, and was given a cover assignment; issue number 75 featuring Batman and the Spectre.  This led to more covers, and soon he was drawing the backup feature in Detective, the Elongated Man.  From there, he soon became the feature artist on the Caped Crusader.  It was his art, and that of colleagues Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, and Jim Aparo that came to define Batman in the 1970s.
The decade of the ‘70s saw greater change in the character than ever before.  Dick Grayson was packed off to college, Wayne Manor was closed up, and Bruce Wayne relocated to the penthouse of the Wayne Foundation building in the heart of Gotham City—along with the Batcave.  The character grew darker as time passed—no mean feat, as Batman was already one of DC’s darkest superheroes.  He gained his most complex and, with the exception of the Joker, deadliest foe in a creation of O’Neil and Adams’, the League of Assassins and Ra’s al Ghul.  Ra’s, and his daughter Talia, would figure into some of the most pivotal story arcs of the decade, and would feature prominently in the “Dark Knight” trilogy of films of the 2000s, directed by Christopher Nolan  More characters were introduced, characters that added depth and dimension to our hero.  The Batman that began the ‘80s bore little resemblance to the one that began the ‘70s.
The 1980s were a traumatic decade, for Batman in particular and DC Comics in general.  By the middle of the decade, things weren’t going so well for the venerable publisher.  It’s primary competition, Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics Group, was growing in popularity—often at the expense of DC.  Marvel’s superheroes were perceived as being edgier, more adult, and simply put, more cool, than DC’s heroes.  As the fiftieth anniversary of DC Comics approached, it was readily apparent to the editorial staff at DC that something drastic was needed to revitalize the brand.  That something would be the single most transformative event to occur in comics since Action Comics 1—the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Conceived by writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez, the Crisis was intended to “clean up” the convoluted, often confusing character continuities that had arisen since the birth of the ‘Multiverse’ in Flash 123.  They felt that the Multiverse had outlived its usefulness, and should be eliminated.  But how to do that without eliminating all the characters that exist because of that Multiverse?
Simple—you don’t.  A list was made of all the characters that had a place in the new, revamped DC Universe.  Everyone else was to be eliminated.  The Crisis touched nearly every DC publication, and changed every continuity.  For all of 1985, fans were riveted to the series, as earths died, universes perished, and heroes fell.  Some were minor heroes, characters whose place in the DC universe had ended long before the Crisis began, such as Lori Lemaris and Prince Ra-Man.  Some, while popular, simply had no place in the streamlined universe, characters like the Huntress, the daughter of Earth-2’s Batman and Catwoman.  While she had been without a regular home since the Justice Society had ended it’s run in Adventure Comics in December, 1979, her subsequent appearances as a back-up feature in issues of Wonder Woman had boosted her popularity to the point that there had been talk of her getting her own book.  But the realigned universe held no place for Helena Wayne, the adult daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, only a few years older than she.
And then there were the deaths that would shake the foundations of the DC universe to that point.  Two in particular would shock fans and have repercussions that would echo through the post-Crisis universe—the Flash, aka Barry Allen, the hero whose creation had launched the Silver Age at DC Comics, and Kara Zor-El, the cousin of Superman who came to Earth as Supergirl.  The Flash’s life had been in a decline since the murder of his wife Iris at the hands of Professor Zoom in Flash 275 (July, 1979), and the story arc involving his trial for Zoom’s death as he tried to recapture him led up to the cancellation of his comic book with issue 350.  Supergirl, who had been a favorite DC character since her introduction in Action Comics 252 (May, 1959), was the most surprising casualty of the Crisis, eliminated due to the decision to once more return Superman to his status as the sole survivor of Krypton’s destruction.
Following the Crisis, every DC character was reinvented, and the Caped Crusader was no different.  Batman became, instead of a character that existed in the darkness, a character within which darkness existed.  A character scarred and crippled emotionally, driven by the compulsion to strike back at the tragedy that robbed him of his parents.  And the man responsible for this transformation was the greatest comic book creator of the modern era, Frank Miller.
Miller, whose career began with some uncredited work at Western Publishing’s Gold Key imprint (after a recommendation from Neal Adams), was coming off a successful run at Marvel, where he had revitalized Daredevil, and created the character of Elektra.  In 1986, DC published Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a four-issue mini-series that would come to define Batman for a generation, and serve as inspiration, to a greater or lesser degree, for all the live-action Batman films produced in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s.
Set in contemporary Gotham City, Miller’s Bruce Wayne was a tired, aging man, retired from his life as Batman for more than a decade.  As Commissioner Gordon, now seventy years of age, is approaching retirement, the crime rate in Gotham is spiraling out of control.  A gang called the Mutants is terrorizing Gotham, motivating the fifty-five year-old Wayne to take up cape and cowl once again to defend his city.  With the ever-faithful Alfred, now in his eighties, and a new Robin, this time the ‘Girl’ Wonder, he resumes his war on crime, with unforeseen, and far-reaching, effects.
Miller’s dark vision of Batman would continue the following year, again in a four-issue mini-series entitled Batman: Year One.  Where The Dark Knight Returns featured a Batman at the end of his career, using technology to overcome his age and injuries, Year One took Batman back to his very beginning, with nothing but his wits and training to depend on, fighting a corrupt police commissioner with only District Attorney Harvey Dent on his side.  A young Lt. James Gordon, an honest cop in a sea of corruption, with a pregnant wife at home, and partnered with a beautiful female detective, with whom he becomes involved at work, is tasked with bringing in the masked vigilante known as the Batman.
These two story arcs created the Batman that modern audiences are familiar with, the Batman, essentially, of the Christopher Nolan films.  Those fans that began reading Batman comic books since the Crisis easily recognize the character in the movies.  Those of us who began our friendship with the Caped Crusader in the ‘60s and ‘70s had more difficulty with reconciling the Batman on the screen with the superhero of our childhoods.
My association with Batman began at an early age, watching the TV series in its first run.  I was four when the series ended, old enough to be a Bat-Fan, but still too young for the comic books.  That would quickly change, and by the summer of 1969, my comic book collection had begun growing—or, I should say, my first collection.  I didn’t buy the typical comic books a five-year-old might—the Disney books, or Bugs Bunny.  Nor was I buying superheroes then, DC or Marvel.  If there was one thing that the five-year-old Unimonster had in common with his fifty-year-old counterpart, it was a deep love of horror, and everything associated with it.
Born about fifteen years too late for the “golden age” of E.C. Horror—Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Weird Science—I nevertheless had excellent horror titles from which to choose.  Gold Key had The Twilight Zone and Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, both titles guaranteed to get my attention.  Another Gold Key that was a favorite of mine was Ripley’s Believe it or Not, an anthology of weird, supposedly true tales of mystery, horror, and suspense.
DC wasn’t without its share of horror titles.  House of Mystery, House of Secrets, The Witching Hour, The Unexpected, all found their way into my stack of comic books.  Soon I noticed other DC titles, featuring characters I was familiar with already, and some that I hadn’t seen before.  Batman and Superman, of course … but also the Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman.  All caught my attention, and my interest, but with comic books at 15¢ each, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the horror books yet, and I couldn't afford both.
I needed something to bridge the gap, something that touched both genres to pull me into the world of superheroes.  That came when I was six, almost seven.  The December 1970 issue of Batman, number 227, hit the racks shortly before Halloween, and I had to buy it.  The cover conveyed hints of a Batman with whom I was unfamiliar, one that bore little relation to the Batman of the TV series.  As I read the story “The Demon of Gothos Mansion,” that first impression was confirmed.  This Batman was a creature of the night; a frightening, vengeful fiend that hunted evildoers while cloaked in darkness.  I was hooked.

And I still am, nearly forty-five years later.  My first collection is long gone.  My second grew to over 2,000 comic books before it too vanished, sacrificed piecemeal to the priorities of adulthood.  Now I’m working on my third collection, trying to recapture some of the comic books that I once owned.  Or am I trying to recapture the youth that’s as lost as those four-color memories?

Hacking through Haddonfield: How HALLOWEEN Gave Birth to a Genre

(Originally Published in 2006)

Though my preferences usually run more in the Classic vein of Horror, every so often I feel the need to inject a little blood and gore into the mix.  Usually, I’ll pull out a Bava or Fulci film, or, depending on my mood, one of De Ossorio’s Blind Dead movies.  The European “Lost Cannibal Tribe” films of the ‘70’s are always good for plenty of blood & guts, though they aren't for most tastes.  For more recent fare, there’s no shortage of filmmakers who tend towards the gorier aspects of Horror.  Takashi Miike, director of the Japanese cult hit Ôdishon —aka— Audition, has developed quite a reputation as a director who pushes the boundaries with his films.  The Spanish filmmaker Nacho Cerdà has repeatedly blown through those boundaries, most notably with his short film Aftermath.

Domestically, the movies of Herschell Gordon Lewis never fail to keep me entertained, even if calling them “B-Pictures” is paying them an undue compliment.  I’ve always had a soft spot for bad movies, and H. G. Lewis would’ve given Ed Wood a run for his money in that department.  Romero’s Dead films are always an option for gore, as are the films of Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, and Clive Barker.  Currently, directors such as Eli Roth and Rob Zombie are keeping Hollywood’s manufacturers of fake blood in clover.

Of course, we also have the teen slasher films so popular in the ‘70’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s … franchises such as Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and the first and best of the Unstoppable Slasher movies, John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Thought of today primarily for being the film that introduced us to Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween should instead be remembered for having given birth to the uniquely American sub-genre of the standard slasher films, a curious sub-genre that I refer to as the “Unstoppable Slasher” movies.  Jason might have gotten the glory, and Freddy the best lines, but Michael beat them both to the punch.  And, in addition to being the first, he was by far the best.

Horror Fans today, long since jaded by multiple sequels, prequels, and even a cross-over, rightfully view each new iteration of these masters of massacre as nothing more than the lowest form of Horror, the cinematic equivalent of a Big Mac and fries… in truth, just more evidence of Hollywood’s contempt for the loyal fans of Horror Films.

But that overlooks just how good … just how influential, these films were when they premiered.  Halloween gave birth to a genre, and resurrected the Franchise concept that had been so successful for both Universal and Hammer Films.  Fans today might decry the never-ending parade of sequels that these films became, and not without reason.  But that fails to acknowledge that there is a reason that Halloween, and films like it, became franchises in the first place:  Because the original movie was so damn good.

If Slasher films are the American version of Italy’s Giallos, then John Carpenter is the American Bava.  One of the best directors in Horror today, as he has been since 1978, Carpenter has been responsible for some of the greatest Genre films of the past thirty years.  The Fog, The Thing, Christine, The Prince of Darkness … all have served to demonstrate the range and ability of Carpenter, and Halloween is, at least in my opinion, his masterwork.  Though not as polished and professional in appearance as his later films, the film’s raw, rough edge helped make it one of the most effective Horror Films of all-time, and the best of the Slasher genre.  The minimalist plot; the silent, emotionless killer; the teen-agers trapped in a peril they’re not even aware of, and Loomis’ absolute conviction that his patient is the physical embodiment of evil.  All of these factors combine to produce a truly suspenseful film—one that slowly builds into a frightening climax while not depending on the cheap, throwaway shocks that would become the hallmark of movies of this type.

This soon became one of the most successful films of the ‘70’s, and was, for a long time, the top-grossing Independent film of all time.  Though it gave rise to a series of sequels, none were helmed by anyone with a hint of Carpenter’s talent, and the series declined rapidly.

A year and a half after the premiere of Halloween, Friday the 13th made its debut.  Directed by prolific producer Sean S. Cunningham, and owing much to Halloween, F13 was nevertheless a tremendously good movie in it’s own right… not up to the quality of the former film, but easily the best of a weak year for Horror.  The film was hugely successful, well beyond the anticipation of the producers, and a string of sequels soon followed.  Friday the 13thPart II, released one year after the first film, introduced us to Jason Voorhees, the champion of the Slasher circuit, who’s still in business 25 years later.  Yet another sequel is currently in pre-production, with a 2007 release planned.

Four years after F13 began its domination of the sub-genre, Wes Craven gave us his take on the theme with the wisecracking, knife-gloved, ghost-of-a-psychopathic-pedophile Freddy Krueger, in Nightmare on Elm Street.

Craven, certainly the most commercially successful of the great Horror directors that arose in the late ‘60’s-early ‘70’s, predictably took the Unstoppable Slasher movies in a new direction with Freddy, and would resurrect the sub-genre 12 years later with the innovative, and much-copied, Scream.

There were other attempts to create similar horror franchises … the Candyman movies, a doll named Chucky, even a Leprechaun and a Genie.  Some of these movies were actually pretty good.  Most weren't.  But none ever equaled Halloween—the night Michael came home for the first time.

Bobbie's, "Movies to Look For"-- Rockabilly Zombie Weekend (2013)

Rockabilly Zombie Weekend

Reviewed by:  Bobbie

Becky (Christina Bach) and Grant (Daniel Baldock), two young rockabilly lovers, want to get hitched at an outdoor venue.  Unbeknownst to them, earlier that same day, two ‘Men in Black’ types from the Government ordered a local crop duster to hose down the surrounding areas with an experimental mosquito spray to stop the spread of West Nile Virus.  Little did anyone know that those two MIB types were unleashing something far more deadly that the Virus!

Despite Becky’s mother, a waitress who gives hand-jobs for extra cash behind the diner, and Grant’s mother, a rich-bitch type who tells Grant he’s too good for the likes of that trashy Becky, these two love-birds decide to go forward with the nuptials.  Surrounded by their best buds, beer and swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes, they pledge their trough.  Well, almost.  As they get to the “I do” part, a zombie attack is suddenly upon the gathered group!  Will Becky and Grant escape the ghastly, flesh-chomping hoards!?!  And what about their friends!?!  Their families!?!  Will they survive the … Rockabilly Zombie Weekend?!
Sound exciting?  Wellll ... it’s not as grim as I assumed it would be from the title.  Andy S. Montejo, who did the cinematography, certainly knows his way around a camera and camera angles!  And the acting, other than the two MIB types, was certainly semi-professional.  The script, however, was shop-worn and included many stereotypical plot points.  Zombies invading a hospital?  Check!  Grizzled old man showing the fleeing lovers who has the most guns?  Check!  Loved one being torn apart and consumed?  Check!  Military intervention?  Check!

However, the music by Killer Moonshine was toe-tapping fun!  And the special effects, although heavily dependent on computer effects, was stomach churning.  Jaime Velez Soto directs from a screenplay penned by Tammy Bennett.  The aforementioned Christina Bach (Cassadaga), along with J. LaRose (Insidious), Michelle Elise (Vaudeville Comedy, Then and Now), Randy Molnar (The Tenant) and Daniel Baldock (Bigfoot and Other Adventures) star.

Rockabilly Zombie Weekend opened in Orlando Florida at the Plaza Cinema on Sunday, February 17, 2013.  According to movie blog Sonic Electric “Originally slated for 2 theaters, demand was so great, a total of five theaters were needed to debut the film.  Actors in costume (military uniform), escorted (evacuated), ticket-holders to their respective theaters.”  Rockabilly Zombie Weekend has been making its way around the country, playing at midnight theater showings and, I imagine, a few remaining drive-in theaters.  It has been released on DVD and can be purchased at the official web-site [http://www.rockabillyzombieweekend.com/].  If you like classic cars, beehive hair-dos, hooker shoes, rockabilly music, zombies and knocking back a few brews, then this just might the movie for you!


Cambot's Voice #3-- I Was a Teenage Werewolf (MST3K-809)

I Was a Teenage Werewolf (MST3K-809)

Reviewed by:  S. J. Martiene

I mentioned in Experiment 1 that I was a Mom of two teenagers.  Some of the best, MSTied movies feature the teenager and B-movie genres.  It just so happens that this month’s feature, MST3K #809 I Was a Teenage Werewolf fits both bills perfectly.  Of course, they are SUPPOSE to be teenagers in this film, but Hollywood has an affinity for older actors playing high schoolers; ONE of which is playing our monster.  We have it all in this movie.  There is milk-throwing, raw meat eating, a Halloween party, bad singing, a mad scientist, and yes … a werewolf.  The fact that THIS particular lycanthrope is portrayed by none other than TV icon, Michael Landon makes this movie interesting for riffing on so many fronts.  There are Bonanza jokes, Little House on the Prairie jokes, and Highway to Heaven jokes.  There is even one riff dedicated to a 1976 autobiographical movie Landon wrote and directed called The Loneliest Runner.

I have to say that since re-watching this movie, the host segments are some of the best of the series.  With a runtime of only 76 minutes, the host segments are a bit more detailed and really show the comedic timing and writing talents of the gang.  So enjoy, as we take you through the exploits of 1957’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf.

The Bots want to overthrow Mike as Captain of the ship, but they soon learn that none of them are capable of replacing him.  Crow and Tom nominate Gypsy, but she has to run the ship.  Crow has a set of creepy crawlers in the thing-maker … and well, Servo … is Servo.  He has prepared a “statement” on WHY he cannot be Captain.  This is one of my favorites, so read on, won’t we?

…  I cannot be Captain, for you see dear friends, I am unfit to lead other men into battle, into space, or in a line dance.  I submit that if I picked my nose for a half an hour, my head would cave in.  I’m nary to know betwixt shinola and that other stuff.  I cannot lead because I cannot find my ass with both hands and a flashlight … I will now open the floor to questions about my accomplishments.
Since Servo’s concession speech is over, Mike regains his position as Captain.  Servo mocks him as only a conceding Bot can.  Pearl, Brain Guy, and Professor Bobo are on Earth (somewhere).  They are camped out and Pearl has told Mike she is putting the crew on battery back up, disconnecting them from their main power source.  This upsets Mike greatly … “We’ll be without power???”  And then, what follows, is the BEST Pearl Forrester line ever:

“…  You know what else?  You’ll be without diapers too, you big, huge, giant babies!!  DEAL WITH IT!!”
Pearl packs up all the gear, and sends the guys a movie.  Soon, there’s a hull breach and Servo comes back with a face hugger.

During this film, there are many parodies of the Bonanza theme song.  The movie opens with our lycanthropic protagonist, Tony, in a schoolyard fight.  Soon we see Detective Donovan (Barney Phillips).  You may remember him from the EXCELLENT Twilight Zone episode, Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?  He does what he can to calm Tony down, but he doesn’t want to have any of it.  You will notice a high number of Richard Jewell jokes during this segment.  Google him if you don’t remember what happened at the ’96 Olympics.  Anywho, Donovan wants Tony to see a “doctor/shrink/mad scientist.”  Tony disagrees and walks off with his girl.  The next scene takes us home and his Dad.  Tony protests too much when Dad tries to talk about his stubbornness.  His Dad leaves for work, chiding him NOT to eat his lamb chops raw like he did his burgers.  Tony has had enough of everyone yapping at him all day and we see the whole premise of his demise see ….MILK HURDLING!!  (All the guys make kitty meow sounds here)  The scene switches to Arlene’s house, where “Jabba the Husband” and the woman with “Aaron Burr’s Hairstyle” live.  They give the 50’s “talking” to the Tony the boyfriend.  Girlfriend starts harping about the doctor again. 
Now it is PARTY TIME…with vague “Kinda White” music, innocuous pranks, great lines, and the running joke with safety dummy, Resusi-Anne.  “Ah...kids those days!”  (Crow)

Crow has a Proximity Detector to see how bad the alien life forms are on the ship.  They are all OVER, problem is…..he had the wrong setting activated on the detector and was measuring the humidity.  They have LOTS of humidity, by the way.

Back to the party…  “Elvis J. Pollard” is singing.  “We are now entering a genital-free zone.”  (Servo)  The song is one of the worst ever, almost as bad as when Michael Landon was on the TV show Hullaballoo (Google that if it is around…YIKES).  After the song is over, the DUMB pranks start.  Mike:  “The Carnival of Souls boyfriend.”  One of the guys blows a horn in Tony’s ear … and suddenly it’s “The Sock Hop of the Damned” (Mike).  Tony slugs one of his friends and pushes down his girlfriend.  Servo laments, “I thought it was alright if I picked a little fight, Bonanza?”
That little episode at the party lands our little werewolf-to-be in the office of veteran B-movie actor, Whit Bissell (who was actually in some really good films too).  Bissell’s character, Dr. Brandon also has a sidebar conscience (his assistant played by Joseph Mell).  Dr. Brandon hypnotizes him, and he closes the session saying, “Soon…you’ll be yourself.”  “An angel, a cowboy, a pioneer dad.”  (Mike)
The kids have another gathering…but Tony is bumming.  Frank (another kid) isn't pairing up with anyone and will walk home alone. 
Cut to Frank walking home ALONE.  ”Ralph Fiennes IS Li’l Abner!”  (Crow)  “I was a teenage werewolf snack.”  (Servo)  We know Frank is TOAST he just runs and falls and falls and runs…and well…this IS a predictable set-up in a B-movie.

Servo hunts down face hugger and kills him.  Did I mention he was heavily armed?  He is going after the “beast” that has the ship surrounded.  Crow and Mike are taking bets on how long it takes Servo to cry.  And he does cry ...singing…”Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “(They’re Coming to) America.”


The movie returns and we find ourselves at the police station, with Detective Donovan.  Another policeman walks in.  This guy….NAMED GUY Williams did not get a first billing, but he became known later playing TV’s Zorro and Dr. John Robinson of Lost in Space.  Also, there is an introduction to Pepe, the janitor, at the police station who wanted to look at the pictures.  Pepe knows right away, the death is caused by a werewolf.  “You’re crazier than Dr. Smith!”  (Servo)

Tony goes back for another session at Dr. Brandon’s.  Tony is scared.  “I found a leather jacket in my stool this morning!”  (Servo)  Brandon keeps battling with his assistant.  Tony remains tense.
High school, high school and we have to see a girl in yucky gym leotards.  Tony talks to the principal and he gets kudos from her.  He leaves and starts watching the gymnast.  “It’s alright if I kill a couple of kids, Bonanza!”  (Crow)  He leaves the office and bells ring “Oops, he’s Johnny Depping.”  (Mike)  He attacks her in front of many people then, the poor girl dies.  “This is good, she caught him in the act and she can rub his nose in it.”  (Servo)  When the cops arrive, all the kids finger Tony, but they can’t believe it.  Even Dr. Brandon denies Tony could BE a werewolf.  Everyone gets a going over, the Dad, the girlfriend, and Tony is still howling up and down the woods.  “Just give him a Liv-a-snap.”  (Servo) 


The beast is laying GIANT alien eggs.  The guys start making omelets and …well, Crow starts designing the menu.  “She’s not around, which means she could be anywhere!”  (Servo)  Suddenly Crow becomes a restaurant critic.

A search commences for Tony.  I’ll just list a series of riffs during this segment because there is no real action to describe except for guys peering through things.  “Try banging on his food dish, men.”  (Mike)  “The Bernard Hermann score really heightens the tension.”  (Servo)  “Looks like Paddington on a bender”  (Mike)  “This werewolf is an herbivore.  Luckily, this guy’s name is Herb.”  (Crow)  “Indiana Jones and his sidekick, Merle.”  (Crow)  “Never let Jose Feliciano lead your search party.”  (Mike)  “Sir, I think I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand.”  (Mike)  “1943- An Ewok makes it behind German lines” (Servo)
Finally Tony changes back to Tony.  He calls Arlene but cannot speak to her.  The police want to know who called her; she couldn't tell.  “…  I’ll check in with Huggy Bear.”  (Servo)  Tony then returns to Dr. Brandon, who decides to put him under one more time.  “Dogs can sense bad acting.”  (Servo)  Tony changes back into a wolf; this isn’t good for Whit Bissell.  The cops FINALLY come in and look at the debris field.  “Wow, a werewolf that size can really poop!”  (Servo)  They shoot to kill, guessing somewhere along the line the silver bullet necessity has been covered.  Tony is dead.  Whit Bissell is dead.  All that is left is for the police to cry over spilled werewolf.
The guys exit the theater and they soon see the alien has taken over the ship.  They have to reverse the ship polarities to remove it.  This didn’t work, so they have to do the one thing they were saving that would repulse the alien so much, it would have to leave.  Mike became Adam Duritz of Counting Crows.  It worked.  Once they regained control of the ship, we see Pearl telling ghost stories around the campfire to Bobo and Brain Guy.  She has them crying like little girls.
This movie is a howling good time.  Seriously, it has EVERYTHING.  I have seen it unriffed and riffed many, many times and every time I laugh my butt off.  If you get the chance to see it, don’t miss it. 
These following websites are invaluable for information.  Check them out, won’t we?

Trash Palace Dumpster: Z Nation (2014 - SyFy)

Z Nation

Reviewed by: Bobbie Culbertson

It should come as no surprise that in this era of zombie TV programs that dominate the Nation’s sets, that the SyFy channel, in conjunction with distributor The Asylum (Sharknado, Sharknado 2), would give viewers Z Nation.

Z Nation has all the requirements of a zombie program in that it does have zombies.  Hoards of fast moving zombies!  And there’s no shortage of carnage either!  Heads explode, torn limbs fly akimbo and 90% of the time the screen is fairly dripping with blood.  The violence is ridiculously graphic.  It strives to cram into each episode as much gore and violence as possible even if that means it has more guts than brains.

And, as usual, we have survivors trying to get one man, Murphy (Keith Allen), whose blood might cure the hellish apocalypse from New York to California.  A nice bit of action in that it will take lots of time for them to complete the trip and mean more time for lots of action.  However, what Z Nation does not have is a cohesive script.  Plot points come up often but as just as often left to die on the vine.  The audience is left to figure out why getting this one guy to the West Coast is humanity’s only hope after having just having been told there is no cure.  Dialogue meant to be pithy instead seems instead cribbed from other bad films.  And the characters?  The usual rag-tag group consisting of bikers, madmen and phony messiahs, a couple of Zombieland-esque college-aged kids, tough guys and tougher women all going mano-a-mano to show who has the biggest “set.”

This is the show for viewers who abandoned The Walking Dead after season 2 because all that talkin’ hurt their thinkers.  However, there is one shining bit that saves this and that is Citizen Z (DJ Qualls) who, as the last holdout Air Force grunt at an abandoned North Pole Army base, acts as the survivor’s eye-in-the-sky while spinning stacks of wax for their amusement.

Z Nation might do well to have a running banner across the bottom of the screen reading “homage ... homage ... homage” as to not get sued by AMC.  Let’s look at the similarities:

1. Zombie infested prison?  Check!
2. Bus loads of zombie children?  Check!
3. Possibly egomaniacal village leader?  Check!
4. Desperate attempt to deliver the one person capable of ending the apocalypse?  Check!
5. Shooting a child to save the survivors?  Check!
6. Cannibalism?  Check!

However, with a zombie baby in episode 1 “Puppies and Kittens” (yes, the zombies are referred to as that!) and exploding oil tanks filled with zombies in episode 2 “Fracking Zombies, the 13-week run should seem short to those whose zombie needs are met with 2-dimensional FPS video game accuracy.  Z Nation is the best thing that could have happened to The Walking Dead!  And that ain’t bad!