Monday, October 31, 2011

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead is my favorite movie of all time. It has always creeped me out and always delivers every time I watch it. I always seem to save a viewing for Night of the Living Dead just for Halloween night. A bit of a tradition if you will.

George Romero’s first film was filmed in 1968 on a very small budget of around $100,000. The movie introduced the idea of flesh eating zombies to an unsuspecting film audience. It’s stark black and white photography added to the creepiness and macabre scenes. It’s charm is timeless and has been a cult favorite for over 40 years. 

The pic that started it all
I first discovered this movie through an article in what I believe was a “Weird Tales” magazine back in the late 70’s. I remember being at school and excited to have a chance to buy a book at the book fair that was being held in the school library. I had found the novel version of Star Wars and was pretty set on what I was going to spend my parents money on. I mean Star Wars was HUGE at the time! Then out of the corner of my little eye I saw this magazine. It intrigued me so I opened it. I cannot tell you one story that was featured in this magazine but I do remember a still shot of these people on the front porch of a house. They looked to be clamoring about the doors and windows and one even had what looked like a large stick or club in its hand. The picture just hit me for some reason and I read the heading and found out the picture was from the movie Night of the Living Dead. The “Monster Kid” in me was already starting to bloom so I chucked the Star Wars book and bought the magazine instead! I remember reading about the movie and thinking that I had to see this one day! At the time home video had not been introduced to our family so I would have to wait several years before finally laying eyes to what would become a staple in my horror viewing habits.
Ben....good guy don't mess with him

I’m not going to review the movie here but I am just going to point out all the stuff that makes it great. Oh and there will be spoilers so if you haven’t seen this film you may read at your own risk. The opening scene is classic, period. From the opening credits and shots of the car driving up to the cemetery to the point where Barbara finally finds safety in the old house is one of the most brilliantly filmed sequences in horror film history. You get creepy atmosphere right from the start and introduced to two nice characters and one lone zombie that is trying his damnedest to get to his prey. The scene where Barbara flees the car, makes it to the road and then begins to run towards the camera and the camera begins to pull away from her is my favorite shot in the whole film. Romero gives the viewer the feeling of helplessness much like the old recurring dream where you try to run but it feels like you are going nowhere.

Harry Cooper, a real a-hole.
Then you have the banter between the characters, especially between Ben (Duane Jones) and Mr. Cooper (Karl Hardman). The dynamic between these two is well played out and completely defines Cooper as a real a-hole who deserves to be shot and then eaten by his zombiefied daughter. Everyone seems to want to work together except Cooper. He is hell bent on trying to preserve his own life no matter what the cost is to others. Is he trying to be a good father and husband by protecting his family? Nope that idea is completely thrown out the window with the exchanges between him and his wife Helen (Marylin Eastman). Helen tells Harry “We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn't going to solve anything”. That pretty much tells us what the dynamic is between these two.


And who can forget Kyra Schon, the little girl who plays the Cooper’s daughter Karen. Karen’s been bitten by a zombie and mainly hangs out on the makeshift table resting throughout the film. She delivers one classic line, “I hurt”. But that is all she needs to say because she more than makes up for it in the finale when she finally turns to full zombie and attacks her mother with a spade. The scene is an all time classic with tilted camera angles, chocolate syrup splattered on the wall (it was filmed in black and white remember?) and a bizarre soundtrack that features the creepiest of screams and squeals.

Marilyn Eastman and Bosco chocolate syrup.
The ending of the film is a complete downer. It works don’t get me wrong and I would have it no other way but to have the hero of the movie, the one man who had it all together. The one who talked reason to everyone in the house, he gets mistaken for a zombie and gets a bullet between the eyes. The posse that was out killing zombies and trying to make the county safe makes one of the biggest gaffes in horror movie history. Well Ben was smart. He knew how to handle things and was a quick thinker. He took no crap from anyone and put Cooper in his place but he was mistaken about one single thing. The cellar was the safest place to hide from the zombies.

Night of the Living Dead also holds a special place in my Halloween heart because I first added it to my collection from a T.V. airing back in the mid 1980’s. A local channel aired the Hal Roach colorized version doubled with the T.V. premier of John Carpenter’s Halloween II. I didn’t really care that the version aired was the colorized version, I just wanted to add to the shelf for future viewing and cutting the cost of constant rental fees. I also found it pretty ironic that Night of the Living Dead is seen and heard in Halloween II. It is one of the movies playing on Halloween night during the “Dr. Dementia” Marathon. So to me it is completely fitting to watch Night of the Living Dead on Halloween night. It delivers the creeps and takes me back to a more simple time.

So turn down the lights, grab your popcorn and enjoy!!

Happy Halloween everybody!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Alan Parsons "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (1976 Polygram)

In my junior year of high school way back in 1988 I discovered The Alan Parsons Project’s “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”. My 11th grade English teacher is actually to blame…well I shouldn’t say blame. She had it on her desk and I inquired about it being that I saw the  words “Edgar Allan Poe” after the title. She let me borrow the cassette and I completely fell in love with this album. I let her borrow one of my cassettes just to be fair. I gave her Slayer’s speed metal classic “Reign In Blood” to check out. I have a feeling I got the better end of the deal because she was in no way a fan of anything of Slayer’s nature.

Right from the start the first track sets the mood for the rest of the album. Orson Welles reads from Poe’s “Dream Within a Dream” which is also the name of the first track. Welles voice is perfect of course and the music has a dreamlike quality and subtle but still driving bass line which leads into “The Raven”.  This track is pretty unique because Parsons actually sings on this song. Something he usually never does on any APP album. The album now takes on a progressive rock type feel and moves on into “The Tell Tale Heart” which is a more “rock” tune. “The Cask of Amontillado” is a slower song which mixes fine melody with the macabre subject matter of murdering your rival by walling them up to slowly die.

“The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” returns to the progressive rock mode and features some great vocal work by John Miles and Jack Harris. The album takes a completely different turn on “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Narrated again by Welles, the song is presented in five sections; Prelude, Arrival, Intermezzo, Pavane and Fall. The song also features some wonderful orchestral work arranged and conducted by Andrew Powell. 

The last track is “To One In Paradise”, a slow and dreamlike piece of work that has that Alan Parsons Project “sound”. It’s the kind of song that can lull you to sleep as your mind harkens back to days gone by. At least that’s what it does for me.

For a debut album this is a brilliant and huge undertaking to put the feel and atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe’s work to music. The Alan Parsons Project nails it! So thanks to my 11th grade English teacher, Linda MaColl for turning me on to this incredibly awesome album and to those who haven’t encountered it yet; take a listen to some of these youtube grabs! Great October listening indeed!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Back in 2006 I discovered a really cool blog called Scar Stuff. The blog belongs to Jason Willis, a true "monster kid" if there ever was one. He mainly featured links to downloads of cool Halloween inspired albums of the 60's and 70's. He had a knack for really capturing the memories of Halloweens of days past. A time when everyone seemed to celebrate the holiday and there were no "fall festivals". It just an all out Halloween assault! The way it should be! Each October Jason brings something new to the table of spooks and this year he has really "knocked the ball outta the part" to quote one follower of the Scar Stuff blog.

In 1969 a children's Halloween album was release called "Halloween: Games, Songs and Stories" by Kay Lande and Wade Denning on Den-Lan Records (later re-released on Golden Records in 1974). The first track was a song called "Halloween". It was based on the classic piece entitled "Danse Macabre" by Saint Saens. The song completely captures the feel of Halloween. Well Jason took this a step further and armed with his i-phone and the hisptamatic app, Jason created a visual that also completely captures the essence of Halloween. Enjoy this incredible piece of original work and don't forget to drop by Jason's blog Scar Stuff for more Halloween spookiness guaranteed to take you back to days gone by!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

One of the great things about the Halloween season is that satellite and cable channels show more horror films. My favorite of these channels isTurner Classic Movies (Channel 256 for you Direct Tv subscribers). Each season many of the same titles get shown but there are always some newbies that I haven’t seen and I eagerly search the schedule to see what is in store for me in my favorite month of October.

Most everyone knows the story of Jekyll and Hyde. Jekyll is a scientist researching the possibility of being able to separate the two sides of man, good and evil. Jekyll is successful with his experiment by creating a potion which transforms himself into an evil and animalistic incarnation of himself. He is able to transform back into his rightful self with another potion. Even though the experiment is a success, Jekyll realizes the dangers of such a potion. Another transformation occurs without the help of the potion and all bets are off as Hyde goes on a murderous spree and is finally killed in a wonderfully filmed finale.

Fredric March plays the role of both Jekyll and Hyde. The Hyde make up is well done for it’s time. The transformation effects are extremely well done as well utilizing a makeup that can’t be seen in one type of filtered lighting but as another filtered lighting is turned on the makeup appears giving the effect that Jekyll’s skin is changing color. The full transformation makeup is very ape like complete with simianesque fangs. Fredric March completely changes character giving the impression another actor could be playing the role. A portrayal so well done it earned him his first Oscar. 

What really surprised me about this film was it’s concentration on deviant sexuality. Early in the film Jekyll meets Ivy (Miriam Hopkins), a prostitute who he rescues from the hands of a violent man near the boarding house she lives in. Jekyll carries her to her room where Ivy flirts and pretends to be injured. She undresses in front of him, tempting him with her body and slipping under the covers of her bed. A pretty racy scene for 1931 I must say. Jekyll resists temptation since he is engaged to be married to his love Muriel (Rose Hobart). This seems to be the tipping point for Jekyll as soon after he takes his first taste of the mind and body altering elixir and goes looking for Ivy under the guise of Hyde. Hyde forces Ivy to do as he pleases and keeps her prisoner in her boarding room. Miriam Hopkins’ portrayal of a distraught and fearful prisoner is very well acted. Hyde’s existence seems to be built upon Jekyll’s own sexual frustration with his fiancĂ© and wanting to up the date of their wedding. Muriel’s father will not budge on the date. Jekyll is able to live out a sexual side of him that actually plunges into depravity and violence.

The sets are well done and capture the feel of Victorian London very well. The slum neighborhood were Ivy lives is especially dank and seedy adding more to ambience. Jekyll’s laboratory is so chock full of beakers and test tubes it’s almost ridiculous but still adds to the overall feel of the good doctors lab. Supposedly the movie had a budget of  $1.14 Million which was a huge amount of money for a  horror film at the time. The film did very well for Paramount Pictures.

This is a true classic horror film that any fan of the genre should seek out. It is available on a double feature DVD with the 1941 remake starring Spencer Tracy. Go get it!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's that time of the year all you fiends and ghouls!

It's that time of year again! October is here and of course that means it's Halloween time! I am going to try and post as much Halloween related things as I can during this month.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love the fall and I love the colors that the season brings out. It makes me smile to see the sight of pumpkins on doorsteps, scarcrows and Indian corn. Throw in some homemade haunts and I am golden for October. As each day goes by my mood gets spookier. My listening habits begin to drift from the standard hard rock and heavy metal that permeats my life and I begin to indulge in songs like "Monster Mash" and "The Mummy's Bracelet". Of course I also have to have a good dose of The Misfits and other rock tuneage to satisfy the rock n roll beast within!

  When I was a kid I had one of those Fisher Price Movie Viewers and just like the picture here it came with Disney's "Lonesome Ghosts" cartoon. There was no sound just the cartoon which was on actual film and housed inside the cartridge. I have no clue what millimeter size this was but you could control the speed with the crank handle and also run it forwards or backwards. This thing fascinated me to no end! It also fueled my love for spooky entertainment.

So hats off to October! I will try to post more Halloween stuff as the month progresses and hopefully a nice big post concerning my favorite horror film of all time! Happy Halloween everybody!!