Saturday, October 31, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Finale

For a while it looked like we were going to be rained out, but the weather turned in our favor except for some pretty strong winds which kept me from hanging the candle filled plastic Jack O'Lantern buckets from the trees and eliminated the use of a fog machine. You can see what the winds were like from the picture of the tiki torches below.

As usual, the kids need to rush off trick or treating kept me from getting many good photos of the yard in all its glory. We have a crescent shaped driveway. Both entrances were flanked by two pairs of tiki-torches with skulls mounted on them. Within the crescent was the bigger than actual size skeletal horse and rider, with the other giant human skeleton off to the side.

The driveway was outlined by clouded jars containing candles (which were constantly being extinguished by the high winds), then forming a path to the Jack O'Lantern' at the front door. Flanking the door this year was an all new set-up of 16 graves and six ghosts (two ghosts were carry overs from the last two years ) lighted with green and blue lights, with a third, red light coming from the upper floor of the house. A new Nosferatu was meant to stand on the balcony over the front door, but didn't get finished in time. I had to jettison the old Nosferatu when I moved last Spring for lack of space.

The ghosts (except for the animatronic beheaded bride) are made of plastic wrap and packing tape, with a couple of clothing embellishments made from transparent plastic shower curtain liners. The organ player had an internal skeleton, hair made from fishing line, and arms that could move, powered by the wind (unfortunately the device rigged to catch the wind to do this, broke early on) so that he's appear to be playing the organ. The organ itself was a free find that someone had sitting on their driveway free for anyone willing to take it away. I'd hoped to transform it into a pipe organ but became too busy to do so.

I don't have any real good pictures of Mark, the scuba diver who swam too close to a shark, but he's a scuba diver ghost with one arm, and part of his torso bitten away, trying to swim away from a ghostly shark emerging from the ground and swallowing his leg. This ghost took the most damage and will most likely need to be rebuilt from scratch next year.

The grave stones are all made entirely of cardboard, most using Fed Ex boxes as devised by Dave Lowe . I hand cut all of the letter from slightly thinner, compacted cardboard and glued them in place before painting and then aging with a spray on mix of paint I call "moldy grave." It sounds labor intensive, but actually took very little time overall. I did end up with some serious carpal tunnel problems, but they turned out really well, and for 16 graves the total cost was $4.00 which I paid for a can of "mismixed" gray paint at Lowes.

To finish everything off, I had two different sound mixes playing, one was appropriately spooky organ music. The other ghostly sound effects. The whole set up went up over a period of less than four hours and came down last night in about 45 minutes. I spent maybe $60.00 total, and most of that was for packing tape.

31 Days of Halloween - Please Stand By

Due to technical difficulties, photos of my yard display will not be posted until tomorrow, or Monday. Sorry for any inconvenience.

31 Days of Halloween - Happy Halloween!

It's not quite over. I still have one post left which will go up late tonight showing what I concocted for the yard this year. I also have a few things to give away to some randomly drawn people who have left comments here throughout the month, though I probably won't get to that before mid-week at the earliest.

I'd like to thank everyone who stopped by throughout the month, particularly those people who left comments. I'd also like to thank everyone who participated in the extremely successful Countdown to Halloween this year, particularly Shawn Robare and Jon K. for the much needed work on the Countdown to Halloween blog. Stop over there tomorrow for an announcement regarding next year's countdown.

This month turned out to be a particularly busy one for me, and not much of that business was directed at Halloween or the countdown, unfortunately. I'd fortunately prepared all of my posts with the exception of two collages which weren't completed until the past few days, and my daily movies, before October even arrived. Otherwise I would have had pretty sparse offerings this year. I have had few opportunities to even periodically check out the blogs of all the other participants, let alone leave any thoughtful comments. The good thing is that I enjoy Halloween all year long, which gives me plenty of time, and plenty to do in catching up with everything everyone else has offered. I promise to look through everyone's countdown posts as soon as I'm able to.

Have a safe and fun Halloween, everyone, and thanks again for helping make this one so great.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Riddle

There's no new riddle for today. Thank you everyone for participating in guessing, or trying to guess the riddles.

Answer to yesterday's riddle: Drac racing.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31

Today's collage portrait is Lon Chaney as the man in the beaver hat in LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927). Lon Chaney created his own make-up for this role.

Friday, October 30, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie

After an amazing, highly promising trailer, two years of waiting, and nearly a month of having the DVD in my possession but holding off until the end of the month, I finally got to watch "Trick R Treat" (2007). This highly anticipated anthology movie weaves together four stories and a prologue all set in the same town on the same Halloween night. The stories involve a killer school teacher, a prank gone wrong, a young woman looking for a date to a Halloween party, and a cranky old hermit's encounter with Halloween incarnated in the form of a creepy trick-or-treater.

I can't think of a movie that embraces all of the trappings of Halloween to the level that this one does. It's like an R-Rated "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Practically every frame is filled with jack o'lanterns, trick or treaters, costumes, masks, candy, orange, black, and Autumn leaves. You can practically feel the chill in the air and smell the smoke of fireplaces being lit for the first time since the previous winter. Anyone who loves the holiday will wish their town celebrated Halloween like the town in this movie does.

The movie itself though is pretty uneven. The prologue is not really much of a story and it's incredibly predictable. The story of the teacher has it's moments, but is too scattershot a narrative and not overall a satisfying tale. The one involving the prank is probably the most satisfying story in the movie. The one about the girl looking for a date is also pretty weak and has a predictable ending. The final story with the goblin trick-or-treater is probably the second best story and ties into the prank story as well. I think that going the traditional anthology route and separating the narratives, rather than intertwining them would have made for a more satisfying movie. The narratives don't line up very well intercut together and jump all over time, something not helped by the comic book captions which either read "earlier" or "later." It feels like way too much is going on at once, and stretches the credibility of the movie by having all of these various ill-fated Halloween stories happening all in the same town on the same night, (and of course with no consequences on the following day). There's also periodic flashes of comic book imagery, like Creepshow, but with no point whatsoever, since comic books have no relevance to the movie itself, even as a wrap around element.

I could nitpick other things, such as the tale about a school bus within the prank story, which defies logic. There's no way anyone could have known what happened on that day, since no one lived to talk about it. I was also distracted by how much the pumpkin goblin character looked like Michael Jackson. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the movie. I just don't think this is the be all, end all of Halloween movies. I also liked the trailer better, which surprisingly is not included on this incredibly bare bones DVD release.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Riddle

What is Transylvania's national sport?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: Electri-city.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30

Today's collage portrait is Elsa Lanchester as THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). The make-up was created by Jack Pierce.

This is one of the very first collages I did, around 2001. For what it is it's not too bad, but it doesn't really look like Elsa Lanchester. I was hoping to create a new version of this image this year, but ran out of time.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie

An incredibly stunning visual treat, "Haxan" (1922) is a multi-part silent documentary on the history of witchcraft through the time of the film's making. Beginning with an exploration of devils and pagan gods, and ending with a a segment equating hysteria and mental illness with similarities to alleged symptoms indicative of witchcraft, the long middle segments follow a narrative thread depicting traditional stories of witches as wise healers as well as flying, devil associating, black arts practicing hags which leads into the mania of the Inquisition and its obviously one-sided witchcraft accusations and tortures which could not be defended against by anyone accused of being a witch, or aiding a witch. The two end segments are the weakest portions of this film, with the middle section being visually arresting and emotionally engaging. Everything from the art direction, costumes, and mise en scene is gorgeous and lends the movie an air of realism, as if someone went back a few centuries to document these events on film. The scenes depicting the witches interacting with devils and flying over the countryside in particular are just gorgeous and strange to behold.

This movie is well worth seeing, especially this time of year. There's also a shorter version of the movie which replaces the title cards with voice over narration by William Burroughs. I've seen this movie three times now, but haven't tried that version of it yet. I can see how an audible narrator would be preferable in certain portions of the movie, particularly the beginning, but could also see how it would be a distraction and could take away from the strength of the visuals on their own terms.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Riddle

Which city is the Frankenstein monster's favorite?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: They both make people shiver.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29

Today's collage portrait is Vincent Price as THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971). Trevor Crole-Rees was the make-up artist on this film.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974) is one of those movies that's been discussed to death, and I don't really have much to add to the discussion. For anyone who doesn't know the movie is about five young friends who venture out to the abandoned home of a relative. On the way, they pick up the wrong hitchiker. Once they reach the house they discover the hard way that the neighbors are a family of psychotic, cannibalistic, grave robbers.

I'm always surprised when I see references to how violent and gory this movie is. There's actually very little blood in the movie. The mentally off kilter hitchiker slices the palm of his own hand, and the arm of one of the friends with a pocket knife, and later one of the friends has her finger tip cut with another knife. For all the revved up chainsaw wielding in this movie, that's mostly all you see. There's plenty of violence, but almost all of it is of the emotional kind, which even makes one of the cannibals uneasy.

The movie succeeds primarily because of its almost documentary like nature, which delivers a sense of realism to the scenario which has no real plot to it. It is definitely an influence on movies like "The Blair Witch Project" in this regard, and influential on just about every power tool or machete wielding masked maniac movie for purely superficial reasons.

In Comic Book Stores Now

The second regular "The Hangman" story appears as the co-feature in "The Web" #2. Written by myself with art by Tom Derenick and Bill Sienkiewicz, this story expands what we know about Dr. Robert Dickering, the man who at night transforms into the supernatural agent of justice, the Hangman. "The Web" #2 is available in comic book stores today.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Riddle

Why is a ghost like a cold breeze?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: One bites necks, the other bites next.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28

Today's collage portrait is of Godzilla as he appeared in GODZILLA 2000 (1999). This new design for Japan's most famous monster was constructed by Kakusei Fujiwara and Shisishi Wakasa and brought to life by actor Tsutomu Kitagawa.

This collage was done a few years ago, and was a departure from the more realistic monster portraits I've been doing. It's based on the Polish poster for the original GODZILLA (1954) (see poster IX here).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27- Movie 2

Two converging plots about foreheads are at the center of "Trail of the Screaming Forehead" (2007). In one, two scientists out to prove that the forehead is the center of human intelligence experiment with foreheadezyne with disastrous consequences. In the other, alien foreheads attach themselves to the foreheads of earth's human population in order to take over the planet, and only two sailors and a librarian stand between them and world conquest.

Starring and made by many of the same people who made the fantastic "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" (2001), including the writer/director/star, Larry Blamire. "Trail of the Screaming Forehead" is highly enjoyable, but not nearly as successful as "Skeleton." "Skeleton" embraced all of the negative trappings of second and third rate science fiction movies of the late 1950s to great success, including stilted dialogue and awkward acting. "Forehead" employs a different, almost straight, acting style which works fine, but still embraces awkward sentence structure in it's dialogue to no purpose, other than to distract from the story and bring attention to itself. This isn't to say that all the lines fall flat. There are some really memorable and some very humorous lines of dialogue, but most of it is simply convoluted repetitions or malapropisms that don't improve the movie.

The movie has many great moments from the pill boxes with the veils, and the sheet of paper with the alien's goal mapped out on it, to the bells and pay phones, and especially the foreheads themselves, which actually have some pretty creepy sound effects, and a lead forehead with voice actor Michael McConnohie lending it a perfect Paul Frees voice. The movie also sports some great guest actors including Betty Garrett, Kevin McCarthy, James Karen, and my personal favorite, Dick Miller.

It's clear that everyone involved had a great time making this movie, and I had a lot of fun watching it, though I was nowhere near as elated as I was watching "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra." This movie did not seen to take the extra step needed to make it a great movie. With so much intelligence increasing foreheadezyne on hand, I only wish the movie had been more smart in the thoughts that went into creating it.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 1

A flying saucer lands in a remote area. The aliens that emerge all look like human teenage males in flight suits, except the expedition leader who appears as a middle aged adult human male. After disintegrating a small dog, the group tests the atmosphere to find out if the earth is suitable for growing large herds of gargons, their major food staple, a dangerous creature that looks like an ordinary lobster but which can grow to be a million times larger in a single day. One of the teens, Derek (David Love) protests when he finds a dog tag on the killed dog's skeleton. Only a civilized people could have engraved that tag. He's seized for being rebellious, but escapes. Thor (Bryan Grant) the alien teen with some hostility and anti-social issues is sent to retrieve him as well as to kill any earth people Derek comes into contact with. Derek returns the dog tag to the dead dog's owner, and takes a room in their house, trying to be come an earth teenage boy. Thor pursues him, disintegrating almost everyone he meets along the way. As Derek and Betty (Dawn Anderson), the teenage girl with bangs who owned the now dead dog, keep trying to escape Thor, another problem emerges which must be overcome. The gargon left by the aliens has grown to gigantic superimposed proportions.

Ed Wood's got nothing on "Teenagers From Outer Space" (1959). The "acting", especially at the beginning, before you get used to it, is so stilted and odd that I was convinced that this movie was the biggest inspiration on the acting in "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra," particularly the characters of Krobar and Lattis ("Lost Skeleton" director Larry Blamire, told me otherwise). It's a really odd movie. The script is amateurishly written, but the movie is a pretty ambitious undertaking. The disintegrations are really cool, and a bit horrid (especially that dog) and the screw-like forcefield beneath the saucer as it lands is a nice effect, but the giant lobster--I mean gargon is ridiculously transparent -- not just that it's a lobster, but because you can see through the superimposition of it on any scene it is in. The prop flying saucer is also not much bigger than a jacuzzi, but fits 5-6 people inside it, plus all their equipment. There are scenes which run far longer than they need to, unintentionally funny characters (and dialogue) and Derek must be one of the most earnest characters ever set to film. In fact, the entire movie is very earnest, which elevates its enjoyability above the train wreck "so bad it's good" type of movie it almost is. This is the third time I've watched this movie. I would definitely call this one a guilty pleasure, though I'm not so sure that pleasure is the right word. I'd love to see this on the big screen with a packed audience. I'm really looking forward to "The Boy From Out of This World" (2009) a documentary about the making of this camp classic.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Riddle

What's the difference between Dracula and a mosquito waiting behind him?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: Wintertime.

Image source

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27

Today's collage portrait is Ed Wolff as the Fly in RETURN OF THE FLY (1959). Hal Lierley is credited as the make-up artist for this film.

This is an older collage from around 2001.

Monday, October 26, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie

It's been at least twenty years since I last saw "The Wicker Man" (1973) so I decided it was time to revisit. Edward Woodward is a policeman who travels to the Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate a missing girl report. It's obvious the minute he reaches the island that something isn't right here. Even though everyone here claims to know everyone else, no one recognizes the girl in the photo, and everyone claims she doesn't exist, including the girl's mother. It soon becomes clear that everyone on the island is a pagan, an idea that revolts the Christian policeman. As he continues his investigation he uncovers fertility rituals, folk singing, cavorting naked girls, animism, parthenogenesis, and a harvest ritual that might include human sacrifice.

This movie still holds up really well, though the, at the time, surprise ending is no surprise now, and the early 70s hippy element seems a little dated. The latter element, with its plethora of musical numbers adds some authenticity to the movie. I'm sure at the time this was originally released, the pagan elements in this movie seemed weird and unsettling, and maybe even unnerving, much as they do to Woodward's Christian policeman. His appalled reaction to an island without Jesus feels very relevant now with such a large number of intolerant, extreme "Christians" having so much political authority in our own country now. Everything about this movies is well done, with the exception early on to drop in short bits of one song about apple groves over an moment where no conversation was happening. The actors are all excellent, particularly Woodward, and Christopher Lee, as Lord Summerisle, the owner, and leader of the island. I really wanted more of his character in the movie. The setting for this movie is perfect, and the direction and cinematography really bring the place to life while evoking an alienness to the place which resides, not simply below the surface, but on the surface, over the normalcy.

I'm glad I went back to this movie. I have no doubt it will be a lot less than twenty years before I get around to watching it again.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Riddle

What time is it when Frankenstein starts to shovel snow?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: The actors get stage fright.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26

Today's collage portrait is Claude Rains as THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). Universal make-up legend Jack Pierce was the make-up artist on this movie, but it was really Special effects pioneer John P. Fulton who made this movie, and it's star character what they were. Of course, Rains' voice helped a lot too.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie

I've always thought that Lewis Teague was an under appreciated director. "Cat's Eye" (1985) is probably not the film to base my argument around. Written for Drew Barrymore by Stephen King because he liked her performance in "Firestarter," "Cat's Eye" is an anthology movie containing three stories linked, pretty well actually, by a cat trying to make his way to a little girl in trouble. The first story, "Quitter's Inc." stars James Woods as a man determined to quit smoking, who enlists the aid of an organization with extreme methods which will almost certainly help him succeed. In "The Ledge" Robert Hays tries running off with mobster, Kenneth McMillan's wife. McMillan makes Hays a wager that he'll let him go, with money, and his wife, if he'll walk one complete lap around his high rise, on a five inch wide ledge seemingly a zillion stories above street level. In the final story, "The General" the cat makes it to Drew Barrymore's home, where it attempts to protect her from a small troll which lives in her wall and comes out at night to steal her breath. James Naughton plays her sympathetic dad, and Candy Clark plays her cat hating mother, determined to keep the cat out of their house, if not their lives.

The movie has a really good cast, is well written, has good special effects and over sized sets for the final story which also features a pretty cool looking troll. It's well made, and there's nothing really wrong with it, except one thing. It's not scary, not intense, not suspenseful, nothing. If you're afraid of heights, "The Ledge might make you a little woozy if you were to see this on the big screen, on a tv, not so much. The music by Alan Silvestri, which is not a bad score, just seems to work at cross purposes with the intent of the movie--if the intent was to make people feel uncomfortable, if not scared. "The General" is pretty much fluff, but the short stories which "Quitter's Inc." and "The Ledge" are based on are a pair of the finest early Stephen King stories, and should have been nail biters here at the very least. Instead there's a real feeling of wink, wink, nudge, nudge this is all made in good fun that pervades the movie, that feels very made for tv. It's just not done seriously enough to make it an effective movie.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Riddle

What happens on Broadway when a ghost haunts a theater?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: They both have five eyes.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25

Today's collage portrait is Bruce Glover as the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965). The monster was created by John D. Alese.

This collage was originally created for the back cover of MAD SCIENTIST magazine.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 2

Lucio Fulci's "Zombie" (1979) came hot on the heels of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" and became a huge hit in Italy. While this movie is filled with the slow moving, flesh eating zombies that Romero made popular, there's little else connecting these two movies.

A sailboat with no one seemingly aboard sails into the waters around New York City. When police investigate it, a zombie is discovered aboard who kills one of the cops, then is shot by the other and falls overboard. A woman, whose missing father owned the boat, teams up with a reporter to go looking for him on an island that his last letter (found aboard the boat) came from. They find a young couple to take them to the island where an epidemic of zombies is occurring in. The natives blame voodoo. A European doctor on the island tries to find a more rational explanation for the zombies. All hell breaks loose. Zombies attack the humans. The humans fight back. There are casualties, fires, and in the end, the survivors escape the island only to learn that a major epidemic of flesh eating zombies is now plaguing New York City.

This movie begins with a bit of a bang, then drags for awhile until everyone gets to the island and all hell breaks loose. This movie is famous for two scenes. The first features an underwater zombie who first attacks a topless woman scuba diving in the smallest thong imaginable, then after she escapes, attacks a shark instead. Later, in the film's more notorious moment, another woman slowly has her head pulled forward so that a large wooden splinter impales her eyeball. The special effects in this movie are mostly pretty crude, but effective because of that. The zombies themselves are even slower than George Romero's and even more dimwitted, which makes them a pretty frightening bunch, because it does make them seem like mindless corpses risen from their graves who simply shuffle around unless a victim is nearby.

I have no complaints about the cast, direction, cinematography, or music. The movie's weakest element is its script and its editing. The premise for the movie is pretty solid, but the way the story is told needs work. There's not a real sense of suspense or menace in the movie. After their car breaks down, the cast flees on foot, including one member who is moving slowly due to an ankle injury. The zombies are all around them, but the injured man and the woman he's paired up with take time to make out while the dead rise up from the earth all around them. At other points, characters will scream in terror, about to be attacked, while the other people in the next room take their time before going to assist them, even though they know what's happening. the climactic showdown also felt way too safe. The human survivors shot and threw molotov cocktails at extremely slow shuffling zombies from a safe distance. It's not a particularly tense, or frightening movie, but if you've run through the Romero films and are still craving more slow, flesh eating zombies, this movie can easily fill that need.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 1

"The Zombies of Mara Tau" (1957) are the crew of a ship which sunk 60 years earlier with a treasure of stolen diamonds. Since then they've claimed the lives of every treasure seeker whose dared make an attempt at recovering the cursed diamonds. Now another group of treasure hunters has arrived and the zombies are ready for them as well.

This movie is well written, stylish, has a good cast of engaging characters and has plenty of genuine creepy moments involving the pre-George Romero slow moving zombies. The zombies don't eat anyone, but they do commit murder, and they can move underwater. There's something really odd about watching zombies dressed as sailors walking across the ocean floor to menace men in deep sea diving suits. The film also really conveys a sense that these walking dead are incredibly strong and indestructible. The heavy candlestick through at the face of a zombie that doesn't even flinch under its impact really drives this notion home. The zombies can be driven back by fire, but for some reason, no one thinks to actually try setting them on fire. There is a nice bit where one of the zombified treasure hunters is kept contained in a room full of candles.

The movie takes place in Africa but features an all white cast and not a single zombie is destroyed, but "The Zombies of Mora Tau" is a really enjoyable viewing experience. I'd never seen it before and it far exceeded my expectations.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Riddle

Why is the Mississippi River like a monster from Neptune?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: Because they are so chilling.

Image Source

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24

Today's collage portrait is Henry Hull as THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935). The make-up was created by Jack Pierce.

This is an older collage from around 2001.

Friday, October 23, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23 - Movie 2

In the wake of the success of "2001: A Space Odyssey" MGM did the only thing sensible and followed it with the release of "The Green Slime" (1968). When a huge asteroid is detected on a collision course with the Earth, with less than twelve hours until impact, astronauts are sent to destroy it. They do so, but inadvertently bring a protoplasmic slime back aboard their space station. Feeding off the station's power, the slime grows rapidly and begins multiplying like crazy, able to kill the humans aboard with electricity discharging tentacles. The humans desperately try to corral the creatures, since their attempts to kill them only cause the creatures to bleed more slime that grows into more creatures. In the end, after a series of disasters, it's decided that the space station must be evacuated and destroyed.

An American-Japanese-Italy production, it looks it. The special effects are reminiscent of Science Fiction films produced by Toho studios, but aren't as well done. The models aren't lighted and filmed in a way that disguises the fact that they are models. There's also a mod 1960s Italian feel to some aspects of the movie, particularly when it comes to some of the costumes. The movie doesn't waste any time and moves along briskly. The entire asteroid sequence takes up about fifteen minutes of the movie. Even so, the movie drags. Once the slime creatures show up, all excitement comes to a standstill. Aside from the repetition of attempts to contain the creatures, the creatures themselves aren't the least bit intimidating, they look like something from "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" by way of early "Doctor Who," about four feet tall with waving tentacles and a single red eye over dozens of smaller ones, and a high pitched whine. The direction is flat, the script itself is lazy, and the characters are really dull. The hero of the movie is a completely unlikable jerk with a chip on his shoulder.

It does have a pretty groovy title song though.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23 - Movie 1

In "They Live" (1988), a down on his luck construction worker (Roddy Piper) looking for work, stumbles upon a secret instead. Noticing mysterious activities taking place in a church across the street from the homeless camp that he's staying at, he grows curious. After an excessive show of police force raids the church and demolishes the homeless camp, Piper enters the burned out church to find that the contraband being manufactured there were --- sunglasses. After donning a pair of these sunglasses he discovers that they world he lives in is much different than the one he thought he lived in. Subliminal messages to "Obey," and "Marry and Reproduce" are encoded within billboards and the covers and pages of every magazine, book, and sign out there. Not only that, but mingling among us are strange skull faced extraterrestrial ghouls, using human consumption to change our atmosphere into one similar to that of their home world. They are taking over our world not through violence, but capitalism, promising any humans which help advance their goals with wealth and social advancement. They mask their subliminal control of the masses through a signal broadcast from the roof of a cable station which uses a satellite to broadcast this signal all over the world. Piper and an underground movement set out to find and destroy this broadcast signal so that the people of earth will awaken to the truth.

This movie about a collapsing economy and a widening gulf between the rich and the poor as well as a changing climate is surprisingly relevant in today's world. The movie's thin premise and plot is taken very seriously but heavily padded out with excessively long fight scenes, chases, police action scenes, and so on. The characters are given enough short-hand character development to feel a bit well-rounded. Piper's performance is a bit erratic. He has a definite screen presence which often falters when he's delivering his one-liner zingers, which feel juvenile and out of place in a movie that while being a societal satire is very serious in its delivery as opposed to comedic in nature. Most of the time, director, John Carpenter's deliberate pacing feels like a wise choice in setting and maintaining the mood of the movie, but it's still padding which could have been replaced in places with actual character and plot development. When I saw this during it's theatrical release, the fight scene in the alley between Piper and Keith David seemed interminable and brought the movie to a halt. This time, because I was prepared for it, I didn't mind it so much, but a five minute brawl seems excessive and didn't have much purpose in advancing the story.

"They Live" is a flawed by entertaining movie with plenty of places to take a bathroom break without the need to pause the movie.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23 - Riddle

Why did the woman read ghost stories to cool off?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: She witch-hiked.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23

Today's collage portrait is KING KONG (1933). Kong was stop-motion animated by Willis O'Brien working with a puppet constructed by Marcel Delgado.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - Movie 2

With the success of "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" and "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein" it didn't take long for American International Pictures to combine them in one movie. In "How To Make A Monster" (1958) the two monsters are set to square off in a movie being made at the non-existent American International Studios. The studio now falls under new ownership who have determined that this will be the studio's last monster picture. They're passé. People want musicals now. Pink slips are handed out around the studio including a pair for 25-year studio make-up man Pete Drummond (Robert H. Harris) and his assistant Rivero (Paul Brinegar). Pete decides he's not going to go quietly and concocts a method for revenge using a drugged foundation make-up which makes its wearer susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. Applying it to the young actors playing the teenage werewolf and the Frankenstein monster, he sends them out to kill the new executives. As the body count escalates, and suspicions rise, Pete finds himself facing off against the actors who portrayed the very monsters he created.

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for this movie, eventually using it as the basis for a "Scooby-Doo" comic book story. It's by no means a great movie. It's not particularly suspenseful. It's a bit slow in its story structure, and Pete becomes pretty unlikable rather quickly, so there's no rooting for him. I also always thought that it would have been better if he had to face his manipulated young actors at the end in their monster make-up, rather than the ending the movie has.

Like today's other movie, "The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow," "How To Make a Monster" was something of a harsh jettisoning of Paul Blaisdell by AIP. Blaisdell, himself, said that the movie felt almost autobiographical, not in the sense that he'd become a homicidal revenge seeker, but in the way the studio repaid his efforts by tossing him out when the studio turned its sights to import films and higher budgeted gothic horrors instead of the monster pictures which brought them wealth. There's a moment where Pete, in the film, muses on how the studio is showing it's gratitude to him for creating all those monsters which made the studio a success, by throwing him out on the street, which must have echoed how Blaisdell felt when he faced the same scenario.

To add insult to injury, in the color climax of the film, Blaisdell supplied many of his own creations to represent the work of Pete. He also made some masks which were meant to be destroyed at the end. Somehow, while filming, one of Blaisdell's prized masks was mixed up with those to be destroyed. Not only was it destroyed, but its destruction was never filmed.

I'm sure many of Hollywood's special make-up effects artists felt the same way with the advent of CGI, even though CGI monsters usually look inferior to those involving a made-up actor.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - Movie 1

Paul Blaisdell, like many artists, when pretty much unappreciated during his lifetime, only receiving due accolades when he was no longer around to appreciate them. Blaisdell was a monster maker, the creator, builder, and often wearer of a slew of movie monster costumes and puppets in the 1950s. Unlike the monsters made for bigger budget films like "The Creature From the Black Lagoon," the films Blaisdell worked on had shoestring budgets forcing him to create his monsters for as little money as possible. Considering what he was working with, his monsters all turned out to be among the most memorable of their era, even if the hurried filmmaking at the time did not show them to their best advantage. Blaisdell tried to approach his monsters from a scientific perspective, designing them based on their perceived environments of origin, such as a squat alien from a planet with heavier gravity, or a reptilian humanoid from the ocean's depths. These monsters were all imaginatively designed, no matter how cheap looking they may have appeared in the final product. Among his creations are "The She-Creature," "It Conquered the World," "The Invasion of the Saucer Men" and "It! The Terror From Beyond Space" as well as oversized props for "Attack of the Puppet People," "The Amazing Colossal Man," and "War of the Colossal Beast."

With that in mind, it's painful to watch the wretched send-off that American International Pictures gave this man who contributed so much to the success of many of their horror pictures of the 1950s. "The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow" (1959) was Blaisdell's last film, and yes he played the monster, but he also got to play himself --sort of.

"The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow" has no real plot, but a lot of stuff going on that doesn't become anything. The movie features a club of law-abiding, hot rod racing teens who speak in lots of hipster slang. An adult reporter is writing an article about Hot Rod culture and befriends the group as they search for a new clubhouse and deal with a gang of four juvenile delinquents who seem to have no motivation for bothering the good kids. There are many, many sub-par rock tunes being performed in a row instead of a plot developing. One of the girls, who breaks the rules and has a run in with the law, has a cool mom, and a square dad, and an eccentric aunt with a wisecracking parrot and a haunted house she's willing to let the kids have for their clubhouse if they can de-spook it. The kids have a spooky costume party in the haunted house, and eventually unmask the "real monster" as a high pitched, whiny Paul Blaisdell, tossed aside by AIP after all the monsters he provided, and now shamefully reduced to haunting a house.

There is a ghost, who appears only for the final few seconds of the movie. There's also a sentient, talking hot rod, and a pajama party in what is a really terrible movie to sit through. The climactic race between the good girl and the delinquents takes place off screen, and the haunted house element isn't even introduced until 45 minutes into this 65 minute movie. It's not scary. It's not funny. It's not even entertaining.

Poor Paul Blaisdell, forced by a restricted budget, to wear a modified "She-Creature" costume for its fourth movie, delivers his scripted lines in a pitiful, self-mocking voice without realizing how prescient those lines were. American International Pictures did toss him aside. His work for them after that was mostly concept sketches that were never used.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - Riddle

How did the witch get around after her broomstick broke?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: The ghost doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth.