Friday, December 29, 2017

My Year in Movies 2017 Part 1 - The Big List

          I have put too much sweat into this already. I kicked around ideas for a way to put this together with the top 10%, 15%, or even 20% of the total movies I watched this year, but there is too much I want to talk about. Not to mention the annual feelings of holiday malaise that have kept a few must-see movies either off the list or too far down in the numbering. I do not typically write a lot about movies aside from a few random reviews I have done online over the years in various places like IMDB and my recent foray into Letterboxd. I do not consider myself a critic, and I like being critical even less. I may be the only person who found a silver lining in Psycho Shark, and you can read that review on Sci-Fi Japan. I tend to be overly kind even with a difficult movie outing. I will not deny that I have gone to some effort to express my displeasure with a few movies and franchises *cough Transformers and Spider-Man 3 cough* in the past, but, even for those, it took a little while for the sour aftertaste to set in because a first-time viewing for me is an immersive and attentive experience. No matter how painful some scenes or performances might be, I generally fall into the world being presented before me, and I usually do not walk away from any movie disappointed... until I start to think about them after the fact.

          No matter what I think of anything, people can like what they like. This is just a year's worth of worthless movie opinions you can take or leave. I just want to talk about what clicked for me in a movie, and events that make me angry or frustrated do not necessarily mean I dislike a particular movie. Case in point, films like Ordet and A Christmas Tale are classics but struck me in a strange way or hit too close to home when I saw them for the first time. For those two in particular, I have far too much emotional baggage to attempt to review them. A film like Ordet leaves me speechless, and A Christmas Tale hits me with a few too many rough family memories of petty holiday get-togethers.

         Logging the movies I see in a year is not something I usually do, and this was an interesting experiment to see how my viewing habits measure up. Unfortunately, I think that 2017 as a whole was not typical of an average movie-viewing year for me. I do not get out to the movie theater as often as I used to in the past several years. More often than not, I go to the theater with my nephew to see the latest Marvel superhero movie or something special like Shin Godzilla, which we both enjoyed quite a bit. Marvel movies are a tradition between the two of us going back to Thor, and there is a bittersweet feeling with our latest outing together to see Thor: Ragnarok. We have grown apart a little as he gets older and no longer stays with me after school to help with homework and watch television. He has friends of his own now and, I am told, even a girlfriend. He just turned twelve, and he reminds me a great deal of his father. My nephew is a lot more polite, but he cannot help that he has grown out of a few of the things that we used to enjoy together. It happens. Most of my movie viewing is done at home, but I made it to the theater a few times this year.

          The big difference in my viewing this year was that this list pushed me to discipline myself a bit more to see new things, but there are some instances in which I feel like I am forcing myself to watch something when the mood is not right. I have developed a poor first impression of a few movies and come back to realize on a second attempt that the emotional atmosphere is very important to me. This is part of the reason that I missed Rogue One in theater and did not get around to it until almost exactly one year after its release. That holiday malaise. The movie-viewing mood has been unusual, and I still find myself falling back on multiple viewings of old favorites. With the state of my life and free time the past several years, a lot of my viewing leans toward movies and shows I have seen enough to know by heart. Much of that time is devoted to some classic favorite droning in the background. I run through Godzilla movies and episodes of MST3K a lot, and I come back to a lot of my favorite horror movies as many as two or three times a year regardless of the Halloween season. After joining Letterboxd a year or two ago, I see that I watch over 500 movies a year, but I think it is fairer to say that I listen to about 300 movies a year while I am doing something else and watch about 200 movies a year to make up the difference. If you look at my total for 2017 on Letterboxd, then that is mostly what you will see (surprisingly, however, one of my biggest comfort movies, Legend of the Dinosaurs, is not on the list despite the fact that I ran through almost the entirety of MST3K's KTMA season again). It is soothing to me to hear the sounds of giant monsters destroying cities or a guy and his robot friends cracking funny jokes during a movie. My television is almost always on. Even when I am out of the house, I will have my headphones in and listening to an episode of MST3K or some stand up comedy special on Netflix on my phone, or I am listening to a movie score of some kind that allows a movie to play in my head with the melody. Plus it cuts the social anxiety just a bit.

          2017 has been a... different year. I think that part of my increase in first time viewings might have been as a result of trying to drown out the world more than trying to adhere to my viewing goal. Originally, it was set for 104 movies for the year, but I had that many down within about five months. I doubled it to 208 and had that knocked out before the end of the summer. Things slowed down a little with Halloween favorites like Poltergeist and Halloween III as well as November's MST3K Turkey Day marathon (which always sends me into watching a few dozen episodes again), but I hit a comfortable final goal of 260 movies with two days left to go in the year. I stayed true to some annual Christmas favorites like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas, the Star Wars Holiday Special (with RiffTrax commentary, of course), MST3K's Winter classics like Jack Frost and their Santa Claus episodes, and RiffTrax essential Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, but none of those managed to get in my way of seeing about a dozen more new-to-me movies during the last two weeks of December.

          My list for 2017 is a doozie, and I cannot think of a single movie on the list that I do not recommend. A large selection of these viewings came from group livetweets, many of which were with my fine friends in the Filmistines, and I make it no secret that they have far better taste in film than I do. Simply running off the list is exhausting and leaves me with such a large jumble of mixed thoughts about dozens of movies that I have a hard time focusing on one particular movie at a time, and my approach to this has been nowhere near as organized as this post suggests. It is a little overwhelming to attempt this feat when I initially thought that the list itself was all I was going to compile. It was not until around September that I thought that I should, for archival's sake, put something a little more thorough together outside of my obscure little #104for2017 Twitter hashtag. Here goes:

  1. THX-1138 (Laserdisc Cut)
  2. The Dragon Lives Again
  3. The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak
  4. The Long Good Friday
  5. Layer Cake
  6. Osen Chitai (Yellow Line)
  7. Hips, Hips, Hooray!
  8. Yoga Hosers
  9. The Low Budget Time Machine
  10. War of the Planets
  11. Invaders from the Deep (MST3K K01)
  12. The Woman in the Window
  13. M
  14. When Were You Born?
  15. Bad Girl
  16. Hollywood Vice Squad
  17. The Blancheville Monster (Horror Hotel)
  18. Tales That Witness Madness
  19. The Vulture
  20. The Killer
  21. The Hidden
  22. The Projectionist
  23. They Made Me a Criminal (Cinema Insomnia)
  24. Hello Down There
  25. Revenge of the Mysterons from Mars (MST3K K02)
  26. Coma
  27. Intrepidos Punks (Sleazy Pictures After Dark)
  28. Scanners II
  29. Larceny, Inc.
  30. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
  31. Bikini Car Wash Company
  32. Lady Vengeance
  33. Odds Against Tomorrow
  34. Black Widow
  35. The Wrestler (1974)
  36. The Neon Demon
  37. Valhalla Rising
  38. The Wrestler (2008)
  39. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  40. Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare
  41. Hakujasho (White Snake Enchantment)
  42. Creeping Crawling
  43. Phantasm RaVager
  44. American Ninja 4: The Annihilation
  45. Heavy Traffic
  46. Tokyo Drifter
  47. Arrival
  48. Two Evil Eyes
  49. Munich
  50. Sweden: Heaven and Hell
  51. All Through The Night
  52. Action in the North Atlantic
  53. Miami Vice
  54. Belladonna of Sadness
  55. Fantastic Planet (original French version)
  56. Sorority Girls and the Creature from Hell
  57. The Forest
  58. In The Mood for Love
  59. Minbo (The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion)
  60. Infernal Affairs
  61. The Ruling Class
  62. Logan
  63. Kong: Skull Island
  64. Terror Is a Man
  65. 24 Hour Party People
  66. Zootopia
  67. Lost in Translation
  68. Get Carter
  69. Audition
  70. Possession (US theatrical cut)
  71. Unforgiven
  72. Blood and Black Lace
  73. Bloodbath at the House of Death
  74. Withnail and I
  75. Barton Fink
  76. Big Eyes
  77. Burn After Reading
  78. Evolution
  79. It Follows
  80. La Belle et La Bete (1946)
  81. Late Spring
  82. Hanuman and the Five Kamen Riders
  83. The Love Witch
  84. Monster of Frankenstein (Marvel animated)
  85. Cry Wilderness (MST3K)
  86. Avalanche (MST3K)
  87. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (MST3K)
  88. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (MST3K)
  89. Carnival Magic (MST3K)
  90. The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (MST3K)
  91. Amour Fou
  92. Heathers
  93. Ms. 45
  94. Beef
  95. Goodfellas
  96. Longitude
  97. Exterminators of the Year 3000
  98. Train to Busan
  99. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  100. Lady Snowblood
  101. Lady Snowblood 2
  102. City Hunter
  103. Frank
  104. Hanyo (The Housemaid 1960)
  105. The Housemaid (2010)
  106. Something Wild
  107. The Glass Menagerie (1966 CBS Playhouse)
  108. Cromartie High The Movie
  109. Woman of Fire (1971)
  110. Beyond The Gates
  111. The Handmaiden
  112. Kubo and The Two Strings
  113. Sahara
  114. The Secret Life of Pets
  115. Fire and Ice
  116. Diary of a Telephone Operator
  117. Home
  118. Tamara
  119. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  120. John Wick
  121. L’Atalante
  122. Kamen Rider Heisei Generations: Dr. Pac-Man vs. Ex-Aid and Ghost with the Legendary Riders
  123. When Animals Dream
  124. The Guyana Tragedy
  125. Le Samourai
  126. Nightmare City
  127. To Agistri (The Hook)
  128. Death Haunts Monica
  129. She Done Him Wrong
  130. Spasmo
  131. Paths of Glory
  132. The Barbarians
  133. Zombie Lake
  134. Black Belly of the Tarantula
  135. The Red Shoes
  136. Heat
  137. Tougher Than Leather
  138. Wonder Woman
  139. All The Colors of the Dark
  140. Five Dolls for an August Moon
  141. Hatchet for the Honeymoon
  142. The Duke of Burgundy
  143. Voodoo Island
  144. Gomorrah
  145. Gloria
  146. Fatal Call
  147. Attack of the Supermonsters
  148. Haunted House of Horror
  149. The Mission
  150. Nightwish
  151. Starhops
  152. Sector 7
  153. Baba Yaga (1973)
  154. The Fifth Cord
  155. Stagefright (Aquarius)
  156. Advantageous
  157. Man On Wire
  158. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  159. Phantom of the Opera (Hammer 1962)
  160. The Void
  161. Stoker
  162. Scorpion with Two Tails (Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery)
  163. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
  164. Amazons
  165. Martin
  166. Monsoon Wedding
  167. The Student Body
  168. Chungking Express
  169. The League of Gentlemen
  170. The Salvation
  171. No Man’s Land
  172. Seven Blood-Stained Orchids
  173. Three
  174. A Bay of Blood
  175. Okja
  176. Dead & Buried
  177. Jules et Jim
  178. Don’t Torture a Duckling
  179. The Trip
  180. The Trip to Italy
  181. Killer Nun
  182. Nymphomaniac
  183. Ixcanul
  184. The Secret in Their Eyes
  185. Cyberjack
  186. Lunch Wagon
  187. The Unholy Rollers
  188. A Taxing Woman
  189. The Double Life of Veronique
  190. Volver
  191. Out of Sight
  192. The Chase (AKA The Shanghai Killers)
  193. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
  194. Vampire (1979)
  195. Raise The Red Lantern
  196. Play Motel
  197. Three Colors: Blue
  198. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
  199. Border Cop
  200. Amuck!
  201. Strip Nude for Your Killer
  202. Homework
  203. Three Colors: White
  204. Spaced Out
  205. The Big Short
  206. The Young Nurses
  207. Narc
  208. 3 Dev Adam (Turkish Captain America and El Santo vs. Spider-Man)
  209. Three Colors: Red
  210. Miller’s Crossing
  211. Paris, Texas
  212. Inglourious Basterds
  213. Gerald’s Game
  214. Cult of Chucky
  215. Tremors 5
  216. Love & Peace
  217. Kamen Rider vs. Super Sentai Chou Hero Taisen
  218. Waxwork
  219. Maniac Cop
  220. The Devil’s Backbone
  221. Prince of Darkness
  222. The Lure
  223. The Devil’s Honey
  224. Alucarda
  225. Daughters of Darkness
  226. Machete Maidens Unleashed
  227. Dracula Istanbul
  228. Spontaneous Combustion
  229. Three Extremes
  230. Raw
  231. Don’t Look Now
  232. Thirst
  233. Fade To Black
  234. Messiah of Evil
  235. The Horrible House on the Hill (Devil Times Five)
  236. Thor: Ragnarok
  237. Midnight Run
  238. Michael Clayton
  239. Legend
  240. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  241. Crest of Betrayal
  242. Marta
  243. Hero At Large
  244. Candy
  245. Gremlins: Recall
  246. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
  247. Sada
  248. Ironfinger
  249. Ghost World
  250. Get Out
  251. Tabeta Hito (Nobuhiko Obayashi short)
  252. The Wolf of Wall Street
  253. A Christmas Tale
  254. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  255. Force Majeure
  256. The Trip to Spain
  257. The Amphibian Man
  258. John Wick: Chapter 2
  259. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
  260. Colossal
     
         I have a great deal written down about several movies on this list, but it felt like a good idea to get the master list out of the way in its own section (since I yammered on a bit) before getting to the guts. I had hoped for number 260 on the list to be The Shape of Water, but weather, added theater distance, and seasonal holiday depression have kept me from making the trip so far. I am procrastinating a little now that I know that its local run is a bit longer than I anticipated, but I do intend to see it while it is still in theaters. I have little doubt that I will come out of it glowing from every seam, but chances are I will not see it until just after the clock strikes 2018.

          Stay tuned as I try to organize this mess of random movie reviews I have written down into something more coherent and meaningful.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

October 2017 Highlights Part 7 - Grand Finale: My Top Ten Horror

          And here we are, barely two weeks from Christmas, at the end of my October journey. I have begun compiling my top 25 movies for the year list already, and that is going to be a difficult endeavor to finish. More than a few movies from this top ten list are going to overlap on my top 25, making me bite my lip a little about doing this list at all. It is, however, already compiled, so I need to get on with it. First, however, a few honorable mentions of traditional material I watched or heard outside of the thread as well as a little bum trip I needed to get off my chest. This is likely to be a bit short and hopefully not too anticlimactic, but I do not plan to do full reviews for each movie. Still, I would hope that anyone reading this seeks out these movies and gives them a chance. Also, I offer these selection in no ranking order because it is too difficult for me to pick favorites. I will, however, be speaking briefly about the ten movies I watched in October that stuck with me.

Part 7 - Honorable Mentions and My Top Ten Horror Viewings of 2017


Honorable Mention: The Phil Hendrie Show – Halloween 1999 Show

          The Phil Hendrie Show was an influential talk radio program for me in my early 20s. My junior college government professor got me hate-listening to Rush Limbaugh in 1997, and I used to tune in to his show every day on the way to school. This was my first real experience with being a dedicated follower of someone whose opinions I believed to be detestable, and it was a strange new world for me to be in a class of mostly conservative students and a fiercely liberal teacher. Rush Limbaugh is a media entertainer, and don't ever let anyone tell you different. Apparently, this is one of the greatest insults you can say about him considering that a high member of the RNC was forced to apologize for saying it, so I point it out every chance I get. His liberal hurricane hoax conspiracy was a big one, and, as much as I don't like to speak ill of other people, he is a hypocrite, a man of no integrity, and makes a living inciting bigotry and ignorance from his audience. People like Phil Hendrie and Howard Stern, however, taught me that I should give the average talk radio listener a little more credit, especially since I was one, and that any performer, even a political radio pundit, only presents a fraction of themselves to their audience. Nevertheless, Rush Limbaugh is a media entertainer. Rush Limbaugh is a media entertainer. Sometimes I chant it before bed at night. I did not stay with Rush for too long, but it helped a little to be angry at him rather than to be angry at everything else that was going on in my life at the time. I may not have continued to browse through the talk stations if not for that experience, so I consider it a positive. 

          In February 2001, my brother almost cut his finger off with a collector's replica sword, and I found Coast to Coast with Art Bell while sitting in the car after midnight and waiting for him to get some stitches. (Our mother was in there with him the entire time. I did not just leave him alone in the emergency room by himself. Geez, I'm not that heartless. Anyway, he was fifteen years old at the time and could have handled it alone.) I had not ventured back into talk radio since I cast off Rush, but I was curious and bored. The topic of the night was ghost stories. I was hooked. I started to fiddle around with the AM station dials a lot more after that just to see what else might be out there besides Country music and far-right bullshit. Unfortunately, that is most of AM radio in Texas, but a few months later, in April, I ran across something different while driving home from college. It was Phil Hendrie talking to a guest about boycotting Chinese restaurants in California as protest to the Chinese government for refusing to return a downed US plane and its pilots. I was so pissed off at this moron, a guy by the name of Chris Norton, I almost had road rage on the drive home. I had no idea what was really going on, and Phil was so talented that hundreds of callers were just as clueless throughout the life of his show. I fell for the “brand” hook, line and sinker, and it took me a few days (and a spoiler promotional ad for the local station about schizophrenia as well as a killer Art Bell parody about a Lipton Cup of Soup conspiracy) to get “up to speed” with how his show worked: Phil and Chris were the same person. Phil played the part of every call-in guest to his show, a collection of thirty different voices and impressions, and he did it so flawlessly with as many as four characters at a time that first-time listeners like myself were upset and offended enough to call in and argue with a fake person. I almost called in that first time. I did not, but I wanted to. I wanted to try to reason with Chris, but you could not reason with Phil’s guests. I listened to many callers try and fail. You could not reason with Phil. That was the joke. You were the joke. There was always some outlandish and hilariously ridiculous response to anything you had to say, and the sad part is that it is how a lot of arguments take place on social media today. I have seen all of Phil’s bigots, morons, corrupt businessmen, fallen religious icons, gated community soccer moms, political advocates, disgraceful journalists, media entertainers, and elitist upper-class characters come to life, and I am sad to say I laughed a lot harder when they were not real. I used to collect radio shows from Napster and the 5-day RealAudio archives, and eventually I got a Backstage Pass subscription to Phil’s website that gave me access to years of material prior to my first show experience. I pretty much stopped listening to music radio and talk radio altogether and listened to Phil and Art Bell and other fun talk shows I could find. I consider Phil’s absolute best years to be his shows from 1997-2001. He remains a solid comedian, impressionist, history buff, and master of the social experiment. He has been imitated by several talented comedians (Crank Yankers, The Jamie Kennedy X-periment) and some not-so-talented hacks (Glenn Beck), but none of them ever came close to what Phil does. 

This brings us to his three-hour show from October 29, 1999, a show I have to listen to every October. Instead of telling ghost stories, Phil dug into the real horrors of the world: true crime files. Specifically, he told the stories of Albert Fish, Henry Lee Lucas, and Ottis Toole, and he told some of the most disturbing stories in such a way that you laugh and cringe at the same time. In his first hour, “filling in” for Phil, the epitome of loud radio DJ’s and Phil's most obnoxious-sounding character, Vic Prell, told the story of Albert Fish, hyping the horrible story of child murder and self-abuse with upbeat music and obnoxious delivery. Eventually, Phil “called in” to chastise Vic for his terrible routine, throwing him out and taking the show back. For the remainder of the hour, Phil tried to tell listeners about Henry Lee Lucas, yelling at his intern, the brain-damaged simpleton Bud Dickman, to put on some spooky music. It all fell apart when Phil found out that cartoon theme songs and Christmas music were playing the entire time he was talking about serial killers.

The comedy came to a dead halt in the second hour when Phil talked about Ottis Toole, despite a few interruptions from Bud Dickman, and Phil read some chilling interview material of Toole’s own words about his childhood and his confession that he murdered Adam Walsh. The truth is far more disturbing than a horror movie, and this story gets to me every time. If it did not get to me every time, then I would think something is wrong with me. There are times, I feel, when we need to subject ourselves to some gruesome truths in the world. Although there is a bit of a detachment from reality, I think this is one major reason that draws me to horror movies. In the third hour, it was back to comedy and “reality” as Phil brought on frequent guest Don “The Suicide Case” Parsley to talk about how triggered he was to see Jack-O-Lanterns on Halloween because it is a waste of food. With so many starving people in the world, Don claimed that he could hear the pumpkins screaming as they were being carved.

Phil’s worldview and brand of humor still make me laugh and inspire me to think, and he is one reason I joined Twitter eight years ago. Most of my earliest tweets were either in response to or quoting his show. His character of Coach Vernon Dozier was my favorite of the bunch, and he felt like a mirror image of the kind of person I could be if I lost all sense of my morality and decency. He was like listening to my own evil alter ego. Those were good times. This Halloween 1999 show is a morbid example of Phil's satirical work and not appropriate for all audiences, nor is it a proper example of a typical Phil Hendrie show. I recommend it nonetheless to horror and true crime fans alike.

Honorable Mention (What I deliberately did not watch): Monster in the Closet

            This is the hardest part of my highlights to write this year, and I had a difficult time finding the proper place for it because of how easily it soured my mood and is likely to sour the mood of anyone else reading it. So I decided to put it here, right before the very end, so that I can get it out of my system and then move on to the highest positives with the top ten list to help myself and perhaps my audience recover from it. As October began to roll around, news began to come out of sexual harassment allegations against high-profile people such as Harvey Weinstein and Harry Knowles, and the list has been growing ever since. The spark has set off a brush fire in entertainment and politics, and there is no sign of it going away. It should not go away. It needs to remain in the spotlight. Shortly before editing this section, I read the information released today by Salma Hayek. I am a peaceful man, but I wouldn't mind being locked in a room with Harvey for a little while. Scott Weinberg, film critic and co-host of the popular 80s All Over podcast, took to Twitter to criticize (too kind a word) Knowles and became the target of Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman. This became one of the first times I became personally involved in such a confrontation, in part because I have spoken to and follow a number of women on Twitter who have come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and even assault. I have shared personal stories of my own as well about assault history in my own family, and it infuriated me to see Kaufman and his fan base turn Weinberg into a scapegoat under the hypocritical guise of “due process.” It easily could have been me as Weinberg because we share experiences in common on the subject, some of that survivor's guilt and that "not my story to tell" dilemma, so it felt extremely personal to me. Weinberg became the target of multiple cases of harassment on Twitter, and at least one person took it so far as to create abusive impersonation accounts of Weinberg and some of his supporters, all of which were labeled with anti-Semitic and borderline libelous statements. Kaufman claimed to be trying to prevent what he called a “Twitter lynch mob” against Harry Knowles, going so far as to suggest that the journalists and victims involved in the story were liars or should not be taken seriously because they did not speak up about their abuse sooner, and, in turn, he encouraged a Twitter “lynch mob” of his own fans against people such as Weinberg speaking out in support of the victims. Kaufman then made a faceless and Serling-esque "responsible to my audience, not for my audience" statement about how his fans knew where he stood on the issue, and then he simply vanished from sight while several of those "fans" continued their harassment.

            This is all a symptom of a bigger concern with victim-blaming right now and not something I want to spend any more time on here for this entry. I would, however, recommend doing a little research on the topic and face these stories of sexual assault allegations with all the seriousness they deserve. All the way to the top office. You know which one. The oval one with the potato sitting at the desk. I would not recommend you do what Lloyd Kaufman did, which was to remain in character as a sleazy carnival barker with a bullhorn while speaking out about a difficult and personal subject. He treated real people involved in this story like characters in one of his movies, people whose lives were fictional and not to be taken seriously, and he might as well have promoted the vitriol that resulted from his statements with the accompaniment of fake vomit and fart noises. As a result of my disappointment in the behavior of Kaufman and his Troma imprint, I crossed a traditional Halloween favorite off my watch list this year, Monster in the Closet. I didn’t burn my DVD in effigy or make any other grandiose statement, but I chose not to provide any promotion or support for Troma whatsoever this year. Maybe I will come around to it again sometime next year or another year down the line, but not this year. Probably not next year, either.

          A lot of great people were involved in this horror spoof, and they do not deserve the punishment that Troma’s poor behavior has brought upon them. Acting greats such as Stella Stevens, Henry Gibson, Claude Akins, John Carradine, and Paul Dooley come to mind, specifically. Troma has been a part of my life going back a long time, and I remember seeing many Troma movies on late night shows like USA Up All Night. Of course, Kaufman and his supporters have a “don’t let the screen door hit your ass on the way out” attitude about it, and that is their prerogative. They can shrug it off and refuse to hold themselves accountable for their behavior if they like, but I stand by my decision. I think Kaufman handled this poorly. Not only that, but I think he tried to capitalize on it by encouraging his fans to escalate it. A trashy exploitation movie producer exacerbating a situation to turn it into trashy exploitation. Go figure. It felt in poor taste on my part to have Troma as any part of my October festivities when the head of the company and some of his employees and fan base were unable to approach a subject with the seriousness it deserves. I do not know how many more years I have left on this Earth, but, frankly, I think I might be just fine if I never see another Troma movie again in the remainder of those years. Even Monster in the Closet

The Grand Finale - My Top Ten for October (in no particular order)

Note: This list may contain some spoilers, but I try to avoid anything crucial.


1) Cult of Chucky
           
I have followed the Chucky franchise since the beginning, so of course I was going to check this one out as soon as it became available on Netflix. Some great lines and an always-brilliant performance by Brad Dourif, and there were a few little Easter egg references in there for the keen-eared movie fan as well. I do not want to spoil any of the fun, but if you have followed any of Dourif’s career outside of the Chucky series, then you are in for some treats. This entry immediately reminded me of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and Bad Dreams with its focus on young people in a mental hospital, and Chucky’s influence on a group of people with diverse conditions made this a particularly fun outing. Chucky was not terrorizing some middle class family with two-and-a-half kids anymore; he was in a place where every one of his victims was already broken in some way, patients and doctors alike. Even a killer plastic doll has to put a little extra work into his craft to make that situation work, especially when a few of the patients think a talking inanimate object is nothing out of the ordinary. At times, other characters' psychological issues almost overshadowed Chucky's, and this entry opened a door to take the franchise back to its roots. 

2) Prince of Darkness
           
An instant favorite, and I am still not sure how this fell under my radar for so many years. I think I have mentioned that the late 1980s were not the best time for me with theatrical horror movies after my family moved to Florida in 1987. Most of those theater outings were for family-friendly movies and generally nothing above a PG rating because we went to the dollar theater frequently with my best friend and his family. His mother was a bit more on the strict side in what she allowed her children to watch. Regardless of that, I still do not know how my eye overlooked this one at the video store over the years that followed. I certainly remember the VHS cover and poster image. The names John Carpenter and Donald Pleasance alone should have made the movie jump off the shelf and into my hands… but here I am in 2017 and seeing it for the first time. I think it would have been one of my favorite movies had I seen it when it originally came out, and it is quite easily one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. Well… just about all of John Carpenter’s movies are my favorite John Carpenter movies, but this one was special. I love the concept of a secret religious sect trying to keep the literal force of evil imprisoned and the modern young minds of theoretical and applied physics trying in vain to study, measure and explain what is essentially a huge mason jar full of liquid Satan… and the cap is about to rust off. I am going to have to watch this one again very soon. I think it is one of Carpenter’s deepest films.

3) The Lure

            Easily one of the top ten movies I have seen this year. This dysfunctional family fairy tale deserved every bit of the recognition and praise it received, particularly for getting the Criterion label almost immediately after its release. It is The Little Mermaid meets Victor, Victoria meets Species, and I loved every minute of it. It was so good that I feel awful leaving this entry so short but cannot think of anything else to say except, "Go watch it." 

4) The Devil’s Backbone

          Guillermo del Toro is a master of horror, art, and film, but I have seen, sadly, a very small selection of his work. This needs to change, and The Devil's Backbone is quite possibly the best proof of that. Santi is one of the best ghosts in movie history, and this is a difficult story of suffering that almost takes too long to achieve some retribution. Greed and evil seem to win at every turn, but the spirits of the dead are there to remind us that the actions of the living eventually come back to get them.

5) Thirst

          By coincidence, the soundtrack to Thirst is playing right now in my writing mood music playlist. Scores to 1970s horror movies like this take me back to some of the best moments of my childhood, and there is a sort of pattern to the instrumental arrangements that almost puts them into their own distinct musical genre. Made-for-TV movies had soundtracks like these quite often, but you could expect a specific kind of haunting melody for theatrical features like Let's Scare Jessica to Death or Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural. For a movie like Thirst, which already was a unique and fun horror experience, the music makes it even better. I had watched Daughters of Darkness shortly before this one (which did not make the top ten but definitely deserves the mention), and it was fun to remain on a vampire theme drawing from the origins of Elizabeth B├íthory rather than the standard Vlad The Impaler. The story takes itself in a direction more psychological than supernatural, but I loved it. 

6) Messiah of Evil

          Speaking of the 1970s, I always say that it is hard for me to escape that decade once I pick a movie. I am surprised that there are only three movies from the 1970s on this list. This was a particular shocker for me because I always seem to think that I might have seen every 1970s zombie movie ever made. Perhaps I have. I feel like I must have seen this at some point when I was very young, but it only seemed vaguely familiar. I think this one would have been burned into my memory if I had seen it as a kid, but it did not ring the right bells. This is one of those perfect 1970s selections that shares some of the same atmospheric and haunting music as Thirst, and I watched a version of it on YouTube that had not aged well in terms of video quality. As much as I want to see a remastered version of this, there is something special about seeing it in aged broadcast television or VHS quality. Shout Factory TV's VHS Vault is a good example of how this nostalgia can enhance the experience of watching a movie by putting you in the time period in which a movie was made or in which it achieved much of its popularity and exposure. I have mentioned that I can come back to a worn-out TV recording of a movie almost as often as I would a high-quality DVD or Blu-ray, and that look of a 1980s television broadcast can put me in a real horror movie mood. The brightest brights can have a fuzzy and ghostly appearance, and the darkest darks can leave you wondering if you are sure of what is going on in a scene. I need to watch this one again and soon. 

7) Devil Times Five

          This should have been the plot to Bustin' Loose with Richard Pryor. I jumped into Devil Times Five immediately after finishing Messiah of Evil after YouTube started it up automatically, and I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I missed this one when it aired on TCM Underground, but it was more than worthy to be a part of that programming with the likes of Let's Scare Jessica to Death, The OtherBloody Birthday, and Alice, Sweet Alice. Evil kids and a house full of repulsive adults with so much of their own selfish baggage that most of them have mayhem and gore coming to them. And there is plenty of mayhem and gore to go around. Any time you see a fish tank of piranhas in a movie, you know they are going to be well fed. The real horror comes from how easily and nonchalantly the children commit their deeds. The sociopath, free of any emotion or facial expression, can be even more frightening in the act than the toothy maw of a howling beast, especially when the sociopath is just a child. This was why Children of the Corn got to me specifically as a kid, and the kids in Devil Times Five are believably creepy.

8) Spontaneous Combustion

          This was the final entry in my memorial marathon for Tobe Hooper, and it felt appropriate to finish it off with one that I had not seen. This is another one of those horror releases from the late 1980s and early 1990s that fell under my radar along with Prince of Darkness, and I was happy to get to it later than never. Spontaneous Combustion feels a bit like Scanners with a little bit of The Fury mixed in for good measure, and it is Brad Dourif in one of his best performances. Dourif tackles outrageous emotion, pain, and frustration with style, and he is at his most frustrated here. One of the signatures of his success as Chucky is his scream of pain, and there is no shortage of torturous screams here as his pyrokinetic powers slowly burn his body from the inside out. An underrated Tobe Hooper gem worth checking out.

9) Fade to Black

          This one almost feels biographical, all except for the serial murder part, of course, and I wish that I had gotten my hands on its soundtrack as well to mix in with my mood music for this entry. This is a poetic tale of a misfit finding the only happiness and joy in his life from the movies while slowly being pushed over the edge. Many of the feelings I share with Eric Binford are the reason I am sitting here and bothering to write any of this down. The movies can be an escape from dysfunction and an inspiration to the imagination to help one cope with difficult times. At the same time, it is something that can become an unhealthy escape that causes you to retract from a few important human needs. There is an American Psycho vibe to the story but more sympathetic. It is very difficult not to relate to him in a sense, especially if you were not a popular kid. He has a touch of arrogance about the things he knows, making him a magnet for abuse, but certain people, like the subject of his tragic romance, a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe, see through that standoffish air of superiority as a defense mechanism for his loneliness and desire for human contact. She sees so much more in him than he can see in himself that she is willing to put herself in harm's way for him, and Tim Thomerson, as a budding criminal profiler, tells the audience repeatedly that we should have sympathy for Eric and that there should be some path to redemption for him. It is an interesting take on the trope that a monster deserves human sympathy or should be brought in alive rather than put down by the angry masses. The plot takes us through highlights and parallels of classics like Kiss of Death and even King Kong, and those movies in Eric Binford's life-- in our lives-- provide not only an outlet for his emotions but also remind us of some of the very human emotions that can create monsters. 

10) Raw

          If I were ranking these from least to greatest, then this one likely would get the number one spot (maybe second only to Prince of Darkness). Raw was nothing like I expected it to be. This could be because I am so well-versed in horror movies and simply did not react to it the way that many did, but there was a great deal of hype surrounding this movie that made me think entirely differently of it than what it is. I heard stories of people fainting and throwing up at screenings, and it took me back to memories of 1970s horror radio spots and 1960s William Castle films that promised physicians on site and free funeral services for anyone in the audience who died of fright.

In particular, take a moment to do a web search for the radio ads for a double feature of Blood-Spattered Bride and I Dismember Mama to get one of the best examples of what I am talking about.

This connection to word of mouth drew me to this story more than anything else, but its graphic nature, at least to me, was minimal at best. It did make me cringe once or twice, though, and that is not easy to do. Unfortunately, it seemed like some of this hype unfairly pushed some potential viewers away. Psychologically and emotionally, this was a coming of age story that is going to stick with people for a long time. I put it in the same category of movies I saw earlier this year such as When Animals Dream and Evolution (which I will discuss in my top 25 for the year). My only complaint about Raw, if I can call it a complaint, is that I had the mystery solved right away, and the ending was a confirmation rather than a shock. It does not reduce my enjoyment of any movie, but I am not easy to fool. I would recommend Raw to anyone, even someone that is not particularly a fan of horror. It is a horror movie, but it is so much more. If you do not want to seek it out because of the hype, then seek it out in spite of the hype.

Honorable Mention: Three... Extremes

          With my love for Asian film in general and a particular enjoyment of the works of these three directors, I had no doubt that I would enjoy this little horror anthology. Park Chan-wook, Fruit Chan, and Takashi Miike deliver some true horror that gets you right in the gut and then keeps cutting. I think that I might have ordered the stories differently and saved Park Chan-wook's "Cut" for last due to its intensity, but each story is its own intense horror ride. 


          And there you have it. This was a longer road than I wanted it to be, but we made it through October. It only took us until December, but we made it before Christmas. I joked that it would be Christmas before I finished, and it almost came true. Sheesh. I used to have so much more motivation to write, and I am still struggling to get it back. I wish that my free time took on a little less Fade to Black escapism than something productive, but the last several years have been a mental roller coaster. I find myself moving on to the next movie more than stopping to think about the last one these days, and I fear that my memory has failed me on a few of these movie experiences. I am not the Eric Binford I once was, and I have doubted the tenacity of my mind for trivia in recent years. Some say that stress can cause such memory issues, and it can be a bit frustrating to try to pull out a few memories that I thought would be at the front of my mind forever. I have had trouble recently remembering whether or not I saw a few movies for the first time on television or in a movie theater. My second viewings of some of those are more vivid than the first, but I never expected any of those fond memories to blur. But I digress. 

          In the coming weeks, keep an eye out for an expansion of this list as I run off my top 25 first-time movie viewings for 2017. A few of these movies will be on that list again with a little more detail about the impact they had upon me, particularly Prince of Darkness and Raw, and I am having a hard time cutting the list down to a top 50 movies list let alone a top 25. I have many good things to say about at least half the movies I have seen this year, so maybe I will take a cue from Casey Kasem and do a Top 40 countdown. Regardless, there are a lot of fun and diverse movie recommendations and highlights on the horizon. I joked that I would have the list finished sometime in July. I am taking some initiative to get started on it earlier.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

October 2017 Highlights Part 6 - MST3K on KTMA, Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Hype, and Other Broadcast TV Movie Memories

          First, I would like to thank everyone who read my previous entry regarding Incognito Cinema Warriors XP. That entry was perhaps the largest labor of love of all these entries so far with more pictures and quite a bit more time spent editing and proofreading to make it as close as possible to the compliment I wanted to give. I also would like to thank the folks at ICWXP themselves for tweeting the blog post and likely contributing to the number of views it got. I didn't get into this for a view count, but I appreciate anyone taking the time to read my sentimental drivel when I typically would have kept all this to myself inside my head or some private journal entry. The important thing to mention is that I don't enjoy this material nearly as much by myself as I do sharing it with others. My previous post has the highest view count of any of my blog posts to date, and I hope that it was enjoyed.

          Second, December is already here, and I hoped I would have this done long before Christmas. I have a forthcoming 2017 Top Movies list slated at the end of the year when my #104for2017 movie list finally comes to a conclusion. If I can reach my extended goal from 104 movies for the year to 250, then I am planning to pick the top 25 off that list and give my thoughts on how much I enjoyed them.

Part 6 - Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Hype (and Other Broadcast TV Memories)


Brief Aside: An Argument for MST3K's KTMA Season


          This little section was not planned but fits rather nicely into the theme of the moment. Between my previous post and this one, too much time has passed, but it has been an important time of reflection. Between these two posts, another Thanksgiving has come and gone, in which time I enjoyed another large binge of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that included but were not limited to the annual MST3K Turkey Day marathon. A few days later, I celebrated the anniversary of one of MST3K's chief inspirations and one of my favorite kaiju, Gamera. Still deep in a Halloween horror host and broadcast television mood, I chose another marathon viewing of the original KTMA-23 Gamera episodes of MST3K. This quickly sent me down the rabbit hole to watch almost the entire KTMA season again, and I get in a mood to watch a few of these episodes rather frequently. I have met few fellow MSTies who can stand to watch these episodes more than once. Of course, there is always a MSTie or a fan of anything in general with at least one episode that is at the bottom of the list. I have known fans who got angry at the mere suggestion of watching Manos or Santa Claus a second time. I used to loathe The Beatniks and Teen-Age Crimewave because certain characters in those movies irritated me more than the riffing could make me laugh. I eventually came back to them and have a greater appreciation for them than I did, and it became hard to pick a least favorite episode. For me, gun to my head, I think that would have to be Mad Monster. I never seem to remember the plot, and I do not think that I have made it through the entire episode even once without falling asleep. In terms of the Gamera and other Sandy Frank movies, the argument typically is that the Season Three episodes are better. The problem with judging the KTMA episodes is that there is too often an attempt to compare them to the cable syndication episodes in some shape or form, and this does not work.

Any show that begins with puppets watching puppets deserves a little more scrutiny.


          The KTMA episodes were a different animal entirely and should not be compared to the other seasons (except for Season One and Season Eleven, maybe). The syndicated cable episodes were scripted, rehearsed, and had a bigger budget. The original cast and crew themselves look upon the local network episodes with a slight cringe and pass them off as imperfect and unpolished ad-libbing, which is exactly what they were. The KTMA episodes, however, dug into the very soul of what inspired the show's creation in the first place: the TV horror host and the network broadcast television movie distribution package. They did not need to be perfect or polished. They did not need to have a huge and colorful set. The KTMA episodes had exactly what they needed to give birth to a new kind of TV movie host. This was the essence of Charlton Heston sitting in the movie theater in The Omega Man. This was the essence of Bruce Dern on a lonely satellite with his robot friends in Silent Running. This was a comedy show, but, in its inception, it came from a different place. It was the Saturday afternoon local network TV movie. It came from Joel's childhood. It came from the childhood of which Gilbert Gottfried speaks with such fondness on his podcast when he talks about classic movies and Universal Monsters. It came from my childhood. It came from the youth of two generations of people growing up with television as a new and evolving social and family staple. It came from a place that was a little more uncertain, and escaping some of that uncertainty or stress in the day to day world was why so many of us would tune in. Joel and the Bots in the KTMA season did the same thing for the Minneapolis/St. Paul audience that Dr. Paul Bearer did for the Tampa/St. Petersburg audience, Svengoolie for the Chicago audience, Elvira for the Los Angeles audience, Sammy Terry for the Indianapolis audience, Dr. Morgus for the New Orleans audience, Major Gunn for the Houston audience, Fritz The Nite Owl for the Columbus audience, and so on. The occasional riffing during the network MST3K episodes made them different from other horror hosts, but the riffing was not the rule. The movies were the rule. Even Manos.

          The local network season gave us almost a real time view of MST3K trying to figure out what it wanted to be. Every movie of the week was an experiment, but the real experiment was in each cast member hitting a stride, developing a personality for their characters, and getting progressively more practiced at the art form they were creating. As a result of the show's original structure, the KTMA episodes were more sparse running commentary during the movie than riffing, leaving a lot of space for the audience to follow the movie for its own merits, if any. That space between riffs seems to create a divide between some fans. The KTMA season has a smaller following due to its limited exposure, but that base seems smaller still because the local season does not have enough riffs. It might feel a little boring to some to watch those earlier episodes after already experiencing the syndicated episodes. Season One and Season Eleven share more than a few similarities with "Season Zero" because both following seasons feel like a cleared slate with the constant and overshadowing doubt that the show would get picked up for another season afterward. Season One drew from the establishment of its characters in the KTMA season and hit the mark with them right away, but it had several missteps of its own in the in-theater presentation. Instead of five Gamera movies in a row, they featured Radar Men From The Moon in nearly every episode and then dropped the serial halfway through the ninth of its twelve chapters. It was so close. The riffs were expanded and polished, but the comedy experimented with a number of new ideas like sight and sound gags that did not translate well.

          Season Eleven on Netflix is a fresh topic at the moment, which makes me feel a little less comfortable discussing it. It can be too easy for some to accept or dismiss something new. I have seen this happening on both sides already, but I think the eleventh season suffers most from having too many riffs and adhering too strictly to some of the original formula. The Netflix episodes feel like they clutter their movies to keep the joke cutting room floor clean, some almost overlapping each other as they try to fit them all in, and it distracts from observations in the movies that inspire those jokes. Everyone is here to hear the jokes, though, right? The movie does not feel quite like the rule here. It sounds like the in-theater riffing was not done literally in-theater as the original show did it. Many of Season Eleven's riffs sound like they were recorded separately and then edited together to fit the time rather than having the entire group sit together and roll them out with the timestamps as the original MST3K crew can be seen doing in the rough cut episodes. Some lines are re-dubbed, but no one is sitting in separate sound studio booths to have the same conversation. The sound studio option is probably more practical for today's crew, but it stands out to the ear. Some of the Season Eleven riffs simply sound more like cut and paste audio editing and less like natural dialogue. Criticism aside, this same argument gives me higher hopes for the confirmed Season Twelve because I think that this group can hit the same sort of stride as they progress and feel more comfortable. Time will tell.

          Perhaps the local Minneapolis season's greatest strength was young J. Elvis Weinstein. He shined in his ability to come up with very funny spontaneous riffs. Joel was there as a sort of film buff mentor to offer references to other movies and insights into the flaws and virtues of a scene. He was there to watch the movie and not simply to comment on it. Trace Beaulieu's Crow became less robotic and more rebellious as his existential crisis gave rise to his creativity, growing into the Crow we knew and loved on Comedy Central before the KTMA season reached its end. As The Mads, Trace and Josh set a standard for self-foiling villains, but, out of everyone in the KTMA season and even the first cable season, Josh's Servo was my favorite character and gave me the biggest laughs.

Just like classic television, Servo was best when he was in monochrome.

          When I met the cast at the Cinematic Titanic screening of The Wasp Woman in Dallas years ago, I wish that I had been able to tell him that personally. Instead, I got him confused with Josh Weinstein of Mission Hill (I still do not know how that happened with my mind for trivia at the time). I was both nervous and suffering from severe bus lag that evening, and by the time I made it down the cast table to Trace, I think I was about to pass out. Josh was the last one on the row. I already felt the dark cloud overhead when I mumbled to Trace, "Thank you so much for years and years of... everything." Those exact words with the pause, and I am not sure he heard them. I hope not. Meeting Frank, Joel, and Mary Jo had taken almost all I had left. When Josh corrected me, my brain locked up completely. The last words out of my mouth before walking away in shame was that the writing on America's Funniest Home Videos was better when he was working on it. I remember a slight glance of attention toward us from Trace Beaulieu when he heard me mention AFV. I still wonder what he was thinking in that moment. Although I truly did enjoy the writing in AFV when Trace and Josh were on the staff and felt like I could hear their comedic voices in several of the jokes, it was no less a tongue-tied and forced substitution for an incorrect compliment on my part and not the high compliment Josh deserved from my heart. I have carried that fractured fanboy moment with me for a long time. It is my most painful celebrity meeting memory, even more painful than when Megumi Odaka signed my Godzilla vs. Biollante poster twice.

          As the KTMA season progressed, the quality of riffing and performances progressed with it. Their final two episodes, The Last Chase and Legend of the Dinosaurs, were the culmination of all that practice and pursuit of the show's identity. They found it, but then things changed. The move to The Comedy Channel and Comedy Central was a reboot. It felt like they needed several episodes in Season One before they succeeded in hitting that stride again, and that first cable season recycled a great deal of KTMA host segment material including Servo's classic blender flirtation segment. It was a better-written reboot with different movies but a reboot nonetheless with many of the same flaws of fledgling production and uncertainty. I could argue it took them until Season Three before they truly got where they wanted to be with all hits and no misses. Season Three is undoubtedly my favorite MST3K season but not without a couple of drawbacks. I credit much of its success to the intimacy they had with the Sandy Frank catalog to remake those KTMA episodes and to make them even better, and the non-Sandy Frank selection in Season Three was very similar to the KTMA season with its inclusion of a few pieces of Made-For-TV fodder and some television shows repackaged into movies. Stranded in Space and Master Ninja especially felt like local network episodes, and both "Season Zero" and Season Three shared the distinction of having a painful Sax Rohmer film tacked on near the end of their run. On top of that, they had some of the best Roger Corman and Bert I. Gordon material available and hit the ball out of the park with their earliest short films. Unfortunately, they had lost Josh along the way. I love Kevin Murphy, but I missed Josh's charm and attitude. Even worse, in my opinion, was that they left Humanoid Woman and Legend of the Dinosaurs out of their second assault on Sandy Frank entirely. They were the odd-man-out Sandy Frank releases, a bleak Russian space opera and a violent Toei dinosaur horror movie clearly mismarketed alongside the "friend to all children" and a bunch of re-edited Japanese children's science fiction television shows like Starwolf and Army of Apes, and I think that tackling those missing movies a second time in Season Three could have resulted in two of the best episodes of all time. Sentimentally, the final KTMA episode is still my all-time favorite. I loved it so much I cut together a little fan trailer nearly twenty years ago that I shared with a few online friends and never wanted the whole world to see. Someone put it on YouTube, and the first person who put it there had to disable the comments section due to hundreds of comments that I am thankful I never got to read. People really suck sometimes...

          On the same token, I feel like a second KTMA season would have been better than the first syndicated season simply because they had become more comfortable with their work. I think that the show could have become what it wanted to become much sooner if that had been possible, but then it might not have escaped the local broadcast market. It might have remained locked in Minnesota, the same as Svengoolie did in Chicago for twenty years before he became syndicated on MeTV, and MST3K might have been forevermore a quirky local flavor that no one outside Minnesota, including me, would have been able to see and appreciate. Despite my feelings for what the KTMA season was and could have been had it been allowed to continue, I am thankful that it made the move that it did into the greater public eye.

And then there is that other problem: degraded VHS recordings..

          The surviving KTMA broadcast recordings that I have seen are not in the greatest of shape, and, in a few cases, different copies of the episodes that have floated around were missing footage. A VHS copy of the KTMA version of Gamera vs. Zigra I acquired years ago was missing the entire last monster battle, and I just saw that missing footage for the first time on YouTube a few days ago as of this writing. Uploading a video to YouTube, of course, also causes a gradual degradation of quality no different from copying a copy of a VHS tape over and over again. I was not sure if alternate recordings of these episodes existed at all to know whether this footage was missing intentionally or not. I was happy to discover that complete versions did exist. The same goes for the Superdome episode. The version that was available (and the version on YouTube) was missing the final host segment, but this managed to resurface as well thanks to the local viewer whose letter was featured in that last host segment. Such human error in recording these broadcasts was and still is the state of "Circulating the Tapes," but the Digital Archive Project became my favorite place in my early days on the Internet. They did a fine job of preserving many of these shows in the best quality to be found, and they helped me to amass a 95%-complete MST3K episode collection long before there was a "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 1" on DVD, not to mention their preservation of The Dennis Miller Show and one of my favorites, Space Ghost's Cartoon Planet.

          To me, the best treat to come out of the "Bring Back MST3K" movement was the discovery of the missing first two episodes of the KTMA season, Invaders from the Deep and Revenge of the Mysterons. I know the master tapes for the rest of the local network season still exist. They must, and, unfortunately, the third KTMA episode of Star Force is still missing. I would be among the first to buy a MST3K "Season Zero" DVD set if it were made commercially available. At the very least, I would hope for the entire catalog of KTMA season master tapes to become available for streaming through Shout! Factory or some other outlet instead of just sitting in a shoebox under Jim Mallon's bed so that the masses have the opportunity to see them in their best possible light, either to cherish them as I do or to dismiss them ultimately as inferior.

"I can view this coolly... dispassionately. It's just that you're so incredibly stupid and wrong. Just so INCREDIBLY STUPID! AND WRONG!!" - Dr. Forrester, Invasion USA

Broadcast Television Memories


          One thing about the local network season of MST3K that made it special was that it came out of that poignant era of broadcast television replay value. Several of the things I love the most would not exist today at all if not for that. The horror hosts and cable networks relied upon the public's willingness to see a movie again and again, and Nick at Nite sprang forth from the increasingly-threatened nostalgia of the classic TV rerun as newer shows kept pushing older shows out of circulation. There is some irony in that so many of those broadcasts were instantly obsolete and often never seen again unless someone recorded them on Betamax or VHS. The movies or shows themselves might become available commercially or air again, but the presentation of that moment in time occurred only in that moment in time and then disappeared forever. That was the magic of television. The promotional commercials changed. The channel logos and crawling text bugs went through periodic design changes. The commercial breaks and sponsors shifted. Nickelodeon's logo changed from a silver sphere to an amorphous and shapeshifting blob. Reruns of shows like Spectreman aired for a very short span of time and then disappeared without warning when the broadcast license ran out. One broadcast of the same movie or show never was 100% the same as the one before it, and you were lucky if a few presentations aired a second time at all, especially with network movie host shows like Dr. Paul Bearer or KTMA's MST3K season. Even Svengoolie does a new mailbag segment every week even when he is showing a movie rerun. Some tiny little editing tweak is made somewhere every time, even if you do not notice it. It could be something as seemingly insignificant as changing a movie still in a trivia segment, and I have seen that happen.

          If you grew up in the 1990s, 1980s or prior, then I probably am not telling you anything that you did not experience yourself, but explaining something like this to my twelve-year-old nephew can be an interesting endeavor. When he was about six or seven years old, I pulled out some preserved Saturday morning cartoon blocks from the 1980s, and he got lost in that strange world. He forgot momentarily that this was not live television, and he was jarred from reality at seeing the toy commercials I grew up with and the different cast of characters that appeared in, say, an average McDonald's commercial. He wanted the Happy Meal toys, and he was crestfallen to realize they had been discontinued thirty years ago. He wanted me to look for them on eBay.

Food, Folks and Fun ain't what it used to be.

Those nostalgia time capsules of television history shaped me in so many ways, and I, not unlike my nephew watching cartoons from the '80s with me, found my love for them in watching reruns of movies and shows made years before I was born. It fascinated me to see how television came to be what it was in my early life, and I took very seriously some of the little things that most would disregard. I was an observant kid. Take this local television title sequence, for example:


If you were not in Tampa or St. Petersburg, Florida, in front of a television at noon sometime in 1993, then you missed this. I did not live in Florida anymore in 1993, so I missed it. The only reason you and I see it here now is because some home viewer decided to preserve it on a VHS recording (thank you, anonymous VCR person). It was intended, like any other instantly-obsolete television graphic, to appear at this moment in time and then vanish because *snapping fingers* we have a show to run here. Not to get sappy, but I appreciate that someone working at the WTOG-44 television station took the time to create this image. They picked a bold font to make the movie title jump out, and Dr. Paul Bearer's name hovers above it in a haunting and blood-red font worthy of the horror host that he was.

          Even a die-hard fan of the Poltergeist franchise probably would not care to have this broadcast in a home collection when some scenes are edited out and a DVD or Blu-Ray is out there with pristine quality, but what I wouldn't give to have a set of these master tapes of Dr. Paul Bearer's show instead of the deteriorated broadcast recordings. Would anyone be that disappointed to know that Alan Alda's broadcast promo for the final episode of M*A*S*H (which I have in my possession through some strange coincidence) is not available in the DVD extras of a M*A*S*H complete box set? Would anyone bother to argue that the box set is not truly complete without it? Would anyone care if I uploaded it to YouTube at all? If you were not there when it aired and did not see it, then did it matter that it happened? Did you need Alan Alda to tell you the final episode of M*A*S*H was about to come on your local station? Did the falling tree make a sound? Did they load it on the chopper after it fell and fly it to a M*A*S*H tree surgeon unit? Do you need to be loaded on a chopper after how badly I hurt you with that joke?

          It is impossible to preserve all of this material. A great deal of it is lost already. YouTube never will be able to scratch the surface even if everyone who recorded something on a VHS tape uploads all of it tomorrow, and there is no market to preserve them commercially. It is tantamount to hoarding to suggest that these little pieces of television history be preserved across the board, and only a small handful of TV geeks like myself are doing it. But, in the same argument, it is the disregard for the historical value of some of this material that led to some of the lost movies and shows that some viewers will not see again, such as episodes of Doctor Who and several other British television shows like All in the Family's predecessor that the BBC simply destroyed because, like the above graphic, television was created to exist within each unique moment of its broadcast time and then to disappear into the ether to make room for the next unique moment. Almost the entire catalog of a few local horror hosts are confirmed lost forever. I lost almost 500 VHS tapes to flood damage years ago, most of which are irreplaceable. I have mentioned in a previous post that I am thankful for the website FuzzyMemories.tv. They take this preservation of broadcast history even more seriously than I do, even going so far as to preserve technical difficulty drop-outs of movies and television shows that occurred on a particular channel on some random day.

I know I have gone on and on about this long enough, but we already are entering a generation that is not going to understand this joke from The Simpsons. Even they didn't use the same technical difficulties graphic twice. I weep for the loss of that history. Rant over.

          As a child of insomnia and ingrained family dysfunction, I found much of what I needed and what shaped me through television, and by the early 1980s, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, both local network and fledgling cable channels were looking for more filler and less of an excuse to switch on a test pattern. Theatrical movies began to appear more and more often on select stations, and Made-For-TV became a movie genre within itself. It is virtually unheard of today for any channel, local or otherwise, to go off the air for any length of time, but I wish more of them would. Today, the night time channel guide is filled to the rim with infomercials and other paid programming. I did not realize in my childhood and early adulthood that I was seeing a profound shift in the Age of Television. I developed a greater appreciation for that material of the past as I got older, and, depending on the mood, I am willing to revisit a movie through an old broadcast recording just as easily as pulling out a DVD or Blu-Ray. It may not even have a host. It might be something like the network television premiere of Halloween with a bunch of old commercials and a few alternate scenes, or it might be a regular movie-of-the-week broadcast of Jaws from sometime in the '80s. Something that does not seem special or significant but undoubtedly had some impact on someone in its audience and was possibly the first time they ever saw the movie. I know that the first time I saw both Halloween and Jaws were on network television broadcasts. Although I acquired these recordings from other collectors, it is highly possible that this specific moment captured in time was the exact moment I first saw Jaws. I am willing to bet that the network premiere of Halloween was the exact first time I saw it as well, and preserving the way you saw a movie for the first time is something special. A moving photo album.

          Going back to the insomnia I suffered as a child, the late night network movie was a big deal for me. There were a few times when I could sleep but did not want to miss something that rarely aired, but, much of the time, sleep eluded me and I would watch whatever random material was on a channel without a test pattern. Some nights, I listened to the radio as I went to sleep, but usually the television was on. My parents forced me to ease gradually into the idea of having access to television. I could watch television in the living room almost any time I wanted, but it was for the entire family. I got my first television for my bedroom when I was seven, and it was an antique. It had built-in rabbit ears, a six-inch black-and-white screen, and two huge dials that made a loud thunking sound every time you changed a channel. At the time, we still had cable, so I had the benefit of the cable box that sounded like a bicycle wheel with playing cards in its spokes every time I changed the channel. At night, however, it did not matter that the television was black-and-white or that changing channels was noisy because I usually kept it on Nick at Nite. When my family discontinued cable and the cable company conveniently neglected to retrieve the coaxial adapter for the Disney Channel, I would stay up all night on weekends watching old reruns of shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Zorro, hoping that any of those nights would bring some of the rare and obscure broadcast filler I came to love and, in some cases, never saw again. I still have that little gold cylinder somewhere. I wonder if they still want it back.

          Had I not existed in some of those unique moments in time as one television moment overlapped into the next, then I would not be here writing this entry from the perspective I have. I probably would not be here writing it at all or spend the amount of time I have on the subject. I have spent so much time on it here that it feels a bit awkward to try to shift into movie reviews and not save them for the next entry, but long-winded segues are nothing new from me. Despite cable, my bedroom television spent several nights a week tuned in to a local network movie. I have mentioned KTMA and WTOG a lot, but my earliest call letters were KTRK, KPRC, and KHOU, the three major network affiliates for ABC, NBC, and CBS, respectively, in Houston, Texas, while many of my early movie and television experiences on a local station, including Spectreman every day after Kindergarten, were brought to me courtesy of KHTV 39 if memory serves. Spectreman went off the air about the same time the station decided to start calling itself "39 Gold." They already had the Spectreman gold, but they threw it away. KTRK's 11PM Late Movie was another staple. One of my strongest childhood memories is the end credits of All in the Family. In those days, you young whippersnappers, the end credits were the background music for a local station announcer telling you what was coming up next, right after Rob Reiner told everyone that the show was recorded in front of a live studio audience. I heard the synopsis of quite a few movies to that piano tune. Pretty much all of the surviving KTMA MST3K broadcast recordings had this as well, promoting other movies KTMA had in store later while the "Love Theme" played. I might never have tracked down The Friends of Eddie Coyle if not for hearing about it at the end of an old KTMA MST3K episode recording. Great movie.

          As much as I loved looking in a TV Guide, I knew that whatever was going to be on after All in the Family or Barney Miller or Good Times or Benson or Too Close for Comfort was very likely to be something that I would enjoy. It would be something to drown out the silence in the dead of night and the noise in my brain, and it was more than likely to be some sort of crime thriller, giant monster sci-fi or horror movie. I could count on seeing most of the Tsuburaya/Rankin-Bass "trilogy" with The Last Dinosaur and The Ivory Ape, or I could catch a classic like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three or The Odd Couple. I still remember watching The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao and The Glass-Bottom Boat, and I remember trying to stay up late one night to watch Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster at 2AM with the sound turned way down. I got caught and only got to watch a few minutes of it. I tried the logical argument that I was already wide awake and that the movie was already on, but that did not get me anywhere. If the local station needed a lot of filler, I could see something like The Poseidon Adventure, or I could see special one-night-only rerun blocks of shows like Here Come The Brides that were packaged for and aired during what usually was an all-night movie slot. I could have sworn for years that Here Come The Brides was just a really long movie because I never saw the show any other time than on that one night. And I came to love a lot of horror movies like Burned at the Stake, Who Slew Aunty RooTentacles, and The Devil's Daughter. Shelley Winters seemed to pop up in a lot of those late night movies.

Vampira AKA Old Dracula


          In the earliest days of Nick at Nite, I marveled at the comedy of Laugh-In. I loved watching these performers and had recognized a few of them from their movie careers that followed. Among that amazing cast was the late Teresa Graves, whom I had seen on Get Christy Love on at least one old rerun airing of the show or the movie. I do not remember which. What I remember is how easily I was drawn to her smile, and I loved being able to see different people crossing over from one role to another. For classic movie network reruns, I had become familiar with the face of David Niven very early. Although I did not have the sophistication to sit through too many classic movies as a child, black-and-white comedies and dramas from the 1930s and 1940s were plentiful. My memories are sketchy, but I know that I saw bits and pieces of Niven films like Bachelor MotherRaffles and Dodsworth, but I also knew Niven's work well as a child from Around The World in 80 Days, The Canterville Ghost, and The Pink Panther (for the record, I rank David Niven above Peter Sellers). During one of those special moments in time, I happened to be awake on a night when a local station had a rare treat in store for me: a Dracula movie starring both Teresa Graves and David Niven under the title Vampira. One short promo commercial, and I was not going to sleep that night. I had to see it.

          I thought that I would have more to say about Vampira AKA Old Dracula than I did after this October 2017 viewing. It had been at least thirty years since I saw it for the first time, and, sadly, it did not hold up for me as much as I had hoped. It remains a sentimental favorite, but it is a rather tame and very British entry in the Blaxploitation sub-genre. As a vampire comedy, it holds its own in quite a few spots but jars its audience violently away from the laughs when some of its horror elements come forward. The disappointment in Vampira comes from the fact that its screenplay was written by Jeremy Lloyd ('Allo 'Allo, Are You Being Served?, Laugh-In). Lloyd had experience with highbrow and progressive humor in the 1960s, but this endeavor into 1970s Blaxploitation dropped into a few areas that were beneath the dignity of David Niven, Teresa Graves, and even Christy Love. Clive Donner's direction makes it even more thoroughly British in its humor and sensibility, and perhaps that is what causes it to fall short. The positives? We have the great Carry On stable actor Bernard Bresslaw, excruciating 1970s decor, Dracula's cane with a secret pop-out knife tip, and zip-up travel coffins. Has any other vampire movie done zip-up travel coffins? Not even Mel Brooks did zip-up travel coffins. Brilliant.

          Although deadpan is one of the things I love most about Niven in his other films, his deadpan here is a bit too dead. Niven's Dracula is tired and bored, and his bouts of apathy and downright impracticality are his greatest obstacle to his goal to revive his bride. The cringe factor increases looking at it from a 2017 perspective because Dracula is kind of a racist. Sure, he was undead, drank the blood of the living and was a murderous warmonger who displayed his enemies impaled on spikes, but that racist thing... *biting lip* Much of Lloyd's race humor feels deliberately simplistic. Dracula revives his bride with a blood transfusion from an African-American Playboy playmate, and her skin and and personality change color to match. The cheap gimmick gives us Teresa Graves as a vampire queen with not nearly enough screen time because the focus is too much on Niven's displeasure with the change. The few parts she has are inspiring, regardless of the easy joke about her embracing her new look after seeing a Jim Brown movie, but she created a new vampire aesthetic years before Grace Jones came along with Vamp.

Vampira fails as a title when Old Dracula takes all of the focus away from her majesty.

          Had Graves been given full reign over the plot, then this could have been something special. A sequel focusing on her alone could have been vastly better, and I still remember my biggest complaint the first time I saw it was that Graves did not have the attention she deserved. A few other tweaks, and Niven might have escaped it with his dignity intact.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Unfortunately, he does not. The ending seems to forget the entire premise of the story. Dracula gets a taste of his own medicine, but the movie ends abruptly without him learning a real lesson from it. Instead, Dracula escapes to live (un-live?) another day... with Niven in blackface. Niven is, of course, the big star, but the concept of Old Dracula was not simply a change in skin color. This was apparent when Teresa Graves replaced a non-speaking white corpse for her role. Of course, there was no way that anyone was going to consider Niven bowing, respectfully, out of his final scene with a familiar black actor in his place, even if Niven's voice had been dubbed over the dialogue to tell the audience that this new face was the same old Dracula. Had the final shot featured Dracula turning around to reveal the face of Jim Brown, Isaac Hayes, or even William Marshall as an obvious inside joke, it might have redeemed most of this movie, but they just had to keep Niven as Dracula from start to finish.

*END SPOILER*

Keenan Ivory Wayans should remake Vampira. He could fix it. And have Rihanna star in it. That is all I have to say on that.

Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Hype

          Whew. Finally we come to the focal point of this entry that I intended in the first place. I saw Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Hype only once sometime around 1985 or 1986, and I never forgot it. At the time, I did not know that one of its stars was the same man who had brought Spectreman to me years earlier, the great Mel Welles (see my previous entry), nor did I know that its writer and director, Charles B. Griffith, had contributed to some of my earliest experiences in B-movie classics such as It Conquered The World, Attack of the Crab MonstersDeath Race 2000, and Little Shop of Horrors. I also did not understand much of its adult humor at that young age, but that never stopped me. The majority of what needed to be understood in the plot, however, was simple and out in the open. Even at the age of seven or eight years old, I understood "don't judge a book by its cover." Children pick those things up quickly, and I had seen The Elephant Man for the first time earlier that year as well. Perhaps John Merrick made Henry Heckyl have a more profound effect on me, so I cannot tell for sure if this movie changed me the way that I think it did or if The Elephant Man inflated my perception of its merits. This horror spoof was a reversal of the classic Jekyll and Hyde story starring Oliver Reed as Dr. Henry Heckyl, a depressed and physically deformed podiatrist. Another doctor in his office, played by Mel Welles, had concocted a new chemical formula intended to bring out one's true internal self. Heckyl, suicidal over his appearance and an oblivious attitude toward the acceptance of his peers despite his looks, sees the only two possible ways out of his sad state of life and steals the potion for himself, but he seems to hope more for death than a cure. In many ways, the end result is a spoof that is too smart and progressive for its own good, and it does not help matters that the head honchos of Golan-Globus were pulling strings at the very top to dilute the ideas in the plot and rush the film's release.

Oliver Reed and Mel Welles discuss the many dilemmas of curative medicine.

          Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Hype is just as much a horror spoof as Jeckyll & Hyde... Together Again, but the latter focuses more on slapstick and silliness. Heckyl spends more of its time on internal monologue, trying to be more thought-provoking and to take itself a bit more seriously for a deadpan effect while still being silly in the right places. Without executive interference, it could have been a completely different movie. Oliver Reed is, of course, Oliver Reed. His deadpan humor is closer to Shakespeare than Robert Louis Stevenson, and Griffith himself apparently had issues with that. Oliver Reed as Dr. Heckyl is an immediately likable main character. He is sad, sympathetic, and intelligent, and you want to be his best friend. He channels that notion of the Hunchback and the Beast in that true beauty is on the inside, and he does so flawlessly. He is so immersed in his own depression that he cannot see that others around him accept him for what he is. The attitudes of many people are tongue-in-cheek and lead to some comments on his looks. A few people even scream, but no one is truly repulsed. His colleagues respect him. People continue to share space with him, but, of course, Heckyl longs to share more intimate space and wants to end his own life because he cannot experience love.

          "Good-looking people can get away with murder." This should have been the film's tagline. Enter Mr. Hype, the extreme representation of Heckyl's true inner self: insecure, overly concerned with his appearance, and 100% unfiltered Oliver Reed. With Heckyl's flawed physical appearance erased, Mr. Hype is a homicidal narcissist. His wish for true love becomes a lustful hunger, but he is unable to act upon any of his carnal urges because his insecurities drive him to murder every woman with whom he comes in contact because she does not compliment his perfect features to his satisfaction. The murder scenes, sadly, detract from the movie, and this is coming from someone who watches a lot of gore. The first murder scene, a hair-raising electrocution, is on the mark for this sort of spoof, but there is something about the exchanges and the timing that feels off. One murder scene in particular, the mirror murder, was among the most disturbing kills I have ever seen in a horror movie. Hype slams a woman's face into a mirror with such force that her face is completely crushed, but the mirror does not break. You see the image of what looks like a squished strawberry pie staring back from the reflection, and it was at this point that the local network cut away to a commercial the first time I saw the movie. I was thankful for the recovery time, but it gave me quite a memorable nightmare when I finally got to sleep that night. I dreamed that my neighbor had killed his mother with a clown hammer to the face, and my mind's eye created an image even more gruesome than the one in this movie. That face haunted my mind for a long time. I did not want to see it, but I could not stop seeing it in my imagination. But I digress.

*SPOILER ALERT BUT I RECOMMEND READING ON ANYWAY*

          I do not think that I have mentioned it in great detail in this blog because it can be more personal than I like, but, through my tumultuous relationship with my aunt, I became aware of the LGBTQ community at a very early age. My aunt came out of the closet as a lesbian when I was about five years old, shortly after divorcing her husband, and I did not have a great deal of curiosity about it other than the mechanics involved. Stories like La Cage aux Folles and Victor/Victoria, two of my favorite movies, showed me a sense of tolerance that I think I already had from the start. I have struggled with my own identity in a number of ways in my life, but the important thing is that I have held a firm belief all my life that love takes many forms. It is something that comes from the chemistry of that true inner self rather than an attraction to physical appearance, but, above all else, it should not matter whether or not a man loves a man or a woman loves a woman. If you truly love each other, then all the best to you. The rest is useless noise, and I still have a hard time understanding why it makes such a big damn deal to some of you out there. The bigotry is baffling. Many of my aunt's friends (and lovers) were my friends as well through much of my life, and I was often a better friend to all of them than she was. I was more accepting of them for who they were than she was most of the time. In part, perhaps, I was accepting of them because they had the strength and confidence I did not have to be accepting of myself, but this is not a therapy session. This is a movie review. Several of those friends (the ones she did not drive away herself with her abusive behavior) we lost to AIDS, drug abuse, and suicide, and none of those issues in the LGBTQ community have gone away. 


          This brings me to one specific character who caught my eye during this October viewing, and I saw the character from a new perspective as I have gotten older. One of Dr. Heckyl's colleagues is a man named Dr. Hoo (nyuk, nyuk). Hoo does not have a large part in the movie, but his scenes paint a strong picture. When we first see Dr. Hoo, he seems to be a misogynistic bully, attacking the character of the office receptionist, Nurse Finebum. Nurse Finebum is, of course, intended to be seen as very attractive, and Dr. Hoo treats her with disrespect and attacks on her character as a woman of loose morals. Hoo seems deliberately stereotypical in his attitude, and he is not set up to be a likable character. His gimmick among many gimmicks in this doctors' office is tickle therapy, and he is simply a hateful and goofy spectator with only that much character development to be a woman-hater and carry a feather around with him everywhere.

With a smile and a tickle, Dr. Hoo makes your pain go away while masking his own.

          Everything changes when we see Dr. Hoo for the last time. Hoo drinks the potion and transforms into his true inner self: a woman. Not only has Dr. Hoo had a complete sex change after drinking the potion, but he also has transformed into the perfect image of the woman he wanted to be: Nurse Finebum. I looked back on my first impression of Dr. Hoo in shock. The tickle therapist lashed out at Nurse Finebum out of a combination of jealousy, admiration, and self-loathing. On the inside, Dr. Hoo was a woman, but Dr. Hoo was very much not a woman on the outside. Dr. Hoo embraces her true identity and turns her affections towards the object of male perfection that is Mr. Hype. They seem perfect for each other because their narcissism seems to balance itself out. After a lustful exchange, the female Dr. Hoo and Mr. Hype both revert back to their original selves. The male Dr. Hoo seems to be disgusted that he swapped spit with Dr. Heckyl, but it is more apparent that he has suffered a complete nervous breakdown because he finally grasped that unattainable true inner self only to lose it. In a move that is intended to be silly but struck me hard beneath the surface, Dr. Hoo commits suicide by tickling himself to death with his own feather. The method is absurd, but the reality beneath it is horrifying. For 1980, the subtext was ahead of its time. I had witnessed a transgender person committing suicide in a comedy horror spoof, and it put a spotlight on the many underlying morals to this story that the movie itself was unable to convey to the best of its ability.

          Golan and Globus were out to make a buck, not a social statement. I wonder how much more powerful some of these messages could have come through if Griffith had more freedom. Nevertheless, there is some deep-cutting satire and social commentary embedded in this movie, and I do not think that it gets the appreciation that it deserves. Its flaws can be a distraction, but Griffith creates something good here despite not having the proper outlet for it. I find myself coming back to this one every so often. Cannon Films did not deserve this movie any more than they deserved Tobe Hooper. There was too much talent going on there.




Up next, we reach the final entry of my October 2017 highlights with a few Halloween odds and ends I enjoyed outside of my Twitter thread, a few thoughts on some of the things I did not watch this year but were on my list, and a list of my favorite first-time horror viewings for the month (a precursor to my year-end top movies list).