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Monday, March 30, 2009

Enough with the Remakes Already

Yesterday as I was leaving the theater, having just watched the remake of "Last House on the Left," I saw a poster for a film called "House," and I was relieved to see that it wasn't a remake of the 1986 film with William Katt and George Wendt but actually a new story. In these days of remake-a-mania, it came as something of a surprise. Is it at last an indication that we're starting to move on? Horror remakes as a rule have a pretty low batting average of success or of bringing something new to the table. Remember the TV remakes of "Salem's Lot," "Carrie" and "The Shining"? Yecchh. Each of the original films grows in stature with every passing year and remain just as enjoyable as when they were first released, but the remakes are just execrable.

An important thing to remember is that many of the originals serve as valuable time capsules for the sociopolitical environments that existed when they were released and inspired their creation. This is an element that cannot be updated or looked back on with fond nostalgia. Romero's original "Night of the Living Dead," for example, was a raw, uncompromising attack on the Vietnam war, racism and an ineffective government. Tom Savini's 1990 remake wisely skirted these issues and concentrated on presenting a nihilistic depiction of civilization being consumed by itself.

The original "Last House on the Left" was made when America was being truly torn apart by the political and cultural environment. In 1972, when the film was released, the country was still bogged down in the war in Vietnam and the Summer of Love had soured into a bitter, jaded, drug-induced nightmare. The "free spirits" depicted here were morally bankrupt drifters out for far more extreme kicks than wearing flowers in their hair.

The nightmare begins when their world merges with that of the two young female protagonists who are out for an evening of fun in the city. What follows is an uncompromising descent into torture, rape, murder and revenge. Certainly, the film is rough in spots and has some inappropriate scenes of comic relief, but it succeeds mightily in its intent -- to show the destruction of youth and innocence. A key scene arrives when the killers, having gotten their "kicks," come to the realization that they can't take back what they've done, just as the audience is experiencing the same dreadful sensation. It's a film you can't wash off after you've seen it.

The remake, in contrast, takes essentially the same story, but it has nothing on its mind but setting up sadistic setpieces. It's merely a stalk and kill operation, completely predictable throughout its entire 109 minutes (which is far longer than the original). It's adequately made, but it's just not necessary.

The worst remake so far this year ( a depressing thought) is "Friday the 13th." Granted, the original is by no means an untouchable masterpiece, but it was good cheesy fun to watch at the drive-in. The remake, on the other hand, runs on at an interminable length and is technically a re-do of one of the sequels, since the adult Jason doesn't appear in the series until "Part II." At least the original had Betsy Palmer's hilarious scenery-chewing performance as Mrs. Voorhees, a very young Kevin Bacon getting a spear through the throat and hilarious 1980s clothing and hairstyles. The remake limply offers up the usual cast of equal opportunity douchebags and kittenish bimbos consuming mass quantities of drugs and alcohol until it's time for them to be bumped off.

Instead of a malformed, murderous spectre, Jason has been transformed into a somewhat intelligent, resourceful (but mortal) backwoods survivalist/murderer. It makes his motivation for killing even more unclear. And speaking of killings, the film doesn't even get that right. In these days of "torture porn" and movies so graphically violent it's amazing they get "R" ratings (i.e., the lousy, overpraised "Hostel" series), the filmmakers are amazingly conservative when it comes to bloodletting. Director Marcus Nispel is no stranger to remakes -- he helmed the new "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" a few years back, and it wasn't too bad, but this one sinks straight to the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake.

Zack Snyder's 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" was a worthwhile remake, but it was really a "revisualization" of the original. Again, unable to pick up on the blistering satire of 1970s consumerism that drove the first film, it concentrated instead on intense action and violence -- and succeeded very well. "My Bloody Valentine 3D" was such a hoot to watch in the RealD process I can't compare it to the original, but I suspect in 2D it would be fairly routine. I didn't bother with the 3D remake of "Night of the Living Dead" because it gave me the stinker vibe right out of the gate.

What is allegedly coming down the pipeline is truly worrisome. "Suspiria"? "Rosemary's Baby"? Again, the original "Baby" is such a perfect time capsule of 1960s Manhattan any kind of remake is ridiculous. Hey, guys -- remember "The Omen" remake? Gus Van Sant's ungodly "Psycho"? And how could you possibly remake "Suspiria"? Argento can't even do it. Last year's highly anticipated conclusion to the "Three Mothers" trilogy, "Mother of Tears," was absurd in the extreme.

What worries me most about remake-a-mania is that the new generation of horror lovers won't even be aware that the originals exist and will accept the remakes as the only versions available. They're missing out on some valuable cultural history -- and some fun scares, too!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Joy of Super 8mm Cinema

I have been fascinated with the mechanical aspects of motion picture projection since I was a kid. When I was nine years old, I wanted a battery-operated, motorized Kenner Easy Show projector for Christmas (the hand-cranked ones were so unprofessional) and my Dad did it one better by buying me a real 8mm projector purchased at Niles Film Products in Niles, Michigan, just across the border from my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. My first films, given to me that same Christmas, were “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Return of Dracula.” Both were silent, of course.

“Bride” was a nine-minute condensed version of James Whale’s celebrated classic, and this was before the second wave of Universal monsters were released to television to a whole new generation of monster kids like me, so I had never seen the full-length sound version and thus had no basis for comparison. Nevertheless, the fun of threading film and actually seeing pictures spring to life were thrilling for me. It seemed extra creepy with no sound and intertitles. I loved the ending when Ernest Thesiger said, “You’ll blow us all to atoms!” as Elsa Lanchester hissed and Karloff, with a single tear running down his cheek, pulls the blow-up switch. Why did mad scientists’ laboratories have blow-up switches?

Anyhow, as the miniature castle crumbled into dust and the credits rolled, I was confused. There was the credit “Music by Franz Waxman” followed by one that read “Western Electric Noiseless Recording.” The noiseless recording credit made sense, because it was a silent film, after all (there was no way for me to know that Western Electric noiseless recording was the 1930 version of Dolby noise reduction). But why a music credit?

“The Return of Dracula” was even more telescoped. Imagine taking a black and white, 90-minute movie (with sound) and breaking it down into a three-minute silent reel! As I recall, in my version, some lady in a white robe runs back and forth in front of some mausoleums for a minute, and then we got the coupe de grace: she gets staked. And you actually get to see penetration and gushes of blood!

You couldn’t hope for any kind of continuity in these super-short films, which were known as "headline editions," but they were only $2.99 at Kmart ($3.99 if they were in color).

I made some movies of my own in the 1970s, using a split-reel 8mm camera. It cost about $2.33 per 50 feet to process at Kmart, plus they'd slit the film and splice it together for you! I remember making and remaking a film called “Hunted,” which involved a murderous psychopath (is there any other kind?) chasing his prey throughout the wilds of South Bend. I’m ashamed to admit they are all gone. I do, however, have my Grandfather’s super 8mm films, which are still holding their brilliant Kodachrome color. I made a DVD for the family one Christmas. I also held movie shows in my garage during the summer, charging the neighborhood kids a quarter admission. And, of course, there was a snack bar.

Then, in 1976, super 8mm sound was introduced. I could scarcely contain my excitement. I begged my dad for one of the new sound projectors (about $250; not cheap) and my lifelong obsession truly began. Now the movies talked as well as moved! And the sound versions were available in 400 foot lengths – 17 minutes! They were still condensations of the features, of course, but some of the editing was quite professional and these “mini-movies” could be really satisfying. I still have some of the ones I bought as a teenager – “The Birds,” “The Omen,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” "Dr. Zhivago," “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”…and, of course, the famous nine-minute version of “Jaws”. I’m not kidding. It was acclaimed in film collectors’ circles for its solid continuity even in its brevity! All those prints have turned pink, alas; a result of having been printed on film stock that wasn’t meant to last. Heck, the distributors didn’t know their films would be sought after and screened thirty years later! My home movies began to talk, too; I have about two hours worth of wonderful footage that I've recently transferred to DVD.

The condensations can be unintentionally hilarious. I have a 17-minute version of “The Exorcist,” which is really well-done storywise, but telescopes all of the mayhem, head-spinning, projectile vomiting and obscenity spewing into one convenient reel that takes less time to watch than a sitcom. My 17-minute"Taxi Driver" is less ambitious, dealing only with the Jodie Foster rescue portion of the complete feature, but is once again a wall-to-wall assault of profanity, sleaze and violence. These condensations weren’t edited to be “family friendly”…they were edited to give the collectors the scenes they wanted! Sometimes narration was added, and it was always pedantic and cheesy. Some ambitious distribution companies released two- and three-reel versions of their features, which would run anywhere from 34 to 50 minutes, allowing more time to tell the story. I have a three-reel print of “Westworld” which is certainly as satisfying as watching the entire feature.

When I was 18, Niles Film Products moved to Mishawaka Avenue, just north of downtown South Bend, and now I had a “movie store” I could actually go into, shop and trade films with. I was in heaven. There, I was introduced to the holy grail – full length features on super 8! “Night of the Living Dead” was one of my first acquisitions. I think it cost $199. Expensive, I know, but my obsession knew no bounds. I still own it, and it still runs great. See if you’ll be able to say that about a videocassette or DVD after 30 years! Plus I could buy – shock horror! – “R” rated films like “Schizo” (see the Lynne Frederick post). Just before I left for Los Angeles, I saw a display in the store for some newfangled movie delivery system called Betamax. How could that be? No reels? No projector? Couldn''t last. Neither could super 8. In the United States, store-bought films were killed by the video revolution in the early 1980s although people continue to photograph in the format to this day -- including professionals.

I can cite two energetic and innovative films shot in super 8mm in the last 20 years: J.R. Bookwalter's zombiethon "The Dead Next Door" and Leif Jonker's vampire epic "Darkness," which display not only facility in the format but solid storytelling as well. Both are available on DVD. Check 'em out on Amazon. I love the raw, immediate feel and the refreshingly made-at-home special effects.

Today I own at least 25 features on super 8 and over a hundred shorts, condensations and cartoons. I also have four projectors – all Elmos, the Cadillac of super 8. One of them is stereo. Yes, super 8 had stereo playback and recording capabilities long before home video was even available. Also anamorphic widescreen, although surprisingly I haven’t gotten into that – yet. Super 8 is still huge in Europe, and there’s a wonderful company in Dudley, West Midlands, called Derann, which continues to manufacture and distribute brand-new, full-length super 8 features that look and sound absolutely gorgeous. I have “The Lion King,” “Toy Story” and “The Jungle Book” from Derann, all in stereo, with rich color and pin-sharp focus.

But I still love to watch the films I bought when I was a teenager, color fade or not. They transport me back to another time. And the whole ritual of preparing for a super 8mm show is indescribably satisfying -- setting up the screen and projector, running the sound through the stereo, doing a system check. Even dealing with problems like uncooperative amplifiers and blown bulbs add a welcome challenge that’s part of the experience. Take a look at the clip below. It’s my stereo Elmo GS-800 running my latest acquisition – a full-length print of “101 Dalmatians” (from Derann, of course). The video I shot doesn’t do it justice. In reality, it doesn’t flicker a bit and the colors are just beautiful.

Over the years, I’ve moved across the country and all around Los Angeles, but my super 8 collection has always gone with me. There’ve been times when I’ve turned down an apartment because the living room didn’t have “adequate throw.” I’ve sold some films on eBay, but I’ve probably bought twice as many to replace what I sold.

I know I'm working with an antique format. The projectors need maintenance and repair; the films need cleaning and lubricating, but it's all part of the ritual. Super 8 will always be a part of my life, because wherever there’s a white wall for me to project it on, I’m home.

And I have the sound version of the condensed "Bride of Frankenstein." It looks great!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The men of weird movies (and a couple of couples)












Here's the follow-up to the Women of Weird Cinema. These photos were obtained at the Hollywood Collectors' Show, the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors, the Video Software Dealers of American conference and a short-lived show called Monsters At Play (I think it only happened once...in L.A., at least, but it was a memorably fun time over the 4th of July weekend at a hotel near LAX.

STEVE REEVES. The icon. And although this isn't inscribed, I assure you he signed it for me in person at the Beverly Garland. And it was only about a year before he passed. He didn't talk much, but it was still an unforgettable moment. Besides, what could I say? "I love the way the Mystery Science Theatre guys slaughter your movies?"

GUNNAR HANSEN. Leatherface himself. Another of those people who've marketed his legend and actually made a name for himself in horror films since then. According to IMDB, his latest is "Escape from the Living Dead." Nice guy, and dig the way he signed my photo!

RUSS STREINER. Another big one. "Johnny" was extremely friendly and conversant. When I told him that I'd seen NOLD at a drive-in when I was eight years old, he apologized for scarring me for life. I assured him that nothing could be further from the truth! NOLD messed me up in all the right ways..

DANA WYNTER AND KEVIN McCARTHY. A classy couple. Last I saw Mr. McCarthy he was getting some exercise in my Sherman Oaks neighborhood. I was having a run and he was on a walker. I thought, "How sad," but obviously it was only a temporary setback as he's listed in the credits of two 2009 films. At age 95! Ms. Wynter hasn't done anything onscreen since the 90s but divides her time between California and Ireland.

DELORES TAYLOR AND TOM LAUGHLIN. A couple of sweethearts. They were at the VSDA conference in 1999 promoting all the "Billy Jack" films on video and couldn't have been nicer. "Billy Jack" was a key "outsider" film for this preteen kid in 1971, having seen it at the Rialto Theatre in Walkerton, Indiana, and it was great to be greeted by them in such a manner.

RICHARD KIEL. I have to be honest. Frankly, I have fonder memories of the 7'2" Mr. Kiel as Dr. Kolos in "Human Duplicators" (the name with which he inscribed the photo to me) and the title character in "Eeegah" than his appearances in the 007 films. What I remember most is this huge man walking back to his room at the Beverly Garland Hotel, hanging onto the walls for support. He's beaten the odds...he's 70 and giants don't usually live that long (see Ted Cassidy). He even has a 2008 film credit!

JOHN AGAR. Okay, let's get the "husband of Shirley Temple" part over with. He emerged from the military to enter a more treacherous career...acting in motion pictures! He was in many of the Universal sci-fi classics of the 50s, including "Creature from the Black Lagoon, "Tarantula" and "The Mole People." This autograph was obtained at the Beverly Garland about two years before he died. We talked about how painful the contact lenses he wore for "Brain from Planet Arous" were. I mean, look at 'em! Huge, huge pupils and foil for the "sparkle" effect? No CGI there!

BRUCE CAMPBELL. If you haven't ready his books you've missed out on a treat. He's funny, self-effacing and ironic. Forever known as Ash to some and Brisco County to others, Campbell is one of the ultimate cult heroes. And he continues to deliver on his reputation with films like "They Call Me Bruce."

KEN FOREE. Another cult legend and very friendly. I told him about how the shoulder-biting scene in "Dawn of the Dead" blew my mind, and he said he was on a panel with the actor who did the biting years later and he still gave him the creeps!

HARRY NOVAK. If you didn't see adult films at the drive-in theater in the 70s (how's that for specific?) you may not know who this is, but Novak is an old-time exploiteer with a library of titles like "The Pigkeeper's Daughter," "Axe" and "The Sinful Dwarf." I wanted a video copy of "Dwarf" so he invited me to his distribution offices in Hollywood to pick it up. What stories he could tell!

FORREST J. ACKERMAN. I saw him at conferences several times over the years, but never made it to the Ackermansion to see his memorabilia, which makes me kick myself. Last time I saw him was at ComicCon in San Diego last July. He was in a wheelchair, was very frail and looked like he didn't know where he was. I explained to my friend who this "Famous Monsters" legend and punster was and predicted that this would probably be his last conference appearance. It was.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Tragedy of Lynne Frederick

She only made a handful of films, including 1976’s star-studded “Voyage of the Damned,” Saul Bass’ “Phase IV” (1975) and “Nicholas and Alexandra” (1971). But what I remember her most for are two key films that fit within the Weird Movie Village realm: “Vampire Circus” and ”Schizo.”

It is said she gave up her career for Peter Sellers, who was 30 years her senior when they married in 1977. As has been revealed since his death, Sellers was a troubled – and troublesome – man, difficult to live with under any circumstances but even more so as his health declined toward the end of his short life. She would make only one more film (with him, of course), “The Prisoner of Zenda” in 1979, which flopped. Upon his death in 1980, her battles with studios and Sellers’ own family ensued over the will and rights to his likeness. She won nearly $1.5 million in a lawsuit against the makers of “Trail of the Pink Panther,” which was an opportunistic cut-and-paste job of flashbacks from older films and deleted scenes. Instead of resuming her career, she married David Frost and then had a third husband before becoming an angry, bitter, lonely, substance-abusing recluse. When she died in Los Angeles in 1994, her health and her fortune were gone thanks to alcoholism and drugs, and she weighed 195 pounds. She was only 39 years old.

But Lynne Frederick started out as a beautiful, talented actress with promise. She made the transition from teenager to adult without a hitch, and she projected a sweet innocence in her youthful roles and an attractive naturalness as she matured.

In the rarely-seen (in America, at any rate) but terrific “Vampire Circus,” she plays Dora Miller, a young woman whose village is ravaged by plague and vampirism. John Moulder Brown plays her love interest, Anton, but it’s the kinky, corrupt vampires who come to town with a mysterious traveling circus that really test her purity.

“Vampire Circus” is late Hammer, meaning that there is sex and nudity as well as swinging sixties hairstyles, but that only adds to the fun. The film addresses such taboo topics as incest and pedophilia, and this is as sleazy a bunch of vampires as you’d ever not want to meet. Frederick and Brown make a believably chaste (and ultimately heroic) couple. Hammer regular Thorley Walters is on the scene as the befuddled mayor of the village, and horror regular Adrienne Corri (“Madhouse,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “A Study in Terror”). Dave Prowse, the muscleman in the Darth Vadar costume plays...a muscleman. For once the circus acts are interesting and strange, and the plague backstory enhances the feeling of disease and decay when the nasty band of vampires arrives in the village.

Unfortunately, Frederick’s A-list career was already teetering by 1976. The same year she appeared in the big-budgeter “Voyage of the Damned" she also starred in English trashmeister Pete Walker’s (“House of Whipcord,” “Die Screaming Marianne”) po-faced “Schizo,” which is not without its sleazy charms. The hackneyed plot sees professional figure skater Samantha (Frederick) on the verge of marrying Alan Falconer, a carpeting manufacturer and something of a drip. But a mysterious guy with a big nose (John Fraser) has come to London to ruin her wedding plans. There are flashbacks to Samantha’s mother being murdered violently with a knife from the big-nosed guy's POV. There’s also a séance, possession, lots of fun bloody killings and a surprise (?) ending. The best murder occurs when their housekeeper gets a knitting needle thrust through the back of her head and out of her eye. That’s one helluva strong killer! You also get to see Lynne topless (as seen in this picture). The best reason to see the film is that it is so-o-o-o English. If you’re an Anglophile you’ll especially love all the location photography, the 70s London fashions (dig the wallpaper!) and the extremely English dialogue. Frederick is attractive and natural in a role that doesn’t give her much to do except be frightened of the big-nosed guy. I own “Schizo” on super 8mm. The color is faded, but it’s still the most fun way to watch it.

Frederick spent her last years essaying the role of “the widow of Peter Sellers,” even after she was remarried to others. She remained fiercely protective of his image and just as fiercely antagonistic to his family. Sometimes she would confide that she wished she had maintained her career, realizing what she had thrown away. “I guess I smashed the vase in which the roses of my life once stood,’ she told friend Peter Evans. “But I can still smell the scent.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Women of Weird Cinema












































Here's a gallery of some of the actresses who've made their mark in weird cinema I've had the chance to meet over the years. Most were acquired at the Hollywood Collectors' Show in Los Angeles, first at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in North Hollywood, then at the Burbank Hilton. From left to right, top to bottom (click image for larger picture):

P.J. Soles. Had prominent roles in some of the greatest and most influential films of the 1970s: "Halloween," "Carrie" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School," as well as the comedy hits "Stripes" and "Private Benjamin." Recently, she was underutilized in William Lustig's "Uncle Sam" (good premise but surprisingly subdued effort from Lustig and "It's Alive"'s Larry Cohen). At least Rob Zombie cast her and killed her good in "Devil's Rejects." P.J. is experiencing a renaissance and is getting into voiceover work.

Vampira. I met her while Tim Burton was shooting "Ed Wood." Burton consulted her at length during preproduction. She was very interested in seeing how the final product would look but commented that Lisa Marie, who was playing her in the film, had too large a waist! (Vampira was famous for having a midsection so small that you could cup it in your hands and your fingers would touch.)

Julie Newmar. Funny and gracious. Her resume reads like the "greatest hits" of 60s TV history, including "Star Trek," "Twilight Zone," "Get Smart," "Beverly Hillbillies" and, of course, "Batman," as one of three actresses to play Catwoman during its run. Does anyone here beside me remember "My Living Doll"?

Lynn Lowry. Revered for some of the keystone films of the 70s: Cronenberg's "Shivers," Metzger's "Score," and Gershuny's "Sugar Cookies" with Mary Woronov, but most importantly as the murderous mute hippie in David Durston's "I Drink Your Blood." Her porcelain beauty and huge blue eyes led directors to cast against her looks: she seemed innocent but she could reveal a vicious and/or perverse streak, and she delivered time and time again! Durston was so taken with her when they met that he wrote the role of the mute for her (because it was too late to add dialogue) in "I Drink Your Blood." She looked great and eagerly talked about upcoming projects.

Susan Tyrrell
. She could play both insane harridans and raving beauties and did both with gusto in such films as "Fat City," "Andy Warhol's Bad," "Nightmare Maker" and John Waters' "Cry Baby." I met her at a Los Angeles performance of her one-woman show, "My Rotten Life: A Bitter Operetta" in 1999. She came out into the foyer after the show and generously mingled with the appreciative audience. Losing both her legs to a rare disease in 2000 has not stopped her zest for life. She just relocated to Austin; she still works, has her own myspace page and is as vulgar and outspoken as ever.

Linda Blair. This woman has done it all. After the landmark horror of "The Exorcist," she became the troubled teen in TV movies like "Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic," and "Born Innocent," whose broomstick rape scene provoked so many viewer complaints that congressional hearings about "family hour" were held. In the 80s she became the WIP (women in prison) go-to girl and even showed her stuff in Oui Magazine. Now she crusades for animal rights and is doing a terrific job. She's also a very nice person. I worked with a woman who bought one of her rescued dogs. Last time I saw her was at a PETA benefit screening of "The Exorcist" in 1999. Elvira introduced her, and the audience participation during the movie was hysterical.

Francesca "Kitten" Natividad. One of Russ Meyer's most famous beauties, she is also very gracious and projects a surprisingly innocent quality considering what she's been up to! Her filmography is an interesting mixture of adult projects, horror and spoofs. Tragically, she was forced to undergo a double mastectomy in 1999. Sweet and charming, she wasn't hesitant to offer me -- ahem -- some special videos she had under the counter.

Beverly Garland. Beloved late actress and owner of the eponymous hotel that the collector's show was held at for at least fifteen years. When I met her, she was witty and charming, and we laughed about the "alien carrot" in "It Conquered the World" as she signed the photo. My favorite story of hers, though, is during the shooting of "The Alligator People." A mad scientist in the Louisana Swamps is attempting to merge men with alligators. Why? Because he's mad! But in a key scene the creatures, who are in mid-transformation, come through a door to menace Beverly, but she thought their bandaged heads look like urinals. She laughed and laughed and it took forever to shoot the scene.

Betsy Palmer. The original Mrs. Voorhees in the original "Friday the 13th," she was first embarrassed by the film, saying that she took the part because she needed a new car! Now she has embraced her cult status, and there was even talk of her doing a cameo in the remake. Frankly, it would have been a waste of her time. Betsy was a regular on numerous television game shows in the 1950s, and this still is from "Queen Bee," a film she made with Joan Crawford.

Candace Hilligoss. Star of the surreal classic "Carnival of Souls" as well as Del Tenney's "Curse of the Living Corpse" (Roy Scheider's first starring role). She worked fervently to launch a remake of "Souls" in the 1980s with original director Herk Hervey (back before this new generation of love muffins), but by the time it came to fruition, it was a direct-to-video "Wes Craven Presents" disaster in 1998 and she was not involved.

Denice Duff. Star of the Full Moon "Subspecies" vampire series and "The Young and the Restless," she has gone on to direct a vampire film of her own. She was embarrassed that she had signed my photo "Bite me," but I thought it was great! It's about time for another "Subspecies" installment.

Carroll Baker. Star of the taboo-shattering "Baby Doll," which is still rated R on video for "thematic elements," Ms. Baker made a few other Hollywood films and then went to Europe for a series of bizarre Italian thrillers (giallos). She played the suburban hitwoman in "Andy Warhol's Bad," and was in-person as you would expect: cool, reserved and probably had lots of stories to tell if the mood was right.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Frankenstein, Monique Von Vooren and Mom

A couple of weeks ago I visited my family in San Antonio. One night my mother and I were surfing the pay channels and came upon "Flesh for Frankenstein" on Flix. It's one of my favorites, and the credits were still rolling, so we settled down to watch. I explained to Mom that it was originally released in "Spacevision" 3D, so there would be a lot of things being thrust toward the camera.

Mom got into the picture's mood immediately. The Play-Doh special effects, the deadly serious, heavily accented pronouncements of Udo Kier and Monique Von Vooren, contrasted with Joe Dallesandro's sullen Brooklyn-ese, all were amusing. Claudio Gizzi's lush, mournful score provides surprising gravitas to the campy goings-on. I was worried how she might react to the sex, but it too is so far over the top you can't help but laugh. Particularly amusing is Dallesandro's long monologue while Von Vooren is noisily sucking his armpit!

Here's Mom and me on my seventh birthday. We don't look like horror hounds, do we? But Dad traveled on business a lot, so Mom would take me and my sisters to the local drive-in theatre where we'd enjoy such epics as "The Fearless Vampire Killers," "The Green Slime," "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave" and the magnum opus, "Night of the Living Dead." Well, I don't know how much everyone else enjoyed them, but it started me on a lifelong devotion to the horror genre.

And of course there were the horror comics and magazines, board games like Green Ghost (which you played in the dark), and "Creature Features" on Saturday nights on WSJV-TV. It was a good time to be a horror kid. The release of Universal's classic films to television resulted in a horror renaissance, affecting every aspect of popular culture from music to television to breakfast cereal to greeting cards!

Mom's a big fan of the vampire genre (as am I) and we enjoy watching "True Blood" on HBO. We can't stand action vampire films, for the most part. The first "Blade" is okay, but vampires are meant to be sinister and seductive, not kickboxers. I'm crazy about the Hammer classics, especially "Vampire Circus," one of the lesser-known installments in the series. It's got great vampire action, incest, pedophilia, plague...and circus acts! Who could ask for more? See the Lynne Frederick post above for more.

But back to "Frankenstein." There's another family connection. My sister and her husband went to a campus screening of it at Purdue University...on their first date! When I moved to LA in 1980, it was still being screened at midnight at revival theaters in the 3D format, and I could kick myself for not having gone.

And what of Monique Von Vooren? She had a strange career, performing in lots of mainstream American television in the 1950s and 60s (game shows and variety shows!) before appearing in "Frankenstein," Pasolini's "Decameron" and Gershuny's "Sugar Cookies." Her last appearance to date was in "Wall Street" and she's still active in East Coast social circles.

We'll let Udo Kier have the last word: "Make him unconscious!"

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