Thursday, August 20

H.P. Lovecraft 125th BD



125 years ago today Howard Phillips Lovecraft (pictured on the left here, with journalist William J. Dowdell) was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He became a writer at an early age, with his first work published at age 14! He went on to leave behind a volume of work that continues to inspire a legion of fans to this very day - this writer included. I recently had a "Lovecraftian" story published in the anthology FALL OF CTHULHU VOLUME II. My story is entitled THE CRIMSON TRAIL and is a weird western.


Here's toast to the king of tales of madness, despair, and Elder Gods. Long live your legacy, Mr. Lovecraft!


The Messenger - Weird Tales July 1938





Pictured here with another of my favorite writers,
Frank Belknap Long.

Tuesday, August 18

Henrique Couto's Scarewaves

Indy director Henrique Couto, (who I interviewed a couple months back), has a new film coming out this fall that I want to tell you folks about. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a big fan of horror anthology films, and Henrique shot an anthology film called SCAREWAVES that is set to be released on DVD October 27th.



I have a copy of this film, and it is a fun-filled throwback to films such as CREEPSHOW and TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. In fact, it especially reminded me of Creepshow, one of my top 10 all-time favorite films, with the bright blue and red comic-book influenced lighting that floods the scenery throughout the film.

The wrap around segments are particularly clever. A radio DJ named Amos Satan is on the air for his final broadcast. In place of his regular show, he decides to regale the listeners with a series of true terror tales. 



 
Check out the Scarewaves Facebook page for more info, and how to order a copy for yourself.
https://www.facebook.com/scarewavesfilm

OR if you live in the Chicago area, you can check out the film yourself on the big screen. Director Couto will be bringing the film to Chicago on Saturday, September 12th at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark.

Doors open at 7:30 and an introduction by Henrique at 8:00. Admission $5.

There is also a Facebook page for the film screening:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1651191138451375/

So check that out for further details. 

Monday, August 17

The Fantastic Films of Vincent Price #43 - The Bat



In this episode Dr. Gangrene takes a look at the 1959 film The Bat. Agnes Moorehead stars as mystery writer Cornelia van Gorder, who rents a spooky mansion known as The Oaks for the summer to get away and write her new novel. Price plays local doctor, Dr. Wells. There is a killer on the loose in the countryside known as THE BAT, a masked killer with claw tipped gloves. Who is the Bat, and what does he want? Then there is the matter of a million dollars stolen from the local bank, money that is rumored to be hidden in the mansion...




About this series: Dr. Gangrene, Physician of Fright and Award-winning Nashville-based TV Horror Host (aka writer/film historian Larry Underwood) explores the films of the merchant of menace, Vincent Price, in chronological order from first to last, approaching them from a scholarly perspective, offering commentary, review and criticism.


Music: "Backed Vibes", "Hot Swing" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Opening Credits Artwork: Used by permission from Mark Maddox, http://www.maddoxplanet.com/ All film clips © respective studios and used purely for academic purposes and Fair Use under Copyright Act 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 107

Friday, August 14

Corman's World - Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel



I just re-watched the excellent documentary CORMAN’S WORLD (2011) recently, and was once again struck with what a terrific love letter it is to Roger Corman, his fans, and especially his work. Corman is a true one of a kind, a movie-making machine who helped launch the careers of a ton of Hollywood elite, many of whom appear in the documentary to rightfully sing his praises. He has created a tremendous body of work that will live on and be enjoyed by fans for many, many years.

The problem with producing a documentary on someone as prolific as Corman, however, is that many of his films are barely covered, or even left off entirely, in some cases. It is curious to me which films director Alex Stapleton did and didn’t choose to cover. For instance, the series of films that are among Corman’s best known (and arguably his overall best) are the Poe series of films, made for AIP.

There are a total of eight films in the “Poe” Series, so named because they are all based on - some more than others – Edgar Allan Poe stories or poems. The films in the series are: HOUSE OF USHER (1960), THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962), TALES OF TERROR (1962), THE RAVEN (1963), THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964), THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1965).


Stapleton spends a total of two minutes on the entire Poe series of films. She glosses over them quickly, showing very brief clips from five of them (House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, Masque of the Red Death, Tomb of Ligea, and The Raven), along with a some very brief mentions and quotes from Roger and various celebrities about them. BUT, no real facts or information are given about the production or the impact of this most influential series in his career. Heck, they are so important that a documentary could be produced on this series alone!

The most grievous omission, in my mind, is the fact that the name Vincent Price is NEVER mentioned once throughout the entire documentary! How can you not mention the name of the man who starred in seven of the eight Poe films, and who played a huge part in raising Roger’s level of respectability? Price was one of the biggest box office stars at that point, at the height of his career throughout this series. Landing him for these films was huge for Roger!

By comparison Stapleton spends two entire minutes – the same amount of time as she spent on the entire Poe series - on one film, THE TERROR. And what I found equally head-scratching, she then offsets and contrasts the Poe series against a lesser-known film in Corman’s catalog, INTRUDER, and spends a total of five minutes on that one film!


It almost seems as if she intentionally means to downplay the Poe series, and in fact even kicks off her discussion of Intruder with a dismissive comment toward them by Roger’s brother, Gene Corman - “This picture (Intruder) was the first film where Roger could actually make a statement about his personal feelings, as opposed to doing the Poe films, or the films that were just exploitation drive-in films.”

Again, I realize that in a career as massive as Corman’s you can’t spend time on every movie. But, there are some glaring omissions. But, that being said, it is still a very well made documentary, and a wonderful tribute to one of my favorite directors, Roger Corman. 




The full title of the documentary is CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL, and the DVD is distributed by Anchor Bay. Highly recommended, it’s available through Amazon.

Wednesday, August 12

The Hateful Eight

Since my last few posts have been about recent films I DIDN'T like, I thought I'd a bit of positivity with a post about a film I am absolutely looking forward to. This is going to be a fun ride. Quentin Tarantino's THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Saddle up!






Couple more thought on Fantastic Four...




I just read a couple of reviews from people who, remarkably, liked this new Fantastic Four film. Oh, their praise was tempered with a fair share of criticism of the mishandled, jumbled mess of a finale this film sports, but they still claimed to enjoy it overall (although I do wonder if some of that isn't just a desire to go against the grain of public opinion).

But I thought about this, reflecting on whether I was being overly harsh in my assessment of the film. Sometimes you go see a film and afterwards it kind of grows on you. You begin to appreciate the finer details of it, and realize that maybe it deserves a second viewing


And then there are times you see a film and it just pisses you off more the more you think about it. For me, the new Fantastic Four definitely falls into the latter.

You see, the reason there is such a public backlash against the new film all boils down to one plain, simple reason. Listen up Fox, maybe you'll finally get this through your thick skulls.

The reason people hated this movie, and that it failed miserably at the box office is because IT WASN'T FAITHFUL TO THE SOURCE MATERIAL!

Look, I realize that some changes need to be made to make it fly in live action form. BUT, the most successful films and TV adaptations of comic book material are always those that stick closest to the source material. For someone to come along and make wholesale changes to what is canon to legions of fans is arrogant and insulting. This is why the backlash to Josh Trank and his "vision." I understand that he made a successful film with Chronicle (which I haven't seen). But here's the thing about Chronicle - it was an original story. It is credited as story by Max Landis and Josh Trank, screenplay by Max Landis.

Trank was working with his own characters there, and thus free to do whatever he wanted. And it worked great, apparently - though in hindsight I wonder if maybe it wasn't more Landis than Trank, especially since Trank wrote the new FF script.

Interestingly, just this week Landis released the first four pages of his OWN script for The Fantastic Four, and let me tell you, it is far, far superior to the murky mess that was just released to theaters.

Read the Max Landis script here:

http://sciencefiction.com/2015/08/11/max-landis-shares-pages-unused-fantastic-four-script/




Once again, Landis' version IS FAITHFUL TO THE SOURCE MATERIAL. It is creative, and adds some new stuff - but it's all in the spirit of the original. The characters and their personalities are faithful to the comic books! As I've said before, if Trank wanted to make a film about teenagers who travel into another dimension and gain powers he should have made THAT film.

Trank's arrogance is what really pisses me off. He instructed his actors not to read comics, as his version wasn't following them anyway. Why the hell did Fox go along with this? He made wholesale changes throughout - if he disliked the material so much, why bother? His "improvements" were far from that. All they managed to do was alienate fans of the franchise and make a lesser quality product.

His film is also VERY dismissive of women. There is only one female character throughout most of the movie, and she is relegated to second tier status. She is left home while the men travel to the other dimension and gain their powers. She is only granted powers as an afterthought, when some backlash of energy surges into the lab upon the brave men's return. They face danger and leave her home alone, and they bring back the superpower to her like good hunter/gatherers. Her purpose in this film seems to be merely to provide occasional stupid lines of dialogue and act emotionally distant.

Now Fox has announced they are proceeding with a second Fantastic Four film. I guess getting their asses handed to them at the box office once isn't enough. They are determined to try and make the public accept this train wreck. Good luck with that. What they have achieved here is to make not only the worst Fantastic Four film to date, but ARGUABLY THE WORST SUPERHERO FILM OF ALL TIME.

 
After this fiasco I was really hoping Marvel would get the rights back to the Fantastic Four. It's very disappointing, but maybe after the second FF flops it'll finally happen.

Who knows, maybe they would film Max Landis' script. It sure beats the hell outta his former partner's version.

Monday, August 10

The Fantastic Farce



I went to the drive-in this past Friday night and saw a double-feature of THE FANTASTIC FOUR and ANT-MAN. I had already seen Ant-Man, and knew what to expect with it; a fun film that fits nicely into the Marvel Universe. The Fantastic Four, however, was an entirely different story.


 There will be spoilers…

Where to begin? I think you have to place blame for this film’s failure squarely on the director, Josh Trank, and his casting of way too young actors in the lead roles. Every one of them was pretty much an exercise in complete, miserable miscasting. I discussed my issues with the cast in a previous post based off early press and rumors I had read. After seeing it firsthand, however, I can honestly say it was even worse than anticipated. The acting was as bland as the muted colors throughout the film. There was little character development, horribly written dialogue and no chemistry between leads. If there was supposed to be a love interest between Reed and Sue – an integral part of the comics, as they are eventually married – then they completely missed the mark. In this film Ben Grimm is physically smaller in stature than nerdy Reed Richards, who completely lacks any leadership qualities or charisma. Johnny Storm is now black, for some inexplicable reason. Honestly, there isn’t a single character that is well-cast. I guess Sue is cast closest to the comics, if you overlook the fact that she’s about 10 years too young.


 Then there is the script, which is probably an even bigger culprit. If I had to sum this film up in one word, it would be dull. It starts off okay, with Reed and Ben in High School, then quickly takes a turn into dullsville, and never returns. Ben Grimm is a useless character in this film. In the comics he was the pilot for the ship that went into space. In this one they go into another dimension to gain their powers. BUT there is no reason for Ben to be there. He didn’t work on the project, isn’t a scientist, and in fact if you removed his character completely it wouldn’t alter the story. He is pointless. As is Sue in this one, as invisible as the powers she gains. They give her very little to do, and in fact, she doesn’t even go on the voyage with the men. No, the helpless girl stays home while the boys go dimension hopping… with Victor Doom tagging along. Doom ends up getting separated and they have to leave him behind. Sue gains her powers when they return and a resulting explosion causes an energy surge that engulfs her? Huh? Or something like that. Anyway, her getting powers is an afterthought, as is her role in this film. There is also a ridiculous subplot of a scientist named Dr. Franklin who has an X-men like academy of kids who are scientific protégées. Kind of like a wayward home for genius orphans. This character and subplot is clearly in place only to explain why Johnny and Sue – brother and sister in the comics - are different races in this film.  


 Perhaps my biggest complaint is how they portray Reed in this film. After they return from the other dimension Reed slips through the ventilation shaft and RUNS AWAY like a coward from the military, who now have the remaining fantastic three in quarantine.  Reed hides out in another country for an entire year. Poor Ben Grimm, who is now a walking rock creature, doesn’t wear any clothes. Apparently his junk fell off in the transformation, cause there’s no male member there – nothing. Talk about a lack of dignity! He is portrayed onscreen completely CGI, and it looks bad. Really bad. The kind of bad that won't hold up well with time. The design of his face looks particularly bad.

The gang now have to wear specially designed clothing, invented by the military, to control their powers. Reed somehow manufactures his own version of this costume which magically stretches with his body. Where he got the money and resources to do so, hiding out in South America somewhere, isn’t explained. Once reunited they go back to the other dimension and Doom shows up, with a laughable costume design (seriously, someone should be really, really embarrassed trotting out that thing) and there is an ending tacked on that makes no sense at all. 

This film has managed one achievement – it is now officially the worst film in the Fantastic Four franchise. The Roger Corman film is far superior to this turd. It at least stuck to the source material and did the best it could despite lack of resources. This film alienated fans of the comics, and underwhelmed regular non-comics moviegoers.  When the best praise you get on a movie is, “Oh, it’s not as bad as the reviews,” you know you’re in for a rough time. This film sucks in a boring, dull, lifeless way that lacks entertainment value. It doesn’t even reach the “so bad it’s good” level – in fact, it falls far short of that mark. It’s just bad. Forgettable. 



My advice? Avoid this film. Catch it on Netflix if you’re curious. I’d give it a half star out of four on a rating scare. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 9% fresh rating from critics. That sounds about right.

Tuesday, August 4

The Fantastic Films of Vincent Price #42 - The Tingler

Episode #42 - THE TINGLER. Price plays pathologist William Chapin, who discovers that in extreme cases a person's fear becomes so great it can manifest itself as a physical force and kill ya!

Directed by William Castle, its one of Price's best.


In this episode Dr. Gangrene takes a look at the 1959 film The Tingler. Directed by master showman William Castle, The Tingler stars Vincent Price as Dr. William Chapin, a pathologist who discovers a strange force that exists within each of us that he names The Tingler. He theorizes that when a person experiences a shock great enough, the fear can manifest itself as a physical force great enough to kill them. He finds proof of it in the form of a centipede-like creature that grows along one's spine, producing that tingling sensation experienced when afraid. He befriends the owners of a silent movie theater, one of whom is a deaf-mute and unable to scream - and finds out his theory is true.

About this series: Dr. Gangrene, Physician of Fright and Award-winning Nashville-based TV Horror Host (aka writer/film historian Larry Underwood) explores the films of the merchant of menace, Vincent Price, in chronological order from first to last, approaching them from a scholarly perspective, offering commentary, review and criticism.

Wednesday, July 29

The Fantastic Films of Vincent Price #41 - Return of the Fly


In this episode Dr. Gangrene takes a look at the 1959 film Return of the Fly, a sequel to the 1958 film, The Fly. Price reprises his role as Francois Delambre, whose nephew is the unfortunate accident victim this time around, his genes becoming mixed with those of a housefly as his father's had before him, becoming a half-man half-insect creature.

About this series: Dr. Gangrene, Physician of Fright and Award-winning Nashville-based TV Horror Host (aka writer/film historian Larry Underwood) explores the films of the merchant of menace, Vincent Price, in chronological order from first to last, approaching them from a scholarly perspective, offering commentary, review and criticism. 

 And just for fun, here's a video someone put together for the MISFITS song, Return of the Fly.


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