Friday, October 31, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Happy Halloween!

This brings us to the end of another Halloween Countdown! Thanks to everyone who stopped by, including the new readers to the blog. I'll have some more horror movie reviews and commentary coming up, along with the usual comics stuff and other shenanigans.

Now I have to go and refresh our supply of Halloween candy, as much of it has mysteriously disappeared over the last few days. was a ghost!

(If it was, the ghost did a pretty good job of selectively removing all the Almond Joys out of the variety assortment bag, and it left all the Milk Duds.)

Have a Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: War of the Worlds!

Halloween is now just a couple of days away, but it should be noted that tomorrow is an important date in Halloween history as well: it's the 70th anniversary of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre's famous War of the Worlds broadcast.

As part of a celebration of this anniversary, I'm participating in a live recreation of the broadcast tomorrow night at the university. I happen to have scored the plum role of "Prof. Pierson," the same role that Welles played in the original broadcast, and the last character standing at the end of the play. I originally toyed with the idea of playing the part as Welles in his drunken wine-shill phase, but let's just say that I was encouraged not to do that.

One of my favorite comic stories as a kid was this one, originally published in Superman 62, but reprinted in the Superman from the 30's to the 70's collection, where Superman teams up with Orson Welles to fight off a Martian invasion:
Even as a kid, though, I had to ask my parents, "Is this really the fat guy who sells wine on TV?"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ask Dr. K!

I'm going to veer off the Halloween Countdown for a moment to share with you a very special and important email I got today. You see, because I'm a doctor, with a Ph.D., and therefore have garnered considerable respect for my authority in several fields, I often get emails asking me questions that relate to my areas of expertise. As always with such matters, I'm glad to be of service when called upon.

So, today I received the following message:

Dear Dr. K,

My four-year-old son has some questions about superheroes about whom I know little or nothing. Would you please provide answers for the following:

1. What does Spiderman like to eat?
2. Who are Spiderman's parents?
3. Is Spiderman a nice guy? Is Superman a nice guy? A real nice guy?
4. What does Superman like? Does he like Rugrats? Elmo?
5. What does Superman like to eat?
6. Does Spiderman go to school? Why not?
7. Does Superman go to school? Why not?

Thank you in advance for your time,
A concerned parent

To share with all of you, here are my responses to the questions:

Dear Concerned Parent:

I’m very glad you asked me these questions, as the correct answers to them are essential for your child’s proper growth and development as a valuable member of society.

1. What does Spiderman like to eat?

Spider-Man (please note the hyphen) likes to eat most normal foods, like hot dogs, pizza, Hostess Fruit Pies, and coffee. Despite the fact that he has the powers of a spider, he does not have the same appetite as one, so he doesn't eat flies and other insects. But I know that's what you were thinking.

2. Who are Spiderman's parents?

This is a very good question. Spider-Man's parents died when he was very young. They may have been spies or secret agents or something like that, but if that is the case, then it's stupid and I choose to ignore it. Seriously, the less you ask about this, the better. He was raised by his loving Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Soon after Spider-Man got his powers, he had the chance to stop a robber, but he chose not to because there was no profit in it for him. Then the robber killed his Uncle Ben, and ever since then, Spider-Man has been motivated by the guilt over his inaction that caused his uncle's death. Guilt is a thing that motivates many adults to do things they wouldn't otherwise do, like visit their parents when they get older, despite the fact that their parents aren't very nice people.

3. Is Spiderman a nice guy? Is Superman a nice guy? A real nice guy?

Both Spider-Man and Superman are nice guys, but if I had to pick one, I would say that Superman is the nicest. Spider-Man often makes a lot of selfish decisions that he comes to regret, like making a deal with Satan so that his marriage to his wife Mary Jane never happened and he can be "single" again and then start playing around with other women, while Superman always does the best thing for everyone. Superman is probably the nicest guy in the world.

4. What does Superman like? Does he like Rugrats? Elmo?

Superman probably would like Rugrats and Elmo if he had time to watch such shows. However, he's usually busy saving the world and beating up bad guys, so all that makes it difficult for him to keep up with stuff like Rugrats and Elmo. He does, however, have a girlfriend or wife named Lois Lane, and he likes her a lot.

Sometimes, if he's fighting a bad guy who isn't putting up much of a challenge, he will use his telescopic vision and superhearing to catch up on some TV during the fight. But then, he usually doesn't pick Rugrats or Elmo; instead, he tries to watch Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, because that Gary Busey is nuts!

5. What does Superman like to eat?

Because of his Kryptonian physiology, Superman can eat pretty much anything. He can eat rocks, nuclear waste, hot lava, solid steel, the sun, and anything else you can imagine that is not made of Kryptonite, which will kill him. However, he mostly likes to eat the same things that normal people eat, like hot dogs, pizza, Hostess Fruit Pies (non-Kryptonite flavored), and coffee.

6. Does Spiderman go to school? Why not?

Yes, Spider-Man does go to school. It is part of the essential conflict of the character that he is a normal teenage boy who uses his powers to fight crime while also trying to keep up with the normal things that a teenager has to do, like go to school. He later goes on to college and gets a degree in physics. He now works as a photographer for a newspaper, which doesn't require a college degree at all. So, that was a waste of his time.

7. Does Superman go to school? Why not?

Superman went to school also. Because his super powers did not manifest themselves until later on in his teenage years, he was able to have a relatively normal childhood. Though when his powers started to emerge, his life became very complicated, and he had to hide the powers in order to keep people from being afraid of him or resenting him. As you get older, you will learn that if you are really good at something, you should hide it because otherwise people will fear and resent you.

Superman also got his college degree in journalism and went to work for a newspaper called the Daily Planet. So, college wasn't a waste of time for Superman.

I hope this helps answer your child's questions. If you need any further assistance, please feel free to ask.


Dr. K

And I would like to reiterate that I would be glad to help out any readers with any of their questions that I can answer.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Solomon Grundy's Rampage!

Here's the Solomon Grundy costume, which I think turned out pretty well.
As the host of the party, a noted Golden Age enthusiast and well-known comics writer, commented: "Looks kinda like Mike Sekowsky's Grundy, inked by Sid Greene." I took that as a compliment.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Halloween Party Tonight!

So, I'm going to a Halloween Party tonight. I haven't worn a costume for Halloween in years, so this is going to be a bit of a test of my costume making skills. Due to the nature of the party (more on that later) and my own preferences, I've decided to go with a comic book character that could also be versatile and pass for something else if people at the party are not familiar. I also wanted to pick something which I could reasonably pull off in terms of available wardrobe and my own physical qualities. Therefore, I'm going with this:
Solomon Grundy!

I'm even using that cover as a model.

Pictures to come.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The 1972 Tales from the Crypt movie, made by Hammer competitor Amicus, should not be confused with the HBO series and its skeletal host, the Cryptkeeper, though both share a source in the EC Comics series of the same name. There is a Cryptkeeper in this film, but this one is played by Sir Ralph Richardson, and he has a little more to do here than just introduce a series of short horror stories.

In this film, a group of tourists follow a tour guide through an old abbey, when several of them are briefly held up and get disconnected from the main group. This smaller group then follows several passages until they are led through a secret door, and there they find the Cryptkeeper, who welcomes them to their chamber. The Cryptkeeper asks each person to explain what he or she plans to do once they all leave, and this provides the frame for the film's anthology structure.

The short stories in this film are a mixed bag, though all are stylishly directed by Hammer veteran and one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of film, Freddie Francis. All were also adapted directly from the EC series of the same title, as well as from Vault of Horror.

The first story, "And All Through the House," stars Joan Collins as a wife who murders her husband on Christmas Eve while the radio announces that a mad killer is on the loose in a Santa costume. This film features very little dialogue, as Collins tries to dispose of her husband's body, cover up her crime, keep her anxious daughter in bed, and protect herself from the killer Santa who inevitably shows up. This is a fun, darkly comic story up until the very end, when it's undermined by a really dissatisfying and unimaginative climax. You can check the whole thing out here:

"Reflection of Death," starring Ian Hendry, is a waste of the star's talent. Hendry, who had a promising career beginning with his role as Steed's first partner on The Avengers, was notoriously difficult to work with due to his alcoholism, and by this time, his career was virtually in the toilet. This particular story is probably the least successful of the entire film.

The third film has Peter Cushing in a very uncharacteristic role, playing an old junk man who is beset upon and tortured by his wealthy neighbors, who hope to drive him out of his home and then buy the property for cheap. Cushing's character, Grimsdyke, communicates with his dead wife through a ouija board, and she sends him warnings that danger is afoot. In real life, Cushing was devastated by the loss of his own wife only a year earlier, and it's easy to speculate that his performance as this emotionally fragile man was influenced by that recent experience. This story is titled "Poetic Justice," and while that title turns out to be quite literal in the end, this particular story seems the most consistently in line with its EC source.

Of the five stories, the last two are probably the most effective, and certainly worth checking this film out for. "Wish You Were Here" is a fairly simple variation on W. W. Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw," so it's largely predictable, but the ironic results of the couple's wishes still manages to be darkly comic and gruesome.

Finally, "Blind Alleys" is the best of the lot, with an autocratic director of a home for the blind getting his comeuppance from the residents. The blind residents' revenge builds slowly and creepily, and it may, for better or for worse, anticipate the Saw movies.

Following the final bit, the frame narrative wraps itself up, and we learn why all these people were brought together, though this ending is easily predictable.

There is one thing, however, that I'm curious about regarding this film, as well as its successor, The Vault of Horror, and other British horror anthology films that were popular in the 70s. Though the stories used in this film date back to the 50s, and this type of frame narrative goes back to The Decameron and earlier, I wonder if British horror comics writers like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, and others were strongly influenced by these films in the similar work they did for DC and later its Vertigo imprint. Gaiman especially used such a device repeatedly in Sandman, and this movie would have been popular during an impressionable time in his youth. At the very least, while I was watching the movie, I got a real Vertigo vibe from it, moreso even than the sense of connection to its original EC source material.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: The Earth Dies Screaming!

I'm a sucker for end-of-the-world scenarios and last-man-on-earth stories, whether it's alien invasions, zombie attacks, disease outbreaks, climate change, or any other possible disaster that could bring about a huge, sudden drop in world-wide population. I especially enjoy the basic elements that all these stories share as far as the survivors are concerned. What supplies are absolutely necessary? What skills will prove valuable? Will certain basic social structures survive, or will anarchy ensue? What happens to conventional morality when such a disaster occurs and basic survival becomes the most prominent goal?

I say all this, of course, knowing full well that whatever thought-experiments might arise from such stories, I would probably be one of the least likeliest to survive if such a disaster occurred. And if I did, I would have very little to contribute to the new society. A literature and film scholar would be of little use, and I lack most of the other skills necessary for survival. I would have difficulty living without most of the basic modern conveniences, like a microwave or the internet, and once the coffee was gone, I would be of absolutely no use to anyone.

All this is prelude to the fact that I really like former Hammer staple Terence Fisher's 1965 sci-fi film, The Earth Dies Screaming (not to be confused with the Psycho-Rama classic, My World Dies Screaming, which I covered the other day, or with this or this.).

(Nor should it be confused with The Earth Dies Creaming, my epic-length, apocalyptic porn script that has yet to be produced.)

The Earth Dies Screaming chimes in at a lean 64 minutes, and much of the film is dialogue-free, as the main characters explore a world in which nearly everyone has died.

The film opens in the moments just as people suddenly start dropping dead: a train conductor dies, causing the train to derail; commuters die on the railroad platform waiting on their train; a pilot dies and crashes his plane behind a hill. The way people die, however, the film should be more aptly titled "The Earth Dies Sleeping."

Driving into a small, Northern England village comes Jeff, a retired American astronaut who has somehow survived whatever caused everyone else to die. Jeff systematically searches the village, looking for weapons, supplies, and survivors. He settles down in the local hotel, helping himself to the well-stocked bar, which is exactly what I would do in this circumstance.

The first 8 1/2 minutes of the film are completely dialogue-free, until a few more survivors start to show up at the inn. All have different stories about how they survived, but their stories share one thing in common: all the survivors were in some kind of environment where the air was either filtered or came through it's own oxygen supply.

Much of the film focuses on the personal dynamics of the survivors. None seem to be going through a denial phase, thinking that the current situation is anything but permanent. Some, in fact, start philosophizing on what the new world order will be like. One young newlywed comes across a bunch of money, and he makes an interesting commentary on just how useless it all now is, when, just a few days before, he would have done anything for it.

Most of the last survivors of the human race, it turns out, are complete bastards, especially the character Taggert, played by George Sanders stand-in Dennis Price. Taggert is clearly only out for himself, and he even tries to take a female companion along with him at gunpoint.

Some alien robot creatures eventually show up, but they merely lumber through town with unclear motivation, only attacking when they are attacked. The film, to its credit, gives us precious little information about what has happened. We know it's an alien invasion, but we don't know how the aliens killed everyone, and we don't know why they aren't bothering to eradicate the survivors. The robots, however, look awesome:
(The still comes from Tim Lucas's Video Watchdog blog.)

In the final twenty minutes of the film, all the dead people suddenly come back to life, but now with opaque white eyeballs. Suddenly, The Earth Dies Screaming becomes a zombie movie. Jeff quickly determines a way to stop the robots and zombies, at least temporarily, and the film comes to a hasty, and not entirely complete, resolution. I appreciate the fact that everything is not suddenly fixed at the end.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: More Sugar and Spike!

Here's another great Halloween cover from Sheldon Mayer's Sugar and Spike, this one from issue 67:

More Sugar and Spike covers can be found at Cover Browser.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Doomwatch!

The 1972 film Doomwatch is not a particularly exciting horror movie, and some might even debate its categorization as such. Nonetheless, I find the movie notable for a variety of reasons, and not simply because it stars Judy Geeson.

Doomwatch comes from a British TV series of the same name, which was currently in its final season when the film version was made. In both the series and the film, "Doomwatch" is the name of a British government organization charged with investigating environmental problems. I really wish our own government agencies took on such dramatic names. The Environmental Protection Agency would probably get a lot more funding if it found a similar name.

In the film, a scientist named Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) goes to the remote island of Belf to investigate the effects of a recent oil spill on local wildlife. While there, Shaw discovers that many islanders are suffering from a bizarre outbreak of acromegaly. However, his investigation of the outbreak is met with resistance by the locals who don't take kindly to outsiders.

At the beginning, Belf is highly reminiscent of Summerisle, the mysterious, isolated island community in the classic The Wicker Man, which was actually produced the following year after Doomwatch. Shaw keeps meeting villagers who quickly and rudely close their doors on him, and he has difficulty even finding a place to stay for the night. He finally gets to room at a house where he meets the new local schoolmistress, played by Judy Geeson, who happens to be the only other outsider on the island.

As Shaw discovers the extent of the acromegaly outbreak, he also notes that the villagers are treating it as the inevitable outcome of generations of inbreeding. However, when Shaw investigates a navy dumping ground on the island's opposite shore, he comes across some industrial containers that don't belong there. After a run in with a Royal Navy Admiral (played by a clearly bored George Sanders in his final role), Shaw finds out that the containers come from a chemical company that was experimenting with pituitary growth hormone, and that hormone has made its way into the local fish population, which in turn has caused the acromegaly.

What's notable here is that Shaw faces little resistance to his investigation. Sure, he has to overcome local superstitions on the island, but that's about it. When he confronts the chairman of the chemical company and later employees of the private disposal company that's responsible for the dumping, they all just give up their information readily. Even on the island, most islanders come to agree with Shaw's scientific explanation for the acromegaly, and though some threaten violent resistence to outside interference, they all quickly give in. By the end, the movie feels like the X-Files if that show never had a Mulder--that is, Scully could just solve every mystery with her scientific expertise, and everyone would agree that she's right. Ultimately, everyon on Belf agrees with Shaw and submits to radiation treatment on the mainland. Science wins!

The film does try to create some tension, mainly through Ian Bannen's performance. Bannen, best known today as one of the old guys in Waking Ned Divine, is miscast in the movie, as he often flips the switch to righteous indignancy without much provocation. His character, Del Shaw, is new to the film, but the other characters working at Doomwatch headquarters, including Drs. Spencer Quist and John Ridge, all come from the TV series.

The TV series, which ran from 1970-1972, is much better, though only about half of the episodes survive. It does suffer from the low production values of 70s BBC series, but the plots were interesting and surprisingly prescient. Here's a clip from a slightly less prescient episode involving an infestation of giant rats. This is a long clip, but it highlights some of the key qualities of the series, which include some really fine acting by stars John Paul and Simon Oates. Doomwatch and Dr. Quist are feared by other government agencies because of their diligence and tenacity, often drawing comparisons to Nazis. That tension, unfortunately, is all but missing from the film. I also like the cold open of this episode, with the kid thinking that the giant rat is a pussycat. Also, the title sequence and theme music are pretty awesome as well.

Intrepid readers will find whole episodes of this great series floating around the internet, and they are well worth checking out. It would especially be nice if a DVD collection were made of the surviving episodes. In 1999, the BBC launched a pilot to revive this series, but it never panned out. The time certainly seems ripe for a revival of this series.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: They Saved Hitler's Brain!

In the history of bad movies, very few movies seem so overtly to eschew quality as They Saved Hitler's Brain.I've often wondered if the creators came up with the awesome title, and then just decided to coast from there. If that's the case, I totally understand that impulse, as that is exactly what has happened with my own creation, Dr. Sir Isaac Darrow: Science Lawyer.

But despite its awfulness, They Saved Hitler's Brain remains one of the more fascinating bad movies ever made, and one that frequently gets referenced in pop culture.

What makes the movie fascinating is the fact that most of it is actually another movie, titled Madmen of Mandoras, originally released in 1963. Mandoras had also been produced under a couple of different titles, including Maniac and The Return of Mr. H ("Mr. H" is the name used for Hitler in a flashback sequence that explains how the head of the Nazi leader survived WWII). The film involves a CID agent, Phil Day, and his wife, who also happens to be the daughter of a famous scientist, traveling to the South American island of Mandoras to investigate the disappearance of her sister and father, Professor Coleman, who happens to have developed the only antidote to something called "G-Gas," a kind of deadly nerve gas weapon. On the island, Phil discovers a surviving band of Nazis with a plan to take over the world using G-Gas. The Nazis are led by the head of Adolph Hitler, which has been preserved in a jar and barks orders like "Mach Schnell!"

(As you can see, the poster misses the film's key selling point--nowhere at all does it mention that the film features Hitler's head in a jar!)

The 1963 film runs about 74 minutes--a good, short length for a B-picture fixed to a double bill. However, in the late 60s and early 70s, the film's production company, Crown International Pictures, was looking to gain more revenue from its film library by selling off the television rights, probably for "The Late Show" or for the 3:00 Movies I remember so fondly from WPIX in New York when I was a kid. It turned out, though, that the lengths of these movies were problematic, as TV stations wanted films that fit a two-hour time slot with commercials. So, Crown proceeded to pad out Mandoras by twenty minutes, and thus They Saved Hitler's Brain was born.

But the twenty minutes added to the film are just ridiculous.

A subplot was created and tacked on to the beginning of the film featuring two bickering CID agents, Vic and Toni, who are assigned to protect Professor Coleman before he has been kidnapped by the Nazis. The footage was clearly shot by amateur filmmakers with nonactors some time in the early 70s (no sources that I found can identify when this footage was shot, and the film's copyright date is listed as 1963. The film first appeared on TV under its new title in 1976.). Nothing was done to make it mesh with the look and style of the earlier film. Vic is a Steve Perry lookalike who never wears a suit. Toni is shot by the kidnappers, but she manages to survive long enough to get a warning to Vic before he's ambushed by a double agent. Then, a daytime car chase ensues, and Vic is killed in a nighttime collision, in which the filmmakers used footage from Thunder Road. The film even cuts back and forth between the nighttime accident and the pursuers watching it in a scene shot during the day.

While the first twenty minutes or so looks like a bad home movie, the Madmen footage was actually shot by cinematographer Stanley Cortez, who also shot such films as The Magnificent Ambersons and Night of the Hunter, so the contrast in styles is jarring.

For those whose prime interest in this film is Hitler's head in a jar, they are doomed to disappointment. We don't get to see the head until very late in the movie (and then, it appears beneath a giant swastika that happened to be drawn backwards. Man, quality control in the post-Third Reich Nazis dropped off sharply.) And even when he shows up, Hitler doesn't get much to do, except shout "Mach Schnell!" a couple of times and then look scowly. There is a nice scene late in the movie, however, when Hitler's head is being transported in the back seat of a car in order to escape the G-Gas detonation. One of Hitler's commanders if forced to kill an ally who has gotten cold feet, and Hitler's eyes glow and a smirk crosses his lips as he witnesses the shooting.

I have to say that the plot of Madmen of Mandoras, either separately or as part of They Saved Hitler's Brain, does not make much sense to me. At first, I thought the editors of the latter film had just butchered the original, but upon watching Madmen itself recently, I realized that that wasn't the case--as far as I can tell, Crown just tacked on the new footage to the beginning of the older movie. And while Madmen is measurably a better movie than Hitler's Brain--at least ore consistent in terms of filmmaking and acting--the latter is still an entertainingly bad movie. However, it doesn't hold a candle to the greatest of all movies featuring surviving severed heads: The Brain that Wouldn't Die!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Sugar and Spike!

Sheldon Mayer's classic series Sugar and Spike regularly featured seasonal covers, including one for Halloween nearly every year of its long publication. As the Halloween Countdown progresses, I'll be posting some of my favorites regularly. Here's the one from issue 49:

(Cover scan from Cover Browser.)

When I was a kid, I used to love hitting the houses that handed out money for trick or treat. I remember one year going home several times to get a new mask so that I could hit another time a house giving out baggies full of pennies.

As regular readers of the blog know, my love for Sugar and Spike has caused me to take some extreme measures in order to convince DC Comics that publishing a Showcase Presents volume of Sugar and Spike reprints would be the equivalent of printing money.

Also, check out Sugar and Spike's Twitter feed!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: What Does Talbert Talcott Want?

Famed Hollywood producer Talbert Talcott seems to want something, but I can't quite put my finger on what it is.

I hate it when people just won't come out and say what it is they want.

From the 4 1/2 page story, "Realer than Real," originally published in House of Secrets 82, reprinted in the glorious Showcase Presents: House of Secrets Vol. 1. Writer unknown, art by Werner Roth and Vince Colletta.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Psycho-Rama!

As I discussed in last year's post on William Castle's The Tingler, I'm a fan of the gimmicks used by filmmakers in the 1950s to enhance the horror movie experience. And for every successful technique like 3-D (which may be the only successful one, come to think of it), there were many failures.

Which brings us to tonight's film, Terror in the Haunted House, aka My World Dies Screaming from 1958 (Both titles, by the way, are fundamentally inaccurate. First, the house in the film is not haunted; second, nobody's world dies--despite an enormous amount of screaming.). Terror in the Haunted House was filmed with a technique called "Psycho-Rama," which used "subliminal communication" to heighten the horror. Basically, as a supposedly scary scene was approaching, an image of a devil, a skull, a snake, or some bug-eyed guy would quickly flash on the screen. Sometimes, words would appear, like "Scream Bloody Murder" and "Get Ready to Scream."

The subliminals are, in fact, ludicrous, but they are also, unfortunately, the only reason to watch this otherwise terrible movie. They do have an interesting effect, though: much like an over-the-top score, the subliminals create a sense of anticipation. After all, the film tells us when the female lead is going to start screaming moments before she does.

In the film, Shiela (Cathy O'Donnell) is seeing a psychiatrist in Switzerland to help her with some traumatic dreams she is having. These dreams involve a house owned by a family named "Tierney." Shiela tries to walk up to the attic of the house, but something stops her before she gets to the stairs, and she starts to scream. The psychiatrist then spews some bullshit about the subconscious and repressed memories that he must have read in Psychoanalysis for Dummies.

Shiela is also newlywed to Philip (Gerald Mohr--perhaps best known to comics fans as the voice of Mr. Fantastic in the late 60s Fantastic Four cartoon), a suave, older man who wears a suit and tie for even the most casual occasion and who also constantly swaggers, Dino-style. Philip takes Shiela back to the States for their honeymoon, and he just happens to bring her to a house in Florida that is exactly like the one in her dream.

From here on, things become both predictable and frustrating. We know that Philip's choice of honeymoon location is no accident, but instead of telling Shiela straight up what he's trying to do, he lies, sneaks around, and sabotages the car in order to trap them at the house. All this only serves the purpose of setting up Philip as the obvious red herring. Shiela, also, should be able to figure out Philip's obvious plan, but instead she just swoons around her bedroom and occasionally screams.

Shiela soon learns from Jonah, the caretaker of the house (John Qualen), that the Tierney family was known as "The Mad Tierneys," because the grandfather of the family killed his two grandsons so as not to pass on the hereditary taint of madness to future generations. However, the grandfather failed to kill a third grandson, who turns out to be Philip, and who may or may not have inherited the family's particular strain of madness. In fact, Philip and Shiela were actually childhood sweethearts, though Shiela has no memory of this, and the rest of the film just gets more and more ridiculous. The climax of the film even requires about 10 minutes of exposition to explain what happened, and even then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Psycho-Rama was later used in the film A Date with Death (1959), which also starred Gerald Mohr (and shared the same writer and director). By 1961, however, the US government made subliminal advertising illegal, and Psycho-Rama became a casualty as well, which is for the better.

DWRAYGER DUNGEON has some information about the movie's soundtrack, along with some cool stills from the movie that show off some of the subliminal images.

The film is available on Hulu, and I've embedded the entire thing below. If you want to see how Psycho-Rama works, you can just check out the first five minutes or so to get a sense of what the subliminals are like throughout the movie. Otherwise, the film is only 76 minutes long, and it's worth checking out for fans of bad movies.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Day 13!

To celebrate the 13th day of the Halloween Countdown, here's the "Room 13" page by Sergio Aragones from House of Mystery 186, reprinted in Showcase Presents: House of Mystery Vol.1:

Yes, credit cards are pretty scary.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Hammer Week: The End!

To wrap up Hammer Week in this year's Halloween Countdown, I wanted to share my single favorite scene from a Hammer movie.

This clip features the first ten minutes of Kiss of the Vampire (1963), but it's really just the first four minutes or so that interest me here.

This scene encapsulates the effectively creepy gothic mileau of most Hammer films, and I just love how the guy walks up in the middle of the funeral and throws the shovel through the casket. There's also a slow building of suspense here that's measured well. Unfortunately, the rest of this movie doesn't hold up to the quality of its opening scene, and it's especially marred by some really awful special effects in the ending.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Hammer Week: Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter!

I'm realizing in my selection for Hammer films this week, I haven't picked any that fit the typical Hammer formula, like their more popular Dracula and Frankenstein movies. It's not that I don't like these movies--it's just that they tend to blur together in my head and often remain indistinguishable from one another. So, the ones that stand out for me here are the movies that do something different and move beyond the formula.

It also seems like I'm picking films from late in the Hammer horror cycle, which ended in the late 70s just before new executives launched the Hammer House of Horror TV series in the 80s. By the late 60s, the Hammer formula had been pretty well worn after ten years, and audiences were looking for newer, more sophisticated horror movies after the success of Rosemary's Baby and Night of the Living Dead. Hammer executive Michael Carreras tried a variety of approaches to bring new life to his company. For one, he tried to add even more sex and graphic violence into the company's films, with decidedly mixed results. Other attempts were made to revise the tired horror genre by mixing in elements from other genres, and these had much more interesting results, though not much box office success.

One of these revisionist horror movies happens also to be my favorite Hammer movie: Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974).
Though it takes place in 18th century Europe, Captain Kronos blends elements of Westerns and samurai movies with some basic horror conventions, though writer/director Brian Clemens (probably best known for his work on The Avengers) has a good time playing with horror conventions as well.

Kronos (played by German actor Horst Janson, whose voice is dubbed throughout the movie) has a past that remains a mystery. He has a military background, and upon his return home from war, he found his mother and sister had been turned into vampires. He killed them, but not before they bit him on the neck and he had to do something to survive the bite, though what that is is not explained. He has a massive scar that runs halfway around his torso, which seems to have happened during a military campaign. Kronos's partner is Professor Grost, who does most of the basic work of making weapons and so on while Kronos remains in a constant state of readiness for a fight with vampires (Kronos also trains, smokes pot, and meditates during his downtime).

And Kronos is a total badass, cut from the same cloth as Clint Eastwood and Toshiro Mifune (Clemens even admits to the Western and Kurosawa influence in the DVD commentary). In one of my favorite scenes, Kronos and Grost visit the local tavern and have to face down three thugs who have been hired by the villain to kill the heroes. The thugs, led by Ian Hendry in a fabulous cameo, try to antagonize Kronos by insulting his hunchbacked colleague. Rather than take their bait, Kronos explains that it's rude to call attention to another's physical misfortunes, as they each have characteristics that would open them up to ridicule as well. Here, we get the quick-draw scene, but instead of guns, they all have swords, and Kronos dispatches the thugs with two quick swings of his sword. The action happens so fast, however, that we don't really see anything: Kronos reaches for his sword, we hear two quick slicing motions in the air, and then the sword is back in its scabbard. It happens so fast, in fact, that the thugs require several seconds before they realize they're dead. It's a great scene, with editing taken right out of Leone. (In a later awesome badass scene, Kronos uses two swords to disarm--but not kill--a group of attacking villagers in a cemetary.)

Kronos and Grost are first introduced in the movie traveling through the forest, when the come across a young gypsy woman in stocks and covered with tomatoes. Kronos asks her what she has done, and she responds, "I danced on a Sunday." Kronos reaches for his blade, and we're not quite sure what he's going to do with it, nor is the girl. He cuts open the lock on the stocks, and sets her free. The girl, Carla (Caroline Munro--one of the great stars of horror and sci-fi), decides to travel with the duo, though she doesn't yet know what they do for a living.

Both Janson and Munro have considerable chemistry, as scenes between Kronos and Carla are erotically charged, though the two say almost nothing to each other. Clemens makes some interesting creative choices in filming their love scenes. In the key example, Clemens uses lighting and shadows to frame each character as they approach each other to embrace. It's a great scene, and especially surprising in its subtlety considering how other Hammer films of the same period were engaging in more graphic depictions of sexuality. It also reveals something important about the characters--neither speaks much in the film, but we get the sense that Kronos especially lives his life as if he could get killed by a vampire at any time, and Carla, with her mysterious past, finds this life attractive as well.

A friend from their past, Dr. Marcus, has called on Kronos and Grost to help his village out with a strange epidemic of vampire attacks. These attacks, however, don't follow typical vampire conventions: they take place during the day time, the victims (all young women) look prematurely aged but are not drained of blood, and they have blood stains on their mouths. Grost seems to have an idea what is going on, and he launches in to an explanation that establishes a key trope of the film--many different species of vampires exist, and all require different methods of destruction. While this does give Clemens the opportunity to play fast and loose with vampire lore, it also solves a big problem that a lot of vampire films have. Rather than establishing unique rules for killing vampires that don't exist in any other vampire story, Clemens basically concedes that every rule from every vampire story works in this world.

This trope also prepares us for one of the film's key set pieces. In a surprise twist, Dr. Marcus gets turned into a vampire, so Kronos and Grost tie him up and try to find out how to kill him in order to determine exactly what kind of vampire they're dealing with. This is a pretty effective horror scene: they try stabbing him with a wooden stake, hanging, and burning before stumbling on to the correct method.

Grost also has some unique methods for tracking down and identifying vampires. One, which becomes a funny gag that runs through much of the movie, involves placing a dead toad in the path of a suspected vampire. This comes, he explains, from an old folk rhyme:
“If a vampire should bestrode
Close to the grave of a dead toad
Then the vampire life shall give
And suddenly, the toad shall live.”

In other words, a vampire passing near the grave of a dead toad will cause the toad to return to life. Though this has the diction and rhyme scheme of Lord Byron's 1813 vampire poem "The Giaour," I think the rhyme is a creation of Brian Clemens. Whatever the case, it does set up one of the funniest lines in the movie. Grost and Carla have set about burying dead toads throughout the woods in order to track the vampire's movements. Grost seals the toad corpse in a wooden box, drops it in a freshly dug grave, and announces, "Toad in the hole." I don't know exactly why that line's funny, but it makes me laugh every time I see the film.

The film ends with an exciting sword fight, made especially realistic by the fact that Horst Janson is a trained fencer, as is the actor playing his opponent. Therefore, Clemens did not need to double either actor, and he had much more freedom to choreograph and film this scene.

Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter is clearly meant to set up a franchise that unfortunately never happened. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the fact that Captain Kronos didn't become a huge multimedia franchise is one of my biggest pop culture disappointments. In the DVD commentary, Brian Clemens, who also owns the rights to the character, discusses attempts he has made to revive the character as a TV series or in further movies, none of which have come to fruition. There were a few unauthorized comic stories that ran in the Hammer House of Horror magazine, but that's it, as far as I can tell. However, what seemed inventive and original in this movie has been borrowed so frequently by the likes of Buffy, Blade, and Anita Blake that I fear any new Captain Kronos work would seem derivative. Also, I think we have all the vampire hunters and slayers that we need right now, though none are quite as cool as Captain Kronos.

Here's a link to the trailer, which highlights some of the more awesome parts of the film, including Kronos's costume, the swordfighting, and Caroline Munro. I also like the stylized "K" that serves as Kronos's logo and could function very well for this blog, too.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Hammer Week: Fear in the Night!

While Hammer Films is best known for their gothic horror films featuring Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, and various other creatures, they also produced a series of suspense thrillers in the 60s and 70s. These thrillers have not fared so well over time, mainly because their contemporary setting tends to date them, but also because they lack the sex and violence that the gothic horror films are often known for. However, these "mini-Hitchcocks," as they were known around Hammer studios, are often quite well done.

One such film is Fear in the Night (aka Dynasty of Fear and Honeymoon of Fear), written and directed by Jimmy Sangster and starring Judy Geeson, Ralph Bates, Joan Collins, and Peter Cushing.

Most of the film takes place in a quaint British boarding school run by Headmaster Michael Carmichael (Cushing). A young woman named Peggy (Geeson) has just married a teacher at the school (Bates), and as the movie opens, Peggy is packing in preparation for moving to her new home, which, for some reason, she hasn't seen yet. The night before she leaves, she's attacked by a one-armed assailant in her room. However, because she has a history of mental breakdown, no one seems ready to believe that she was assaulted, including her new husband. The suspense in this movie then stems from the question: is she imagining these attacks, or is she being gaslit?

Once she arrives at the school, she hopes that its isolation will provide safety from her unknown attacker, but that is not the case. On an afternoon alone in her cottage, she is attacked again by the same one-armed man.

While wandering around the empty school, Peggy is introduced to Headmaster Carmichael, who is sitting in a classroom listening to recordings of students in a Latin class. Carmichael, as played by Cushing, does not put one at ease: he describes his bizarre fascination with knots, and he has a creepy conversation with Peggy about her hair (where he also reveals that he has a prosthetic arm!). It goes without saying that Cushing is the red herring in the film, but he is perfectly effective and creepy as the imbalanced headmaster.

Joan Collins also appears in the middle of the film as Carmichael's wife, Molly. Her introduction is also creepy: just as Peggy is admiring a cute bunny rabbit in the woods, Molly walks up and shoots it. She then proceeds to carry the bleeding rabbit carcass around for the next few minutes, later offering it to Peggy as a housewarming gift. Other than this and one other scene later in the film, however, Joan Collins has little to do here, so her billing in the film (and the DVD packaging that features her prominently on the front cover) are a bit misleading.

The film manages to build suspense slowly, with long, silent scenes of Peggy exploring her new location. Writer/director Jimmy Sangster says on the DVD commentary for the film that many of these sequences were shot to pad the film out to 90 minutes. That may be true, and some viewers may complain that the movie is slow going at first, but I found these scenes worked to help develop the sense of dread that permeates the action.

And no matter how slow the first half of the movie is, it picks up considerably in the last half-hour, with a series of twists that continue to throw Peggy off and undermine her mental stability. The whole plot becomes wildly preposterous, but the characters acknowledge the preposterousness. I don't want to spoil it because I did find it all great fun and genuinely surprising. In fact, on watching the film a second time, I found it held up well--none of the movies twists violate anything that happens in the first half of the movie.

I also like this movie because of its star, Judy Geeson. Geeson was among the group of mod young British actresses in the late 60s and early 70s who emerged in the wake of Julie Christie's popularity. She's in To Sir with Love--a movie I like a whole lot more than I know I should--and her career, at its peak, alternated between horror films and bawdy comedies. Danny Peary's description of her in his essential reference book, The Cult Movie Stars, explains exactly how I feel: "she was likable and had a 'look' that makes some of us nostalgic when we see her on screen." In Fear in the Night, she really gets the shit kicked out of her, and it's difficult to say that she ends up triumphant in the end. The movie posters all highlight her victimization as the key selling point of the film.

Here's the trailer. Unfortunately, the trailer spoils the big twist at the end, so watch with care if you plan on seeing this movie.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Hammer Week: Night Creatures!

One of the nice surprises in the Hammer Horror Series DVD set that came out in 2005 was the inclusion of Night Creatures, aka Captain Clegg (1962).

This little known Hammer gem adapts the story of Dr. Syn, from the 1915 novel by Russell Thorndike, though here the character's name is changed to "Dr. Blyss." Other than the name, however, the movie follows the basic story faithfully. The story takes place in the late 18th century, with Dr. Blyss as the reverend in the British port town of Dymchurch. Blyss (Peter Cushing), however, is secretly the notorious pirate Captain Clegg, who is believed dead after being hanged in prison. Instead, Clegg reformed (somewhat) and made his way to Dymchurch, where he also helps the town escape economic depression with a large-scale liquor smuggling operation that occasionally catches the attention of British authorities.

The smugglers, led by Blyss and also including a young Oliver Reed, put on phosphorescent skeleton costumes and ride around the local swamp as the "Marsh Phantoms," who effectively scare away the curious and the superstitious. However, a group of British soldiers, led by Captain Collier, come to investigate reports of smuggling, and they prove much more difficult to dissuade.

This story doesn't fit the typical Hammer Horror model, as there is little of the supernatural or other horror elements (though there is some tongue trauma reminiscent of The Mummy). The "Marsh Phantoms" are certainly visually effective, but the audience knows from the beginning that these are men in costumes, so they are not meant to scare us. It is, however, an entertaining adventure story, and the fact that the heroes use costumes--including a creepy scarecrow disguise--makes this film Halloween-appropriate.

But, like the best Hammer films, this one is dense and efficient. It clocks in under 90 minutes, as most Hammer films do, but it manages to squeeze in a pretty complicated plot with many obstacles, villains, and sudden turns. But what stands out about this film for me is Peter Cushing's performance as Dr. Blyss/Captain Clegg.

Even moreso than Christopher Lee, Cushing is a staple of Hammer films, and he nails both the stoic heroism of Dr. Van Helsing and the obsessed villainy of Dr. Frankenstein. But he played those two roles in particular so often, that it's nice to see him give a different kind of performance. And here, he seems to be having more fun than normal, even getting the chance to laugh once in a while.

Here's a link to the trailer, which makes the film seem more like a horror movie than it actually is.

Soon after this film was released in 1962, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color ran their own version of the Dr. Syn story--The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh--starring Patrick "Number 6" McGoohan as Dr. Syn, which may be one reason why Night Creatures/Captain Clegg is not as well known as other Hammer films. On November 11, Disney is going to release Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, in a DVD set that includes both the three-episode series from 1963 and the re-edited theatrical release version, Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow. I loved the Disney version when I was a kid, but I haven't seen it since, so I'm curious to see if it holds up. It's too bad Disney can't put this out before Halloween.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Hammer Week: The Mummy!

The first Hammer horror film I ever saw, though I was far from aware of the Hammer brand, was The Mummy (1959). I saw it, like much of my early exposure to classic horror movies, as a 3:00 Movie on WPIX when I lived in New Jersey in the 1970s.

And, like many of the horror movies I watched at that time, it scared the shit out of me.

Specifically, the flashback scene that reveals the origin of the Mummy etched itself in my memory like very few movie scenes at the time. Nothing is particularly graphic in this scene, but enough is suggested that activated my young imagination. I was especially disturbed by the scene of the priest Kharis (Christopher Lee) having his tongue cut out. We see the clamp go down on his tongue in a medium shot, and then the film cuts to a reverse shot from behind Kharis's head, as the guard slices the tongue off, though the cut is not visible to us (this sequence is used in the preview below).

This series of shots best encapsulates my appreciation of the early Hammer horror films. They are slightly more graphic in their violence than the classic horror movies of the 30s and 40s, but they still rely heavily on suggestion--the suggestions, however, are more disturbing.

Other than this long flashback scene, Christopher Lee doesn't get much to do as the Mummy in this film. However, he is still effective as Kharis, with an imposing presence, a slow, lumbering gait, and expressive eyes that reveal his inner conflict toward the end of the movie. And Peter Cushing once again plays the hero role that he nailed in so many of these movies: the deadly serious hero who is utterly, single-mindedly convinced that the supernatural exists and must be destroyed.

The Mummy is among the first group of classic horror revisions that Hammer undertook, with the creative team of writer Jimmy Sangster, director Terence Fisher, and producer Michael Carreras on board as they were for The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula. Unlike those other two movies, however, The Mummy varies little from the basic plot of the Univeral Mummy movies: the Mummy sets out to seek revenge on those British archeologists who desecrated the tomb of the queen he protected.

The Mummy does have problems with an overt colonialism that's never really challenged, and this may affect the way the movie ages. England is presented as the locus of order, which is only disrupted by the intrusion of a chaotic, foreign, Eastern influence. Also, Cushing provokes Mehemet Bey, the Mummy's keeper, by insulting his religious beliefs. But, despite those inevitable problems with this particular property, The Mummy serves as a model for Hammer horror at its best: a lean, efficient, and effective movie, with a creative team and ensemble of actors at the top of their game. Though the movie no longer gives me nightmares like it did my 7-year-old self, I find that the shocking moments in this movie still earn their shocks honestly, and the Mummy itself is well-designed and haunting.

Here's the trailer for The Mummy, which highlights many of the qualities I've referenced above.

Next: An atypical Hammer film.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Dr. K's Halloween Countdown Presents: Hammer Week: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde!

Tonight, I'm launching a sub-series within the larger Halloween Countdown: Hammer Week! During last year's Countdown, I covered a couple of Hammer films: the crazy awesome Brides of Dracula and the should-be-awesomer Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. This year, I'm going to devote a whole week to my favorite Hammer films, starting with one of my favorites, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971).

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is a late entry in the Hammer Horror films, and it comes across as atypical when compared to some of the more famous of the studio's films. Though the movie does feature some graphic violence and the nudity that was becoming increasingly popular in the latter days of the Hammer cycle, it's much more subdued and cerebral than other Hammer films of the early 70s, such as The Vampire Lovers.

On the DVD commentary for the film (which is worth listening to, as many of the principle creators behind the film are still alive, and some of their anecdotes are quite entertaining), writer and producer Brian Clemens explains the creative origins of the film: he simply walked up to a Hammer executive at the studio cafeteria and said, "How about 'Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde'?" The exec told him to meet on Wednesday, and by the meeting, the studio had already drawn up a poster campaign. The fact is, all you really need to know about the film is in the title--it's pure high concept.

Ralph Bates, who at that point had become a mainstay at Hammer and an alternative to Peter Cushing as leading man, stars as Dr. Jekyll, who seeks out the secret to immortality in order to give himself more time to come up with cures for humanity's many ailments. He seeks out immortality through female hormones because they, as he explains, give women's skin its texture and cause them to keep their hair longer than men do. He manages to get the hormones from recently dead women in the Whitechapel district of London, where the local undertaker is less than ethically sound.

Jekyll first performs his experiment on a normally short-lived fly. The experiment works, and the fly lives far beyond its life-expectancy, but with a shocking side-effect: the fly has changed gender from male to female.

The doctor continues with his experiments, but he soon runs out of recently dead female sources for hormones. The undertaker proposes a solution and introduces Jekyll to Burke and Hare, based on the real-life murderers who, 60 years prior to the film's events, sold their victims' corpses to a Dr. Knox in Edinburgh for the purpose of training doctors in dissection. This is one of the more interesting elements of the film: writer Clemens weaves in to the Jekyll and Hyde story the (anachronistic) historical details of Burke and Hare, along with the Jack the Ripper slayings.

In fact, after Burke and Hare are caught (and one of them is horribly blinded with lye), Jekyll has to get his female hormones himself, now by killing prostitutes, and he becomes the Whitechapel murderer. The moral ambiguity of the Jekyll character here presents yet another interesting wrinkle in the conventional Jekyll and Hyde story: although Jekyll's ultimate goal is the benefit of mankind, the Jekyll/Hyde split hardly falls along lines of good and evil. Both, in fact, are guilty of murder, and both argue that their murders are justified--his for the future benefit of mankind, hers for self-protection.

A poster for the film advertises quite sensationally, "Warning: The sexual transformation of Man into Woman will actually take place before your eyes." Though the film itself doesn't quite live up to that hype, the film manages to make the transformation work within a limited budget. Much of the credit should go to the casting of Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick, who look remarkably alike,with similar hair, bone-structure, and the added effect of a mole on the right side of the face.

In the trailer, you can see here how well cast the two leads are. The trailer also highlights some of the clever effects used in the film during the transformation sequences, such as having Beswick replace Bates off-screen during an unedited take. You also see one of the more effective images from the film's climax: Jekyll and Hyde's face morphing behind a red stained-glass window. Also, Hyde's transformation back into Jekyll is usually signified by Hyde developing a case of "man hands," where Bates's hand comes into the screen as if it belongs to Beswick. However, the movie isn't quite as shocking as either the trailer or the poster claim.

Martine Beswick is certainly stunning as Sister Hyde, but I do wish she were given more to do. In fact, while this movie is effectively atmospheric and entertaining, it never quite gets as much out of its central concept as one might hope. One scene in particular reveals the missed opportunity: when Jekyll's friend, Professor Robertson, who is investigating the Whitechapel murders, meets Mrs. Hyde, who claims to be Jekyll's widowed sister. Robertson is a lech, and he suspends his investigation at a crucial point in order to take Hyde back to his room. There, she seduces him and stabs him in the back. She then proceeds to continue stabbing him in a murderous frenzy, which quickly cuts back and forth between her face and Jekyll's in make-up and women's clothes.

Another line hints at the film's potential in terms of sexuality as well. When Hyde seduces the upstairs neighbor, Howard, she claims to know what man's pleasure feels like. The viewer realizes at this moment that Hyde and Jekyll are one in the same, sharing the same experiences, and that Hyde may be acting out Jekyll's desires as well as her own, but the scene pulls back before going much further. The issues of gender distortion and ambiguous sexuality are only hinted at in this scene, and I wish that the filmmakers had really cut loose with these ideas.

Director Roy Ward Baker, who did more journeyman work on other Hammer films like The 7 Golden Vampires, ultimately makes this film work despite its limitations. The limited sets, depicting urban Victorian streets, are encased in fog, giving the stalking and murder scenes some added claustrophobic atmosphere. In general, the film looks really good (with the exception of the final shot, which should be more effective than it is due to some weak make-up effects). But no Hammer film ever achieves perfection, and, in the end, I might prefer the restraint of this film to the direction the studio ultimately pursued in the 1970s, which became more and more exploitative and less interesting (with some exceptions I deal with later in the week).

Here's an extended clip of the first transformation scene from the movie. Warning: this does contain some nudity as Sister Hyde explores her new body.

Also featured in this scene is Susan Brodrick as Jekyll's love interest and upstairs neighbor, Susan Spencer. Brodrick (or Broderick, as her name is sometimes spelled) memorably first appeared as the antique store owner in Blow-Up, but, other than some stage work in the late 70s, I can't seem to find anything else about her acting career after Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. I'd be curious to know what happened to her, and if she is even still alive.

Next: my first Hammer movie!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Halloween Countdown: The Monster on Bald Mountain!

Last night, I covered the great story titles that appear in Marvel Comics' Where Creatures Roam 2 (1970). The first story in that issue, "I Spent Midnight with the Monster on Bald Mountain!" is a pretty amazing short, 5-page story by Steve Ditko. In fact, it stands as a pure Ditko creation, effectively presenting Ditko's objectivist philosophy in a hightly condensed form.

The story features an artist, Anton Gorge, who goes to work in "an ancient mountain castle in Central Europe" to work on his greatest creation: a sculpture representing the battle of good against evil.
Gorge clearly serves as a Ditko analogue here, as Ditko used his comic work to achieve the same goals as Gorge's sculpture: the perfect representation of good versus evil.

Gorge is excessive in his realism, building the sculptures anatomically from the skeleton on.

And finally, the masterpiece is completed.

Upon the completion of the sculpture, however, an electrical storm suddenly strikes, and an errant bolt of lightning causes the evil sculpture to come to life.

As so often happens in these situations, especially when they take place in ancient Central European castles, the creation tries to kill the creator. However, miraculously, the artist is saved by the good sculpture, which suddenly comes to life.

The two creatures fight, and both ultimately tumble to their death.

Despite the fact that both creatures have died, good does triumph over evil, as the artist is saved in the end.

This is an economical story to say the least. And while Ditko would express his objectivist philosophy more overtly in works like The Question and Mister A, "I Spent Midnight with the Monster on Bald Mountain!" demonstrates through allegory the connection between that philosophy and Ditko's goals as an artist. That the work itself is destroyed in the end could almost be read as prescient, considering Ditko's own struggles to produce work that remained faithful to that philosophy without being sabotaged by other forces.

For a much more detailed discussion of Ditko and objectivism, see Blake Bell's excellent Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Halloween Countdown: Day 3

Today's Halloween Countdown update is coming in a bit later than I had hoped, but I've just had a hell of a day, and, honestly, I haven't had the chance to come up with a post for today.

So, instead of coming up with something clever about old horror comics or movies, I'll just tell you about my day, which in and of itself is pretty horrifying.

I had originally planned to post today's entry late last night. However, I never got the chance to write it because
That monster kept me up so late that I ended up sleeping through my alarm. By the time I got to work, I was really late, and it just so happened that the head of my department was looking for me when I should have been there. You see, this particular head serves several departments, and he only spends a certain amount of time in each during the day before moving on to the next one. He basically accused me of blowing him off when he said that
It turns out the head needed to see me because a parent was complaining about a grade I had given a student on a recent paper. I told the head to give me the parent's phone number, and I would talk to her myself.

When I called the parent, it became clear to me that she had me mistaken for another teacher. She admitted that her son couldn't remember his teacher's name, but he could describe the teacher. After she gave me his description, I explained that this could not possibly be me because
But it was another hour on the phone before I could convince her that she had the wrong teacher.

By then, it was lunch time, and a colleague and I were supposed to meet Chris Sims at our favorite Mexican restaurant for our regular Friday lunch. We got to the restaurant on time, but Chris was nowhere to be found. We waited an hour, but there was no sign of him. Then my colleague got a text message from Chris, and it turned out we were waiting in the wrong place. As the colleague explained, By that time, it was getting pretty late, so I decided to skip the glacier, go home, contemplate my day, and make some future plans for the rest of the Halloween Countdown:


All of these titles, by the way, came from the same awesome comic: Where Creatures Roam 2 (1970).

More from this comic in later posts.