Saturday, August 29, 2009

BEWARE THE BEAT OF THE CLOTH-WRAPPED FEET over at our sister blog "BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA" where this week the audio will be singing the praises of mummies!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

DESERT ISLAND DISCS: MY TOP 25 SOUNDTRACKS. These are my favourite 25 soundtrack albums which I've returned to and listened to over and over again. Now we're talking everything from soundtracks to movies, tv shows, and even stage plays. So here we go (in alphabetical disorder):
  1. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN - Here we have Franz Waxman's seminal score released by Silva Records. Kenneth Alwyn conducts the Westminster Philharmonic. A classic any way you disect it. The cd also includes "The Invisible Ray Suite" which stitches together the various Franz Waxman leitmotifs from that Karloff-Lugosi starrer.
  2. CITY OF ANGELS - this soundtrack to the rather dire Nicolas Coppola/Meg Ryan 1998 tearjerker had surprising legs with me and even won the 1998 Penguin Award for album of the year. Shocking what an exes influence can do! Besides containing the radio fodder of U2's "If God Will Send His Angels" and Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" (as well as the appalling "Angel" by Sarah MacLachlan), this soundtrack featuring Penguin Award-winning song of the year "Uninvited" by Alanis Morissette, Jude's "I Know", Peter Gabriel's "I Grieve" and much more.
  3. THE COMMITMENTS - This soundtrack is actually in 2 volumes. Superb movie features the actual cast performing classic soul songs like "Destination Anywhere", "The Dark End of the Street", "Nowhere to Run", "Try A Little Tenderness" etc.
  4. DAZED AND CONFUSED - The classic 90's stoner comedy set in the 70's just brings back too many memories of middle school going into high school for me not to include this one. This also is a soundtrack spread out over 2 cds and includes classic 70's pop and headbanging hits like Foghat's "Slow Ride", Dr. John's "Right Place Wrong Time", Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel Like I Do", "Deep Purple's "Highway Star", Sweet's "Fox On the Run", The Edgar Winter Group's "Free Ride" and too many more to mention.
  5. THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR - Probably the most beautiful score Bernard Herrmann ever wrote. This lyrical, mystical music evokes the sea and a feeling of loss which perfectly matches the Gene Tierney/Rex Harrison classic film.
  6. GUYS AND DOLLS - This is the original Broadway recording from - oh when was it the 1950's I guess - starring Robert Alda and Vivian Blaine. I've got a soft spot for this one not only because we put on this musical in junior year of high school but also because one of the songs from this musical was also a lullaby sung to me when I was kneehigh to a humgoo: "A Bushel and a Peck". Vivian Blaine's "Adelaide's Lament" is also a standout.
  7. THE HARDER THEY COME - the classic 70's midnight movie which basically introduced America to Jamaica has recently been re-released in a 2 disc deluxe edition; which OF COURSE is the one to have. Classic Jimmy Cliff songs like the title track, "Many Rivers To Cross" and "You Can Get It If You Really Want" stand alongside other reggae classics from Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" to Desmond Dekker's "Israelites", from Scotty's "Draw Your Brakes" to the Uniques' "My Conversation" (heard also in the first season of LOST).
  8. JACKIE BROWN - Quentin Tarantino is justly famous for his wisely-chosen music tracks peppered throughout his films. One of my favourite QT movies also features one of my favourite soundtracks. This one includes Bloodstone's "Natural High", Minnie Riperton's sublime "Inside My Love", Bobby Womack's classic film song "Across 110th Street", Randy Crawford's "Street Life" and the Delfonics' "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time". Believe it or don't but the soundtrack also includes Pam Grier's own singing attempt "Long Time Woman".
  9. JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY - The very first modern concert film naturally would yield one of the best soundtracks. Filmed at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, this one has everything from Louis Armstrong's celestial "Lazy River", Anita O'Day's breathless "Tea For Two", Chuck Berry's frenetic "Sweet Little Sixteen" and Mahalia Jackson's soaring "The Lord's Prayer".
  10. THE JAZZ SINGER - Not so much a fan of the film but I've always been strangely compelled by Neil Diamond's 1980 soundtrack album. "Love On the Rocks" is still a stunning song while other easy listening gems like "America", "Hello Again", "Amazed and Confused" and "On the Robert E. Lee" make any road trip to Atlantic City worthwhile.
  11. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR - This is the original Broadway cast album with the brown cover which I've been listening to since I was 5. I'm definitely not a fan of Lord Webber but this one's the exception.
  12. THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU - Wes Anderson's quirky movie features nearly nothing but David Bowie covers sung by cast member Seu Jorge in Portugese (!). But this is what propelled the singer to worldwide acclaim. Sadly, like many soundtrack albums, there's some stuff missing and you will have to also pair this with Seu Jorge's cd "Life Aquatic Studio Sessions" to get all the songs you'll hear in the film.
  13. MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR - This Beatles album also made my top 50 desert island albums but hey, it's a soundtrack to a movie, ain't it?!? A bad movie but that's beside the point. This classic album features the title track, "I Am the Walrus", "Hello Goodbye", "Baby, You're a Rich Man" and many more.
  14. MARY POPPINS - My favourite Disney movie and my favourite Disney soundtrack. It's bizarre how I absolutely hate "The Sound of Music" but love this! Julie Andrews and a Cockney (?!?!) Dick Van Dyke sing their way through "Stay Awake", "Feed the Birds", "Chim Chim Cheree", "Step In Time" and countless others.
  15. THE MUSIC OF COSMOS - In 1980, Carl Sagan's monumental PBS series changed the way science programmes are done on TV. It was also renowned for the exceptionally fine choice of music featured in the programme (some of which has criminally been replaced by inferior music on the recent DVD box set of the series due, no doubt, to royalty issues). Since the dawn of compact discs, this soundtrack has been released THREE TIMES on cd; with the most recent being the definitive 2 disc set combining classical pieces by J.S. Bach and Stravinsky to new age electronica such as Vangelis' "Alpha" and Isao Tomita's "The Sea Named Solaris".
  16. PETER'S FRIENDS - is a fine example of perfectly chosen popular songs inserted into a film. Kenneth Branagh's early 90's comedy concerning a group of 80's college students getting together after 10 years has been called "the British Big Chill" but that's, I think, a mistake. The soundtrack features songs which perfectly compliment the scenes in which they're used: The Pretenders' "Don't Get Me Wrong", Eric Clapton's "Give Me Strength", Queen's "You're My Best Friend" and Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares For Me".
  17. PUMP UP THE VOLUME - this 1990 dawn-of-grunge movie concerning freedom of speech and of the airwaves starred Christian Slater as a high school student secretly broadcasting an underground pirate radio station while dodging the FCC. Songs include the Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf), the Cowboy Junkies' Robert Johnson cover "Me and the Devil Blues", Above the Law's "Freedom of Speech" and Ivan Neville's "Why Can't I Fall in Love?". This however is another example of an incomplete soundtrack; shockingly such uber-important songs in the movie as Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" (Slater's radio theme song) and "If It Be Your Will" as well as the Descendents' "Der Weinerschnitzel" are nowhere to be found.
  18. RESERVOIR DOGS - Another great Tarantino soundtrack featuring The George Baker Selection's "Little Green Bag", Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You" and Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling". The soundtrack also contains Steven Wright's radio DJing from the film.
  19. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW - another iconic midnight movie features the songwriting genius of Richard O'Brien (Riff Raff himself) on such eternal tracks as "Time Warp", "Over at the Frankenstein Place", "Super Heroes", "I'm Going Home" and "Science Fiction/Double Feature". Don't dream it, be it!
  20. ROLLERBALL - I listened to this soundtrack record over and over when I was a kiddie. A typical downbeat 70's movie starring James Caan has a rather odd soundtrack album combining loungy Andre Previn tracks such as "Executive Party" (which would be at home in any space age bachelor pad) with classical pieces like J.S. Bach's "Toccata & Fugue" and Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty Waltz". It also had really cool cover art.
  21. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS - Wes Anderson's classic film features another soundtrack uniquely sympatico with the movie itself. Elliot Smith's "Needle in the Hay" and Nick Drake's "Fly" are standouts.
  22. SAY IT LOUD! A CELEBRATION OF BLACK MUSIC IN AMERICA - was a TV documentary series a few years ago. A lavish 6 disc cd box set soundtrack was released compiling everything from Scott Joplin to Public Enemy. The songs on the cd are arranged chronologically and there's obviously too many songs to list here but it's indeed a treasure trove of music.
  23. THE SINGING DETECTIVE - Actually released as a 2 cd set called "Songs from the Singing Detective", this soundtrack brings together all the many old songs (from the 1920s-1940s) featured in the Dennis Potter TV mini-series starring Sir Michael Gambon. Henry Hall's "Teddy Bear's Picnic", Al Jolson's "After You've Gone", Flanagan and Allen's "The Umbrella Man", The Mills Brother's "Paper Doll" and Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" are featured.
  24. STAR WARS - None of this episode four nonsense. This is the soundtrack 2-record set I bought back in 1977 when I was 11 years old. John Williams' thundering score frankly got Hollywood to start using orchestra scores again after having abandoned them for about 10 years. This is one I listened to from start to finish. Luckily I have the original cd release BEFORE George Lucas muddled around with the movies; the later cd release of the soundtrack (with the annoying "A New Hope" title) has also been muddled around with and the original is the only one for me.
  25. THREE LITTLE WORDS - this limited edition numbered cd soundtrack is probably extremely hard to find. One of my favourite MGM musicals depicts the (largely fictionalized) life of songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby played by Fred Astaire and Red Skelton respectively. The soundtrack features all the songs from the movie (many times in more complete versions than appeared in the film) such as "Who's Sorry Now", "Nevertheless", "Thinking of You" and "I Wanna Be Loved By You" performed on the cd by Astaire, Skelton, Vera-Ellen (actually frequent celebrity dubber Anita Ellis), Gloria DeHaven, Arlene Dahl and Helen Kane (Betty Boop herself).
DESERT ISLAND DISCS: MY TOP 25 CLASSICAL ALBUMS. In response to Weaverman's intention to do his own top classical albums (which was in response to my top 50 desert island discs), here is my vaguely alphabetical list of my favourite 25 classicals albums. And keep in mind, these albums do not necessarily represent my favourite classical pieces (that would be another list) but instead complete classical albums.
  1. J.S. Bach: The Complete Sonatas for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord - Trevor Pinnock & Rachel Podger
  2. Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica"/Fidelio Overture - Riccardo Muti & the Philadelphia Orchestra
  3. Brahms: The Violin Sonatas - Augustin Dumay & Maria Joao Pires
  4. Francois Couperin: Harpsichord Works - Skip Sempe
  5. Frescobaldi: Works for Organ - Liuwe Tamminga
  6. Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American in Paris - Leonard Bernstein & the New York Philharmonic
  7. Grieg: Peer Gynt/Sibelius: Finlandia/Valse Triste/Swan of Tuonela - Leonard Bernstein & the New York Philharmonic
  8. Hanson Conducts Hanson: Symphony No. 1 "Nordic"/Symphony No. 2 "Romantic"/Song of Democracy - Eastman-Rochester Orchestra
  9. Holst: The Planets/Elgar: Enigma Variations - Sir Adrian Boult London Philharmonic Orchestra London Symphony Orchestra
  10. Mozart Weber Clarinet Quintets - Emma Johnson
  11. Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition/A Night On Bald Mountain & Other Russian Showpieces - Fritz Reiner & Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  12. Orff: Carmina Burana - Eugene Ormandy & Philadelphia Orchestra
  13. Arvo Part: I Am the True Vine - Paul Hillier
  14. Arvo Part: Te Deum - Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra & Tallium Chamber Orchestra Tonu Kaljuste, conductor
  15. Purcell: Instrumental Music - Freiburger Barockorchester
  16. Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade - Yuri Temirkanov & New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  17. Sibelius: Finlandia/Karelia Suite/Tapiola/Valse Triste/Swan of Tuonela/Festivo - Hans Rosbaud & Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra
  18. Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6/The Lark Ascending/Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis - Andrew Davis & BBC Symphony Orchestra
  19. Vivaldi: The Four Seasons - Giuliano Carmignola
  20. Ansermet Conducts Wagner
  21. Great Pianists of the 20th Century - Martha Argerich I
  22. Music for the Odhecaton: Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the First Printed Music - Piffaro
  23. Priest On the Run - Red Priest
  24. Carlos V Mille Regretz: la Cancion del Emperador - La Capella Reial de Catalunya / Hesperion XXI / Jordi Savall
  25. Devil's Dance - Gil Shaham

Friday, August 21, 2009

PENGUIN AWARDS IN CRISIS!!! A call goes out to all those reading this blog. This year has proven to be the leanest year in music since the Penguin Awards began way back in 1990! There has just been absolutely nothing released in the music world this year. As a consequence, I have only one album to nominate for this year's Penguin Awards; which means, if things stay as they are, it will be handed to one performer without any competition. Totally unopposed. At least that's where things stands with 8 months of the year 2009 done already. Unless, that is, somebody reading this has an album or a song that I haven't heard which they would like to be considered for Penguin Award nomination. If so, then let me know right now in the comment section -- or better yet -- provide me with a listener's copy of said cd or song. This is a once in a lifetime (or at least once in 2 decades) occurrence to heavily influence the winners of this year's Penguin Awards. So get on the stick, ladies and gentlemen. Let me know.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DESERT ISLAND DISCS: MY TOP 50 FAVOURITE ALBUMS. These are the 50 albums which I've returned to again and again since I was a zygote, the albums which apparently mean the most to me throughout my life. Believe me, it was hard to winnow it down to only 50. However, with one or two (justified) exceptions, I have tried to avoid any greatest hits collections, compilations or live albums. These albums will be listed in alphabetical order; with the exception of the greatest album of all time which will appear first. So here they are:
  1. HOUNDS OF LOVE - Kate Bush (1985)
  2. MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR - The Beatles (1967)
  3. THE BEATLES (THE WHITE ALBUM) - The Beatles (1968)
  4. ABBEY ROAD - The Beatles (1969)
  5. MEGATOP PHOENIX - Big Audio Dynamite (1989)
  6. THAT'S HOW RHYTHM WAS BORN - The Boswell Sisters
  8. TONIGHT - David Bowie (1984)
  9. THE DREAMING - Kate Bush (1982)
  10. LONDON CALLING - The Clash (1979)
  11. PARACHUTES - Coldplay (2000)
  12. PICARESQUE - The Decemberists (2005)
  13. FIVE LEAVES LEFT - Nick Drake (1969)
  14. ROCKFERRY - Duffy (2008)
  15. UNHALFBRICKING - Fairport Convention (1969)
  16. BABBACOME LEE - Fairport Convention (1971)
  17. MIRAGE - Fleetwood Mac (1982)
  18. UTOPIA PARKWAY - Fountains of Wayne (1999)
  19. WAITING - Fun Boy Three (1983)
  20. GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD - Elton John (1973)
  22. BLUE MOVES - Elton John (1976)
  23. BACK IN TOWN - The Kingston Trio (1962)
  24. PARTY OF ONE - Nick Lowe (1990)
  25. 2:00 AM PARADISE CAFE - Barry Manilow (1984)
  26. RASTAMAN VIBRATION - Bob Marley & the Wailers (1976)
  27. BAND ON THE RUN - Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)
  28. METALLICA (THE BLACK ALBUM) - Metallica (1991)
  29. IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD - The Moody Blues (1968)
  30. SON OF SCHMILSSON - Harry Nilsson (1972)
  31. OMMADAWN - Mike Oldfield (1975)
  32. THE TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD - The Alan Parsons Project (1980)
  33. TEN - Pearl Jam (1991)
  34. KID A - Radiohead (2000)
  35. BETWEEN THE BREAKS...LIVE! - Stan Rogers (1979)
  36. TRUE COLOURS - Split Enz (1980)
  37. CORROBOREE (WAIATA) - Split Enz (1981)
  38. TIME AND TIDE - Split Enz (1982)
  39. TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN - Cat Stevens (1970)
  40. THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK - 10cc (1975)
  41. HOW DARE YOU! - 10cc (1976)
  43. ULTRA LOUNGE VOL. 1: MONDO EXOTICA - Various Artists
  44. POSES - Rufus Wainwright (2001)
  45. DRIVING HOME - Cheryl Wheeler (1993)
  46. MRS. PINOCCI'S GUITAR - Cheryl Wheeler (1995)
  47. JUST AN OLD FASHIONED LOVE SONG - Paul Williams (1971)
  48. MONSTER MASH - Zacherley (1958)
  49. JOE'S GARAGE - Frank Zappa (1979)
  50. SHEIK YERBOUTI - Frank Zappa (1979)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"SO THROUGH ENDLESS TWILIGHTS I DREAMED AND WAITED THOUGH I KNEW NOT WHAT I WAITED FOR." CASTLE FREAK (1995) is another in a string of H. P. Lovecraft film adaptation directed by Stuart Gordon. Probably best known for his HPL adaptation THE RE-ANIMATOR, Stuart Gordon has had a lot to lay down on celluloid as far as Lovecraft goes. Along with THE RE-ANIMATOR, Gordon's best HPL film has got to be DAGON (2001); one of the most successful HPL films ever made. CASTLE FREAK is not in the same league; but it is however an interesting, quiet little Lovecraftian film that's better than it has a right to be. Brought to you by the (mostly direct-to-video) folks at Richard Band's Full Moon Productions, CASTLE FREAK cannot be called an "adaptation" of H. P. Lovecraft's celebrated short story "The Outsider"; instead it can be called more accurately "inspired by" the story. For CASTLE FREAK doesn't take anything from the actual "storyline" of the story (if there can be said to be much of one anyway) but instead gives us the "impression" of "The Outsider" while still going off in an entirely different direction. The one and only scene directly from the short story is when the "creature" sees his reflection for the first time in a mirror. But, other than this, the entire film (by screenwriter Dennis Paoli) is new territory.
The story opens at the Castle D'Orsini (a beautiful, real life Italian location by the way) where an old woman (the Duchess D'Orsini) hacks off a couple slices of dry-cured meat (one likes to think it's soppressata) and a scrawny piece of bread which she brings to her son Giorgio: a deformed monstrosity chained naked in a dark dungeon cell. A nice touch occurs when the old woman places the plate on the floor in order to unlock the cell; a cat starts to nibble at the meager meal and the old woman makes no attempt to stop it. Not exactly concerned with her son's welfare, the old woman promptly whips him bloody with a cat o'nine tails before every meal. She then promptly staggers back to her bedroom and dies. Her body goes undiscovered for quite some time; and her chained son goes hungry all the while. Finally, real estate agents track down the old woman's last remaining relative: John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs), his wife Susan (RE-ANIMATOR's Barbara Crampton) and their blind daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) who take up residence in the 700 year old Italian castello. The family atmosphere is a little strained. They are all still recovering from the fact that John has killed his young son and blinded his daughter in a car accident caused by his own drunk driving. While exploring the old castle, Rebecca unknowingly unlocks the cell containing the deformed, chained Giorgio. Later, the starving Giorgio devours the cat and then bites off his own thumb in order to slip out of his wrist shackles. He then wraps himself in a sheet and prowls the castle; just keeping out of sight of all the inhabitants. At one point, Giorgio enters the sleeping Rebecca's room at night and finds his lifelong sexual yearnings welling up inside of him -- but he is interrupted before anything can happen. However, it is later discovered that Giorgio's mother has long ago castrated him as a sort of skewed punishment for his father -- who abandoned them and ran off with the Duchess's sister to America. Yes, John Reilly is really Giorgio's half brother. A series of gruesome murders committed by the unseen Giorgio convinces the local constabulary that John Reilly is the culprit. It all leads to a standoff between the ghoulish Giorgio and the haggard John atop the rainswept parapets of Castello D'Orsino.
CASTLE FREAK is remarkably restrained for a 1990s low budget horror flick put out by the b-movie company Full Moon. Stuart Gordon films Dennis Paoli's script with an plot-serving economy. Famously, there is only one instance of totally gratuitous and unnecessary gore: the notorious nipple-biting scene which the SPX folks at Optic Nerve bring off with sickening realism. Paoli insists that he didn't write in the blood and gore of that scene; gently implicating director Stuart Gordon. Jeffrey Combs also states that he "...hated that. It was very disturbing and mean." Does this scene ruin the whole movie. Well, no. It just seems to be totally unnecessary and, perhaps, was placed there because the rest of the movie was probably thought to be "too tame" for modern horror fans. Thus confusing once again the difference between real "horror fans" and fans of tedious and boring gore. But apart from this admittedly mean-spirited but thankfully brief scene, the rest of CASTLE FREAK is a quite interesting examination of the themes concerning the "dark" and "light" sides of every human being. In a way, the grotesque creature chained in the castle dungeon could be seen to represent the "darker nature" of John Reilly (his half brother) which causes his irresponsible alcoholism and, ultimately the death of his own son and the blinding of his daughter. The guilt inside John Reilly is chained away deep in some dark place as much as Giorgio is chained away in his cell. The only possible outcome of the film would have to be the ultimate confrontation between John and Giorgio.
Far from his portrayal of Herbert West, Jeffrey Combs plays John Reilly as a tortured and broken man; even at one point contemplating suicide over the terrible things he's done. The inherent weakness in the character is wrestled with thoughout most of the film's running time. Barbara Crampton is appropriately shut down emotionally and extremely cold toward her husband while, at the same time, fussily overprotective of her remaining child Rebecca. Interestingly, in the film's final act Crampton takes on the role of traditional horror heroines like Jamie Lee Curtis (in HALLOWEEN) or Sigourney Weaver (in ALIEN) as she tries to defend her daughter against the slavering ghoul while John is away locked up in prison. The rest of the cast is adequate in their lesser roles while Jonathan Fuller as Giorgio (in rather impressive ghoul makeup by Optic Nerve) cuts quite an imposing figure in the ranks of monsterdom; never merely a clunky creature but one which demonstrates emotional depth and confusion. And the filming on location in Italy (and particularly the castle itself) make the film look much better than the usual low-budget effort. CASTLE FREAK is not the best H. P. Lovecraft film "adaptation" by a long chalk but nor is it anything like the worst. Stuart Gordon has done a respectable job bringing one more HPL flick to the haunted screen.
"WE'RE PART OF THE COVEN EXCHANGE PROGRAM!" I can't tell you how pleasant it was seeing The Snoop Sisters again after all these years. I hadn't seen that show since I was knee high to a gravedigger. The Snoop Sisters was one of those early 1970s rotating mystery movies-of-the-week similar to that which produced such shows as Columbo and McCloud, etc. The Snoop Sisters starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as a pair of elderly mystery-writing amateur sleuths (do you think the creators of MURDER, SHE WROTE ever heard of this show???) who constantly stumbled upon murder. While the show only produced a pilot movie and 4 movie-length episodes, both Hayes and Natwick were nominated for Emmy awards (Natwick won).
The two "movies" kindly provided to me by Weaverman are probably the two I would be most interested to see: "A BLACK DAY FOR BLUEBEARD" and "THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT"; coincidentally the final two movies in the series. "A BLACK DAY FOR BLUEBEARD" is the slightly lesser of the two. The "mystery" plot itself is incidental and merely provides the maguffin for a bunch of charming and well-known character actors (many with horror genre ties) to lark about having a good time. The viewer has a good time since it's all great fun. Vincent Price himself plays a washed-up horror actor named Michael Bastion who, along with his unhappy wife Tammy Grimes, appears at a horror film retrospective of his past cinema glories. The delightful opening scene finds Helen Hayes dressed up as the Frankenstein Monster with Mildred Natwick as the Bride! The Snoop Sisters have been invited to the theatre by Vinnie for the horror film festival. At the movie theatre, Tammy informs Vincent that she and her vast amounts of money are hitting the road and filing for divorce; Vincent has been written out of her will. However, before the film (utilizing clips from Universal's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) has finished, Tammy Grimes is stabbed right in the theatre seat!!! Vincent Price's Michael Bastion is, of course, the major suspect but pleads his innocence as he is carted off to jail by police Lt. Ostrowski (who just happens to be the nephew of the Snoop Sisters.
(l to r: Vincent Price, Katharine Helmond, William Devane, Roddy McDowell & Bert Convy)
Ostrowski is played in both Snoop Sisters movies by Bert Convy; known mostly for his TV game show hosting duties on TattleTales etc. But Convy, of course, has a much earlier connection to the horror genre with his classic 50's horror 45 "The Monster Hop". Other suspects scattered throughout include Mort Sahl, William Devane, Roddy McDowell and Katherine Helmond (best known as Jessica Tate on the later TV comedy "SOAP" but also with some later horror credentials in "THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN" and "THE LADY IN WHITE"). Frequent Bela Lugosi partner Angelo Rossitto has a cameo.
As I say, the murder mystery doesn't really matter; it's all about the fun and hijinx all these players get up to. It's also nice to see the reunion between Helen Hayes and Vincent Price; Vincent made his big pre-movie success on the English stage with Hayes in the play "Victoria Regina" as Prince Albert and, when the play toured America, it was Hayes who insisted that they bring Vincent along with them instead of recasting him with a well-known star. Besides the Snoop Sisters appearance in horror costumes, there's Vincent Price's delicious entrance at the movie theatre. A hearse pulls up out front of the theatre and a group of masked muscle men remove a coffin from the back. Upending the coffin, the brutes open it to reveal Vincent Price in full vampire make-up ready to sign autographs. Price is allowed to have great fun lampooning his own horror image. In sort of a comedic version of his earlier deadly serious turn in Amicus' MADHOUSE, Price gets to ham it up as the script makes a point of saying that horror star Michael Bastion is NOT the greatest of actors. Price also gets to indulge in his culinary reputation as Michael Bastion is also a gourmet cook! All in all, "A BLACK DAY FOR BLUEBEARD" is a great deal of fun for those of us who loves these character actors that Hollywood just doesn't seem to produce anymore. As the final Snoop Sisters movie, this one was a nice way to go out.
The penultimate Snoop Sisters film was "THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT" concerning a murderous cult of Satan worshippers. This story gave Universal a chance to join in on the early 70's proliferation of Satanic cinema fun with chanting cultists in flowing black robes, pentagram amulets, jeweled sacred murder daggers, crystal balls, tarot cards and even a strange, zombie powder! Besides Hayes, Natwick, Convy and the Snoop Sisters' faithful valet Barney (Lou Antonio) the cast includes Greg (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) Morris (as a cop specializing in the occult), flamboyant Cyril "Captain Hook" Ritchard (as an occult shop proprietor named "The Honourable Moloch", Joan Blondell (as a dodgy medium), George (Route 66) Maharis (as a shifty cultist), and introducing Alice Cooper as a witch named Prince (!).
This one has a stronger storyline and is a lot more involving for the viewer. It concerns a Satanic cultist who defects from his coven with a sacred pentagram amulet containing some sort of "zombie making" powder. He is killed but not before slipping the amulet into Helen Hayes luggage at the airport. Soon, the Snoop Sisters are plagued by murders and cultist attacks. In order to solve the mystery, the Snoop Sisters visit the Honourable Moloch at his occult shop. Moloch advises them to seek out the answer to two riddles from plastic crystal ball-wielding medium Joan Blondell and rock song singing witch Alice Cooper (in a skeleton suit).
With this information, the Snoop Sisters are led to one of those huge houses up on a California hill in which the Satanists meet for their magical mumbo-jumbo. The ladies find the jeweled dagger used as the murder weapon but, before they can escape, the robed cultists show up. The sisters and Barney must don black robes and try to blend in with the sabbat. While trying to escape, they find themselves in an elevator with some real Satanist who ask if they're new to the cult because they haven't seen them here before. Yes, Mildred Natwick stalls, we're part of the coven exchange program!
These two Snoop Sisters movies were a lot of fun; which is exactly what they were meant to be. The accuracy of the "occult" is played very fast and loose in "THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT" and the murder mystery in "A BLACK DAY FOR BLUEBEARD" is, as I said, totally unimportant. It's the chance to have a lot of fun with some wonderful performers in a horror genre setting that makes The Snoop Sisters some really wonderful, nostalgic watching. William Devane and Katherine Helmond are perhaps criminally underutilized but the rest of the guest stars make quite an impact. Joan Blondell's Bronx-y medium has only one scene but she's great fun; it's almost like one of those blousey dames she played in countless 30's gangster films at Warner Bros. decided, by the 1970s, the new age racket was the place to be. As an Alice Cooper fan, it's always great to see him and here his one scene is also quite memorable. Alice manages to sneak in a little singing as well as providing some humour in his performance. And the outrageously camp Cyril Ritchard as Moloch lifts the entire production . . . even if his wolf ears DO seem a little overpriced! You just can't beat these two TV movies for some October-y Halloween viewing.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA. "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE WORLD OF TOMORROW" is the latest graphic novel from Brian Fies (Eisner & Harvey Award winner for his debut graphic novel "MOM'S CANCER") and it's really an enjoyable read. The book itself focuses on the relationship between an unnamed boy and his father (the mother is never seen nor her absence explained) set against the burgeoning "space age". The story begins at the New York World's Fair of 1939 (which proudly put on display the "world of tomorrow") and finishes up in 1975 during the Apollo-Soyuz linkup; the last real event of the traditional "space race". Author Fies revels in the comic book convention of characters who do not age (or at least age VERY slowly); the little boy who goes to the World's Fair with his father in 1939 is only just about to enter college in 1975! But far from taxing the reader's patience, this seems to be utterly right and proper.
Now I've always been a sucker for the 1939 New York World's Fair and that's definitely what drew my attention towards this book; the Fair's Trylon and Perisphere make an appearance early on and the very term "World of Tomorrow" is inextricably associated with that Fair (as well as the superb early 80's documentary about the Fair narrated by Jason Robards). The young boy and his father set out on a train to the New York World's Fair in May 1939 and soon find themselves enthralled (along with everybody else) by the confident, optimistic view of what the future would be like: glittering, gleaming supercities with robot servants, miracle food production and . . . gasp . . . television! This view of the dawning "space age" kindles a burning interest in both father and son to follow the space race through the years. While both start out on the same page, the son slowly diverges from his father's opinions as they pass through the paranoid 1950's era (son views rocket scientist Werner Von Braun as a hero while father views him as a Nazi criminal) all the way to post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era pessimism.
Besides viewing the relationship between father and son, the book also examines how we as a culture went from the optimism for a better tomorrow (as demonstrated by the World's Fair and 50's Atomic Optimism) to what we have today: a view that sees the future as probably being worse than the past and humankind probably heading toward a post-apocalyptic ruin as seen in so many books and movies of recent years. Fies himself claims to still be an optimist: "There is a slight sense of disappointment from my generation and anyone who hoped for the promise of the space age," says Fies. "But there is also many new ideas, both actual and hypothetical, that seem to be taking the world into a better tomorrow. I want this book to show that it’s a good thing to hope and think that tomorrow might actually be better than today."
Also scattered periodically throughout the book is the boy's favourite comic book: Space Age Adventures featuring Commander Cap Crater & the Cosmic Kid. The first issue is purchased for the boy at the NY World's Fair by his father and we are treated to a reproduction of the comic book bound right into the book itself. The high quality paper which the book has been printed on so far changes to the rough newprint of the day while colour printing mistakes, fake ads and even metal staples are reproduced. The comic book adventures of Cap Carter reappear at each ten year interval of the main story as something like a "greek chorus" commenting on the world view of each succeeding decade during the space race. Cap Carter & the Cosmic Kid's battle cry "Ad Astra Per Aspera" (meaning "through hardships to the stars") takes on a different meaning as the years flow by.
Besides the character development between father and son, Fies also manages to cram in fountains of information concerning everything from the experience of NY World's fairgoers (each visitor to the "World of Tomorrow" exhibit is handed upon leaving a pin that says "I Have Seen the Future"), geosynchronous orbit (discovered by Arthur C. Clarke) which allows communications satellites to function, vacuum tubes and transitor technology, the plans of Walt Disney to produce a "city of the future", the building of basement fallout shelters during the Cold War and the astronomical artwork of Chesley Bonestell which captivated Colliers Magazine readers. All this makes for a fascinating and entertaining read which really gives the flavour of those "space age" years from 1939 to 1975. After the first moon landing, the public somehow lost interest and the idea of a promising future sort of dissipated towards what we have now. The 1969 moon landing which had everyone glued to their television sets morphed into the later moon landings which had people complaining to the networks for interrupting their favourite regular programming to show moon footage. That was a pretty big change in only a few years. And while Fies does present this factually, he still manages to make the reader believe (without becoming a Pollyana) that their IS still optimism for a better future. It's just not the better future we had expected. It's different. It's probably better to let the author himself explain it. From his own "Author's Note":
"The millenial complaint 'Where's my flying car and jetpack?' was a joke, but one that hinted at the hurt of a broken promise. Somewhere along the way, we lost something more important and profound than personal light aircraft. As the World of Tomorrow's dark and unintended consequences emerged, the very idea of a hopeful future worth working toward became old-fashioned and naive. Onetime heroes became villains. Optimism was for saps; dystopian doom was where all the smart, cool, cynical people placed their bets. I disagree. Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? is an appreciation of, and an argument for, an increasingly rare way of thinking, creating, working, and living that has value. There was a time when building the future was inspirational. Ambitious. Romantic. Even ennobling. I think it can be again."