MIDNIGHT MARQUEE BLOGS 2009

January 17, 2009
FORREST J ACKERMAN, GORY-JELLY and HORROR FANDOM

Forrest J Ackerman died December 4, 2008, on the very same date that I was celebrating my wife Susan’s birthday.  That’s how the universe works sometimes.

Ackerman, in real life, was a fanatic in the best sense of the word.  He was a science fiction fan, in the sense of organized fandom, conventions, memorabilia, hero worship, literature and media.  He collected all things science fiction and helped create the sub-genre of horror film/monster fandom in 1958 with the birth of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND.  Although technically owned by James Warren, Ackerman put his own stamp on the magazine that inspired the young generation of baby boomers with chants that “Lon Chaney Shall Not Die!”  He created FAMOUS MONSTERS filmbooks, Haunt Ads, Dr. Acula and “You Axed For It.”  He was the master of the groaner, the pun, and his magazines were over-burdened with such word play.  But we were monster kids and such foolishness was what appealed to us, so Forry became Uncle Forry and led us into the discovery of cinematic treasures from the past. 

In the early 1960s I was thrilled by the appearance of various fanzines or amateur magazines patterned after FAMOUS MONSTERS.  I was most thrilled by one called HORRORS OF THE SCREEN, created by Alexander Soma.  His magazine, offset printed with complex layout featuring plenty of thrilling photos, demonstrated to me that regular fans could produce a mini-version of FAMOUS MONSTERS, and in the summer of 1963 I created, along with my friend Dave Metzler, the first issues of GORE CREATURES.  My gosh, my efforts paled in comparison to HORRORS OF THE SCREEN and most of the rest.  My fanzine was the product of a 13-year-old child who lived in perpetual anticipation for every issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS to hit his regularly traveled to drug store that had the best magazine rack in northeast Baltimore.  And to me, all the pleasure I got from reading those wonderful letters to the editor only made me feel that I too could be at the hub of such fan-centric attention. 

And who should be the first person to buy an issue of #1 of GORE CREATURES, when the small ad appeared in the Haunt Ad department of FAMOUS MONSTERS?  Who else but Forrest J Ackerman, the world’s number-one monster fan who sent in one dollar for a six-issue subscription to GORE CREATURES and typed a short note that rhymed “Forry” with “Gory.”  But when Forry Ackerman supported your efforts, a kid knew he was on top of the world.  At age 13 I knew I had made it.

To all of us who loved the iconic father of all monster kids, the man’s human flaws did not matter.  For us kids, it was the image, it was the personality, it was his words written in the magazine that mattered.  We gasped when Uncle Forry announced his cross-country tour, where he would honor monster fans by staying, for free (meals and lodging of course expected), in their parents’ homes.  We dug deeply into our pockets when Forry asked his army of monster kids to support his ever-more-expensive Ackermansion with contributions of a few dollars.  The Ackermansion was a monument to monsterdom, and if our dollars could maintain such a Xanadu, it was worth every cent every kid possessed to donate to the cause.

And when I finally met Forrest J Ackerman live, at the LunaCon in New York City, along with my father and, sadly, late friend Robert Hancock in the mid-sixties, Forry was as gracious, kind and nurturing as any long lost uncle could be.  Meeting Forry for the first time was like knowing him as your beloved, eccentric uncle all your life.  Posing for photos with editors holding their magazines proudly skyward, Uncle Forry always managed to up the ante by holding at least the top edge of FAMOUS MONSTERS a little higher.  For Forry such a childish prank endeared him to the children who surrounded and worshipped him.

While I matured and continued collecting FAMOUS MONSTERS, I now collected more adult magazines such as Calvin Beck’s CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Forry Ackerman was the Peter Pan of monster fandom, the man-child who never grew up, who always became the beckon of inspiration for youngsters everywhere.  Even when the aging monster kids craved new information, new facts, more in depth articles and scholarship, Uncle Forry continued to recycle the same articles and puns, much to the delight of the entry-level monster kids who were just entering the arena of horror movie fandom.  While the rest of rest moved on, Forry remained the initiator of horror and science fiction film and literature.

During the decades that passed so quickly as little Gary became the adult Gary, and once my wife Susan and I started the sponsorship of the FANEX horror film conventions, Forry (and his wife) was a frequent guest at the shows.  No matter how much the landscape of movie monster fandom changed, the one constant was Forrest J Ackerman.

Having reached the ripe age of 92 years, Forry, in failing health, finally succumbed to heart failure and died a quiet death mere minutes away from 12 midnight.  His passing marked both the end and the continuance of an era, an era of Shock Theater, cool ghouls, Aurora monster model kids, Monster Mash records, Big Frankie and local horror film hosts.  When it comes to the emergence of popular culture in the 20th century, Forry J Ackerman became that larger-than-life father figure that inspired generations of children to love sci-fi cinema and literature.  And in Uncle Forry’s philosophy, this was only the beginning, not the end.  We were encouraged to reach for the stars and never to look down.  And while Uncle Forry is no longer around in the flesh to guide us, his iconic character, much like Lon Chaney before him, will not die, not as long as the legions continue testifying to his indisputable influence, all started crudely within the pages of a pulp magazine that appealed to children.  As long as people continue to write about horror, science fiction and monsters, or collect memorabilia, the spirit of the Ackermonster lives!  This was his legacy; this was his life.



January 17, 2009
THE BANK JOB And Why It Is Among the Best of 2008

About six months ago I blogged about how THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM created a new film grammar and way of modernizing the action thriller.  With the Bourne movies, even when criticized for their hand-held visual delirium and quick cuts that focus on extreme close-ups, the formula works.  However, when such uber-style is transferred to the latest James Bond epic A QUATUM OF SOLACE, it fails miserably.  Quite simply, sometimes old school works best.  It’s like fashion … something cutting edge might look good on one person and silly on another.

Roger Donaldson, a journeyman director who has been around for decades, never achieved iconic status.  He directed THE BOUNTY in 1984 and more recently directed the modern version of THE GETAWAY, the first SPECIES, DANTE’S PEAK, as well as THE RECRUIT.  But with THE BANK JOB, Donaldson, melding old school storytelling with tight editing and generally non-flashy cinematography, creates his best film to date.  In fact THE BANK JOB, somewhat of a sleeper, is one of the best films of 2008.

The challenge for Donaldson and his screenwriters was to translate an actual real-life bank robbery and truncate the story to slightly less than two hours.  On top of this, the basic plot premise is extremely complex and convoluted.  So Donaldson’s challenge was to translate the complexities of the story in such a way that the story could be told visually and still remain coherent for its audience, one that is used to visual pyrotechnics with little intelligence in the screenplay.  Cinematographer Michael Coulter and editor John Gilbert, working closely with Donaldson, craft a marvelous action thriller, one of the best heist films in ages, for adults who like to be challenged and made to think.

The ensemble cast stars the most unlikely action star of the decade, Jason Statham, who rose to fame in the three TRANSPORTER movies after first appearing in LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH (the best of Guy Ritchie’s directorial output).  Statham rose from the B ranks appearing in CRANK, John Carpenter’s GHOST OF MARS and DEATH RACE.  Not particularly muscular, balding and only ruggedly handsome, his success is based upon performance and the connection he makes with his audience.  But Statham is the real deal and his performance in THE BANK JOB becomes the glue that holds everything together.

Trying to keep the story simple, in 1971 beautiful model Martine (Saffron Burrows), who hangs with the London criminal element, is busted for drugs and is offered a deal by the government to walk away, if she plays along.  It seems one Michael X, a criminal who disguises himself as a black rights advocate, has photos of Princess Margaret having sex with two other men, and such photos could disgrace and even bring down the British monarchy.  These photos are held in a specific safety deposit box at a specific bank.  Martine is told to recover the photos, but she in turn goes to her part-time heist buddy Terry Leather (Statham) and mentions that the alarm system at that very bank will be turned off (for repair) for two weeks and that tons of money, gems and jewels are held in the safety deposit boxes.  She sets them up to rob the bank for the money, while she plots to snatch the photos and turn them over, to save her neck.  Of course the government boys plan to also arrest all the robbers before they get more than a block or so away from the bank.  However, during the robbery a London kingpin criminal finds his little black book among the bounty stolen by Terry, a black book that lists all the corrupt London coppers that he paid off and are on his payroll.  If the book gets into the wrong hands, his affluent criminal life is over.

So while the government boys oversee and support the robbery, the London police try to solve the crime, while the criminal mastermind is torturing and killing members of Terry’s gang methodically.  In the midst of this mess, Terry learns the truth from Martine and has to literally play the police against the criminals to concoct a foolproof plan of amnesty and escape.

The film’s supreme moments arise from quietly generated tension and suspense.  While drilling from underground to get into the bank vault, Terry communicates with a gang member on a rooftop across the street with a walkie-talkie.  Unknown to the gang, a ham radio operator intercepts the communication and calls the police.  Even though the police know a bank is being robbed, they do not know what specific bank it is.  The police plan to have an ambulance, with siren blaring, stop in front of every London bank, hoping the radio transmission will pick up the siren.  And this is exactly what is about to happen, at the actual bank where the robbery is occurring, except that the clumsy lookout drops his radio, which breaks during the fall, so even though the police are right outside the bank, the sirens are not heard.  Donaldson milks this sequence for every drop of suspense.

The final meeting at a train station, in a clever plan concocted by Terry, involves meeting up with the criminal mastermind, who is holding one of Terry’s gang hostage (having shot the other in the head), and who wants to trade for the little black book.  However, the government men appear and scare the criminals off, who run for their lives.  Terry is able to broker a deal for his gangs’ escape and get a promise not to be prosecuted ever for the robbery, as he turns the incriminating photos over (which involve not only Princess Margaret but other high ranking government officials in deviant, compromising situations).  Soon in a crazy chase and shoot-out, the one honest cop in London intervenes, arrests the criminal mastermind, and in another deal concocted by Terry, gets the little black book as well (Terry was counting on the government men appearing the same time as the criminals).  As the good cop opens the police car door where Terry and the now safe hostage are held, the clever cop declares there’s no bank robbers in here, having gotten what he wanted to make his career sparkle … the little black book with all the names and money received from the criminal mastermind.  So Terry and his friend are released immediately.

THE BANK JOB is one of those complex puzzles where all the pieces fit coherently together by the last frame.  At times, as audiences sit enraptured, we bite our nails thinking how in the hell will Terry and his surviving gang members get out of this mess alive, let alone avoiding jail time.

But the plot is totally satisfying, culminating in a lavish party commemorating the death of the one hostage killed.  Also, it provides a moment of reconciliation for Terry and his estranged wife, the woman who stuck by him through all of this, in spite of the fact he cheated on her.  The film ends on a very satisfying note.  In the best tradition of old-school filmmaking, the rogue criminal walks away and the audience cheers, because ultimately he was a victim of a corrupted government who set him up to do their dirty work.  In the end credits, it even states that many of the people whose safety deposit boxes were robbed never even filed claims, either being too rich to care or housing merchandise too criminal to declare. Terry Leather is never lily white, but his integrity, morals, loyalty and intelligence win us over. 

Right about now we need more movies such as THE BANK JOB where the little guy, flawed but quietly noble, is allowed to win and beat the corrupt system.  There’s something old school and definitely satisfying about that.

 

 

January 28, 2009

DVD/BLU-RAY TOP-10 LIST:  BEST OF 2008


It is the start of another year and time to reflect back upon those major home video releases of the past 12 months.  Unlike last year, the horror genre releases were less impressive, mainly because when it comes to the classics, most of the best stuff is already out.  Of course I can immediately bemoan the fact that movies such as HORROR OF DRACULA, due a restoration and proper aspect ratio release, missed its 50th year anniversary, even though a supposedly restored print, found by the BFI, was released theatrically in England.  This seemed to be the year of the Western, and some wonderful releases arrived in 2008.  And this was the year, only a few months ago, that I added a Panasonic BD-55 Blu-ray player to the theater, and hopefully a new 1080p digital projector will be added by the end of next year (although my InFocus 720p still looks fantastic).  So, in no particular order, are my favorite releases of the past year.

BUDD BOETTICHER BOX SET (THE TALL T; DECISION AT SUNDOWN; BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE, RIDE LONESOME; COMANCHE STATION)
Think of Boetticher as the Edgar Ulmer of the B Western genre (artistic and quirky, but always on a budget).  Coming on the heels of 1956’s 7 MEN FROM NOW (already on DVD), the remaining Boetticher Randolph Scott Westerns find release in this box set (movies released from 1957 to 1960).  The first three Westerns are better than the final two, but all of them are worthy and conform to Boetticher’s unique style.  While he traces some ideas and imagery from John Ford and others, his films are the modern inspiration for Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood.  In Boetticher’s world revenge is both noble and depraved, in equal measures.  Randolph Scott, who stars and plays the hero in all these productions, is multi-dimensional and very personable.  Like John Wayne (of the 1950s and beyond), he looks, talks and walks like an aging Western icon, but his characters are haunted and flawed.  Equally interesting, most of the villains in these productions are more richly developed characters than the hero.  While such characters are indeed on the wrong side of the law, each is ultimately revealed as being human, cast in bold shades of gray.  Action is usually kept to a minimum in Boetticher’s universe, but the movies are seldom boring, usually coming in at less than 80 taut minutes.  For me the discovery of such invaluable slices of Americana became one of the cinematic treats of the year.  And the commentary and interviews by people such as Martin Scorsese, Taylor Hackford and Clint Eastwood add a different perspective showing how these B movies influenced movies that followed.

ICONS OF ADVENTURE COLLECTION (THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER; DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES; STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY; THE TERROR OF THE TONGS)
Since so many of the Hammer classics have already been released to home DVD, Sony has unearthed the quasi-horror costume dramas released by Hammer.  As a child, I pretty much passed over the Hammer pirate movies and their “strangler” and “Tong” terrors.  A pity! All four movies in this re-mastered box set are entertaining.  And as mastered, all four movies are stunning to behold (three of them in gorgeous color and STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY in black and white), looking as close to the original theatrical quality as is humanly possible.  Even with a small budget Hammer’s THE TERROR OF THE TONGS offers Christopher Lee a chance to get his Fu Manchu on, and the studio bound dock set is very impressive (proving once again that Hammer was the master of B production set design and set decoration, working for little money and in cramped quarters).  The two pirate movies show how Hammer could make pirate movies land bound by only filming very short sequences at sea.  Christopher Lee, who portrays two different varieties of pirate, is quite effective in both performances, and he shines as lead villain in both movies. Sometimes subtle and underplayed, at other moments grandiose and theatrical, Christopher Lee’s pirate performances testify to his acting talents.   And Michael Ripper, Hammer’s favorite supporting player, gets one of his largest roles in PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER. Finally, STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY is tense, effectively acted and packs a B wallop.  This ICONS OF ADVENTURE set is a true revelation, a delightfully surprising one at that.

ICONS OF HORROR:  HAMMER FILMS (THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB; THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL; THE GORGON; SCREAM OF FEAR)
In spite of the release of Hammer’s ICONS OF ADVENTURE non-horror dramas (that juice up the horror quotient nonetheless), many outright horror entries were still awaiting DVD release.  And this box set should satisfy every Hammer fan. THE GORGON, released on VHS in a muddy version decades ago, has been overripe for picking on DVD, and now it arrives in its original aspect ratio with intense Hammer color.  One of Terence Fisher’s later period Hammer Gothics, THE GORGON gets better with age.  The set design, the basic mythological horror plot, the acting (Cushing and Lee, with Barbara Shelley) and set design all sparkle, and as directed by Fisher, THE GORGON can finally be revealed as the excellent horror movie it is.  Even the eerie castle garden sequences with the Gorgon terrify, simply because we notice the setting, the reflections in water and mirrors, and the fiend’s terrifying eyes and stony face.  We never have the opportunity to notice the rubbery snakes on her head.  Fisher draws our attention where it needs to be, and this again is a credit to his directorial skills. Not so spectacular is CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (directed by Michael Carreras), but with its moody widescreen photography and typical Hammer cheesecake window dressing, the film does entertain and the mummy sequences are all first-rate.  Perhaps the gem of the set is the uncut TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL, again released in its original aspect ratio.  While never considered one of Hammer’s best (there’s no monstrous Mr. Hyde, and Christopher Lee plays the best friend cad, not the monster, a role he offers to perfection here), the movie is atypical for Hammer and avoids the stereotypical formula treatment.  The acting is first rate and the story holds our interest.  SCREAM OF FEAR, the only black and white entry, is one of Hammer’s best PSYCHO-clones and has remained missing in action on the home video market for too long.  There’s no HORROR OF DRACULA here, but for any Hammer horror fan, this set delivers the goods.

FOX HORROR CLASSICS COLLECTION, VOL. 2 (CHANDU THE MAGICIAN; DRAGONWYCK; DR. RENAULT’S SECRET)
Fox shot the wad with its first Classics Collection, and unfortunately, calling Vincent Price’s noir/mystery DRAGONWYCK “horror” is a huge stretch of the imagination (however, it’s a delightful mystery and about time it received this DVD treatment).  DR. RENAULT’S SECRET, always a B favorite, is a film that truly seems too long at nearly 70 minutes, but it is always a pleasure to see J. Carroll Naish and George Zucco interact in the horror arena.  The go-to-film of the collection is the rare CHANDU THE MAGICIAN, a Bela Lugosi movie that needed to be released and features a romantic and well-chiseled Lugosi at his youthful, brooding best.  However, the film is more an adventure, a fantasy, and is only considered horror because of Lugosi’s presence and his death ray apparatus that threatens to destroy the world. Edmund Lowe’s lead, as the long-in-the-tooth dashing hero Chandu, is weak and overly theatrical.  Such performances led to the creation of “camp” in the 1960s when the film was ready to be screened on late night television.  Still, the Cameron Menzies-directed movie is flawed but fun, and for the cost of the box set, the three movies contained are truly fun to watch.

THE GODFATHER:  THE COPPOLA RESTORATION GIFTSET [BLU-RAY] (THE GODFATHER; THE GODFATHER PART II; THE GODFATHER PART III)
Amazingly, too many modern classics have been allowed to decompose and are in need of major restoration.  For most people, the first two GODFATHER movies are modern classics, in their own way THE BIG SLEEP and CASABLANCA of their eras, and deservedly so.  Just the juxtaposition of gangster criminality and family morality makes these complex character studies so rich.  We have the rise of Don Vito Corleone (a marvelous Marlon Brando performance, underplayed) and the emergence of his son Michael (an equally impressive Al Pacino), a military war hero who wants none of the family business but finds himself unable to walk away from it.  The movie demonstrates that morality walks a blurry, sometimes undefined line, and even among the criminal underworld there exists degrees of good and evil.  Beyond these movie masterpieces, we have the wonderful direction of Francis Ford Coppola that chips this modern opera down to mortal size.  And this Blu-ray release of all three films makes each look as wonderful as the films did upon their theatrical release.  Sometimes the colors are muted or the photography a tad too dark, but this was the intent, and the look of the GODFATHER films is just as important as the story and acting.  If anyone doubts the authenticity of these modern cinematic classics (of course GODFATHER PART III is not in the same league), this is the box set to purchase.

THE THIRD MAN [BLU-RAY]
So often people say that Blu-ray works best for modern films.  Movies that pop and radiate off a large screen, fueled by booming five or seven channel Dolby HD Audio or DTS Master Audio surround sound.  And while it is true that Blu-ray favors such intense collisions of sight and sound, it is also true that black and white classics look and sound state-of-the-art (home versions of theatrical 35mm prints) on Blu-ray.  Criterion’s version of THE THIRD MAN, Carol Reed’s film noir classic, starring the iconic Orson Welles as Harry Lime, just glistens and sparkles.  Somehow the blacks in a deeply saturated black and white movie look even more film-like when presented in high definition.  The planes of focus—front, middle and rear—look sharper and clearer.  The soundtrack, voices, sounds and music fill the soundscape with a depth of field unparalleled.  Let’s face it; the movie’s always the thing, of course.  But even when Criterion sets the standard with their highest quality standard definition releases, their Blu-ray releases just ups the ante.  THE THIRD MAN never looked or sounded better.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN [BLU-RAY]
Perhaps my favorite film of 2007 was the Coen Brother’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and the film’s debut on Blu-ray in 2008 becomes one of my favorite DVD releases of the year.  Of course this violent character study, punctuated by spurts of violence and super-charged action, is only made more intense by the Blu-ray experience.  The subtlety of coming to understand a character is dead because the killer leaves the house, quietly, and has to wipe off his boots, meaning, they got sprayed with blood.  The cat-and-mouse chase for the money (stupid but ballsy Josh Brolin vs. wonderful psychopath Javier Bardem, armed with his slaughterhouse air pellet gun) and the wizened old sheriff’s pursuit (Tommy Lee Jones, in a wonderfully crafted role) make this character study one of the best suspense and action movies of that year.  And on Blu-ray the film seems so theatrical, sharp, clear and booming.  This is an Oscar-winning Best Picture that will continue to resonate for the ages.  Never has a coin toss bet (heads or tails) been so gut wrenching and profound.  The concept of fate plays a pivot role in this slice of modern American Gothic, rivaling the role of fate in ancient Anglo-Saxon and Greek literature.  It’s been a while, but the Coen Brothers are back at the top of their game with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, one of the most philosophical thrillers of the new century.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD [BLU-RAY]
Director Paul Thomas Anderson, working with the frame of an Upton Sinclair novel, has produced a mesmerizing modern classic, propelled by a gutsy leading performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as a self-made oil tycoon.  Running 158 minutes, this intense character study of a flimflam man who achieves monetary greatness remains true to the formula by which great movies are remembered.  Think of Orson Welles from CITIZEN KANE, James Dean from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, Marlon Brando from ON THE WATERFRONT, etc.  In a sense Day-Lewis creates a classic over-the-top screen characterization that makes him the equivalent of Count Dracula, a man who both charms, seduces, deceives and destroys the lives of innocent victims, wielding his power like he’s King of America.  For most people the verdict is not whether Daniel Day-Lewis submits a classic character performance, but whether the movie’s frame (its story and other characters) is worthy of such a performance.  For me, THERE WILL BE BLOOD succeeds on all levels.  The movie is a slow build, very visual and methodical; it takes its time evolving from one point to the next.  Some folks might simply be bored, while others sit transfixed.  For generations of moviegoers raised on jet-propelled pacing with films cut fast, of course THERE WILL BE BLOOD will seem lethargic.  But for those people who enjoy a slow build and carefully executed characterization, this film will meet your high expectations.  And be warned, Kevin J. O’Connor’s half-hour performance rivals the intensity of Day-Lewis’ performance, proving once and for all that in a movie anchored by one great performance, the supporting cast is just as strong and its ensemble contributions make the leading performance that much richer. 

I’M NOT THERE
Why should a film biography of icon Bob Dylan be anything other than cutting edge weird?  Director Todd Haynes worked with the concept of having six different performers play aspects of Dylan’s character through the movie (none of which are called Bob or Dylan).  Cate Blanchett, in black leather and frizzy hair, plays the most cherished Dylan of all, the mid-1960s rock and roller, and she nails the character exposed in the classic documentary DON’T LOOK BACK.  Christian Bale plays the I-found-Jesus period Dylan, and does well.  As does the late Heath Ledger as the 1970s version of Dylan, and his performance equals Blanchett’s for richness.  Richard Gere portrays the Sam Pechinpah-era cowboy Dylan and his remains more a presence than an actual performance.  But perhaps young black male Marcus Carl Franklin captures the era of the emerging protest era Dylan, the child who became a star.  Yes, yes, yes, the film is rather episodic and trippy.  The film creates more questions than provides answers, but just the look and various iconic sequences create a feeling of what Dylan may be about.  Of course no one will ever know, and it’s that puzzle that drives the man’s art.  Named after an unreleased (until the soundtrack album) track (a truly magnificent one) from the famous BASEMENT TAPES, the movie’s soundtrack is equally inspired, offering takes on Dylan’s songs by a host of iconic artists and indie rock bands that offer new variations on the old musical themes.  Instead of featuring Dylan singing Dylan, we have actors playing quasi-Dylans surrounded with Dylan music played by anyone but Dylan (except the title song).  Too bad this one is not yet available on Blu-ray, but on standard DVD, I’M NOT THERE is a feast for the ears and the eyes for anyone who remotely enjoys the art of Bob Dylan.

FOX WESTERN CLASSICS (RAWHIDE; THE GUNFIGHTER; GARDEN OF EVIL)
Fox was not particularly remembered for producing classic Westerns; however, THE GUNFIGHTER is the reason to purchase this boxed set.  Don’t get me wrong, RAWHIDE and GARDEN OF EVIL are enjoyable Westerns, but THE GUNFIGHTER with Gregory Peck is a classic and one of the best Westerns of the 1950s, over-shadowed by the classic John Ford, Howard Hawks oeuvre and HIGH NOON.  In this 1950 production, Peck plays Jimmy Ringo, perhaps the faster gun in the territory, and a gunfighter with a checkered history.  He rides to town to find his wife and son, his wife having abandoned him long ago when their child came along.  The town marshal Mark Strett (Millard Mitchell) was an original member of Ringo’s gang, but when he had the chance, he started all over by reinventing himself as a lawman, a good one at that.  Because of Ringo’s reputation with his firearm, he wasn’t able to abandon his past so easily.  So every young punk in the territory comes gunning to prove their meddle (such as a youthful Richard Jaeckel in an energetic performance), and while barkeep Karl Malden (very young and also energetic) wants to keep Ringo in his saloon to drum up better business, all that the aging gunfighter desires is to reconcile with his family, travel as far as they can go, and buy a ranch to raise cattle and start anew.  A simple dream, one that Ringo deserves.  However, from the get-go the audience realizes all the obstacles that must be surmounted to make that dream reality.  And with most adult Westerns of this time, the ending, while satisfying, is never close to happy.  But wow, what a tremendous movie, and Gregory Peck delivers one of his finest performances ever.  For anyone who loves Westerns, THE GUNFIGHTER is essential viewing.



February 16, 2009
THE DARK KNIGHT and The Evolution of The Hero

I finally caught up to the Blu-ray version of THE DARK KNIGHT and admit to being blown away by its visual audacity.  What I did not expect was the equally audacious script (screenplay by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, story co-written with Christopher Nolan and David Goyer), with its complex concept of what constitutes the modern day hero.  The complex morality, deftly explained both verbally and visually, becomes, I feel, the film’s greatest strength.  For once we confront a truly adult Batman movie (the explosions and kinetic pacing keeping the younger fans involved as well).

First of all, notice the trilogy of heroes and villains.  On the villainous side we have the world of the criminal mobsters, the gangland suits who infiltrate all threads of Gotham City, including the police force.  Secondly we have the almost Shakespearean tragic hero, Harvey Dent, the newly appointed district attorney and almost heroic restorer of order (handsomely chiseled to boot).  And lastly we have the insidious Joker, the villain without a plan (or so he claims), without a conscience and a true Anarchist in the most philosophical sense.  While the gangsters are always motivated and driven by profit and money, the Joker incinerates their huge bounty of money in front of them to demonstrate their philosophic weakness.  Once the Joker overpowers and controls the conservative gangster element, it is not long before he has Gotham City questioning their loyalty to the vigilante Batman.  The Joker has penetrated even the police department, and by imbedding a bomb-detonating cell phone within the stomach cavity of a jailed criminal, he can blow it all to hell by making just one phone call.  Likewise, he blows up Gotham General just as effectively, the city’s major hospital.  He is a man willing to take the ultimate risks, without fear, and he seems to live only to create more and more chaos, without consideration of ultimate outcome.  Anarchists don’t have plans, they just act impulsively, or so says the Joker.  The Joker appears initially to want to destroy Batman, but the Joker realizes that he is the ying to Batman’s yang, and that Batman’s ultimate good motivates the Joker’s ultimate evil. The Joker needs Batman to fuel his ambition.  The Joker wants to destroy the heroic image of the Batman, reveal his true human identity, more than he wishes to fatally finish Gotham’s hero.  In many ways the Joker and Batman are very much alike, and that’s what the Joker wants Gotham City to see.

On the side of good we again have Harvey Dent, who also appears on the villainous side of the fence as well. Harvey Dent is a charismatic force of law and order, a political wonder-kid that plans to return Gotham City to the peace it once knew, and the citizenry see him as a blessed avenger. Second, Gordon, the self-sacrificing cop, even concocts a scheme that leads to his supposed death, even sending two officers from the force to tell his wife and son that he is dead, when in fact he is alive and carrying out a scheme to bring the city mobsters to justice.  Gordon is a man who will put his own family through hell for the cause of eradicating evil from the city he loves and serves.  Third, Batman is a conflicted millionaire, playboy and philanthropist whose motivations might be more revenge-oriented than based upon receiving the adulation of fist-pumping citizens cheering him on.  Compared to everyone else, his inner-workings and motivations are cloudy at best, his angst not quite understood even by himself. As Michael Caine’s sympathetic Alfred always advises, Batman is always an outsider, a loner, who does what he does not to be popular, but because his outsider status allows him to do the right thing, not necessarily the most popular.

But the film’s most profound moments occur when the Joker, planning havoc upon the ultimate societal good-guy Harvey Dent, systematically corrupts and reduces Dent to his own evil level, making him a criminal vigilante (not unlike Batman) who takes the law into his own hands, murdering five citizens brutally, others surviving simply because of a lucky coin flip.  In the film’s pivotal emotional sequence, love interest Rachel (she loves Batman, but loves Harvey Dent more) is trapped in one warehouse and Dent in another.  Gordon and the police, and Batman, are told where each is housed, with a detonator clicking away.  Time exists to rescue one, but not the other.  The police opt to save the district attorney first, but he is horribly burned on one side of his face, while Rachel, calmly, faces her explosive demise.  The fact that the corrupt police were in part responsible for their abduction and the fact that the police and Batman opted to save him and not her, turns the now disfigured and mentally angered Dent to evil, the ultimate tragic hero whose internal flaws lead to his self destruction.  Unable to deal with conventional, personal morality any longer, Dent flips a coin and allows the gods of fate to decide who will live and who will die.  When Dent dies at the end, Commissioner Gordon and Batman bemoan the fact that the Gotham citizenry will be totally demoralized by the fact that their self-righteous hero was corrupted and turned to evil.  In other words, the Joker wins with such a scenario!  So in a gripping coda, Gordon tells his teary-eyed son, who worships Batman, that Batman must accept total blame for the deaths caused by Dent, because for the greater public good, the heroic image of Dent must be preserved, and Batman must become the now less-than-heroic Dark Knight, the enemy of the police, the anti-hero who will bear the brunt of shame and disappointment that would otherwise be heaped upon dead Harvey Dent.  It is the ultimate sacrifice and one that Alfred reinforces time and time again.  Doing the right thing often alienates the loner from the very society he struggles to protect.  Sometimes the hero is misunderstood and hated by the very people he sacrifices everything for, and sometimes, just knowing we are doing the right thing has to be reward enough.
 
And yes, the late Heath Leger’s performance as the Joker is an incredible performance, dramatic and bold yet frequently underplayed.  But an intelligent script anchors that performance, giving Ledger the insightful and complex dialogue that makes his performance shine.  Magically, Ledger’s performance as the Joker outshines Christian Bale’s performance as Batman, which might be the ultimate praise.  Ledger’s Joker becomes one of the best cinematic villains ever and his performance becomes the emotional core of this complexly constructed thesis on good vs. evil and the role of the hero in today’s society.



February 28, 2009
THE SLOW DEATH OF SMALL PRESS MAGAZINES

Look around you and listen, classic horror movie fans. Do you hear the death knell of the horror film magazine, at least the small press variety?  Think about the past five years.  Ingram Distribution, who sells to the chain bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, Borders and the rest, continues to squeeze the little guy, returning unsold copies via “invoice” (meaning publishers never see the copies returned; they are recycled).  More and more independent mom-and-pop shops are closing.  The small press best friend, Tower Books and Records, went belly-up.  Printing costs, mainly because of increased cost of paper, are rapidly rising.  Mainstream magazines and newspapers are folding (this past week our own BALTIMORE EXAMINER ceased publication) and continue to fold (musical magazines such as HARP, NO DEPRESSION, ICE, etc.).  Because of the declining economy, more and more fans are failing to subscribe to magazines, strangling publishers economically.

And now the stake has finally been driven through the heart of the small press publisher.  Perhaps, for many, this becomes a fatal blow.  Diamond Distribution, the consistent supporter of the small press, and the nationwide supplier of indie magazines to comic shops, has announced that unless they can sell a shit-load of magazines (750 copies of a single issue minimally for some), they will cease listing our products in PREVIEWS, their nationally distributed solicitation venue (unless we pay for expensive advertising, just to be listed).  Diamond, who always pays within 30 days of receiving product, whose sales most likely pay for more publisher printing bills than any other purchaser, is now gravitating, for economic reasons, towards the mainstream and sure-fire money-makers.

Many publishers are proud of their products.  Many small press magazines cater to the collectors who “bag and board” lush mint condition magazines.  These publishers try to produce their product on 80-100 pound enamel gloss stock, in full color if possible, with hefty page counts that seem to always be increasing, with plenty of rare photos.  But when faced with the above factors, expensively produced offset printed magazines may soon be becoming relics of the past.

The options?  Of course the first and easiest is to cease publication and cite the poor economic times as the easy excuse.  The other options require creative thinking and the guts to go where few others have gone.

About one year ago, faced with declining sales from a declining subscription base, MIDNIGHT MARQUEE became the first major horror film print magazine to go digital and morph into an online entity.  As a creative editor/publisher, I was exhilarated by the potential to do things online that I could not do otherwise as a print magazine.  For instance, a specific page count limitation was no longer an issue.  Full color was not a problem online.  Software exists for the more money-minded publishers to be able to charge customers to access the online magazine, for a fee.  Often these magazines (such as WIDESCREEN REVIEW) offer part of the magazine free online, but to get the entire issue customers have to pay for a single issue or multiple issue subscription.  But such software is cumbersome and difficult to use, at least at this stage.  My thoughts were to ask readers to make monetary contributions, in any amount, on PayPal to keep the magazine going.  This would be purely voluntary, of course.  The magazine could be accessed and printed out for free.

But the reality hit home that many classic horror film buffs are not youngsters and many of them are not computer literate.  These people might be willing to still pay for a printed out version of the online edition of the magazine, but printing and binding more than a few issues became a full-time job for Susan, who wanted to give people who paid for what was absolutely free online a good product.  But she found herself frustrated by the time investment, and even the cost of printing and binding and shipping.

So Midnight Marquee Press needed to keep thinking creatively.  Today, printers offer options other than offset printing, options that allow short print runs, quick reorders, done speedily and affordably.  Such print-on-demand methods meant there was no longer a need to warehouse product and pay for the storage of over 100 titles. Yes, the quality is slightly less than offset quality, but it is high quality nonetheless and very well might spell the difference for most publishers between continued manufacturing and distribution of future books and magazines, or throwing in the towel.

But in the four decades since I become involved in horror fandom and fanzine/magazine production, a lot has changed, and not always for the better.

Here is a conversation concerning any new magazine arriving in mailboxes across the nation today.  “I loved that cover.  The photos were so sharp and clear.  The expensive paper and that gloss stock really showed off the layout design.  I just love that rich feel and spell of a freshly printed magazine.  The color just jumped off the page.”

Here is a similar conversation when a new magazine arrived in mailboxes, a few decades ago:  “Wow, I loved that cover.  The editorial really got me to think, even if I did not agree with that opinion.  The first two letters on page 4 really brought a smile to my face.  The major articles was so informative, I never knew that before!  I learned so much that I never knew before!  My mind is still swimming with all this information and opinion!”

Not that horror movie fans no longer read the magazines they collect (I know for a fact that many do not), but many collectors buy magazines just to collect them, to feel them, to look at them, to smell them but hardly to read them.  Today, just like most artifacts of our superficial culture, looks are everything and the inner substance means far less.  Don’t get me wrong, I still read discussions about the printed content of magazines, but the balance is askew, with more fans speaking about the look of the magazine rather than its content.  How sad!

Think back to the golden days of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Of course we ooohed and aaaaahed at the Basil Gogos and Larry Ivie covers, but we were most impressed with Cal Beck’s latest editorial about the war, or Forry’s cross-country trip where he might stop in our neighborhood, or Forry’s plea to readers to support his Ackermansion by sending in our quarters and dollars.  We raved about Forry’s latest “Filmbooks” covering classic Universal productions and the Haunt Ad section in the back.    And you know what, these and other classic monster magazines were printed on the lowest grade paper and cover stock.  This pulp paper would literally become brittle and turn yellow within a decade.  But you know, we monster kids (and kids we were) did not care.  We knew of slick gloss magazines published (TIME, NEWSWEEK, PLAYBOY, SATURDAY EVENING POST), but for monster mags crude would do.  It wasn’t about the expensive look; it was all about the content, the ideas, and the images.  Would we have wanted a more expensively produced magazine back then?  To be honest, I don’t think it really would have mattered.  Horror movies were never the most expensive of Hollywood’s cinematic product, so why should magazines heralding such movies be lavish “Roadshow” productions?

Somewhere along the path we lost track of what horror film magazines were created for, and monster magazines become just like monster model kits and toys, something to gawk at without doing much thinking about.  A monster mag became more about the external appearance, its expensive look, and reading and thinking and discussing became less and less important.  Don’t get me wrong, there remain plenty of fans that live to read every page, every word and debate the content afterwards.  But generally these people do not care as much if the magazine is printed on gloss stock or offset paper, if the magazine is in black and white and not color.  In other words, it’s not about the glamorous appearance, but about the inner beauty fueled by words and ideas. In fact, it is not even about whether the magazine exists only digitally online or as a hard print copy.  Both methods get the word out.

What really matter are the WORDS, THE IMAGES and THE MESSAGE.  And that can be conceived online digitally, offset printed, or however printed.  The bottom line is this.  Magazine publishers will have to change to continue producing a viable product and that might mean a change in printing method or even presentation (from hard print to online).  If we truly care about the WORLD and MESSAGE, such superficial changes will not matter.  As magazines change, so must the readership adjust and change.  But most importantly, the readers, the fans, must continue to support fully the efforts of magazine publishers.  Technology changes, fueled in part by a changing economy, necessitating a radical re-thinking in the way we “consume” periodicals.  Please continue to be forward thinking and supportive of your favorite old and new magazines.  Without the support of the fan, THE WORD, THE IMAGE and THE MESSAGE dies.  You hold our fate in your hands. With such power comes great responsibility!



March 12, 2009

The iPod—The Music of a Lifetime In The Palm of Your Hand!


For years and years I held to the philosophy that music needed to be either on a vinyl disc or CD, something tangible I could hold in my hands, something that had cover art and perhaps a lyric sheet, besides assorted photos and production credits.  I held out longer than most in the iPod era, even though CD sales and brick-and-mortar record stores were closing left and right.  Just as the CD drove the stake through the heart of the long player, MP3 digital downloads killed the CD.

About two to three years ago, for a whim, I purchased my first iPod, an 8 gig Nano.  I digitally transferred the better songs from my extensive CD collection to iTunes.  I never went as far as to digitize my vinyl collection, because of the time and the less than spectacular sound quality.  It would have been cheaper to simply repurchase those old chestnuts as downloads, the ones that are available digitally.

But then I decided, with the advent of then new-year 2008, to go exclusively digital download and abandon the shiny CD (which, according to Sue, were overtaking the house).  Besides having the best of my CD collection on the Nano, I would now purchase albums (not single songs as most of the kids are doing) in digital format and burn them to CD for the car.  I found myself over the past decade listening less and less to music on the home theater sound system, which even included an SACD DVD player.  I began to listen mostly to music driving to and from work, on the car stereo.  Certainly, MP3 sound could compete with that.

Well, by the end of 2008, my Nano was full.  What to do?  Well, I invested in the largest iPod I could purchase, the Classic, which boosted 120 gig (the larger 160 gig model was discontinued this year but would return).  Compared to my 8 gig Nano, the Classic was a powerhouse jukebox.

Now I could go back and digitize entire albums from my collection, not just a select five or six best songs.  I could now purchase digital albums I only had on vinyl (such as Rolling Stones classics).  I found myself purchasing rock classics that I somehow missed.  I even decided to explore late fifties jazz, by downloading the classics by Coltrane, Davis and others. And while I paid generally $10-$13 for CD’s, I find myself paying generally $9 for digital downloads with many titles for sale from $2-$5 (thank you Amazon.com MP3 digital music store and your MP3 Daily Deal). 

And of course I never used the cheap ear buds that came free with each iPod.  I researched and purchased an in-ear top-of-the-line model from Shure, and I must say, the in-ear sound is perfect, instruments darting across the soundscape of my head, left and right channel crisscrossing.  For all the detractors, the iPod sound is fantastic, vibrant and intense.  Of course at age 58 my hearing is not as good as it once was, so perhaps some subtleties of sound are lost.  But to my ears, the sound is involving, bright and magical.

Just think, the music of a lifetime, and I can hold the iPod in the palm of my hand.  With the flick of a thumb or finger, I can listen to “My Favorite Things” by Coltrane, “Salt of the Earth” by the Rolling Stones, wonderful albums released within the past year or so by Fleet Foxes, Alejandro Escovedo, Bob Dylan, Okkervil River, Paul Westerberg, The Hold Steady, Lucinda Williams, Portishead and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.  I can enjoy classics by Buddy Holly, the Doors, Brian Wilson with or without the Beach Boys, Iggy and the Stooges, The New York Dolls, Mott the Hoople, Ramones.  They are all a momentary click away.   Wow, music from the 1960s now merges with music of now and classics from the distant past (anyone for Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music?).  And there’s no storage problems, no hunting for that one magical album which is never to be found until the urge to play it has passed.  It’s all here, all in one magical Apple storage device. 

How cool!   All this music, the tunes that fill and enrich my life, and my iPod Classic is only one-fifth full.  Hopefully in my musical lifetime there will be plenty of new music to enjoy, plenty of time to enjoy it over and over again.  Thank you, iPod Classic!  Sometimes “new-school” has it advantages!

Now if the kids would only take out their ear buds and turn off the iPods in my classroom!  I’m pretty “old-school” about that!!!



March 29, 2009

Warner Bros. Continues to Bleed the Collector


Everyone knows that Warner Bros. remains the principle studio releasing classic movies to the home video market, usually re-mastered and restored as close to perfection as possible.  With their affordable box sets and single disc releases, why should we now be complaining?

Well, it all started with Warner’s DVD and Blu-ray box set of CASABLANCA:  THE ULTIMATE COLLECTOR’S EDITION.  The list price for Blu-ray is $65 and it sells on Amazon.com for $42.  Without exception the film has never looked nor sounded better and the Blu-ray mastering is state-of-the-art.  The Ultimate Collection includes a second disc of extras, as well as a 48-page book, 10 one-sheet reproduction cards, a passport holder and luggage tag and archival correspondence.  But I for one discard such elaborate packaging and store my DVDs and Blu-ray discs in leather binders, since I am only interested in the movies, not the bells and whistles.

What I want is to be able to purchase CASABLANCA in Blu-ray for an affordable $26 or so, street price.  Let’s face it, many collectors have already purchased CASABLANCA on DVD twice so far and most are willing to upgrade to Blu-ray, but at an affordable price.  Yes, such Ultimate Collector’s Editions should be available, but also a standard release without the extras should also be available.  I just am not willing to spend $42 for a classic release that I bought on DVD for around $20.  I do not need nor desire the books, repro one-sheet cards, luggage tags.  Just give me the movie!

Now things are getting worse.

Warner Bros. just announced Ultimate Collector’s Editions, over-stuffed box sets again, of two classics, GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Will the list prices be $65?  Afraid not!  Perhaps CASABLANCA sold too well.  These two new classic releases, coming toward the end of the year, will list price for $85 each and sell on Amazon.com, at the moment, for $60.  No extras have been announced yet, but once again, why can’t fans purchase the movie in a simple package for less than $30?  Do I want to spend $60 apiece for a Blu-ray copy of both classics?  No, I am not willing to pay that amount. Studios are trying to make Blu-ray releases assessable to the mainstream collector, and these ultra-expensive collector’s editions in tough economic times are only keeping Blu-ray a specialty niche market product.  Not good!

Warner Bros. must be praised and thanked for its dedication to releasing restored versions of classic movies, so we must not lose sight of this fact.  But Warner Bros. must understand that selling to collectors is one thing, selling to movie buffs is another thing.  How many versions of GONE WITH THE WIND and THE WIZARD OF OZ have we already purchased?  And now, to spend about $60 (the price might drop by $5 or so by actual release time) for the same movie, albeit a re-mastered one in Blu-ray perfection, is tempting, but I for one am not biting. Warner Bros. is allowed to make a tidy profit, and I do not begrudge them that.  But Warner Bros. must also understand that the proverbial cash cow has been milked dry already and that movie fans will not tolerate mind-numbing prices for a movie they already own in multiple editions.

So come now Warner Bros., make two editions available in Blu-ray, one for the Ultimate Collector and one for the movie fan who only wants to watch the movie.  The studio will make a killing from both editions and people will be happier since they now have a choice of whether they wish to purchase memorabilia they may or may not care about.

[After this Blog entry originally appeared, Warner Bros. did release single disc Blu-ray releases of these and other “Ultimate” Collection releases.  So now classic movie fans have a choice of how “ultimate” a version they need.]



May 29, 2009
Warner Bros Continues to Serve the Needs of the Movie Fan

Just as soon as we go and criticize Warner Bros. for bilking the movie fan, they open their video-on-demand Warner Archive Collection, a series of around 150 Warner Bros. titles not currently available (legally, that is) on DVD.  Borrowing the idea of Amazon.com’s Book Surge that prints books only after orders have been placed (for one copy or 1,000), now the Warner Archive Collection has opened so movie lovers can buy DVDs made to order from its ever-expanding film library.  The cost of each movie is $19.95 plus $4.95 for Ground Shipping (add a dollar for each additional movie).  However, for the time being, the shipping cost has been waived as long as the total order is shipped to one home address.  Each movie takes approximately seven business days to produce and be shipped (in order words, made to order, video on demand) and comes packaged in a typical DVD case with full color artwork.  Yes, these movies are burned and not replicated/mastered, but Warner Bros. boosts that its upgraded DVD-Rs are superior to home burned DVDs and they stand behind and guarantee their product will play, without fault, on any DVD player.

The Warner Archive Collection opened featuring approximately 150 titles, but the collection is predicted to swell to over 300 titles by the end of the year.  In other words, Warner Bros. owns so many movies that will never earn mass-market appeal and be released in the conventional manner.  Here, lesser-anticipated titles (such as the two I just purchased—ON BORROWED TIME and I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI) can now be purchased from the Archive Collection.  Of course this means that these titles will never be released in the more traditional way, but it still opens the door to purchase lesser-desired titles that may well sell in the hundreds rather than in the thousands. The collection includes silent titles as well as movies from the 1960s and beyond.  Of course plenty of movies from the classic 1930s, 1940s and 1950s are available, many titles of which I do not recognize, but I plan to research them on the Internet Movie Database.  The Archive Collection consists of rare titles that are generally not classics, but are good, sometimes flawed, titles that people remember fondly but haven’t been able to see for decades.  These are not the pick of the litter but are worthy nonetheless.

People can also vote for four new titles every month that they wish to add to the Archive Collection, and new titles will be added monthly, most likely 20 new titles per month. 

Therefore, I recommend supporting such an endeavor.  The Warner Archive Collection will only continue if it is profitable, and even if these initial 150 titles do not spark any lightning, perhaps purchasing a title or two today might open up the opportunity for even more exciting titles to become available in the upcoming months.

Warner Bros., bless their little hearts, we can’t always live with them financially, but we can’t live without them either!  Bottom line, thank you Warner Archive Collection!



April 10, 2009
HORROR OF DRACULA and the Historic Senator Theatre

The Historic Senator Theatre is beloved by movie lovers in Baltimore and beyond.  It was once one of several crown jewels of the suburban network of neighborhood theaters existing in Baltimore.  Back in the day, we had the first-run palaces in downtown Baltimore, but for second runs, movies jumped to the neighborhood theaters (in the city and suburban areas).  Now all the old Baltimore theaters are gone, except the Hippodrome, a movie theater restored and reopened as a thespic showcase.  The Senator, now an independent theater, is owned and operated by Tom Kiefaber, a man who ran the theater into the ground (some called him business na├»ve, others arrogant and bull-headed).  Defaulting on bank loans, burning up money provided by emergency city government bail outs and begging for private contributions from movie lovers who frequented the Senator, Kiefaber was at his wit’s ends attempting to convert the theater into an non-profit community arts center, even offering to step down as the day-to-day operator.  But the bank, also in trouble, called in his loan and, unless the city government intervenes, the historic theater will be auctioned off April 20, hopefully to remain a movie theater and not a parking garage or shopping center.  But no such guarantee exists at the moment.

Tom Kiefaber, usually dressed nattily in sports jackets and suits, appeared last weekend at the theater in casual jacket and tee shirt, looking pretty despondent, as he empted out the back offices at the theater and was selling posters for $20 a pop, the metal marquee letters for $10 a letter and all sorts of photographs and Senator memorabilia before the axe falls.  His home, collateral for numerous loans, is also in danger of being auctioned from under him as well. 

And one local private collector wanted the theater to go out with a bang, so he offered to allow the theater to show his personal 35mm prints of classic movies, so Kiefaber could charge a mere $5 a ticket (half the usual ticket price).  For three days last weekend the Senator showed what they billed as an IB Technicolor print of Hammer’s classic HORROR OF DRACULA. Like the theater, the Technicolor print of HORROR OF DRACULA was well worn.  The once vibrant Tech hues succumbed to the bruised print and lost much of its brilliant luster.  Supposedly Tech prints do not fade, and this print had not turned red by a long-shot, but I once owned a 16mm Technicolor print of the same film and my 16mm print boosted deeper saturation and hues long gone from the screened 35mm print.  Yes, it was wonderful to see the classic Hammer projected on a huge screen in an ornate theater, but even the projectionist could not keep the movie from losing its framing and entire heads were cut off for minutes (making the botched mastering of the DVD of HORROR OF DRACULA appear to be perfect by comparison) until friend Gus Russo (famed investigative reporter and musical composer for BASKET CASE and BRAIN DAMAGE) walked back to tell the staff of the problem.  The screechy soundtrack accentuated the treble, negating the deep bass, and the volume was much too high.

But when will I ever have the chance to see my favorite horror film projected large and viewed in the company of a movie audience (composed of about 50 to 70 people in a theater that seats over 900).  It was a bittersweet experience composed of equal parts enthusiastic, exaltation and nostalgia and equal parts sadness, anger, regret, and the sense that an era of movie showmanship too was fading away.  Remember, the same print was screened for members of FANEX 8 at the Senator Theatre during our Hammer-themed show, but I could not attend because I was wheelchair bound, having ruptured my patella tendon the Thursday before the weekend show.

Even though Sue worked a full day last summer coming up with creative ideas to make money for the then troubled Senator Theatre (some involved working with Midnight Marquee, others did not), Kiefaber blew all of the ideas away saying, brusquely, “Sue, none of these ideas will make the millions of dollars I need!”  In spite of repeatedly rejecting our ideas and suggestions to help the Senator survive, and in spite of Kiefaber booking a special Sunday night show at his theater selling tickets on the strength of “hosting” Robert Wise as special guest (a guest that FANEX paid for totally, never an offer from Kiefaber to chip in and help pay expenses, even booking the special Senator attraction without telling Sue or me the Sunday evening of FANEX), we only wish the absolute best for the Historic Senator Theatre.  But it has become clear to most that if the theater is to survive as a movie theater, it is time for Kiefaber to move aside and allow someone to operate the theater as a for-profit business, someone creative enough to think outside the box and tap into the theater’s full creative potential.

The British Film Institute supposedly restored HORROR OF DRACULA to perfection a year ago.  However, the print of HORROR OF DRACULA we watched last weekend was faded, not very colorful, a shadow of its former vibrancy. I would love to see that restored BFI print in an equally renovated Senator Theatre, where the treasures of the cinematic past become the glory of the present-day movie palace.   That’s a dream that any lover of classic movies can wrap him or herself around!   



May 14, 2009
THE WRESTLER:  Fresh Blooms and Rancid Decay

From the late 1950s until about 20 years ago, I’ve always been a fan of professional wrestling.  I was a fan when the current Vince K. McMahon’s father (Vince J. McMahon) ran the show with his fledgling World Wide Wrestling Federation, formed as an offshoot from the National Wrestling Alliance (whose champion, the great “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, lost to Bruno Sammartino, in 1963, to form the WWWF).  My father was a huge boxing fan, but I loved the theatrics and blood and gore of professional wrestling, and my father Richard took me to the Baltimore Coliseum (where I saw Brute Bernard) and then to the newly erected Baltimore Civic Center to see all the Golden Age grapplers of the past:  Walter “Killer” Kowalski, Eduard Carpentier, Hans Mortier, Argentino Rocca, Johnny Valentine, Classy Freddie Blassie, Wild “Red” Berry and The Kangaroos, Eddie and Jerry Graham, Bobo Brazil, etc.  Even as a child I understood that the matches were most likely orchestrated with a winner already decided, but like great theater, the drama wasn’t about who won and who lost, it was about the process, the struggles, the suspense, the sweat, the blood and the passion.  Everyone knows Hamlet dies at the end of the Shakespeare play, but it’s the process of rising and falling of heroes and villains, the combat becoming larger than life, that symbolizes the spectacle of professional wrestling.

I originally watched wrestling as broadcast twice a week, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, on channel 5 out of Washington, hosted by that great voice Ray Morgan, who announced the matches and interviewed the cast of players between the bouts.  But watching the drama play out on the small tube was never enough.  Not until I saw heads bashed into ring turnbuckles, mid-air collisions and death defying leaps off the top jump did it become real.  One of the best matches I ever saw in person occurred in 1979 or1980, before wrestling nose-dived into the steroid era.  Don Leifert and I attended a show at the Capital Arena, in Largo, Maryland, that pitted the always-underappreciated Bob Backlund (we called him “Howdy Doody” because of the wrestler’s resemblance to that famous marionette) against the equally underappreciated Iron Sheik.  The backward and forward ebb and flow, the magnificently choreographed maneuvers, the manner in which the hero and villain worked the crowd, resulted in a classic match that will not soon be forgotten.  Hulk Hogan’s superstar status was right around the corner, and Hulk’s era initiated punching, stomping and kicking over finesse and actual wrestling moves.  Wrestling went downhill rapidly.

Fancy, that the Darren Aronofsky independent film THE WRESTLER deals with the fall of fictional Randy “The Ram” Robinson, whose claim to fame occurred during the decade of the 1980s, just around the time I stopped watching.  THE WRESTLER picks up Randy today, as he wrestles for $100 per night in catering halls and high school gyms, following the low-rent circuit around the country.  Locked out of his trailer, existing on pain pills and alcohol, taping his bruised body to the best of his ability, Randy “The Ram” is a loner, an absolutely broken human being.  Broken both physically and emotionally.  The only family he has is a college-aged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) that he practically abandoned during his superstar hey-days, and now, living with another woman, she does not want her father back in her life.  Instead, Randy tries to create a relationship with a past-her-prime stripper Cassidy (a courageous Marisa Tomei, who performs often nude from the waist up), who is raising a nine-year-old son on her own.  Her policy is never to date customers, and Randy is just that to her, even though the big lunk might be the best person in her desperate life.  And they truly understand one another, both having exploited their bodies to make a living, except that Randy truly loves what he does.

Mickey Rourke creates an outstanding, classic performance of the former wrestling star that has fallen, hitting rock bottom.  Playing Randy “The Ram,” Rouke has greasy half-dyed hair, a bloated broken face and body, the world’s ugliest hearing aide, but he possesses the most heartbreaking eyes of humility and compassion.  This broken down gladiator is quiet, polite, kind and self-deprecating.  Randy never tries to glorify himself or make excuses.  He simply tries to live each day as best he can.  He admits to Cassidy, I am alone and deserve to be alone, yet he reaches out to his alienated daughter even when she screams in his face to go away.  He reaches out to Cassidy, even though she puts him down by calling him nothing but a customer.  And he even tries to accept a job as a grocery store deli meat cutter. At first he enjoys his job as he interacts with the customers almost theatrically.  But when he gets drunk and misses his one chance to reunite with his daughter, he grows hostile when one of his customers recognizes him, causing Randy to slice his finger in the meat cutter and then, in pain, throw a tantrum for his soon-to-be former boss.  We first see Randy enter his deli arena by passing through a plastic-draped door, much in the same manner that Aronofsky films him as he enters the arena from behind a backstage curtain.  Even when craving meat, Randy is the consummate performer and entertainer. But at this crucial moment, he realizes he is a wrestler and, heart bypass or not, that’s the only life for him.  In the ring is the only time he feels both alive and worthwhile.

The bargain-basement arena matches are brutal, involving Randy cutting his forehead open using razor blades to bleed for the audience, to work up their frenzy.  He even allows his opponent to use a staple gun to rip metal into his chest and shoulders (his opponent telling him the stapes do not hurt much going in, it’s the ripping them out after the match that causes the most pain).  Wearing a long metal pendant around his neck that hangs down into the crease in his chest where the bypass scars stand out, Randy announces to his fans that they are his family, and that he will wrestle until they tell him to stop.  By film’s end Cassidy is ready to allow Randy to enter her social sphere, but though very much interested in pursuing that relationship, Randy is more focused on resuming his career, to try to live his life with what dignity and strength he has remaining.

The movie features a tour-de-force performance by Rourke and is perhaps the cinematic performance of the year, or perhaps even the decade (Rouke well deserved his Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor; the Oscars simply are not relevant anymore and ignored both his performance and the movie), most definitely the defining performance of Rourke’s career.  His is a performance that is painful to watch, yet the man’s humanity is always present.  When he wrestles the up-and-coming or fallen-from-grace performers of the past, Randy is always quick to take direction, to make the other guy look better, and always has something nice to say to his peers, some words of encouragement, even as he suffers intense pain.  Randy is beloved and respected, and he has time to entertain a groupie in a run-down arena bathroom.  In spite of the life Randy has created, the audience pulls for the broken down warrior and our hearts bleed for him.  Life can be cruel and unkind, but there’s dignity to be found even living in the gutters of the city’s poverty row.

As a child and teen growing up, watching those professional wrestlers at the Civic Center, we never realized that after the fame and glory passed, that life continued, that bills had to be paid, money had to be earned, and that the glory days were rather short.  Most likely too many real-life Randy’s exist, performing menial jobs to stay afloat.

THE WRESTLER is an excellent movie, perhaps not a great one, but Mickey Rourke’s performance as our broken down tragic hero Randy “The Ram” Robinson is one for the ages.



May 17, 2009

TAKEN And The Need For B-Movies


How many mainstream-released theatrical movies clock in at 91 minutes (96 for the extended, unrated version) these days?

Pierre Morel’s TAKEN, starring Liam Neeson and Famke Janssen, delivers the adrenalin thrills in 90 odd minutes, a pleasure when the director remembers that movies need not be bloated to two hours or longer.  TAKEN is a thrilling roller roaster ride, a well-acted one at that.  The goal of the script by Luc Besson (the director of THE FIFTH ELEMENT and writer of THE TRANSPORTER movies) and Robert Mark Kamen (co-writer of THE TRANSPORTER films) is simply to entertain and keep the action and plot moving ahead at breakneck speed.

Liam Neeson, playing father Bryan Mills, is a retired military spy, a self-confessed “preventor” whose job description aligns him with James Bond and Jason Bourne.  Even though the slightly long-in-the-tooth Neesom may seem miscast initially, he becomes the perfect actor for the role of father-protector.

The story is a good one with sleazy pulp leanings and simple motivations.  But being a fan of genre cinema, TAKEN only reinforces Hollywood’s need to continue to make slightly lower-budgeted movies for mass audiences.  Mills is retired and plays poker with his former military buddies, who relive the glory days of their past.  Mills’ ex-wife Lenore (Famke Jansen) married wealth, and their 17 year-old-daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is spoiled rotten but remains the love of Mills’ life (he even relocated to be nearer to her).  When mother and daughter ask Mills to sign paperwork allowing Kim to tour Europe for the summer, the father states he has problems signing because he knows the horrors of the world (implying those who live in glass houses in wealthy Californian suburbs do not understand the horrors of life outside American borders).  However, daddy, of course, gives in and signs.  He gives Kim a special cell phone and demands she phone him every night.

Kim and her soon-to-be-doomed girlfriend are in France for mere hours when a cute Albanian boy approaches the girls and invites them to a college party that night, stating he will pick them up at nine.  Of course, that night, while Kim is on the phone with Daddy, an invasion occurs where both girls are kidnapped after first being roughed up, Kim remaining on the phone receiving instructions of where to hide, what to scream out (describe the attackers physically, get their voices on the phone, etc.) before she is unable to speak.  When the phone grows silent, the intense Mills calmly announces that he will find them and kill them.  A voice says, “Good luck” and hangs up.  Of course that voice sound print leads the wily Mills directly to him.  Checking with his military buddies, the kidnapper is identified as an Albanian who is a member of a gang that kidnaps young Western girls and sells them into a life of drug addiction and prostitution.  Mills has a 96-hour window to find his daughter, or she will be lost forever.  How very B-film-esque!

The plot immediately comes into sharp focus.  From just one poker game we know what we need to know about Mills’ background.  It only takes two meetings for the audience to understand how much Mills loves his teenaged daughter and how much his ex-wife tries to keep Mills out of her life.

And while the audience expectation would be that it might take 90 minutes for Mills to find the voice on the phone who wished him “good luck,” it actually takes minutes in movie time and less than 24 hours in actual time for Mills to trace the Albanian who uses the same tactics to snare new nubile girls for his white slavery connection.  Shockingly, as the young man runs onto the freeway and jumps on moving trucks, he is brutally killed when he fails to see a gigantic truck splatter him all over the highway.  This crucial sequence leaves the audience bewildered, because Mills’ only lead is dead. At this moment, I realized the script would be cleverly intelligent, hopefully filled with more and more surprises along the way.

In the movie Mills is superior in hand-to-hand combat and the use of weapons:  pistols, automatic, knives, etc.  He is only over-powered one time and he quickly recovers and soon ends up back on top.  This is the type of pulp gimmick where Mills jumps on a boat, owned by a sheik and protected by 20 armed guards, and single-handedly overpowers all of them.  I can only think back to DR. NO and Bond’s cold-blooded killing to see a comparison with Mills’ ruthless killings.  One time he pursues a hostile down a corridor and shoots him in the back of the head as he chases the man.  In another sequence, he tortures a white slaver by wiring him up to the house current and giving him a charge that curls our blood.  When the man talks, Mills turns on the current one long and last time, leaving the room for good with the electricity sizzling away.  Breaking necks and telling his victims “this won’t save you” is his style (juxtaposed to his warmth and love as a father).  He even tells his former French buddy, now a cop doing a desk job (but a corrupt cop at that), he will bring down the Eiffel Tower to find his daughter.  And the audience knows he means it.

Set pieces include a construction site where makeshift rooms, cubicles separated by thin curtains, house a den of drugged out whores and acts of prostitution.  In one room Mills finds the jacket his daughter wore, and Mills goes out of his way to save the over-dosed girl in order to get her to talk and tell him where she got the jacket and where his daughter Kim might be.  Other marvelous set pieces include an auction room where scantily clad and drugged out teens are sold to the highest bidder … and in the midst of this hellhole Mills’ daughter Kim appears.  Before the father can save her (being only 20 feet from her, behind a glassed in partition), he is knocked unconscious.  But then Mills awakens, kills a shit-load of hostiles and confronts the nattily dressed business owner who smiles and states, “You must understand this, this was only business, it was not personal,” to which Mills barks back, “It was personal to me” before shooting the man in such a way that he will die painfully and slowly.  Then Mills exists the elevator leaving the formerly writhing corpse behind.

The movie moves at this kinetic pace from start to finish.  In a sense, it is another vigilante movie, another find-my-wife-or-daughter film.  But the film has no pretenses.  It is, short and simple, an energetic little B thriller, written, acted and directed with poise and talent.    After 90 odd minutes, Mills delivers his slightly battered but still cheerful daughter home to her mother and stepfather.

During the 1930s and 1940s B productions ran only an hour when feature films ran 90 to 100 minutes.  Today, when movies, sometimes unfortunately in the hands of can’t-say-no directors, run two to three hours long, it is wonderful to find a jolting visual romp such as TAKEN that does its business in an hour and a half and demonstrates again that sometimes those smaller, underappreciated B productions might deserve the most praise of all.



July 1, 2009
Busy Being Born or Busy Dying? Why Many Adults Hate New Music and New Movies 

I hear it and read it all the time.  Baby boomers claim that the best rock and roll ended about 1976, along the time that punk rock broke and became popular … before Disco hit the scenes.  Even many of the teens I teach claim that classic rock of the 1960s and 1970s blows away everything recorded today.  But is this true?

The same thing seems to be true with movies and the baby boomer generation.  Movies from the 1930s through the 1970s are the only ones that matter.  Many boomers bemoan the death of the delightfully unreal Technicolor movies, replaced by the de-saturated color photography of the 1970s and beyond. Many boomers feel classic cinema died by the late 1960s, or at least by the mid-1970s.

People of my generation constantly argue that art created today is just not as good as art created 30 years or more ago.  And to their way of thinking, they may very well be right.  Remember when dialogue in movie screenplays was literate, adult and intelligent?  Not so today!

Basically, when we are pre-teenage or teenagers, or even college age 20-somethings, movies and music are perhaps the most important way how we define ourselves.  Just as we may dress preppy or punk, watch classic Hammer or black and white AIP teenage monsters wreak havoc or listen to garage bands, Phil Spector’s Wall-of-Sound, Prog or Psychedelic rock, we define who we are by what we watch, what we listen to and all this affects what we wear.  Or at least, during adolescence, this is very much true.  During those days, for baby boomers, waiting for the new Rolling Stones album to arrive was a life-altering event.  In the mid-1960s, Bob Dylan sporting leather and plucking an ELECTRIC guitar was huge, after deserting his corduroy cap and acoustic guitar.  The art we enjoyed was life defining, or at least life altering.  The movies and music that touched our psyches during adolescence were the most profound of our lives.  And for most generations, this truth is a constant.

As we age, it was never a case of becoming un-cool.  People who enjoyed the free form jazz of the late 1950s, people who grooved on Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, would not suddenly embrace the Beatles a few years later (of course, some jazz fans actually would, but not the majority).  The same is true with people who grew up in the 1950s grooving to the swinging pop sounds of hip Frank Sinatra.  These generally were not fans of rockabilly and Elvis Presley. 

As we baby boomers matured into our 30s—where career, marriage, savings accounts, preparing for retirement, relationships and the harsh realities of life took the forefront of our energies—music and movies still were important, but they were put on the backburners, squeezed in between these harsh slaps that life dished out, and while music commanded so much of our time, it soon became something to do while driving to the store, after putting the baby to sleep or perhaps during a few stolen minutes grabbed here and there.  The new music was not OUR music.  It belonged to younger people, or so it seemed.  People who “got” the Beatles and the Stones perhaps “got” pre-punk such as The Stooges or The New York Dolls, but when the Ramones and The Sex Pistols came upon the scene, it became more difficult to embrace such new sounds and musical styles.  The pressure was on to grow up musically, to stop being an adolescent and to embrace more adult sounds. And my god, how could we deal with Disco and Saturday Night Fever!  Time surely had passed us by!  And even if you were one of the few who simply followed the new music, and tried to embrace it, it become increasingly more and more difficult to understand Rap, Dance/Trance, World Beat and electronic-created/computer generated rock. (Was it still rock … with the guitar downplayed or omitted and drumbeats being just as often played electronically and not pounded out on the actual instrument we call the drums?).  How can a baby boomer today relate to bands such as Grizzly Bear, Death Cab for Cutie, Deer Tick, LCD Soundsystem, Pains of Being Pure at Heart or Animal Collective???  Some of us try, because wouldn’t it be sad to think that the best music of our entire lives was created by the time we turned 26 or so!

Well, some of us still try to be relevant.  We live by that great Bob Dylan line that “he who is not busy being born is busy dying,” and if we reject everything that is new, then we are dying artistically and becoming the old fogy that we always dreaded we would become.  It’s okay to love classic horror cinema, but when we state that splatter films repulse us, or that the nudity and sex quotient is too overdone for our tastes, we actually admit that our tastes and sensibilities are becoming old.  That we who ranted and raved in favor of eccentric and cutting edge New-Wave music and French Cinema would now shut down when it comes to anything that smacks of cutting edge today?  Are we just too zoned out, tired or lazy when it comes to appreciating today’s movies and music?  Since our adult lives are pulled in too many different directions, perhaps we simply don’t have time to sit down and watch and listen and try to understand.  Instead we assume that anything new is not as good, and when we listen to those vocal harmonies created by bands such as Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, we remember that the Beach Boys did it first and did it better.  It seems so much of today’s modern art is too similar (meaning inferior in the sense of having been there, seen that, heard that) to the great movies and music of the past, and that when movies or music try something radically new or different, that it pales compared to the creativity of the best of (movies) Hitchcock, Ford, Hawks and Whale or (music) Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan or The Velvet Underground (let alone Big Star or The Replacements!).

At least the best music of the past was collaborative, even solo artists recording and creating with a band, either in a garage or in the studio.  Today, so much music in insular, created by one guy holed up in his bedroom with his computer, creating the equivalent of musical masturbation.

And with digital camcorders and computer-based editing systems such as Final Cut Pro readily available, now anyone can make a feature film at home for lots less money (of course, this is not saying such movies are any good!).

Movies today seem to either be the Big Products earmarked for the teenage demographic or the low rent independent production that frowns upon any commercial considerations.  The best movies of the past combined the best of both extremes, without committing exclusively to only one.

Bottom line—I don’t know if the baby boomers are simply getting old, complacent and too pooped to rock or too tired to really focus on current cinema, or, if the music and movies of the past were simply superior and we are sick and tired of being force-fed mediocre music and movies.

As Bob Dylan sang in 2006 on his classic album MODERN TIMES, “For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself.”



Dec 15, 2009
Warner Bros. Archives Series and TCM Vault Collection:  Why the Complaints???

Isn’t it logical that after Warner Bros. released multiple collections of film noir, gangster movies and vintage Hollywood star-powered box sets, that the demand for the lesser classics might be commercially bankrupt?

Let’s face it, scores of classic movie fans want to purchase gems such as THE MALTESE FALCON, THE BIG SLEEP, OUT OF THE PAST, LITTLE CAESAR, THE ROARING TWENTIES and the list goes on and on.  But how many people want to purchase those similar movies that might have been awarded two to three star ratings and that come up a little short when compared to the best of the best?

In the world of book publishing, Midnight Marquee Press can afford to release a paperback for $25, while similar smaller publishers like McFarland can release paperbacks for $30 to $45.  Many book buyers complain that mainstream publishers can release similar-sized quality trade paperbacks for $15.  So why should they pay almost double or triple to buy a similar product?

The answer is a simple one.  Those mainstream trade paperbacks might evaluate the careers of Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio, or touch upon the films of such modern directors as Judd Apatow.  Even casual buffs might shell out minimal money to read about the current blockbuster playing at the multiplex.  Or better yet, anything on the TWILIGHT series or HARRY POTTER is bound to sell copies through the roof.  But this is not the audience that most small press publishers are chasing after.

Instead, small press publishers try to appeal to a smaller, less hip niche audience, one whose love of movies extends 50 to 75 years ago.  Instead of profiling prolific mega-stars such as George Clooney or Megan Fox, they analyze the careers of celebrities that appeared left of the dial, cult stars and directors such as Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher, Andre Morell, Brett Halsey and Edgar Ulmer.  Publishers can expect to sell thousands of copies of any book on the TWILIGHT film series, but a book about Andre Morell can hope to sell 500 copies tops (and that’s being rather optimistic).  So with smaller press runs and more frequent print-on-demand titles, the cover price for small press books is higher simply because the demand for these titles is much smaller than the demands of mainstream titles. 

The same is true with the release of more and more esoteric and non-classic vintage movie titles.  How many copies of THE MALTESE FALCON sold?  How many copies of, say, Jacques Tourneur’s EXPERIMENT PERILOUS will sell?  That is the point precisely.  Warner Bros. initiated their Archive Series several months ago as a type of print-on-demand or made-to-order archive of titles that will never be mass released.  These titles have not been restored to impeccable standards with costly re-masterings, but the titles themselves have been mastered to the highest standards from the best negatives and prints that currently exist.  To be quite honest, the quality for the Archive series does vary slightly, from film to film, but when projected on my nine-foot screen, all of these titles appear crisp with deep contrast and inky blacks.  The sound is as good as any audio on the other box-set release titles.  Yes, the titles cost  $20 each (plus shipping), while typical mainstream release titles cost $15 when sold alone or $5 to $10 each when sold in thematic box sets. But these $20 DVDs are the titles that most likely would not have ever been released.  These are the titles that many of us love and have a fondness for, but these are the titles that would only sell in small quantities, making their mainstream release unprofitable.

So instead of celebrating the fact that FROM HELL IT CAME is finally released on DVD, many people state they would not pay more than $10 to own it and that charging $20 is highway robbery. 

But if these same people follow the Warner Archive website they can see multiple sales are available every week, and, praise the celluloid gods, for their Black Friday weekend, the Archive series offered pretty much their entire catalogue for 50% off (shipping free), if you purchased 10 titles.  Now that’s a bargain.  And the Archive series bundles movies together to sell them in box sets (although titles are shipped individually always).  For instance, the six Gordon Scott Tarzan movies finally became available at a cost of $10 each, if you purchased all six together (or you could purchase the two best, TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE and TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, for $20 each).  Fans have been crying for a decade for the release of these superior Tarzan entries, and now that they have arrived, many fans are disappointed that they cannot be purchased for $5 apiece.

In a similar move, TCM, working with Movies Unlimited, have opened up movies from their vault and are selling them in a similar print-on-demand way.  The first release is THE UNIVERSAL CULT HORROR COLLECTION, containing five sought after B movies from the Universal vaults—MURDERS IN THE ZOO, HOUSE OF HORRORS, THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET, THE MAD GHOUL and THE STRANGE CASE OF DOCTOR RX.  And the price is $60 for all five movies. As a bonus, they ship in a very attractive case.  True, if Universal had released the box set, it would street price for around $21 to $25, but again Universal would only release classic mainstream titles such as THE BLACK CAT, FRANKENSTEIN and THE WOLF MAN.  How many people, except true fans, would purchase THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. RX?

If we truly want to see every Universal horror title released, now that the classics are all available (I know, everyone still awaits a DVD release of ISLAND OF LOST SOULS), we need to support the release of less desirable, less mainstream titles to see the DVD release of all the rest.  It’s time to stop bellyaching and step up to the plate.

Let me put it this way.  I purchased recently the KARLOFF LUGOSI box set that featured THE WALKING DEAD, FRANKENSTEIN 1970, YOU’LL FIND OUT and ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY for around $21.  I paid $60 for THE UNIVERSAL CULT HORROR COLLECTION mentioned above.  For me the $60 purchase was the true “bargain,” containing those titles that mean the most to me. I would have preferred to pay $25 for the set, but once we all understand the difference between releasing mainstream titles and esoteric, less commercially viable ones, we can understand the logic that states I would rather purchase the McFarland BELA LUGOSI AND BORIS KARLOFF bio book for $75 instead of some mainstream modern Hollywood celebrity bio for one-third the cost.  When it comes to esoteric, niche products we all must expect to pay a little more.  [We at Midnight Marquee Press do manage to provide esoteric niche titles at the most affordable prices for fans, but we realize that selling fewer copies of such titles makes it more and more difficult to make a profit and to continue publication of future titles.]

But at last we can add the Rondo Hatton thriller HOUSE OF HORRORS to our collections.  That is cause to celebrate, isn’t it????  At any price!!!