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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Worthy Causes and Useful Resources in the Wake of National Tragedy

Less than a week has passed since the unthinkable events at Newtown, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School. In lieu of discussing my own personal reaction, I'll eschew the ludicrous navel-gazing of the Facebook Era and instead focus on how you can best respond to what has happened, in terms of giving of yourself to support those in need, and/or dealing with your own children's questions and concerns.

There are two very worthy and very laudable causes making the rounds right now. I encourage you to give to either of the following:

My Sandy Hook Family Fund: Established by the parents of the surviving students of Sandy Hook, this fund was begun to help support those who were far less fortunate.

Sandy Hook School Support Fund: This one was put in place by the United Way, and is the charity of choice for the company I work for. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Additionally, for those coping with the shock on a personal level, and trying as best as possible to explain to your own children what has happened, here's a very useful collection of resources posted online by PBS.

Please give if you can. And be strong. Don't lose hope. These are the times that try men's souls. But we will endure.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SCARS Magazine's Bodacious Horror Babes!

After a hard day's work in the land of franchised fruit products, I was delighted last night to come home and find, waiting for me on the kitchen counter, the latest issue of SCARS Magazine. Even ordinarily, this would be a very exciting thing for me, as SCARS just happens to be one of the coolest and most eminently readable underground pop culture magazines on the market. But this... this was extra special, because within this issue's thick and sturdy pages resided my very own article.

You'd think after 15 years as a professional writer, the thrill just wouldn't be there anymore, but nothing could be further from the truth. I got just as much of a kick picking up that issue as I did picking up H.W. Wilson's Chemical and Biological Warfare back in 1997 (nothing but uplifting subject matter for me!). I'd been waiting a long time for this one, and I'm grateful to Managing Editor Fallon Masterson for allowing me entry into such a groovy publication.

If you're a fan of this blog, chances are you will enjoy reading SCARS Magazine very much. I urge you to check out the website and pick up your own copy. In the new issue (dated Winter 2012-2013), I have an article entitled "Bodacious & Bloodied: Horror's Great 8 Badass Women of the '80s", in which I run through the absolute best female leads of '80s horror. You'll find them all there, from Heather Langenkamp to Jamie Lee Curtis, with perhaps a few surprises. It was a lot of fun to write, and I hope you enjoy reading it just as much.

Beyond my own article, there are other pieces on Alan Moore, '80s video game movies, and a profile of the amazing artist who did the cover illustration, Jason Edmiston--plus much more Reagan Era goodness. It's the Big '80s Issue, and I'd seriously have demanded a copy even if I wasn't published in it.

Check out SCARS, and let me know what you think of my rankings. Nothing like a good old fashioned horror debate...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Retro Review: Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

“You don’t understand—in a half hour the moon will rise, and I’ll turn into a wolf…”
“You and 20 million other guys.”

There are the great horror films, and there are the great comedies. But great horror comedies? Films that work equally well as both, and can scare you and make you laugh in equal measure? Few and far between. Possibly the first really great one, and for many still the best, would be the 1948 timeless classic Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. All these decades later, and it can still leave us in stitches, while delivering a healthy dose of authentic Universal monster madness. The fact that this movie even happened both was and is a gift to movie fans of all ages.

By 1948, both Abbott & Costello and the Universal monsters, two cash cow franchises for the legendary studio, were sort of on the ropes. Bud and Lou had made their name at the studio during the war years, but the act was starting to wear thin with audiences. As for Dracula, Frankenstein and the gang, they were far removed from their halcyon days of the 1930s and early ‘40s, having been reduced to flimsy team-up flicks for kids.

So what did the powers-that-be at Universal decide to do, but cross the two franchises, in one of the most inspired movie mashups ever conceived. Lon Chaney Jr. may have later condemned the film as the death knell of the classic monsters, but the hindsight of film history has revealed it as a beloved gem that, rather than tarnish the reputation of the monsters, has kept their legacy alive for generations.

In short, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is the perfect “gateway movie” for getting children into horror. I should know; I used it in exactly that way for my own kids. It’s hilariously funny on a level that can be appreciated by people of all ages, and the creep factor is there in copious amounts, especially for young children not too familiar with horror in general. It causes chills and laughter in equal measure, as we watch Bud and Lou mix it up with some very scary individuals.

In the end, that’s what makes the movie work so well. Neither franchise is compromising its integrity. Abbott & Costello are doing what they do best, getting into ridiculous situations and doing the whole straight man/childish fat guy routine. In fact, this film is probably their funniest moment, in a movie career that spanned nearly two decades. As for the Universal monsters, they are playing themselves here. There’s no campy hamming-it-up going on. Although Bela Lugosi’s Dracula may feel a bit different than his 1931 interpretation, he is playing Dracula to the hilt—just as Glenn Strange is playing the Monster, and most impeccably, Lon Chaney Jr. is playing Larry Talbot. I defy you to find any difference between the Talbot here and in any of his previous appearances. There is no “winking at the camera” on the part of him, Lugosi or Strange.

The perfect blend of horror and comedy make this, for my money, one of the most downright fun movies ever made. There are so many unforgettable set pieces here—particularly the predicaments the hapless Lou constantly finds himself in; from accidentally sitting in the Monster’s lap, to the scene in Talbot’s hotel room with the fruit bowl. And of course, the scene most people remember from this movie, in which Lou first encounters Dracula at the House of Horrors, all the while trying breathlessly to explain it to an incredulous Bud. This is effortless, timeless comedy from two masters, and best of all, is so true to the material that you can honestly imagine that this is what would happen if Abbott & Costello were to encounter Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man.

Costello cracked up Strange so much during this
scene that it had to be shot numerous times.

We get Lugosi in his only other film appearance as Dracula after his first iconic turn in 1931. That alone is enough to recommend the film! We get an excellent score from Frank Skinner—so good, in fact, that it would be lifted outright for future A&C movie installments. We get a rip-roaring monster-laden finale that is the perfect payoff for all the insanity that has come before. And, at the risk of “spoiling” a 65-year-old movie, we get an unforgettable final-shot cameo by Vincent Price as the voice of the Invisible Man! What more can you possibly ask for?

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein succeeded in redefining both franchises. Going forward, the A&C series continued trying to recapture the new formula. The series took on a decidedly fantastical slant that was very different from the releases of the early ‘40s, pairing the comedy duo up with other monsters and villains like the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and even “The Killer, Boris Karloff”. It may have been a gimmick, but it was a gimmick that kept the act going for nearly another decade. As for the Universal monsters themselves, this film became their last appearance for the studio. But it needs to be said that it also reinvented them for a whole new generation of young moviegoers, and helped give rise to the kitschy “Monster Kid” culture of the ‘50s, ‘60s and beyond, raising the studio’s creations to the level of pop culture gods.

Personally, the film brings me back to those lazy Sunday afternoons of my youth, spent with family, food and syndicated New York television. If you’re a fan of classic horror, I encourage you to check it out. Particularly, this movie is a joy to watch with young children. If you don’t have your own, go and steal someone else’s—it’s worth it. I screened it at one of my kids’ Halloween parties, and few sights in my memory will ever match the sight of a room full of initially skeptical 7-10 year olds, falling out of their seats with laughter and yelling at the screen in comic frustration. 

I’m so glad the world of Abbott & Costello and the Universal monsters crossed paths, and I enjoy revisiting it whenever I can. Give it a try, and I think you’ll be hooked as well.

And if you ever wanted to catch this gem on the big screen, then you’re in luck! I’ll be screening it on Thursday, December 27, as part of my BEDLAM AT THE BIJOU series at Bridgeport’s Bijou Theatre. I hope you’ll join me for BEDLAM AT THE BIJOU: Scared Silly, in which I’ll be pairing this movie up with another classic Universal-themed comedy, Young Frankenstein. Check out the Facebook page for more info, or the official Bijou website!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Haunted Day in Connecticut...

A while back, in preparation for Halloween, I decided it would be a capital idea to make my own little “haunted tour” of my local surroundings in Connecticut. Add to the fact that my daughter Zombelina is extremely fascinated by all manner of hauntings and paranormal phenomena (no surprise there), and it really seemed like an obvious thing to do during the Halloween season. So Captain Cruella and I packed up the little ones and made our ghostly pilgrimage.

I selected as our two primary locations, two of the most notorious haunted spots in the entire state: Union Cemetery in Easton and the Remington Arms factory in Bridgeport. It was quite a chilling experience, and the resulting images turned out to be very striking. In fact, the reaction I got from initially posting them to social media led me to (finally_ bring them right here, where they can be enjoyed by all you fine Vault dwellers.

So please proceed, and follow our exploits from that day, if you will…

A portion of the ominous Remington Arms munitions factory on Barnum Ave. in Bridgeport, our first stop...
The fearless Captain ventures down into the factory. I soon followed, and heard some honest-to-goodness footsteps... This, along with the prompt arrival of the Bridgeport PD, led to our hasty departure to a safe distance.
More of the inside, as seen from the street. The factory was run by Remington until 1988, when it was closed down after a series of mysterious deaths. G.E. has since purchases the property and has been planning to tear it all down for years.
See something in there? Yeah, I wasn't sure either. Besides, the decidedly foul neighborhood in which this factory is located left little time for careful inspection.
Although closed off to the public, this doorway seemed to have been forced open, no doubt by some reckless teenagers looking for a spooky time.
Travel Channels' Ghost Adventures show did an episode here at the factory back in 2009, and apparently found "conclusive evidence" of paranormal activity. The footsteps I heard, admittedly, could not be found to have been made by anyone else at the site...
Another view of the vast Remington Arms campus, made up of several buildings in various states of gross disrepair.
Farewell, Remington Arms! And really, is anyone going to check out that tag sale..?
Next, we made the trek through Fairfield, up Route 59 to the posh town of Easton. There we came to Union Cemetery, home of the notorious "White Lady".
Many of the graves here date back to the 17th century. They're largely worn away by weather erosion, but much of the 18th century stones, like this one, still stand.

A closeup of one of the 18th century stones, showing the angelic iconography common to grave markers of the era.

This tree stump shows just how old the place is. And although we caught no sight of the White Lady, we eventually had out fill of the cemetery's general creepiness. The start of a cold drizzle also motivated to head back into the warmth and safety of the car...
There you have it—just a taste of our experiences that day. I’ll never forget those footsteps I heard, nor the very eerie presences palpable at both locations. All in all, I’d call our “Haunted Day” a success, and the perfect prelude to a generally smashing Halloween season!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Random Ramblings from the Vault

  • First things first: The Walking Dead has very pleasantly surprised me this season thus far. As much as I love the concept, I don't really believe the show had hit its stride until now. Last week's episode in particular was just about the most harrowing dramatic television I've ever witnessed, and I don't mind telling you that I was seriously emotionally shaken. Not to mention some amazing acting all around! Kudos to the entire WD creative team, but just go easy on me for the next couple of episodes, OK? I'm a very sensitive boy.
  • I know I'm not the first to say this, but The Cabin in the Woods was everything everyone said it was, and then some. What a creative and brilliantly executed horror film! A horror fan's wet dream, plus entertaining enough to bring new fans to the genre in the process. Horror had been in desperate need of a reinvention after nearly a decade of nihilistic torture porn aftereffects, and I think this was just the kind of deconstructionist fun that was called for. I can't remember the last time I was this downright amused by a horror movie.
  • Maybe it's not popular to say it (or maybe it is, what do I know?), but I was also very pleasantly surprised by the red-band Evil Dead remake trailer that's been making the rounds. You can count me in the camp of, "Why are they remaking this movie," but after seeing that, I'm on board. I'm not dead-set against any and all horror remakes--sometimes they turn out excellent, like The Thing, The Fly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and even Dawn of the Dead. The original Evil Dead is a 30-year-old shoe-string budget student film, and while it is a great horror flick, I do not consider it sacred or anything. It's been more than a generation, why not let someone take a crack at it, especially with Sam Raimi's blessing? Count me in.
  • And on the flipside of that, the last thing I expected was that I'd be looking forward to the Evil Dead remake, and NOT looking forward to the World War Z movie. What a turd of a trailer that was! Here I was, hoping for the last six years to get the ultimate big-budget zombie epic I'd been waiting for, and what it looks like we're getting is Brad Pitt running from zombie tidal waves. I mean seriously...what the heck is that? I'm not even sure what I'm looking at, but it sure as hell ain't zombies, and definitely not the creatures of Max Brooks' novel. Sadly, that one is looking like a giant disappointment.
  • As I mentioned at the Vault of Horror Facebook page, I'm proud to announce that my BEDLAM AT THE BIJOU double feature series will indeed be continued through March! That's right, the Bijou Theatre in downtown Bridgeport is giving more opportunities to share my love of horror with the community at large. It will be my pleasure to be screening Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein (12/27), The Mummy (1959) and Curse of the Werewolf (1/24), Theater of Blood and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (2/21) and The Giant Claw and Plan 9 from Outer Space (3/28). Plus as always, there will be special guests and giveaways galore! Check the official Bijou website, plus the VoH Facebook page for more info, and I hope to see you there!
  • One of the films I'll be showing this Thursday at the Bijou is Nosferatu, whose 90th anniversary I've been celebrating all year--hope you've been enjoying it. I like to do that every year with a notable anniversary for a different horror film (Nightmare on Elm Street 25th in 2009, Psycho 50th in 2010, American Werewolf in London 30th in 2011). Right now I'm thinking of celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Exorcist next year. Sound like a good idea? Anything you'd rather see instead?
  • Do you have a favorite one-shot Hammer film? I think I'd have to go with either The Gorgon or The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll if put to it.
  • For those dying to know, my young progeny Skeleton Jack and Zombelina hosted another smashing Halloween party this year--I daresay the annual party has become one of the highlights of the social calendars of little ones in our community. I mean, what other Halloween party features a haunted walking tour of the surrounding neighborhood? Special thanks to Michael J. Bielawa, author of Wicked Bridgeport, for the terrific tour, and of course what better party planner could any Halloween gathering hope for than Captain Cruella herself??
  • Speaking of Zombelina, she recently found herself in the bookstore with a gift certificate burning a hole in her pocket--and what did she choose to buy with it? Why, the first hardcover volume of the collected archives of Warren's Creepy Magazine, of course. Did you expect anything less?
  • In closing, I'd like to thank Turner Classic Movies for carrying the torch of horror filmdom during the Halloween season. AMC's Fear Fest is a pale shadow of the former greatness of  Monster Fest, and TCM has dutifully stepped in to fill the seasonal needs of horror fans everywhere. I love AMC, but after all, how many times do you really want to watch Jason X and Halloween 5 in a three-week period? All Hail TCM and their excellent, eclectic mix of selections! Long may they reign.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Conversations in the Dark: Universal Armageddon Part 1, w/ Miguel Rodriguez!

A little while back in Conversations in the Dark, I had as my special guest for a series of discussions, the one and only Miguel Rodriguez of the Monster Island Resort podcast. Both here, and at Monster Island Resort, Miguel and I discussed the massive 28-film Godzilla series in exhaustive detail. It was a lot of fun, and I hope a lot of people enjoyed it. However, once it was done, we were left with that empty feeling inside, and determined we should continue our discussion on a different topic.

That topic would turn out to be the classic Universal monster movies. We both agreed we would next turn our attentions to those timeless horror gems of Hollywood's home for horror during the golden age. What you have here is the first chapter in this brand new series, in which we take on the first half of Universal's Frankenstein series, arguably the studio's flagship franchise.

So join Miguel and I as we wax philosophical on Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. You'll hear tales of Boris Karloff, James Whale, Dwight Frye, Elsa Lanchester, Basil Rathbone and more. Listen in on the embedded player below, or head over to the official Vaultcast page and download for listening at your leisure!

Stay tuned for further Vaultcasts in the Universal Armageddon series!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Zombies Strike in Bridgeport! Next Up? Vampires...

It has been my pleasure to welcome Bridgeport to the Vault of Horror, and I hope to be able to do so for some time to come. Coming fresh off my second monthly installment of BEDLAM AT THE BIJOU in the city's historic downtown district, I have to say it is just about the most fun I've ever had. Sharing my passion for horror with like-minded individuals, and opening the minds of intelligent folks giving it a chance for the first time? Count me in!

And speaking of "Count", that brings to mind my *next* BATB presentation, happening next month on Thursday, November 15. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Bedlam faithful take in the undead goodness.

The Captain in human guise prepares to bloody up some moviegoers.

Last Thursday night, I had the privilege of screening a zombie double feature made up of White Zombie and The Last Man on Earth (yes, I know it's technically not a zombie film, but anyone who's seen it knows why I included it.) Just like my first Godzilla/Them double feature last month, it was truly a blast bringing these flicks back to the big screen with fans old and new on hand. I cannot thank those who came out to support the event enough.

I am especially grateful to the Bijou's tireless Molly Ann Sabas, who put up with all my anal retentive crap and made sure everything ran smoothly from a technical standpoint. I was very excited to see my zombie-themed photo montage pre-show flash on the big screen prior to the movies. I must also thank the amazing Chad Anderson, who took more great pictures of the event, and Michael Barnes, who designed another fantastic poster for the event (I'm officially stealing a copy of every poster he creates for BATB!).

One of our adventurous patrons gets zombified by Cruella!

Dr. Paffenroth drops some zombie knowledge.

The lovely Captain Cruella was on-hand to zombify a few of our patrons right there in the Bijou's sumptuous lobby, and the Bram Stoker Award-winning author and good friend Dr. Kim Paffenroth made the trek all the way from Westchester to be my special Q&A guest. Just as it was last month, the Q&A was my favorite part of the evening, and I got a huge kick out of some of the very thought-provoking questions that were asked and answered.

And what can I say about seeing Bela and Lugosi and Vincent Price up on the big screen? These movies will never be as enjoyable as they are in an environment like this, and the Bijou is such a beautiful venue for it. I'm not sure what was more enjoyable--feeling the excitement of long-time fans as they witnessed these movies 20 feet high, or watching the rapt discovery of those who had never seen, or maybe even heard of them, before.

I was proud to discuss the unique cultural zombie phenomenon at length, and will be equally proud next month when BEDLAM AT THE BIJOU returns with my next double feature: "The Count Begins". I cleverly called it that because I'll be screening a double feature of the first two screen adaptations of Bram Stoker's Dracula: the original 1922 Nosferatu, and the classic 1931 Universal film Dracula. I'll be joined by another great horror non-fiction author, Paul Bibeau--whose book Sundays with Vlad proves what a Dracula aficionado he is. I'm also working on scoring some live musical accompaniment for Nosferatu, which should be enthralling. And of course, what would a Dracula double feature be without some wine specials? After all, he may never drink it, but that doesn't mean we can't.

The good Doctor and myself.

Sharing the stage with our newly minted zombies.

So I hope you'll join me for the next BEDLAM AT THE BIJOU, coming up Thursday, November 15 at 7pm. If you love these movies, or want to discover them for the first time, I encourage you to come down to the Bijou Theatre. For more info, check out the Bijou website!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Nosferatu at 90: The Many Faces of Count Orlock!

Remember, kids! For more Nosferatu action, come to Bridgeport's Bijou Theatre on Thursday, November 15 and catch the original film as part of "The Count Begins", a BEDLAM AT THE BIJOU double feature also featuring the 1931 Universal Dracula...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bringing Bedlam to the Bijou!

It's no secret that I love movies. Especially horror movies. And like anyone who loves something, my greatest joy comes from sharing that love with others. As a horror movie buff, I've always wanted to host public screenings of classic fright flicks, and thanks to The Vault of Horror, that dream has been able to be realized.

Last month, I had the pleasure of taking to the stage for the very first time for special double feature at Bridgeport's historic Bijou Theatre. It was the kickoff for a little series I've entitled... Bedlam at the Bijou. If you've been following the Vault, you probably know a little bit about it. Maybe you were there. In any event, it's been serving for me as a sort of fifth anniversary celebration for the VoH (which officially blew out the candles last Sunday, by the way). And I can't think of a better way to celebrate such a milestone.

"Welcome to Bedlam at the Bijou!"
I had the pleasure, a few years ago, of hosting screenings at Stamford's Avon Theatre along with Captain Cruella--as part of the Avon's very cool Cult Classics series. However, that never afforded me the opportunity to do any kind of programming. This time, I'm running the show--picking the films, inviting guests, thinking up fun promotions. I'm grateful to all the fine folks at the Bijou for giving me carte blanche like this--and to the good Captain for brokering the deal with her wicked zombie influences!

Anyway, September 27 marked the start of Bedlam at the Bijou with "Nuclear Nightmares", a double feature of the original Gojira and the giant ant epic Them! It was a joy seeing both these gems on the big screen, and back-to-back, no less! I never realized how much they had in common until I picked them for this screening, and it was fun exploring those connections with a very eager audience. I was also blessed to be joined by none other than Hearst media film critic--and fellow uber movie geek--Joe Meyers, who was more than happy to expound on both films during a most engaging post-screening Q&A.

The Avon crew represents.
Big G does what he does best.
It made me proud to be able to stand there, before my friends, my parents, and my love, and blabber about classic horror. I consider myself privileged to have such an outlet, and I don't take it for granted! I sincerely hope that everyone who attended had a magnificent time being immersed in all the radioactive monster mayhem.

But it hardly ends there... Because next Thursday, October 25, the second installment of Bedlam at the Bijou will grip Bridgeport in its icy clutches. This time out, I'm hosting "The Undead Among Us", a double feature of White Zombie (the original zombie film) and The Last Man on Earth (the movie that inspired Night of the Living Dead). What better month than October to explore the origins of zombie cinema? Captain Cruella will be on hand to zombify our moviegoing guests, and there will even be a zombie costume contest. Plus, I'm joined by Stoker-award winning author Dr. Kim Paffenroth, who may be the world's only theologian/zombie expert.

Sharing the stage with the amazing Joe Meyer.
Once again, it will be a pleasure to celebrate the fifth anniversary of The Vault of Horror in such fashion, and share my love of the nightmares of the silver screen with a gaggle of like-minded enthusiasts. I hope you'll be among them. 

Whether you caught the first Bedlam at the Bijou or not, I encourage you to join me next Thursday night, October 25 at 7pm sharp! Check out the official website for more info, and read all about it at the Bijou blog!

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