Sunday, January 31, 2010

PRETTY - Premieres Tomorrow!


Yes - finally PRETTY, the new web series that I am one of the producers of - premieres tomorrow!. Visit prettytheseries.com for Episode 1!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

NIGHT OF THE DEMON

Here's a classic post from when I actually had time to watch movies.














Ever wonder what "Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes...and passing them used lots of skills" refers to in the song "Science Fiction Double Feature" from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW? Or the lyric "Its in the trees! Its coming!" from Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love"? Well look no further than 1957's NIGHT OF THE DEMON. And, oh what a night it is!













Directed by Jacques Tourneur, it all starts with a shot of some famous big rocks with some cryptic mumbo jumbo about evil and witchcraft and "the runes". (Runes were letterforms used to write Germanic languages before and shortly after the Christianization of the British Isles).











After our credit sequence where we learn that Dana Andrews is our star, we see an unknown man (not Dana) driving down a long, dark wooded road - he stops at an opulent mansion called Lufford Hall - it looks very much like a University building. We learn that this man is Professor Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham) and he's here to see Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Karswell's butler lies to Harrington and tells him that the man of the manor is not at home. Karswell then appears and he and Harrington go back and forth about some study that the Professor has been working on. Apparently something sinister has been uncovered and the Professor is frightened for his life. Karswell he just wants privacy for himself and his dedicated followers. The situation goes unresolved and the Professor leaves and gets in his car and drives away. He parks in his garage, when suddenly a GIANT smoke ball appears in the sky. So what does he do? He gets back in his car and drives directly into a telephone pole. Then a GIANT DEMON attacks him!!!

Meanwhile, Dana Andrews is flying to London (we know this because he is trying to sleep on the plane with a newspaper covering his face. The newspaper headline reads something like "Professor Holden Flies to London". I swear!) Unable to sleep because some woman behind him is fiddling with her meal tray - he asks a stewardess for a mask - she suggests he pop some pills instead. Drug pusher!!! The meal tray woman asks if she can change her seat because she realizes that she's annoying Dana. Too late, we're already half-way there. Wonder if the woman has a newspaper that says "Annoying Woman Flies to London"?

Professor Harrington has sent a driver to pick up Dana at the airport, but Dana is assaulted by reporters who want to know WHY he's in England. (Apparently tomorrow's headlines will tell everyone). He tells them he's here to debunk myths about things like ghosts, hypnotism, demonology, zombies, witchcraft, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, etc.. We then learn that Harrington is dead - reports say he was electrocuted! No mention of the Demon. Hmmm...

Dana arrives at his hotel and is greeted by some British guy and two other visiting professors - who we will call Harold and Kumar. Harold tells us that's he been doing research into Karswell's Devil Cult - and specifically the case of a farmer named Hobart who was arrested for murder and placed in a home for the criminally insane. Huh? Kumar just stands around looking very un-Indian. Then they show Dana a drawing of a fire demon. Not sure who drew it. Harold's kid maybe? Then the phone rings - it's Dr. Karswell (How did he get the number?) - he tells Dana in no uncertain terms to rethink his planned expose - or else!











Next Dana goes to the British Museum - but it turns out that a 400 year old book that he wants to see is suddenly missing. Of course, Karswell shows up and declares that he OWNS a copy of that very same book, he then invites Dana to his place in the country for a visit. Wink, wink. Dana tells him he'll visit alright, but he's not gonna stop his "investigation". Karswell then knocks over a pile of papers that Dana is working on and slips in one of his business cards. Only there is cryptic note on the card, which disappears after Dana reads it! Spooky stuff!

Next we are at Professor Harrington's funeral - and guess who shows up? The annoying chick from the plane! Turns out she's Joann Harrington (Peggy Cummins), the late professor's nosy neice. She soon pays Dana a "visit" in his hotel room - with her uncle's diary. The diary contains Runic symbols and because of this she believes that the professor was killed by witchcraft!!! Or maybe he just drove into a telephone poll?

The next day, Dana and Joann pay Karswell a visit - during a magic show that Karswell is putting on for the local (devil worshipping?) kids. We learn that Halloween is only a few days away. Mother Karswell (Athene Seyler) is scooping out ice cream for the kids (and Joann) while her son and Dana discuss the powers of the mind. Did I mention that Karswell is in full clown makeup? Suddenly two creepy kids in Halloween masks jump out at them. Scared the crap outta me!

To show dense Dana that he means business, Karswell waves his hand and removes a protective shield from around his estate. Suddenly a violent windstorm begins, totally ruining the Halloween party. Then Karswell predicts that Dana will die in three days!!! He tells Dana to drop his investigation if he wants to live!!! Dana says no. Huh?

Meanwhile Joann gets kindly Mother K. to show her a book of Runic symbols - which is pretty and all - but it doesn't come with a translation key. Karswell chastises his mother and tells her that they live so well because of his "followers". Okay - where are these so-called followers???

Next Dana and Joann flirt about "causes and effects" i.e. "penises and vaginas". Then paranoid Dana suspects he's being followed - must have something to do with those loud footsteps we keep hearing, no? Later Dana whistles an Irish dirge for Harold and Kumar and waxes on about auto-suggestion and mass hysteria. These guys really know how to have fun!!! Dana tells the guys he's giving a speech on ESP - but they discover that his notes have been torn out of his notebook!!! So, he decides to meet up with Joann "for a drink". ;)

Dana discovers that Karswell passed him "the runes" on a piece of parchment when they met at the museum. Now Dana is cursed and doomed to die - if he only believed in such nonsense! So, since he's only got about 48 hours left he decides to visit the Hobart farm, where he's greeted by an angry English hillbilly with a shovel. Mrs. Hobart invites Dana in to talk - and the rest of the creepy white trash Hobart clan comes out of the woodwork. They all look like sideshow freaks and talk like Yoda. He begs Mrs. Hobart to sign a piece of paper which allows her murderous son to be released from the mental hospital so Dana can try to "help" him. The parchment then tries to escape from Dana's wallet and Mrs. Hobart declares "he has been chosen!"

Then Dana visits Stonehenge and sees that the writing on his parchment (it's like a big fortune-cookie fortune) matches the Runic hieroglyphics on the stone wall. So then he takes a taxi to meet Joann who's been hanging with Karswell's mother. I think Mother K. is giving Joann some special attention - if you know what I mean. Turns out Mother K. is having a seance and wants Dana and Joann to sit in. The medium is then taken over by a) an American Indian chief, b) a certain Mr. McGregor, c) a little girl who lost her doll and finally, d) Joann's uncle - who tells then that Karswell has a translation of the Runic book! Huh???

So, Joann drives Dana to Karswell's mansion after Mother K. tells him that her son is not home - so Dana climbs up a trellis into a open window! The room is filled with dusty antiques and crap covered in sheets. Do people actually cover things with sheets in real life, or only in old movies? We see a hand on the bannister - but wait I thought no one was home? Then we see a black cat! Good thing Dana is not superstitious! Then he finds the translation book - but the cat turns into a leopard and attacks him! Then Karswell appears along with his mother (How the hell did she get home and change into her nightgown so quickly?). Guess Karswell was home after all, thanks Mom. Feeling foolish, Dana decides to walk to his hotel - through the woods. He is followed by smoky footprints and a smoke cloud. Oh no...so he trips and falls and the smoke gets sucked back into the sky! Okay, what the fuck?

So, now it's 3AM and Dana and Joann (where the hell has SHE been?) are at the police station to report the mysterious smoke. The cops are like "what have they been smoking?" They think that Dana is "bewitched". Dana tells Joann that he walks under ladders, cross paths with black cats - he's made a career out of exposing phony superstitions. This pisses her off for some reason. I think she's wishing she was nestled warmly in Mother K's bosom eating ice cream instead of hanging around Debbie Downer Dana.

The next morning, crazy killer farmer Hobart has been released from the asylum. Mother K. calls Joann and bullshits to her about not knowing about her son being home. Yeah, right. She also tells her that someone else knows about the secret of the parchment. Whatever - hey Momma, have any more ice cream? Wanna stay in tonight and rent DESERT HEARTS?

It's now nighttime already - the night that Dana is supposed to die. Joann gets in her car, but she's not alone!!! Meanwhile, crazy killer farmer Hobart is brought in front of a small audience. They surmise that crazy killer farmer Hobart has lost all contact with reality - so they shoot him up with some drug which makes him totally freak out. Dana then hypnotizes him and puts him to sleep in a deep trance - then they give him a dose of (believe it or not) crystal methamphetamine!!!

It's clearly the night of the Demon - when Hobart declares "Its in the trees! Its coming!" and then tells Dana that the parchment was passed to him and he gave it back to the person who passed it to him (his brother), and that person died instead of him. Basically it's like playing "hot potato". Then Hobart freaks out and jumps out a window to his death - very REEFER MADNESS.

SPOILERS AHEAD: So, Dana then rushes to the train station to confront Karswell - jumping on a moving train - he finds Karswell, who has hypnotized and kidnapped Joann. Dana desperately tries to pass the runes back to Karswell, but the guy is just not having it. Eventually it does get passed - but it gets blown out of Karswell's pocket - so he chases the parchment onto the railroad tracks - where it catches fire!!! Suddenly at the same time, BOTH a train AND a demon are headed towards him. The train misses him, but the demon gets him. Dana goes to look at Karswell's dead body - but tells Joann "It's better not to know".














Oh. My. God. I LOVED this movie. Can't tell you what it's about or what it all means, but it's just so atmospheric and interesting that it doesn't matter. Dana Andrews is fun to watch and the rest of the cast as well, even bitchy Joann grows on you after a while. I give it a 10 outta 10. But I wanna know what "prunes" has to do with it all. FYI - there is another version (the US edit) of the film called CURSE OF THE DEMON which is 20 minutes sorter. It's worth seeking out this version to get the full effect.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Screening Party the epilogue

For parts one, two and three please see earlier posts.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

JD Salinger 1919-2010

Screening Party part three

Here's the third part of SCREENING PARTY. For previous parts, see Tuesday and Wednesday's posts.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SCREENING PARTY part one

Here's part one (of four) of SCREENING PARTY, a comedy pilot based on the novel Screening Party by Dennis Hensley. I was one of the producers (through Velvet Candy Entertainment) as well as production designer and property master on this film festival favorite. (I even have cameo in part three as a bartender). The story goes like this: Six diverse friends get together to watch, skewer and celebrate the classic romantic comedy PRETTY WOMAN and discover that movies themes--sex, love, money, shopping--reverberate in their lives in unexpected, funny and occasionally touching ways. The pilot stars Ossie Beck, Nora Burns, Dennis Hensley, Felix Pire, Erin Quill and Tony Tripoli. Tune in for part two tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

James Mitchell 1920-2010

A Brief History of Shazam and Isis UPDATED

Here's a post from last year with some minor UPDATES.
Enjoy! The Marvel Family (Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr.) have always been among my favorite comic book characters. With their beginnings at Fawcett Comics in the 1940s, the trio (along with their friends and enemies) were put out of business in the 1950s when DC Comics won a lawsuit which claimed that Cap was a rip-off of Superman. With one magic word, SHAZAM! (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury) Boy reporter Billy Batson was transformed to Captain Marvel...and a sweater salesman. Not only were these sweaters BARGAINS - they were GUARANTEED and ONLY $2.95!
While Billy was selling cheap pullovers, sister Mary was "going green" - telling kids not to waste paper--for VICTORY!
Almost 20 years after DC silenced Billy, they decided to license (and eventually purchase) all the Marvel Family and Fawcett Comics characters - merging them into the DC Universe.Because Stan Lee's Marvel Comics Group appeared in the 1960s and launched an entirely different character named Captain Marvel, DC was not legally allowed to use the name "Captain Marvel" on the cover of any it's publications or merchandise.
Instead, the magic word SHAZAM became identified with the character - even though "Shazam" was also the name of the wizard that granted Billy his powers.The Filmation Saturday-morning TV series called SHAZAM introduced the good Captain to a new generation of fans (me included).
Though Mary and Cap Jr. only appeared in the comics. Mary also co-starred in this awesome Little Golden Book from the same period.
THE KID SUPER POWER HOUR WITH SHAZAM! brought Captain Marvel back in 1981, this time with Mary and Jr. in segments which were much more faithful to the comic book than the live action series had ever been.
The second season of the SHAZAM TV show welcomed a new character, ISIS into the Marvel Family.
Portrayed by Joanna Cameron, Isis was to Saturday mornings what Lynda Carter's WONDER WOMAN was to prime-time.Isis was also awarded her own DC Comic series.
Unfortunately she only got to meet Captain Marvel in one issue of the Shazam monthly book.
Isis was lucky enough to get her own Mego action figure ...
...a View-Master 3-reel presentation...
...a Golden Book...
...and eventually an animated segment called FREEDOM FORCE that was recycled on various Filmation long-form shows.
Both FREEDOM FORCE and SECRETS OF ISIS are now available on dvd.
Years later, the SHAZAM comic was relaunched by Roy Thomas and Tom Mandrake as A NEW BEGINNING.

The miniseries was not well-received, so Jerry Ordway was given a shot - and his POWER OF SHAZAM set the tone for The Marvel Family in the 1990s.
After the DC Universe's INFINITE CRISIS - Shazam the wizard was dead.
Isis was finally introduced into the DCU via 52 and quickly became a fan favorite as a love interest for Black Adam, Captain Marvel's nemesis. Unfortunately Isis (and her brother Osiris) died during the weekly megaseries. Soon Billy Batson lost his mojo and was chosen to take the wizard's place at the Rock of Eternity. Freddy Freeman (Cap Jr.) was promoted to Cap status - now calling himself "Shazam" in a terrible miniseries called TRIALS OF SHAZAM.
Meanwhile, sweet Mary Marvel turned bad girl in COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS
and became truly evil during the controversial FINAL CRISIS miniseries!

Thankfully recent events in JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA reset things for The Marvel Family.
Shazam (the wizard) is back, Billy and Mary are normal again, Isis was returned to life (though both her and Black Adam are now stone statues - as recorded in JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA). Billy and Mary recently made cameos in POWER OF SHAZAM # 48 (a one-issue revival that ties into DC's mega BLACKEST NIGHT blockbuster).
In this issue, the Batsons are still powerless and Black Adam and Isis are still stone statues. Isis' brother Osiris was briefly returned to life as a zombie Black Lantern in a final bid to die a hero. As for Freddy, he can now be seen in the soon-to-be concluded LEAGUE: CRY FOR JUSTICE miniseries. This fan hopes that Billy, Mary, Freddy, Adam and Isis will return again soon to new adventures in the DC Universe.
Jeff Smith's Monster Society of Evil miniseries and the ongoing Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam all-ages series harken back to the Marvel Family that longtime fans love.
What the future holds for Cap, Mary, Freddy, Adam and Isis remains to be seen. Marvel Family fans pray to the gods (Roman, Greek and Egyptian) that their glory days are yet to be seen.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rainy Day Movie : THE BEGUILED

When people talk about their favorite Clint Eastwood film, they usually list DIRTY HARRY, a spaghetti western or one of the "important" films that he's made in recent years. My favorite is
THE BEGUILED, which I first reviewed here two years ago. Part Civil War epic, part baroque melodrama, part dirty soap opera, part gothic horror movie, part gender politics study and part Brothers Grimm fairy tale: THE BEGUILED (directed by Don Siegel) stars Clint Eastwood in his most intriguing and unusual role since he was elected mayor of Carmel, Ca.


















After the requisite montage of real Civil War atrocities via sepia-tinted black and white photos...we arrive somewhere in Louisiana during the last days of the Civil War. Eastwood is John McBurney, a Yankee soldier who is near death after falling out of a tree. My guess is that he was hiding up there when he was shot.

A 12 year old girl named Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin, Edna Unger from TV's ODD COUPLE) is out picking mushrooms and discovers his severely wounded body. They talk, exchange names and cell phone numbers, and just before the girl helps him to stand, he tells her she's "old enough to kiss a man" and pulls her down beside him and gives her a long, hard kiss on the mouth. Huh??? She's confused, but happy. I'm confused and kinda grossed out. She then drags him to the mansion on a old plantation that serves as an all-girls school, where "McB" slowly regains his health under the care of sexually repressed headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) and the horny girl students who live there. Sort of like when Blair first dragged Jo back to the Eastland school where sexually repressed Mrs. Garrett welcomed her with open arms.













Martha puts her skeptical slave Hallie in charge of washing him...above and below the waist! We are treated to hints of incest when Hallie dresses him in Martha's brother's shirt. Afraid of being turned over to the rebel forces, McB behaves like a polite and appreciative guest, after all he is a Quaker! As he gets healthier, he begins to charm (or beguile if you may) the love-starved students.

Soon the girls begin to vie for his affections, at first we think he's actually falling for virginal teacher Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman), but he seems to be inspiring jealousy among some of the others. This reminds me of Tatum O'Neal and Kristie McNichol both going after Matt Dillon in LITTLE DARLINGS. When one of the spurned girls tries to turn McB over to the Confederate army, Martha comes to his defense, claiming that he's her cousin from Texas. When McB tries to "thank" the headmistress for offering him a permanent residence at the school as the groundskeeper (replacing her brother) we witness a full flashback of Martha and and her lusty sibling getting it on. Donny and Marie Osmond they are not!

Following this we are then treated to Martha's wine-induced dream sequence, an eerie montage of McB frolicking with both Martha and Edwina, ending with a lesbian-tinged three-way that transforms itself into a painting of The Pieta. I swear...McB then gets to suck the nipple of one of the slutty girls - teenaged hussy Carol - leading to a an altercation with an enraged Edwina which ends with McB at the foot of the long circular staircase with a newly re-wounded leg. The battle of the sexes has begun!

SPOILERS START HERE. Martha has the girls harness him up and tie him to the dining room table- and announces that she plans to cut off his leg before it becomes infected with gangrene. What follows is some pretty brutal stuff, involving blood, knives, a saw, bloody hands, sweat, facial close-ups, more blood, blurry faces, a sweaty slave, more blood - you name it...













Clint flips out when he wakes up the next day without a leg, and he's now a prisoner rather than a welcomed guest. Amy tells McB that she loves him and he loves her back. I think she's 13 now. Somehow McB gets his hands on a gun - and now he has the upper hand...but only one leg!

After he threatens Hallie, we flashback to her being raped by Martha's brother. Charming fellow. McB then discovers the wine cellar, then he interrupts the girl's lunch with a drunken rant...and news that he has discovered love letters between Martha and her brother! When Amy tries to lighten things up, he flings her pet turtle across the room, killing it!!! Huh? After this hysteria, Martha convinces sweet, innocent Amy to put down the bloody turtle and gather up some yummy mushrooms for the evening's dinner.

At dinner, McB apologizes for his drunken behavior, leads the table in prayer and and announces his intention to marry Edwina, but it is too late...he's been poisoned by Amy's mushrooms!!! Clint realizes this and slowly gets up from the table and struggles to leave the room. Martha demands that the girls leave him be and finish their dinner. They do. He tumbles to the ground off camera and dies. Next the girls wrap up his body and carry it outside the gate to dump it. The end.













This movie is brilliant. I'm not much of an Eastwood fan, but between this and PLAY MISTY FOR ME, I gotta say - he really knew how to pick 'em back them. Great acting from Clint, Page and Hartman also set this film apart from the pack. THE BEGUILED gets a big 10 outta 10 in my book. In an odd coincidence, two of the actresses, Elizabeth Hartman and Geraldine Page, died in the same week. Hartman died on June 10, 1987 after jumping out of an 5-story window in an apparent suicide. Page died on June 13, 1987 of a heart attack. Sad.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy 'Dougsploitation Diva' Birthday to Dolly Parton!


As a birthday tribute to the ultimate Dougsploitation diva (she turns 64 today!) here's a rerun of a post from a few years ago.













In August of 2008, less than a week after a 5.4 earthquake hit Los Angeles, there suddenly came another unstoppable, unexplainable force of nature - Miss Dolly Parton, performing at the Greek Theater!!!


















In all the years that I've been a Dolly fan, I always managed to somehow miss her live shows. Well, this time I was not gonna let her get away.










Finally, 32 years after I first discovered Dolly on her first variety series, (the syndicated DOLLY, which aired Saturday nights at 7:30PM on Channel 5 WNEW Metromedia in New York from 1976-77) I was finally going to see her perform LIVE!














Well, perform is an understatement because Dolly transcends just about any other performer I've ever seen (well, maybe not kd lang or Liza, but pretty damn close). It's hard to describe what exactly it is about her. Maybe it's her angelic voice, her honest folksy charm, her self-deprecating humor, her sweet homespun storytelling, her ability to play almost any instrument, her heartfelt songwriting or her endless energy and devotion to making her audience happy. Dolly gave us exactly what we wanted: the best of her old hits, a sampling of her new stuff and enough crowd-pleasing antics to keep almost everyone entertained. What's not to love?















Suffice to say, I had a great time, despite the two drunken dancing lesbians who partially impaired my view and the elderly couple who sat in front of me completely stone-faced with their arms crossed the entire show. They looked like they were trapped in hell! I guess their daughter bought them tickets and they thought it was going to be an all-Republican audience. They really seemed annoyed when Dolly made fun of McCain's age. The rest of the crowd was a mix of drunk gays, drunk lesbians and drunk white trash - much like Dolly herself.













Over the years, I've enjoyed most of Dolly's recordings and TV appearances. Her films 9 TO 5 (which became an awesome stage musical) and BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (see my review here) are great fun to watch. STRAIGHT TALK would have been better without the wooden James Woods. I remember liking STEEL MAGNOLIAS, but not enough to ever see it again. Maybe someday.













I've never seen RHINESTONE, a situation I need to rectify soon. (UPDATE: I watched it since this original post. No comment.)


















I also regret never watching her one-season 1987 ABC variety hour, also called DOLLY. Not sure why I avoided it, but I recall the critics being pretty harsh. Hopefully this series will turn up on dvd one day.











I've carried this Dolly Dollar in my wallet for 8 years (NOTE: 10 years now) since my trip to Dollywood, it reminds me that somewhere out there among the Red States is a "dry county" where large women and their inexplicably handsome husbands suck down fried green tomatoes while riding rickety rollercoasters and listening to a cacophony of Dolly 's greatest hits. My favorite memory of my trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn. is visiting a supermarket, where I saw a one-armed man carrying an oversize package of diapers with his one arm, while smoking a cigarette. I thought to myself - that's real dedication.

















Anyways, back to Dolly. She looked great, sounded fantastic and was full of so positive energy, it was almost a spiritual experience. Of course she told many of the same breast and plastic surgery jokes we've been hearing her tell for years - but as long as she tells 'em, we'll be laughing with her. The best joke of the evening was when asked "What would you like for people to say about you 100 years from now?" Her reply was "Damn, she looks good!" I Love Dolly Parton!













PS - A compilation of episodes of DOLLY (the 1976-77 version) is now available on dvd from MPI Video as DOLLY PARTON & FRIENDS. Also, a great (and positively creepy) documentary about obsessive Dolly fans called FOR THE LOVE OF ONLY is worth seeing. I swear I am not one of the fans profiled.