Retro Linkage – 7/18/2014

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Steve Sailer has just been knocking it out of the park this week by observing current retro phenomena though his dissident-right-colored 3D glasses.  I tried to re-post links to his blogs several times, but he just kept cranking out more.

Back in the 1950s, impresarios tried all sorts of upgrades to get people to stop watching free TV at home and pay to sit in a movie theater, such as color movies, widescreen formats, 3D, and Smell-o-Vision. That’s all coming back, although American theaters are lagging. One reason for those huge overseas box office totals this summer is because more and more foreigners are paying premiums to watch movies in new “immersive” theaters with power seats.

This immediately reminded me of another Retro in the 90s post that I need to write, Matinee (1993).  This period comedy was directed by Joe Dante and starred John Goodman as a 1950s independent schlock filmmaker in the mold of William Castle.  Castle was infamous for gimmicks, such as giving each customer to his first film, Macabre (1958), a certificate for a life insurance policy in case he or she died from fright during the movie.  Even better, Castle installed vibrating motors from military surplus airplane wing de-icers in theater seats during screenings of The Tingler (1959), starring Vincent Price.  Matinee (1993) paid tribute to Castle’s theatrical chicanery with the fictional film-within-a-film, Mant!  The gag is revealed at about 1:10 in the trailer below.

Did Steve Jobs singlehandedly bring back Shiny Box Modernism?  Did we forget why we got tired of it the first time? Did they invent some new window-washing robot that makes it affordable to keep it looking spiffy?  One odd thing about Ventura Blvd., however, is that a supermarket looking like an Apple Store is actually a locally sensitive retro throwback to the venerable indigenous architectural style of the San Fernando Valley, Googie.

While much of Apple’s marketing involves touting their products’ streamlined and futuristic designs, the concept is hardly new.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times, the idea of a bright, shining, sparkling future was most perfectly manifested in Mid-Century Modern (aka Googie) architecture.  Chris Jepsen at Spaceagecity.com has been making this point for well over a decade.

Googie architecture and design was art that told a story. The story had many variations, but its general plot was always something like this:

Man left his caves and grass huts and through hard work and ingenuity has built an amazing modern world. Tomorrow he will conquer any remaining problems and colonize the rest of the galaxy. However, for all his achievements and modern science man will never lose touch with the natural world and his noble roots.

It would behoove all retro-philes and architecture junkies to spend some time perusing his site, Googie Architecture Online.  In my opinion, Mid-Century Modern is not only the perfect combination of form and function.  It goes much deeper than that, it works on many symbolic, and dare I say it spiritual levels.   Architecture reflects the culture that created it, and tells its story.  This is intuitive to most people when they view the Pyramids, Stonehenge, the ruins of Ancient Greece and Rome, Easter Island, and the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe.  The culture that spawned Mid-Century Modern architecture was comprised of a confident, competent, ambitious and optimistic people.  This was the culture that knew hardship, grew up during the depression, yet won WWII, emerged as a super power, and would soon put a man on the moon.  The spirit of that culture was as fearless as it was beautiful.  Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of it.

This review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) proves once again why Steve Sailer is my favorite film critic, second only to Joe Bob Briggs.  I don’t want to take anything out of context or ruin any of the surprises, so you’re going to have to read the whole review.  It’s worth it alone for this solid gold nugget of trivia about Sammy Davis Jr.

It’s not just me who sees the Planet franchise as traditionally being an allegory about blacks and whites.  Sammy Davis Jr. considered the original Planet of the Apes the best film ever about black-white relations, and is said to have enshrined the eight-foot-tall prop statue of the primordial primate Lawgiver in his Beverly Hills backyard.  (After Sammy died $5 million in debt to the IRS, the feds foreclosed upon the fiberglass figurine and auctioned it off for $2,500.)

In the first Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston, the ultimate white man, is thrown into a world where monkeys are the Man and he is reduced to the status of an angry black radical. In Rod Serling’s screenplay, gorillas are the Irish cops, orangutans the conservative WASP ruling class, and chimpanzees the liberal Jewish intellectuals who are Heston’s only hope.

Two thoughts spring to mind;

1. I wonder what the rest of the Rat Pack thought about Planet of the Apes (1968)?  Can’t you just picture Sammy, Dino and Sinatra, glasses of scotch in one hand and cigarettes in the other, sitting around some swanky Vegas lounge discussing the flick?  Oh, to have been a fly on that wall.

2. If we could just convince Steve to start adding dead body and breast counts to his reviews like Joe Bob, all other film critics would be rendered useless.

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008. The Reverend Horton Heat – Liquor In The Front

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Elvis Costello once said that, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture – it’s really a stupid thing to want to do.”  Yet, somehow music journalists have always found the wherewithal to scrawl volumes of Tolstoy-length pieces on almost anyone with a microphone or guitar.  Thus, it absolutely boggled my mind that so little had been written about rockabilly virtuoso James “The Reverend Horton Heat” Heath and his merry men.  You, dear reader, know darned well that I enjoy doing my homework and digging deep into the subject matter behind each post.  How else can one wring meaning from a topic like blood from a stone?  This due diligence not only reflects my commitment to intellectual honesty, but often leads to the blogger’s delight of the posts virtually writing themselves.  Thus, I was confused, befuddled and kind of appalled to see that no one had given The Reverend Horton Heat’s 1994 masterpiece, Liquor in the Front, sufficient consideration, much less a proper analysis.  Even the All Music Guide’s snippet of an entry led me to believe that their reviewer just didn’t get it.

Needless to say, this post certainly did not write itself, and I was forced to utilize the Charles Bukowski method of getting drunk and listening to the album whilst writing.  Fortunately, this technique cured my writer’s block, and all things considered, I’ve certainly had worse evenings.  Regardless, the criminal under-appreciation of Liquor In The Front and dearth of thoughtful examination seemed even more egregious due to the weighty amount of personal significance that I placed on this album.  Yes, this was personal.  For The Reverend Horton Heat’s Liquor in the Front was the first album that metaphorically grabbed me by the lapels and hollered in my face, its’ breath pungent with the juniper-and-lime-infused stench of one thousand gin and tonics, “YOU HAVE MISSED AN INCREDIBLE AND VERY SUBSTANTIAL PORTION OF THE HISTORY OF ROCK AND ROLL!  REPENT, MOTHER****ER, FOR THE END IS NIGH!”

  1. “Big Sky”
  2. “Baddest of the Bad”
  3. “One Time for Me”
  4. “Five-O Ford”
  5. “In Your Wildest Dreams”
  6. “Yeah, Right”
  7. “Crusin’ for a Bruisin'”
  8. “I Could Get Used to It”
  9. “Liquor, Beer & Wine”
  10. “I Can’t Surf”
  11. “Jezebel”
  12. “Rockin’ Dog”
  13. “The Entertainer”

Liquor In The Front (surreptitiously subtitled… Poker In The Rear) was jointly released by both Sub Pop and Interscope Records, as the band was transitioning between contracts and labels.  This was a very interesting juxtaposition, as Sub Pop was an independent label verging on major label status, and Interscope (which I covered earlier with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) was a major label posing as an independent.  In the early 90s, Seattle-based Sub Pop was known as THE grunge label, having signed and introduced the world to the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, long before they were considered cool.  Sub Pop also released the first two Reverend Horton Heat albums, Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em and The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat in 1990 and 1993, respectively.  Interscope heard something they liked, and added The Reverend Horton Heat to their ample stable of potential next big things. 

The sudden injection of major label dollars to the album enabled both prettier production and packaging than the Rev’s previous projects, which was entirely expected from any de facto major label debut.  The production was handled by Al Jourgensen of Ministry fame.  Prior to Liquor In The Front, modern rockabilly, psychobilly and surf rock albums were intentionally lo-fi, either due to budget constraints or an artistic decision to pay homage to the recording technology of earlier decades.  Jourgensen was renowned for pioneering what at the time were considered avant-garde and cutting edge engineering techniques used mostly, if not only, within the industrial genre.  However, rather than trying to make Liquor In The Front sound like The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, Jourgensen simply produced a fantastic sounding album, by bringing Jim Heath’s raging Gretsch guitar front and center, and then surrounding it with crystal clear drums and bright upright bass.  If one concentrated, one could hear every note played by each musician on every song.  This is one of the primary reasons why Liquor In The Front appealed to fans of alternative rock, grunge, metal and hardcore.  Instead of making the 90s equivalent of an old, worn out, scratchy LP, he made one that sounded every bit as good and clear as any other record of the era.

Liquor In The Front started off with what in my opinion was the greatest opening one-two punch in the history rock and roll; “Big Sky” and “Baddest of the Bad”.  One could easily argue that they were one epic song, with “Big Sky” serving as an extended introduction then transitioning seamlessly into “Baddest of the Bad”.  (To lend further credence to this assertion, the band always played both songs back to back during live sets.)  Musically, “Big Sky” was a western-tinged psychobilly instrumental played with the velocity, intensity and technical proficiency of speed metal.  The minor-chord progressions and riffs were similar to those found in western swing and countless spaghetti western soundtracks, complete with copious reverb twang.  Somehow the songs managed to incorporate metallic double kick drum, blast beats and blistering guitar solos without losing even a hint of that cowboy/greaser aesthetic.  While Elvis Costello was right, and it’s exceedingly difficult… and stupid… to even attempt to describe the feelings music elicits, I’m too dumb to know when I’m beaten.  Thus, “Big Sky” evoked emotions associated with magnificent multicolored sunsets over desert canyons, herds of wild mustangs running at top speed whilst kicking up clouds of dust, mysterious and tragically beautiful women whom you’ll never even know, and moments in time that are gone forever.  Whether or not you believed in Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, “Big Sky” seemed to capture the archetypal sense of regret found in the dark recesses of the American psyche.  “Have we strayed too far from our roots?  Have we lost something vital?  Is it too late to get it back?  Such is the fundamental essence of the siren call of all things retro.  Oh, and you could totally mosh to it.  “Baddest of the Bad” carried on with the basic sonic structure laid down by “Big Sky”, only altering itself slightly to accommodate the Reverend’s lyrics about love gone rotten.  At first listen, it seemed impossible to believe that something so melancholy could kick so much ass?  Yet, verily, it did.

“One Time For Me” started off moody, slow and sexy, thus providing the perfect background to the Rev’s lyrical plea for some special girl to do something especially naughty.  The song’s momentum built and eventually climaxed at punk rock warp speed.  Unfortunately, “One Time For Me” was only released as a CD single in Australia.  As for the reason, I can only surmise that the bastard public had better taste down under?  “5.0 Ford” was crafted around a riff that sounded like “Hot Rod Lincoln” on a heavy dose of steroids and amphetamines.  The lyrical content revolved around the most conspicuously rockabilly of all topics; drag racing one’s hot rod.

At this point, Liquor In The Front downshifted dramatically with the exotic and lounge-worthy “In Your Wildest Dreams”.  The right Reverend’s romantic crooning along with the bossa nova rhythm would not have been out of place on a Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra record.  A recurring theme of all things retro in the 90s was “initiation through ironic distance”, and this song was a perfect example.  At the time I first heard this album, I wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to jazz, Latin or otherwise, but eventually I became acclimated to the intentionally schmaltzy “In Your Wildest Dreams”.  After I stopped chuckling, sat down and listened, it wasn’t long before I was buying up Ultra-Lounge compilations like there was no tomorrow.

“Yeah, Right” upshifted into sludgy, mid-tempo I-IV-V blues progression backed by a hybrid industrial/surf beat and lyrics about a wannabe model who done the Reverend wrong.  In all fairness, “Yeah, Right”, with its slightly distorted vocals and mechanical drum sound was the only track on Liquor In The Front bearing any of the hallmarks of producer Al Jourgensen’s beloved industrial genre.  Regardless, no one would have ever mistaken it for a Nine Inch Nails outtake.

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“Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’” shifted the album back into high gear, with a psychobilly barn burner which centered around defending one’s girl, car and guitar in no particular order.  Lyrically, in an era that was renowned for alt rock wimps, it was refreshing to hear a band other than Pantera threaten to kick someone’s ass.  “I Could Get Used To It” was a very traditional and raucous rockabilly tune about a fine, fine woman.  “Just one taste and that’s all it took.  I’m like a big bass on your fishin’ hook.”  It should go without saying that popular grunge bands of the early 90s like Alice In Chains didn’t make many bass fishing references.

The album switched gears yet again, with the unapologetically country “Liquor, Beer & Wine”.  Much like the lounge-influenced “In Your Wildest Dreams”, “Liquor, Beer & Wine” again strategically implemented “initiation through ironic distance”.  At the time I first heard this album, I wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to country or western, but there was no turning back after being confronted with sheer brilliance such as this, “The doctor says I’m livin’ on precious borrowed time, with all the time I’m givin’ to liquor, beer and wine.  The x-rays of my liver look like molded old Swiss cheese, my heart pumps blood and alcohol through hardened arteries.”  Soundgarden only dreamt of such eloquence.  After I stopped laughing, sat down and listened, it wasn’t long before I started checking out all those old Johnny Cash albums that my Grammy always insisted I’d like.

Aside from a couple of chanted gang choruses, “I Can’t Surf” was an instrumental tour de force of everything that was wonderful about surf rock; speed, intensity, minor key riffs, crawling bass lines, middle-eastern-sounding scales, and reverb galore.  I hadn’t been so floored by a guitar solo since the first time I heard “Battery” off of Metallica’s Master of Puppets.  Aside from the virtuosity, “I Can’t Surf” was a track that made many an aspiring musician ask themselves, “Where the hell did these guys learn to play like that?!?  What phenomenal influences have I overlooked?  If I really wanted to write a song like that, could I even do it?”  Listening to this track was simultaneously inspiring and humbling.

“Jezebel” was an amped up version of Frankie Laine’s 1951 hit, which had been covered by everyone from Desi Arnaz and The Everly Brothers to Herman’s Hermits and Sade.  The melody, though both moody and vaguely exotic, lent itself readily to the band’s muscular musical style.  Obviously, this was the most authentically retro track on the album, hearkening back to a tale of man’s ruin from the Old Testament.  “Rockin’ Dog” was another traditionally crafted mid-tempo rockabilly tune about the Rev battling his reputation as a womanizer whilst attempting to overcome his date’s last minute resistance.  The entire song is riddled with enough antiquated Happy Days slang and righteous rockabilly guitar work to make both The Fonz and Bill Haley green with envy.  The self-assured and good-natured humor of the song stood in stark contrast to the mopey alternative rock that pervaded the airwaves of the day.  If one lyrically compared The Smashing Pumpkins“Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage” with The Reverend Horton Heat’s “I’ve got to stop sittin’ like a bump on a log, I’ve got a reputation as a rockin’ dog”, it was immediately clear to the listener with which band one would rather split a bar tab.  The album closed with sixty-six seconds of Scott Joplin’s classic piano rag “The Entertainer”, and the band acting like drunken jackasses in the studio.  It was one thing to finish an album with a smile on your face, but quite another to finish an album laughing like an idiot.

In conclusion, The Reverend Horton Heat’s Liquor In The Front purveyed a variety of retro musical styles including rockabilly, country, surf and lounge.  Al Jourgensen’s stellar engineering and production made the album eminently listenable to a generation raised on cassettes and CDs.  These factors combined with the band’s outstanding musicianship and novel sense of humor made for an extremely potent and enjoyable gateway drug.  From that gateway, the listener could travel freely through a virtual universe of previously undiscovered audio retro delights.  Subjectively, one could make an argument that Liquor In The Front may not have been the best neo-rockabilly album of the 90s, or even the best Reverend Horton Heat album of the 90s.  Yet, attempting to quantify such a statement would be “like dancing about architecture”.  I think it’s sufficient to say that in the 90s there were many available gateways into retro forms of music.  But after walking through this particular gateway, I never looked back.

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TV CASUALTY – 7/1/2014

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I’m a lazy slacker and I was going to take the summer off of bloggin’, but there are so many outstanding and obscure drive-in-worthy flicks on the tube this month that if I let you miss them, I’d have to kick my own ass on general principle.  There’s stuff playing that I’ve never seen.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, one can’t understand meta-retro without first understanding retro.  Thus, I, Gunnar von Cowtown, your humble narrator, will continue to peruse the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) schedule and other basic cable listings to highlight all the classic Horror, Monster, Sci-Fi and Cult films from the Golden Age of American cinema that regularly resurfaced throughout the 1990s.  Tune in, turn on, and veg out!  

TUESDAY, JULY 1, 2014

  • 8:00 PM The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) – TCM
    Not the 1923 version starring Lon Chaney Sr., but still worth watching

WEDNESDAY, JULY 2, 2014

  • 4:30 AM The Raven (1963) – TCM
    Roger Corman directs Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson in this Edgar Allen Poe adaptation

SATURDAY, JULY 5, 2014

  • 12:00 PM Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) – TCM
    Allison Hayes stars in this drive-in classic which arguably generated the best movie poster of all time
  • 10:00 PM The Invisible Woman (1940) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts a screwball comedy loosely based on the work of H.G. Wells

SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014

  • 12:00 PM Viva Las Vegas (1964) – TCM
    Elvis & Ann-Margaret vs. Sin City

Ray Harryhausen Double Feature on TCM!

  • 8:00 PM Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
  • 10:00 PM The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

SATURDAY, JULY 12, 2014

  • 12:00 PM Queen of Outer Space (1958) – TCM
    I’m so gaga for Zsa Zsa
  • 10:00 PM Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) – MeTV
    Svengoolie vs. my favorite Universal Monster

SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2014

  • 12:00 PM The Wasp Woman (1959) – TCM
    Another high quality Roger Corman Bee movie
  • 10:00 PM Svengoolie – Revenge of The Creature (1955)
    The second entry in Universal’s Creature From The Black Lagoon trilogy.  If you’ve never seen this one, make sure you do it now.  Outstanding.
  • 3:45 AM Tentacles (1977) – TCM
    Nothing goes better at 3 AM than a giant octopus flick

SUNDAY, JULY 20, 2014

  • 2:15 PM His Girl Friday (1940) – TCM
    Cary Grant being awesome

MONDAY, JULY 21, 2014

  • 5:00 PM I Married A Witch (1942) – TCM
    Gratuitous Veronica Lake
  • 6:30 PM The Ghost Goes West (1936) – TCM
    The horror comedy Ed Wood wishes he made

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23, 2014

  • 8:00 Bullitt (1968) – TCM
    Steve McQueen’s 2nd best film

SATURDAY, JULY 26, 2014

  • 10:00 PM The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts the thrilling conclusion to the Creature trilogy.
  • 12:45 AM The Mummy (1932) – TCM
  • The Boris Karloff classic!  “Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?”
  • 2:15 AM Spider Baby (1964) – TCM
    I’ve literally been waiting for years to see this obscure cult horror gem that influenced Rob Zombie and Mike Patton

SUNDAY, JULY 27, 2014

  • 2:00 PM The Blackboard Jungle (1955) – TCM
    The first film to ever feature a rock n’ roll soundtrack
  • 4:00 PM Rebel Without a Cause (1955) – TCM
    Obligatory James Dean
  • 8:00 PM Cat People (1942) – TCM
  • 9:30 PM The Curse of the Cat People (1944) – TCM

Good luck facing yourself in the mirror if you forget to set the DVR.

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TV CASUALTY – 6/3/2014

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There are enough vintage sci-fi, retro horror, and film noir flicks on display this June to choke a donkey.  My only regret is that we can’t all watch them together at the drive-in.  Speaking of which, you may want to double check your basic cable package to see if EPIX Drive-In has been added.  It is ridiculously awesome with megatons of B-movie horror, giant monster, sci-fi, blaxploitation and regular ol’ exploitation films.  As a result, my day time narcolepsy has never been worse.

TUESDAY, JUNE 03, 2014 - The Final Frontier on TCM

  • 8:00 PM 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • 10:45 PM Alien (1979)
  • 1:00 AM Destination Moon (1950)
  • 2:30 AM Marooned (1969)
  • 4:45 AM Queen of Outer Space (1958)
    Starring the lovely and talented Zsa Zsa Gabor in some prime MST3k bait

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 04, 2014

  • 8:00 PM She (1965) – TCM

SATURDAY, JUNE 7, 2014

  • The Shadow of the Cat (1961) – MeTv
    Svengoolie vs Hammer Films all this month!

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11, 2014

  • 12:00 AM The Wild Bunch (1969) – TCM
    Allegedly this is one of the most awesomely violent westerns ever made.  Tarantino and Joe Bob Briggs are huge fans.

THURSDAY, JUNE 12, 2014

  • 11:45 PM Giant (1956) – TCM
    Obligatory James Dean

FRIDAY, JUNE 13, 2014 – Retro Horror Double Feature on TCM

  • 3:15 PM Dementia 13 (1963)
  • 4:45 PM 13 Ghosts (1960)

SATURDAY, JUNE 14, 2014

  • 4:00 PM The Misfits (1961) – TCM
    Starring Marilyn Monroe…..I covered this one here.
  • 10:00 PM The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) – MeTV
    Svengoolie + Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein = #winning

FRIDAY, JUNE 20, 2014 – Film Noir on TCM

  • 6:00 AM The Thin Man (1934)
  • 7:45 AM The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • 9:30 AM The Big Sleep (1946)

SATURDAY, JUNE 21, 2014

  • 1:45 PM Ocean’s Eleven (1960) – TCM
    The Rat Pack original
  • 4:00 PM Bullitt (1968) – TCM
    Steve McQueen, muscle cars, crime, jazz
  • 10:00 PM The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts this outstanding Hammer horror film starring Oliver Reed

SUNDAY, JUNE 22, 2014 – Giant Monsters on TCM

  • 8:00 PM Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
  • 9:45 PM Mighty Joe Young (1949)

MONDAY, JUNE 23, 2014

  • 5:15 PM The Devil’s Bride (1968) – TCM
    This is probably my favorite Hammer Horror film, ever.  Starring Christopher Lee and inspiring Danzig videos.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 25, 2014

  • 12:45 AM The Hoodlum (1951) – TCM
    Lawrence Tierney goin’ all gangsta long before Reservoir Dogs (1992).

SATURDAY, JUNE 28, 2014

  • 4:15 PM Five Million Years To Earth (1968) – TCM
  • 10:00 PM The Brides of Dracula (1960) – MeTV

Pin-up-TV

 

 

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007(B). All Things Godzilla

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Note: This post is the conclusion to previously published 007(A) – Remedial Godzilla Studies.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but during the 1990s Godzilla was everywhere.  Although it’s difficult to quantify this assertion, I can vividly remember being able to walk into any corporately or independently owned bookstore or gift shop and picking from a virtual cornucopia of Godzilla merchandise.  These magnets, t-shirts, coffee mugs and assorted knickknacks mostly brandished the image of the original movie poster from Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956). Additionally, I will cover in depth, the myriad Godzilla toys, video games and pop-culture parodies, which were simply ubiquitous during the fin de siècle.  Yet, the question remains…. Why?

As I mentioned previously, in the collective mind of Generation X, Godzilla held a unique status as something simultaneously retro, nostalgic and currently active.  In post 007(A) – Remedial Godzilla Studies, I described the legacy of the Godzilla franchise beginning in 1954.  If we go by the accepted definition of retro as a culturally outdated or aged style, trend, mode, or fashion, from the overall post-modern past, then the giant green guy is certainly retro.  Similarly, if we go by the accepted definition of nostalgia as a wistful desire to return to a former time in one’s life, then the feelings of Gen X-ers towards Godzilla were also nostalgic.  The difference being that one cannot feel nostalgia for something one did not directly experience.  While many of us loved Elvis Presley, for instance, he wasn’t part of our childhood as he was part of the Baby Boomers’ childhood and early adolescence.  Moreover, an affinity toward Elvis was nostalgia to the boomers, but retro to Generation X.  However, due to toys, cartoons, and syndicated UHF stations, Godzilla was part of our childhoods.  Additionally, Toho studios continued to produce Godzilla films well into the 1990s.  Although they weren’t widely available in the United States, there was a cursory awareness of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995).

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By 1994 one could walk into a national chain toy store such as Toys R’ Us and select from a plethora of Godzilla action figures.  TrendmastersGodzilla: King of the Monsters series released a full line of Godzilla toys falling into several subcategories.

  • Micro Playsets – The playsets came in a Godzilla head that opened to reveal a battleground city where two 1” daikaiju could throw down (Example: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah in San Francisco).
  • Bendables – Rubber coated bendable, pose-able action figures ranging from 4.5” to 6”.
  • Hatching Monsters – These 2” figures came with an egg and a trading card
  • Battle Packs – A set of two 4” figures (Godzilla vs Rodan, Godzilla vs Mothra, etc.) and the respective trading cards
  • Battle Action Playset – These 6” figures often came packaged with tiny tanks and tinier green army guys
  • Giant Action Figure – These 10” figures featured each monster’s unique and terrifying roar, and came packaged with their own comic book

Trendmasters dug deep into the Godzilla mythos to produce a wide variety of daikaiju toys including Godzilla (regular and “Supercharged”), Rodan, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Mecha-King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, Gigan, Biollante and Battra.  Perhaps the best value buy was the 40th anniversary collector’s edition that contained four-inch figures of each of the aforementioned gargantuan B-movie monsters.  Obviously, Godzilla: King of the Monsters action figures commandeered a substantial amount of a toy retailer’s available shelf space.  In 1995, Trendmasters released their Godzilla Wars line, adding Anguirus, Baragon, Megalon, M.O.G.U.E.R.A , Varan, and the almighty SpaceGodzilla to the mix, which often left retro-minded consumers paralyzed by an overwhelming number of ridiculously awesome choices.  (For more information on the specifics of these toy lines, I highly recommend checking out Club Tokyo, as they’ve done all the research and dirty work already.)

Since children in the target demographic for these toys would have, at best, just been born at the time the last Godzilla film was released in the United States (Godzilla 1985), it made one wonder for whom were these toys being manufactured?  This was one of the more bizarre micro-trends of the 1990s; action figures primarily designed for serious collectors and adults, rather than children who actually take the damned things out of the box and play with them.  Trendmasters wasn’t the only company to cash in on this market.  McFarlane Toys and their uber-detailed Spawn action figures contributed to this fad beginning in 1994, and they’ve since vastly expanded their scope and remain in business to this day.  While we’re at it, Sideshow Collectibles (also founded in 1994) pushed the envelope even further with their tour de force of classic Universal Monsters.  Between Trendmasters and Sideshow, toward the end of the 1990s, one could walk into virtually any toy store in America and pick up a full set of Gamera Guardian Of The Universe action figures, The Creature From The Black Lagoon(1954), Karloff’s Frankenstein (1931), Lugosi’s Dracula(1931), as well as the robots from Forbidden Planet (1956) and Lost In Space.  Granted, I loved all things retro as much as anyone, but whom other than the most obsessive compulsive MST3K fan would even think about buying a Gamera action figure?  I jest, but this only serves to further underscore my blog’s premise that the 1990s were conspicuously retro.

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In addition to action figures there was an utter renaissance of Godzilla themed video games across a multitude of platforms.  The popularity of fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Combat in the early 1990s may have helped to spur this trend, as giant kaiju beating the hell out of each other quite naturally lent itself to this format.  Never the less, here’s the rundown.

  • Godzilla (Nintendo Game Boy, 1990) – What started out as an unmade Rodan game for the Nintento Entertainment System (NES) became a Game Boy puzzle title where Godzilla rescues his son, Minya.
  • Super Godzilla (Super NES, 1993) – This was more of a fighting/action game in which Godzilla battles invading aliens and bosses at the end of each level.
  • Godzilla (Arcade, 1993) – This arcaded game was developed by Banpresto, and featured a story mode where Godzilla grappled with King Ghidorah, Mothra, Gigan, MechaGodzilla, Biollante, Mecha-King Ghidorah and Battra, as well as an all-against-all battle mode.
  • Kaijū-ō Godzilla (Nintendo Game Boy, 1993) – Created by Bandai and released exclusively in Japan.
  • Godzilla: Battle Legends (Turbo Duo, 1993) – Even the obscure Turbo Duo platform got in on the action with a Street Fighter-esque fighting game involving daikaiju.
  • Godzilla: Monster War (Super Famicom, 1994) – The Super Famicom was the version of the Super Nintendo platform made for the Japanese market.  This game had both a story mode and versus mode.
  • Godzilla: Rettoushinkan (Sega Saturn, 1995) – Also known as Godzilla: Archipelago Shock, this game ran on the Sega Saturn platform, and allowed the gamer to fight as the Japanese military against Godzilla and other giant kaiju.
  • Godzilla: Giant Monster March (Sega Game Gear, 1995) – The Godzilla Team, G-Force Team and Enemies battle it out through five levels based on Godzilla movies.
  • Godzilla Movie Studio Tour (PC or Mac, 1998) – Developed by Premier Systems and published by Toho, this computer based game came with a database of information on the Godzilla franchise and allowed players to take clips from different Godzilla films and cut them together to make their own.
  • Godzilla Pinball (Sega Pinball Inc., 1998) – Appearing in January of 1998, this game was part of the marketing push for the American “Godzilla In Name Only (GINO)” debacle.
  • Godzilla Trading Battle (Sony PlayStation, 1998) – Published by Toho Company Ltd. And released only in Japan, this game featured every version of every Toho monster and six new ones.
  • Godzilla Generations (Sega Dreamcast, 1998) – Select a kaiju and destroy everything.
  • Godzilla Generations: Maximum Impact (Sega Dreamcast, 1999) – The thrilling sequel to Godzilla Generations with more giant monsters wreaking havoc.

Popular culture also seemed to be strangely obsessed with Godzilla.  Throughout the decade, comedy and cartoon staples such as RugratsSouth Park, The Simpsons, Pinky and the Brain, and even The Wayans Bros all had Godzilla themed episodes.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 skewered Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966) in the early part of 1991.  In 1992 Nike aired a hilarious commercial featuring Godzilla playing one-on-one basketball against Charles Barkley in the burned out streets of Tokyo.  This ad was so popular that it inspired a line of t-shirts and a comic book printed by Dark Horse.  Barkley vs. Godzilla was a very important piece of 1990s Godzilla ephemera as it was the first to break the implicitly juvenile and nerdy confines of toys and video games and show Godzilla in a hip, athletic and urban manner.  Not only was Godzilla everywhere, he was also cool.

As bizarre as it sounds, even metal bands, those in the most conspicuously anti-retro and non-ironic of all 1990s musical genres, contributed to the ubiquity of all things Godzilla.  Sepultura released Chaos A.D. toward the end of 1993, and the album eventually went gold.  The sixth track was titled “Biotech is Godzilla”, and it quickly became a staple of their live shows.  The lyrics were penned by former Dead Kennedys front man Jello Biafra and dealt with the potential horrors of biotechnology gone awry.  A relatively obscure surf rock band like Man or Astro-man? writing songs about giant monsters was one thing, but a Brazilian metal band with a gold record and a video in heavy rotation on MTV was quite another.  Apparently, no subculture was immune to the wily charms of Japan’s favorite irradiated Godzillasaurus.

However, the epitome of the “Godzilla is cool” meme occurred during the 1996 MTV Movie Awards, when Godzilla was bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award.  Bear in mind, this was during a time when music videos still comprised roughly 80% of MTV’s programming, well before they descended into “reality” shows about whiny college kids and even whinier pregnant teenagers.  In the mid-90s, MTV still mattered and was still considered a very influential tastemaker.  Thus, by the end of 1996 Godzilla was officially deemed cool, hip and relevant to all facets of youth culture, mainstream and underground.

By the beginning of 1998, the stage was perfectly set for Roland Emmerich’s remake/reboot simply titled Godzilla (1998).  In fact, it would not have been possible to manipulate the zeitgeist into a more receptive environment for a big budget American made Godzilla film.  Nor would it have been possible to generate more buzz, as the pre-release marketing hype was relentless.  For example, in April of 1998, Taco Bell rolled out a 60 million dollar marketing campaign to unveil their delicious new gordita in tandem with a merchandizing tie-in for Godzilla (1998), presumably because “gordita” and “Godzilla” sound kind of alike.  But as fate would have it, the movie that was supposed to be the icing on the cake of the entire Godzilla franchise wound up being a kaiju-sized turd in the punch bowl.  The film was terrible, disappointing critics, hardcore Godzilla fans and the bastard public alike.  As I mentioned earlier in 007(A) – Remedial Godzilla Studies, the only descriptors that adequately articulated its’ awfulness were “scorched earth” and “prison rape”.  While the saga of all things retro in the 1990s is largely a tale of victory, pleasant surprise and the unmitigated joy of discovery, Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) was a crushing defeat.  Of all the 1990s retro touchpoints I plan on covering via this blog, Godzilla (1998) is by far the bitterest disappointment.  Not only did the film murder its own sequels in utero, but it dealt Trendmasters a deathblow from which it never recovered, and effectively banished the franchise from American shores for sixteen years.

Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla (2014) opens nationwide at 7:00 PM tonight, and I hope, with the heart of a child, the heart of a post-adolescent slacker, and the heart of a grown-ass man, that he got it right.  Whether you say prayers to Jesus or sacrifice butterflies to Mothra, I implore you to appeal to your deity of choice for a rebirth worthy of Godzilla.

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Random Retro Reaction – 5/14/2014

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Last night I was catching up on my DVR and I watched The Misfits (1961) with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable.  This was a great film, written by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston, that centered on a newly divorced woman who met an aging cowboy and just decided to go with it.  There’s a memorable scene where they’re in a saloon at a rodeo with a bunch of drunken cowboys, and Marilyn makes a bet over how many times in a row she can paddle a ping pong ball.  (The action starts at about 0:55.)

So, I’m watching Marilyn with her;

  • 1950s-pointy-bra mams
  • tiny waist
  • fertile hips
  • squeezable booty
  • small feet
  • graceful movements
  • wide doe eyes
  • delicate jaw line
  • and her high-pitched, almost musical, uber-feminine voice

And for some reason I had the following thought,

“If she suddenly started doing kung fu and beating the crap out of all these cowboys….. that would be absolutely f***ing retarded.” 

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and the story was not ruined.  None the less, I’ve come to the conclusion that in 60-plus years, IF we still have the technology to enable things like films, DVRs and television, people will look at all the action flicks from this decade starring Scarlett Johansson and laugh in much the same way we laugh at “guy in a rubber suit” monster movies from the 1950s.

So, Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Lucy (2014), and Avengers 2: Age of Ultron (2015), enjoy your days in the sun, for you will soon be the new Gamera.
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UPDATE

Vox Popoli further extends the premise and gets in a couple of really good burns on Joss Whedon.

http://www.voxday.blogspot.com/2014/05/mailvox-pulp-future.html

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TV CASUALTY – 5/1/2014

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Spring has sprung, and here at Retro in the 90s that means even more vintage sci-fi, retro horror, exploitation, and film noir!  Enjoy the shows.

SATURDAY, MAY 3, 2014

  • 10:00 PM It Came From Outer Space (1953) – MeTV
    Svengoolie vs. Ray Bradbury in a no holds barred death match!

SATURDAY, MAY 10, 2014

  • 4:00 PM Our Man Flint (1966) – Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
    I’ve heard this influenced Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997).
  • 2:00 AM Blue Sunshine (1979) – TCM
    “Sweeten the ride, YEAH!”  White Zombie references a plenty, I reckon.
  • 10:00 PM Island of Terror (1966) – MeTV
    Svengoolie and Peter Cushing!

THURSDAY, MAY 15, 2014

SATURDAY, MAY 17, 2014

Retro Horror night on TCM

  • 8:00 PM The Haunting (1963)
    An excellent ghost story remade in 1999.
  • 10:00 PM The Legend of Hell House (1973)
  • 3:30 AM Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

Svengoolie

  • 10:00 PM The Deadly Mantis (1957) – MeTV
    If Godzilla (2014) is sold out at your local multiplex, here’s your consolation prize!

MONDAY, MAY 19, 2014 – Bonus Retro Horror night on TCM

  • 1:45 AM The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
    A classic from Hammer Films.
  • 3:15 AM Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
  • 4:45 AM The Haunted Palace (1963)
    Roger Corman and Vincent Price!

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014

  • 12:15 PM The Big Sleep (1946)
    Noir, baby.  Noir.

SATURDAY, MAY 24

Svengoolie

  • 10:00 PM The Land Unknown (1957)
    Man vs. dinosaurs in the Antarctic jungle!

SATURDAY, MAY 31 – Vintage Sci-Fi on TCM

  • 4:30 PM World Without End (1955)
    Kind of like Planet of the Apes, only with mutants instead of apes.
  • 6:00 PM From The Earth To The Moon (1958)

Svengoolie

  • 10:00 PM Munster, Go Home! (1966) – MeTV
    The Munsters’ first Technicolor trip to the big screen.

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007(A). Remedial Godzilla Studies

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Note: This post was designed as a companion piece or primer for 007(B).  All Things Godzilla.

As the sole proprietor of a retro-themed blog, it’s not very often that I get the opportunity to write about something currently relevant.  Thus, I can hardly contain my excitement over the prospect of the soon to be released Godzilla (2014) movie.  Seriously, I couldn’t be more stoked to see this.  The trailer looks awesome, and the word around the campfire is… they got it right this time.

While normally, I like to jump right into a topic, it would be difficult for most readers to truly appreciate the ubiquity of all things Godzilla in the 1990s without first providing some background on this very long and distinguished franchise.

By all accounts, the first Godzilla film, Gojira (1954), was produced by Toho Studios and released in Japan.  Although there were earlier American giant monster movies such as King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Gojira (1954) was the one that truly launched the Japanese daikaiju (giant strange creature) genre.  More importantly, the film spawned an entire mythology and franchise, introducing the world to the likes of Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidora.  Regardless, the story of Gojira (1954), the sheer scale of the creature, and the cutting edge (for the 1950s) special effects were so impressive that TransWorld Releasing Corp. shot additional scenes with Canadian actor Raymond Burr, spliced them with the original Japanese footage, tastefully added some overdubs and rereleased the picture in the United States under the title Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956).  In the film, a 400-foot tall prehistoric reptilian sea monster, made even more powerful by atomic radiation, laid waste to Tokyo, while the Japanese government, military and their finest scientists tried to stop him.  The monster, Godzilla, was seen by film critics and moviegoers alike as a metaphor for nuclear war (specifically, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the United States of America, and even the wrath of nature.  After becoming a box office success and grossing $2 million (unadjusted for inflation), the rights were sold to television and Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) became a late night staple well into the cable era.

Toho Company, LTD went on to create twenty-seven more Godzilla films.  Before listing these, it is important to note that although several of these films were released theatrically in the United States, many had a limited release, some went straight to television, and others straight to video.  Nevertheless, Godzilla films maintained a strong presence in theatres, drive-ins, network television, UHF channels, cable TV, and video stores from 1954 to the end of the 1990s.  In chronological order, the subsequent Godzilla films were;

I must stop here to mention Roland Emmerich’s remake/reboot/reimagining/regurgitation simply titled Godzilla (1998).  This travesty was an American-made boondoggle with absolutely no input from Toho Studios, thus negating its qualification for entry into the Godzilla mythos.  The plot centered on an ugly, hostile, gargantuan, asexual (ersatz female), mutated reptile with bad skin and a shrill roar, who malevolently attacked a once-great civilization.  This beast will henceforth be referred to as GINO (Godzilla In Name Only).  While the parties responsible for the 1998 version failed to adequately represent Godzilla as a horrifying metaphor for nuclear Armageddon, they couldn’t have found a more appropriate horrifying metaphor for late twentieth century feminism.  If I had the tolerance, fortitude and wherewithal to suffer multiple viewings of Godzilla (1998), I could easily churn out myriad deconstructionist academic papers with titles like “GINO: The Ultimate Riot Grrrl”, “Oh No, There Goes Tokyo! You Go Girl! Godzilla”, and “Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla and Sex In The City’s Samantha: Maneaters or Role-Models for Strong Independent Womyn?”  However, I’d prefer to hit myself in the head with a goddamned tire iron.

Unlike Mothra, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla, Emmerich succeeded in absolutely destroying the legendary giant monster we all knew and loved.  When it comes to describing what Emmerich did to Godzilla movies, the terms “scorched earth” and “prison rape” immediately spring to mind.

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Fortunately, for Godzilla fans, the Japanese are a very resilient people who take pride in their traditions and know how to rebuild after catastrophic cataclysm.  Thus, Toho recovered from the very worst that the Hollywood-Industrial-Complex had to offer in terms of nuking the bejeezus out of their mightiest creation.  They climbed from the rubble, brushed the dust off their collective shoulders, and went on to produce and release the following;

If you, dear reader, are interested in learning more about any of the aforementioned Godzilla films, I very strongly recommend Cinemassacre’s movie reviews, as they combine excellent footage from the actual films with witty and insightful commentary.  James clearly knows his stuff, he is unbelievably passionate about monster movies, and he often exhibits obsessive-compulsive tendencies that make me look like an apathetic slacker in comparison.  Of course, I mean that as the highest and most sincere compliment.

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Other than UHF reruns in the 1960s and 1970s, and cable reruns 1980s, members of Generation X had other significant forms of exposure to Godzilla.  In 1976, Mattel Inc. manufactured a line of toys known as Shogun Warriors, which were based on robots made popular by Japanese anime and tokusatsu series.  Unlike the puny 3.5-inch Star Wars action figures of the late 70s, Shogun Warriors stood two feet tall, and deployed an array of spring-loaded ordnance, consisting of missiles, shuriken, battle axes and in some cases their own fists.  It’s not often that I lend such descriptors to children’s toys as “badass”, but these guys were stone cold badasses, capable of leveling an entire building-block metropolis in a matter of seconds.  In 1978, Mattel Inc. added Godzilla to the Shogun Warriors line, complete with atomic fire breath, a shooting fist, and a bulky green tail that struck fear into the hearts of lesser toys.  I started kindergarten in 1978, and I can assure you, Shogun Godzilla was a very big deal amongst elementary school aged boys.  (The Yesterville Toy Room blog has some outstanding photos of Godzilla, Mazinga, Dragun and Gaiking.)

In 1978, Hanna-Barbara and Toho co-produced a Godzilla animated series that ran for two seasons on NBC.  There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to imprint a character into the psyches of children in the late 1970s than to have made him into a Saturday morning cartoon.  To round out the 1980s, Godzilla 1985 (1985) hit the screens at multiplexes nationwide, thus further cementing his legacy in the minds of Generation X.  As the 1990s dawned, Godzilla held an unparalleled status as something simultaneously retro, nostalgic, and still active.  In conclusion, one could make a convincing argument that Godzilla was bigger than Elvis.

I will expound on this point in an upcoming post titled 007(B). All Things Godzilla

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Housekeeping – The Organization of Retro in the 90s

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After reflecting on the blog for a couple of months, I’ve come the conclusion that following Retro in the 90s is something more akin to a watching a book or compendium being written in slow motion than reading an according to Hoyle blog.  With that in mind, I’ve decided to compartmentalize the content.

The Introduction, Premise and all numbered posts are official Retro in the 90s canon.  As of 4/18/2014, they are;

  • 001. Mystery Science Theater 3000 – The Joel Years
  • 002. White Zombie – La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol.1
  • 003. Quentin Tarantino – Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • 004. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy – Americana Deluxe
  • 005. Joe Bob Briggs – Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theatre
  • 006. Tim Burton  – Ed Wood (1994)

All other posts are merely relevant tangents, including but not limited to;

  • Retro Linkage
  • TV Casualty
  • Discussions in the comments
  • Whatever else catches my fancy as I am easily sidetr….. HEY, LOOK!  SHINY FLYING SAUCERS!

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Cheers,

Gunnar von Cowtown

TV Casualty – 4/4/2014

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SATURDAY, APRIL 05, 2014

  • 6:00 PM Forbidden Planet (1956) – Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
    IMHO, the best vintage sci-fi movie of all time.
  • 10:00 PM The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts this classic Universal monster movie based on the Mary Shelley novel.

SUNDAY, APRIL 06, 2014

  • 5:15 AM TCM Presents Elvis Mitchell Under the Influence: Quentin Tarantino (2008)

MONDAY, APRIL 07, 2014 – Turner Classic Movies giant insect triple feature!

  • 1:30 AM Them! (1954)
  • 3:15 AM Cosmic Monsters, The
  • 4:45 AM Wasp Woman, The (1959)

THURSDAY, APRIL 10, 2014  – TCM

  • 7:45 AM Where Eagles Dare (1969)

SATURDAY, APRIL 12, 2014

  • 9:45 PM Misfits, The (1961) – TCM
  • 10:00 PM Son of Frankenstein (1939) -MeTV
  • 3:45 AM Shaft (1971) – TCM

SUNDAY, APRIL 13, 2014 – TCM obscure daikaiju night!

  • 2:00 AM Genocide (1969)
  • 3:30 AM X from Outer Space, The (1967)

MONDAY, APRIL 14, 2014 – TCM

  • 7:00 AM Maltese Falcon, The (1941)
    Film Noir 101
  • 1:00 PM Citizen Kane (1941)
    The Simpsons are way funnier after you’ve seen this.
  • 5:00 PM Casablanca (1942)

TUESDAY, APRIL 15, 2014 – TCM Elivs! Buddy! Elvis!

  • 10:00 PM Jailhouse Rock (1957)
  • 1:30 AM Buddy Holly Story, The (1978)
  • 5:00 AM Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (1970)

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