Tag Archives: Exploitation

009. The Cramps – Stay Sick!

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Six years ago today, Lux Interior, the legendary lead singer of The Cramps, cast off this mortal coil.  In commemoration, Retro in the 90s will review a different Cramps album from the 1990s for each of the next four years.

But, first a little background.

In the spring of 1976, The Cramps began to fester in an NYC apartment.  Without fresh air or natural light, the group developed its uniquely mutant strain of rock n’ roll aided only by the sickly, blue rays of late night TV.  While the jackhammer rhythms of punk were proliferating in NYC, The Cramps dove into the deepest recesses of the rock n’ roll psyche for the most primal of all rhythmic impulses – Rockabilly – the sound of southern culture falling apart in a blaze of shudders and hiccups.

As late night sci-fi reruns coloured the room, The Cramps also picked and chose amongst the psychotic debris of previous rock eras – instrumental rock, surf, psychedelia and sixties punk.  And then they added the junkiest element of all – themselves.  Nick Knox, stoic drummer with the history of the big beat written in his left hand.  Ivy Rorschach, voodoo guitarist with the rhythm method down as pat as her blonde beauty.  Bryan Gregory, flipping cigs and fractured with Vincent Price and decent folks ask, “What hath God wrought?”

The Cramps don’t pummel and you won’t pogo.  They ooze and you’ll throb.

Dr. J. H. Sasfy, Professor of Rockology
American Rock n’ Roll Institute, Washington D.C., USA

One of the more interesting facets of the 1990s retro boom was the presence of so many different potential gateways leading Gen X youths to discover the recent past.  However, for individuals immersed in the punk rock, hardcore or skateboard subcultures of the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Cramps were a very common portal.  A recurring theme of all things retro in the 90s was “initiation through ironic distance”.  Although we loved their music dearly and took it seriously, the antiquated slang and B-movie aesthetic often produced reactions ranging from strange intrigue to debilitating laughter.  Of course, that was all part of their unique charm, and The Cramps never came across as ironic or corny.  Of questionable sanity?  Quite possibly.  Demented?  Sure.  Perverted?  Most definitely.  Yet, generally they projected a calculatedly menacing aura.  They looked, talked and moved like a hot rod gang who would have served as the antagonists to Steve McQueen or James Dean in numerous golden age exploitation films.  Sure they were smart, funny and charismatic, but you just knew they were all carrying switchblades and lots and lots of pills.

While chart topping mainstream success on the level of Whitney Houston may have eluded them, The Cramps were a very important part of 1990s retro.  Maybe they didn’t spend as much time on MTV or the cover of SPIN as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but they did wind up on a very special Halloween episode of the most conspicuously 90s of all television shows, Beverly Hills, 90210 (unfortunately, I could only find a clip with French over dubs).  That was certainly more than one could say for Pearl Jam.  Those Chuck Taylor-wearin’ low- self-esteemers couldn’t even stop moping long enough to bother with dating Shannen Doherty.  Chalk another one up for The Cramps.

Let it be known, that in 1990 The Cramps sired a psychobilly magnum opus titled Stay Sick!  This title is a tribute to the legendary, undead, beatnik, horror host Ghoulardi, who would routinely sign off from Cleveland’s Shock Theatre in the early 1960s by imploring his audience to, “Stay sick.”  Lux Interior was a native son of Akron, Ohio and well within the broadcast range of WJW-TV, Channel 8.  Thus, Ghoulardi’s shtick, as well as the B-movies regularly featured on Shock Theatre, had a profound impact on not only The Cramps choice of subject matter, but also their stage personae.  This, right here, is one of the many things I absolutely love about The Cramps.  We’re not even past the title and I’ve already explained Ghoulardi.

As for the musical style of Stay Sick!, the song structures, rhythms and melodies  used classic rock and roll and rockabilly as a foundation, yet the execution gave an obvious nod to the ethos, attitude and general bombast of punk rock.  Poison Ivy’s twangy guitar riffs and leads were reminiscent of Duane Eddy, Hasil Adkins and Link Wray.  Drummer Nick Knox laid down steady and simple beats that would have sounded perfectly at home in the catalog of Buddy Holly or the Big Bopper.  Unlike the vast majority of psychobilly bass players, Candy Del Mar eschewed the upright bass for an electric Höfner Artist model.  Though purists may have blanched, the crystal clear tone allowed her crawling bass-lines to effortlessly carry each song.  Of course, Lux Interior’s hilariously clever lyrics and larger-than-life delivery were the icing on the cake.  Instead of opting for lo-fi engineering, the album was recorded with the standard technology available at the time, which made for a clean and modern sounding record without sacrificing any savage vitality.  The twelve tracks of raucous retro revival were as follows;

  1. “Bop Pills”
  2. “God Damn Rock & Roll”
  3. “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns”
  4. “All Women Are Bad”
  5. “The Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon”
  6. “Shortnin’ Bread”
  7. “Daisys Up Your Butterfly”
  8. “Everything Goes”
  9. “Journey to the Center of a Girl”
  10. “Mama Oo Pow Pow”
  11. “Saddle Up a Buzz Buzz”
  12. “Muleskinner Blues”

Stay Sick! opened with “Bop Pills”, a rambunctious rock n’ roll number originally written and recorded by Macy Skipper, an obscure rockabilly singer, whose claim to fame was recording some demos in the mid 1950’s for Memphis, Tennessee’s legendary Sun Studio.  Allegedly, “Bop Pills” referenced the widespread amphetamine consumption amongst early fans of rockabilly, rock and roll and long haul truckers.  I’m not sure whether rockabilly’s institutionalized tradition of covering older and very obscure blues/country/rock and roll artists originated with The Cramps, or if they simply perfected the art.  Regardless, after hearing a new Cramps album, the listener would be exposed to a handful of great old music to which they otherwise never would have heard.  An argument could easily be made that as a band, this was The Cramps’ greatest achievement.

“God Damn Rock & Roll” gave Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band’s 1978 hit “Old Time Rock & Roll” the metaphorical and philosophical beat down it so richly deserved.  While not quite parody, The Cramps used Seger’s hit as a reference point, stripped it down to its frame, completely rebuilt it, and carried it through to the logical point of absurdity.  “God Damn Rock & Roll” sounded simultaneously more old-timey, primal and threatening.  Obviously, The Cramps loved old time rock and roll as passionately and deeply as anyone.  They just took a much more intense and badass approach to it.  God bless, ‘em.

The most well-known track from Stay Sick!, if not the entire Cramps’ discography, was “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns”, which hit #35 on the UK Top 40 chart.  This wasn’t so much a song as it was a mid-century B-movie gone sonic.  The Cramps laid down some righteous rockabilly riffage while channeling liquor and drug fueled drag races, beach movies, and the films of Russ Meyer.  The video featured the band performing the song, interspersed with shots of gorgeous guitarist Poison Ivy go-go dancing dressed in her trademark pin-up girl finery amid a sea of vintage neon signage.  Nick Knox stoically laid down the beat and Candy Del Mar played her swingin’ bass-lines while simultaneously chomping bubble gum like a juvenile delinquent straight out of an Ed Wood movie.  Lux Interior sang the track with a joyous sincerity that channeled some bizarre hybrid of Elvis Presley and Frankenstein’s monster.  Needless to say, when compared to the cheesy, overproduced R&B of Boyz II Men or the pretentious socially-conscious status-whoring of R.E.M. that was popular at the time, “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns” stood in stark contrast both aurally and visually.  The retro-pulp shock and awe invited the listener back to a time when rock and roll was a lot more dangerous and a hell of a lot more fun.

“All Women Are Bad” was a tongue-in-cheek misogynistic ode to original sin, beginning with Adam and Eve, continuing on to Sampson and Delilah, and ending in a fit of shudders and hiccups.  “They’ve got groovy wiggly tails and horns on their heads, all women are bad.”  Indeed.  In a sane and just world “The Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon” would be the official go-to Halloween FM radio staple instead of Michael Jackon’s “Thriller”.  Lux Interior name checks the eponymous Universal Studios Gill-Man, It Came from Outer Space (1953), James Dean’s infamous chicken run from “Rebel Without a Cause”, and even …..Satan.   As fate would have it, the video was banned from MTV, I suspect by whomever it is that lobbies on behalf of playground equipment manufacturers.

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Somehow, The Cramps managed to transition seamlessly into a stompin’and barnburnin’ rendition of “Shortnin’ Bread”, a folk song dating back to 1900.  Now THAT’S retro.  While treated with all due respect, the vocals were performed with such over-the-top monstrous bravado that one just couldn’t help but smile.  “Daisys Up Your Butterfly” was a mid-tempo, blues-derived tune brandishing some of Lux Interior’s finest poetic grandiloquence.  “Now you might believe the world is sweet and fine and sugar candy.  But, I, myself, believe in whatever comes in handy.  Now you’re whistling past the graveyard, hoping for the best.  But a humjob at the K-Mart just might wreck that party dress.”  The Bard himself would be envious of such silver-tongued humor.  “Everything Goes” moved the album into an even more blues-laden direction, while clearly staying within the confines of rockabilly proper.  In the aforementioned sane and just world, “Everything Goes” would be a staple in every strip club juke box.  “No holes barred, watch your toes.  Look out, baby… everything goes.  You got your g-strings and gin and nylon hose, chicken pot pie… everything goes!”

The next two songs were even more overtly sexual and pleasantly sleazy, while staying within the bounds of (semi) good taste and early 1960s movie rating codes.  “Journey to the Center of a Girl” combines references to science fiction gems such as Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and She Beast (1966) with Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88”.  There were even a few subliminal backwards messages thrown in for good measure.  “Mama oo Pow Pow” inverted the second half of The Trashmen’s 1963 classic “Surfin’ Bird”, and created an epic tribute to the Bettie Page style of “cheesecake” and bondage girly magazines which had a substantial underground following in the latter half of the 1950s.  Once again, Lux Interior is in rare form, “I don’t wanna be your dear sweet friend.  I just wanna beat your little pink rear end.”

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“Saddle Up a Buzz Buzz” was the last original track on “Stay Sick!”, and it was a beautiful conglomeration of everything that made the entire album great.  Obscure historical references, deviant sex, B-movies, Tarzan, Corvette Stingrays, Rat Fink and surfing were all combined into an ultra-potent cocktail of awesome.  In the opinion of your humble narrator, some of Poison Ivy’s best guitar work is found on this track.  The album ended with a positively ass-kickin’ cover of Jimmie Rodgers’s bluegrass classic “Mule Skinner Blues”.  It was almost too loud, too harsh and too chock full of hillbilly swagger to be contained by the fragile vinyl grooves of a mere record album, yet verily it was.

One of the best things about The Cramps was their de facto historical approach to rock and roll.  Instead of being concerned with the “Next Big Thing”, The Cramps’ time-preference was almost on a “geologic” scale.  When the average Gen-Xer got to the end of Stay Sick!, he was suddenly aware that he had missed an incredible and very substantial portion of the history of rock and roll.  There were amazing things to seek out and forgotten secrets just waiting to be rediscovered.  Every quest for such knowledge begins with the sudden realization of what one does not know.  To paraphrase the venerable philosopher SO-crates, “To know, is to know that you know nothing.  That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

On that distinctly profound note, we’ll let the cosmic wisdom of Lux Interior speak for itself.

Remember this!  Everything that you have ever experienced in your entire life has brought you to this instant.  All things now are possible in the limitless void of counter-actuality!  All things, too, that are knowable will be realized in this new dimension of BIKINI GIRLS WITH MACHINE GUNS!

Rest in peace, Lux Interior.  You are missed.

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TV Casualty – 9/2/2014

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September, baby!  There are a couple of really worthwhile views this month, so if you can drag yourself away from NCAA football and the NFL, check out the following.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 02, 2014

  • 5:00 PM  The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957) – Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
    Evil Dead hero Bruce Campbell’s favorite movie

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 04, 2014

  • 10:30 AM  The Devil Commands (1941) – TCM
    Obligatory Boris Karloff
  • 10:30 PM  The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – TCM
    A very influential heist flick

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 06, 2014

  • 10:00 PM Werewolf of London (1935) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts Universal’s first werewolf film

Women in Prison Night on TCM!

  • 2:45 AM House of Women (1962) – TCM
  • 4:15 AM Caged (1950) – TCM

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 07, 2014

  • 1:45 PM  East Of Eden (1955) – TCM
    Obligatory James Dean

Planet of the Apes Double Feature!

  • 8:00 PM  Planet of the Apes (1968) – TCM
  • 10:00 PM  Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – TCM

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2014

  • 3:15 AM  The Vampire Bat (1933) – TCM

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2014

Jerry Lewis Night!

  • 8:00 PM  The Nutty Professor (1963) – TCM
  • 10:00 PM  The Caddy (1953) – TCM
  • 12:00 AM  Three on a Couch (1966) – TCM

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

  • 12:45 AM  Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1932)
  • 3:45 AM  Freaks (1932)
    Gabba gabba we accept you one of us!

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2014

  • 10:00 PM The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts this classic tale of decapitation.

Vincent Price Double Feature on TCM!

  • 2:00 AM  Madhouse (1974) – TCM
  • 3:45 AM  House Of Wax (1953) – TCM

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2014

Shaft Double Feature!

  • 12:00 AM  Shaft (1971) – TCM
    He’s a bad motherf…… hush your mouth!
  • 4:00 AM  Shaft in Africa (1973) – TCM

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2014

  • Svengoolie placeholder – MeTV

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

  • 6:15 PM  The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958) – TCM

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2014

  • 8:00 PM  Patton (1970) – TCM
    Arguably the finest war movie ever made
  • 1:15 AM  Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964) – TCM

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Be sure to check back in October for enough outstanding retro horror to choke a wolfman!

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TV Casualty – 8/1/2014

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The pickings are slim this month, but it’s August and you should be outside enjoying the summer anyway.  Quality over quantity, baby.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 2, 2014

  • 10:00 PM Son of Dracula (1943) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts and Lon Chaney Jr. stars as the Count.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 3, 2014

  • 12:30 AM Forbidden Planet (1956) – TCM
    Best sci-fi movie ever

SATURDAY, AUGUST 9, 2014

  • 9:45 PM The Thin Man (1934) – TCM
  • 10:00 PM Curse of the Undead (1959) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts the original vampire western

MONDAY, AUGUST 11, 2014

  • 10:15 PM The Wild One (1953) – TCM
    Marlon Brando stars in the granddaddy of all outlaw biker flicks

SATURDAY, AUGUST 16, 2014

  • 10:00 PM Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) – MeTV
    Svengoolie, Bela Lugosi & Lon Chaney Jr…. oh, yeah.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2014

  • 5:45 PM Cool Hand Luke (1967) – TCM
    Paul Newman’s best film.  The Reverend Horton Heat was also a big fan.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 23, 2014

  • 10:00 PM Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953) – MeTV
    Svengoolie and Boris Karloff…. together at last.
  • 1:30 AM The Wild Bunch (1969) – TCM
    Sam Peckinpah’s ultra-violent western

SUNDAY, AUGUST 24, 2014

  • 8:00 PM The Maltese Falcon (1941) – TCM
    Film Noir 101 with your professor, Humphrey Bogart

THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2014

  • 8:00 PM Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) – TCM

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30, 2014

  • 8:00 PM How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) – TCM
    Obligatory Marilyn Monroe
  • 10:00 PM The Mad Ghoul (1943) – MeTV

SUNDAY, AUGUST 31, 2014

  • 8:00 PM Shane (1953) – TCM
    Arguably the finest western ever made

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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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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, 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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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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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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006. Tim Burton – Ed Wood (1994)

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After reflecting on the Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theatre post, perhaps the most important function of the horror movie host was telling all the stories behind the story shown on screen.  The horror host’s knowledge added layers of context and depth to what basically amounted to any number of guy-in-a-rubber-monster-suit films.  While listening to Joe Bob Briggs wax poetic about the financing of Night of the Living Dead (1968) was both enjoyable and interesting, it wasn’t better than the film itself.  By that same token, listening to Svengoolie discuss the differences in the underwater scenes in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Revenge of the Creature (1955) was pretty darned cool, but it still wasn’t better than either of the films.  But what if a movie was so awful that the story of its making was more compelling than the movie itself?  Moreover, I can’t be the only person who ever watched a 1950s B-grade horror flick and wondered how much fun it must have been to be involved with making it?  And I certainly can’t be the only person to wonder how cool would it have been to drink whiskey with Bela Lugosi?

This brings us to Tim Burton’s 1994 comedy/drama/biopic Ed Wood.  The film lovingly chronicled the career highlights of writer/actor/director/producer Edward D. Wood Jr., who in the 1950s made a number of low-budget sci-fi, horror and exploitation films.  Wood continued to write, act, direct and produce up until his untimely death in 1978 at the age of 54.  Although it seemed perfectly logical in 1994, as strange things were clearly afoot with the zeitgeist, future film historians may be puzzled why anyone would have wanted to make, much less watch a movie about the worst director of all time directing the worst film of all time?  There were plenty of bad movies and bad directors in the 1950s, so why Ed Wood and why then?

Let’s recap, in chronological order, the chain of events that led to Ed Wood’s resurgence of relevance;

  • In 1961, the rights to Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) were sold to late night television and the film became a staple of UHF programming for the next two decades.
  • In 1977 Glenn Danzig changed the name of his punk rock label from Blank Records to Plan 9 Records, clearly referencing Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).  For the next ten years, each subsequent recording by horror punk pioneers The Misfits, and later Samhain, was released under this imprint.  This helped to firmly cement the film’s legacy with every punk rock weirdo in the United States of America.
  • In 1980, author and film critic Michael Medved posthumously awarded Edward D. Wood Jr. a Golden Turkey Award for Worst Director of All Time, while declaring Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) the “worst movie ever made.”  As fate would have it, this renewed the public’s interest in Wood’s work.
  • In the early 1990s, three of Wood’s films, Bride of the Monster (1955), The Violent Years (1956), and The Sinister Urge (1960), were featured on Comedy Central’s Mystery Science Theater 3000, which further exposed Wood’s works to a new generation of sarcastic wiseacres.
  • On May 23, 1991, “The Chinese Restaurant” episode of Seinfeld aired.  This was the eleventh episode of the show’s second season, in which Jerry, George and Elaine decided to eat dinner without a reservation at a Chinese restaurant before seeing Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).  Jerry Seinfeld made some notable squibs.

    “Just a movie? You don’t understand. This isn’t plans 1 through 8 from outer space. This is Plan 9! This is the one that worked, the worst movie ever made!”  Seinfeld further intoned, “I can’t go to a bad movie by myself. What, am I gonna make sarcastic remarks to strangers?”

It should go without saying that Seinfeld was one of the most watched and most frequently awarded programs of the 1990s.  However, Jerry was very astute in his observation that viewing an Ed Wood movie was a social event.

  • In 1992, Rudolph Grey’s biography Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. was released, and initiated the process of Wood’s life and work being publically reevaluated.
  • Also in 1992, Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion was released.  This exhaustive two-hour documentary by Mark Carducci chronicled the making of Plan 9 from Outer Space and featured interviews with Maila Nurmi (Vampira), Paul Marco and Conrad Brooks.
  • And finally in 1992, Konami developed a Plan 9 from Outer Space video game for the Amiga and Atari ST, as well as a DOS version.

This brings us to writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski who developed a ten page treatment for an Ed Wood biopic based on Rudolph Grey’s Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr.  This script eventually found its way to oddball director Tim Burton, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Obviously, there was a great deal of retro inbreeding going on in the early 1990s, as one could literally turn on Friday night basic cable and watch Bride of the Monster (1955) on MST3K, wake up Saturday morning, drive to one’s local book store and pick up a new book about Edward D. Wood Jr., get back in the car, pop in the latest White Zombie cassette to hear songs with samples from Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), and then hit the multiplex for a screening of Ed Wood (1994), which featured the making of Bride of the Monster (1955), and depicts Edward D. Wood Jr. and Bela Lugosi watching the film White Zombie (1932) on television hosted by Vampira, to whom The Misfits wrote an ode on a record released through their Plan 9 label, and…..  You guys see where I’m going with this?

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As for Ed Wood (1994), the film itself, it was unlike any other movie of its time.  First and foremost, Burton insisted on filming the movie in black and white, which set the tone perfectly.  Seeing a black and white movie about the making of black and white movies was a stroke of genius on Burton’s part, as it reiterated to the viewer with all surgical precision of an atom bomb that this was the 1950s.  Sure, many independent films were shot sans color, but it was virtually unheard of for the studio-industrial-complex to release a major motion pictureTMin black and white.  The only predecessor that comes to mind was the Steve Martin film noir parody Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982).  Regardless, after Ed Wood (1994), Hollywood was less hesitant to screen new black and white movies at the multiplex, as evidenced by the success of Clerks (1994), Dead Man (1995), and roughly half of Pleasantville (1998).  Unfortunately this trend did not continue into the new millennium, and I, your humble narrator, am still irritated that I’m forced to watch Mad Men in color.  Yet, I digress.

The film was a constant blur or Mid-Century homes, cars, appliances, buildings, bars, clothes and music.  Speaking of which, Howard Shore’s film score was absolutely fantastic, and established the mood perfectly.  Shore combined the exotic percussion of Martin Denny and Les Baxter with the Theremin-laden sounds of 1950s sci-fi and B-movies.  The film score was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and even featured Russian Theremin player Lydia Kavina (the grandniece of Leon Theremin).  The resulting sonic retro-hybrid provided the perfect soundtrack for either making movies with Edward D. Wood Jr. or drinking a Mai Tai on Mars.

The entire cast was wonderful.  Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Edward D. Wood Jr. was outstanding, and he evoked the mannerisms, cadence and optimism of post-war America like a champ.  Allegedly, he studied the acting of Jack Haley, Mickey Rooney and Ronald Reagan to prepare for the role.  Bill Murray was absolutely hilarious as Bunny Breckinridge, and stole every seen in which he appeared.  Sarah Jessica Parker turned in a fine performance, portraying Dolores Fuller, the actress and Elvis Presley songwriter, who was Ed’s love interest for the first half of the film.  Even though the meme of comparing Sarah Jessica Parker to a horse has been a comedy goldmine for years throughout the more unkind corners of the internet, she actually looks sort of….. pretty in this movie.  It took me a while to put my finger on why, and it hearkens back to various skirmishes in the war of the sexes that I’ve observed over the past five years.  To wit, men want wives not coworkers, men value femininity in women, and the visceral repulsion to the manjaw-ificaiton of American women.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but she acted overtly feminine, channeling June Cleaver instead of Carrie Bradshaw, and as a result she seemed much more attractive than in any of her roles before or since.  Well, up until she tried to kill Johnny Depp with a frying pan, but he totally had it coming.

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The one part of Ed Wood (1994) most resonated with viewers was Martin Landau’s flawless depiction of Bela Lugosi.  This performance didn’t go unnoticed by the powers that be, as it won Landau an Academy Award for best supporting actor.  Regardless, the idea of befriending one’s heroes has always held appeal for..… pretty much everyone..… ever.  Tim Burton had experienced this first hand while working with Vincent Price on Edward Scissorhands (1990), and was therefore able to tackle the subject with expertise, plausibility and perspective.  Perhaps Burton’s greatest accomplishment with this film was that he made the audience care about the characters, especially Bela.  From the moment he showed up in the coffin store, to his profanity laced tirades about Boris Karloff, through addiction, rehab, and until his death, one just couldn’t help but root for the old man.  In hindsight, Burton’s treatment of Edward D. Wood Jr. shouldn’t come as a surprise, as much brighter people than I have previously pointed out that Burton is clearly an enthusiast, not a satirist.

Regardless, there were numerous scenes that depicted the social and workplace interactions of Ed, Bela and the gang, and allowed the viewers to feel as though they were standing in the same room or seated at the same table as the characters.  Most importantly, this allowed the viewer to feel as though they were sharing the camaraderie of a bygone past.  Not only did Ed Wood (1994) make the audience feel like they were there, it also made the audience wish they were there.  In the opinion of your humble narrator, several of these scenes stand out above the rest;

  • The scene where Ed, The Amazing Criswell and his entourage have drinks with Bela and try to goad him into delivering some of his most famous lines from Dracula (1931)
  • The night time filming of the infamous octopus wrestling scene from Bride of The Monster (1955)
  • Ed and Bela (in full Dracula garb) watching White Zombie (1932) on The Vampira Show on Halloween night, then scaring the bejeezus out of some trick-or-treaters

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I’ll leave it to The Amazing Criswell to summarize the effect of watching Ed Wood (1994).

All of us on this earth know that there is a time to live, and that there is a time to die. Yet death is always a shock to those left behind.

Even though that narration comes from the worst film of all time, I certainly can’t argue with the sentiment.  And for those of us born at the beginning of our civilization’s demise, looking back to the recent past often makes us realize, in no uncertain terms, that we’ve also been left behind.

After The Fact

  • Although I find the topic tedious, at best, I suppose I’m obligated to mention that Edward D. Wood Jr. was a transvestite (a heterosexual man who liked to wear women’s clothing), and then pontificate on some Kumbayah bullshit.  I’ll agree to the former, but I have absolutely no interest in the latter.  That said, the film addresses the issue with humor, realism and sympathy without coming across as overly “preachy”, or whatever it is that currently passes for “preachy” in our secular, politically-correct post-nation.  Upon re-watching Ed Wood (1994), it was refreshing to be reminded that no so long ago in America, people actually struggled with their sexual deviancy rather than making it the cornerstone to define their very identity.  Indeed, those were different times.
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TV Casualty – 3/28/2014

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Today, Retro in the 90s introduces a new recurring feature; TV CASUALTY.  Obviously, one can’t understand meta-retro without first understanding retro.  Thus, I, your humble narrator, will henceforth regularly pour through the Turner Classic Movies 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.  Set your DVR…… to stun.

FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 2014

  • 12:00 AM  Soylent Green (1973) – Turner Classic Movies
    Charlton Heston stars in this dystopian sci-fi classic.
  • 1:45 AM  Night of the Living Dead (1968) – Turner Classic Movies
    This George Romero classic is the granddaddy of all zombie films.

SATURDAY, MARCH 29, 2014

  • 6:45 AM  Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) – Turner Classic Movies
    The original Godzilla flick!  Watch this before seeing the 2014 remake.
  • 10:00 PM  The Invisible Man (1933) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts this classic Universal monster movie based on the H.G. Wells novel.

MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2014

  • 3:30 AM Northth By Northwest (1959) – Turner Classic Movies
    Cary Grant stars in this Hitchcock classic, often referred to as “the first James Bond movie”.

Yeah, I realize that I just used the word “classic” alot, but it’s all true.

Enjoy.

TV CASUALTY!  TV CASUALTY!  WE’RE ALL RIGHT!

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