Tag Archives: Vintage Sci-FI

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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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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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 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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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)

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  • 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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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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