Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fear the Voice of the Vicar!

Friends and parishioners, I know that many of you have never had the pleasure of traveling over fog-laden moors and craggy steeps to the Vicarage Proper, there to settle into the hard mahogany pews of the chapel to hear the bell-ringing stylings of Gotho the Hunchback before bearing witness first-hand to one of my informative, uplifting, and pants-ruining sermons. It's a shame, and probably destined to be one of the great disappointments of your life.

But never fear! Now you can bathe your ears in the dulcet tones of my voice in digital form! Some time back I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with the honorary Bishop of Betamax, Jose Cruz of the estimable blog Mephisto's Castle. With the reel-to-reels rolling, we discussed one of my favorite films of all time: the Tod Browning-directed, circus-centric creeper entitled THE UNKNOWN (1927). Starring the godfather of all Horror Stars, Lon Chaney (Sr.), and a very young and distractingly hot Joan Crawford, this silent classic boasts no-armed knife-throwing, three-thumbed strangling, and some of the best acting in Chaney's long and justly storied career. So what are you waiting for? Get over to Jose's place and start listening now!

Sinister Spotlight: The Unknown with the Vicar of VHS (via Mephisto's Castle)

The Vicar


Monday, March 26, 2012

The Angry Red Planet (1959)

A crippled rocket, damaged on an ill-fated mission to Mars, is brought back to earth via radio control and some breathtakingly skillfull toggle-switch toggling. Inside are Dr. Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden) and Colonel Thomas O'Bannon (Gerald Mohr), the only surviving members of the 4-person crew. With the ship's reel-to-reel data tapes all erased by a powerful magnetic field, and Colonel O'Bannon fighting for his life against a poisonous alien infection that has turned his right arm to Lime Jell-O Fruit Salad™, earth doctors struggle to force the PTSD-ridden Dr. Ryan to remember just what (the fuck) happened.

After mega-doses of second-hand smoke fail to have an effect, the doctors use dangerous psychoactive drugs to tease the memories out of the frail, flame-haired doll of a scientist. The tale she has to tell is one of the strangest ever told, involving lush Martian jungles full of man-eating plants, 40-foot alien hellbeasts, and three-eyed Peeping Toms leaving sucker-prints on the rocket's glass portholes. How did they manage to escape? What happened to the other two astronauts? And what, if anything, can humankind learn from their folly?

All those questions are answered in The Angry Red Planet (1959, dir. Ib Melchior), a true classic of pre-moon landing US science fiction and a nonstop good time from blast-off to splashdown. We get special effects that range from the goofy (actor-animated carnivorous plant) to the surprisingly effective (death by blob!). We get charmingly naive science fantasy (Of course Mars is covered in lush jungles and oily lakes! How *else* would it be?), groovy visual effects courtesy the patented CineMAGIC process, and enough gleeful mid-century sexism to keep the writers of Mad Men in one-liners for a full season. (Mohr as O'Bannon is a real hoot--a 45-year old Lothario with spacesuit open to the navel, mouth twisted into a perpetual leer, who speaks almost exclusively in double entendres...except when speaking in SINGLE entendres.) Bad acting and questionable science can't overpower the film's energy, pacing, and sheer joie de vivre. By the time I got to the genuinely exciting climax and the requisite post-crisis warning, I was grinning from ear to ear and ready to do the whole thing over again.

2.5 Thumbs. Highly recommended.

Now, enjoy these MADcaps from The Angry Red Planet (1959):

Sleeves: They Don't Make 'Em Like THAT Anymore

A botanical sketch of the rare Martian Pussy Willow

Sammy (Jack Kruschen) worries needlessly about excessive oxygen consumption.

Angry Red Plant

Professor Van, Gettel (Les Tremayne) struggles manfully not to stare at the Colonel's sparse chest hair.

"Thomas! What have you been doing in here?"

"Well, guys...looks like we're fucked!"


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

CTHULHU RISES! (Or, The Duke Gets Inked)

My dearest friends, it is I, The Duke of DVD, once more inserting myself into your lives like a trans-vaginal ultrasound!  Fear not the slimy touch and intense pressure, for it is none other than Cthulhu, the Ageless One from beyond time, ascending from his watery abyss to scourge and flay the minds of the shambling masses!

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!  

(Incidentally, this hurt like a bitch.  Over 7 hours in the chair, 14 shades of black, 4 shades of gray/white, and 5 different tattoo guns.  I'm happy with it though, and wanted to share!)


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Blu-Ray Review: THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983)

Somewhere in a rural section of New Jersey, a couple of camping enthusiasts/possible life partners are shaken from their sleep by the sudden impact of an asteroid just a few hundred yards from their campsite. They go to investigate, and soon find themselves serving as an all-you-can-gnaw buffet for the meteorite's passengers: a bevy of space worms with multiple heads and more teeth than an Osmond family reunion. Needing a cool, damp place to rest, the Big Mama Worm lays down a slime trail toward a nearby house, slithering into the basement and settling down to a cosy life of popping out baby worms and messily devouring anyone who happens to come down looking for an extra jar of jam preserves.

Rightly considered one of the most ambitious micro-budget monster movies of its era (or any era, for that matter), The Deadly Spawn was a mainstay of video stores throughout the big-box VHS era. Produced by Ted A. Bohus and directed by Douglas McKeown (at least partially--more on that below), the movie was made on a truly paltry budget of about $25,000, yet boasts one of the most memorable and effective creatures ever to grace a video cover. And now Elite/MVD Entertainment has released a Blu-Ray edition of this essential slice of American indie-horror history, and graciously sent a copy to the Vicarage for review.

First, the movie itself--if you're a fan of cheesy sci-fi from the 80s, a celebrant of shoestring ingenuity and champion of the cinematic underdog such as the Duke and myself, then here is a movie tailor-made for your enjoyment. As the Mother Spawn grows larger, ickier, hungrier and ferociouser in the basement, a familial comedy of errors starts taking shape upstairs. The mother and father of the house are planning a long getaway of some sort, and have invited Aunt Millie and Uncle Herb to look after the kids while they're away. Because of their early planned departure time and Mom's conscientiousness about writing instructive notes before getting ready to leave, no one thinks it strange that neither parental unit is around when the rest of the house awakes--which is unfortunate, because they both have of course become Spawn-food in the interim.

On the fortunate side, though, is the fact that the orphaned-but-oblivious kids are uniquely well-suited to deal with the alien menace festering in their root cellar. Elder son Pete is an astronomy major just waiting for a radioactive bug bite to turn him into a superhero--nerdy, scrawny, but incredibly knowledgeable about all things to do with SCIENCE! His younger brother Frankie is a borderline autistic Monster Kid who enjoys wandering around the house in a devil cape and ape mask trying to scare Aunt Millie (and failing miserably). While Pete invites his school friends over for a study session and Pete talks to psychiatrist Uncle Herb to see if monster movies have warped his brain, a surprising number of expendable extras wander into the basement to be eaten by the Slimy Spawn.

Once Frankie discovers the toothy worm and its sperm-like spawnlings (gnawing on his mother's disembodied head! A circumstance which distresses him less than one would imagine), things get turned up to eleven--Spawn Babiez spread out in the neighborhood, attacking a vegan lunch party (seriously) and devouring Uncle Herb. Can Pete, Frankie, and the rest of the Mystery Incorporated gang find a way to defeat the Deadly Spawn before the neighborhood, and presumably the planet, becomes a bloody buffet?

The Deadly Spawn is a lot of fun, and all the more impressive due to its miniscule budget. Clearly a labor of love for all involved, it has that idealism and enthusiasm that I love so much, and that is sorely missing from many of the low-budget efforts of our era. And the creature effects by John Dods (who also did the effects for Don Dohler's immensely entertaining Nightbeast (1982)--a movie I've been meaning to review for ages!) are simply fantastic. Sure, there are some technical shortcomings and the expected sliding-scale acting, but it sets out to give the audience an icky fun time, and in that it more than succeeds.

As to the Blu-Ray presentation by Elite/MVD...well, I wish it were a little better. Whether due to the transfer or to the state of the source materials available, the picture here is somewhat less than hi-def. An improvement over a washed out VHS, sure, but just barely. There's a good amount of bonus materials. The commentary by Bohus and editor Marc Harwood is a hoot, as the two men clearly enjoy one another's company and love reminiscing about the film. We hear about technical triumphs, scheduling snafus, and tensions between McKeown and Dods which eventually led to McKeown's departure from the project and Dods stepping in as director. There's a gag reel, casing footage, trailer, TV spots, and more--more than enough for any Spawn fanatic.

In short, it's a great indie monster movie and worth adding to your collection, if you don't already have the DVD or are the sort of movie fan who just *has* to have everything on Blu-Ray.

Movie: 2.5 Thumbs
Disc: 2 thumbs


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