Sunday, April 26, 2009


I don’t have too many VHS tapes left; nevertheless, I recently bought a new VCR. They are trés cheap these days, even with the de riguer DVD player in them. And the old one was making Suspicious Noises. So out it went, because, although I have very few tapes, the ones I have I want to keep. Same reason I bought a reconditioned laserdisc player -- because, as far as I can tell, a lot of movies never made it past tape or laserdisc. Like Hickey and Boggs. Or Bringing Up Baby. Or Island Of Lost Souls.

There’s an insidious attrition as we progress from medium to medium, have you noticed? When videotape was elbowed out by laserdisc, a lot of movies didn’t make the cut. Likewise when Laserdisc begat DVD. And now there’s a new format in town: Blu-ray. And once again, titles will fall by the wayside.

This sucks, because the eyestrain of watching an old videotape on a 50” plasma screen is like looking at Jackson Pollock’s Spring Period on acid. Laserdiscs are somewhat better, DVDs better still, and on Blu-ray you can count the nose hairs on 2nd Bad Guy in b.g. (If you are so inclined.) Still, each time we move up in quality we pay for it by losing a few classics. And it’s not like all that many were released to begin with ...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Yeah, I know ...

... it's been awhile. I've been debating whether to post some of my feelings about the leaked memos from the Bush Administration on torture and the Obama administration's decision not to prosecute, but I've rather effectively muzzled myself by my decision not to use hardcore profanity on this blog.

All I know is, the way anyone -- or any nation -- moves forward with any hope of self-respect and honor, is not by pretending something like this didn't happen. Forgive me for trotting out Santayana's dusty quote, but it's never been more accurate: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Obama fears that to prosecute is the first step onto a slippery slope. An understandible fear -- but better a few careful steps down a slippery slope than a plunge into the abyss.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Witherspoon's Biggest Role

I recently read a review of Monsters vs. Aliens that was the epitome of damnation with faint praise. Essentially, the reviewer was complaining that the movie wasn’t “about” anything more than what you saw on the screen; that the mise-en-scène was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, that the voice talent was just trading on their star quality to phone it in, that ...

Dude. The flick is called Monsters vs. Aliens. You’re lucky you get that much.

The problem with movies whose title is the pitch is -- well, nothing, really, unless you’re expecting some long-lost classic by Abel Gance or something similar. If that’s what you were expecting, maybe you wandered into the wrong plex at your local multi. In which case, I can understand you being disappointed. The rest of us saw a perfectly acceptable animated 3-D movie. The CGI critters all hit their marks, nobody flubbed his or her lines, the 3-D was fun and only occasionally intrusive, and when it was over everyone knew enough to get the hell offstage.

True, it’s advisable to park your brain at the door. But, as B.O.B. (Seth Rogan, voicing a semi-sentient non-Newtonian fluid who resembles The Mad Scientist’s Glowing Glop™) says, “Turns out you don’t need one!”

And you don’t. The reviewer I quoted at the top also says something to the effect that 3-D was, is, and shall ever be, a gimmick. I could urge anyone who thinks so to hie thee hence and see Coraline, but there’s a broader point to be made here -- namely, that movies are a gimmick. Each and every one of them. Occasionally we get one that transcends the inherent limitations of the media, and for which we’re grateful. But the fact remains: movies are storytelling by artifice. And we’re lucky that they are, because most of ‘em are pretty good entertainment.

Like Monsters vs. Aliens. Pay the money (matinee, if you can; it isn't that good), trade in any semblance of intelligence you have for a pair of ill-fitting 3-D glasses, and for the next two hours be content that your fate is not your own. You’re in ... decent hands.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why I Write This Stuff

The still I posted a few days ago of me as a werewolf and the Other Guy as a vampire reminds me of a Halloween story (which should rightly be told around Halloween, but that’s six months from now.) It’s as good a reason as any to show why I write horror.

Part of my misspent youth was misspent one autumn (1970) being a part of an ensemble group who put on a haunted house every fall. It was set in an abandoned Public Works building, no doubt reeking of asbestos, formaldehyde and other complex chemicals guaranteed to change your life, and not for the better. As a potential redress for a haunted house, though, it was perfect: lots of small rooms and corridors connecting them. We had a different monster for each room: as I recall, they were Frankenstein’s Monster (And yes, purists that we were, we drew the difference between the mad doctor and his creation); the Wolfman, Dracula, the Mummy, and the Ghoul. (The last was pretty much filler; we had six rooms, five of which had to have Something Nasty lurking in them.) The guide was a Mad Scientist, who had decided, for whatever obscure and twisted reason, to give guided tours of his castle/laboratory (which, judging from the monster menagerie, also contained an Egyptian tomb, a graveyard, an interior roofscape and a sizable chunk of Transylvania). Still, few complained about the set-up. (Not that they had a chance; in order to break even on the costs we had to move twelve people through there at least eight times. The overage, in case you wondered, went to charity. This was a labor of love for us, sometimes going until two or three a.m.)

We all took turns playing the monsters; everyone’s least favorite was, unsurprisingly, the Mummy, as it took nearly three roles of toilet paper to get the proper look. And after all that, all he could do was limp about pathetically. Don Glut was right: If you can’t outrun the Mummy, you deserve whatever happens to you.

My favorite was playing Dracula -- again, unsurprisingly. I got a great entrance, springing from a coffin (yes, it was a real coffin -- don’t ask.) and the biz with the cape and all. But best of all, I could act as Drac. My face wasn’t covered with a prosthetic doggy snout, or great whooping amounts of yak hair spirit-glued to my face; nor was it hidden by several dozen layers of toilet paper. I was free to suck the scenery dry. (We all, as I said, took turns as the various monsters; except for the Monster. Frankenstein’s creation was always played by a fellow named Rudy, who looked entirely too much like Glenn Strange's version of the Monster; glue a couple of electrodes to his neck and he was good to go. The only problem was that he was short. Seriously short. We wound up putting a pair of what one of the crew termed “express elevator boots” on him. The soles were over a foot thick. All he could do was break the cardboard straps that held him and step away from the inclined gurney, roar and wave his arms -- if he took another step he would fall flat on his face. Guaranteed.)

So. It’s the last tour of the Halloween show, and believe me, we’ve been doing a land-office business all night. We’ve collected large amounts of cash for the widows and orphans, and even though we’re young, we’re all pretty tired. Hurling open the lid of a coffin and leaping forth from it fifteen times in one night can take it out of you, even if you have the strength of the undead. We were all in agreement -- this was the last show for this year.

Outside, where the beetling cardboard battlements cast uneasy shadows and -- well, it was spooky, okay? Work with me -- the last tour group had gathered. Like the rest of them, they consisted mostly of pre-teens and early teens. Among them was a boy of around ten, who had begged and begged his parents to let him go on the Haunted House tour. His parents were initially against it, but finally his older brother (age fourteen) volunteered to take him. The reason for everyone’s initial hesitation? The kid had been in a wheelchair for the past year. Car accident.

I think we can all see where this is going.

And man, did it go there in style. I’m lying in my coffin (which is a phrase I’m not accustomed to typing), and my buddy who’s leading the tour (who’s also confusingly named Michael), gives me my cue. All carefully-orchestrated hell breaks loose: James Bernard’s soundtrack for Horror Of Dracula starts pounding the room; a strobe light (1970, remember?) goes off fast enough to give everyone there epilepsy, and I bound athletically out of the box, hitting my mark perfectly with my black wingtips. What with the strobe and all, I can’t see a bloody thing. Someone’s screaming, but then, someone’s always screaming. But these screams sound awful damn close -- and, more puzzling still, I don’t hear them dopplering away, accompanied by the pitter-patter of pounding feet. . .

Someone has the presence of mind to turn off the strobe, if not the music, and I realize that I’m literally looming over this poor kid, who’s out of his gourd now, screaming with abject terror (I can see his face as clearly now as I could then.) He can't even roll the wheelchair -- he's frozen. I’m standing there holding my cape spread wide, mouth open and my fangs (39¢ at Rexall Drugs) gleaming, looking like I’m about to devour this helpless kid. (Who’s all alone, by the way. His brother? Gone, babe. Little Warner Bros. puff of smoke dissipating behind him, and That's All, Folks.)

Someone finally remembers to turn off the music, I drop the character like a live grenade and ask him if he’s okay. He gradually comes back to Earth, his tachycardia at last dropping a bit south of Mach 1. His sheepish “¡No mas! ¡No mas!” brother is persuaded to come get him. By the time he does, the younger kid has rewritten the last half hour in his head -- in the new version, he was the only one with the balls to stay and face Dracula.

And -- I swear on a stack of The Origin of Species -- when he reaches the door, he twists around to look back at us, and says: “That was bitchin!” (Again: 1970.) “I want to go again!”

It very well could have been right then and there that I decided I wanted to scare people for a living.

Let’s Get Metaphysical

According to the “many worlds” theory of quantum mechanics (if I'm understanding it rightly), an alternate universe is spun off, in all its multitudinous glory, whenever a single electron changes its energy state. In other words, there is an entire separate universe created to embody every conceivable quantum state of this universe. And these universes go on to create separate world-lines for their fragmenting realities as well.

That’s the theory, anyway. Unfortunately it remains a theory, because to date we’ve no empirical proof. We don’t have a “timer” that lets us pop from one world-line to the next, a la Sliders. And one of the theory’s main postulates (as I understand it; correct me if I’m wrong), is that there’s no way the “walls” separating this world from the others can be breached.

But hang on -- aren’t the amount of decoherent histories thusly created infinite (or at least close enough for all intents and purposes)? And in an infinity of possibilities, aren’t all permutations by definition possible? And, if so, doesn’t that mean that a finite number (at least one, possibly n) of alternate world-lines have to be somehow connected?

Works for me. (And the reason I’m posting it is because it isn’t my idea. My twelve year-old son came up with it. Which definitely makes me feel a little chesty in the Daddy Department ...)