Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: 'Tears for Fears Rule the World: The Greatest Hits'


Tears for Fears Rule the World: The Greatest Hits is not the group’s first greatest hits compilation, but it is necessary since 25 years have elapsed since the release of Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92) and Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith have kept the group going since then, producing such greatest hits-worthy tracks as “Break It Down Again”, “Closest Thing to Heaven”, and the majestic “Raoul And The Kings Of Spain” in the interim. Aside from these three tracks, the other two unique to Rule the World are new recordings. “I Love You But I’m Lost” is the bigger contender for hit status because of a production that is both very contemporary and noticeably eighties, yet it might be a bit too entrenched in the generic bombast of contemporary pop production and sounds so little like the Tears for Fears we’ve come to know and love that I can’t even tell who is singing lead. The pretty “Stay” is the more appealing track with its moody atmosphere that feels like a cross between “I Believe” and “Listen” from Songs from the Big Chair. Of course the biggest draw is going to be the classic hits, and the presence of  “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, “Shout”, “Sowing the Seeds of Love”, and the divine “Head over Heels” ensure that Rule the World is necessary for the less committed fan or the merely curious.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: 'Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture'


In Mark Voger’s world, the lava lamp is always fired up, psychedelia and sunshine pop are always blaring from the jukebox, there are nightly screenings of Head and Easy Rider, the magazine rack is always stocked with the latest issues of Josie and the Pussycats and Zap Comix, and H.R. Pufnstuf, The Banana Splits, and Laugh-In are in constant rotation on the tube (and make no mistake, his TV has a tube… and rabbit ears). These are the things Voger defines as “groovy,” and these are the groovy things that he uses to build a groovy world in his groovy new book Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, and there have been no shortage or reverent, historically conscious books to commemorate the Aquarian age. Groovy is the first one I’ve read that actually captures the full flowering fun of that period. I love, love, love the fact that Voger makes room for the things Jann Wenner types consciously leave out of the discussion. Our author betrays no snobbery, placing the perennial critical darlings beside the less revered but no less lovable sorts. So in this lively, ping-ponging survey of the late sixties and early seventies, there are places for The Buckinghams next to The Beatles, The Guess Who next to The Who, The Cowsills next to The Beach Boys, Tommy James next to Dylan, and Tiny Tim next to Hendrix. A lot of these folks stop in to gab with Voger too, and the book is liberally seasoned with recent and less recent interviews with fab folks such as Donovan, Maureen McCormick, the Smothers Brothers, Brian Wilson, Ruth Buzzi, Mick Taylor, Paul Kantner, Shirley Jones, Bill Wyman, John Entwistle, Lily Tomlin, Roger McGuinn, all four Monkess, and many others. What a gas! However, Groovy’s grooviest feature may be its acid-cartoon design, which explodes with colorful portraits, period art, album jackets, and memorabilia galore.

Mark Voger is also the author of Monster Mash, a book about the Monster Kid phenomenon I gushed over a couple of years ago. I can’t help but think that with his wonderfully definitive volumes on classic monsters and now the psychedelic age, Voger has managed to distill everything I’ve attempted to do with Psychobabble over the past decade in just a couple of handy, dandy hardcovers. He’s a true kindred spirit, Psychobabblers, and judging from his personal, humorous, self-effacing, fun-loving prose, a pretty groovy himself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Two Horror Classics Coming to Blu-Ray from Criterion This February

Just in time for, errr, Valentine's Day, the Criterion Collection is releasing two classics more befitting Halloween season.  Night of the Living Dead and The Silence of the Lambs have actually already been released on Blu-ray by other companies, but both titles clearly deserve the lavish attention of a Criterion edition. And this is what they apparently shall receive this February 13. Here are the specs straight from Criterion.com:


Night of the Living Dead
  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, coscreenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner
  • New restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary R. Streiner, and presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray
  • Night of Anubis, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film
  • New program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez
  • Never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel
  • New piece featuring Russo about the commercial and industrial-film production company where key Night of the Living Dead filmmakers got their start
  • Two audio commentaries from 1994, featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor Judith O’Dea, and more
  • Archival interviews with Romero and actors Duane Jones and Judith Ridley
  • New programs about the editing, the score, and directing ghouls
  • New interviews with Gary R. Streiner and Russel W. Streiner
  • Trailer, radio spots, and TV spots
  • More!
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Stuart Klawans
The Silence of the Lambs 
  • New 4K digital restoration, approved by director of photography Tak Fujimoto, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 1994 featuring director Jonathan Demme, actors Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, screenwriter Ted Tally, and former FBI agent John Douglas
  • New interview with critic Maitland McDonagh
  • Thirty-five minutes of deleted scenes
  • Interview from 2005 with Demme and Foster
  • Inside the Labyrinth, a 2001 documentary
  • Page to Screen, a 2002 program about the adaptation
  • Scoring “The Silence,” a 2004 interview program featuring composer Howard Shore
  • Understanding the Madness, a 2008 program featuring interviews with retired FBI special agents
  • Original behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Amy Taubin along with, in the Blu-ray edition, a new introduction by Foster; an account of the origins of the character Hannibal Lecter by author Thomas Harris; and a 1991 interview with Demme

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: 'Book of Alien'


Despite the philosophically deep 2001: A Space Odyssey and the generally shocking Clockwork Orange, science-fiction was still pretty much considered a kid’s genre when Alien was released in 1979, so you can forgive Kenner for trying to market the graphically violent, R-rated movie to tykes with a Xenomorph action figure that drew the outrage of parents.

Owen Williams’s new Book of Alien feels like another slightly misguided product for children based on a very adult movie. The book is constructed as a survival guide full of files on the various monsters, past space crews, missions (i.e.: movie plots), and machines for marines dealing with chest bursters, face huggers, queens, and other nasties in that place where no one can hear you scream. That semi-cute conceit is what makes the book feel like it’s intended for kids, and the rah-rah-military attitude feels out of line with films that were often deeply critical of the military industrial complex. Nevertheless, Book of Alien is great to gaze at it with its spiffy design and abundance of photos and illustrations of Aliens, spacecraft, and high-tech weaponry. Interestingly, the series’ casts are almost entirely absent from the visuals—not a single snap of Sigourney in the bunch. But I think anyone who will really be into this book will care less about the film’s human elements more and more about the monsters and gadgetry. Kids love that stuff.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Super Deluxe Edition of 'More of The Monkees' Coming Soon

On December 15, Rhino Records will continue its long-running Monkees Super Deluxe Edition campaign with a triple-disc edition of More of The Monkees. Sessions for The Monkees' second LP were extensive and had the distinction of producing some of the group's best early songs ("Mary Mary", "Steppin' Stone", "She", "Look Out", to name a few) and some of their all-time worst ("The Day We Fall in love","Ladies Aid Society","Kicking Stones", "I Never Thought It Peculiar"... I shall name no more). The sessions also produced quite a few early versions of songs The Monkees would revisit later in their career ("Valleri", "Words","Prithee", "Mr. Webster", "I'll Be Back Up on My Feet", "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind", "Don't Listen to Linda", "The Girl I Left Behind Me", "I'll Spend My Life with You", "Whatever's Right").

Rhino's Super Deluxe More of The Monkees spreads the great, the bad, and the rest across three discs of mono, stereo, alternate, vocals-only, and instrumental mixes. The most intriguing inclusions on this set are a couple of numbers exclusive to the TV series ("I Love You Really"from the "Monkees at the Movies" episode and Mike's wacky version of "Different Drum" from "Too Many Girls") and the earliest live tracks to get official release. These ten numbers caught in Arizona in 1967 include the long-discussed rarity "She's So Far Out, She's In" and the guys' four traditional solo set pieces (Peter's "Cripple Creek", Mike's "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover", Micky's "I Got a Woman", and Davy's "Gonna Build  a Mountain").

You can pre-order the Super Deluxe Edition of More of the Monkees at Rhino.com here. And now here's the complete track listing:

Disc 1
1
She (Remastered) [Mono Mix]
2
When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door) [Remastered] [Mono Mix]
3

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Very Beatles Christmas is Coming

Just in time for the holidays, Capitol/UMe will release a genuine and long-desired rarity for the first time. As far as The Beatles' back catalog goes, their fan club-only Christmas records are the most glaring missing pieces of the Livrpudlian puzzle aside from the Let It Be film. Released in the sixties on chintzy flexi-discs, the seven Christmas records the Fabs issued from 1963 to 1969 will be issued on colored vinyl in a limited edition box set this December 15. According to the official press release, the set will include all original picture sleeves and a 16-page booklet with "recording notes and reproductions of the fan club’s National Newsletters, which were mailed to members with the holiday flexi discs." 

As a little seasonal bonus, Capitol/UMe will also issue the recent stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as a limited edition picture disc LP. Happy Crimble!
 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review: 'Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier'


The thirst for more time in Twin Peaks was no doubt largely fueled by the desire to return to a mystery, alluring, deeply dangerous locale that held a select few of us in its thrall for 25 years. We wanted to find out what happened to Agent Cooper and his evil double. We wanted to know whether Norma and Big Ed ever got together once and for all. We wanted to know if Audrey Horne survived the bank explosion.

But if we are completely honest with ourselves, our desire for more Twin Peaks was also tied to nostalgia, and though Mark Frost and David Lynch did provide answers to most of the questions we’d spent 25 years pondering, they defiantly refused to give in to our desire for nostalgia. Like Agent Cooper, Twin Peaks was back but not quite in the form in which we were expecting it to be. Many questions were answered, but the holes that remained left some viewers feeling challenged a bit out of their comfort zones.

Our first clue that this was what we should have expected from a third season of Twin Peaks is a firm understanding of David Lynch’s uncompromising artistry: there is no way that the man who made Eraserhead, Mulholland Dr., and INLAND EMPIRE was going to take us on a trip back to Twin Peaks just so we could enjoy one more comfy helping of cherry pie. Our second was Mark Frost’s book The Secret History of Twin Peaks, a winding journey through the town’s history that teasingly focused on matters far removed from the original series’ main events and characters.

As stimulating as these new print and screen additions to Twin Peaks lore have been to some of us, other longtime fans have found them understandably frustrating. Such fans should take heart in the publication of what could be the last word on Twin Peaks, because Frost’s latest book, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, answers a lot of questions.

While Mark Frost presented The Secret History of Twin Peaks as a near-multimedia collection of newspaper articles, diary entries, memos, footnotes, and other print materials, The Final Dossier is much more straight-forward. It is a series of between-then-and-now narratives that reveal the fates of characters who didn’t show up for the return, such as Sheriff Truman, Leo Johnson, and Donna Hayward, and explanations of some of the more talked-about matters in the latest series. Such questions as who was behind the so-called Manhattan experiment and who was the girl who swallowed the frog-roach are now answered. And, yes, we finally find out how’s Annie.

The Final Dossier is Mark Frost’s satisfying conclusion to Twin Peaks for those who were unsatisfied by Lynch’s elliptical television incarnation, and it is much tidier than Frost’s own Secret History. That means it is also much briefer—The Final Dossier is a scant 145 pages—and much less idly luxurious. Images are few and the design is far more austere than the lovely Secret History. However, we get much more time with our favorite Peaks characters and much more humor than we did in The Secret History.

Those who revel in the unsolved mysteries of the Showtime series might want to steer away from Frost’s book, or at least, parts of it. I personally found the short but illuminating chapter on Audrey Horne a bit too illuminating even as Frost avoids giving us too clear a picture of what her current situation is. Yet, I was not at all sorry I read it, and with all the theories about what really happened in the third season of Twin Peaks already floating out in the zone, I imagine that Frost would delight in having us accept his version of events as just one more theory that may or may not be gospel. As far as theories go, I’ve read none that were more entertaining or compulsively readable than Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier.

Review: 'Star Trek: The Book of Lists'


Star Trek was one of the most thoughtful American shows from a pre-Golden Age period when most series didn’t share a single brain between them (I’m looking at you, Gilligan and Jeannie). Nevertheless, you shouldn’t really expect great thoughtfulness from a book with a title like Star Trek: The Book of Lists. Even as far as a book of 100 lists about topics such as “Kirk’s Most Memorable Kisses” and all the times Shatner appeared on screen shirtless goes, Chip Carter’s Book of Lists is pretty simple-minded. Commentary is minimal, and in some cases, non existent, as lists of characters who appeared in mirror universes and time travel episodes consist of nothing but names and titles.

But the nice thing about Star Trek is that it was thoughtful and fun, and while Star Trek: Book of Lists doesn’t try to deliver thoughtfulness, it does a fairly good job of bringing the fun. Lists of props and costumes that were remade and reused from episode to episode, 21st century devices and technology Star Trek predicted, merchandise, and actors and actresses who appeared on both Star Trek and Batman are a kick. Since the design is image heavy, graphically appealing run downs of the series’ various uniforms and most outré fashions, as well as side by side comparisons of how various aliens were depicted across various Star Trek incarnations, are groovy too. Some of this stuff is even informative. I hadn’t realized the Shari “Lambchop’s Mom” Lewis co-wrote the “Lights of Zetar” episode or that none other than MLK was a Trekkie.

There are some questionable inclusions too, though, as “Assignment: Earth” guest star Teri Garr is erroneously credited as a star of High Anxiety and Ronald Reagan is listed among famous Star Trek fans simply because he once screened The Search for Spock at the White House (he didn’t even like it). However, a photo of the U.S.’s last functional president, Barack Obama, snuggling with Nichelle Nichols and flashing the Vulcan salute is a geeky gas, and that’s really the kind of thing you should be hoping for from a book like Star Trek: The Book of Lists.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Psychobabble’s 100 Favorite Monsters!


Welcome, foolish mortals, to Psychobabble’s House of 100 Monsters. Creak up the steps and over the threshold. Within this vile abode you will encounter not 98, not 99, but one hundred of the most terrifying, horrifying, unpleasantifying creatures who have ever haunted the page, the screen, and the breakfast table. They are my personal favorite freaks, ranked from terriblest to really terriblest. No Halloween is complete without a visit to a spook house, and my house of horrors is as spooky as it gets. So I formally invite you to freak out to Psychobabble’s 100 Favorite Monsters. Step right this way…

100. Tar Man

First, allow me to guide you down into the basement where a certain deceased individual has recently been resurrected by a certain military-grade toxic gas. Don’t ask me who he was in life, but in death this standout star of Return of the Living Dead is like an E.C. Comics zombie in the oozing flesh and he wants one thing only... brains!

99. Black Frost

Sidestep the Tar Man and take a break by our deep freeze. Oops. Bad idea, because inside is a terrifying thingy that blasts incapacitating frosty air from its jockstrap. This is how Black Frost brought down The Mighty Boosh, and it traumatized many viewers of their surreal British comedy by baring its unsettlingly white teeth before breaking into a hideous dance of death. He’s one icy bastard.

98. Clayface

Wait a minute… that chap wasn’t Black Frost at all! His face has morphed back into its natural state—that of one Matt Hagen, better known as Batman’s hulking, shape-shifting nemesis Clayface, one of the nastiest and most genuinely monstrous monsters to ever menace Gotham City!

97. Wampa

Back in the deep freeze is another terrible creature, a towering snow beast with white, shaggy fur and clawed paws the size of trashcan lids. Is it the Yeti? Nah. They wouldn’t know what the hell a Yeti is up on the distant planet of Hoth. That’s where the Wampa whomps Luke Skywalker’s face off in the shocking attack that kicks The Empire Strikes Back into gear.

96. Pumpkinhead

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Specs on 'Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series' Blu-ray

On December 18, Showtime/CBS Home Entertainment will release the long-awaited third season of Twin Peaks on Blu-ray and DVD. Along with 18 challenging, electrifying, wholly original hours of television comes about 7 and a half hours of supplemental features, 90 minutes of which are exclusive to the Blu-ray release. 

Here goes:

BLU-RAY AND DVD:

Monday, October 23, 2017

5 Superior Adaptations of Horror Lit


Adapting literature for the cinema is always tricky, and this can be especially true when dealing with stories intended to raise shivers. What is terrifyingly evocative on the page can flop like a sack of wet leaves when realized with a dude in a zip-up monster suit on screen. Acts unimaginably awful when described cease to play on the imagination when depicted with a rubber knife and karo-syrup blood. Some of horror’s greatest literary works, such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, It, and I Am Legend, have never received ideal screen adaptations. Some page-to-screen trips have been more lateral with stories such as Frankenstein and Dracula offering very different yet equally essential elements when turned into movies or ones such as The Haunting of Hill House and Rosemary’s Baby being faithful enough to be genuine cases of “six of one/half dozen of another.” On occasion, a film goes above and beyond, reinventing the story upon which it is based in ways that make the original text virtually irrelevant. Here are five of those superior horrors.

1. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novella has the duel issues of being both dense and insubstantial. He built his story on a strong foundation so well ingrained in the collective consciousness that there is no point in repeating it here. However, there’s not much else to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde other than words, words, words, and more words. There is very little human element to the tale to make it more than a great concept. This is what makes it such perfect adaptation material. Memorable movies tend to form around skeletons of great concepts, and that’s how writers Thomas Russell Sullivan and Clara Beranger approached Stevenson’s story in the script for John S. Robertson’s 1920 silent film. They introduced the human element of a woman caught between Jekyll’s kindness and Hyde’s cruelty, which Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath intensified in their 1931 version directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a masterpiece swelling with every element one desires from a horror film: inventive camerawork, pioneering special effects, brilliant acting, humor, sheer terror, and an iconic monster. However, it is the tragic relationship between Miriam Hopkins’s Ivy and Frederic March’s Jekyll/Hyde that makes the film emotionally devastating. All of this adds up to a film that is incalculably better than its literary predecessor, and in my opinion, the best horror film ever made.

2. The Invisible Man

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Friend of Psychobabble Publishes Hilariousy Horrifying Piece in NYT

Getting published in The New York Times is by all accounts impressive (excluding the accounts of Fox News consumers, who don't like actual news). Getting published with a hilarious humor piece that references such Psychobabble favorites as Frankenstein, The Birds, It, and our finest of holidays (not Flag Day) is doubly impressive. On a personal note, this becomes triply impressive when the writer of the piece is a wonderful personal friend of Psychobabble, Sarah Hutto. Read Sarah's sinisterly seasonal "Well, Actually Frankenstein Was the Name of the Doctor" here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: 'The Old Dark House' Blu-ray


Frankenstein is an undisputed masterpiece of Gothic horror with one of the great on screen performances from Boris Karloff as what is probably the most iconic depiction of a classic monster ever seared into celluloid. James Whale never made a more famous film—and not many other filmmakers have either—yet Frankenstein still doesn’t feel like his definitive work because it is almost completely lacking in a key Whale element: droll humor. He did not start stirring this essential ingredient into his horror movies until his next one: a nutso adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s novel Benighted called The Old Dark House.

The Old Dark House is a classic old dark house set up: on a stormy night, a rag-tag group of strangers seek shelter at a creepy manse full of ooky kooky weirdos. Plot-wise, there is very little else to The Old Dark House, but Benn W. Levy’s script gives a remarkable cast featuring Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas, Eva Moore, and the divine Ernest Thesiger oodles of delicious things to say. As a leering butler without the ability to speak, Karloff does not get to roll Levy’s words over his tongue as the rest of the gang does, but he still makes his presence felt in an unhinged and unsettling performance. And the cool thing about The Old Dark House that distinguishes it from Whale’s other horror-comedies—The Invisible Man, and his real defining piece, Bride of Frankenstein—is that it still hold up as true-blue horror, blending in some genuinely chilling moments among the clowning.

Universal lost the right to release The Old Dark House after the Priestley estate resold the story to Columbia so it could remake Benighted in 1963 (and though I love director William Castle to death, it’s a lousy film), but this may actually be a good thing since Universal now only seems interested in its golden age horrors featuring the Big-Six monsters. If Universal still had dibs on The Old Dark House, we may never have gotten a Blu-ray release, which we now have thanks to the Cohen Film Collection. This 4K restoration looks miraculous compared to Kino’s 1999 DVD. The picture is clean and boasts beautiful contrast. The grain can get a bit intense, but these moments are few and hardly disrupt what is overall a fabulously clean presentation for a film of this age. Even the opening reel, which is only a dupe since the original was too decayed to use, looks pretty great. However, the soundtrack is somewhat tinny and noisy in patches, and the noise gets particularly hairy in the penultimate reel.

Most of the extras—feature commentaries with Gloria Stuart and James Curtis (who wrote the essential James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters) and an interview with Curtis Harrington, who knew Whale and hunted down the original negative of the film—were ported over from the Kino DVD (only an image gallery was lost in translation). Cohen only adds a booklet interview with Harrington and a 15-minute video interview with Boris’s daughter Sara Karloff, who discusses her dad’s career, difficulty in the makeup chair, and unique voice and body language. However, a lack of abundant new bonuses are of little consequence considering how much one of the great old films now looks like a great new film.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"You're Like Me": The Strange Links Between 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' and 'Blue Velvet'


David Lynch has created some of the scariest moments on film. The infamous scene behind Winkie’s Diner has been rated cinema’s scariest scene more than once. Twin Peaks has been named television’s scariest show. Eraserhead, Lost Highway, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, INLAND EMPIRE, and of all things, The Elephant Man have been categorized as horror movies through the years. However, Lynch has never really been a horror film director. Rather he works horror into his work in the same way that he works in comedy and melodrama, and because he does not really make films we expect to hit the beats of specific genres, those moments of humor, naked emotion, and terror always hit harder than they would in genre pictures because they are so unexpected.

However, there is one David Lynch film that really does mirror one particular horror classic: Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  That distinction is an important one since Blue Velvet has very little in common with Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella. It has more in common with John S. Robertson’s silent adaptation starring John Barrymore from 1920, which is the version that sees the introduction of significant female characters into the story. Jekyll is to marry Millicent Carew, a young representative of “respectable” society. Hyde takes up with Gina, an artist and dance hall girl who represents the seedier side.

These characters take on greater significance in Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath’s Oscar-nominated script for Mamoulian’s sound remake. The split in Frederic March’s Jekyll is made explicit even before he drinks the potion that draws out his monstrous id. He longs for a traditional (yet sexually active) relationship with Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart), the daughter of a respected brigadier general. He is also drawn to the sexually uninhibited dance-hall singer Ivy Pierson (Miriam Hopkins), whom he attends to after she is attacked by a brute. 
Hyde terrorizes Ivy.

Fans of Blue Velvet should start seeing the parallels coming into view already. Kyle MacLachlan’s Jeffrey Beaumont is our split Jekyll figure. Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), the daughter of a police detective, is Jeffrey’s opportunity for a traditional courtship: flirting across the table of a dinner; dancing at a make-out party. Nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens is our Ivy, drawing Jeffrey into the shadows of unfettered carnality (as portrayed by Isabella Rossellini, Dorothy even shares Hopkins’s shaky pitch).

However, Hyde is only embodied by MacLachlan in odd moments of weakness, as when Jeffrey spies on Dorothy undressing after sneaking into her apartment or strikes her after she commands him to during a bout of kinky sex. More often, Jeffrey’s id-self wears a totally different face a la Hyde. That face belongs to Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth, a monster who keeps Dorothy emotionally imprisoned in a constant state of agitated terror to extract physically abusive sex from her just as that other vile bully Hyde keeps Ivy trapped in a grotesque “love nest” for identical purposes. To make their shared-Jekyll/Hyde split explicit, Frank whispers to Jeffrey “You’re like me.” Like Jekyll, Jeffrey is a “good” person torn-apart by ugly behavior he believes he is incapable of controlling.

For fans of both films, the cables between Blue Velvet and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are too strong to miss; yet I would never imply that David Lynch wove them intentionally. While Lynch reportedly saw horror classics such as The Fly, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Thing from Another World during his youth, there is no evidence he’d ever seen Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which had been out of distribution since the release of the weak-tea remake in 1941 in any event. There’s no evidence Lynch saw that film either, though it does offer one more delicious connection to ponder: its Ivy was played by Ingrid Bergman— none other than Isabella Rossellini’s mother. 
Bergman and Rossellini: mother/daughter Ivy figures.
In 1999, interviewer Michael Sragow brought up the recurring Jekyll/Hyde theme in Lynch’s work to the director, but only specifically as it pertains to Alvin Straight in The Straight Story and Lynch didn’t let on that he has seen any version of Stevenson’s story. So it may be a bit extreme to label Blue Velvet a “remake” despite its numerous, tantalizing similarities to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but the two movies might still make for a fascinating double feature this Halloween season.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: 'Summer of Fear' Blu-ray


Following The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes —two super low-budget horror flicks that are now regarded as genre classics— Wes Craven brought his schlock-shock vision to the small screen with a movie based on Lois Duncan’s 1976 novel Summer of Fear. The film stars Linda Blair as Rachel, a teenage girl skeptical of her cousin Julia (Lee Purcell), who has come to stay with Rachel’s family after Julia’s parents croak in a mysterious car accident. As it turns out, Julia’s got some evil juju running through her, and she makes it her mission to cause trouble for Rachel and her kin.

When I first saw Summer of Fear (which I knew as Stranger in Our House, the title by which it originally aired) at the age of five or six, it terrified me. Terr-i-fied me.  Its insidious “I’m the only one who realizes the monster is a monster” premise, hellish climax, and queasy slow-mo closing credits gave me years of nightmares. No exaggeration. Rewatching Summer of Fear nearly forty years later, I no longer find it particularly scary, but it is great fun as a time capsule of super-seventies fright wigs (perms for everyone!) and polyester wardrobe and quite effective as simple horror premise. Blair is very good as the initially petulant, increasingly harried, ultimately heroic teen, and she and Lee Purcell have terrific antagonistic chemistry. It’s also interesting to see Wes Craven tone down his trademark nastiness for a subtler approach to horror. 

On the cusp of its fortieth anniversary, Summer of Fear comes to Blu-ray via Dopplegänger Releasing. The film looks its age with a fair share of scratches, specs, and blotches. The picture is generally soft and grainy, but it is still very watchable. Interior scenes tend to be  dark and low on detail, but exterior daytime scenes look good and the overall clarity seems to improve about halfway through the movie. Extras include a commentary by Wes Craven’s, which has been ported over from Artisan’s 2003 DVD, a short image gallery, and a neat new 13-minute on screen interview with Linda Blair, who discusses the film’s casting, her rapport with that cast, Wes Craven’s directing style, a disturbing stunt involving a horse that clearly made an impression on animal rights activist Blair.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: Joe Jackson's 'Summer in the City: Live in New York'


In August 1999, Joe Jackson performed at tiny Joe’s Pub in NYC, his voice and piano accompanied only by Gary Burke’s drums and Graham Maby’s bass. Considering the lack of guitar and the fact that the show took place amidst Jackson’s retreat from pop, one might assume the performance had some sort of jazz trio pretentions. But with Burke’s hard hitting and Maby’s trademark vicious attack, the set was pure Rock & Roll. It also formed the basis of a CD called Summer in the City: Live in New York released in 2000.

With Jackson looking back on his rocker days, it was appropriate that his original selections not only relied exclusively on the seventies and eighties, but that they also included oldies by The Beatles, Yardbirds, Steely Dan, and as the CD’s title reveals, The Lovin’ Spoonful (though there are nods to jazz in his covers of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and The Ramsey Lewsi Trio version of “The In Crowd”). Refreshingly, the covers and the punkish early cut “One More Time” retain all their thrust in this stripped down setting. This is in no small way due to the awesome Maby. With his 5-string bass, he supplies all the strings any Rock band could need as he adds some (in Joe’s words) “very deep bass” to “Fools in Love” and whips off a thrilling solo on “Another World”. All hail Graham.

Because it was recorded in the dedicatedly digital age, Summer in the City: Live in New York may seem an odd choice for the audiophile label Intervention Records (who’d previously reissued Jackson’s Look Sharp!, I’m the Man, and Night and Day), which normally goes to length to use a completely analog process in its reissues.* But even with only “high quality files” from the original DATs available, this double-vinyl release sounds superb with Maby and Burke rattling the floorboards and Jackson’s voice soaring over them with remarkable clarity on quiet 180-gram vinyl.

*Update: Shane Buettner of Intervention Records had the following to say about the process of mastering Summer in the City: Live in New York:

I definitely specialize in 100% analog mastering, because so few labels do that. However, my ethos is to be truest to the master source. For this project there was analog tape, but as the master source was native digital, the digital sounded best and that’s what I used. In this case it’s important to note the HUGE impact of going from the 16-bits of the CD to the 24-bit source files we used. 24-bits is 256 times the resolution of 16-bits! In addition, the original CD had several dB of dynamic compression whereas we didn’t employ any.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: 'The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia'


The Twilight Zone ran for 156 episodes written by 40-something different writers and featuring way more actors and actresses than I’m willing to count. You can literally fill an encyclopedia with this stuff, and that’s just what Steven Jay Rubin literally did with The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia.

Running for 424 packed pages, Rubin’s book discusses every episode, every writer, every director, every major theme (aliens, children, time travel, etc.), every significant location or item (Sunnyvale Rest home from “Kick the Can”, Talky Tina from “Living Doll”, etc.), and nearly every actor and actress who appeared in the series’ original run (understandably, people like Phil Arnold, who played “Man” in “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” and Jimmy Baird, who played “Boy” in “The Changing of the Guard” are a bit too much for our valiant author). And the original run is Rubin’s main concern, which he makes very clear in his book’s introduction, although he still manages to slip in a good deal of information about, for example, Twilight Zone: The Movie in his entry on “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”.

Rubin doesn’t make room for potential entries about such original series-related items as all the merchandise The Twilight Zone spawned or The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror” episodes that so wonderfully parody so many classic Zones, but we do get a lot that saves the book from being redundant in light of The Twilight Zone Companion, Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic, IMDB, and Wikipedia. There are quotes from new interviews with a slew of people involved with the original series, odd bits of trivia (example: Russ Meyer was a still photographer for the series! Nina Roman-Rhodes, who played the maid in “Miniature”, was one of the few people who reported seeing a second gunman at the site of JFK’s assassination!), and quite a few unusual photos (my favorite: Gary Crosby of “Come Wander with Me” monkeying with an electric bass). Ten pages of Rod Serling’s final interview is a cool addition too even though the creator barely mentions The Twilight Zone at all.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: 'The Real Classy Compleat Bloom County 1980-1989'


Before the eighties, the funnies proved they could be smart (Doonesbury) or weird (try reading some classic Superman strips), but it was only during the decade of Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side that they really became both. And it all really started with Bloom County. Like Doonesbury, Bloom County had politics on its mind but its talking animals, geeky reference points, surrealism, and all-out anarchy made it a hell of a lot more fun than Garry Trudeau’s strip. Despite its mission to expose greed and hypocrisy in contemporary society, its refusal to accept war and bigotry as anything but shameful and horrific, and its sheer silliness, Bloom County also had a wistful tone that often made it poignant and utterly human even when the cast consisted of a neurotic penguin (or was Opus a puffin?), an ultra-conservative bunny, a bigoted groundhog, and a scraggly cat hooked on more shit than Keith Richards.

Reading Bloom County today, it is striking how well it holds up despite how topical it was. Actually, its topicality is one reason why it is still such a great read since it functions as a bit of a history lesson and a bigger bit of a nostalgia trip with its references to Pac-Man, Rubiks Cubes, “Where’s the Beef”, and other eighties touchstones. The surreal nature of history keeps some of this stuff relevant too. Who would have thought we’d still be concerned with the idiotic antics of a certain talentless, tactless, conscienceless real estate tycoon whom Breathed roasted back in the Bloom County days by placing his brain in the body of Bill the Cat?

IDW is now collecting the entirety of those days in a two-volume set you could flatten a cat with. The Bloom County-esque punchline of The Real Classy Compleat Bloom County 1980-1989 is that it isn’t especially classy at all. The soft covers are only mocked up to look like cracked lather, though they are housed in a heavy slipcase. While some IDW books load on the extra features, this set only features a one-page introduction by Breathed, who is still as fixated on our idiot president as he was before the idiot became president (and no, kids, we do not get a reissue of the Billy and the Boingers flexi-disc featuring those classic hits “U Stink but I U” and “I’m a Boinger”). That’s not a problem, though, since Bloom County was never particularly concerned with being classy. The most crucial word in the title is no joke: compleat. Well, considering the archaic spelling, maybe it’s a little bit of a joke. Ack! 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Monsterology: Clowns


Way-hey, kids! Are you ready to have some fun? Because I’m the fun fellow with the floppy feet who loooooves to have fun! I love all kinds of fun! Like luring you into the sewer to play with my collection of balloons! They float! They all float down here, kids, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float too! Sounds like fun, don’t it? I may take your arm, but just consider that the price of admission to my fun, fun sewer circus! You’re not scared, are you? I’m just the friendly, funny fellow with the floppy shoes, and everyone knows that a clown is a kid’s best friend, right? Right?

Wrong! In fact, the creepy clown has become such a common horror figure that it’s hard to imagine there was a time when children laughed along with the likes of Clarabell, Bozo, and Ronald McDonald. These days it seems that the easiest way to get distribution for a cheap-o, direct-to-video (sorry…I mean “direct-to-streaming”) horror movie is to stick a leering, fanged clown in it. Stitches (2012), Sloppy the Psychotic (2012), Mockingbird (2014), All Hallow’s Eve (2013), and of course, Clown (2014) are just a few of these fun flicks.
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