Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween from The Signal Watch!

As we now conclude every Halloween, let's wrap it up with the Queen of Halloween! Ladies and Germs... Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!

And now... Thriller

Happy Halloween, EveryBuddy!

Franken-Watch: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

This year on the 80th anniversary of the release of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), I wrote a post celebrating the film.   You're welcome to check out what I said there about the movie.

Each Halloween I now make it a habit to watch a string of horror films from across the past hundred years, and while the rest of what I'll watch I might change up, I always include the first two Frankenstein films from Universal Studios, Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.  Of course I just watched Frankenstein (and I really do recommend catching these movies in the theater, when possible), but I found no listings for the movie here in Austin, so I busted out my BluRay copy.

Let's Get Set for Spookiness

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Watch: Elvira - Mistress of the Dark (1988)

I'm a firm believer that the 1988 film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is both underrated and was ahead of its time.  Fortunately, in the ensuing 20-something years, the movie found its audience on VHS, cable and DVD.

While certainly there were female-centric comedies in the 1980's (see: the career of Goldie Hawn), Elvira's persona was considered something more to gawk at during her first wave of popularity when seen through the filter of media like The Tonight Show than it was seen for its own merits or as something folks were bothering to pay attention to.  Sure, she had genuine fans out there, and the oddly specific nature of Elvira translated surprisingly well to beer ads, etc...

Franken-Watch: Frankenstein (1931) with the Univ. of Texas Wind Ensemble

I don't think it's a secret that Frankenstein (1931) is one of my favorite movies.  For the past 15 years or so, I've watched the movie about annually, and definitely for the last decade that's been true.

For a long time, The University of Texas music department has found Halloween-related activities to put on, and for years one of the faculty would play the organ along with the Chaney-starring Phantom of the Opera, but I never managed to see it.  About a month ago, I figured out that this year, Frankenstein was showing at the Bass Concert Hall, the big theater where travelling Broadway shows often set up camp in Austin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Happy Birthday, Elsa Lanchester

Happy Birthday to The Bride herself, Elsa Lanchester.  She would have been 113 today.

Halloween Watch: Revenge of The Creature (1955)

Firstly, yes, this movie absolutely features a very young Clint Eastwood as a scientist in a walk-on part.  My jaw was on the floor.

Secondly, there is no Julie Adams in this movie.  Lori Nelson is fine, but... yeah.

Thirdly, apparently you can see this movie as an episode of MST3K, so you know what I'm doing with my Thanksgiving break.

I literally have no idea why (a) it seems like Universal really struggled with making a good Creature of the Black Lagoon movie after the first movie, and (b) why someone hasn't remade a Creature movie in recent years when, frankly, the formula shouldn't be complicated.  He's a super strong lake-monster with claws and a penchant for destruction.  Get on it, Universal.

I promised myself I'd watch the two remaining Universal Creature sequels this Halloween season as I'd owned them for about 10 years and never watched them, always totally happy to watch the first film.  The first sequel screening went a little poorly.  For me.  But I'd watched the movies out of order, jumping from the stellar first to the third film which killed the franchise.

Tuesday evening I took in Revenge of the Creature (1955), a sequel released just a year after the 1954 original.

The logic of the set-up isn't that crazy.  We had survivors in the prior film, and the stories they told spawned interest in the Gill Man.  Thus, someone finances a hunting expedition of sorts to the Black Lagoon to capture or kill the creature and bring him back to civilization.  It was the middle of the 20th Century.  We could shoot or kill or displace whatever we wanted to for science.

Whereas the first film took place on the creature's home turf, we've duped ol' Gill Man into our trap and within 20 minutes we're somewhere in Florida in this movie, placing Gil in a tank at a proto-Sea World.

20 years ago bonus

And here's a pic from what I figure is Spring of 1996 of me and Jamie somewhere in San Antonio.

The dream of the 90's is still alive.

20 Years.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of when Jamie and I started dating.

I have to use the term loosely, because there wasn't all that much dating.  There was no dinner and a movie followed by more dinner and movies, and then the usual progression.  After knowing each other for about two years, we went to one David Bowie concert in a non-romantic context (heck, my brother was along), and a couple of weeks later, we sort of high-fived and were suddenly together, and I guess we decided we liked it that way.

Jamie was college roommates with some lady friends of mine from high school, and they were all at Trinity, a small university in San Antonio, about 90 minutes south of Austin.  I'd met her in October of my freshman year, but we didn't start "dating" until our 3rd year of school.

It basically went like this:

I dunno.  I figure anyone who goes and sees Vampire in Brooklyn with you for what amounts to your first weekend together, complains a minimal amount about your film selection and is willing to see you again...  that's a girl you want to stick with.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Happy 157th Birthday, Colonel Roosevelt

Today marks the 157th Birthday of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, and, undoubtedly, one of the most fascinating human beings you can read about.

I've lost count of how many Roosevelt books I've read, and each one reveals another layer of the man.  Modern Americans would do well to study the challenges of his Presidency as they truly can provide instruction as to how history is nothing but a series of repeating circumstances, and the choices Roosevelt and his contemporaries made might shed light on our own path forward.

Of course, Roosevelt is most famous for his boisterous personality, his rich history of service, and his spirit of travel and adventure - all of which begins with a series of tragic preambles from his own ill health as a child, to the tragic death of his father, to the death of his mother and wife on the same day.  And even how he dealt with personal calamity can be instructive:  go be a cowboy.

The man was deeply flawed, had an outsized ego and the propensity to be a tyrant and make up his own laws when convenient.  He shattered his own party, handled some sensitive events better than others (the coal strike - pretty well, the Brownsville incident is still a mark of shame on his record), and had difficulty with personal relationships when they damaged his pride in any way, shape or form.

To have personal heroes as an adult is a difficult task.  You have to accept and admit that everyone is flawed, but its the nature of those flaws and what they did in spite or because of them that you can come to an understanding of what you value and your own ideals.

I am uncertain if Theodore Roosevelt is a personal hero.  Maybe I should be more of a Taft man, or James Garfield.  But there's something stirring about Roosevelt, and just keeping up with him in books recounting events moving ever further into the past can still be exhilarating.

Here's to our 26th Preisdent, the hero of Kettle Hill/ San Juan Hill.  The Governor of New York.  The Assistant Secretary of the Navy.  The Commissioner of the Police of New York City.  The New York State Assemblyman.  The cowboy.  The naturalist.  The explorer. The big game hunter.  The conservationists.  The elitist.  The progressive.  The soldier.  The son.  The father.

Here's to TR on his birthday.  Let us always celebrate the man for what he was - all the greatness and faults of America, all the things we could be and shouldn't be, all in one man.

Super Watch: Supergirl Pilot on CBS

So.  Here's where I'm the jerk who didn't like the pilot of CBS's new Supergirl TV show that everyone is so excited about.

Look, sometimes I forget just how terrible 90% of network television truly is.  It's no secret network TV has its formulas, its trope for every situation, and never met a bit of exposition it didn't like.  I get that they had to get the character introduced and get a lot of things started quickly, and in the post-Lost wake, the networks think they've learned their lesson and are absolutely terrified of not giving the audience every detail about a show in the first episode.

And I say this as someone who likes Supergirl.  A lot. I've got Action 252 hanging up in my office in a frame (please don't rob me).  I've read Silver, Bronze, 90's, 00's and even gave the trainwrecky New 52 Supergirl a shot.  I'm not a stranger to the character.  And, while I actually like the general tone of "Kimmy Schmidt as Supergirl", because I was really convinced I'd never see that take again (thank you, Sterling Gates, wherever you are, for giving me that Supergirl, oh, so briefly)...  The show is a mess.

Yes, it is a show for children and for those who don't know Supergirl, and no one is under any legal or moral obligation to maintain fidelity to the comics.  I think Marvel has proved that's all pretty unnecessary so long as you get the basic details down.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Watch: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

As An American Werewolf in London (1981) concludes, the screen goes dark, and then the following appears on screen:
Lycanthrope films limited wishes to extend its heartfelt congratulations to Lady Diana Spencer and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the occasion of their marriage - July 29th 1981
It's one of the oddest moments in an incredibly odd horror film, one that was part of the 1980's deconstruction of media tropes as the generation of film and media students got jobs in the world and Marshall McLuhan's ideas trickled into the zeitgeist.

The internet suggests that the tag regarding the marriage of Prince Charles is there as a sort of pre-emptive apology to Charles for hurling a homophobic slur at him in the course of a scene where our lead character is trying to get arrested, but it's also part of the undercurrent of the alien nature of an American in England, werewolf or not, that's part of the movie.  With England's somewhat stricter censorship rules of the time, perhaps that bit might have required an edit for a UK release.  I don't know.  But it's just one more bit of an American trying to behave himself in England and making a mess of it, as something that can't possibly be taken as anything less than an eye-rolling apology to propriety.  Frankly, I don't know how any American would meet such a congratulatory message with anything but a groan or chuckle at the end of a brutal werewolf rampage and Creedence blasting from the Dolby sound system.

You know, this is the same filmmaker who brought us Animal House just a few years before.

We didn't necessarily need to meet any particular criteria for what a horror movie was, anymore, Landis was saying.  We can be genuinely funny.  We can be snarky and a but subversive.  And we can be absurd.  But none of that, he seemed to be saying, really makes a good werewolf rampage any less horrific.  Just, you know, bizarre.

Halloween Watch: The Haunting (1963)

I watched The Haunting (1963) for the first time back around 1999.  I recall that the first two Octobers after I graduated from college, free from homework and other school stuff to do at the time (and with a job that really, genuinely ended at 6:00 most days and had a ten minute commute), I was free to binge-watch scary movies.  And, so, Jamie and I kept heading back to Austin's I Luv Video until she told me to knock it off, she was tired of black and white movies.  I'm still nowhere as caught up as I should be.

It was during those first two Octobers that we rented The Haunting, likely because I'd seen it mentioned somewhere in an article on "must see scary movies", but I've forgotten what got me to reach for the tape in the first place.

I recall we watched it during the day, the blinds closed, and, still, we were both utterly petrified by the movie.   Or, at least as petrified as I ever get from a movie.

Monster movies generally aren't really all that scary - just weird and uncanny.  For scary, I like atmosphere and breaching the unknowable, I guess.  It's probably why stuff like The Shining sticks with me, but I see Friday the 13th as a sort of comedy.  Of course it's suspenseful to wait to see who will get stabbed next, but it's an inevitability.  It's just waiting for a shoe to drop like a punchline.  And gore is gorey and hard to look at, but that doesn't make it necessarily scary.  I don't like looking at rotting hamburger meat and I don't want to touch it, but I'm not scared.  I'm repulsed.

I'll take a good "what the hell is going on?" to qualify as scary in my book.  The unexplainable and inexplicable, add in a dash of madness, and I'll qualify something as scary.  And The Haunting has that in spades.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Some Halloween Cheer with Donald Duck and Nephews

Here's some Disney produced Halloween fun with our pal, Donald Duck, and, of course, Huey, Dewey and Louie!

Today Marks the 22nd Anniversary of the Passing of Vincent Price

JimD reminds me that today marks the anniversary of the passing of Vincent Prince.  The actor lived from 1911 to October 25th, 1993.

The more movies I see, the more I'd want Vincent Price as one of my guests at the table in that game where you imagine your fantasy dinner.   He just seems like a heck of a guy.

I really like how Price not only embraced his transition from handsome young man to Master of Horror, with enthusiastic good humor in interviews and whatnot, and retaining a level of class you don't find often in Hollywood.

And, hey, he made so many good movies.  I will need to bust open the box-set I picked up earlier this year and watch a few more during this spooky week.