Monday, February 29, 2016

Dr. Gangrene's Tales from Parts Unknown

One of the joys of living a geeky life that you end up with a lot of very talented friends. I know people who are painters, sculptors, filmmakers, writers, television directors, playwrights, special effects artists, musicians, disc jockeys and even the occasional Mad Doctor! It is under that title that most people know my buddy Larry Underwood because for the last 17 years he has been Nashville's TV horror host Dr. Gangrene. Starting out on public access and graduating to local network affiliates he presented a string of B-movies with a winning smile and a nefarious gleam that made him the talk of the town whenever a new episode would air. Over the past two years Larry has branched out into creating an ongoing video series that takes a look at the films of Vincent Price - ALL of them! Tackling this formidable task in chronological order is entertaining, fascinating and Larry does a great job of highlighting information that even longtime fans might not know.

But even with my knowledge of the various projects of Mr. Underwood I had forgotten about one of his other horror-tinged hobbies - he writes short fiction as well! And now he has bundled together 14 of his tales into one book that has just been released. Titled Dr. Gangrene's Tales from Parts Unknown it runs the table on geeky interests with stories ranging from the expected horror and monster tales to the Wild West and even off into the dark heart of the future. If you have an interest in fun, modern fiction that harks back to the classic pulp adventures of the 30's through the 50's you will find some true delights in these (possibly digital) pages. It's available as an e-book or in a good old dead tree edition from the link below and if you're a Kindle Unlimited subscriber it's even free! Check it out!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Stewart Granger Poster Art

Without planning to do so I have watched a few films featuring Stewart Granger in the past couple of weeks. And now that I've seen him in a variety of different situations, locales and costumes I have to say that he is becoming a new favorite. I've long been a fan of the excellent Canadian Mountie film THE WILD NORTH (1952) but now that I've seen the German western RAMPAGE AT APACHE WELLS (1965) and the amazing Italian made swashbuckler SWORDSMAN OF SIENA (1962) I am starting to look around for more of his work. He certainly knew how to make it all look easy! 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

THE WITCH (2016)

Got out to see the recent Sundance Film Festival hit THE WITCH last week. It's being touted as one of the best horror films of recent years and I have to concur! Very much in the vein of Polanski's brilliant REPULSION (1965) it delineates a descent into insanity and death. And, like that horror tale, this is an exquisite film but a hard sell to most of the general horror crowd, I fear. This is a movie that takes place in a very specific time - the early 1700 in New England i.e. the colonies and it refuses to bend reality to fit modern audience's desires. The language is very accurate to the time and, according to the tag at the end of the film, the dialogue for the most part is taken directly from written accounts of the period in question. This makes for fascinating viewing for anyone with a knowledge of history and also an interest in a kind of social anthropology. But I suspect that for modern audiences the antiquated language will be a barrier that they won't even try to cross.

Let me state right up front that a lot of people are going to hear 'social anthropology' and wonder what the hell I'm talking about. Is this a horror movie or a drama? Well, that's the trick the film plays as we watch this family deteriorate over the course of 90 minutes and slowly destroy themselves. We see the burgeoning sexual feelings and their guilt-ridden repression, the religious dogma that cripples thought and the hypocritical nature of people unsure of the right path. We see these people sometimes trying to do the thing that will put them in the best light in a loved one's eyes and watching it all fall to pieces and slowly rip these characters apart.

Pride is the reason for this family to have isolated itself in the middle of nowhere but it is fear that guides these people's lives. Fear is the reason they are out in the middle of a harsh, unforgiving wilderness attempting to make it on their own. They wish to keep themselves pure of mind and body before their god but it is their pride and fear - preyed on by that religious belief - that makes their future impossible. When you believe mad things madness lurks around every corner giving any childish statement, silly joke, poorly considered remark or angry outburst more heft and meaning than it can honestly bear. When fear rules your life you can never be safe and that is truly horrifying. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Japanese Poster Art for Carpenter's THE THING (1982)

Plus, this very cool snowglobe! 

Saturday, February 20, 2016


The Toho Kaiju films are a joy on so many levels and I'm thrilled that we are starting a new series covering a set of them for 2016. The focus this year will be on the various movies that feature that golden skinned villain Ghidorah and we begin with his (her?) first appearance in 1964's GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER. Released in the U.S. in 1965 it became a favorite of monster kids and it's screenings on domestic television pushed this fifth Godzilla film to new heights of popularity. This is much more a Godzilla or Mothra film than a Ghidorah tale points to it being a direct sequel to the monster film released earlier that same year MOTHRA VS GODZILLA. Throw in the second appearance by Rodan and this becomes a sequel to his solo movie from 1956! That's right - this is a four monster film making it a Toho Monster Rally! Pop the corn, lay in a supply of dried squid and get ready to watch the fireworks!

As always with these giant monster movies Troy is the fanatic with years of reading and watching informing his thoughts and I am the neophyte trying to line these movies up in my horror loving head. We talk a bit about the differences between the Japanese version and the shorter English language cut while admitting freely that we simply cannot settle on a set pronunciation of the title monster's name. We both were impressed by the excellent commentary track on this film's Classic Media DVD by author David Kalat and we speak to some of his opinions as we go along. I have to say that he makes some good points even if I disagree with his take on some specific ideas. Troy gives me some backup when I question the film's U.N. meeting of giant monsters and the credulity stretching table tennis sequence, but has some love for the concept of a kiaju group hug. Also, neither of us can understand why one of this film's alternate titles isn't GODZILLA VS something something..... anything! The Big G is the star here, title aside.

Thanks for downloading and listening. Any questions or comments can be sent to where we'll be glad to hear from you. Remember that you can send MP3's or WAV files of your comments as well and we'll blend them into the feedback section next time out. 

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Fright Rags Pieces T-shirt!

I don't often do this but - you have to take a look at this excellent T-shirt from the excellent folks over at Fright Rags. Holy freakin' chainsaw massacre! This is a cool shirt and exactly the right thing to wear while listening to our podcast on the film. Or whatever you enjoy doing in T-shirts, I guess. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Sunday, February 14, 2016

What I Watched in January

Caught THE REVENANT last month and was very impressed. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu proves that he is a master of visual storytelling and incredibly clever at building shock moments, suspense sequences and visceral images. His fluid camera style takes the viewer into his tales in a way that few other filmmakers working today would imagine. Like his fellow Mexican director Alfonso (GRAVITY) Cuarón he has perfected a way of smoothly blending a God's Eye point of view camera practice seamlessly with very competent CGI work to craft multiple stretches of this film that never leaves the lead character out of our sight. This stylistic choice adds to the tension we feel watching because we never have to readjust our POV and so we become more and more anxious when the violence continues as a uninterrupted act. It smartly works on us as film watchers because, as people accustomed to the seeing faked acts of violence every day in our entertainment, we automatically relax slightly when an edit happens onscreen. It's this short moment of disconnect that allows us to disengage enough to keep the image just that - an image. By not giving us that almost subliminal break from the action Iñárritu pushes his audience into higher and higher levels of unease until it is finally released by a natural break in the violence that is structured by the physical reality he has built. By keeping one long unbroken shot for the length of a fight, attack or chase he forces his audience to almost participate in the action even if that participation is only manifested by gripping the armrests of your chair or holding your breathe for an unnaturally long time. His is a brilliant craftsman of this type of scene and has clearly learned just how boring they might be if he edited repeatedly in these moments. You only need to examine the fast editing technique of most other action directors to see how easy it can be to become detached from what is happening until you feel nothing about what you're watching. Iñárritu wants you to care about the characters he is showing you and that makes him a formidable creator of movies.

Oh! And the performances in THE REVENANT are fantastic along with the amazing visuals. Filming on location in winter and having the actors get cold & dirty makes for an arresting experience that feels like travelling back in time. Of course, now I want to see the first film to bring this tale to the big screen MAN IN THE WILDERNESS (1971) which stars Richard Harris, John Huston and even has a small role for James Doohan. Yeah, gotta see this one soon. 


CROOKED HOUSE (2008) - 8 (Mark Gatiss penned ghost story anthology)
THE SISTERHOOD (1988)- 5 (not bad low-budget post apocalyptic adventure)
M (1951) - 8 (very well done remake of Lang's classic)
BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM (2014) - 8 (well done animated Suicide Squad story)
MUCHA SANGRE (2002)- 4 (Spanish zombie/alien comedy)
EQUALIZER 2000 (1987)- 5 (fun post apocalyptic action film)
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)- 9 (excellent western)
THE PROPOSITION (2005) - 8 (Australian Western)
JESSABELLE (2014) - 7 (very good ghost story)
THE BAT (1959) - 6 (Vincent Price and Agnes Moorhead make a mystery)
WE'RE NO ANGELS (1955)- 9 (excellent sort-of Christmas tale)
SODOM AND GOMORRHA (1922) - 6 (silent epic from Curtiz)
12 TO THE MOON (1960) - 3 (silly, cheesy and dumb SF)
CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980)-  6 (rewatch)
MIDNIGHT SHADOW (1939) - 3 (terrible but fascinating all black cast film)
UNFRIENDED (2014) - 8 (very well done)
THE TERRORNAUTS (1967) - 4 (bad but very earnest and fun British SF)
A FORCE OF ONE (1979) - 6 (early Chuck Norris actioner)
EL ESPECTRE DEL TERROR (1973) -4 (sub-par Spanish giallo)
OCTOPUSSY (1983) - 7 (rewatch)
THE REVENANT (2015) -9
MR. HOLMES (2015) - 8 (fantastic tale of an aging Sherlock)
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (The Rouge Cut) - 9 (longer is even batter)
X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (2008) - 7 (way better than I expected)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

THE MARK OF THE WOLFMAN (1968) poster art

I can't remember if I ever posted these beauties before so here they are! I haven't watched this Naschy classic in a few years and I'm thinking it might be time. Even as we scale back the NaschyCast my love for the man's work continues to grow. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Black Sabbeth!

Portishead lead singer Beth Gibbons has joined forces with stoner metal band Gonga to cover the classic Black Sabbath tune of the same name and it is fantastic! The video below is comprised of scenes from the great Mario Bava film that carries the same title and it accompanies the music very well. What a treat!

Tuesday, February 09, 2016


Turner Classic Movies recently showed one of the increasingly rare films directed by Anthony Mann that I had yet to see. Of course this thrilled me because I have yet to see any film directed by Anthony Mann that was not at least very good. He's one of those guys back during the days of the studio system who seemed to be able to move comfortably between genres and produce good films no matter what was asked of him. Oddly, this movie was being shown on TCM not because of the Mann pedigree  but because it was produced by the great William Cameron Menzies. Now I've been a fan of William Cameron Menzies ever since I discovered who he was (andI've even talked about him here on the blog briefly before) but I'm going to focus on this film from the perspective of being an Anthony Mann film.

THE BLACK BOOK (1949) is also known under the title REIGN OF TERROR and focuses on the rise of Robespierre during the French Revolution and his attempt to install himself as the country's dictator. The cast includes Richard Basehart as Robespierre and Robert Cummings as his foil. The film follows the broad outline of the historical events but plays fast and loose with details, as you might expect from Hollywood. Villain Robespierre takes hero Charles D'Aubigny (Cummings) into his confidence when the dastardly scoundrel loses his little black book. But this isn't a list of potential dates with Parisian floozies! This black book is filled with the damning evidence that keeps the ambitious politician's rivals fearful of him and without it Robespierre's chances of becoming the next ruler of France is over. The film very quickly becomes a fast and smart chase story with D'Aubigny in constant mental and physical battle with various groups as he tries to maintain his cover identity (which is keeping him safe from Robespierre's people) and trying to prove his real identity to those opposed to the scheming and powerful man while he frantically hunts for the book that will save both him and his beloved country.

This movie is tight, intelligently moving from scene to scene so fluidly that it's 90 minutes seem more like 60. Mann uses tight shots to hide the relative poverty of the production which was pulled together by Menzies get more use out of the sets built for the box office bomb JOAN OF ARC (1948). Mann cleverly frames most of his images so that the foreground provides information that adds to the main action taking place in the middle of the screen. The cinematography is incredible using light and shadow to great effect exactly as was becoming the standard in Noir crime films of the era. He and Menzies also use some effective back projection to increase the number of extras in crowd shots and to, along with smart sound design, give the often cramped sets much more depth.

In a lot of ways THE BLACK BOOK's plot is a variation on a classic Film Noir storyline but placed within the French Revolution. If you squint you can see the outline of DOA (1950) story played out her a full year earlier and in fancier clothing! This film is very much in line with the others Mann made around the same time such as T-MEN, RAW DEAL and RAILROADED (all released in 1947) and the brilliant BORDER INCIDENT (1949). He knew how to build suspense and he seems to have been able to coax great work out of his actors. I am never disappointed with one of his movies and I need to see the rest of them. I guess I need to find a copy of  MOONLIGHT IN HAVANA (1942)!

Sunday, February 07, 2016


In a small Italian town an organized group of criminals is systematically coercing every business owner to pay protection money or suffer the consequences. Their methods are extremely violent — threats of arson and vandalism are quickly made concrete if any resistance is offered. Enter Nico Palmieri (Fabio Testi), a police inspector assigned to stop the hoodlums' extortion racket. Palmieri takes his job very seriously, and after an attack on him that puts him in the hospital his desire to stop these punks goes up a few notches. He first tries to get some of the terrorized store owners to press charges but can only get one restaurateur (Renzo Palmer) to come forward. In response to the man's bravery the gang kidnaps and rapes his teenage daughter, resulting in her death. Calling in a favor from career thief Pepe (Vincent Gardenia), Nico uses him for information, getting a tip that leads to a disastrous ambush in which many more cops than criminals get killed. The gang then sets up Pepe on his next robbery, causing the thief to be arrested and his young nephew/partner to be beaten to death by an angry mob of citizens. 

This highly public debacle brings Nico's deal with Pepe to the attention of the Police Commissioner, and having been previously removed from the case he's now fired. Knowing that if the leaders of the criminal organization are not discovered and taken out the racket will roll over the hamstrung police department, Nico moves to work completely outside the law. He recruits a team of people with a desire to exact vengeance on the gang, arms them and gets a vital piece of information about a meeting of the top bosses. Among his hit team is the now slightly mad restaurateur Luigi; champion skeet shooter Giovanni (Orso Maria Guerrini), whose wife was murdered after her husband helped the cops; a former mob hit man (Romano Puppo) willing to participate for his freedom from prison and a passport; and Pepe, who's hoping to purge his guilt over his nephew.

The Big Racket is a fantastic crime/action film with a great story, solid performances and several very exciting gun battles. Over the past few years director Enzo G. Castellari has slowly become one of my favorite Italian cult filmmakers. He's worked in nearly every genre I hold dear, swinging from the western to thrillers to post-apocalyptic Mad Max rip-offs without missing a beat. Here he starts the action off in high gear and then manages to ramp things up with only the briefest of pauses along the way for strategy. The story moves smoothly from point to point with little wasted effort and consistently shows a great deal of style. Even if by 1976 the (over) use of slow motion in action scenes was getting to be old hat, Castellari employs the technique brilliantly. It never feels forced or gratuitous but enhances the tension and shock as bullets strike flesh or glass flies. The best use of slo-mo here has to be the amazing scene in which we watch as Testi is tumbled down a hillside in a car. My jaw dropped open as I realized that those glass fragments and bits of debris flying around the car were real. It's moments like this one that keep the audience off balance. The movie throws in unexpected twists that smartly draw us in and keep us guessing. Having civilian marksman Giovanni impulsively join the action during the failed police ambush puts a further edge on the proceedings. Seeing this regular guy do the right thing, pay a horrible price and become a vengeful outlaw is well played with Guerrini more than capable in the role. Even the score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis is amazing sounding, as if the best ’70s era hard rock jam band you never heard of recorded it.

Truly this is a great find for fans of both Euro-Cult and flat-out action movie fans but I do have to offer one caveat. The Blue Underground DVD only presents the film with its English dub track which, while serviceable, is not the perfect way to see the movie. Unlike the majority of European films produced for export at the time, The Big Racket was not shot with the actors speaking English, but Italian. Since the story takes place in Italy this seems a natural choice — they're not trying to pretend this is the U.S. for once. But this throws the dubbing off in a way that occasionally distracted me. This alone wouldn't have been too bad, but the English dub has a serious flaw... The language seems to have been sanitized for our protection. There are nearly no profanities above the level of "damn" or "hell", and where stronger terms would be obvious, bad substitutes have been used instead. This occasionally leads to some pretty stupid moments that make the events onscreen unintentionally comic. How many frustrated, enraged grown men use the word "diddly" instead of "shit"? Or would refer to a jammed weapon in the heat of a deadly battle as a "son of a gun"? There are a few times when this dodging of strong language is strangely effective though, such as when the extortion gang is threatening to sexually assault Luigi's daughter. Somehow the euphemisms make their threats more sinister as our imaginations fill in what is being implied. But I still think that the best way to see this movie would be with the Italian soundtrack and subtitles. With Blue Underground's record of including sometimes rare alternate language tracks I would have expected that option here.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Matt Helm - The Removers

Last week I finished reading the third of the Matt Helm novels -The Removers - by Donald Hamilton. I would have probably gotten to it sooner except that it became a very difficult book to locate in my usual haunts. Luckily the Internet provides - thank you Christopher Mills! About two years ago I finally decided to read the Helm novels because I stumbled across the first one in a used book store and was reminded that they exist. That novel, Death of a Citizen, turned out to be far better than I thought it was going to be and I immediately rushed to the second one which was just as good, if not better. At this point that I realized maybe I needed to revisit the series of Matt Helm film adaptations made in the mid 60's starring Dean Martin.

That proved to be a very mixed bag. I still haven't rewatched or maybe even watched the 3rd and 4th of that sad, misbegotten series of semi-comedic spy capers. I'm sure I will eventually but I'm just not in a big rush.

But the books, the books are turning out to be fantastic. I know that in general they were looked upon at the time as kind of the American answer to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and there's something to that. I find them just as exciting, just as well written and just as engrossing as the Fleming Bond novels - sometimes even more so. Hamilton's prose style is spare, precise and his sense of pacing is excellent. He has an abilty for sketching characters very quickly but effectively and setting up personalities and conflicts in gripping ways. If you've never read these novels and you enjoy adventure fiction allow me to highly recommend them. I cannot wait to read more in the series and I'm kind of surprised to see how quickly Hamilton was turning these out. They are short novels but these first three came in the rush of about 18 months if I'm reading publication dates correctly. Amazing! 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

THE STAR WARS! - A Grindhouse Classic!

I would watch the Holy Living Hell out of this!! 

Monday, February 01, 2016

THE X-FILES and me

I'm not sure if we all loved The X-Files in the 90's because it was good or because it was really the only game on television. It was, at the time, the only successful, interesting science fiction / horror television show in existence. And the fact that it occasionally did something really, really well (especially in the first four or five years) made it must watch television for genre fans. But we all know what happened there. Yes we do. It floundered. It stumbled. It belly flopped onto concrete. By the last few seasons when they couldn't even keep the star of the show involved no matter what they did. Move the production to a warmer climate, give him more control over stories - jump through whatever hoops and it still got to the point where even he felt the show needed something that wasn't him. Or maybe it just needed a real direction.

Because that was the show's core problem. It had no direction. Which would have been fine for a cool, creepy monster of the week science fiction series but that was deemed to not be enough. It had to be BIG. And so, creator Chris Carter started getting high on his own supply. He began telling everyone that the series was going to bring all the pieces together from all the various extraterrestrial stories that had fuzzy endings (or no ending) and we'd see that there was a huge alien invasion conspiracy that the government knew about and was covering up or helping to happen that involved colonization and black oil and human alien hybrids or.....something! But it all would eventually come together and make some kind of damned sense! Really! He promised.

But that was a crock of crap. He had no freakin' idea what the hell he was doing. And because of that years ago realization I wanted to punch that dumbass in the face.

But I've grown. If I've not grown wiser or less filled with unfocused anger at least I've grown less violent. Chris Carter is safe from me. For now. Surfing putz.

So now the return of The X-Files in a six-episode mini-series for Fox television has caused me to want to go back and reevaluate the original series. I don't mean I want to go back and watch the entire nine year run - I'm just not going to invest that much time in the damned show - but I was curious enough to finally sit down and watch one piece of the X-Files history that I have left unviewed - the second feature film from 2008. The first X-Files film was made during the heyday of the show's original run and was so bad that it made me want to cry right there in the theater. In fact it was the hideous nature of that first film that may have started my complete turnaround on the series or at least initiated and influenced or simply expanded upon the doubts that I had been having about the show for some time at that point. Needless to say long before the original run of the show ended I punched out and I couldn't even tell you what happened in the final miserable season. I think I saw two or three episodes. So when THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE came out long after the series had gone to that great rerun junkyard in the sky I didn't care. Indeed, almost everyone I knew was so unconcerned I don't think I know any person that has seen it. But with this new resurgence of interest and all this talk around it - well - I decided now was the time. And for $4 a Blu-Ray is cheap so what the hell, huh?

I chose the longer cut - I am, after all, a lunatic - and once I was thirty minutes in I was shocked to realize that I was enjoying the movie! This was not the coincidence fueled series of disconnected sequences of the first film. This thing actually made sense. Not that there isn't one intuitive leap late in the story that stretched credulity a bit (Bible quote leads to mail box) but, in total, this is a damned good little science fiction thriller. Clearly Carter didn't write most of this or it would have devolved into a hot mess in the first reel so I was not surprised to see Frank Spotnitz listed on the screenplay. He was responsible for several good episodes of the original series as well as being currently in charge of the excellent Amazon show The Man in the High Castle. I WANT TO BELIEVE is not a brilliant film but if it had been first feature instead of the second there might have been more than just two movies made. Hell - if this had been the only X-Files film made more people would have seen it because there wouldn't have been a sense of 'won't get burned again' in the minds of the fans. Shame. This is a solid SF film and I'm glad I've finally seen it. Now I just wonder what was cut out of the shorter version.....