little BIG music

Fans of videogames are well aware of the fine music that's been written by a pretty diverse mix of composers, and it's moved from a lucrative alternative to film and TV scoring to an art of its own.

Michael Giacchino and James Michael Dooley have done their share of videogames, and their contributions have shown a more formal orchestral approach for action and war-themed games.

Another approach is to draw from a wild pool of styles and idioms, which is probably the easiest way to describe Daniel Pemberton's album Little BIG Music: Musical Oddities From And Inspired By LittleBigPlanet. The iTunes album features cues not used in the PS3 game, and I've uploaded a review of the hour-long album.

Coming next: Richard Rubinstein's Knightriders.


Bolt (2008)

Disney's CD release of John Powell's Bolt marks the studio's gamble that 3-D will be the New Thing that draws families into theatres again, and recent media reports have had fun drawing all kinds of parallels to the 3-D wave of the fifties that included the shocker House of Wax (1953), Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954), and the bawdy musical Kiss Me Kate (1953) - three outstanding films that also boasted intelligent (and crafty) use of 3-D, not to mention the occasional stereophonic sound mix.

Rue Morgue's January/February issue is timed to celebrate the format with the looming release of My Bloody Valentine 3-D, a remake of that fine Canadian classic made when Paramount's Frank Mancuso, Jr. was going into overdrive with horror fodder before the slasher genre petered out.

I've got several related pieces timed for the magazine's 3-D focus (including some 3-D clunkers from the 1980s), as well as an interview with Michael Wandmacher, the talented composer of the Bloody Valentine remake who also discusses his recent score for The Punisher: War Zone (2008). Whatever your impressions of the film may be, Wandmacher's score is very memorable, and I'll have a review of the score as well.

Before that, I've uploaded a review of Bolt, which is timed with Disney's Box Office Hits, a compilation CD featuring songs and theme remixes from a variety of flicks. (Paul Oakenfold's Pirates of the Caribbean remix of Jack Sparrow's theme is a bit weird, and it's admittedly tough to track its vestiges amid all the synthetic fluster.)

Coming next: Daniel Pemberton's music for the PS3 videogame LittleBigPlanet.


Season of the Mask 5: Peaks and Valleys

You want me in Part 9? Are you crazy???Note: this column contains significant spoilers!

When Miramax/Dimension took over the Halloween franchise, it’s fair to say the resulting films were the nadir of the series with one sole exception: Part7, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), where Jamie Lee Curtis came back to reprise the role of Laurie Strode and show us what happens when you live in fear for 20 years.

The reason the film works is more than Curtis owning the part; it’s the fact that fear from a serial killer is no different than fear of a delusional stalker who won’t go away, or an abusive spouse bent mangling the life of another. Michael Myers is a person with a singular drive to gratify himself by meting out some bizarro justice that goes beyond wiping out his family; it’s wiping out the sister who also won’t freakin’ die.

She’s an equal, and it’s bloody annoying.

But what if Michael finally reached that goal and eradicated every trace of his family?

The finale of H20 was written as the formal end of the Strode saga; the only recourse for the franchise godfathers was to have Laurie herself transforms into Michael and go after her son John, but that would’ve been too stupid.

Michael is done with, and Laurie is now free, although she has some legal issues to contend with, alongside the realization that she lopped off her big bro’s noggin in a strangely bloodless coup. That alone should, in a normal person, craft some recurring nightmares for, what, twenty years?

Part 8, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), kind of goes there, because we do see Michael finally getting rid of his sister, and unless she’s made of rubber and Jamie Lee Curtis needs some serious cash, that character is done with. The only recourse is to follow her in some prequel, and make up some lame scenes where toddler Michael maybe shoved a grapefruit in her face, or peed on her favourite dollie, or cooked her pet rabbit in the soup pot.

Beyond sibling fisticuffs and generic cruelty, the saga of Laurie Strode is over.

That’s more or less what Part 8’s screenwriters accomplish in the opening reel. After getting rid of Laurie, they’ve set up a scenario whereby six coeds become contestants in an online reality show, and must spend a night in the decrepit Myers home and explain to viewers how Michael Myers became a serial killer.

With no Dr. Loomis (he dead in Part 6, and again in 7), no Laurie and no John (her son) in Part 8, Michael has no raison d’etre beyond experiencing a minor annoyance with trespassers.

Whether he still retains any claim on the property is a legal issue. One assumes the assets of a serial killer – in this case, Michael – were seized and sold off to compensate the victims, so even Michael might be considered a trespasser on government/private property.

In any event, Part 8 shows that without a Strode roaming planet Earth, Michael is just another serial killer, and that’s kind of dull. The reasons Part 8 – directed by Part 2’s Rick Rosenthal – stinks like rotting potatoes, though, is more complex.

So as I continue to wade through the diminishing logic of the franchise, do check out reviews of Part 7 and Part 8, after which I’ll cover a lengthy documentary, and movie on to Rob Zombie’s ‘re-imaging’ or ‘rebooting’ of John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s classic.


Murder by Decree

Alongside Black Christmas (1974), Murder by Decree (1979) is probably Bob Clark's second most important thriller, which has also been reissued via Critical Mass/Anchor Bay/Starz on DVD. It's also the director's classiest production, boasting an amazing cast of fine British and Canadian actors, and is among the few true-quality movies produced during Canada's tax shelter film boom.

Decree has a real script, beautiful production design, and has aged into a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery, albeit with very notable differences from the better-known Basil Rathbone films. It's also a film where Christopher Plummer was given a great role, and he delivered a fine performance. 1979 was a year after Plummer's menacing work in another underrated thriller, Daryl Duke's The Silent Partner (1978)... although that same year, the actor also appeared in Luigi Cozzi's dunderheaded Starcrash, a not-so-fine film I'll cover in January. (One has to spread the pungent fromage to dilute the odor of bad filmmaking.)


“From Benny Herrmann, and his band of merry melodians!”

Belated holiday greetings from a slightly self-imposed exile. Figuring most people were struggling to get through the heavy/wet/neverending snowfall during the days leading up to (and perhaps including) Christmas, as well as having zero time beyond family commitments to read, I’ve held back posts until today, meaning there’ll be almost a new set of reviews every day, through New Year’s Day.

The first reviews are focused on (uh, surprise) Christmas, and it starts with a review of a vintage fifties teleplay, where director Ralph Levy directed Fredric March in Maxwell Anderson’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Featuring music by Bernard Herrmann and a libretto by Anderson, the one hour drama was part of Chrysler’s Shower of Stars show, and included Basil Rathbone as the Ghost of Marley, and Sally Fraser as ex-luv Belle/Ghost of Chrismas Past before she became a bit of a cult icon in low (low!) budget sci-fi flicks.

Herrmann had previously scored Orson Welles' 1938 adaptation of Dickens' classic (hence the Wellesian sign-off in today's header), but the 1954 teleplay marked the first time he applied operatic songs as well as noew score to the beloved holiday tale.

Sticking to the mid-fifties and that era's fixation with noble morals and unabashed religious iconography (think of all those Biblical epics), there’s also a review of Herrmann's score, newly released on CD by Kritzerland, and double-billed with another holiday operetta, A Child is Born, which Herrmann based on Stephen Vincent Benet's play, and composed for this December 1955 episode of the General Electric Theatre.

Both scores were previously released on bootleg LPs which themselves drew from legit albums, and the good news is that the sound quality of the legit Kritzerland disc is a marked improvement. Carol apparently appeared as part of a multi-disc LP set from CBS, while Child was a classic Decca mono-drama mix, and one could regard these platters as early precursors to dramas released on VHS tapes and DVD.
Given the music was all that could be retained from these live teleplays in the fifties, the LPs were accessible, commercial ways for the average consumer to ‘relive’ the drama at home (which made sense, since radio dramas were still an active component of the home entertainment system).

Decca actually produced several holiday-themed mono-dramas, which included Ronald Coleman as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Bing Crosby and Orson Welles in Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, Loretta Young in The Littlest Angel, Gregory Peck in Lullaby of Christmas, and an edited soundtrack from The Coming of Christ, the NBC Project XX documentary featuring music by Robert Russell Bennett.

If I can squeeze time between less seasonal uploads this weekend, I’ll try and have reviews of at least a few of the aforementioned, too. (If not, hey, there’s Xmas ’09.)


Black Christmases

Billy needs a nap, eh?Here's a minor confession: the first time I saw Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974), I found it dull, slow, and badly acted - and that was quite some time before I developed a great affinity for vintage shockers, be they slashers, gialli, or weird.

What's surprising this time around is how classy the film is, in terms of Clark's direction, the sharp editing, the beautiful camerawork, and the carefully coordinated sound mix that balances harsh, ugly sounds & Carl Zittrer's music concrete with moments of silence, natural effects, and Xmas carols.

Other filmmakers have tried to make their own variations, in terms of dropping a serial killer/stalker into the cheerful holiday spirit of several characters - the sleazy Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), and the inane P2 (2007) - but Clark's film keeps moving towards the top because there's a grittiness to the villain (and his increasingly terrifying phone calls), and the characters are less stupid and over-sexed than the standard archetypes in slasher films. It's also a very simple story: maniac in the attic torments and picks off dorm inhabitants because it's so easy, and so fun.

Clark also doesn't wallow in unnecessary weirdness, and being one of the first formal slashers, he's not making satirical nods to an existing genre. It's an original work, and it's still a chilly little nightmare with just enough peripheral drama - the police investigation of a missing child - to give the film a bit of a docu-drama/police procedural feel.

As a complete contrast, there's Glen Morgan's misguided attempt to expand on the villain's backstory in his 2006 remake, with nods to the original (in terms of props, killings, and the casting of original castmate Andrea Martin as the new dorm mother), and beef up the gore to a stretchy, cartoon level.

Once the first eyeball is ripped from a girl's skull and munched by one of the film's two killers, you realize Morgan's on a comedic genre satire that woefully sacrifices the simplicity and earnestness of the original.

The fact he even renders the phone calls into laughable teases proves his script was wrong from the first paragraph, and it similarly validates the argument that perfect films shouldn't be remade unless there's a very, very good reason. With three endings to choose from, it's clear there was no justification to add a new spin on a classic beyond making some easy cash. The filmmakers had a lack of good judgement, and the producers showed contempt for horror fans, whom they felt would lap up anything with a classic title.

In one of the two featurettes on Dimension's DVD, Clark makes an appearance on set, and while the cast and crew's reverance is real, one can't help feeling the producers should've given him the money to make a film. Prior to his horrible death in 2007 (both Clark and his son where killed when their vehicle was hit by a drunk driver), Clark had been planning a return to the genre by developing a project called The Dreamers, which Burt Lancaster had wanted to make, ages ago.

It's not that Clark needed a hit, but a chance to get back to the genre that started his career, since Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972), Deathdream (1974), and Black Christmas (1974) were the films that firmed up his career as bankable writer/director/producer.

The creative successes of Tribute (1980) and A Christmas Story (1983) were contrasted by the massive windfalls from Porkey's (1982), after which he made a mixed bag of comedies, which included the disastrous Rhinestone (1984), Baby Geniuses (1999) and SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004) - the last one being his final film credit.

Black Christmas has appeared several times on DVD, and I've written up a comparison review between the key versions up to and including the 2008 Critical Mass/Anchor Bay/Starz edition, which was released in tandem with his equally classy mystery, Murder by Decree (that review will be up shortly).

Those interested in more info on Clark should check out an interview with the director (as well as actors from Black Christmas) in Issue #63 of Rue Morgue, plus a page tribute to the late director in Issue #67.

Those fond of Clark's less bloody take on the holidays - A Christmas Story - might also be interested in a piece at Torontoist.com, where David Fleischer wrote up an affectionate piece on the Toronto locations used in the film, and how they've changed in the intervening years.

Coming shortly: a review of Bernard Herrmann's Christmas Carol, on CD, as well as the fifties teleplay.


Die Hard at 20: The Ultimate Christmas Film

Tonight at Toronto’s Bloor Cinema, Die Hard (1988) was screened, marking its 20th year as both the ultimate Xmas movie, and best satire on the disaster genre, where a studly hero saves countless innocents from grievous mortal danger during the holiday season.

Said dangers within the genre involve errant electrical behaviour, tumbling chunks of concrete or metal, far too much rampaging water, or an old favourite, fire or the risk of being blown to bits in some grand conflagration – specific dangers that often pin the hero (in the seventies, it was always the guy who saved the day) into a corner before he saves the morally good and the twits with grey-level morality from imminent death, or being horribly killed for the time being.

Die Hard is vitally important to the action genre because it also codified a set of elements that became standard in action films involving a batch of villains holding a group hostage until they’re picked off by an overlooked underdog (Officer John McClane), and ending with a classic good guy vs. bad guy battle. Maybe a relative is thrown into the mix as well, like Karl (Alexander Godunov) avenging the death of his brother Marco in one grand fight prior to McClane rescuing his wife Holly, and bidding Hans “Bubby” Gruber a final farewell.

The film’s title also encapsulates the simple plot of a guy rescuing people (plus wife/daughter/whatever close relative) from baddies in some existing physical edifice or vessel, while using his wits and aspects of the edifice or vessel to his advantage. ‘Die Hard on a X’ was the catch-phrase of the day, although it was more fun to say Fly Hard (Executive Decision), Sail Hard (Under Siege), Study Hard (Masterminds), or Catwalk Hard (No Contest).

Okay, maybe the last two are my own facetious inventions (the films are quite, real, though), but you get the point. Die Hard became more than a title, and helped many screenwriters pitch ideas in less time, although once the best variants had captured mainstream attention, all that was left was generic direct to video/cable TV crap (like No Contest, with doughy Andrew Dice Clay as the Bubby variant).

Bruce Willis was paid a fortune at the time for his efforts, and his career was arguably rescued from further comedic crap like Sunset and Blind Date – the two theatrical flicks that were meant to parlay his comedic style within the familiar parameters of Moonlighting, the TV series that launched his career.

Willis still made a pair of straight comedies thereafter – Look Who’s Talking I and II (or “duh” as they say in French) – but they were the last occasions he partook in mainstream comedic banalities. Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) was a disaster, but you could see why he thought the book, the character, and the film’s pedigree would challenge his creative drive. Of course, there was The Whole Ten Yards (2004), but that was a mortgage movie – a kind of thing actors or directors make purely for cash (mortgage, divorce settlement, alimony, college tuition fund).

It’s why John Huston directed Phobia (1980), Jules Dassin made Circle of Two (1980), Richard Donner directed Bruce Willis in 16 Blocks (2006), and Die Hard’s John McTiernan probably made Rollerball (2002).

(Yes, those in the know can immediately see the connection: the first three films, all outright stinkers, were shot in Toronto, and the latter was filmed north of Montreal. Our cities were *not* responsible for each film’s qualitative deficits.)

When Die Hard was given a sneak preview at the old Varsity cinema (prior to its major expansion), it was double-billed with big (1988), Tom Hanks’ manipulative but cute fantasy/comedy. Soon after leaving the cinema, I felt dazed and blown away (‘scuse the pun), due to a kind of film I’d seen before.


It was satirical, smart, kinetic, ripe with pop culture references and bubbling wit, and was designed to give audiences the biggest ride of their lives in Dolby SR (if memory serves correct). TV ads pumped up the 70mm 6-track Dolby alongside Willis’ star power, and the laserdisc was the first 12” video platter you had to own, because its image and sound beautifully tested one’s brand new big screen big sound system (albeit it Dolby Pro Logic 2.0), and maybe annoyed neighbours and/or parents.

Die Hard also played at Toronto’s Cinesphere, the domed IMAX theatre at Ontario Place, when the theatre was screening classic epics (Lawrence of Arabia) and action favourites (Top Gun), although unless you were seated at or very close to chaise J25, your field of vision and neck would be tested by the theatre’s severe screen size and steep rows, and seat backs far too close to one’s knees.

The fact these iconic big screen films don’t get the kind of seasonal theatrical screen time as in bygone years is a shame, but one hopes this is a bit of change for Toronto. With less rep theatres around and some of the best mid-town screens razed (The Hyland), converted into ‘an events hall’ (The Eglington), or transformed into venues never intended (the York now houses a yoga studio. Ahem.), that leaves a few downtown locales for fans, so make sure to check out those monthly listings, and plan ahead.

The irony of this blog is that it was supposed to be longer and include a bit on the audience’s responses and track any perceptible nostalgia, as well as seeing the film with a friend who, I’m 99.9% sure, was at the same sneak preview screening back in 1988 (We didin't know each other then). Instead, I’m drawing from memories from 20 years ago, and the excitement I would’ve felt had I been able to attend the 9pm show.

My efforts were ruined when the Sheppard line was shut down for more than 20 mins. this evening (ironically?) due to a fire at the Don Mills station. No sense in whining or calling the TTC every name under the sun (tempting as it is), but here’s a suggestion to paying customers who use this public transportation system that only now is getting the cash to do the simple things better funded (European) systems enjoy:

- fix the P.A. network so we can hear more than “Brsup begrber inconvenience, brgrbr br delay.” The echoing mush that spits from speakers is actually worse than the harsh dialogue stems I used to edit on 16mm mag stock, and listen to using a squawk box. Seriously.

- secondly, get the ‘next train coming in X minutes’ displays setup on every subway platform so we know exactly when the next train is coming and can plan when John McClane isn’t there to rescue us from boredom.

- and finally, if there’s a delay (fire) that’s clearly going to take more than 15-20 mins. to address (like, uhm, FIRE), tell people. Actually say very clearly, very politely, ‘Due to a fire at station X, trains will be held at stations, resulting in a delay of up to 20-30 mins.’ This would allow people to hail cabs, hop on a bus, and not stand there as the clock ticks away, time is wasted, butts are chilled in a super-cooled platform, and our regard for the most under-funded, clumsily upgraded public transit system isn’t weakened.

Remember: those station announcements and LED displays in buses and streetcars and subway cars weren’t implemented until 2007-2008 because of some logical thinking, but a lawsuit brought on by a handicapped patron ill-served by a cash-strapped system. These features have been in use in Hamburg, Germany, since 2005, and we’re a bigger city, too.

The whole country’s, in fact.

Coming next: Black Christmas, and les editorial venality directed at civic-level knuckleheads.

Seasonal Satire

Private Joker learns about team work from Sergeant HartmanThe Toronto Star recently posted a link to a cleverly edited short called Full Metal Christmas, aka ‘Stanley Kubrick’s Lost Christmas Film,’ which is basically clips from the stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer short edited to the verbal assault by Sergeant Hartman in Kubrick’s severe black comedy Full Metal Jacket (1987).

As a seasonal short, it works. As a piece of modern humour, it works. And as an editing exercise of pure fun, it works, and it undoubtedly gave its creator waves of prideful giggles because he or she transposed material from one film to another, and created a whole new context for the visual and aural elements from two very disparate films: the destruction of holiday cheer in Santa’s sweat shop toy room.

The clip can be viewed HERE, but the short is part of a fairly common practice that was once far more rarefied because editing equipment was way more pricey in the eighties, and editing know-how was mostly in the hands of practical editors, either commercial, semi-professional, or amateurs with their own fancy gear (even though one could create the same piece using wits and decent consumer gear - if one was passionate, and creatively deranged).

The most classic examples of editors taking film clips and affixing them to rude narratives are the following:

- Blue Peanuts [requires YouTube registration by adults due to potty contents], where Frank’s F-word hurricane in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) is uttered by a mean old Snoopy.

- Apocalypse Pooh, where chunks from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) are edited to footage from Winnie the Pooh.

Prior to the internet, these videos (along with Marv Newland’s animated classic, Bambi vs. Godzilla) were available on washed out VHS rentals at some eccentric indie shops. How they got there, one can assume all kinds of theories (director submission, fan submission, anonymous mailing) but they did do the rounds and became cult items that happily haven’t been obliterated from the internet.

These are valid forms of pop culture humour from which no monetary gains were ever intended, and are kind of shareware projects that probably get people to re-watch the original films, since they’re classics in their own genres. (That’s at least the reasoning I hope is keeping these flicks unfettered from litigious-minded folks.)

It’s nice to see them easily available for a quick peek, and one would hope Kubrick is having a good chuckle upstairs, since he too possessed a gift for vicious wit and sharp satire.

Coming next: Bob Clark’s holiday classic, Black Christmas (1974) from Critical Mass/Anchor Bay/Starz, plus a comparison with the recent and utterly unnecessary remake.


A Lesser Auteur ?

Meep! Meep!A forgotten B-movie veteran of film noir, sci-fi, and horror, or the idiot brother of an Oscar-winning icon?

Those are the most extreme views one can apply to W. Lee Wilder, brother of more famous Billy Willder (Susnet Boulevard, The Apartment, oodles more) who eked out a fairly steady career in the fifties churning out low budget films on his own, plus a few TV assignments here and there before disappearing from active filmmaking by the end of the sixties.

Wilder's movies aren't inept nor disasters; they're just not really good. Mostly workmanlike, but that may be due to their extremely pinched budgets and the need to stay within the cliches each genre seemed to mandate in order for an easy commercial sale. A fair amount of the scripts Wilder produced were written by son Myles Wilder and William (Bill) Raynor, a pair of very prolific writers who survived very well in TV during the sixties and seventies.

As part of Legend Films' colorized B-movie wave, Phantom from Space (1953) comes with a decent black & white and colorized versions, and is the first of three alien-themed films Wilder shot between 1953-1954.

Of the remaining two, I've paired Phantom with Killers from Space (1954), which starred a young, dramatically vapid Peter Graves, and like Phantom, was photographed by William Clothier, a fine cinematographer who later went on to film several classic films for John Wayne (The Alamo), John Ford (Cheyenne Autumn), and John Farrow (Sea Chase). [The stringing together of three prominent Johns here is purely coincidental.]

I'll eventually get to Wilder's third genre entry, The Snow Creature(1954), but for now, feel free to check out the DVD review of Phantom from Space (Legend Films ) and a film review of the very silly Killers from Space (available via several P.D. DVD and online sources).


Two Shades of Mutant

Poster bears no relation whatsoever to actual film. Nuh-uh!Perseverance's CD of Mutant (1984) marks the second time Richard Band's large orchestral score is available on CD, except this time it's been augmented by previously unreleased cues, and new sequencing and editing that present the complete score in (mostly) chronological order.

I've uploaded a review of the CD, as well as addressed the major flaw of Band's early work from the eighties: the occasional 'familiar' nature of some some of Band's themes and motifs to the works of other composers, most notably Jerry Goldsmith.

No, I'm not opening that can of worms again, but trying to set this early score into some context with his later and far richer work from the ninetines onwards. Click HERE for the CD review, and HERE for a review of the goofball film produced by Igo Kantor, and executive produced by exploitation meister Edward L. Montoro (Beyond the Door). Elite's DVD from 2000 is a virtual bare bones release, but it's anamorphic, and in true stereo, too.

Please note: I'm in the process of uploading a number of previously announced reviews that have blogs tied to them, the latest of which is a long and windy review of Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. You can read the intro bog HERE, or skip directly to the review HERE, which compares the Theatrical Cut to the Producer's Cut.

Coming shortly is a review of Perseverance's great new CD of Donald Rubinstein's Knightriders, and a pair of low-low budget, sci-fi non-classics by W. Lee Wilder, the workmanlike and far less talented brother of Billy Wilder.


Canadian TV, Part 1: The Good

Moo-hoo Ha-ha!In spite of living next to the U.S. during the development of TV and our easy exposure to the diverse programs broadcast on ABC, CBS, NBC, and the defunct Dumont network, on its own, Canada hasn’t produced that much original programming since the fifties, and so little of those early works have been seen since their original broadcast. (Attention CBC: Where the heck is Wojeck?)

Even today, it’s still a costly venture for Canadian networks and specialty channels to develop shows, which is why we kind of fostered co-productions, or made shows packaged with familiar elements for easier sales south of the border. This was particularly true during the eighties and early nineties when out boob tube contributions included fine fodder like Sweating Bullets / aka Tropical Heat (starring Painkiller Jane’s Rob Stewart, with a curvy ponytail).

When I was a kid, the only Canadian shows I recall watching were The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, Rocket Robin Hood and The Amazing Spider-Man, The Friendly Giant (27 years on the air!), The Polka Dot Door, The Starlost, and The Trouble with Tracy. The Swiss Family Robinson. Adventures in Rainbow Country. Forest Rangers. The Beachcomers. King of Kensington.

Now, if you grew up during the seventies, those names will immediately evoke a set of very unique reactions. Frightenstein was that weird kids show with Vincent Price, a catchy title credit sequence, and some familiar characters: Dracula, Igor, and the Wolfman. Robin Hood and Spider-Man were animated el cheapo but trippy Ralph Bakshi productions.

Friendly Giant was an adorable CBC show with a friendly giant who read stories (“Look up… Look waaaaay up!”). Polka Dot Door was a long-running TVO series (TVO being Ontario’s equivalent to PBS). The Starlost was a terrible sci-fi adventure series starring Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey, Black Christmas). Tracy was a neon-dyed sitcom adapted from ancient (and very bad) fifties radio show scripts.

Swiss Family (which co-starred Friday the 13th: The Series’ Chris Wiggins) was a surprisingly action-oriented show with a Gilligan’s Island hook, wherein each episode sometimes brought the family close to returning home to the land of Toblerone before something always fell through.

Rainbow Country had a family and friends (headed by Jame Bond’s Lois Maxwell) living through cottage country dramas. Forest Rangers had ethnically diverse kids and adults learning moral lessons amid forest funnery. Beachcomers had lots of boats on water and slapstick humour. And Kensington had a laugh track.

Those are the details that I remember having prior to seeing some of those shows again as an adult, but that eclectic mix is what I watched, in terms of almost pure Can-Con (look it up).

MIA from the above list, now that I think about it, is Bruno (Beachcomers) Gerussi’s cooking show, Celebrity Cooks, Guess What? (hosted by Jan Rubes), Science International (‘with Joseph Campanella, and Tiiu Leek’), Definition (which used the now-famous Austin Power’s theme music, and the grand prize was a GE toaster) and the Joyce Davidson Show (whose guest list included Vincent Price. The theme music was derived from Lalo Schifrin’s Black Widow album. Thirty years, but I found the source!)

Here’s the thing about growing up Canuckle: even as a child, you just knew some of the shows you were watching were 'qualitatively lacking.' Tracy’s soundtrack was bleached with a laugh track, and the Starlost characters were always running through chunky styrofoam sets. Even at an age less than ten, I knew these shows sucked, BUT they were strangely hypnotic.

DVD has slowly brought forth some of the good, the bad, and the ugly shows from several generations’ collective childhood, of which The Hilarious House of Frightenstein is a biggie, and a goodie.

The first 3-disc set sporting 12 episodes had previously been released by Critical Mass through Alliance Atlantis, but with the former label now being distributed through Anchor Bay/Starz, Vol. 2, dubbed “Gory Gory Transylvania,” brings out 9 more episodes, each around 48 mins. (including the necessary Wolfman psychedelic dances).

Have no idea what I’m talking about?

Not a problem. Just click HERE for the review, where I hope I give an easy intro into a series, as well as its talented star, the great Billy Van, who played the bulk of the show’s memorable characters.

Van passed away in 2003, but his final interview appeared in Rue Morgue (issue #62), something you might want to track down after checking out the review, the fan sites, and the YouTube clips to give novices an idea of why this show really deserves an ongoing DVD release schedule.

Frightenstein is clearly the Good, which in turn will be followed by the Bad: The Starlost. (I’m still working on a suitable Ugly, but I’ve a great contender for a rude and provocative home-produced series that drove conservative watchers crazy in the eighties.)

I do have one wish, though, for the folks at Critical Mass: now that you’ve started to tackle a beloved classic produced by Hamilton’s old CHCH (Channel 11), how about the station's Strange Paradise? You know, the bizarro occult series from 1969 with psychedelic acting *and* colourful visuals. No actors ever chewed up so much plywood scenery with such hilarity. It’s 195 half-hour episodes, which can translate to roughly 5 DVD volumes sporting around 40 episodes apiece. Or maybe it’s just too risky?



Epidermal Protrusions

Band-Aid, please.Elia Cmiral’s score for Toby Wilkins’ Splinter was recently released as a limited CD by BSX Records, and while my composer profile for Rue Morgue will appear some time in early 2009, a CD review as well as a review of the movie have been uploaded. (Alongside a limited theatrical release, Splinter was given a sneak preview on HDNet, and will likely make its DVD debut in early 2009.)

Also uploaded is a review of Max Payne, the latest score from Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, released on CD by La-La land Records.


Human chum for the holidays

24 days until Christmas. Fearful yet?How the heck is it already December?

Oh, never mind.

Recently broadcast on Britain’s E4, Dead Set (2008) is another attempt to mix zombie horror with British humour, although Charlie Brooker’s creation is more satirical and bloody than Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. It’s just amazing how something so deliciously violent and rude made to British TV.

This may well be a signal that there’s no turning back to the era of the Video Nasty, where violent images were banned to save the innocence of kiddies. With so much mainstream gore online, on DVD, in cinemas, and popular art, there’s no innocence to shatter because it’s already been smashed at an early age.

Dead Set is made for the adult-minded and each of the 5 episodes comes with a warning to beware of the violence, but play the damned thing loud, on a big screen, and in a darkened room. Very good advice.

Currently unavailable in Region 1 land (Boo! Hiss!), the series, which basically runs as long as a standard feature film, is out in the UK on DVD, and can be seen at E4’s website. It’s good, it’s juicy, and very, very wet. One could even say it’s the real sequel to 28 Days Later instead of the ineptly plotted 28 Weeks Later, which blew blue donkeys.

Wanna know more? Click HERE for the full review.

Coming next: a review of Elia Cmiral’s score for Splinter, plus a film review of the oucha! horror film.
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