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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Saw It Happen Today

It's a terrible thing when people lose their jobs...

I saw a business close today. The general manager came out of his office toward the end of day and told what staff was lingering that he needed them to work late. They needed to call all of their clients and tell them that they would not be delivering or selling anything the next day. He told the staff that, at the stroke of midnight, none of their inventory belonged to them. The employees took it pretty well. They'd apparently known it was coming. But it's not much different than when a long suffering, sick relative finally succumbs. It's as if a haven or destination you've come to count on has been bulldozed. You are compelled to return, but the door is boarded up. There is emptiness where there was easy meaning. The manager had freshly learned the information he was disseminating. It was clear that he was laying it out for his employees at the same time he himself tried to process it. I don't know how long these people had shared the office or each other's lives, but moments before they'd been joking about all the cocktails that start with "C" and bragging about the toys they'd given their kids for Christmas a few days ago. Now, just two days before a new year, they were being shut down. I felt like I should do something to help. But there was nothing for me to do. I simply said, "I'm terribly sorry about all of this" and departed. As I was leaving, I heard the manager telling the office staff to have all the employees come in at their usual times. One more day to say good-bye and think about what would happen next. It is an awful thing to watch the involuntary ending of any group of people. And what's sadder than dissolution of a company is the worry that in this economic landscape, some of these disenfranchised people will not find a new office to occupy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Violet Tremors - Sci-Fine!

The VIOLET TREMORS leave a place in the middle of the bed for you!

They characterize their milieu as "minimal-synth". Aesthetically, that may be true. But Lorene Simpson and Jessica White, with their ambitious songs and stylish performance, Sci-Fi fly in the face of simplicity or mathematics. The girls appear childlike in their Futurist-Victorian schoolgirl garb, but their comparisons span the grownup range of 80's middle-brow pop, the likes of Adam Ant and Lene Lovich to the art music of Laurie Anderson or sexy-messy rock chops of P.J. Harvey. At the El Rey Theater at the close of their first US tour, they opened the show for Ogre (purveying his OHGR project).

OHGR is as Ogre does.

On paper, the Violet Tremors seem an unseemly fit with the grandaddy of industrial rock. But within two songs of the Tremors' set, the audience excavated a context and welcomed the lithesome duo. In performance, the Violet Tremors forge an integral relationship to monster-man, Ogre. Just as the girls seemed infected by the conjuring trance their headliner has honed over decades, Ogre himself seemed to be having a better time than ever, playing and interacting - perhaps attributable to the infectious playfulness of the Tremors? This spirit was not lost on the audience who found footing in the uncharacteristic whimsy. But if the Tremors installed a patina of good nature on the show, it served to remind the crowd that Ogre has always been a serious artist who doesn't take himself as seriously as he may take his multiple personas.

Jessica and Lorene welcome you to the machine.

As the front gal of the Violet Tremors, Jessica White is a sultry and sexy dragon lady, dancing on a bubble of wry humor. She bleated ethereal lyrics in a voice that did its best monotone but intermittently betrayed melodic sensibility. I liken it to Chris Cornell's rock-shriek which does little to disguise that beneath his choice of style is the voice of an angel. But the Tremors' vision and voice are clearly, carefully contrived. As is the group's persona. As Jessica teases the audience with mixed messages of jaded dismissiveness and desperate pleas for attention, Lorene skirts the shadows, intent to concentrate on keyboard and effects, practically hidden under pitch-black bangs. She occasionally comes up for air to smile at an inside joke a fan may have telegraphed from the floor.


The threat of pretty-girl pretense gives way to robo-clownery as Jessica morphs from sassy siren to funky chicken. Again, Lorene cracks up. This is what separates the potentially drab from the devilishly delightful in this rhythmic, sometimes hypnotic band. The Violet Tremors were on tour in support of their debut CD (on LP for you vinyl-heads): Time Is The Traitor. This first release is a fairly accurate representation of what the Violet Tremors sound like. But it only scratches the suggestive surface of who the girls are in performance. I'll be following this group interested to see where they plant their flower seeds and how their tremulous vibrations resonate at the core of the scene.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tex & Daisy. What a pair...

Susan Beth Stiefvater

I met Sue Stiefvater when I got my first job on the "Mainland". That job was at Sambo's Restaurant in Reseda and I was a busboy. I had just gotten off the boat from Hawaii and was trying to make my way in the big city. I didn't yet know that people who lived in "the Valley" were actually nesting there to foster their denial about living anywhere near a city. I was so naive I had my feelings hurt by an operator who hung up on me when I couldn't answer her because I didn't know what an area code was. "Do you live on an island?" Then I met Sue. My pal and co-worker Carol Carbone introduced me to her after another co-worker, Dana had introduced me to Carol...

Carol: Who is that guy?
Dana: A Mexican who speaks really good English...

Carol and I hit it off at once. Even though she was wearing a brown Polyester Swiss Miss uniform. Carol took me to meet her best friend Sue who had her face buried in a school book and would barely look up at me. I smiled, turned on the charm and used my best tap-dance to get her attention. Nothing. I made quips and did funny voices. Crickets. I was put off, insulted and left hating the little snob. I should have known I'd end up crazy in love with her.

Sue and Carol were roommates and they took pity on me when I broke up with my first LA girlfriend Jeannette. I moved in with the Sambo's girls. I was jobless, demoralized and dumb. But Carol and Sue were New Wave Valley Girls. They lifted me up, encouraged an 80's hair-do and dragged me over the crest of San Fernando to West Hollywood and The Odyssey disco. There we met all kinds of New Romantic young folks, popstars of the day (Kristy McNichol, Rick James, Billy Idol) and encountered the most alternative of lifestyles. I also threw up for the first time from drinking too much. Then there were the mythical drives up and down the winding gauntlet of Laurel Canyon, shit faced. Carol with her forehead against the steering wheel sorting double vision from curves while I held Sue by her waistband while she leaned out of the Subaru backseat window and filled the canyon with Southern Comfort.

This is as far as I'll get. A few days ago when I mentioned to Sue that I was writing a blog about her, she had a bona fide fit. She not only got angry that I might be embarrassing her, but the thought of me talking about the past dredged up some pretty big issues. It made me a little sad, but if you know Sue, you know she doesn't like the attention and HATES being misunderstood or misrepresented. Susie didn't want me to tell the story. So, this is all you get. I won't tell you about our 5 years together or what we learned or should have over that time. I guess the most important thing for you to know is that we survived each other and are still very close friends today. I call her "Little" she calls me "Big". We still fight, laugh and lend each other money. She was my first true love. I will love her forever.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let the Halloweenification begin!

I'm telling you! Halloween is chasing down X-mas with a chainsaw. It is definitely the 2nd most popular American holiday. I've never seen so many decorations and holiday novelties before in my life. Target stores alone, have a whole section dedicated to Halloween - including amazing food kits! Cookies, cupcakes and even a haunted gingerbread house!

Target hits the bulls-eye with this year's Halloween novelties!

Wish these were around when I was a kid. (only 10 bucks)!

And Disneyland has taken a turn for the best kinda worse. Mickey-o-lanterns, great window displays and lots of spooky-themed takes on rides like The Nightmare Before Christmas - Haunted Mansion. A Space-fire creature inhabits Space Mountain through the eerie month. The season's fireworks show has a good dose of classic Haunted Mansion too.

It's in the Disney-details! The whole park is tricked out for treats!

Main Street takes our favorite holiday mainstream!

If we could just get folks to start giving presents on the 31st, Santa wouldn't stand a chance! Have a happy and horrible Halloween all my monster pals. Make sure to post your favorite Halloween haunts here and EVERYWHERE so that the season continues to fester and grow!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Love, despite otherwise...

Near the trailer.
Maybe 4 years old? Squatting next to a water faucet. Rinsing. The boy isn't watching what he's doing. But he is practiced in his chore. Rinsing. He turns toward the Instamatic...

Earlier. Parents balling fists. Sending electric pressure through the boy, loosening everything inside of him. He is just a baby. He doesn't understand why there is tension so sore and constant that it makes him mess himself. He's just a baby.

But he does mess and they do react. They make noise and call names that hurt like the belt. And the boy struggles to connect their words to their faces to his life - in confusion and a damp depression. He's just a baby and doesn't know why things are wrong. Only that he is wrong.

And so, this morning he does his ritual washing next to the trailer, under the spigot. The grass has grown tall and green where the water spills. Regularly. And the boy is practiced in his rinsing. Underpants.

His eyes turn toward the camera and the depth of sadness in them is concussive. The profound worry. The abstract humiliation. I look into the eyes and I choke up. Audibly. Every time.

A picture is worth a thousand apologies.

They are not mine to make, but I pray them for him. To him.

The boy grew up and I found him. Together we made a friendship that elevated us both past certain pasts. But his eyes were stained by some echo of that ancient suffering. His eyes rarely cried. But in the perpetual ripples on the shade of neglect. Under the tattoo of the memory of abandonment. In the faded hollows just under his brightness...

...audibly. Every time.

For Bee

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Love Horror? Want More? Rondo Awards time again!

Every year since 2003, David Colton and his Classic Horror Film Boards have presented the RONDO HATTON AWARDS! These treasured lil' statuettes are the only horror award nominated and voted on by classic horror fandom at large. This coveted acknowledgement within our community is much more friendly than competitive. Sure, we all want one. But at the end of the day, supporting the Rondos means fostering attention for the classic horror faire we love and encouraging the creation of more classic horror-related media for all of us to enjoy.

When you check out a RONDO BALLOT for the first time, I think you'll be surprised at the number of categories AND the sheer quantity of nominees listed. It's remarkable to note how many talented people are lending their energies to exploring the genre and keeping it alive through diligent, creative, well-researched work. If you are new to the genre or the Rondos, I can assure you that you won't find a more literate or well informed field. Now, I know there are a lot of categories. But be aware: YOU CAN VOTE ALL OF THE CATEGORIES - OR - JUST THE ONES THAT YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH. But I would challenge you to get up to speed with as many nominees and their works as you can. It'll be a rewarding effort.

As in most RONDO BALLOTS past, there are a number of Forrest J Ackerman-related projects nominated for honors this year. Here they are:


FORRY: The life of Forrest J Ackerman, by Debbie Painter


HOUSE OF ACKERMAN, by Al Astrella and Jim Greene




FAMOUS MONSTERS # 250, by Michael Heisler

You'll also enjoy voting on everything from "Best toy, model or Collectible" to "Best Blog of 2010"! At the end of the ballot you'll find a list of write-in categories which includes the prestigious "Monster Kid of the Year" Rondo. This is an honor that goes to the person the community feels put forth, "efforts beyond the call of duty to build a better world of gods and monsters." I can tell you first-hand that this nod is one of the great honors in our genre. I received it in 2009 for my care-taking of our beloved Forry Ackerman in the last years of his life. It was like a big hug of appreciation from the people most important to me. This year YOU get to decide who gets that hug!

Me and my very own Creeper!

So, amble on over to the RONDO AWARDS ballot and cast your vote. Just cut and paste the ballot into an e-mail and make all of your choices. Be sure to include your name on your ballot or risk disqualification! Send your votes to David Colton at: Taraco@aol.com no later than midnight of March 27th, 2011. Do it now! The monsters are listening!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monster's Ink: FM and me!

Our grand ol' Uncle Forry. He started it all!

Wow! I recently edited retro issue #70 of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Issue #70 represents the first of the missing FM issues that appeared when Warren Publishing replaced FM with Monster World for ten issues in the 1970s. For a monster fan growing up in Hawaii, Famous Monsters, or "FM" was my only lifeline to the horror world I loved. To get the opportunity to link my name to the magazine's legacy was, well, a dream come true. Years ago my dearly departed friend and original FM editor Forry Ackerman asked me, "So pal, when you were a little boy did you ever dream you'd grow up to be best pals with me?" I'd be lying if I said yes. But once I did become Forry's best friend, it was obvious to me that we belonged together. I seemed to have a positive impact on him and he found it easy to relate to me. We were an unlikely but remarkable fit. Opposites in personality, but our value for loyalty and sense of wonder was the same. Nonetheless, if you had ever asked me if I could imagine following in the footsteps of my mentor by editing an issue of FM? I would have laughed in your face.

The 1st issue of Warren/ Ackerman's "FM" c. 1958

I got a call from FM publisher Phil Kim in September. It was then that he offered me the managing editor position on Famous Monsters #70. I was over the (full) moon. The issue was going to replicate the old-school 70's FM as closely as possible, right down to the black and white newsprint pages! I asked if I would have any control over content and was thrilled to hear that I would. I hung up with Phil and immediately began spinning my wheels. Off the top of my head I knew I wanted to do a Dick Smith-style makeup layout and to have some of the iconic elements of the old mag brought into this issue. Things like Forry and Warren's anti-smoking ads and perhaps a whole segment on fan collections of the time (I had collected so many vintage pictures). As it turned out, FM was still growing and morphing. So, two weeks after agreeing to edit the mag, I got another call from Phil. Now I would be "guest editor" under copy editor Jessie Lilly, managing editor Mark Redfield and editor in chief Mike Heisler ... Oh, well. Growing pains. But I was still excited and wholly grateful to be involved.

MY first issue of Famous Monsters magazine.

As it was to turn out, Mike Heisler and Mark Redfield left the FM organization before issue #70 had been put to bed - but not before determining the content and layout of the issue. I confess, at first I hated the Hercules In New York cover, but it had already been locked in as the face of FM #70. The artwork was nice - but the subject? I made the best of it and asked my young, talented (and sarcastic) friend Justin Halliwell to write the "Filmbook" for HINY and I really warmed up to the subject as Justin's tongue-in-cheek treatment tickled me. Today when I look at the cover art, I kinda love it. I smile knowing what fun it represents. I also asked my good pal Elizabeth Haney to contribute a retro-article on Women In Horror - as I insist on female fandom being represented in any project I am involved in. Finally, I contributed the editorial intro (with as much pun-shine as I could muster) to honor our Ackermonster and captioned much of the mag - other than August Ragone's Destroy All Monsters piece and 2 of Max Cheney's terrific multi-contributions (I did caption his YORGA piece - some of my proudest groan-worthy work). Jessie Lilly and the rest of the FM staff were incredibly diligent in putting the finishing touches on the mag. I hear the final product is fantastic! As I write this, I understand that copies of the issue have just hit the FM offices and I am really excited to get one in my claws!

The cover of issue #70. Don't judge a book...

It was a bittersweet ending to the project when I was informed that I would now be credited as senior editor. I embraced the honor, but admit I was a little sad that the mag wouldn't truly represent what I woulda/coulda done. So, while the perfect opportunity to edit a real FM was not the perfect experience (like all journeys), I'm really glad I did it! I hope it opens the door to more participation in the stuff I love. Maybe down the line I'll get the chance to create MY perfect issue? I have other exciting projects planned with FM, Phil and his dedicated crew. As FM evolves, It will certainly hit its stride. It's no small feat transitioning from an entertaining novelty of the past into a relevant presence of the future - but we're all working away at trying to get there. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to participate in the genre, honor Forry Ackerman, perpetuate FM and to have had such fun doing it. Buy a copy of FM issue #70. If you like it, tell Phil to let me do it again sometime! Do check it out. I'm proud of it and it was made with a lot of love of fandom, Forry and MONSTERS!

EPILOGUE: I now have copies of FM #70 in my grubby little paws. It's really fantastic! It does exactly what we'd all hoped. It looks, smells and feels like vintage FM! Phil plans to learn from this issue and continue to tweak the authenticity (he's gonna up the paper thickness a bit), but all in all it's quite a faithful replica of the original. I gotta admit, it choked me up a bit to imagine Forry examining this issue. I could see him, beaming as he turned it over in his hands and read every single word. Hope you enjoy it! Looking forward to more...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Women and Children First?

[My friend, artist and activist Dame Darcy recently sent out the e-mail below. While it deals with hot-button political issues, they're important to all of us. I've removed references to party affiliation and replaced them with POLITICIAN or POLITICAL (all in caps) wherever possible so that you might judge the issues and not just react from purely party loyalties. I have left the "sources" as they stand. I hope anyone reading this will judge the info on its merits and not automatically assume a "side". I mean, can we afford to treat politics as a sporting event when human suffering and our commitment to taking care of each other and the most vulnerable in our society is at stake?] - Joe

The lovely and talented Dame Darcy

Dear Friends,
It might seem hyperbolic to say that POLITICIANS have declared a war on women.

Sadly, it's not.

Just take a look at the top 10 shocking, crazy things POLITICIANS have proposed in recent weeks. If you think this constitutes a war on women, please share this email far and wide--forward it, and post it on Facebook and Twitter.

I wish I could say these were the only examples of the POLITICAL war on women. But it's just a sampling, and more is sure to come -- unless we raise a ruckus and call them out. So please, share this email today.

Dame Darcy

Top 10 Shocking Attacks in the War on Women:
POLITICIANS not only want to reduce women's access to abortion care, they're actually trying to redefine rape. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven't.
  1. A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to "accuser." But victims of other less gendered crimes, like burglary, would remain "victims."
  2. In South Dakota, POLITICIANS proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real).
  3. POLITICIANS want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids.
  4. In Congress, POLITICIANS have proposed a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.
  5. Maryland POLITICIANS ended all county money for a low-income kids' preschool program. Why? No need, they said. Women should really be home with the kids, not out working.
  6. And at the federal level, POLITICIANS want to cut that same program, Head Start, by $1 billion. That means over 200,000 kids could lose their spots in preschool.
  7. Two-thirds of the elderly poor are women, and POLITICIANS are taking aim at them too. A spending bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.
  8. Congress voted yesterday on a POLITICAL amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers, one of the most trusted providers of basic health care and family planning in our country.
  9. And if that wasn't enough, POLITICIANS are pushing to eliminate all funds for the only federal family planning program. (For humans. But POLITICIAN Dan Burton has a bill to provide contraception for wild horses. You can't make this stuff up).
  10. Please share this email today. Post on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The RITE: It's just not...

What possessed Sir Hopkins?

I love demonic possession films. The best of em' like The Exorcist. The King Kong of devilish horror movies. I even enjoy watching low-rent entries like Beyond the Door or the recent Exorcism of Emily Rose. So it was with an available soul and hand-clasped hope for terror that I went to see The Rite last night. It was boring. A terrific supporting cast with nothing to do but wax dour and severe. A lead character with the charisma of a gum wrapper. And Anthony Hopkins working as hard as he could without breaking character to laugh at the absurdity of the scenarios he found himself central to or to scratch his big head in baffled confusion over this crappy script. I'm not gonna spend a lot of time bitching about this failure. Just needed to vent because I was really eager to see this film and more than willing to forgive minor flaws in order to take the trip. I'm telling you. I should be making these damned horror movies!

Boo! Not as in scary Boo. As in thumbs down Boo!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Most Fitting Send-Off for Verne Langdon.

The late great Verne Langdon's memorial service: 01/25/2011

The cover of Verne's memorial booklet

The intimate service began with Verne's varied musical pieces played through the sound system at the little chapel at Pierce Brother's Valhalla in Burbank, CA. Calliope, piano, organ, lounge, haunting, funny. As disparate as Verne's talents. Many familiar faces filed into the pews. After a brief prayer, Dawn Langdon Karrash (Verne's ex-wife and best friend) read an amazing eulogy that touched on the many facets of Verne. It was as touching and funny as the very spirit of Verne himself.

Special people of importance in Verne's life

Verne's silver urn was displayed before a gigantic white wreath next to the dais. Dawn's daughter, Verne's niece, made a very personal and poetic speech about Verne losing his father in a commuter plane crash when he was young. She recalled some of the same premonitions the day Verne left us. Uncle Jim Warren was remembered in the honorary pallbearer's list, although he and some other's on that list were not able to attend in person.

Verne would have loved it. Tears. Laughs. Cheers.

The service was short and sweet but so very rich in legacy and emotion. Dawn did an amazing job of making all of us understand just how much Verne loved us. Once Aaron Shaw's bagpipe had sweetly blared Amazing Grace, the crowd disbursed and all were invited to give further tribute at the Magic Castle. It was great to be there with friends Casey and Rhonda Wong, Dan Roebuck and Eliot Brodsky who'd flown in from the East for the occasion.

Big or small, all of us die only once. When a special person like Verne Langdon leaves us: artist, wrestler, clown, musician, writer, magician, bon vivant, orator and friend - we get one chance to memorialize him. This modest, eloquent service was perfect. At the end of it, the audience spontaneously applauded. Unconventional for a funeral, but absolutely appropriate for Verne Langdon's funeral. He would have insisted on it!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

RUBBER: I'll never TIRE of the Avant-gore!

Monster-brother Feo Amante

Feo called and asked me if I wanted to go see RUBBER. Seems our dark shepherd, Maestro Amante was working a shoot, dismembering cast members in San Diego and was hoping I’d go screen this odd film in his place. Odd? Me? I’m there! I’d heard of Rubber, the movie. It was a French horror film about a telekinetic tire that kills people. You heard right. A tire, as in a tire on a car or, uh, voiture. Maybe a Firestone, or in this case a Michelin that kills people dead (fine then, morts)! So I rattled my bones into a heap of black clothing, grabbed my crispy new notepad and my favorite yellow (non-leaking) pen and drove through Friday night Hollywood traffic to the old Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax near Melrose. The show was at midnight, and I knew the theater was tiny, so I got there an hour and a half early. Jesus! There was already a line around the block. I paid ten to park near a senior rest home. I walked up the avenue and past the throngs of excited, 20-something cineastes and made my way to the box office. I quietly mumbled, “press?” Nope. I dared to push, “Does that mean that I have to…uh..?” Yep, the ticket taker pointed to the line that now stretched beyond my sight and was also growing fat as a Python swallowing a bus bench. “But will I get in if …” An adorable shrug with a detectable, “no way” attached to it. I solemnly walked to the end of that line - doubled in the time I’d spent trying to wrangle my way out of having to stand in it. By now I was doing my most impressive, audible sighing. It suddenly dawned on me that I was never going to last in the cold (OK, 57 degrees - still arctic by LA standards) for an hour and a half with the likelihood of getting as far as the ticket-taker who’d tilt her head refusing to take my ticket. I walked back to my car (pausing to seriously consider that senior rest home), let the parking guy keep five bucks from the ten I paid. Took the other five back. Then I drove straight home where I sit now typing this in my sweats with a handful of raisins and some decaf. Don’t laugh. I actually have the fireplace on…

That's right, a headshot of the killer!

So, I can’t tell you about the movie Rubber, per se. But what of the general idea of experimental or unconventional filmmaking within our genre? I don’t have to actually see Rubber to know full well that a movie about a killer tire named “Robert” is one that should be made and seen. In movies as in life, you gotta take chances in order to innovate. You have to stretch wide to reach territory that is uncharted. You gotta really dig deep for the good stuff. Not into digging? Well, look what you settle for then: a quagmire of Vampires more attractive than they are dangerous. Lazy zombies moldering the four corners of our collective conscience. Torture-porn that is as unsophisticated as it is mean-spirited. Who wouldn’t embrace a murderous rubber tire right about now? Hell, a gas cap would be a welcomed protagonist. Rubber writer/director Quentin Dupieux has made a name for himself defying the expectations of his audience. He is an established artist and musician (Mr. Oizo) in France. In his 2001 movie debut, NONFILM, an actor wakes up in the middle of a movie shoot and accidentally (?) kills the crew. The surviving cast decides to continue on without a script or camera. In Dupieux’s next offering, STEAK he tackles the well-worn high-school-clusterfunk theme. The social molasses-bath we all must wade through in those sticky teen years. Yes, Dupieux’s losers struggle to become cool “Chivers” gang members, but in Steak, we come to learn that the 2016 setting is even more futuristic than we could have imagined. Now, here comes Rubber. A movie in which an inanimate tire becomes aware of its awesome telepathic powers and goes on a rampage slaughtering people in a desert town, or so I’m told. I didn’t get in to see it, remember?! I did chat with some of the kids in line for the show and the consensus was that they didn’t know what to expect but they were itching to have their expectations defied. They were all eagerly waiting in that line aching to be surprised. I mean, just based on a vague synopsis, aren’t you hungry to see it? I am, dammit!

The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax in Hollywood

Some of my favorite moments in horror and Sci-Fi movie history have been the ones that shook the foundations of convention. Imagine sitting in a theater in 1926 and experiencing the visionary future of Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS for the first time. Many of Lang’s enduring images have been brought forward through homage in other classic films like BLADE RUNNER. And what about Jean Cocteau’s surreal and gorgeous LA BELLE ET LA BETE (46), which influenced lots of other, mainstream entertainments, including the design of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The stark reality of Tod Browning’s FREAKS, freaked-out audiences of 1932. The elegant, and haunting films of Kenneth Anger took us in unexpected directions as well. Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s duo of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA served up our classic horror icons in a campy, irreverent way that challenged us while still offering graphic and disturbing imagery and ideas. John Landis’ edgy and smart AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON changed the horror game in big ways, truly advancing the modern dark comedy and offbeat horror milieu. More recently THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT created a niche in the genre. It broke down some major barriers for truly independent filmmakers, proving that anyone with a camera and a story might shoot a blockbuster. Of course I’m listing innovative movies that had a big impact on me. I’m sure you have a list of your own. Today, horror movies continue to give us some of our best opportunities to experience something totally new. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is one movie that’s as much about the audiences’ anticipated dread of the subject matter, as it is the delight of watching the Grand Guignol comedy play out. I avoided seeing that film for months imagining the worst. Truth be told, I laughed from beginning to end. Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN is arguably a horror movie, but undeniably a masterpiece up for an armload of Oscars at the time of this writing. The experience of being shaken up and surprised is one I search for daily. Clearly It’s no mystery to me that there is now a movie about a murderous tire and that people are lining up to see it.

Not exactly what you think it is...

It makes perfect sense to me that most genre fans are filmmakers, aspiring filmmakers or at the very least, highly sophisticated audience members. We can count ourselves among the most creative and literate members of our communities. It’s good to know that there’s room for everyone that wants to throw their hat in the ring. It’s good for all of us to passionately insist that there’s room for everyone. I’ve always thought that our job as responsible audiences or even critics is to challenge ourselves to give stuff a chance. As much stuff as possible. We don’t have to like it all, but we do have to encourage, maybe demand risk-taking and freshness from our storytellers. As a filmmaker myself (RED VELVET), I’ve always felt a responsibility to try to innovate material. Without having seen Rubber, I still know I want to support Quentin Dupieux and the very concept of the movie. After all, this is how we take turns supporting each other. Not every outing will be a gem but each attempt contributes to the betterment of the next. And that means the experience of movie magic will be sustained a little longer. As I’m writing this, Karen from Magnet Releasing, the very gracious host of the Rubber screening has texted me that she missed me at the theater and will invite me to another press screening! Maybe Feo will be free to come with me next time? I may just buy a ticket the minute I have the opportunity. I don’t think I can wait. I'll let you know when my review finally makes it up at Feoamante.com!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Verne Langdon: he could do anything but live forever...

Verne barely menacing me

Verne Langdon. Gone. I called him "Cousin Verne" because he occupied that awkward age-gap that separated my heroes from my peers. Too young to be Uncle. Too much older than me to be brother. But when we were together, we spoke the same language. We talked about the things we loved. Music. Movies. Monsters. James Warren. Forry Ackerman. All the creative pursuits. When I spoke, it was about my wishes and dreams. When Verne spoke, it was about all the dreams he had accomplished and how I might accomplish some of mine. We loved to laugh together.

Verne and his coveted Zombie mask!

Verne had been a fixture in the golden age of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Back then he had his fingers in everything us little kids read about in Famous Monsters magazine and dreamed of being a part of. He knew our heroes personally and at Don Post monster mask company he made monsters with his own hands! He was also front and center as the era morphed from the 60's into the 70's - my own coming of age. While Forry and the old-timers were walking red carpets in skinny ties and horn-rimmed glasses, there was Verne, decked out in Polyester bell-bottoms and a psychedelic silky-shirt. Long, feathered hair and all. Just the sight of him made a kid of the era feel like there was hope for us to rub elbows with our genre greats.

You can read about Verne's varied and colorful life all over the Internet. But what many of you sadly won't get a chance to know now is his incredibly nurturing nature. His kindness to his fans and his loyalty to his friends. I have heard Verne speak hypercritically about people close to him without ever losing an ounce of the love he held for them. I have seen Verne champion people who needed him most - and without any expectation of reward. He mentored a young friend of Forry's and mine, Casey Wong and allowed Casey the privilege of making his last life-cast (Verne claims the first too)! All of this integrity bundled up in a big, warm-hearted man who made you smile just by entering a room.

I am happy to have been a member of Verne's extended family. He was there in Forrest J Ackerman's last days, crying and telling our Uncle Forry how much he'd miss him. I was happy to be able to return Verne's cover paintings for his Phantom of the Organ and Vampyre of the Harpsichord LPs to him. Eliot Brodsky, the generous man behind Monsterpalooza, was instrumental in showcasing Verne at his brilliant Monsterpalooza conventions and giving attention and respect to Verne. It was at a Monsterpalooza that Verne and I exchanged our only cross words ever. It was a disagreement about a talk Jim Warren gave in which I took exception to some of the things suggested about Forry. Verne and I got into it in the hallway. Then we had lunch! That was that. That was Verne. Never shy about speaking his mind. But always able to separate his love from his ire.

James Warren, Verne Langdon and Forry Ackerman
at Forry's final ComicCon.

While I spoke to Verne on the phone more often than I saw him in person, he knew how much I loved and respected him. I always told him so. At our last lunch together at Musso & Franks in Hollywood, we teased each other. Verne harangued me for eating a veggie platter while I mooed at him for scarfing down half a cow. You'll be happy to know that Verne didn't deny himself any of the joys of living. The gist of our lunch was Verne encouraging me to submit my solo CD (MAINLAND) to the Grammy's for consideration. He brought me the paperwork and all. Not only was Verne doing me a favor in mentoring me, but also in that gesture he was letting me know that he really liked my work and thought it was worthy of consideration. It meant the world to me.

The dust is still settling on Verne's passing. All I've heard is that he had eaten lunch, complained of indigestion, laid down for a nap and never woke up. If Verne couldn't be around forever, that's the way I'd wish for him to check out. We have experienced the loss of many old-timers in the past few years. It is a sad clearing of a field that is underrated and extremely important to our culture of creative vision and invention. So many good people. Verne, like all of the best of them, seemed to go peacefully and sweetly to his rest. Take the time to meet Verne Langdon now that he's gone. He'll surprise you, just as he did in life. Good-bye old friend.