Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Horror Strikes!

Bloke's Terrible Tomb of Terror no. 3 is out now. If you have fond memories for the old Warren horror titles of the 60's and 70's, Bloke's will impress you. Very slick product too, on some of the finest paper stock I've had the pleasure of appearing on. I penciled two stories for the current issue. This deceptively serene panel opens a story called "Deja Grue" as inked by Mike Hoffman.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Look what I found!!!

I didn't draw this, but I ran across it and just had to share. Take a look at Ruth. That's exactly the sort of style I wish I could command in my own artwork! It was not being able to do this sort of thing that pointed me toward comic book art. This piece is just so cool, I had to post it here! 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

In Print!

   I'm still amazed that anyone would print my work, but it always helps if you've been inked by a master like Jeff Austin! Here are some panels we've done together: 

Femforce 158


First Betsy the Bookwriter, Presents no. 1


And again

Betsy's nemesis, The Whipette!

Sadie Six-Shot, another western gal

Cover for Jim Main

Movies I'd Like to See, Vol 1

I wonder how similar this would
be to Corman's pretty nifty THE GUNSLINGER

Look at that cast!

Simple, yet wonderful idea....I see it stars Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke!

Actually, I did see this one as a little kid. I wantvery much to see it again!

Is that a great poster or what?!

Can "Wild" Bill Elliott tame Beverly Garland?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Video Cheese no. 1 - DAMAGED LIVES (1933/37)

This is part of a series of reviews I've written for Mr. Ken Begg of as part of a series called Video Cheese. Now, for whatever reason, I am unable to provide a link to the original review! Therefore, I am presenting this edited version of that earlier review here, with the permission of Mr. Begg. Thanks, Ken! Enjoy!
   "An idiot catches VD, gives it to his wife, then finds out about it."
   While I take no pleasure in the suffering of others, it is also true that I don't have overmuch sympathy for people who contract venereal diseases. Of all the horrible things in our world that can really mess us up, VD is one of the easiest to avoid. Nor am I quick to poke fun at a social warning picture as most of them, at their core, are trying to do some good. I can't find fault with pictures that are trying to warn potential victims away from narcotics or sexual diseases, at least not their base goals. True, some are so over the top as to be downright comical, such as the quite dreary Marijuana, or the so-stupid-nobody-will-buy-it Glen, or Glenda? or the insultingly offensive Child Bride. Hard for me to take a position against The Burning Question, however. 1949's Wild Weed is actually quite good, cinematically speaking, and then we can open the group to include such spiffy titles as High School Confidential, The Cool and The Crazy, and Maryjane.
   Sadly, education leads to cynicism more often than not, societally speaking. With the rebellion of the 60's was a trip we never quite came back from. An embracement of all things counter to the older generations led to acceptance of previously evil and much battled objects and concepts. Today, M is considered harmless by just about everyone. Long-lasting attempts to get cannabis legalized are finding a firm standing in the new century, while cigarettes are practically outlawed in some cities. Because of this situation, one often only allows himself to take Warning films at face value in the privacy of his own home. The ability to view a picture irony-free is quite a gift this day and age, and seldom is this trait (openly) shared by groups when it comes to certain kinds of movies.
   Of course, Warning films give their mockers plenty of ammunition. In an attempt to leave an impression on the viewer, they spin tales of incredible, inescapable tragedy. Since most are independent productions, this means poor technical results as well. For every slick studio production like Wild Weed, is a few dozen shoestring efforts like Test Tube Babies. The acting is often either atrocious or wildly over the top, the sets are either shockingly minimalist or filmed in real houses, and the camera work is usually static (that's what hurts most of them in my opinion). To make matters worse is the attempt to spice things up a bit, no doubt to make the experience stick more firmly in the minds of the audience (or, being uncharitable, taking advantage of the format to film some 'dirty' stuff and get a pass). As educational films, Warning pictures were able to skirt around the Hayes Code, useful when discussing reproductive matters. This lead to flashes of nudity and often shockingly frank discussions about sex.
   It didn't always connect to the story either. In Test Tube Babies, we examine how the personal lives of a married couple deteriorate because they are unable to have children. To fill the void in their lives, they throw wild parties, until they get out of hand. So this film about artificial insemination includes a lengthy cat-fight between two drunken women that involves much ripping of clothing. We also get a scene of our attractive leading lady changing into her bed-clothes for no real reason. For what its worth, the final fifteen minutes of lecture which actually revolved around the film's main theme DID manage to sell me on the moral acceptance of artificial insemination.
   Damaged Lives was shot in 1933, but for some reason went unreleased until 1937. It was the first talkie by director Edgar G. Ulmer, and was released by Weldon Pictures, a subsidiary of Columbia (which actually produced the picture, but the studio wanted to distance itself from the subject matter, according to the IMDB). Our subject of discussion is a monstrous ailment known as syphilis. Thankfully, this particular disease is quite treatable, and is practically a non-issue in today's culture.
   Being an actual studio film, Damaged Lives shows a bit more polish than we usually see with these things. They also don't feel the need to spice things up with an unmotivated nude scene. Sadly, that doesn't keep it from dragging, even as the film clocks in under 54 minutes. (According to Leonard Maltin's video guide, the film should run 61 minutes, although this Sinister Cinema print is in superior shape for this kind of film. I don't recall a single splice, in fact.) Reportedly, showings of the film were originally followed by a half-hour lecture about VD.
   The plot is very simple. There's this couple that have been engaged for a long time. One night on business the man, Donald (Lyman Williams, who was only credited four times in the nine films he made back in the 30s) takes a tipsy girl home when his client deserts her to make eyes with another woman. (I believe this is the character named Elise, played by Charlotte Merriam, who was quite a busy actress in the 20's and 30's.) Donald says goodnight to Elise and prepares to leave, but Elise lures him into the bedroom instead. Ashamed of his actions, he confesses to his fiancee, Joan. (Joan is played by Diane Sinclair, who died just a few months ago at the age of 98, after a brief turn as an actress in the 30s.) Joan believes this incident is mostly the fault of their long engagement, and the wedding date is moved up. They marry and begin a comparatively happy life, then Donald gets a call from Elise. Without really coming out and saying the words, she lets him know that she has VD, and that she gave it to him, and he has since given it to Joan. Donald refuses to believe it.
   As Donald is walking out, Elise shoots herself in shame. (It's actually kinda weird, in this day and age of politicians who send pictures of their body parts to staffers, to think of someone being so overcome with shame that they'd take their own lives. While we've progressed quite a way, in another sense we've devolved just as far, maybe more than I'm willing to admit.) Joan wants to have children, but that's not happening for a while. She and Donald both have syphilis and tour a hospital ward to see actual victims of the crippling disease. Their lives fallen apart, Joan turns on the gas and lies next to Donald to hold his hand. Fortunately, he wakes and opens the big balcony window (they have a really nice place, even if you wouldn't want to sit down when you visit). He and Joan talk things over and they discover they still have some hope. (When treated early enough, syphilis is easily conquerable.) Our couple still in love, they embrace and prepare to move forward with their lives. The end.
   I must note that Donald's doctor friend is played by Jason Robards (Sr), who was a VERY busy actor with a whopping 228 IMDB credits! Though often uncredited, we can spot him such titles as Zombies on Broadway, Isle of the Dead, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, multiple Dick Tracy movies, and countless matinee westerns.
   The box cover for Damaged Lives describes it as being over the top campy. It isn't. Those expecting something surreal like Sex Madness will instead find a fairly typical programmer of the 30s (if not for the subject matter). I don't know, some folk just expect them all to be that wacky, I suppose. One last trivia bit, a similarly-themed VD pic titled Damaged Goods (one of a dozen films to use that title) was released a week later!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Action at AC!

I have some scans from some of my AC work, including some panels from an episode of DINOSAUR GIRL, my own original strip (the first such ever published!) Inks are by Jeff Austin!

Ali Bastur...

-and her 40 Feet

True love, Black Phantom and The Shade

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Oddball Film Report: PROM NIGHT (1980)

   I've been examining a lot of 60's movies for the Oddball Film Report lately. While that decade and its films may inspire me more than any other period, I felt I needed to offer readers some variety. No, I haven't had complaints, but then I haven't had a lot of readers to my knowledge. At any rate, I wanted to break decade for a while so I'll be examining this weirdly popular flick from the 80's Slasher cycle.

   The Slasher genre was born of a melding of earlier genres. First and foremost (excluding the who-done-it features which have been with us since the beginning of film) would be the Psycho-Thriller genre of the 60's inspired by the grosses of Alfred Hitchcock's immortal PSYCHO. Incubation continued through the 70's, with micro-budget thrillers composed of frank sexuality and madmen on a rampage. The gore films of both decades also helped form the template. Credited for being the "first" slasher (although that is a dubious distinction) was John Carpenter's independent stalker-in-the-neighborhood epic, HALLOWEEN. The die was finally set with FRIDAY THE 13TH, thus creating a template that could be constantly re-used with minimal alteration. The slashers were the dream-come-true of penny-pinching producers, and the nightmare-come-alive for horror movie fans.

   The slashers were easy to make, for one thing. Find a secluded locale, a bunch of aspiring but inexperienced (and thus cheap) actors, women willing to take their clothes off, maybe a make-up man hoping to break into the business, and a minimalist script, and you've got the makings of a big hit. Unrestrained violence was still fairly novel in the early 80's (it wouldn't be by the end of the decade). This form of menace edged the traditional horror film almost over the edge of the cliff. Why spend valuable time and money on make-up for werewolves and vampires when you can just cover a guy's face and have him chase 'teenagers' through the woods?

   What really defines the slasher genre is that the films are so base. Basically, they're pornos with a body count and less nudity. The set-ups usually involve a group of (mostly female) characters who find themselves in secluded areas for carnal activities. These films often revolve around occupations like camp councilors, student nurses, babysitters, teachers and students, etc, etc. The titles could often be switched with skin flicks (APRIL FOOLS DAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, THE BURNING, PROM NIGHT, etc). The major difference, plot-wise, being that someone was stalking and killing the over-sexed idiots.

   Against the odds, though, there would be the occasional gem even in this sorry genre. HALLOWEEN is considered a certified classic. MY BLOODY VALENTINE manged to actually be a good movie by virtue of a decent script, good acting, and likable characters (a real rarity in this genre)! The film is also limited on the sort of gore these films usually put forth as their bread and butter (although that was the distributor's doing, and a more recent edition of the film has restored these scenes). Again beating the odds, the film spawned an actually decent remake, MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D! Wes Craven, meanwhile, gave us A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, which presented a cerebral take on the kill-a-bunch-of-kids formula.

   The majority of them though, are almost universally written off as trash cinema at its worst. So why does the genre continue to survive? Why does fandom exist for such depraved "entertainment" as can be found in this lifeless, and definitely soul-less, genre? You got me. In my mind, the worst of these films belong in a dumpster with drug comedies. I can see the occasional viewing of a slasher as a 'horror' film, after all there were thousands of these things, but I have yet to understand the cultish fanaticism some audience members have. 

   Oh well, such a topic can be discussed at length elsewhere. On with my report....

   This film, like many in the genre, was made in Canada. SCTV it ain't.

   PROM NIGHT opens with some kids, maybe eleven or so, playing a perverse version of "hide and seek" in an abandoned building. In this version of the game, they pretend to stalk and kill one another. Is this common? Did they invent this for the movie, or do Canadian children really think so morbidly?At any rate, a little girl is "it" and the others surround her near a large window. She ends up falling to her death, and this whole sequence sums up my main problem with the film. This should take only a minute or two to establish, yet it gets drug out well beyond the time required. The moment when the kids begin to circle their target and she falls lasts beyond long enough that one of the kids should have noticed "hey, she's too close to the window, we'd better back off!" At any rate, we open with the accidental death of a little girl.

   The other kids, scared of going to jail, swear each other to secrecy. Okay, I know these kids are scared and everything (although the child actors aren't good enough to convey this and they all come off looking pretty cold), but there are some major problems with this set up. First, you have a half dozen children who are more than likely to spill the beans before the night is over, yet they all apparently are able to keep this secret into adulthood. It just doesn't seem possible, at the least you'd expect one of them to crack over time and confess. Then you get this 'jail' business. Now, again, I understand these are children, but they must not have watched enough television. Children don't go to jail, they go to reform school if they go anywhere at all. What happened here was clearly an accident, and the court is most likely to decide that the kids having to live with this incident is punishment enough. (Granted, things may work a little differently in the Great White North.)

   The police figure the scene to be the work of a murderous pervert, and they have a suspect in mind. Said suspect ends up being injured in a car chase and confined to a hospital bed for years. Meaning the kids get off scot-free and the parents have closure. One of the parents is top-billed Leslie Nielson, who is way too good for this type of thing. What's he doing here? Well, Canadian film production is handled a little differently than it is in the States. Film productions get a tax break if they hire native talent (in some cases the government even makes grants of taxpayer monies to fund locally-shot product!) which leads to the appearance of name talent in cruddy movies like this. None other than Glenn Ford (!) was roped into one of these things, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME. Nielson has very little to do here, and is given about four short scenes, although they remind us that the man had much more talent than his later films would have us realize. I figured I'd be making Police Squad! jokes to myself whenever he was on screen, but his introduction scene shows him grieving over the death of his daughter and it makes such an impact I was taken aback. It's the kind of thing that reminds me why I'm such a fan of Mr. Nielson.

   Also too good for the material is Jamie Lee Curtis, although she was known as Miss Slasher at the time for her starring role in HALLOWEEN, a part she would reprise in the sequel. While talented, and possessing a screen presence the other performers here lack, I remain puzzled by the film having characters note how pretty she's supposed to be. Personally, I've never found her features attractive (she's actually improved with age), placing her somewhere below Karen Black in this respect. This is not to sound disrespectful, you understand, I just don't understand it. When her date for the prom tells her how beautiful she is, the effect is a bit surreal. Making this even more bizarre is that her parents were famed actors Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh! The pair could be considered the pinnacle of Handsome and Beautiful, so you'd expect their offspring to look more like Barbara Eden than Jamie Lee Curtis. Okay, I'll drop it now, I feel I've already been too hard on her. Jamie, if you ever read this, I'd be proud to buy you lunch. You're a wonderful actress and I've never been disappointed by one of your performances. 

   SIX YEARS LATER we catch up to our now teen-age band of friends, who all look to be 30 or above. The youngest gal here might be 26 or 27. These 'kids' are making preparations for the prom, as a shadowy figure with a raspy voice is making harassing phone calls. One of the girls suspects this caller to be Lou, the school jerk/bully/creep/perv. He's another element that makes this exercise farcical in the extreme. He looks like a parody of the type of character he's supposed to be, with his shaggy hair, buck teeth, and Frankenstein monster build.

   Well, no reason to drag this out like the movie does. The kids eventually go to the prom and then find themselves stalked by a masked stranger whenever they break away from the group to have sex. True to form, we're served up a number of suspects who could be the killer. The nutcase from six years ago has escaped from his ward and returns to town to kill his nurse in the same dilapidated building where the kid was killed. The school handyman could be the killer, since he's kinda simple and the girls are nervous around him. It could be one of the grieved parents seeking some belate justice. It might be one of the gang, killing the other kids out of guilt. Don't worry, I won't tell.

   This was before slasher characters went in for iconic (or hopefully iconic) looks like Jason Vorhees and his hockey mask. Our killer wears black slacks, a matching sweater, and a ski mask, so he looks less like a monster than he does a mugger. The film is also terribly under-lit (or else the print I saw was too dark), so there are many scenes where you can't even see the guy. In one ambitious sequence, he menaces the driver of a van at night. Through this whole scene, the driver looks like he's being attacked by an invisible phantom. To be fair, there's a scene where the guy cuts through a power cable and has a realistically confused and frightened reaction to this (it may be the film's best moment, and I wonder if maybe there isn't as much acting in the scene as there is reacting).

   Weirdly, there's not that much violence or nudity on display. The one real nude scene occurs when one of the girls moons the handyman (although they never explain why she'd bait the guy she thinks has a screw loose). The attack scenes tend to be done minus the gore-effect close shots that define the genre, almost like a TV print. One attack, in fact, seems to have been zoomed in on (the face of the victim, we see no blood) and slowed down in post-production. It looks exactly like an edit made for a network showing. Add to this the fact that everything is so dark, and you almost have a TV-style who-done-it of the same period.

   Believe it or not, PROM NIGHT was quite a success. And really, that doesn't make much sense. As slashers go, this one is pretty dull. Half the movie is over before the murder spree begins, and even that is fairly tame. I'm not making a personal complaint about this, but I can't figure why slasher fans would be so keen on this picture. Sporadically, a few sequels got made, and the recent wave of slasher remakes included an update of today's subject (which bore little resemblance to it's parent).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

GODZILLA VS MEGALON, the comic book!

   Fabled among American Godzilla fans was a four-page comic book given out at theaters in 1976 in advance of Cinema Shares releasing GODZILLA VS MEGALON to US theaters. I recently uncovered scans of this rare artifact, and now present them here for my fellow movie fans.

   Interestingly, while almost universally hailed as the worst Godzilla film of the 20th Century, GODZILLA VS MEGALON remains one of the most successful films of the franchise! The film played to big box office on both sides of the Pacific, and in multiple cuts here in the States. The film was an even bigger success when it debuted on American television (famously MC'd by John Belushi wearing a Godzilla suit -and having the run time trimmed way down to fit an hour slot)! It managed to slip into public domain afterward, making it one of the most visible Godzilla films by being released on VHS under multiple labels.

International One Sheet

   I remember well a time when you were sure to run across two Godzilla adventures at the video store, no matter where you were in the country. You could count on finding a few copies of GODZILLA 1985 and GODZILLA VS MEGALON. The film later ran on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and was briefly released to DVD in this form. However, Toho managed to recover the American rights to the film and the MST release had to be pulled. The few copies that are still floating around are high dollar items now. Toho subsequently offered a TV package which included a pristine widescope print of this film which would periodically turn up on The Sci-Fi Channel back when it was worth watching.

   Godzilla wouldn't break into American comics with a regular title until 1977, a year which saw Toho going crazy with licensing deals to make American Godzilla products. Thus, two years after his film career had ended (in Japan, the later films would be imported throughout the 70's) for the first time, Godzilla began a regular series with the Marvel Comics Group. These four pages, though, may be the Big Blue Dinosaur's American comic book debut! (I'm allowing that there may have been similar products in Japan, but they would have been unseen by American eyes. This would have been a truly special thing to have!)