Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Sharon Stone

While there are any number of actresses who reportedly got bought their way to fame via the "casting couch", few mainstream performers got there by spreading their legs on screen. Sharon Stone is one of those few. She even got a Golden Globe nomination and won the Best Female Performer and Most Desirable Female MTV Movie Awards of 1993 for doing so.

Sharon Stone spent the 1980s laboring in obscurity in short-lived television series in small movie roles. As her star rose, she was seen along-side Richard Chamberlain in a pair of Allan Quartermain films; in one of Steven Seagal's better pictures, "Above the Law""; and with Arnold Schwartznegger in the sci-fi thriller "Total Recall".

In 1992, Stone appeared as the possibly bat-shit crazy sexual predator Catherine Tramell "Basic Instinct", flashed her nether-regions at the camera... and a star was born!

In the two decades since, Stone has made over 30 movies, starred in several other short-lived TV series and made guest appearances on many others. Several of her films have been supernatural thrillers or horror movies, such as "Sphere" "Cold Creek Manor", and "Catwoman" (although "Catwoman" is more horrible than horror).

Picture Perfect Special: Princesses of Mars, Part Four

Who needs Venus when you have Martian Princesses? Here are more visions of Dejah Thoris and other Martian beauties from a variety of artists. (Click on the byline to see more of that artist's work.)

By Steven Butler
By David Finch

By Talent Caldwell

By Adam Hughes

Thursday, February 24, 2011

'The Devil's Daughter' is short, but feels long

The Devil's Daughter (1939)
Starring: Nina Mae McKinney, Ida James, Emmett Wallace, Hamtree Harrington, Jack Carter, and Willa Mae Lang
Director: Arthur Leonard
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Sylvia Walton (James) returns from the United States to Haiti after a long absence when she inherits her father's banana plantation. Her disinherited half-sister Isabelle (McKinney), who managed the plantation for several years, has vanished without a trace, and Sylvia is desperate to find her, to offer her a fair share of the inheritance. Meanwhile, two rival suitors vie (Carter and Wallace) vie for Sylvia's attention and mysterious voodoo drums are heard from the depths of the jungle... where a vengeful Isabelle plots to regain all of what she considers rightfully hers.

"The Devil's Daughter" barely runs barely 50 minutes, but it feels much longer than that. A melodrama with horror overtones--very faint overtones, as the film repeatedly makes the point that the voodoo rituals are just hoaxes to drive off Sylvia and her dippy manservant Percy (Harrington)--about a quarter of the running time is wasted on a lame subplot involving the unfunny comic relief character trying to protect his soul from voodoo spirits and later to save his boss and her sister from a crooked plantation foreman. The film is further doomed by the fact that it features some of the worst dialogue I've ever seen outside of fiction written by grade schoolers, and acting styles that were passe in films in early 1932. In fact, every thing about this movie almost everything about this movie is stilted and stagy, even during the one scene where a little cinematic energy finally creeps in.

This is a film that's primarily of historical interest. It's an example of the movies produced during the early part of the 20th century for the 700 or so movie theaters that catered to Black audiences during America's period of Segregation. It's interesting to note that the same sort of characters that get slagged as racist in movies from the same period made for general audiences can be found in this film as well, specifically the bug-eyed superstitious servant character that Mantan Moreland made his signature. In fact, the only difference between characters portrayed by Moreland and the character of Percy in this film is that Percy is fundamentally unsympathetic. (And I'm not sure he was intended to be viewed as such by the filmmakers; I suspect he was intended to be a lovable, if not very bright, rogue, but to my eyes he was an obnoxious jerk who first tried to take advantage of what he considered to be backwards islanders, only to have the tables turned on him. The cultural and political tensions between the "cultured" daughter and her servant and the "native" daughter and her supporters lends a little bit of interesting flavor to the film, but it's not enough to make up for its shortcomings and outmoded style.

Although this is a film that history has left behind in every conceivable way, the climactic voodoo sequence is a nice pay-off for sitting through it. The song performed is catchy, and a little bit of cinematic life finally finds its way into the proceedings. The scene also showcases the screen presence of Nina Mae McKinney, a talented and charismatic singer actress who was not fated for screen-stardom.

If you want to get a taste of the "race films" from the 1930s, this isn't a bad place to start. If you're looking for a look at classic voodoo-oriented horror films, you're better off with "White Zombie", "I Walked With a Zombie", or even "King of the Zombies".

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Josephine and the Amazing Edible Dreamskirt

Born in St. Louis, MO, in 1906, Josephine Baker started dancing professionally in her early teens. She fled Missouri for Europe by the time she was 17, frustrated by the rampant racism in her hometown.

She quickly became a favorite in Paris revue clubs, and in 1925 she first performed her famous "banana dance" and was catapulted to international fame.

In 1937, Baker renounced her American citizenship in favor of France, as she was deeply disgusted by the many racist government-sanctioned institutions and regulations that existed in American society at that time. Although she occasionally visited the States over the following decades, she made her home in France and Monaco.

Baker always refused to perform in clubs that practiced segregation, and in 1951 she filed racism charges against the famous Stork Club in New York City when she was refused service because she was black. She later was the only woman to give an address at Martin Luther King's famous March on Washington rally.

Baker passed way in 1975.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'Son of Terror' requires your patience

Son of Terror (2011)
Starring: Ben Andrews, Alan Sutherland, Marcel Davis, and Meredith Binder
Director: Antony De Gennaro
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A reclusive artist (Andrews) discovers he has a psychic link to a serial killer (Sutherland) who is murderng vagrants around Seattle's Pioneer Square.

"Son of Terror" is one of those movies I wish I liked more. It was made by filmmakers in my home state of Washington, and it features a great deal of creativity in every technical aspect of its production. The use of sound is particularly ingenious, with the music soundtrack and ambient sound mixing and fading in and out in ways often so subtle that you won't realize why the scene your watching is as hair-raisingly creepy as it is. An impressive level of artistry and skill is on display in this movie, especially considering that it's the product of a first-time director who wore many hats and worked with a very tight budget.

Unfortunately, De Gennaro spends too much time putting his artistry on display and the end result is a film that you have to be very patient with. Not only does the story move slowly, but De Gennaro doesn't set up the somewhat unusual method he uses to tell it--switching back and forth between the main character (played by Ben Andrews), and the film's monstrous killer (played by Alan Sutherland), as well as other sequences that initially seem unconnected to anything else, and using television screens to denote the switching--and it doesn't become clear what he is doing until about ten minutes in. Compound the mild frustration and disorientation with the way nearly every scene seems to unfold at a leisurely pace and in a self-indulgent fashion that seems more concerned with making sure viewers notice the creative cinematography and (eventually catch onto) the very effective sound design that proper timing of the story, it's a film that even the most fair-minded viewer will be tempted to turn off before you reach the halfway point.

When it finally becomes clear what is going on in the film, patient viewers will be amply rewarded as it just keeps getting creepier and creepier. But you'll have to be very patient.

"Son of Terror" premiered at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival a couple of years ago, and it debuts in wide distribution on DVD and VOD on March 8, 2011. Although flawed, it's worth checking out for lovers of off-beat, psychological terror flicks, and I think Antony De Gennaro is destined for great things if he sticks with filmmaking. (I had a very hard time choosing between a Four or Five Rating for this film, but I ultimately went with the lower rating, because of the numerous pacing issues. But I still think it's worth a look.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The ultimate Numa-Numa song and video

Is this the ultimate Numa-Numa song/video?

Or maybe this?

And then there's this one...

Or maybe this Old Skool version from the crew of the USS Enterprise?

Or this from #1 Numa Fan?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Amber Tamblyn

Short-statured and baby-faced, Amber Tamblyn has spent much of her career so far portraying characters younger than her true age, such as playing a suburban high school student who was a modern-day agent of God on the tragically short-lived television series "Joan of Arcadia" in 2003 when she was 20, and the medical kid genius during the 2010-2011 season of "House", filling in for Olivia Wilde while she was working on "Tron: The Legacy" for Disney.

Born in 1983, Tamblyn got her start as a child actress on "General Hospital" in 1995. She appeared on the show for six years, and successfully navigated the perilous transition into a career as a working adult actor with small parts on a number of television series, including an appearance on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the revived "Twilight Zone" series.

Following her starring turn on "Joan of Arcadia", Tamblyn has starred in or played major supporting roles in an even mix of comedies, thrillers, and horror films, with "The Ring", "Grudge 2" (which reunited her with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star Sarah Michelle Gellar), "Blackout" and "Spiral" being of greatest interest to readers here.

Tamblyn is currently writing and producing a screen adaptation of "Paint It Black", a psychological thriller in which she plays the lover of a suicide victim who begins to walk the path that may have led him to kill himself as she searches for answers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

'Spider Baby': Where the 1960s meet the 1940s

Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968)
Starring: Jill Banner, Beverly Washburn, Lon Chaney Jr., Joan Keller, Quinn Redeker, Carol Ohmart, Mary Mitchel, Karl Schanzer, Sid Haig, and Mantan Moreland
Director: Jack Hill
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The last remaining servant of the Merrye family, Bruno (Chaney), has spent his life caring for the three demented children (Banner, Haig, and Washburn) who are heirs to its fortune, keeping their deep psychopathies hidden and controlled. But greedy distant relatives and their lawyer (Mitchel, Ohmart, Redeker, and Schanzer) arrive to take the mansion and the money, Bruno's tentative hold on them slips... with deadly results.

"Spider Baby" is an atmospheric little movie that moves easily from horror to comedy and that amply proves the point that filmmakers don't necessarily need budgets in the hundreds of thousands to make good movies, nor does a film need to be graphic to be sexy or scary. In fact, I don't recall a scene that was more scary and sexy than the "seduction" scene between the homicidal underage vixen and wanna-be human spider Virginia and one of the dipsticks that have come to take her house and caregiver away.

Although the film suffers from uneven pacing, and the would-be explosive ending falls short of what writer/director Hill hoped for due to budget limitations, it is carried by striking performances from its young female stars, Jill Banner and Beverly Washburn, who manage to in turn be funny, sexy and scary; and from Lon Chaney Jr, who in the fading twilight of his career managed to shake off the weight of alcoholism long enough to turn in a performance that reminds viewers of the great performances he turned in during the 1940s and early 1950s. Carol Ohmart is also wonderful as a bitchy gold-digger whom viewers will delight in watching getting her come-uppence, while Mantan Moreland, in a small part, turns in performance that, like Chaney, evokes pleasant memories of the 1940s when he was at the height of his comedic powers (even if he also comes to a very creepy end).

In many ways, the film straddles cinematic time periods. It has the appearance and flavor of a quirky 1960s low-budget drive-in film, but it's not only the presence of a rejuvenated Chaney and Moreland that calls to mind the 1940s; "Spider Baby" has at its core a spirit of craziness reminiscent of Monogram Pictures horror films. The combination adds up to a movie that has a one-of-a-kind quality that more than makes up for any budget- and pacing-related shortcomings. It's a film that any lover of B-movie classics needs to experience.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Nina Mae McKinney

In an alternate universe, Nina Mae McKinney is known as Hollywood's first black sex symbol.

Nina Maye McKinney was a charismatic singer, dancer, and actress with looks and talent that should have made her a star. But in 1920s and 1930s America, Hollywood didn't quite know what to do with African Americans who were cut from the same cloth as could have been like Myrna Loy or Paulette Goddard or Greta Garbo. Instead, McKinney was relegated mostly to appearing in "race pictures," films made for distribution circuits that catered to black movie houses in the segregated South. Instead of taking her place among the stars--as her performance in "The Devil's Daugther" indicates she deserved... even if just among minor stars, like the low-budget beauties at Monogram--her show-business career centered mostly around singing in clubs.

McKinney did have one opportunity at movie stardom, however. She was cast as the leading lady in 1938's "The Duke Is Tops," but she fell ill before production began and the part was given to Lena Horne... and by 1942, Horne emerged as the first mainstream African American glamor queen.

In an alternate universe, Nina Mae McKinney is remembered as Hollywood's first black sex symbol, but in this one she died in 1967, forgotten and so obscure that no trade magazines even carried a death announcement.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

'Into the Blue' gives viewers what they want

Into the Blue (2005)
Starring: Paul Walker, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Ashley Scott, and Scott Caan
Director: John Stockwell
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A pair of semi-pro treasure hunters (Alba and Walker) living the easy life in the Bahamas stumble upon the sunken wreck of a historic sailing ship. They also discover the wreck of a small airplane which contains a fortune in drugs, and this makes them targets of the drug smugglers who want to recover their wares.

I think I liked this movie better when I saw it as "The Deep". I recall being more impressed with the acting and the story than I was with this film, but then admittedly I was 10 or so years old and I haven't seen it since. So, maybe my memory is a bit hazy--and my memory of the Carmine Infantino-illustrated graphic novel adaptation is a bit stronger than that I have of the movie--but I remember finding the underwater action very exciting in both formats, as well as genuinely fearing for the heroes.

With "Into the Blue", I never really cared about any of the characters, and the only actor I found at all remarkable was Josh Brolin as the obnoxious, seasoned and well-funded rival to the pretty young main characters. The film also held no surprises as it unfolded, other than the memories it invoked of my youthful excitement over "The Deep".

That said, the film does move at fast enough a pace that you barely have time to realize that it is absolutely predictable at every turn. It also sports some gorgeous photography both on-land and under-seas, and several well-executed underwater action scenes... and that's ultimately what the film is about. Did anyone REALLY see this movie for anything but the eye-candy?

"Into the Blue" is entertaining enough, but not worth going out of your way for. If you want a beautiful film focusing on attractive skin-diving treasure-hunters, I think you might be better off checking out the "The Deep" starring Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bissett. (Athough I can imagine someone writing a variation on those words some 40 years from now: "'Raiders of the Deep' is pretty to look at, but it doesn't hold a candle to my memory of 'Into the Blue', a movie I saw when I was 10 years old.")

I will have to get my hands on a copy of "The Deep" to see if I'm being unfair to this movie or not....

Saturday Scream Queen: Trish Van Devere

Trish Van Devere's first major role was on the soap opera "One Live to Live" in 1968. For the next quarter century, a wide variety of television series and films were elevated by her strong presence. She retired from acting in 1994.

Although Van Devere's horror/suspense resume is short, it is significant in the number of high quality projects that appear on it. Foremost among the entries on it is her 1978 role as a television producer turned murderer in one of the very best "Columbo" episodes; and her 1980 starring role in "The Changeling", one of the greatest ghost movies to ever be released.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lindsay Lohan: Guilty of Theft or Stupidity?

So, this headline caught my eye:

Lindsay Lohan Pleads Not Guilty to Felony Grand Theft

If you click on the link, the article will tell you that Lohan's defense for shoplifting a $2,500 necklace from a jewelry store is that she was "allowed to borrow the jewelry."

Either Lohan's an idiot, or she thought the store owners were, because who in their right mind would let a crackhead drunkard like her borrow ANYTHING she might trade for drugs and booze?

Here's hoping this goes to trail and she gets FINALLY the jail-time she has so richly deserved for a number years. (At the very least, we'd get to hear elaborations on why on earth she thought she was so special that she could walk off with a store's merchandise.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Women in Horror Month:The Saturday Scream Queens

Since starting my horror-centric blog Terror Titans back in December 2009, I've been spotlighting one of the many Women of Horror in the Saturday Scream Queen Series. Sixty or actresses have been profiled so far, and there are many more to come.

In honor of Women of Horror Recognition Month, here's a list of my Top Ten Favorite Scream Queens (as of Febuary 2011). Click on the names for more info and pictures.

10. Elke Sommer. Mario Bava's greatest leading lady/damsel-in-distress.

9. Kate Jackson. Parts in made-for-TV horror movies and a recurring role on the "Dark Shadows" soap opera made Jackson the small screen's Scream Queen.

8. Erin Brown (aka Misty Mundae). Battled mummies, vampires, and lesbians in soft-core horror spoofs and zany fright-fests from Brett Piper.

7. Jacqueline Lovell. Her face (and breasts) were welcome sights in numerous Charles Band productions during the 1990s.

6. Barbara Crampton. The victim of madmen, monsters, and goopy Lovecraftian horrors from Empire Pictures and others.

5. Milla Jovovich. No Scream Queen kicks monster butt like Milla!

4. Jennifer Love Hewitt. Star of slasher-flicks and the long-running supernatural-themed drama "The Ghost Whisperer.

3. Barbara Steele. The most spectacular eyes to ever look out at an audience from the screen.

2. Fay Wray. The original Scream Queen and one of the greatest actresses to ever, as she put it, wear "a silly blonde wig."

And my #1 favorite Scream Queen:

1. Jamie Lee Curtis. The face and lanky figure of 1980s slasher flicks and the greateast Scream Queen of the all!

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Halle Berry

I'd never thought of actress Halle Berry as black until she herself made a big deal out of her blackness when she accepted her Academy Award. It seems to me that she is just as black as she is white, especially when taking her parents into account.

That said, she seems like the perfect candidate for a cinematic milestone in Black History: The starring role in the first 3D movie featuring an all-black cast and crew, with Spike Lee and Tyler Perry co-writing/producing/directing!

Click here to read reviews of movies with Halle Berry at Watching the Detectives.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mike Oldfield and the Queen of Chance

Here are some videos and versions of Mike Oldfield's great tune "To France."

First, the original song with vocals by Maggie Reilly.

Here's a dance version of the tune from Novaspace. The video's pretty neat, but I wonder if they knew what the song is about?)

The version from Blind Guardian doesn't have much of a video, but it's a great listen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

'The Secrets of Sinister House' revealed!

Showcase Presents: The Secrets of Sinister House
(DC Comics, 2010)

Writers: Michael Fleisher, Joe Albano, E. Nelson Bridwell, Sheldon Mayer, Jack Olek, Robert Kanigher, George Kashdan,
Artists: Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala, Dick Giordano, Don Heck, Mike Sekowsky, Rico Rival, Alex Nino,
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In the early 1970s, DC Comics made numerous attempts to expand their market beyond the superhero titles that have always been the bread-and-butter of the American comic book industry; they'd already been enjoying tremendous success with war titles, so it was reasonable to take a crack at fantasy, horror, sci-fi... and romance.

First published in September of 1971, "The Sinister House of Secret Love" was one of the less successful experiments, be it on a commercial or artistic level. The series began as a vehicle for "book-length" tales of gothic romance that, despite the fact the covers implied a degree of horror content, were so close-hewn to genre standards that one could use them as teaching aids in a class on the subject.

However, it must have quickly been obvious to the editors and business folks at DC Comics that their foray into the gothic romance market was not setting the publishing world on fire. The first four issues have covers with an unadulterated paperback romance novel cover vibe (complete with the standard "women running from houses" motif), but starting with the fourth issue they started making obvious attempts to play up the horror aspect of the gothic romance genre, first redesigning the cover logo so "The Sinister House" was really large and "of Secret Love" was very tiny and describing the story within the covers as a "graphic tale of gothic horror" even though it actually contained fewer overt horror elements than tale in issue #2; and retitling the series "Secrets of the Sinister House" as of issue #5.

But it wasn't enough, so by issue #6 the book-length gothic romance stories were gone and the title morphed into an anthology book, joining the long-running "House of Mystery" and "House of Secrets" horror/thriller anthology titles in DC's line-up. Several of the stories presented still had more of a romance flavor than most of the tales presented in DC Comics' horror anthologies--possibly because some had been commissioned as back-up stories like the one featured in the first issue of the series. However, "Secrets of the Sinister House" didn't catch on the way the other titles had, and by issue #18, it was cancelled.

Thanks to DC Comics' low-cost black-and-white series of "Showcase Presents" reprint books, all the tales presented in this failed experiment can now be enjoyed by modern audiences. It's a book that might appeal for a number of different reasons, although given the shift in direction halfway through, not everything is going to be of interest to everybody.

Fans of the gothic romance genre in particular might want to give the book a read as "The Curse of the MacIntyres" (from issue #1), "To Wed the Devil" (from issue #2) and "The Bride of the Falcon" (from issue #3) and "Death at Castle Dunbar" (from issue #5) are rather decent efforts, both story and artwise.

The second half of the book is of interest to fans of short-format horror comics, as it contains a couple dozen tales of marauding monsters, vicious villains, and poetic justice. As was the case with all of DC Comics' anthology titles, the entertainment value of these short stories varies greatly but the artwork is universally top-notch.

In fact, the only group this entire book will appeal to are lovers of comic books as an art-form as well as an entertainment medium. For the first half of the book, we get to see great artists like Don Heck, Tony DeZuniga, Dick Giordano, and Alex Toth at their finest, and in the case of Heck working in a rare non-superhero environment. The short horror stories with art by Alfredo Alcala, Rico Rival, and other artists from the Philippines are visually gorgeous--even more so in the black-and-white reprint format than in their original presentation--no matter how wretched some of the stories. In fact, with the exception of the art by Tony DeZuniga, just about every story in this book looks better than it did back when it was first presented 40 years ago... and the only reason DeZuniga's work suffers is because a number of panels and layouts were clearly designed with coloring in mind. As a result some seem a bit vacant and sparse in appearance.

"Secrets of the Sinister House" may be an uneven collection, but it's the sort of offbeat material that I hope to see more of in the "Showcase Presents" series. I'd REALLY love a book collecting the myriad of characters that came and went with barely a ripple, such as Nightmaster, Kong the Untamed, Firehair, and Black Orchid. I hope this volume of obscure non-superhero comics sells well enough to encourage DC Comics to bring us more of the same.

Trivia: In reading this book, I realized that "The Secrets of Sinister House" #8 was one of the first comics I ever read. "Paying with Fire" (the story of a boy, awful parents, and a dragon) and "Moonlight Bay" (the tale of a werewolf astronaut) stayed with me in my imagination to this very day. It was great to be reminded of where they came from originally.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

There's bad...

... and then there's Christina Aguilera performing the National Anthem at the 2011 Super Bowl.

She couldn't even get the lyrics right... and one has to wonder if she even knows what they mean, given where she placed inflections.

She should have rehearsed a couple of times before stepping in front of a national audience. Well, at least she was fully clothed, so she didn't endanger anything but her own reputation.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Kristyn Green

Born in Texas, former Miss Teen Lubbock Kristyn Green had her heart set on show business from an early age. It's been so far, so good for Green. After performing on a USO Tour in 2003, she broke into movies and, among other projects, appeared in three horror comedies from legendary B-movie factory Full Moon.

In 2008, Green landed a recurring role on USA Network's comedy "The Starter Wife," but she continues to appear in horror films, most recently in "Carver", one of the more gruesome torture porn films to be released.

For reviews of movies featuring Kristyn Green, click here to visit The Charles Band Collection.

Picture Perfect Special: Princesses of Mars, Part Three

Here are some images showing what happens when you threaten a Martian princess with a knife. ("That's not a knife. THIS is a knife!")

By Mark Schultz
By George Perez

By Bob Layton

By Remi Dousset
By Ray Lago
To see a many more drawings of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Dejah Thoris, click here to visit Rob L.'s online galleries.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fear-filled Phantasms: Masks

"Don't lower your mask until you have another mask prepared beneath - as terrible as you like - but a mask." -- Katherine Mansfield

By David Bowers

By Michael Kaluta

Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit!

May your wealth and happiness multiply like the year's namesake!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Pam Grier, American Native

Authentically politically incorrect.

Actress Pam Grier has been a major American movie star since getting her start in Roger Corman's women-in-prison movie "The Big Doll House" in 1971. She will mark her 40th year in the film business with a role in the forthcoming Tom Hanks vehicle "Larry Crowne". It will be her 65th film appearance.