A Darker Shade of Black

Gotham theater

Gotham. I got curious this morning about the roots of this charmingly dark city, so I did a little research. I’d always thought Gotham was derived from gothic, but my first search turned up much more interesting stuff than that for all of us trivia and origin story junkies. Starting with Wiktionary (I know, but I had to start somewhere), we find the origin across the pond, in England. It translates roughly as “homestead where goats are kept”, deriving from Old English for ‘goat’ and ‘home’. Now, how about that, folks? Think the writers have done their research when they created that one psycho assassin, the Goat, a few episodes back? Yep.

And supposedly it dates back to English folklore, to a Nottinghamshire village, and the reference mentions something about insanity. Aha!

Also, it’s a nickname for New York City, christened by Washington Irving, way back in 1807.

Hmm, the pieces are falling into place.

There is one other reference, from the New York Public Library, which pretty well backs up what Wiktionary said. If you’re interested, here’s the link: http://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/01/25/so-why-do-we-call-it-gotham-anyway

So, that explains a lot as to the history of Gotham in the new series. Gotham is a possessed city, one that tends to breed crime. There is a cloud hanging over it, which makes it a fascinating place for stories, a place where crime and evil arises. It’s a place that Poe would have written about, as it has this omnipresent shadow. Or perhaps it’s Poe taken a step further. H. P. Lovecraft, perhaps?

And there it is. We have Arkham Asylum, the star-birthing chamber of super-villain crazies, and for readers of Mr. Lovecraft, Arkham was a great little coastal village that was about as horrific as you could want, what with the ‘furtive shamblings’ of strange creatures. Also, in last night’s episode, we had (he’s dead, Jim) one of Gotham’s minor/major players, a Mr. Lovecraft, who ended up with an extra hole in his head. Poor Mr. Lovecraft.

And now we have Bats and Cats and Penguins, these unique and fascinating residents of Gotham whose lives are just beginning to intertwine. At first when I started watching the show, I thought it would focus more on Bruce Wayne. Silly me. What is in store for us is far better as the show is the city. It’s Gotham, a city that lives by night.

‘til next time… Adios.

Posted in Comic Books, Random Meditations, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flash Drive

New Flash

Picking up where I left off about twelve hours ago, running on less than two hours of sleep, we survived our first overnight write-in. Got some good writing/editing accomplished, made new friends, and I learned that my brain and body can’t handle endurance tests like that as well as I once did. I can say now, however, that I’ve slept (sort of) on the floor of Joseph-Beth Booksellers. So, here comes my really rambly post, more rambly than usual.

The Flash. One of my two favorite superhero TV shows now, the other being Gotham. Before I return to this new version of The Flash, the first one being the one I mentioned from ‘90-’91, with John Wesley Shipp. That one was a whole lot of fun, and represented the new (at that time) leading wave of superhero shows, riding on the success of 1989’s Batman movie. That era’s Flash played as a camp action/adventure, and Mr. Shipp did a terrific job as Barry Allen/The Flash, playing him straight, but with wonderful campy touches. The show never took itself too seriously as every week we’d see one of Flash’s super-adversaries or supporting cast, played by actors from that time period that all of were well acquainted with. We had David Cassidy as Mirror Master, Bill Mumy as Roger Braintree (not one of the usual members of Flash’s Rogues Gallery), Dick Miller as Fosnight (one of Barry Allen’s informants. You know Dick Miller. He’s been in everything.), and Mark Hamill as The Trickster. It was obvious Mark had a blast playing Trickster, a role about as non-Luke Skywalker as you can get.

So, a super-speed nod to all those who came before.

Now, to this latest Flash. Several things to love about it.

First off, the way Barry gets juiced up with super-speed. A particle accelerator explosion at S.T.A.R. Labs blasted the entire city randomly. In Barry’s case, the explosion created an electrical storm that zapped him, knocking him back into a rack of chemicals in the police lab where he worked. Voila! Super-speed. Other folks were irradiated, each one being affected differently. That now gives us a good explanation for how all the super-villains came about. In one case, a guy fell into a vat of molten metal (hate it when that happens) when he got irradiated, so now he can turn himself into solid metal.

Then there’s the relationships between the characters in the show. All believable. Well, except for the fact that Barry Allen’s (can run at Mach 1 plus) former high school bully can turn himself into pig iron. But other than that, all the relationships are believable. I especially like the father/son type of relationship Barry has with the man who raised him (Det. Joe West, played by Jesse L. Martin) after Barry’s father went to prison for the (framed) murder of Barry’s mom.

Well, time for me to go crash. My super-speed is slowing way down now.

‘til next time… Adios.

Posted in Comic Books, Random Meditations, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quick as a Flash

Flash

Been a busy couple of weeks here at the research facility, but I’ll get caught up. My thoroughly incomprehensible staff is ready to go.

The Fastest Man Alive. That’s what I always remember as a description for The Flash. Scarlet Speedster, that was another one. At the moment, they still haven’t named him yet on the new ultra-popular and hit TV series The Flash. Most just refer to him as the Streak, but they’re right on the edge of naming him The Flash. And it’s his long-time friend and, if they follow the comic book story-line, eventual wife, Iris West, who’s about to give him the Flash title. She’s busy spreading the word about his exploits in her blog (got to keep it current — nowadays superheroes have blogs about them, they use cell phones, and have a backup research staff to pump info to them as they’re battling the baddies), giving hope to Central City.

Flash, especially the Barry Allen Flash, always was about hope. He’s the consummate good guy, and that really comes across in this newest series, as played so well by Grant Gustin. He has a winning smile, and the character is a self-professed uber-geek. Yay, us geeks are finally popular. He’s an all-around nice guy and you can’t help but like him.

Let’s take a flashy moment, though to do a tip o’ th’ speedster hat to his predecessor, in the 1990-1991 The Flash series, played by John Wesley Shipp. It’s hard for me to realize that it’s been 24 years since I watched that version of The Flash. Ah, well. Time, like the Flash, moves on. I do like the fact that Mr. Shipp plays the new Barry Allen’s father in this latest Flash incarnation.

Got to stop for now, but I will continue with more Flash commentary in a couple of days. I’m currently attending an overnight writer’s lock-in here at Joseph-Beth booksellers where I’m supposed to be working on my novel. Which I have been doing, but I just wanted to use a burst of super-speed to get these words down, as it’s been over a week since my last post.

Got to run…

‘til next time… Adios.

Posted in Comic Books, Random Meditations, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Made for TV Frightmares

Lovecraft1

Y’know, those cigarettes aren’t good for you

I’ve been away from the Bat cave for a few days, so I’ll try to get caught back up. This post should’ve been launched last week.

Trick or treat. Yep, I’m continuing with the Halloween Movie Extravaganze recap, which continued on November 1st, All Saints’ Day. I’m a little bit behind, seeing as how this is November 11th.

We cranked things up at 3 PM, this movie-fest being a tribute to the made-for-TV era. Everyone gathered and proceeded to the Bat cave, slapped a few deli sandwiches together, grabbed some leftover Halloween candy, as we started in sort of a reverse chronological order, watching a little-known spooker from the early years of HBO-produced films titled Cast a Deadly Spell (1991). I saw Spell back when it first came out on HBO and fell in love with it. Somewhere along the line I recorded it. I don’t think I watched it any during the intervening years ‘til Saturday. The copy’s still in fairly good shape, except near the end of the tape, where it would blank out for a few seconds. Need to see if I can scoop up a DVD copy somewhere.

Spell, as several of my friends pointed out, had the look and feel of a pilot episode for a possibly planned series that never got off the ground. And they’re right. It really does look that way, and it should have been made into a series. But that was 1991. X-Files was three years off, and sci-fi/horror/fantasy TV shows and movies still weren’t full-on mainstream yet. Up till then we had the occasional show that would last for a while, sometime a season or two. Back in ’74 and ’75 we had Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with the late, great Darren McGavin, one of the first of the new batch of prime-time investigative spook shows. Well, actually, that’s not entirely correct. In 1972 there was a show called The Sixth Sense (long before the movie) with Gary Collins as a paranormal investigator. I remember watching this show, a spin-off from Night Gallery. Dr. Michael Rhodes, the Gary Collins character, had ESP, and used his skills mainly for tracking down possessions and other ectoplasmic happenings. No monsters that I recall.

Anyway, trying to get back on track, we zoom through the 80’s with a handful of spooker shows achieving cult status – Amazing Stories, Friday the 13th: The Series (aka Friday the 13th or Friday’s Curse – no connection to the movies), Probe, and Tales from the Darkside. But nothing truly mainstream. Not like all the vampire, zombie, and other bumpy things in the night like we have today.

Enter Cast a Deadly Spell. I’d forgotten just how good, clever, and fun it was until I saw it again with the Scoobies. It’s a step into the past, a supernatural past, as we’re back in 1940’s Los Angeles, following the exploits of a Philip Marlowe-style detective named… Harry Philip Lovecraft. Yep, it’s that kind of movie, it knows it’s that kind of movie, and it has fun all the way through. There are inside jokes us geeks, plus plenty of sight gags that anyone can enjoy. This should have been a series, but the time wasn’t right. And Fred Ward was perfect for the role of “Phil” Lovecraft. And I do mean perfect. Wearing the hard-working P. I. suit and fedora and throwing in his first-person narrative, we were there with him. One of few remaining honest men in L. A. Also the only one who doesn’t use black magic. “Personal reasons”, he says. Get with the program, Phil, everyone else is doing it, they say. Nope, Phil has no use for it.

He takes a case for a client. Retrieve an ancient, leather-and-gold book, the client says. Turns out what the client wants, what everyone wants (or doesn’t want) is the Necronomicon, the legendary book concocted by the real H. P. Lovecraft. It’s the old story of “if it falls into the wrong hands…”, and Phil’s right smack dab in the middle of the whole mess, getting beaten up, tempted by temptresses, chasing down one clue after another the old-fashioned way, while everyone else takes the easy way out. I absolutely loved the mix of bad guys and black spells. Plus it was just so much fun watching little bits of magic pop up here and there in the background. Phil getting info from someone in a nightclub as a waiter pours from a levitating bottle of bubbly. Julianne Moore plays the love interest (“the one woman…”), David Warner (bad guy from Tron) is the client, and there are all those other folks we’ve seen in other films and shows. It’s a shame this one didn’t become a series or at least generate a sequel. Then again, maybe it’s for the better we have this one golden (or black) film.

After a brief break to refuel, we next went back in time to a 1976 film with Bette Davis, Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Burgess Meredith called Burnt Offerings. As far as I recall I never saw this one when it first came out, but the title is one of those that’s had, at least in my mind, a reputation. Call it a shadow of a reputation (doing a cheap Lovecraft impression here), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. Depending on when it came out in ’76, I was either 20 or 21, and definitely feeling my oats. I was most likely out running around somewhere, not in front of the tube.

Now, here’s the thing. With this kind of star collection, this film could’ve done a total Fantasy Island or Poseidon Adventure and nose-dived. Not even sure how it did in the ratings back then. And it did have some plot holes. But this was a true creep-fest. It went from Twilight Zone territory straight into the Night Gallery where we just didn’t know how it was going to turn out. Mom (Karen Black) and Dad (Oliver Reed) with kid in tow, along with the sweet old Aunt (Bette Davis) get a too-good-to-be-true summer rental deal on a huge old country HOUSE (oh, no, it wouldn’t be possessed or anything like that…) from creepy brother and sister (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart). Only deal is the renters have to take care of their dear old invalid Mum who lives upstairs (you know… up there…). Okay, none of that sounds unusual at all, does it? What I love about the setup is that none of our major players are strangers to the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre. Ms. Black and Mr. Reed, in particular, have both sported sharp teeth at least once, and Ms. Davis has had her turn, too. Of course, Mr. Meredith was on at least two Twilight Zone episodes, and who can ever forget him as the Penguin? Wah wah wah….

The situation heads further down the ol’ possessed house trail as Mom and Dad start behaving oddly, Mom in particular. The house begins making all these demands, and Mom gets weirder as she won’t let anyone else take care of creepy brother and sister’s Mum. Hmmm…

Burnt Offerings is a classic, despite a few plot holes. Overall, a good, chilling watch.
Got long-winded again.

‘til next time… Adios.

Posted in Haunted House, Movie Reviews, Random Meditations, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Halloween Movie Extravaganze

war_worlds_pal_8_x

Six movies in two days. Yup. And they’re all blending together. We watched over a Friday and Saturday, this past October 31st and November 1st, the good, the bad, and the ugly, ranging from a 1926 Italian silent to a 1991 HBO-produced horror-comedy.

I got things rolling on Halloween day (that sounds odd, doesn’t it? Halloween day. Halloween’s always at night – ah, well.) with a little bit of movie comfort food — The War of the Worlds, the 1953 George Pal classic. Yeah, I could’ve cracked open a shrink-wrapped DVD, something I’ve not seen before, but the Halloween nostalgia kicked in and I went looking for something tried-and-true, something familiar. One comment first. George Pal, the producer of the film, always gets top billing, and that’s all fine and dandy. I don’t want to take anything away from George. But let’s not forget the director, Byron Haskin, the one who pulled it all together. Mr. Haskin was known for not just this one, but From the Earth to the Moon (1958), The Power (1968 – a little-known telekinetic power gone wrong film), and several Outer Limits episodes.

I’ve watched The War of the Worlds all my life, getting started with it perhaps when I was a kid, catching it on Dialing for Dollars in the afternoon or one of my many late-night creature features. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. It’s dated now in many respects, all except for the Martian ships. Those things are cool, that hovering delta-wing shape, with the heat ray spreading death and destruction everywhere. Sure, they deviate from the way the ships look according to H. G.’s vision, but I like them.

One thing that surely stands out is the rampant machismo and testosterone flying about, especially the relationship between Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene “Bat Masterson” Barry) and Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson). Doc Forrester seems to sleepwalk through most of his role; except for when he’s shouting at Ann when she breaks into hysterics (the whole “blood of a Martian” sequence is a bit much and wears on me. I have to say, that’s where the latest version with Tom Cruise is superior. We don’t have the rampant he-man thing. I mean, the Earth is getting clobbered, folks – we’re all gonna be messing our pants if that were happening for real). Other than that, the movie still wears well. Okay, let’s forget the fact that they’re all standing just about at ground zero when they drop the Big One on the Martians, but I’ll let that go.

Oh, and yet another thing. I just found out that Ann Robinson worked as a stunt woman for years in film. So, all that screaming and needing to be rescued by Gene Barry… well, ha! Sounds like Ann could’ve pulled Gene’s bacon out of the fire, I’ll bet. I’d have loved to have seen that.

Next up on the Halloween movie extravaganza, later that evening, was a 1926 silent film from Italy titled Maciste in Hell. This was a terrific surprise for a cold, blustery Halloween night. We had a few brave trick-or-treaters (and their parents) during the appointed time, 6 to 8 PM for Lexington. I’ll get on that soapbox at some later time, this whole business of going trick-or-treating when it’s still light. When I went trick-or-treating I had to slay Moby Dick for the whale oil for my lantern, etc. But back to the tricks or treats. We had, I’m guessing, four clusters of parent-driven vans and associated kids that actually did the trick-or-treat thing. I’m proud of ‘em.

So, after we figured no one else would show, we shut down the top floor of the house and retired to the Bat cave, lights down low for that Halloween mood, and I fired up this little Italian gem. I found it purely by accident on a collection of 50 or so horror films on this DVD set I purchased from who knows where. It’s one of those strange conglomerations, some good, some not, and there, nestled amongst all these mostly newer films, was Maciste. It’s amazing it survived the years, though it would be an ideal candidate for restoration, if that’s possible.

This was one of many Maciste movies made from 1914 to 1927 starring Bartolomeo Pagano. Mr. Pagano was a man of immense size. Not Andre the Giant huge, just large and powerful, perfect for this role (prior to acting, he’d worked as a longshoreman). According to what I’ve read, Maciste was sort of an Italian Heracles (Hercules) figure, and in the one we watched they mention on the intertitles that he was physically and spiritually powerful, moreso than the average mortal.

And there was the source of our conflict. I need to watch this film again, as what followed from our introduction to Maciste was a collection of religious and mythological figures, one of the first being a demon/devil or other bad supernatural entity that transported our big guy to hell in order to convert him over to their side. They had their hands full with Maciste, though.

This had all the look and feel of a stage play, complete with fantastcial and beautiful sets, along with many Georges Melies-style effects – disappearances and appearances in clouds of smoke, creatures of immense size, etc. The costumes and scenery were amazing, and with the red filter it gave a truly eerie and other-worldly (or underworldly) effect. Great make-up, too. This is an amazing film, and I’ll not only watch it again, and soon, but I’ll try to find others in the Maciste series, although I’m not particularly hopeful of finding others as this one was only in fair shape and any of the others are probably lost to us.

Got a bit long-winded and I still have the next batch of movies to review, so for now I’ll post just these two, then continue on with the other four.

‘til next time… Adios.

Posted in Future Technology, Movie Reviews, Random Meditations, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Ain’t Got No Body

the-body-snatcher2

I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.

It was tough way back when, learning the doctoring business. You wanted to learn what makes us tick, but, well, it was a little tough cutting apart live folks to see the clockwork mechanism. Most didn’t take too kindly to that, complaining loudly. So, what was a young pre-M.D. to do?

Dead bodies, that was the answer. If you got them fresh enough, and had permission from everyone – authorities, family members – you were good to go. Sometimes, however, demand was greater than supply. Enter two enterprising gravediggers back in Scotland in 1828 – Burke and Hare. These enterprising lads saw a ripe business opportunity, so they went from grave digging to grave robbing to keep up with the demand. Soon, demand out-stripped supply again, so the two entrepreneurs went straight to the source and started whacking folks.

The movie that Wendy and I watched the other night, The Body Snatcher (1945), takes up a few years after Burke and Hare had their spree. Based on the short story of the same title by Robert Louis Stevenson, this is an engrossing little film, perfect for a pre-Halloween watch. At first, I wasn’t enthused about watching it as I thought there wouldn’t be enough horror in it to satisfy me, that it would mostly be mystery/police procedural; but as soon as we started watching it, we were hooked. No supernatural stuff, but the tension and suspense were there.

It’s mainly from the perspective of a young, would-be doctor, a good man, a likeable man (Donald Fettes), played perfectly by Russell Wade, a mostly B-movie actor, but a very capable B actor who, after WWII, went into business for himself. Shame, too. I really liked him.

Donald is learning the sawbones trade from Dr. MacFarlane (Henry Daniell), a doctor who spends all his time teaching, very little doctoring. Daniell plays MacFarlane as upper-crust, arrogant, and a bit sad, as we soon learn that he’s dealing with the devil, played oh-so wonderfully evil and malicious by Boris Karloff. Okay, Karloff’s character, Cabman John Gray, isn’t truly the devil, though he may as well be, as he has a choke-hold on MacFarlane’s soul.

Everyone does a terrific job in this film, Mr. Karloff in particular. The way he smiles at MacFarlane at times is just a thing of dark beauty – a smile that looks on the surface so warm and friendly yet carries such oil and ooze that my skin crawled.

This is a story of want, greed, desire, and what any of us would do to get what we want. It’s a tale of conflict, and we as the viewers feel the ol’ hangman’s noose tighten around our necks, and we squirm in our seats as we watch the spider engulfing the fly and the young fly-to-be. The direction is skillful by the immensely talented Robert Wise, who brought to the screen such classics as West Side Story (1961), The Haunting (1963), and The Andromeda Strain (1971). Someone else could have taken this story and it would’ve just laid flat, no feeling or suspense at all. But this master director put us in each of our major players’ shoes.

It’s a fictional story that takes its cue from the real events of Burke and Hare as MacFarlane and Gray began their business relationship when both were young men and MacFarlane served as Dr. Knox’s student and assistant. Dr. Knox was the real doctor involved in the Burke/Hare incidents. Gray began supplying bodies, for pay, for the young Dr. MacFarlane, and now, the soon-to-be Dr. Fettes finds himself in the same position MacFarlane had been years earlier. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Worse, actually. A Jedi hopeful. But would be become Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker?

Further complicating matters is the case of a young paralyzed girl. Her mother has sought the help of Dr. MacFarlane as he is the one person who can perform an operation that could help the girl walk again. MacFarlane refuses for a variety of reasons. Fettes keeps pushing him to perform the operation.

Almost forgot to mention. Mr. Karloff’s old acting partner has a small role, too – Bela Lugosi, who plays Dr. MacFarlane’s assistant, Joseph. No hunchbacked sneering underling here, the Joseph character is a minor one, but important for several reasons.

Edith Atwater played Dr. MacFarlane’s wife (and there’s a great sub-plot to watch there) with a beautiful Scottish accent. She brought a certain intensity to the role. Ms. Atwater was a talented actress on TV and the Big Screen, but never quite got that big break. I thought she fit her part perfectly here.

This is an excellent film. And it gets back to one of my favorite questions. Is it a horror movie? There are no ghoulies or goblins. But there are some downright feelings of horror. Once again, I come back to my position that some of the best movies are without genre. This is a character study, a drama of the highest order. Some classify it as horror, and that’s fine. But horror or not, this is a must-see. You won’t be disappointed.

‘til next time… Adios.

Posted in Movie Reviews, Random Meditations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Enter the Darkness, If You Dare…

200px-Haunted-house

Enter if you dare….

I love Halloween. I think these days I like it better than Christmas. I mean, Christmas is fun, too, with the decorations and music; but for pure “burying yourself in the part” (bad pun intended), it’s hard to beat Halloween. Seems to me, though, it’s become more of an adult holiday nowadays, but that’s an article for another time. I wonder if it’s because all of us Boomers have the resources to seriously get into the Halloween spirit, and we’re the ones who have such strong, clear memories of waiting ‘til after dark, then terrorizing our neighborhoods with our Tricks or Treats.

My band of Scoobies the other night went to one of several local haunted houses and had an absolute blast. My wife and I have sought out various haunted trails/houses/old hospitals/forests over the last several years, and this is an area that’s just gone insane. One of Lexington’s haunted trails is set up so you can nail zombies with paintballs.

Friday evening we sojourned via a two-car caravan to Wicked World Scaregrounds in Lexington, Kentucky, a terrifically decorated conglomeration of three haunted worlds. Can’t really call them just a haunted house these days as you might walk through woods, barns, or the Dark Regions of Mordor.

We arrived at our destination, shy of the Witching Hour, and made our way with other brave souls to the waiting station as death metal cranked and we all danced, trance-style. This was No Mercy Hospital and we all waited for our various transplants.

A zombified (or just plain dead – hard to tell anymore) nurse escorted us in to the small theater where we sat and watched a short, introductory film informing us of the horrors that awaited us. This was a new twist, sort of a pre-op, I suppose.

Once properly oriented our nurse opened the curtains for us and we dared enter a world of darkness, first taking a “ride” on the hellevator that deposited us to another “floor”. For the next several minutes we wandered frightful halls as ghoulish doctors, nurses, and orderlies jumped out at us, banged on the walls, flew about by wire-line, and sent showers of electrical sparks everyplace. Every so often we’d get to a black-as-the-pit area or have to watch our footing as we headed either uphill or downhill. One of the best sections was where cold air blew on us seemingly from all sides as we made our way through an air bladder that closed in on us. Keep pushing forward is my advice to those who are fearful.

And just keep telling yourself, “It’s only a movie…” Oh, and don’t get separated from your group. I’ve heard rumors that some are still in there, wandering the black-hearted halls, and every once in a while you’ll hear a faint “Help me…”

Have a wonderfully dark and frightening time.

Check out their web site if you dare: http://www.wickedworldscaregrounds.com/

‘til next time… Adios.

Posted in Haunted House, Random Meditations | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment