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Kong: Skull Island (2017) REVIEW

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Okay, seriously…have you seen the new Kong? For starters though, i’ll admit it is kinda strange taking on a creature feature review outside of the Creature Features in Review series. However, as I had the gumption to finally watch the latest of Kong movies, Kong: Skull Island, I felt compelled to write down some of my thoughts regarding said movie. There are no spoilers here, per say. Kong holds not mystery that hasn’t already been shown in the many previews and trailers that came out prior to the movie’s release. So, I don’t feel bad talking about it.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: King Kong (1933)

I am going to assume you’ve seen this film so spoilers will abound. If you haven’t, for the love of God, go. Go now.

Well, now. Here we are again.

Last time, it was Bride of Frankenstein (check out THAT review here). Sure, Thomas, I’ll cover Bride’, thinking quick watch through of Frankenstein and the sequel, then 1500 words, bish bash bosh, job done. Then that sinking feeling, as I realized how ludicrously good Bride was, how much I’d have to say, would want to say, just how big the world of existing essays, books and criticism must already be.

You might have thought I’d have learned something from that.

Yeah.

Apparently not.

So, King Kong. In my defense, I had seen it before, and more in my defense, it had been well over a decade. So, my memory was simply that it was bloody brilliant, absurdly good for a movie made in 1933, a cracking, action packed monster movie with some bonus pathos and what have you.

And, you know, that wasn’t wrong, per se. Watching it again for this, I was forcibly struck by how sophisticated so much of the effects work was. The combination of stop frame and huge model work, for example, is incredibly impressive, as are the moments where the stop frame interacts with filmed actors at certain points (even if with modern eyes it’s painfully clear when the actor becomes a stop frame version of themselves, there’s still a certain not-quite-sure-how-they-did-that thrill to the transitions). Kong himself is glorious, especially in mid shot, fighting a T-Rex or giant snake. The giant model face isn’t quite as expressive or mobile as the stop frame equivalent, but it’s for the most part intelligently used for short close ups and is especially brilliant when he has some poor islander or explorer being used as a chew toy.

Similarly, Skull Island is as spectacular as I remembered. Bathed in the ethereal, slightly hazy black and white glow (my DVD copy of the movie was clearly a straight lift from the film stock, preserving even the cue marks signaling the need to swap reels), the island really does feel like a visitation to The Past. The giant wall, the extensive, gorgeous hand painted backgrounds, the cunning use of rear projection to show dinosaurs and explorers on camera together and the mighty, thunderous score, all combine to brilliant effect, creating a viewing experience that is utterly captivating. King Kong is a class act all the way.

Similarly, the acting is superb throughout, with special props going to the indefatigable Fay Wray, who has the absolutely thankless task of screaming in peril from basically the 30-minute mark to the close, with little pause for breath, but who nonetheless brings incredible depth, humanity, and interiority to her character. Her acting in her first big scene, when filmmaker Denham makes his pitch, is especially brilliant, her desperation and hunger warring with common sense and fear, her vulnerability genuinely heartbreaking. It packs an extra wallop when you consider that the Great Depression was both a current and ongoing event at the time the film was made, with many young actresses no doubt facing real world choices every bit as stark as Ann Darrow’s dilemma.

That’s a layer of sophistication the movie exhibits that had completely passed me by on prior viewings, actually. I’m so used to movie depictions of The Great Depression (The Sting being the example that immediately springs to mind, a movie I love unconditionally) that the contemporaneous nature of the film passed me by. And yet King Kong is, in part, a pretty pointed social commentary on the economics of that time – how people sought to escape from the crushing misery of the day to day by visiting movie theaters and getting blissed out on Hollywood. When you think about the essential amorality of filmmaker Carl Denham in King Kong, and the ultimate fate of the theatregoers eager to see the ‘8th wonder of the world’… well, let’s just say there was a to-me entirely unexpected level of anxiety and self-criticism from Hollywood that was both pointed and kind of thrilling. I mean, I was expecting – eagerly anticipating, even – the fifty-foot gorilla going ape. A movie displaying insecurity about the role of mass entertainment in the midsts of financial upheaval and social misery? That was a welcome and crunchy surprise.

There were other surprises that were less welcome. And here, I am going to wimp out by simply observing the painfully obvious; namely, that a movie that was made in the 1930’s and that depicts an island of ‘natives’ with brown skin contains racial politics that could charitably be described as ‘problematic’. I am both acknowledging and skipping that not because I don’t think it matters, or doesn’t deserve discussion, but because minds far superior to mine have already engaged with the subject with far more knowledge and insight than I could hope to bring, and you should go to Pop Matters and READ their article, and then read Angry Bitch Blog on the subject, and then Inverse’s take,  and don’t forget this bit of commentary. All I will say here is obvious; it’s there, and it’s ugly. And if you feel a discussion of Kong that doesn’t engage with the racial politics of the movie is woefully incomplete, you’re right, and I’m sorry, but I also know when a subject is too big for me, both in terms of concepts and word counts.

I think it’s worth taking just a quick look at the Kong-as-boy thing, though.

And let’s just start by observing that Kong clearly is male. It’s not just the name – though there is that – but his performative chest-beating displays are lifted directly from the behavior of the male silverbacks he’s modeled on. And let us further observe that this fifty-foot ape is, therefore, genetically speaking, a very close relative indeed.

Again, in full awareness that I’m dislocating my hip in order to sidestep the huuuuuuuge racial implications and encoding of the giant ape falling for a white woman, having previously eaten all the brown women he was offered (because, fucking yuck, let’s not), what we have here, therefore, is a love story. A violent, inarticulate, hugely powerful male is drawn to kidnap, then preserve and protect a small, vulnerable beautiful female from a hostile world.

Now, the movie itself draws an explicit parallel here between this situation and the story of Beauty and the Beast – indeed, it makes what looks suspiciously like a post-modern joke to that effect on the boat, with Denham fully saying out loud, apparently to himself ‘Say! I’m developing a theme here!’. But the film that I found myself going back to was Bride Of Frankenstein.

Because Kong, like The Monster, is, well, a monster. Powerful. Inarticulate. Angry. Violence-prone. Strong, yet vulnerable. Lonely.

Innocent.

That’s the real kicker, for me – the factor that gives both such amazing cinematic power and resonance. The innocence. Kong is innocent. Not good, you understand: he kidnaps women, seems to enjoy a spot of mortal combat rather too much, and certainly chews people to death, even if he doesn’t eat them. Like the other Monster, his anger is swift to rise and terrible to behold.

At the same time, he’s still innocent. In Kong’s case, he’s unarguably a product of his environment. In an ecosystem as hostile and violent as Skull Island, only the most ruthless and strong can possibly survive. Kong’s aggression and violence may be terrifying, but they are also understandable necessary survival mechanisms. He may have that considerable ape intelligence, but he’s still, as we’d understand it, a ‘dumb animal’.

Like the monster, we are invited to both fear Kong, but also pity him – perhaps even love him. It’s fundamentally Not His Fault, after all – he’s taken from a place where he belongs to a world he cannot hope to understand. Again, sidestepping the imagery of the chains (not enough yuck in the world, there), we’ve got the same notion seen in ‘Bride..’ of ‘civilisation’ colliding with a more primal force.

And this is where, I think, things get fundamentally fucked up. Because Kong is a monster. He kills indiscriminately, his obsession with Ann Darrow is the worst kind of stalker/woman as object behavior, and he appears to enjoy destruction and violence for its own sake. These are monstrous behaviors. Add in the whole fifty feet tall thing, and, well…

None of us would remotely dig having Kong in our town, and if he was coming down the street, the vast majority of us wouldn’t want the RSPCA (or ASPCA for my transatlantic friends). No, we’d want the army and a fucking bazooka.

But he’s not on our street. He’s on the screen. And there, knowing what we know about his history, safe in the knowledge that we’re not going to become Kong popcorn, we can feel for him. We can empathize with his pain. We can rationalize his obsession, forgive his violence. He’s a dumb animal. He doesn’t know any better. He’s been hurt and he’s lashing out. It’s the only behavior he understands.

And when the planes finally take him down, some of us may even weep.

I usually do.

And, you know, that’s okay, because he is an animal. If we take the fiction seriously, it’s not surprising to feel that way. But it is, also, undeniably unsettling. Kong’s behavior, his effect, is terrible, terrifying, horrendous. Yet he is innocent. As with that other monster, it’s the tension between those two facts that elicits such strong emotions, such powerful pathos.

Still, I can’t help feel like there’s a parable here, albeit not the one intended by the filmmakers. Because looked at as a list of traits, Kong is pretty much textbook toxic masculinity (yes, I know he’s an ape). And you can feel the racist barely-subtext tugging again if you note that the message seems to be that these traits are innate, a product of environment, and that ‘civilisation’ is ultimately to blame for transforming the environment to such an extent that these natural instincts no longer have relevance, have become destructive.

And, you know, fuck that, basically.

I think by far the more interesting read is to note that, yes, Kong has these horrible traits, but we as an audience can see them and still empathize with him, still feel sadness at his treatment and his passing. In the same way as we do for the Universal Monster, and interestingly, in a way that far fewer of us can for the real life, human monsters that share these traits.

Because, of course, Kong is innocent.

That’s the aspect of the movie that still gnaws away at my mind, the dichotomy that elevates this from merely brilliant period popcorn to something… ah, hell, we’ve come this far. Let us just call it art, shall we?

Kit Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as, GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.

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Creature Features in Review: Godzilla (1954)

 

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Godzilla is one of the best examples of how science fiction and horror can relate certain fears within society and that they (the movies) are not just kids movies or nonsensical. I mean, sure, there are plenty of nonsensical movies out there, especially within the genre of horror and science fiction, but if I could be so brash as to say that a majority actually do serve a purpose. Storytelling has always been our way of relating concern or passing on wisdom, teaching the new generation our fears and our struggles and what threats, missteps, whatever, to look out for. Watching the original televised trailer for Godzilla (1954), it definitely begs the question of what Godzilla really symbolizes. The very first screenshot shows audiences a “once peaceful city of Tokyo, now laid in ruins…,” but given the historical context, I had to ask myself just what city was I really looking at, a fictional Tokyo, or a literal Hiroshima or maybe a literal Nagasaki? What is it that Japan seems to be afraid of? Thankfully, our guest author is here to help explain some of these things in his review. Please welcome, Kurt Thingvold.

Two notable things stand out in World War II: the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Why should they stand out? Easy, they were the beginning and the end point in our conflict with the Japanese. Both conflicts ended in multiple deaths, a beginning, and an end to the horrors of war. Millions dead—countries in shambles. America recovered, Japan recovered, but not before having to surrender their military forces in order to prevent Japan from re-arming and starting another war. This marked the end of World War II, the world remained in peace.

When Japan surrendered their forces it made the country feel weak and they feared invasion, while the invasion would never come—the fear remained—only in the last twenty years, or so have the Japanese fought to regain a glimmer of military presence. A second horror remained in the eyes of the Japanese people.  Two Atomic bombs had obliterated their fellow countrymen and woman.  The horrors of the war had never escaped the small country. Even through the decade following the war—the fear of nuclear weapons haunted their dreams—who was to defend their country, now, that a small defense force was in charge of keeping the invaders out, what if, they had to deal with a situation that had never become the small country?

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In the1950’s, a Japanese film company wanted to make a film about the horrors of war— the original idea never came to fruition (based on the invasion of Indonesia, the Japanese refused visas).  When producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was flying back to Japan after failed negotiations with the Indonesian government to shoot the film, he looked out at the ocean, and thought about a monster that comes from the sea and attacks the mainland! While the idea seemed to be a ludicrous idea, it would serve the film company well. The film company was known as Toho Studios.  The Film would come to be known as Gojira (Godzilla).

The movie starts out in the ocean, we see a boat,  the crew seems to be having a grand old time, singing, dancing and joking around, suddenly, a flash of lights, the boat begins to sink in a fiery mess, slowly, sinking below the ocean floor.  Shortly after the sinking, a second boat is sent to investigate, the same flashes are seen, and the second boat has a meeting with the ocean floor, with few survivors. A fishing boat from the nearby island is also destroyed, causing the residents of the nearby island to venture into Tokyo to seek aid and relief as the fishing near the island have plummeted down to near threatening levels. Once the locals arrive they describe a large creature destroying their villages, the Japanese concerned they decide to send renowned paleontologist Dr. Kyohei Yamane to investigate the islander’s claims.  Once he and his team arrive on the island– they discover the village in almost ruins—Dr.Yahmane discovers a giant footprint of the massive creature, with a trilobite embedded within the footprint, which turns out to be radioactive. The village bell rings out and the creature finally reveals itself—the villagers dub it Gojira (Godzilla). After this horrifying discovery Yamane returns back to Japan and presents his findings that “Gojira” is a remnant of dinosaurs slumbering beneath the waves and the testing of atomic bombs have disturbed his sleep.  The Japanese government responds by sending a fleet of ships to deploy bombs and try to destroy Godzilla. Which, causes the creature to rise and head towards the mainland.

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Dr. Yamane’s daughter Emiko, who is engaged to a colleague. Dr. Serizawa, she does not love the man as she loves a young trawler operator Hideto Ogata, a young reporter arrives to interview Serizawa and he refuses.  He does show Emiko, a secret project he is working on. In which, the air is removed from the water, causing fish and sea life to disintegrate.  This Horrifies Emiko.  “Gojira” begins to attacks the mainland, after a few short minutes the attack is over and he returns to the ocean.  After the attack, the government consults with the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JDSF) to build a 100 ft. electrical tower to kill the creature. Dr. Yamane is distraught that they plan to kill the creature rather than studying it. Emiko and Ogata are waiting for her father, so they may have permission to wed. Ogata and Dr. Yamane, engage in a fierce vocal battle about the fate of the creature and Yamane orders Ogata to leave.  “Gojira” Emerges again in Tokyo bay and attacks the city a second time.  Ripping through the trap the JDSF had set, breathing his radioactive, melting the steel like wax. Godzilla continues his rampage destroying and killing thousands of citizens. After, the attack, we are introduced to the horrors of the previous night. The dead and wounded overcrowd the hospitals. Emiko runs to Ogata and tells him of Serizawa’s weapon the “Oxygen Destroyer” Both go to Serizawa and plead with him to use the Oxygen Destroyer on Godzilla and stop him once and for all. Serizawa hesitant to use the weapon, he decides to use the weapon, but not before destroying the documents.  Ogata and Serizawa travel to where Godzilla was last spotted, both of them dive to the bottom of the ocean. Once they spot Godzilla, Serizawa plants the bomb, he motions for Ogata to surface. Serizawa cutting his own oxygen supply detonates the bomb. Destroying Godzilla and the secrets to the weapon with him.

We catch a glimpse of Godzilla rising from the ocean as he melts away.  We are left with a quote from Yamane, as they mourn for their friend, Serizawa.

“I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species… But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.”

While the plot may seem silly, it portrays its dark tones rather well—Godzilla being an allegory for nuclear threat/invasion, the characters interact with the creature with either horror or admiration. And a key scene that plays into this is where Yamane is describing the creature and its possible origins, and why it is so intent on destroying Tokyo. While, other players in that scene want it destroyed with no question. We see people struggling in awe on how to deal with a threat that seems new, but now have to deal with it at half their normal strength. Another scene that shows a real struggle and emulates of the idea that something of this magnitude (using nuclear technology) is where Emiko tells her father she plans to marry Ogata, and he agrees that Godzilla should be destroyed.  These two scenes show a man struggling to convince others that what he wants is for the best. Knowing the power of what has occurred and what could occur. A nuclear attack was still a possibility in the 1950’s—not by intention, of course. Americans were still close enough to the country to accidentally cause more damage, an incident did occur, The Lucky Dragon No.7 was close enough to Bikini Atoll during a test to receive fallout from the explosion, causing major concern for the Japanese. (The first boat attacked in the movie was based on Lucky Dragon No.7). Another scene, which, we should play close attention to is when Godzilla first starts attacking Tokyo, setting the buildings on fire, destroying everything in his path. The JDSF is useless in stopping him. This plays homage to the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima; there is even a brief mention of the attacks. A mother holder her children and trying to comfort them tells them in sobbing words. “We will be with father soon.” Indicating he was one of the victims of the bomb. Godzilla is a powerful force that relentlessly attacks the people of Japan, and themselves feel useless in stopping him.

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Two years after the first film was made—an Americanized version of the starring Raymond Burr was released. While this version of the film feels is not as dark as the Japanese version. It still shows the horror of the Atomic bombs through the view of an American reporter, while the plot is the same, this version is still rated highly. The American version is a great companion, for a different view of the film. Just two years ago, we released another American Godzilla film, dealing with a different nuclear threat, plants going into meltdowns—this version also plays into the social effect of how we as people are ignorant to the dilemmas and threats that happen across our globe on a single day.

The music also emulated the themes of the film. Heroic and dingy sounds to expand the scenes, and draw you into the moment. While most of the music is accompanied by the monster’s roar, and footsteps it has the rare ability to summon the emotions and fears of the viewer. (Akira Ifukube went on composing for the series up until the mid-90’s).  The scores themselves are memorable and are a joy to listen to on their own.

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Godzilla is a movie everyone should see, regardless if you’re a historian or film buff.  The movie portrays a lot of themes dealing with the atomic age and war, in general. While Godzilla has spawned off from the original message and horror of the first film, it still portrays a message of anti-nuclear weapons.  During the sixties and seventies, the Godzilla films took over as a protector of people.  All Godzilla films portray a message whether it’s from one of the sillier movies, or the dark depressing atmosphere of the first: We need to find a way to protect ourselves, we need to take a look at what we do on a daily basis and think about how it is going to affect ourselves, or the land and people around us. Overall, Godzilla may have changed over the last sixty years, but the message itself still remains the same.

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Kurt Thingvold, no stranger to Machine Mean, was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, that helps calm his demons. He grew up in a tough household that encouraged reading and studying. He spends his time writing in multiple of genres. His published short story, Roulette, can be found on Amazon. When not writing he can be found playing games, reading, or attempting to slay the beast known as “Customer Service”, which, he fails at almost every day. As mentioned, Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his previous review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.

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Get Knocked Up!

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Okay, maybe the title of this post is a little what kids call”clickbaity,” but hey…I make no excuses. The world is what it is. Filled with click baits…and fake news sites…and paranoia…and silent conversations over Thanksgiving dinner… (sighs) Well, now that I have you here, assuming you fell for my ingenious trap, I’m more than ecstatic to announce the release of my new book, Conceiving. Now available on Amazon, B&N, and iTunes. This book really does feel like a long time coming, especially when considering that Dwelling and Emerging released back in December 2015, almost a full year ago.  Anyhow, if you’re new to the series and don’t want to spend time catching up by reading the first two books, no worries. Information regarding the first two books is included in this new one without being drab, but only generally. So you know what happens and are not lost in this new book. If you’ve read both Dwelling and Emerging and have been waiting for this new book to release, I bid you welcome home. The real benefit of reading the entire series is the intimacy of getting to know the characters and experiencing why and/or what they are in Conceiving.

Conceiving is a supernatural thriller of which I would humbly compare to the likes of a mashup between Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Old and new readers will follow the somber adventures of Bobby Weeks, one of the major carry overs from the series, and Luna and Ronna Blanche, minor characters in the series that now have larger roles. New characters include Boris and Neville Petry, and yes Neville is a girl.

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The Petry’s are my new favorite. A young couple wanting what most young couples want, a family, a dream home, and dream jobs. I imagined Boris like this “cool” history professor if such a thing can exist. He loves his area of expertise and wants to move up the ranks of his profession and among his peers. Like most academics, he wants to be respected and revered for his work. Neville, on the other hand, I saw as this young college educated woman who doesn’t really believe women need to be  “stay at home” moms or wives, but choices to take on that role. She often compares herself to her mother, but not always positively.

In the fashion of how I typically tell stories, these individuals and groups begin separated, facing their own troubles alone, but there are forces at work pulling them together, inching them toward some cataclysmic event that will shatter their perception of reality and perhaps take more than just their sanity.

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Conceiving is available on Amazon kindle or kindle app. You can get your copy here for the low price of $3.99……..https://goo.gl/4EWzSU

Or if you’re a traditionalist and prefer paperback, you can get your copy here for $15.99…….https://goo.gl/5pTAQ4


My Top 5 Favorite William Henry Pratt (aka Boris Karloff) Movies

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It has just occurred to me that I have never written a biographical piece on English-India born character actor William Henry Pratt, aka Boris Karloff. Never. Not once. Sure, I’ve had other writers on here talking about some of the movies he has been in, namely Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and even The Mummy, but never, not once have I stepped up to plate. That ends here. For those who are betrothed to the dark and unusual of filmage, that this, horror movies, the name Boris Karloff is not unfamiliar, it is, in fact, legendary. And for good reason. Even tempered natured folks who do not ordinarily dabble in nightmare landscapes know, rudimentary, who Boris is, that is, the Monster, that Frankenstein monster that is. And they wouldn’t be wrong. That’s his role, after all, no skirting the issue or sipping from your craft beer or wine, dressed in some flannel button up with a shaggy beard, pretending as if he never endured the makeup. Just because you saw him in The Black Cat (1934) or Targets (1968) doesn’t negate his crowning achievement. He was the Monster. Don’t walk through the past with blinders on. He will always be the Monster. And here and now, I’d like to correct my above-mentioned misstep and celebrate his career (his work), as it is, highlighting briefly my top 5 favorite Boris Karloff movies.

 

5. House of Frankenstein (1944). I’m not entirely sold on House of Frank, particularly concerning the Dracula character and how easily he was dispatched; however, I cannot negate Boris’s role as Dr. Niemann, a mad scientist who has supposedly discovered Frankenstein’s secret to immortality and the creation of a new human race of perfectly made people. His role here, obviously, is not the Creature. And as a tip of the hat, I would say he was very dark in this movie, uncaring of dispatching anyone who got in his way.

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4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). Say what you will, but I would feel horrible if I did not mention this classic film. Especially now that we’re shuffling towards the holiday season and Turkey Day tomorrow, I would be amiss to ignore one of my favorite Christmas movies. Even at the tender age of 79, Boris’s voice, his deep growls, and slight lisp is uncanny. His performance as the narrator is actually what draws me to the cartoon. If it had been anyone else, I’m not sure I’d enjoy it as much.

3. Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Seems like a total cop-out, but no, back to my above argument, we cannot ignore his masterpiece of horror cinematography. The Frankenstein monster was a role that was limited in dialogue, and so he had to manipulate audience reactions and emotions through gesture and skewed hardened facial expressions. Bride of Frankenstein showcases the evolution of the creature, from mute stumbler to an array of humanistic-like qualia. He was driven, not by fear, but by necessity, the most basic human desire, companionship, a mate.

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2. The Black Cat (1934). One of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in a string of Poe-inspired films, among such as The Raven (both 1935 and 1963), House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, etc etc, The Black Cat wins the prize, for me at least. The story is adapted for the 1930s era and is based just after The Great War, which ended in 1918. Dr. Vitus Werdegast is on a quest for revenge against the man who took his beloved wife and daughter, an old friend and comrade in arms, Hjalmar Poelzig. Poelzig is harboring a few dark secrets, most of which he shares openly, all but for his insidious religion. Caught in the middle is a young American couple on their honeymoon. The Black Cat is not action oriented, but rather, filled with an overwhelming sense of dread and some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in a long time. If you’ve been holding out, you need to see this movie. This 82-year-old movie may shock you.

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1. The Mummy (1932). Without a shadow of a doubt, unashamedly, The Mummy is my all time favorite movie starring Boris Karloff. Why? Sure, we know and love and celebrate him for his role as Frankenstein’s monster, however, for me, his total sum of charisma and stage performance is defined in his role as Ardath Bey, aka Imhotep, priest of Pharaoh Amenophis, mummified for attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, the princess Ankh-es-en-amon. regarding the other Mummy movies, though Lon Chaney Jr. did his best with what he had to work with, they did not, however, capture the tragedy that is Imhotep. Is he the villain? Perhaps. He certainly has his own agenda in mind. But there’s more. He’s a romantic. Deeply so. All he wants is his beloved princess. Not power or gold or influence, nothing political. He manipulates those he must. And strikes down those who get in his way. Love is not all puppy dogs and rainbows, it’s brutal at its core. Violent even. A man desperate enough to do whatever he must so he can attain that which he desires the most. True love. And Karloff, he plays the role wonderfully.

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And there you have it folks, my top 5 Boris Karloff movies. I’m sure you’ve got a few in mind. What are some of your favorite Boris Karloff movies? Comment below in the comment box to enter for your chance to win a signed copy of my latest book, Conceiving (Subdue Book 3), scheduled to release next week on November 29, 2016. Now available for preorder on Amazon (wink wink), you can get your copy here. And if you are curious about my other books, you can find them on the altar of Amazon by following this link here. As always, you can stay connected with me on Facebook, where I post reviews, new book info, and other horror related topics. Thanks for reading everyone!

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The Sultan of Splatter

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If the title of this post doesn’t give away what we’ll be talking about, well…shit. We’ve got some work ahead of us. As any fan of horror, the one thing that we deranged nerds tend to appreciate, even more than the actors themselves, are the special effects guys (and gals). To be frank, why do we watch horror? To be entertained, fundamentally, correct? We’re not here to find enlightenment, though if it happens then all the better.  No, much like the poor bloodthirsty souls crammed into Rome’s gladiatorial colosseum, we cry out for escape from the realities of our plight. And what brings the greatest escape, the tastiest of entertainment? Gore. And all the horrible ways characters get done in by the monster, the serial killer, the freak in the castle, the alien invaders, the thing hiding the ice, whatever, we expect gore and lots of it and not just quantity but quality as well. For horror fans, special effects take front row. We critique effects just as harshly as we look at the screenwriters and even more so maybe than the directors. Who hasn’t sat through a terribly written and directed horror movie walking away loving it simply because it had awesome effects? It’s often the first thing we look at.

And with every decade, every generation, there are particular styles of special effects. In the 1940s and leading through the early 60s, it was what wasn’t seen that was supposed to scare you, and blood came from a bottle of Hersheys Chocolate. But starting in the late 1960s, following the advancement of technicolor, under the direction of guys like Alfred Hitchcock and Herschell Gordon Lewis, filmmakers began pushing those on-screen limitations and inventing new ways to entertain with effects. Dick Smith is rightfully the real pioneer of realism in special effects. His crowning achievement, realistic gore in movies such as The Exorcist, The Godfather, Scanners, and more. And Dick did more than pioneer the industry, he set the table for the rise of a new generation who would bring us even better work to the history cinematography.

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Tom Savini was inspired, not by Dick Smith or Herschell or even Frankenstein’s maker Jack Pierce, though no doubt they each impacted him in some way. No. Tom credits his inspiration to legendary early silent film star, Lon Chaney Sr, aka, the Man of a Thousand Faces. Chaney had a reputation in Hollywood for coming up and developing his own props and makeup, most of it often extremely uncomfortable, for the characters he played on screen, some of the most notable ones being The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Norte Dame, and London After Midnight. In 1957, Universal released the biopic of Lon Chaney Sr., and young Tom fell in love and began experimenting with special effects makeup, first on himself and later his friends. Eventually, Tom attended Point Park University and later Carnegie-Mellon University (following his tour of duty in Vietnam). After enlisting in the U.S. Army, Tom served as a combat photographer in the Vietnam War. It is during this service Tom most credits his development of special effects, taking the harsh realities of war and applying it to his later work.

The true birth of practical effects, or the surge of gore, really started in the 1970s, in such movies as Dawn of the Dead, I Drink Your Blood, and The Incredible Melting Man, among others. And it was during this era Tom Savini started his career which would eventually award him such titles as The Sultan of Splatter and The Godfather of Gore (though to be fair, I think this title ought to go to Dick Smith, don’t you think?). In 1974, Savini worked on Bob Clark’s masterpiece (but oddly forgotten) Deathdream, the story of a Vietnam soldier who comes home after being killed in action. I’ve often wondered what Tom thought about this flick, having served in Vietnam himself. Deathdream doesn’t present itself as being either pro or anti war, though we can certainly guess. What it does present is an overwhelming sense of questioning of our individual involvement in the affairs of the nation, beautifully told from the simplicity of a small town family unit. I’ll stop myself there. I can go on for a tangent with Deathdream, in fact, I’ve got a review of the movie…if you’re interested, you can read it here.

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Next, Tom worked again with Bob Clark in the movie Deranged. Later, he worked with fellow Pitsburg allium, George A. Romero, in the underappreciated fright flick, Martin. Let’s slow down here before moving on with Tom’s other work. Whenever I think of George A. Romero I first think of…zombies, yes, it’s true, shocker, right? But I also tend to think of Tom Savini after thinking about zombies. While Tom was in Vietnam, Romero was making Night of the Living Dead, but thanks to their relationship developed in Martin, they were able to collaborate in Romero’s second of his Dead Trilogy, Dawn of the Dead in 1978. If you know me, you know I’m a huge fan. Dawn of the Dead is without a doubt one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Not only was the screenwriting, the direction, the acting totally above par, but the practical effects also shined. Even today, though the blood is certainly not realistic, it is still effective. When the zombie-fro dude takes a chunk out of that lady’s shoulder, it still gives me the creeps. That’s a 38-year shelf-life, and it’s still aging, still perfecting like a fine wine.

Dawn of the Dead also opened new doors for Savini. In a slew of films, he would eventually be invited by Sean S. Cunningham to work on a new project titled Friday the 13th. Clearly, I’m picking all of my favorite movies Tom was involved in, and why sudden I? I’m the one writing this dang article! That being said, I’m sure there are other horror nerds who tend to lean in other directions regarding the Sultan’s work. Some may prefer Maniac or Eyes of the Stranger or The Burning or The Prowler, all are fine films worth considering. But for me, one of his crowning achievements was Friday the 13th. It’s because of this movie I question why Savini hasn’t been given the nickname The Father of Jason Voorhees. It was Tom’s creation that would spawn into a long lasting and fruitful franchise. Loved by many; despised by some. And as any tragic greek tale, Tom would eventually be asked to destroy his creation in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.

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And his career continues. In 1985, Tom was given the Saturn Award for Best Make-Up Effects in Geroge A. Romero’s third “dead” installment, Day of the Dead (1985). And he moved on to contribute to too many movies and television shows to mention here, working as not only a special effects guru but also as a director and an actor/stuntman. Without a doubt, his love for horror movies is very evident. He even started his own school for special effects by opening  Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects Program at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Pennsylvania and authored several books, including but not limited to Grande Illusions I and II and Horror F/X. For fans of the late 70s and 80s horror, it’s difficult not knowing his work and the work of other legendary special effects artists. It’s what we wanted most, the gore. Today, though, I have to wonder, are the makeup artist and gore masters even thought of. If I asked your typical The Walking Dead fan who did the practical effects for the show, would they know? I seriously doubt it. The answer is Greg Nicotero, BTW, who also worked on The Evil Dead 2 and Day of the Dead, and who is also from Pitsburg, which makes me seriously question what exactly does Pitsburg put in their drinking water. Maybe this is something we should start doing. No, not the drinking water, the “other” people who make movies possible. Even I do not know all the names of the effects or prop masters and all the other behind the scenes people working tirelessly to bring us our horrific entertainment. This is especially worse for TV as the credits flash by to make time for more commercials. So, if you’re a fan of horror, if you indulge to be entertained by the grotesque, after the show, after the movie, look up the effects team, the writers, the props, the composers, and read their names. you may be surprised to find a lot of these people have been involved in a lot of work you happen to be a fan of.

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Born November 3rd, 1946, today marks Tom Savini’s 70th birthday. And I wish him many more birthdays to come. Thank you, Tom, for your work and bringing not just me but countless others hours and hours of wonderfully sadistic entertainment. Cheers!

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below to not only receive updates on new reviews and books but also a free eBook anthology of dark fiction.

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Universal Monsters in Review: Our Awesomely Horrifying Guest Authors

And that’s a wrap. The end of Universal Monsters in Review has come. Much as I said during last week’s review on the silent era of horror, I will certainly miss my weekend screening of these horrible yet awesome classic black and white pictures from the vault of Universal. I’d like to actually start making this a thing, something set aside for my weekend leisure, putting in ole Frankenstein or his Bride or The Wolf Man or The Mummy or Dracula, or even some of the lesser-known flicks, like Invisible Agent or any of the A&C ones. To think of the impact these movies had on future movie makers, and not just those dark producers and directors, but also the writers, both on screen and on print, is mind boggling. Personally speaking, the Universal classics have impacted some of my own creature/monster creations. And still do. The underlying mythos is nearly too much to avoid. These are the pillars for a reason. Certainly the same could be said of this up and coming generation of young writers and even the guest authors we’ve had during this series, tackling the movies that inspired them in some way. So, on this very last Universal Monsters in Review review, I’d like to shout out to all my guest authors that participated, the movie(s) they reviewed and a little bit about them and where you can buy their work.

Our Guests

(in order of appearance)

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Daniel Marc Chant – Reviewed for us both The Mummy (1932) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). Mr. Chant is the published author of several terrifying tales, including Maldicion, Burning House, and his newest venture, Mr. Robespierre.  Daniel is also one of the founders of The Sinister Horror Company, the publishing team that brought us such frights as, The Black Room Manuscripts and God Bomb!. You can follow Daniel on his blog, here. And you can read his review on Mummy here.

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Jeffery X. Martin – Reviewed for us The Wolf Man (1941) and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) and Revenge of the Creature (1955). Mr. X is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elder’s Keep universe and Tarotsphere. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. His latest novel, Hunting Witches, is now available on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. You can find his work on Amazon. When Mr. X is not writing creep mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and blogs, including, but not limited to, Pop Shiftier and Kiss the Goat. You can read his review on Wolf Man here.

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Duncan Ralston– Reviewed for us The Invisible Man (1933). Mr. Ralston is not just a wonderful human being, but also the author of gruesome tales like Salvage: A Ghost Story, and the horror collection, Gristle & Bone. He’s been published in a various of anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts and The Animal, and the anthology,Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. His latest book will sure to knock your socks off, Woom. You can follow and chat with him atwww.facebook.com/duncanralstonfiction and www.duncanralston.com. You can read his review on Invisible Man here.

Dawn Cano – Reviewed for us legendary Frankenstein (1931). Miss Cano has always been a fan of horror, she loves everything about the genre and has just begun her journey into the world of horror writing. When not pounding away at the keyboard, she can be found reviewing books and movies for The Ginger Nuts of Horror and wasting time on Facebook. Dawn has also started what will no doubt be a fantastic career as a storyteller. You can find her books, including Sleep Deprived and Bucket List, *Warning: Some Scenes May Disturb for both of these wonderfully gruesome tales. And you can check out her review of Frankenstein here.

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Kit Power – Reviewed for us both The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Monster Mash Pinball Game. Mr. Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as, GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. You can read Kit’s review of Bride here.

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Justin Park – Reviewed for us both Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Werewolf in London (1935). Mr. Park draws from the crazy worlds of exploitation cinema and pulp literature for his literary inspiration. His family are both equally proud and disturbed by his literary output dragged from a mind they helped to cultivate. He resides on the outskirts of Bristol in the UK and hopes one day they’ll let him in. Mr. Park is the author of several twisted tales of morbid doom, including Upon Waking and Terror Byte and Punch. He was also featured with a horrifyingly wonderful short in the horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. Besides giving his readers terrifying nightmares, Mr. Park is also one of the founding members of the up and coming UK Publishing team, The Sinister Horror Company, active in promoting other writers and attending numerous conventions. You can read his review on A&C Meet Frank here.

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William D. Prystuak – Reviewed for us Dracula’s Daughter (1936). Professor Prystuak  is an award-winning screenwriter, film producer, and teacher in higher education, as well as a published poet, and essayist. His crime thriller, BLOODLETTING, has been adapted from his script of the same name, and he is currently working on a horror series. William also co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK podcast as Billy Crash with his good buddy, Jonny Numb, and currently, has thousands of listeners in 120 countries. You can find more about horror and William on his Crash Palace Productions site. As an Assistant Professor of English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, William teaches business writing and public relations. You can find more about William at any of these fantastic sites: Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Fu9PHS Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1GhclaJ Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23365977-bloodletting BLOODLETTING Book Trailer One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVNji_G-tSI BLOODLETTING Book Trailer Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glK9DiVIHT8 IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5464477/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/william-d-prystauk/10/9a1/a55 Horror Podcast: THE LAST KNOCK on iTunes Twitter: @crashpalace. You can read Professor Prystuak’s review of Drac’s Daughter here.

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Michelle Garza – Reviewed for us She Wolf of London (1946). Michelle Garza, one-half of the writing team based out of Arizona. Her sister, Melissa Lason, and Miss. Garza have been dubbed The Sisters of Slaughter by the editors at Fireside Press. Since a young age, they have enjoyed crafting tales of the dark and macabre. Their work has been included in anthologies such as WIDOWMAKERS a benefit anthology of dark fiction, WISHFUL THINKING by Fireside press and soon to be published REJECTED FOR CONTENT 3 by JEA. To be included in FRESH MEAT 2015 is an incredible honor for the sisters. Their debut novel, Mayan Blue, released with Sinister Grin Press. You can keep track of Michelle and the Sisters of Slaughter’s budding writing career by following them on Twitter and Facebook. You can read her review of She Wolf here.

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Duncan P. Bradshaw – Reviewed for us Invisible Agent (1942). Mr. Bradshaw lives in MIGHTY Wiltshire, with his wife Debbie and their two cats, Rafa and Pepe. Their barbershop quartet days may be behind them now, but they can still belt out a mean version of ‘Deepy Dippy’ by Right Said Fred when the mood catches them right. Duncan’s debut novel, zom-com, “Class Three,” was released in November 2014. The first book in the follow-up trilogy, “Class Four: Those Who Survive,” shambled into life in July 2015. Both have received glowing reviews. In early 2016, he released his debut Bizarro novella, “Celebrity Culture”, which has been well received, despite its oddness. Not content with resting on his laurels, Prime Directive blasts off in May 2016, a sci-fi/horror novella which pleased fellow founder J.R. Park. Before the main attraction…Duncan finished writing “Hexagram” in late 2015, a novel set over five hundred years, which follows an ancient ritual and how people throughout the years twist the original purpose to their own end. You can find all of Mr. Bradshaw’s work on the bloodied altar of Amazon. And you can read his review of Invisible 007 here.

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Chantel Feszczyn (aka Chaney Dreadful) – Reviewed for us House of Frankenstein (1944). Miss Dreadful — is one creepy ghoul hailing from a small city in Saskatchewan, Canada. She is a regular podcast voice frequenting on the podcasts, with the first being Dead as Hell Horror Podcast, and as well the likes of The Resurrection of Zombie 7, Land of the Creeps andWhedonverse Podcast. For the last three years she has brought her focus towards written reviews, posting occasionally on her Tumblr blog and recently moving to her new website dreadfulreviews.com — where she posts weekly reviews discussing movies, comic books and horror-themed merchandise. You can read her review of Frank’s House here.

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Daryl Lewis Duncan – Reviewed for us Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951). Mr. Duncan is an up and coming writer and graphic artist and one smashing guitarist. You can find his work on numerous book covers recently released this year, including books by Dawn Cano, Duncan Ralston, and myself (Thomas S. Flowers). He also has upcoming projects with the likes of Kit Power and Rich Hawkins. Some of Mr. Duncan’s publishing work includes Violent Delights, in which he co-wrote with Dawn Cano. He is an avid reader and supporter of fellow indie writers. His artwork is stylized in a retro, space-age grunge, 70s grindhouse. Yup, it is that awesome! You can read his review on A&C Meet Invisible Man here.

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Jon Weidler – Reviewed for us Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955). Mr. Weidler works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day but is a podcast superhero by night. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast under the moniker “Jonny Numb,” and is a regular contributor to the Crash Palace Productions and Loud Green Bird websites. His archived movie reviews can be found at numbviews.livejournal.com, and his social media handle is @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd). You can read his review of A&C Meet Mummy here.

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Tim Busbey – Reviewed for us The Mummy’s Ghost (1942). Mr. Busbey is an award-winning editor and journalist who currently is the Assistant Editor at Richland Source (www.RichlandSource.com) and Ashland Source (www.AshlandSource.com). Tim also does freelance book editing and is a partner with Erin Al-Mehairi in Hook of A Book Media and Publicity. When he’s not editing other people’s stories or reporting on all the happenings in Ashland, Ohio, Tim writes sci-fi, thrillers and horror. You can read his review of Mummy’s Ghost here.

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Pembroke Sinclair – Reviewed for us The Mummy’s Curse (1944). Miss. Sinclair is a literary jack of all trades, playing her hand at multiple genres. She has written an eclectic mix of fiction ranging from horror to sci-fi and even some westerns. Born in Rock Springs, Wyoming–the home of 56 nationalities–it is no wonder Pembroke ended up so creatively diverse. Her fascination with the notions of good and evil, demons and angels, and how the lines blur have inspired her writing. Pembroke lives in Laramie, Wyoming, with her husband, two spirited boys, a black lab named Ryder, and a rescue kitty named Alia, who happens to be the sweetest, most adorable kitty in the world! She cannot say no to dessert, orange soda, or cinnamon. She loves rats and tatts and rock and roll and wants to be an alien queen when she grows up. You can learn more about Pembroke Sinclair by visiting her at pembrokesinclair.blogspot.com. You can follow the very talented Pembroke on Facebook  Amazon Twitter Or at her blog. You can read her review on Mummy’s Curse here.

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David Sgalambro – Reviewed for us The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). MR. SGALAMBRO is a horror writer at J. Ellington Ashton Press and a contributing Writer at Resident Rock Star Magazine. He was born in New York, but spent the majority of his life sweltering down in Florida. Growing up, he was obsessed with every 1960’s Monster magazine on the newsstand (He still has hundreds of them that he can’t bear to part with ….ever) and any Horror movie his eyes could watch (He blames some of his lunacy upon seeing the original Night of the Living Dead at the age of nine). His continuous love for the genre has kept him in movie theaters throughout his life indulging in all of the decade’s bloodiest moments, but not up until recently has he tapped into his own dark inner voice as a writer, and brought forth his compelling debut novel published by J. Ellington Ashton Press titled NED. It’s his first attempt at the literary game and he credits his love of Horror for its terrifying content. David is currently working on his second novel which once again explores the darkest depths of his maniacal mind for inspiration and creativity. David’s other current literary escape is as a contributing writer for a music publication called Resident Rock Star magazine out of Colorado. With them he gets the freedom to write about what’s happening in the current music scene pertaining to his own personal taste, Heavy Metal. You can read his review on Ghost of Frank here.

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Patrick Loveland – Reviewed for us The Invisible Man Returns (1940). MR. LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and shorter prose fiction. He also draws somewhat disturbing imagery on Post-its. By day, he schedules classes, helps instructors get set up for class sessions, possibly draws said weird Post-its, and moves many a furniture at a state college in Southern California where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Mr. Loveland’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in late 2016 by April Moon Books.  You can connect with Patrick on Twitter:https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Or Blog [under construction]:https://patrickloveland.wordpress.com/ You can read his review on Invisible Man’s Return here.

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Chad Clark – Reviewed for us House of Dracula (1945). Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here. And you can read his review of House of Drac here.

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Matt Shaw – Reviewed for us The Invisible Woman (1940). Mr. Shaw is the published author of over 100 titles – all readily available on AMAZON. He is one of the United Kingdom’s leading – and most prolific – horror authors, regularly breaking the top ten in the chart for Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Authors. With work sometimes compared to Stephen King, Richard Laymon, and Edward Lee, Shaw is best known for his extreme horror novels (The infamous Black Cover Range), Shaw has also dabbled in other genres with much success; including romance, thrillers, erotica, and dramas. Despite primarily being a horror author, Shaw is a huge fan of Roald Dahl – even having a tattoo of the man on his arm; something he looks to whenever he needs a kick up the bum or inspiration to continue working! As well as pushing to release a book a month, Shaw’s work is currently being translated for the Korean market and he is currently working hard to produce his own feature length film. And speaking of films… Several film options have been sold with features in the very early stages of development. Watch this space. Matt Shaw lives in Southampton (United Kingdom) with his wife Marie, his bastard cat Nellie and three rats – Roland, Splinter, and Spike. He used to live with Joey the Chinchilla and Larry the Bearded Dragon but they died. At least he hoped they did because he buried them. You can follow Mr. Shaw and delve into his work by following his site at www.mattshawpublications.co.uk AND on Facebook at  www.facebook.com/mattshawpublications.co.uk. You can read his review of the infamous Invisible Woman here.

And there you have them. Please join me in giving them a huge round of applause and thanks for agreeing to participate in this new endeavor here on Machine Mean. And be sure to check out all their awesome work by following the links provided under each bio. Now, what? Well, keep your socks on, October is just around the bend and we’ve got an awesome event in store for you. Machine Mean’s Freight Fest 2016, featuring 21 guest authors reviewing 21 dark fiction movies of their own choosing running from October day 1 thru day 31. That’s right, I let 21 weirdos pick their own movies to review and they’ve selected some rather awesome flicks, ranging from the 1960s to released just last month. You can follow news and updates regarding Freight Fest by following our Facebook page here. And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our author mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below to not only receive updates on sales and new releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Universal Monsters in Review: a monstrous survey

For the past nine months, my weekends have had the added benefit of screening a new Universal Monster movie on Saturday or sometimes Sunday nights, from Frankenstein to The Wolf Man and all the lesser known sequels and House specials. The majority of which I had not previously seen. They were new and largely unknown to me. And of those unknowns, yes a few were just god-awful, but for the most part, the majority were intriguing, a few breathtakingly mesmerizing, and fewer still, though odd and unusual, they held a certain charm about them. When watching movies with 86 years of separation between then and now, you’re bound to find conflicts with storytelling and filmmaking that go against how you understand them. Things were done differently then. People held different beliefs and ideology than today. Different cultures and even customs. Some of those things are pleasant reminders of a simpler time, the way dialogue was crafted with care and chivalry, poetic in its own right. And there were also aspects that were uncomfortable to watch, such as sexism and discrimination towards women and those of African or even Asian descent. Remembering the historical context of the films can help relieve some of the conflicts we feel with those nostalgic glitches.

When Dracula released in February of 1931, the world was in a state of flux. The economic depression (known as The Great Depression) was setting root in not just America, but all over the world. In Germany, the first pangs of the rise of Nazism was felt. Though defeated by a majority win, in just two years time the elected German president, Hindenburg, will elect Adolf Hitler as chancellor . Eugenics was a pop science in which the sterilization of unfit parents and the “euthanasia” of “the defective” and “useless eaters” is making the rounds, not just in Nazi Germany, but also on the shores of the United States. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws are passed (the first major steps in annihilation and extermination of European Jewry, ie, The Final Solution). In 1936, the Spanish Civil War begins. In 1937, the Rape of Nanjing, which is basically the systematic rape, torture, and murder of more than 300,000 Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers as they invade China. 1939, Germany invades Poland, and by December 7th, 1941, the Day that will Live in Infamy, the once “civilized” world is thrown back into global conflict. These were uncertain times, to say the least. And we have to keep in mind that this was the backdrop during the production of the majority of the Universal Monster movies. Intentional or not, history shapes and continues to do so.

Every decade, every generation has had a take on the original Universal monsters. Thru the 1950s, into the 60s, 70s, 1980s, 90s, 2000s, and even today, those pillar stories are still being told. And that is a part of what we’ll discuss here today. Those movies we call remakes, the hits of those and the blunders, as well as what waits in store for those of, let’s say, my daughter’s generation. What will the monsters look like tomorrow? This is roughly about 60 years of film history, so we will not tackle each and every monster movie, but rather a survey of each decade. Savvy? Let us begin.

The 1950s…

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When the last of the Universal monsters, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), aired, a new generation of monsters was born. The 1950s was a strange era, filled with mutated creatures and aliens from other worlds. Big hits during this decade included Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World, Godzilla, Forbidden Planet, and Them! (just to name a few). The classic Universal monsters faded into obscurity in America, becoming cult-B movies for those brave enough to venture into the movie theaters with duel Herman Cohen produced flicks, I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and the return of Boris Karloff in Frankenstein 1970, a mashup of classic Universal and atomic age science. While the monsters went B in America, they seem to thrive across the pond in the UK as major productions.  Universal monsters were reborn in Hammer Production films and a great majority of these are still some of the best monster movies on the market, even by today’s standards. Movies, such as The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, and The Mummy captivated a new generation of monster lovers. The Mummy (1959) starring both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, I found was especially good and horrific compared to the original Universal films which were not beloved by many.

 

The 1960s…

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Trends from the 1950s continue on into the 1960s. The majority of monsters are the creations of mad science or invaders from other worlds. Godzilla and Mothra being some of the most popular monsters during this era, and other very unique monster created by a couple of rogue filmmakers in Pittsburg, Night of the Living Dead (1968). But that doesn’t mean the classics Universal monsters had died away, there some… Hammer Productions continued with The Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, The Brides of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, and The Mummy’s Shroud, and NOT FORGETTING the best of the best, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). In the United States, two classic Universal monsters were melded with the new age craze with the release of Atomic Age Vampire (1960) and Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965) and super low-budget flick Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965). Leaving only one major production, a made for children stop-motion animated musical comedy titled Mad Monster Party? (1967) starring Boris Karloff in his last appearance in any of the classic Universal Monster movies as the voice of Victor Frankenstein.

The 1970s…

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Hammer Productions continued to flourish with classic monster films such as The Horror of Frankenstein, Frankenstein, and the Monster from Hell, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Dracula A.D. 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. During this decade we’re introduced to a few well known B-Italian (and German and French included) classic monster movies with Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (starring Lon Chaney in his last reprisal in a “Universal” monster film), The Werewolf Versus The Vampire Women, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, and the very strange Flesh for Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein). Now, for classic Universal monsters in the United States, the 1970s gave birth to a very interesting phase called Blaxploitation. In 1972, on the eve of Blaxploitation, we’re blessed with the likes of Blacula, the tale of an African prince (William Marshall) is turned into a vampire by Count Dracula (Charles McCauley). Sealed in a coffin for several lifetimes, “Blacula” reawakens in 1970’s Los Angeles. Leaving a trail of bloodless victims in his wake. And Blacula returns in 1973 with Scream Blacula Scream. Some other noteworthy Blaxploitation-classic-Universal-monster films include 1974’s Blackenstein and Ganja & Hess.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!!

In 1974, Mel Brooks produced and directed one of the greats spoofs set within the classic Universal monsters lexicon…Young Frankenstein, starring the late great Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Gar, and Marty Feldman (to name a few). Though I am a rabid fan of both Hammer and Blaxploitation films, my love for this era falls directly on Young Frankenstein. The film was absolutely respectful of the roots of Frankenstein and even used what remained of the original set. Not to mention was wonderfully written, directed, and acted. Less not forgetting a few other honorable mentions, Werewolves on Wheels, The Boy who Cried Werewolf, Werewolf Woman, and Legend of the Werewolf are all wonderfully gritty and fun to watch.

The 1980s…

anamericanwerewolf

It’s really hard to hate the 1980s, especially regarding the volumes of horror movies produced during this VHS era. So many monster films and the birth of a new sub-genre, The Slasher, and the reclassification of Universal tropes, whereas the Gillman from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, became Swamp Thing and Toxic Avenger. One of the more obvious “Universal” carry-overs would be Jerry Warren’s Frankenstein Island, starring John Carradine, one of the last surviving members from the original Universal Monster films. But what made this era really great were three films that took the concepts developed by the traditional Universal tropes and created something new from the old.The HowlingAn American Werewolf in London and Silver Bullet took what The Wolf Man did in 1941 and set it in a more reality-toned story if you can believe that. The rules of werewolfism became more complex and reminded audiences how fun these kinds of movies can be if done properly. Now…I’d be a horrible film historian/fan if I failed to mention the one single most recognizable “Universal” heavy monster movie from the 1980s. That’s right folks, I’m talking The Monster Squad (1987). This movie took every 80s cliche and every classic Universal Monster cliche, boiled it in a stew and served it with nard pudding. You either love it or you hate, and if you hate you’re probably too terrified to say so, considering how many damn people love this movie!

The 1990s…

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Looking back on the 90s is like looking through a kaleidoscope. There were so much realism and so much snark the 90s is often really hard to separate diamonds from the squares regarding monster flicks. The 90s gave us more creature features, not necessarily mutated or atomic…just…creatures. And as far as the use of classic “Universal” monster tropes, we have two different extremes. On one end, we get Frankenhooker (1990), a raunchy B-movie where a New Jersey mad doctor (James Lorinz) rebuilds his girlfriend (Patty Mullen) with body parts from exploded hookers. And not forgetting (though I wish I could) Mel Brooks directed Dracula: Dead and Loving It. But on the other extreme, we get these melodrama films such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), both of which did their best to follow the source material that inspired the original Universal Monsters. In the middle of all this dueling complexity, we have at least one movie that keeps to both melodramatic and B-ish action, one of my person favorites from this decade, NO, not Monster Mash, I’m talking 1998’s comic to film flick, Blade starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristoffer, and Stephen Dorff.

And I guess I’d be amiss if I did not mention one of the first more modern remakes directly linked to the Universal Monster classics. In 1999, The Mummy released starring (then loved now somewhat shunned) Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Oded Fehr, and America’s favorite weirdo Kevin J. O’Connor. The remake followed most of the basic tenets of the original Mummy while kicking up the action. I remember actually being really impressed with the film and truth be told…I had seen this one before screening the original. Unfortunately, it suffers from what most 1990s movies suffer from, the crappy use of CGI. But overall, The Mummy is still a fun romp on a late night.

(Shhhh…if we’re quiet and don’t make any sudden movements, no one will mention 1997’s An American Werewolf in Paris…)

The 2000s…

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The 2000s were not entirely unkind to Universal Monster tropes. Strange…but not unkind. Universal Studios themselves had put out a what should have been a return or at least a nod to the classic hey-day with Van Helsing (2004)…and while they did capture the feeling of watching a Universal Monster flick, the story itself and odd choices with effects and the horribly outdated CGI dropped the bottom out on this movie. It’s amazing how much of a turd Van Helsing is, and it could have been so much more, a virtual House of Dracula, giving audiences werewolves and vampires and hunchbacks and even Frankenstein’s creature but instead filmmakers ignored the lore and added strange new rules that didn’t make sense, making a complete mess of a movie.

The decade was not without some gems. I thought Dog Soldiers (2002) was both brilliant and horrifying. There was also Ginger Snaps (2000) and Ginger Snaps II which were both smart. And, though not a lot of folks liked this one, I thought it was fun and an awesome throwback to the classic vibe of Universal Monsters, 2004’s Wes Craven directed Cursed starring Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, and Joshua Jackson. Another fan favorite during this decade was action-thriller Underworld (2003), starring the very leather-clad Kate Beckinsale and the always magnetic Bill Nighy. Underworld has developed into a series franchise, putting audiences into a world of vampires versus werewolves. The sequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans released back in 2009. All of which all fun and entertaining, though very obviously films in a post-Matrix world with all that leather and gun-play. Another vampire hit, for me at least, was 30 Days of Night (2007) which shed the “it’s fun to be a vampire” motif and actually allowed them to be monsters. And while sequels are not always a favorite subject matter, we cannot discount Blade II (2002), this round being directed by then up and coming monster director Guillermo del Toro… And be honest here, who doesn’t love a movie with Ron Pearlman in it? But let’s stop there. No need mentioning Blade: Trinity…ugh!

And as for the best of the 2000s decade, my hat goes off to Let the Right One In (2008), a Swedish “romantic” horror film directed by Tomas Alfredson, based on the 2004 novel of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist about a bullied 12-year-old boy named “Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) living with his mother in suburban Sweden, meets his new neighbor, the mysterious and moody Eli (Lina Leandersson), they strike up a friendship. Initially reserved they slowly form a close bond, but it soon becomes apparent that she is no ordinary young girl. Eventually, Eli shares her dark, macabre secret with Oskar, revealing her connection to a string of bloody local murders.” Let the Right One In was one of those “unknowns,” coming right out of left field. It was a slow burn, but so atmospheric and moody and dark…it gives me the chills just thinking about the movie. 

The 2010s…

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Here we are…roughly 70 years of film history. And with just six (nearly 7) years into the new decade, it seems as if those classic Universal monster tropes are making an epic comeback. Or at least, that’s the vibe I’m getting. Let’s start things off here with my favorite, the 2010 direct remake of the original 1941 The Wolf Man, with a star-studded cast including Benicio del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and David Schofield to name a few. Now, I’m not saying the movie didn’t have some flaws. The fight scene between Hopkins and Toro is…well…a little odd, but for the majority of the film, the effects and even added CGI wasn’t too shabby. Considering the original is my preferred archetype regarding werewolf stories, I pretty much fell head over heels for this one. And wait, there’s more! Not only did we get a directly linked werewolf movie, but it looks as if the indie film community was filling in where Hollywood failed to capitalize. Consider this fan-favourite and truly underrated horror flick, Late Phases (2014), about a secluded retirement community plagued by mysterious and deadly attacks until a grizzled blind war veteran moves in, rallies the residents, and discovers a beast is behind the killings. Another unrated flick and extremely well done, Stake Land (2010) gives the classic vampire trope a plague-like treatment.

2013’s Wer was another surprise, giving lycanism a hereditary twist and 2012’s Werewolf: The Beast Among Us wasn’t too shabby for a largely unknown action thriller. And 2013’s Frankenstein’s Army was just bizarre enough to be entertaining. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) was a smart and surprise hit among monster fans, where residents of a worn-down Iranian city encounter a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) who preys on men who disrespect women. And I thought Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) was good for a late night screening.

Now…because I’m a dad (totally using this as an excuse), I have to mention one of my top favorites thus far for this decade before moving on to anything else. Hotel Transylvania (2012) was absolutely brilliant. Fun. Funny. And full of classic monster tropes. The story goes, “When monsters want to get away from it all, they go to Count Dracula’s (Adam Sandler) Hotel Transylvania, a lavish resort where they can be themselves without humans around to bother them. On one special weekend, Dracula invites creatures like the Invisible Man, the Mummy, and others to celebrate the 118th birthday of his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez). However, an unforeseen complication unfolds when an ordinary human unwittingly crashes the party and falls in love with Mavis.” Say what you will, but I love this movie!

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As for the duds…though I still haven’t screened this one, I’ve heard that the steady-cam take on the Mummy monster trope The Pyramid (2014) was not very good. The concept sounded interesting…maybe I’ll give this one a go before passing final judgment. The same for Dracula: Untold (2014), I just haven’t gotten around to watching it, but I’ve heard that it was decently entertaining. And I still haven’t caught up with We Are The Night (2010) or Byzantium (2012), both of which follow a more feminine-centric story trope. One dud that I did actually watch was comic-book based I, Frankenstein (2014). “Two centuries after Dr. Frankenstein assembles and reanimates his creature, Adam (Aaron Eckhart) is still living. He becomes embroiled in a war between two immortal races: gargoyles, the traditional protectors of mankind, and evil demons. Since Adam is neither human nor demon, gargoyle Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) and demon Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) each want him for their own purposes. It is up to Adam to discover his inner humanity and the reason for his continued existence.” The movie could have been so much more but casting pretty-boy Eckhart as the monster…well…it seemed to reek of trying too much to be like Underworld to have any real chance of being its own movie. The concept was fun and the addition to the Frankenstein lore…so, at least it had that going for it. 

Also on my to watch list: What We Do in the Shadows (2015), and Freaks of Nature (2015). It just seems, part of my problem is that there are so many classic films to choice from my tastes typically shy away back to the 1970s or 80s. That’s not to say the 2010s have nothing to offer, just look at the list above and you’ll find more than one blockbuster worthy of your time. And the year is not even over yet. A think, largely, everyone has their own tastes for horror, and this is especially true for those of the classic Universal Monster breed. My biggest disappointment is the lackluster treatment of my favorite Universal Monster, The Mummy. While the 1999 remake did a rather bang-up job, that’s been…what, 17 years now? I have to wonder what the aversion is. I’m assuming it’s because the Mummy is not a “fan favorite.” Vampires and werewolves sell movie tickets, is that it? You put a screenwriter who loves the trope, some solid practical effects, and a director who knows what they’re doing, and I guarantee you a great film will be made.

And now…a peek into the FUTURE….

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As you’ve no doubt heard, Universal Studios will be reviving from their vaults, the return of the classic Universal Monsters in a new series that will eventually tie together all our beloved baddies. This news has been generating for about two years now and it looks as if they’re finally getting the ball rolling. The first monster up for theatric return will be The Mummy, with a June 2017 release date, and starring none other than Tom “Top Gun” Cruise. It feels fortuitous that my favorite Universal monster will be up first in this new rival. The Wolf Man is said to be next, with a 2018 release date and rumors of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson taking on the lead role. Scarlett Johansson is rumored to be on Universal’s radar for the led in The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Angelina Jolie for Bride of Frankenstein. Johnny Depp for The Invisible Man. And supposedly, Dracula: Untold‘s end sequence opens the door for what all these remakes will be leading towards. At first, I had my reservations. Some of the descriptions for what the producers wanted sounded un-horror and un-betrothed to what the originals were. But it seems those rumors were just that, rumors. As more information has released, the more excited and cautiously optimistic I’ve become. If you’ve tuned into any of the reviews in this series, you’ve no doubt noted how much of a fan I am of the classic Universal Monster. And by-Geroge, I’m glad they’ve finally decided to bring them back to their full glory.

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel,Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò His new paranormal series, The Subdue Books, including both Dwelling and Emerging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs here at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.

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Universal Monsters in Review: Pinball Wizard

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The history of pinball games is an interesting subject. The 1930s, the same as the Universal Monster era, is ultimately when the game began, though an argument could be made for the development of the machine since the 1700s in the form of Bagatelle, a billiard indoor table game. Starting in the 1930s, there were Payout Pins, in which coins would drop out of the game, and Flippers, a Penny Arcade game where the players used a “bat” to launch balls into a scoring mechanism and even an early era pinball game called TILT! The exclamation point was to further the excitement one ought to feel when playing the game. By 1936, the invention of pinball bumper came about, consisting of coiled springs that allowed the ball to rapidly bounce around the playfield, forever changing the modus operandi of pinball. Pinball was also not without its enemies. In a 1957 article published by Better Homes and Gardens, advocates called for the ban of pinball games. Some American cities had already fallen suit, in January of 1942, New York mayor LaGuardia banned the game throughout his city, which wouldn’t be overturned until the 1970s. The issue advocates and lawmakers were having was a failure to distinguish slot machines from pinball machines and the fact that many just wanted to play pinball for the sheer enjoyment of the game. Starting in the 1980s and running through the 90s is when horror themed pinball machines really took off. Some of the most popular ones included Freddy: A Nightmare, The Addams Family, Gorgar, Scared Stiff, Elvira: Party Monster, Twilight Zone, and Monster Bash, just to name a few. These games gave players another way of experiencing the universe of their favorite monsters, including those of the 1930s-1940s Universal variety. Here to talk to us some more regarding Universal Monsters most infamous pinball game, Monster Bash, is our guest author, Kit Power.

Monster Bash

By: Kit Power

Because I know what y’all were really thinking as you slogged through my four thousand word essay on ‘The Bride Of Frankenstein’, back in March – ‘Yeah, yeah, Kit, all well and good, but can’t you tell me more about this pinball table?”

Your wish is my command.

Before I start, though, in the interests of honesty, I have to confess something important: I haven’t played the physical table. I love pinball but was born about ten years too late for the heyday. One of the very, very few positive things about growing up in the ass end of North Devon was that there were two local pubs that still had machines. So I got to play Star Trek: The Next Generation, Judge Dredd, and later the Tommy table (based on the musical). ST and JD just ate my money, for the most part, but Tommy I absolutely owned – I remember one afternoon going in there with a single pound coin (which back then got you 3 credits) and playing for over 3 hours.

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But that was ‘98 or ‘99, and the art of pinball was already dying. Seeing a table in the wild is a rarity these days, and the time when any arcade of a decent size had a whole rack of them is long gone.

Luckily for shut-ins like me, there is, at least, Farsight Studios and The Pinball Arcade.

The press release version is, they buy real tables, take them apart, photograph each bit, then render them in 3D software, emulating the actual ROM used in the original machine to simulate the experience with as much fidelity as possible. Now, I only have one data point for this, because the Star Trek table is so far the only one they’ve digitized that I’d previously spent any time with, but I can say with some confidence that they have absolutely nailed the physics and feel of that table, so I have no reason to suppose that their talents are not similarly in evidence on the other tables in the collection. So, what follows is based on the experience of playing a simulation of the table rather than the thing itself. That bucket list moment will have to wait for when Tarantino comes knocking for the film rights for GodBomb! Hey, I can dream. 🙂

So, Monster Bash – as previously noted, a 1997 table by Williams, of which 3361 units were manufactured, according to Farsight Studios. The plot of the table (no, really) is that six of the iconic Universal Monster crew – The Creature from The Black Lagoon (hereafter Gil), The Bride, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, Dracula, and The Wolfman – are putting a band together, with the end goal of playing a gig in ‘Transylvania Square Gardens’.

Of course.

To achieve this – well, it’s pinball. Keep the ball in play, and hit a lot of shots.

Or, in more detail…

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So there’s six creature games, each of which has ‘win’ states, which award the instrument for that creature (Gil plays Sax, The Bride is on vocals so claims a microphone, The Monster has an organ(!), Dracula is on lead guitar, with The Mummy on Bass and The Wolfman, of course, on drums). Playing all six games, win or lose, sets up the ‘Monster Bash’, which is the table’s wizard mode. Wizard mode is basically the ‘win’ state of a pinball game. Typically a multiball with a generous ball saver period (meaning 30 – 45 seconds where any balls you lose are replaced) and huge jackpots on all targets. If you’ve ever looked at the mind-boggling high scores on a pinball table and wondered how they were achieved – wizard mode is how. It’s always tough to achieve, and aside from Tommy, something I’ve never managed in real life (brag – though for Tommy, I managed it three times in one game).

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There is a fun wrinkle with Monster Bash, which is this: If you manage to ‘win’ each of the monster missions and claim the instruments, you enter a kind of super wizard mode called ‘Monsters Of Rock’, where the targets are worth even more, and the ball saver stays active for longer. If you can get that done before activating the Monster Bash, there’s a substantial bonus, but I’ve never managed that.

 

Here’s a quick breakdown of each of the monster missions:

FULL MOON FEVER: Shoot the left and/or right orbit 4 times to light a full moon and start the mode. You then have 45 seconds to shoot the orbits as many times as you can, scoring the full moon fever jackpot each time you do so. Score 4 full moon jackpots to claim the drum kit for ‘Wolfie’.

  • MUMMY MAYHEM: Hit the jets 45 times to uncover the sarcophagus and light mummy mania in the drop target. Once the drop target is hit to start the mode, shoot the orbits, ramps, and central spinner to score mummy mania jackpots. Score 7.5 million points to win the game and light the bass guitar.
  • BALL AND CHAIN: Shoot both ramps 3 times each to start the ball and chain game. Shoot both ramps a further 3 times each in 40 seconds to win the game and light the microphone.
  • DRAC ATTACK: Shoot the Dracula target on the right-hand side to spell the word DRACULA (the first time through you only need to do this 4 times, as the first three letters are lit for you). This lights Drac Attack in the drop target. Once you shoot that, a model Dracula will pop out of a coffin on the right-hand side of the play area and move slowly back and forth. Hit him five times with the ball to win the mode and light up his guitar.
  • CREATURE FEATURE: Shoot the far left target gully 4 times. On the fourth time, Creature Feature mode begins. Shoot each of the lit targets (both ramps, both orbits and the central spinner (though you can also shoot the left gully as a substitute) to win the mode and light the saxophone.
  • IT’S ALIVE MULTIBALL: To start this mode, shoot The Monster target in the center left of the playing field 7 times to build the monster. The target will then lift up, revealing a ramp. Shoot the ramp to start the multiball. Score jackpots by shooting the flashing targets, and score 6 super jackpots (by hitting the monster) to light the organ.

With me so far? Excellent. Now, let’s talk strategy…

Because beyond ‘keep the ball in play’, there are some useful tips. For example, if you complete three monster modes, an extra ball is lit, and if you go through to the Monster Bash mode and ‘loop’ the table, this chance is restored the second time through as well. Also, the monster game modes are stackable – as in more than one can be running at the same time. Even better – if you start the ‘It’s Alive!’ multiball the timer on the other games stops, which is really handy with games like Ball and Chain, where hitting 6 ramps in 40 seconds can often be a bit of an ask.

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Also, if you complete the skill shot by using the flippers to make sure the ball falls through the lit target post launch, you’ll get an item, such as a garlic clove or spear gun, that can be used to reduce the difficulty of the monster mission by one (A silver bullet, for example, scores you a free ‘full moon fever’ jackpot once that game mode has started). You use the items by pressing the launch button – pleasingly, there’s nothing in-game to tell you this, it’s just a neat little thing you discover through play – or, I guess, not.

And really, it’s a game of neat little touches. The sound is great throughout, with the side comments by the cast (“I hope he’s tall and handsome like you, doctor!” from The Bride, for instance, or “Somebody fetch me a razor!” from The Wolfman) amusing enough that they don’t grate on repeated playing. Similarly, while the table is relatively fast and the ramp entrances not over generous, it’s far from impossible to play, with a little practice. The single toughest shot is The Monster, not because he’s hard to hit but because the rebound tends to send the ball down the center gully with depressing frequency, but on the other hand, if you are anything like as bad as me at pinball, you’ll hit it with glancing blows enough times while aiming elsewhere to unlock the mode organically after a while.

And sure, it is both shlocky and goofy – they’re none of the horrors of the original tales here, this is strictly played for laughs, and if the idea of that offends you, this is probably not the pinball table you’re looking for. That said, there’s also an unmistakable ring of affection to the whole thing, if not outright love.

And if nothing else, it led me, by and unlikely and circuitous route involving the author of this blog, to finally actually watch The Bride Of Frankenstein on Blu-ray. For that alone, this pinball table will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Kit Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as, GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.

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Universal Monsters in Review: House of Dracula (1945)

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Was there a change in atmosphere with House of Dracula? Maybe this feeling is just me; maybe not, but while screening this latest in Univeral monsters, there seemed to be a different quality of theatrics going on. Both good and bad, perhaps. Mostly good, if you ask me. In its place in history, House of Dracula was released in December of 1945, a little over three months following the end of WWII. As we’ve noted in previous reviews during this series, Universal was not immune to Hollywood’s propaganda, pro-war influence. Many of these classic monster films, starting in 1941 and running thru 1944, there’ve been subtle hints of “invaders,” and an almost puritanical rule of “killing the monster.” Some movies were not so subtle, Invisible Agent (1942) was the most painfully obvious of American propaganda films during this era.  Now, with House of Dracula, I had started watching with this expectation of similarity with the other films. And there were some, but what really struck me as different was a major focus on duality and the understanding of the identity of the monster. Take Dr. Franz Edelmann, a respected member of the community in the setting of House of Dracula. In his attempt to “cure” Dracula, and The Wolfman, he himself turned outwardly monstrous. It begs the question, who is the enemy? The roles for the characters in House of Dracula were equally magnificent, even with the absence of Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, replaced in this film by John Carradine. My favorite character by far, I thought, was the hunchbacked nurse, Nina (played by the lovely and native Texan Jane Adams). I felt that her role was pivotal to the sticky plot carried throughout the Hollywood prescribed hour long movie. As it is, I’ve probably chatted long enough. Let’s see what our esteemed guest has to say about House of Dracula.

 

House of Dracula

By: Chad Clark

House of Dracula was released in 1945 and stands as a sort of swan song for the fabled Universal monster franchise. The film is a direct sequel to House of Frankenstein and would be the last time (with the exception of the later Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein) that these iconic monsters would appear together on film.

First of, I would say that the inherent nostalgia of these movies make it hard to not enjoy them on at least some level, even if the film itself might be somewhat flawed. I have always been a big fan of the orchestral scoring used in this era, giving the movies much more of a feel of the theater than I think we get in modern film. And of course, I think that while my modernistic makeup gives me an almost unconscious urge to resist it, movies shot in black and white really have a forlorn beauty to them that I think is absent from our modern .

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To start with what I like about the film, I love the feel of physical spaces, the weight of props and the use of practical special effects. This is not to disparage the art of digital effects but I think that there was a special passion in movies like this where, if you wanted to do something, you had to figure out how to do it. The essential spirit of invention out of necessity I think gives a unique feel to a movie. I think everyone involved becomes very invested in making sure the product is as good as it can be. In modern movies, I often feel like the actor spends the entire film miming movement in front of a green screen so it is refreshing to see actual sets, with real physical objects.

The effects of this film are actually quite good. The effect of Dracula transforming into a bat and vise-versa was done extremely well. Ironically, I found the fairly simple effect of the bat flying to be more awkward and cheesy than the effect of a human transforming into the bat itself. I’m sure that a younger viewer, spoiled by the digital effects of our age would find many of the effects silly but I think that they are used exactly as effects should. Regardless of how seamless and realistic they look, they are simply one tool used to move the story forward. This was a time when movies were about the magic and the story. Sometimes, I think that the movie-making process has been so de-constructed anymore that we have lost sight of that.

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The acting for the most part is decent, with a few stand-out performances. I thought that Onslow Stevens as Dr. Franz Edelmann and Jane Adams as Nina were both very good, with performances that were maybe a little more nuanced and heart-felt than the rest of the cast. Otherwise, this was a movie that felt very safe. I suspect that by this point, everyone knew that this was more about the franchise and that no one’s individual performances were going to make or break the show. You show up and slap on the makeup.

If you love the monsters, there’s a little bit of everything for you here. You’ve got Dracula and the Wolfman. You’ve got some Frankenstein and a mad scientist. There’s even a hunchback, although not quite in the context you might be expecting. And since it’s a Universal Studios driven monster flick, of course there is a huge mob of villagers, poised to chase after someone with torches if they are needed.

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The thing for me and ultimately what I think fails about this movie is that there isn’t really any cohesive or organic reason for all of these monsters to be in the same story. Ostensibly, the premise is built on the notion that both Dracula and the Wolfman are seeking out this scientist for a “cure” for their conditions but that itself is never really explored or explained. To me, it just seemed like a half-hearted attempt to provide a justification for having them both in the movie. And as for the rest of the monsters, it literally feels like we just trip over them on the road down the narrative of the movie.

And for those who love to harp on Hollywood for lacking originality and going back to retread old ideas and lean on old franchises, this ain’t nothing new. Watching House of Dracula, frankly, felt like I was watching two completely separate films. You have the story centered around Dracula and then the story centered around the Wolfman. Because both stories end up sort of competing with one another, I’m left not really caring about either. Ironically, the one character I seem to feel the most invested in is the nurse played by Jane Adams and she probably has the least amount of screen time out of all of them.

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Another irony in placing so many disparate monsters within the film is that, despite the title of the movie, I wouldn’t even categorize this as a Dracula movie. John Carradine is certainly passable as Dracula, but there is no confusing him with the dark, menacing presence of Lugosi.

But that by itself can be taken in stride. What I find more of a letdown is that while Dracula has a few big scenes, ultimately his story is wrapped up so anti-climatically that we are left kind of scratching our heads and wondering why he was there in the first place. It seems to me like we are supposed to be more emotionally invested in Lon Chaney Jr’s Wolfman than anything else. At the very end of the Dracula sub-plot, something does happen which ultimately drives the rest of the movie to its tragic conclusion, but if that was his only purpose for being in the story, it seems like they could have accomplished the same thing without arbitrarily shoe-horning Dracula into the film. Had this been a movie about just trying to “fix” the Wolfman, I think the film would have had much more emotional depth and focus.

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I don’t hate this movie, I just don’t really love it either. As I hinted at before, this just felt like a safe movie to me. It’s entertaining, but it’s also kind of bland. To me, it seemed like Universal was couching on the spectacle of bringing all these monsters together in one film being enough of a draw that they didn’t really need to focus on the rest. Nobody is really going out on a limb with the story or trying to break new ground with anything. This is not a movie that will blow you away or amaze you.

It is, however, a great film to throw into the DVD player, order some pizzas and invite your friends over for movie night.

chadclark

Chad A. Clark is a Midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, releases in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Chad Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.

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