Disco! Monkeys! Puppets! How Netflix Instant Replicates the Video Rental Store Blind Watch Experience

One of the more unterrible retail jobs I worked during art sk00l was my job in video rental store management. In addition to coming into regular contact with such life-changing characters as “Unicycle-Riding Ross Perot Supporter,” “Dude Who Cut All the Butthole Photos Out of the Porn Film Sleeves,” “Slacker Son of the Deli Owner Across the Street Who Gave Us Free Sammiches in Trade for Adult Movie Rentals,” and “Gay, Special Needs, Bear-Hug-Giving Guy,” this job enabled me to expand my movie-watching horizons exponentially without having to bankrupt myself on bootlegs. I had a blast with blind watches of films whose covers held an appeal to me. Sure, I danced the disappointment tango many times, but I found a lot of joy in watching things like late-70s star vehicles and insane children’s movies.

The thing with seeking out cult film titles in the digital age is that the search becomes very precise, very directed. Everything’s a Google search away, and it’s easy to miss out on the blind watch experience. Most “blind watches” aren’t, really–the potentially misleading cover art can be dismissed after a quick IMDb search, and there’s a review for almost every film under the sun. I kinda liked going into a movie knowing nothing more than its flashy poster and maybe the mention of an appealing actor or actress.

One of the movies that seared itself into my brain was “Sextette,” presumably so-named because there are no flirty puns on “Octogenarian,” which is what Mae West was at the time of filming. The experience of watching that movie was something like this: “Oh fuck this is going to be long… when is the Alice Cooper cameo? Did you have to pay Dom DeLuise NOT to show up in your movie in 1978? I’m cringing… Get me another drink… Something in my consciousness snapped and I think I maybe-like this… Oh there’s Alice Cooper… That was fucking heavy.” In much the same way that fans of spicy food begin to experience an elated feeling when chowing down on colon-searing edibles, and not at all in the spirit of scab-picking shadendouchery, I came to crave that “fucking heavy” feeling.

The closest I’ve come to replicating the video rental blind watch is with Netflix Instant, whose offerings skew more towards the “One Dollar Previously Viewed Bin” than towards recent blockbusters. Asylum and Troma offerings dominate the horror section, and there are numerous repackaged-for-urban-markets kung fu titles. Recently, beloved-by-me-and-loathed-by-everyone-else titles “Unmasking the Idol” and “Order of the Black Eagle” popped up. In the spirit of unearthing unexpected gems, Baron XIII and I have taken it upon ourselves to plumb the depths of Comedy Offerings. I think our recent re-watch of “Muppets Take Manhattan” was the gateway drug that lured us into the bizarre universe of the Children & Family section.

Disco Vanity Pictures are amazing–make no mistake. “Sextette” prepared me for a world that includes such wonders as Instant-able titles “Xanadu” and “Can’t Stop the Music,” the latter of which is a Village People vehicle that manages to never utter the word “gay.” The “boys” are “quirky” and “different,” but… they don’t talk about having sex with men. They’re just magical pixies of a sorta-Disney variety, starring in a number of 40s-style song and dance numbers with bespangled outfits, choreography, and pearly white smiles. It’s as if some executive un-hip to modern lingo took “gay” in the Danny Kaye way, and everybody else just… sorta… rolled with it. This film also features Bruce Jenner’s finest hour–better, even than his work on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
Cocaine may have definitely played a role in the decision making process here, as the film continuously references the fact that the Village People are making the music that will define the decade of the Eighties. The Eighties. THE EIGHTIES.
When I die, you can play key scenes from “Can’t Stop the Music” at my funeral.

I was ten years old when “Mac and Me” was released into theaters, and I remember thinking it was a cynical cash-grab at the time. When middle-class Caucasian children are questioning the motives of your alien-puppet movie, you’re just a bald-faced motherfucker of a filmmaker. Little did I imagine the dadaist depths into which this movie delves. For those of you who haven’t been present on the internets, “Mac and Me” is a knock off of “E.T.” that adds extreme commercialism to that film’s already-detestable formula of big-hearted kids protecting a revolting-looking alien puppet.
In spite of being the owner of some regrettably easily-plucked heartstrings, I never liked “E.T.,” so it was with a certain gloating anticipation that I entered into watching this film. It’s like those caught on tape videos where a kid junk-punches a party clown–it’s revenge on every party clown who ever freaked you out when you were in the single-digit age bracket.
My favorite element of “Mac and Me” is the fact that after the wheelchair-bound moppet who serves as our leading child decides to protect the larval alien puppet he’s discovered in his backyard, his mother begins to think he is mentally ill. She repeatedly expresses her concern that her son is acting out his disturbed rage when she blames the scampish actions of the alien puppet (“scampish actions” such as “drilling holes in the wall” and “destroying the living room by bringing in large clods of dirt”) on the boy. Plunk a different soundtrack on top, and you’ve got yourself a horrifying combination of “Rear Window,” “Gaslight” and perhaps “Repulsion” with a beguiling “Mars Attacks” flavor.
The alien creatures in this movie resemble nothing so much as the Pale Man from “Pan’s Labyrinth” (Jesus, that thing is fucking terrifying), and yet the audience is expected to react to them as endearing cartoons of a “so ugly they’re cute” sort, based solely on the facts that a) Coca-Cola is a life-sustaining force on their planet and b) they looooove them some McDonald’s. I can only begin to describe the shuddering, Lovecraftian disgust I felt in gazing upon the dead-eyed, blow-job-mouthed countenances of the alien creatures in “Mac and Me.” There’s a ghastliness present here that would give Screaming Mad George cause to execute a slow clap of appreciation.

In the spirit of fairness, the Baron and I share movie-picking duties. I would probably not choose to watch a lot of Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed films were it not for him, nor would I have developed a taste for movies featuring performing chimpanzees. We watch a lot of movies with apes and monkeys in them*, each of which is terrible in its own precious way. “Spymate” is no exception to this trend, and its tale of a super-spy teaming up with a specially-trained chimp. Yes, I WAS hoping that the title “Spymate” would bring with it vintage Playboy models on a mission to save the world from a coalition of other more evil vintage Playboy models, but I didn’t get so lucky.
*Dear Germany: Please make a cognate word for this kind of film. Thank you!
Instead, this film follows a precocious tween scientist who discovers a unique drilling method and is promptly kidnapped by a business tycoon. Her single father has to save her with the help of the most aggravating troop of circus performers in the world, a super-smart chimp, and a grown-up lady scientist (“Sorry you got kidnapped–meet your new mom, honey!”). It’s one of those movies that made me really–REALLY–want to Treat My Glaucoma and yet no Glaucoma Treatment was available to me. For my primate spy money, I’ll take the Duncan Jax movies.
I just can’t believe it took three pages of Netflix reviews to get to the keyboard zoologist who helpfully pointed out that chimps are–in fact–apes and not monkeys. *facepalm*

Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde [1971]

I sometimes wonder what the authors of the stories that inspired the greatest hits of monsterdom would think of the latter-day adaptations of their works. Oscar Wilde would likely be delighted with the pansexually groovy Italian version of his novella “Picture of Dorian Gray,” while Mary Shelley might be significantly less delighted by the ghastly excess of “Flesh for Frankenstein.” If it’s true that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” during a days-long cocaine binge in 1886, then he might appreciate “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde,” the gender-bending 1971 Hammer Films adaptation of his tale.

Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates, who is a not-loved-enough member of the Hammer Horror stable) is a scientist fixated on creating antiviruses to cure the diseases that plague humanity. After a conversation with his cynical and worldly colleague Professor Robertson, he realizes that he’ll never be able to complete his work within an average human lifespan, and he becomes obsessed with finding a formula to prolong his life. Right about here is where the audience needs to check all of their scientific expectations, because the key to Dr. Jekyll’s experiments is female hormones–because, apparently, the not-frequent occurrence of baldness in women is proof that they hold the key to immortality.
Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde
Where-oh-where is a good doctor to find a steady supply of female hormones in late Nineteenth Century London? I’m still not sure, but I now know that a morally ambiguous doctor can get in touch with Burke and Hare, who have travelled across space and time from early Nineteenth Century Edinburgh to continue their body snatching* in a fresh environment. Having accumulated enough lady-juice from the lady-bits of marginalized women to create a potent transformative cocktail, Jekyll quaffs his estrogen-rich brew, only to be transformed into a Barbara-Steele-esque uber-babe (played Martine Beswick, a woman who should teach a master class in haughty gorgeousness). And yes, the very first thing said female alter ego does is feel herself up and cackle madly–wouldn’t you? Things continue apace as the infamous graverobbers are only too happy to assist Jekyll, but after an angry mob lynches Burke and blinds Hare, the doctor is forced to find his own supply of uterii, adding a Jack the Ripper** plot to the film.
*Interestingly, R.L. Stevenson also wrote a Burke and Hare-inspired story, titled “The Body Snatchers,” thus giving this meeting of monsters a rather neat literary pedigree.
** Additionally interestingly, one of men who was briefly a suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders was an actor who played the role of Jekyll and Hyde in the stage adaptation of Stevenson’s story. More info is here, for the curious.
Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde

While all this womb-carving occurs in an off-screen, only-moderately-bloody fashion, Dr. Jekyll’s upstairs neighbor, the lovely if dim-witted English rose Susan, is developing a crush on the intense young physician. Things get more complicated when Susan’s brother Howard, who may have been spawned from the same Bokanovsky Group as Hugh Grant, develops his own amorous feelings for Jekyll’s female alter-ego, who Jekyll dubs Mrs. Hyde. It’s bad enough that this femme is hardcore fatale, but she also has a penchant for seducing men from Jekyll’s social circle and–worse yet–she has a savage hatred of her male side and wants to erase him from her psyche permanently.
Like other British films of this period, the SHOCKS that are promised in the poster are implied rather than displayed. Sure, there’s some blood-splatter and there is a set of bare breasts (those of Ms. Beswick, famously displayed during the first transformation sequence), but for a movie about a mad scientist with a female alter ego that bangs his upstairs neighbor when he/she is not carving out the reproductive organs of prostitutes, there’s a reluctance to get graphic. In fact, it’s never mentioned from whence the female hormones come. There’s some leering dialogue between Burke and Hare about Jekyll leaving “the top half” of his victims intact, and there are two blink-and-you’ll-miss-them shots of Jekyll lifting the skirts of inanimate women, but unless you’re paying attention, you’ll miss this entirely.
Any movie that features prostitutes has plentiful opportunities for gaudy exhibitionism, but “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde” never goes down this path. While Jess Franco’s similarly-sexualized “Jack the Ripper” has ample buxom set-dressing, there’s a more demure attitude to this film, preferring to show its cockney-accented canon fodder fully clothed.
Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde
As a person whose sexual preferences run towards women and creeps, this movie had a not-insignificant charm. Bates has a certain haunted awkwardness to his portrayal of Dr. Jekyll, a man who is willing to do terrible, terrible things in the name of the greater good. Martine Beswick steals the show as the predatory Mrs. Hyde, a woman who exudes a sense of erotic menace in every frame of film she graces. I won’t lie to you, interpals–that production photo above does something for me, somewhere in my jaded, thrill-seeking pants.
Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde
There’s a wonderfully perverse sense of humor at work in this film. After Jekyll’s transformations into Mrs. Hyde begin, crimson-colored couture gowns and wasp-waisted corsets begin showing up at his flat, causing great confusion in the doctor and eliciting a variety of amused responses from his colleagues, who are *always* in the room with him when he’s unwrapping an elaborate new fashion confection. Jekyll is only vaguely aware of Hyde’s actions when she is in control of their shared body, and his flustered responses when he’s forced to explain her away are nothing short of comedic. This is in stark contrast to the calculating ease with which Hyde manipulates those around her. Then there’s the highly unlikely conceit that Jekyll and his upper-crust neighbors appear to live in the Whitechapel neighborhood, where the hooker-hunting is easy.
Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde
Those seeking an explicitly sexual take on the Jekyll and Hyde tale might have their needs better met by Walerian Borowczyk’s jaw-dropping “Dr. Jekyll and His Women.” That having been said, “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde” is a delightfully depraved film in its own right. What punches it pulls in terms of graphic depictions of sex and violence are made up for with lurid implications and gallows humor. Fans of gothic horrors will be thrilled by this lesser-known entry in the Hammer oeuvre.

Kaiju Big Battel

Confession time: I have an on-again, off-again love affair with professional wrestling. It’s a soap opera for people who like to punch stuff, with its elaborate plotlines, explosive violence, and simmering queer sexuality. I feel like pro wrestling provides me with a glimpse into the mind of my fellow man, and while it frightens me, it’s simultaneously fascinating and pretty damn hilarious.
Kaiju Big Battel
There’s not a lot one could do to improve on the pro wrestling format, but making it Mexican helps, and putting dudes in giant foam rubber monster suits helps even more.
Kaiju Big Battel

Kaiju Big Battel [sic, lest ye get autocorrectey on me], which bills itself as “the world’s only live monster mayhem spectacle,” is one of the most deliciously absurd and thoroughly wonderful events I’ve had the privilege of witnessing. In combining the pro wrestling format with the storylines of kaiju eiga, Kaiju Big Battel bouts simply must be experienced live. I’d seen footage of several bouts online, but just got to see my first live Battel this past Friday at Warsaw in Brooklyn.

Kaiju Big Battel
Last Friday’s Battel was centered around a charity drive to save the kaiju, who were left destitute after the mad scientist Dr. Cube’s recently-ended reign of terror. After a live performance by Poison Ivy League (fronted by Kaiju Big Battel’s own high-energy MC Louden Noxious), the monster-on-monster mayhem began. Bouts included fights between such whimsically-named critters as D.W. Cycloptopuss versus Steam-Powered Tentacle Boulder and Hell Monkey versus American Beetle.
Kaiju Big Battel
These kaiju don’t simply bumble around the ring, although their entry into the traditional wrestling ring provided plenty of laughs. The beasties really fight, delivering crushing suplexes, devestating leg drops, and athletic leaps off the turnbuckles.
Kaiju Big Battel
Kaiju Big Battel is probably one of the easier sells of anything I’ve written about in this blog. It’s giant monsters, wrestling. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I really despair for you.
Kaiju Big Battel
Battels take place intermittently throughout the year, with reasonably-recent performances in Philadelphia and Boston. Follow Kaiju Big Battel on Twitter to get updates and learn about upcoming performances. Trust me–you’re going to want to check this out!

Kaiju Big Battel

SEE "The Diabolikal Super-Kriminal" Via Live Webcast 10/22/10 & 10/24/10

I’ve got great news, fellow fans of masked uber-baddies! Mort Todd’s superb documentary tracing the history of the skeleton-masked baddie known as Sadistik is making its web premiere on Friday October 22nd. Beginning at 8pm EST, a film marathon of epic proportions will be taking place live at the following link:

Movies included in the line up are:

SATANIK (1968)

There will be live chat, trivia, and plentiful geeking out. I’m already aquiver with excitement!

Click here to read my review of “The Diabolikal Super Kriminal” here. Sure, you probably won’t have access to delectable pumpkin-flavored martinis in novelty drinkware, but you’ve got imagination on your side. Besides, if you’re watching from home, you don’t even have to wear pants!

There will be an encore presentation of the fest on Sunday October 24th, also beginning at 8pm EST, via the same link. Be there or miss out on what promises to be a most excellent virtual event.

New York Comic Con 2010

You’ve probably read about New York Comic Con elsewhere on the web, and most of what you’ve read is absolutely true. Yes, it’s insanely crowded. Sure, a lot of the square footage is taken up by glorified tradeshow booths. And as of this year, the addition of New York Anime Fest to the proceedings did skew stuff towards the J-Pop end of the spectrum. All this bitching aside, New York Comic Con is also the show at which I’m most likely to be exposed to new and exciting media, and as such it’s something I look forward to every year.
Bride of Frankenstein
Among the hundreds of vendors hawking their fantastical goodies, there was plenty for fans of horror memorabilia to enjoy. The latest crop of Universal Monsters licensed offerings due on Toys R Us shelves in August 2011 is beautifully detailed and priced to own at $16.99 per set. I’m of the opinion that one can’t own too many Brides of Frankenstein, and I’m looking forward to adding this latest one to my collection.
A Cadre of Boris Karloffs
Fave-of-the-Empire toy designer Amok Time has outdone themselves once again. Having created such gorgeous toys as posable 12″ figures William Marshall as Blacula and Vincent Price as the Red Death, they’ve got a bunch of droolworthy figures slated for future release. Check out the Boris Karloff Fu Manchu above. He’s so marvelous I almost didn’t even notice the “Black Cat” Boris behind him!
Diabolik Doll

Sadistik Doll
Of special interest to me were the Sadistik and Diabolik dolls also displayed in prototype form. According to their creator, he only needs to find 29 more folks to buy them in order to make it a worthwhile proposition. So come on, friends–I KNOW there are 29 of you out there with more money than sense!
Then there was the religious moment when I got to handle some original Milo Manara pages from his run on the “Diabolik” knock-off, “Genius.” It was a really incredible experience, and I’m mournful that I didn’t have a few grand on-hand to just buy those damn things. Suffice to say, I’ll be heading over to Brooklyn to visit Scott Eder Gallery for future alternative and underground comix shows.
“Psycho” by Felipe Echevarria
Poster for The Briggs by Brian Ewing
Fabulous as the vendor room is, my favorite part of NYCC is Artists Alley, home to scores of talented illustrators working in limitless styles. Felipe Echevarria’s painted pages from the comic book adaptation of “Psycho” were even more breathtaking in person. The Baron and I were fortunate enough to have copies of Brian Ewing’s new poster art book as well as Christopher Hastings’ “Adventures of Dr. McNinja” paperback autographed and sketched-in.

“Delivery 2” by Josh Ellingson

MC Chris Poster by Elizabeth Siegel, aka Tofusquirrel

I loved many of the quirky illustrators who exhibited monster-themed wares, and to list all of them would be a daunting task indeed. Two folks whose works especially made me grin were Josh Ellingson, whose clean lines are matched by a sharp wit, and Elizabeth Siegel, whose work under the moniker Tofusquirrel is hyper-detailed and adorable without falling into the dreaded pit of twee-ness.
The great thing about NYCC is that two people can attend and see completely different stuff. The saturation point happens just too damn fast! I’m already looking forward to whatever weird goodies I may come across in 2011…

Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole

During my time in art sk00l, I briefly flirted with the idea of studying animation. After several nights spent hand-drawing a walk cycle using a light board and sketch paper and then logging in another late night photographing the drawings onto film only to be left with a few seconds of a figure jerkily making its way across a sketched landscape, I was left too exhausted to be disappointed. I went directly from Attempt to Abandonment of this ill-advised exercise in creative expression. As a result of this crushing defeat,* the world will never see the realization of such concepts as “SS Love Convent 69” (to be hand-rendered in a glorious acid palette, make no fucking mistake).

*Otherwise known as “one of many disheartening encounters with reality”
It’s a good thing that other folks have more patience for their artistic endeavors than I’ve got for mine, and it’s an additionally-good thing that there are more channels for exposing these creations to audiences that will love them. Changing gears into similarly-related gears: in the spirit that any party worth attending is worth showing up to late, I discovered a recent (as of June 2010) addition to Cartoon Network’s beloved-by-mind-altering-chemical-enthusiasts Adult Swim lineup, “Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole” that does many of the things I’d have loved to do with animation.

The premise of “Frankenhole”** is that the lab of Dr. Frankenstein (modeled after Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of the character) can be accessed through a series of time-travel portals scattered across the earth. His mad science services are available–at a price, of course–to any historical figure who happens to wander into his domain. And wander they do, from Hitler to Lyndon B. Johnson to Jesus “The Christ” himself. Populating Dr. Frankenstein’s world are familiar faces from horror films past, including a Larry Talbot-like werewolf, Dracula, and–natch–the doctor’s creation, who is closer to Shelley’s vision of an articulate, grief-maddened abandoned son of science-gone-awry than he is to the square-headed Karloff kreature.
**It’s seriously gross to type that, but I love it at the same time.
Those familiar with the other raunchy, bizarro shows that are part of Adult Swim’s offering will know the kind of humor they’re in for here. Lots of off-color, politically incorrect dialogue and willfully blasphemous gags make for the majority of the content. I’m not too proud to say that I laughed during the episode in which a foul-mouthed (and thus probably-not-too-far-from-the-truth) LBJ shows up at Dr. Frankenstein’s lab asking to have his brain placed in the body of the now-deceased JFK so that the new president can Have Relations with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy. One of the elements that makes “Frankenhole” more appealing than other “mature content” shows is the layer of loving horror humor. Monster fans will find plentiful glee in the horror-movie in-jokes that abound.
While I do enjoy the risque humor, the main source of delight from this show is in its absolutely stunning animation. The paper-craft characters bear a similarity to the creatures from Rankin/Bass’ “Mad Monster Party?”***, but advances in technology allow for smoother movement and clever cinematography that makes for some serious eyecandy, the likes of which audiences might expect from a Tim Burton production. In a way, “Frankenhole” is the “Meet the Feebles”-ization of the Rankin/Bass movie, with its jaw-dropping inappropriateness somehow complemented by the painstaking and–yes–beautiful execution.
***Confound that in-title question mark…!
Alas, it appears that “Frankenhole” is relegated to the programming wasteland of Sunday nights at 12:30, and I’m not sure if we can expect new episodes. This show is just perfect for folks seeking Halloween-season giggles, and I just can’t recommend it enough! For those looking for a seasonal treat, check out the “Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole” section of the Adult Swim website here.