Monday, September 22, 2014

Fox's Gotham Begins/Sleepy Hollow Returns

Fox's "Gotham" is, as most know, a Batman prequel, with Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) in the lead, abetted by his questionable partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Gordon is reminiscent of Gary Oldman's version in the "Dark Knight" trilogy: compassionate, tough and particularly intolerant of corruption: an admirable, television feature in light of what most cable television prescribes. Yep, no sympathy for the devil here, and yet the devils do certainly rear their insidious heads in this ambitious prelude.

The first episode features fledgling versions of Catwoman (Carmen Bicondova), the Riddler (Corey Michael Smith), Poison Ivy (Clare Foley) and the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), with a pre-Two-Face Harvey Dent and Hugo Strange on the possible horizon.

Tragic, young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is also in the mix (how could he not be?), and one can naturally presume that the seedy workings of Gotham (and Wayne's steely thirst for justice) will only perpetuate the ultimate Dark Knight's rise. Of course, faithful Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) will also be a recurring character, thus solidifying the Wayne legend. 

"Gotham" looks promising, even if it's more a standard cop show when compared to what we've come to expect from Batman lore. Still, it seems more honest than most recent (and often overly praised) crime series, implying at least some form of Steve Ditko distinction between good and bad. It also has a cool, no-nonsense "Mob City" sensibility to it, further distinguishing it from its current counterpart let's-root-for-criminals mush. Indeed, so far, so good. Let's see, though, if it can at least exceed "Birds of Prey'"s brevity, though that seems more than likely...

On the heels of "Gotham", Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" triumphantly returns. As you may recall, I was quite smitten by Season 1's surreal, parallel-realm finale (see Jan '14). The Season 2 premiere admirably continues the concept, with a supernatural key that links to Purgatory. Indeed, as evidence by the season kick-off, and for a loose Washington Irving knock-off, the series remains a fine, modern equivalent to "Kolchak: the Night Stalker", with a distinct (albeit revised) historically patriotic context.

It's also sure nice to see Ichabod (Tom Mison) and Abby (Nicole Beharie) back in investigative swing, and now with John Noble's Sin Eater, ersatz Henry Parrish, revealed as--whoops, maybe I shouldn't spoil it for those not yet in the know. I'm only hoping we'll get some Clancy Brown cameos this season. Such would be most welcome.

As far as monsters go, it's obvious more will appear this season, with the Headless Horseman, of course, remaining in the recurring forefront and the power-hungry Moloch in the driver's seat. Also, the series' perpetually autumnal atmosphere is lovingly reinstated: a perfect place for the otherworldly creatures to infiltrate.

I'm sensing a strong chance for renewal well in advance of the season close. Without question, this one appears destined for longevity.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Flask of Eyes Update #3

Well, here it is, my good people (drum roll, please)...Ash Arceneaux's bizarrely alluring cover for my novel, "Flask of Eyes", scheduled for upcoming release via Damnation Books. Ash did a magnificent job in rendering an image that inexorably harnesses the senses and eloquently represents my offbeat tale. To say the least, I'm deliriously satisfied!!!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #19: Tales from the Darkside--the Circus

"Tales from the Darkside" often features creatures in its stories, but there's one episode, above all others, which specifically fits into the monster-rally category: "The Circus".

"The Circus" is scripted by George A. Romero, from a story by Sydney J. Bounds, and directed by the versatile Michael "Creepshow 2" Gornick. At the time of its airing, it kicked off Season 3 superbly and soon became an acclaimed example of the macabre.

What makes "The Circus" special isn't so much that it contains variations of monster icons, but that it echoes the philosophical concerns of such Bradbury yarns as "Pillar of Fire", "Usher II" and even "The Smile": warning us of the myopic perception that leads to the banning and/or smearing of anything that appears unique.

The dark tale involves a reporter named Mr. Bragg (Kevin O'Conner), who visits a circus known only to make one-night stands in "isolated villages". The circus's advertisements make no bones about featuring macabre sights and shamelessly encourages folks to "Bring the Children" and "Invest in a Sense of Wonder".

Bragg is quite insolent toward the circus's Dr. Lao-like ringmaster, Dr. Nis (William Hickey), but the wise, old gent remains undaunted by the writer's remarks, defending his unique attractions and proudly reveals them to the detractor.

There's a "Nosferatu" inspired vampire (played by recurring "Darkside" make-up artist Ed French); a werewolf (David Thornton), who's unfortunately more obscured than succinctly shown; a Frankenstein-ish monster (also French) and a mummy (supplied via an eye-shifting prop). 

Bragg eloquently denounces the specimens, though eventually acknowledges their authenticity, but in no way does this diminish his disdain. Rest assured: his bigotry results in a most chilling comeuppance by the final frame.

On many levels, "The Circus" resonates more today than during its '86 airing. In this current age where mothers cringe when their sons wish to play with G.I. Joes and daughters are readily ridiculed when they request Barbies for Christmas, "The Circus" shows the grand extent of over-protectiveness and its infuriating result: a stunting of natural, imaginative growth. 

Bradbury warned us of this sort of thing. "The Circus" does, as well. As a monster team-up effort, it's undeniable fun, but like the best "Twilight Zone" yarns, it also projects a profound message and as such, fully deserves renewed contemplation. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Collectible Time #9: Hulk and Tie Fighter Pilot

Guess what!!! Got another Marvel wooden plaque!!! If you recall, my in-laws, Ned and Faith, purchased a couple for me in the recent past, of Amazing Spider-man #151 and the Avengers #143 (see Collectible Time #3 and #4, Jan/Feb '14). 

Well, I came across another at a local Ross store: The Incredible Hulk #102!!!  It's a dandy cover, as you can see below, with Dr. Banner transforming into the Great, Green Goliath, or is it the other way around? Nonetheless, what metamorphic intensity!!! What torturous melodrama!!!

The plaque has more of a weathered look than seen above, but the basic vibrancy still shines through. Ferociously cool, don't ya think?

I also came across another large-scale "Star Wars" action figure for my collection: an 18" Jakks Tie Fighter Pilot. It's not as towering, of course, as that striking, jumbo-size Jakks Darth Vader or Clone/Storm Troopers one can obtain at Walmart, but at 18", it still draws attention. I must confess, though, I've always been rather partial to this particular darkly geared outfit: a sort of "steampunked" version of Captain Midnight, perhaps, if one didn't know any better!!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #18: House of the Wolf Man

"House of the Wolf Man" is a 2009 homage to "House of Frankenstein"/"House of Dracula". Directed, produced (along with Roland Rosenberg) and written by Eban "Sick Girl" McGarr, it's by no means a bridge between the latter set and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", instead standing as an impression of Universal monster-rallies: a tribute, in essence, in the "Young Frankenstein" vein, but beyond a few sparks of comic relief, played straight. 

In this regard, like a Universal entry, "House of Wolf" is shot in glorious, textured black-and-white (by Royce A. Dudley), and yes, it does have a number of famous (and not-so-famous) monsters on board and a score by Nate Scott that's virtually lifted from one of Universal's '40s installments. However, story-wise, "House of Wolf" feels primarily like a homage to James Whale's "Old Dark House", various Monogram and PRC films, as well as William Castle's "House on Haunted Hill", than what Universal prolifically produced during its successful sequel reign. 

The story's host is Dr. Bela Reinhardt, portrayed by Ron Chaney (grandson to Lon Jr. and great-grandson to Lon Sr.), a cold, calculating character who's summoned a group to his castle for a "competition" to determine who will inherit his vast estate, which includes all of his documented, scientific knowledge.

The participants include brother and sister, Reed and Mary Chapel (Dustin Fitzsimons and Sara Raferty); the amusingly bookwormish Conrad Sullivan (Jerome Loncka), seductive Elmira Craig (Cheryl Rodes) and pompous, big-game hunter Archibald Whitlock (Jim Thalman). 

Most of the participants soon regret having consented to the weird assembly, particularly with ghoulish butler Barlow (John McGarr) wandering about and an otherwise mostly concealed old "witch" (Saba Moor-Douchette) surfacing, who looks as if she rolled right from out the pages of "Tales from the Crypt".

As the guests grow ever suspicious of Reinhardt's intent, it's eventually revealed that he holds a link to an infamous doctor, as well as a legendary curse. Large, wolf-like tracks also populate the estate, which Whitlock's "foot men" detect and abetted by their fearless leader, vainly track. 

All this leads to a monstrous climax, capped by a relentless werewolf (played predominately by Billy Busby), the Frankenstein Monster (Craig Dabbs), and none other than Dracula, (Michael R. Thomas, exuding uncanny Lugosi-like charm), along with three, very hideous "brides". 

Unfortunately, the main monsters appear very late in the proceedings and perhaps if only sprinkled throughout the movie, their presence would have been far more in tune with "House of Frank"/"House of Drac", instead of a being simply a string of extended cameos. Nevertheless, the brawl between Monster and Wolf Man, while it lasts, is quite satisfying. 

The overall make-ups and creature designs, on the other hand, are well worth the wait. As fashioned by Michelle Chung, Sarah Dorsey, Ron Karkoska, Ana Preciado, Mike Rotello and Mark Villalobos, their overall look inches just enough from Universal to avoid copyright infringement, but like any quality Jack Pierce rendering, the personas resonate with immense character, strange beauty and impressive detail. 

In the end, McGarr's opus is at best experimental yet heartfelt, short and sweet enough to set just the right mood for an atmospheric evening. It's by no means all it could have been, but remains admirable for at least stepping in the right direction. For those hankering for something along the lines of "Corpse Vanishes" with traces of the Universal masterpieces, it should gratify, instilling a style of filmmaking that hasn't graced the screen for nearly seven decades: a most ambitiously admirable attempt on that basis alone.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hot Diggity--It's Me!!!

By popular demand (well, maybe not so much so, if the truth be known), here's my wee picture, taken by my good buddy, Melissa Fantozzi. I was in a weary, woeful state at the time of its capture, which may explain my apparent distressed countenance. Still, this should finally give one some notion as to what the author of all this strange chatter looks like! Now please, restrain those spine-tingling screams. I'm a rather sensitive eccentric, you know!