Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Collectible Time #20: Little Dancing Groot

Straight from the end-credits sequence of the most satisfying space-opera to come along in years, "Guardians of the Galaxy", comes KIDdesigns' Little Dancing Groot!!!

The little, vinyl guy comes in a plastic pot (with "I Am Groot" printed on it) and stands about 9.5". One only has to press the button in the fake soil, and Groot begins to dance to the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back", just like in the movie!!!

I got mine (and one for my father for Easter) at K-Mart for under $15: considerably cheaper than the novelty is going for through various Internet sources. (I must say, the young ladies at the register really enjoyed watching baby Groot swivel his hips!!!)

In those stores that carry Groot, you'll most likely find him in one of the colorful display boxes featured below, just as I did.

If you're a "Guardians" fan, you should seriously consider getting one of these for your collection. Loads of inexpensive fun from a fun character from a fun movie!!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

From Earth Sand to Space Sand: Highlighting "After Dark" and "Voyage to the Planet of Teenage Cavewomen"

Two of my Facebook friends have movies currently available for viewing! All I can say is, I'm trilled to bits with each endeavor and thought I'd offer some reflections on them, since the productions are indisputably worthy of attention. 

First up is "After Dark", directed by Rico Johnson, who co-scripted the film with Carl Earhart: a taut thriller starring my pal, Jesse James Youngblood!

"After Dark" is a horror film devoid of supernatural trimmings, relying instead on circumstances that might befall anyone who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

In this instance, a group of raucous youths embark on an Arizona motocross sojourn, not long after a man accused of slaughtering other such youths escapes from prison. The kids get a flat tire, and without a spare are left to wait during the nocturnal hours while one ventures off for help. 

In their accompaniment is a man named Hector (Hector "Bone Collector" Torres, to be precise, and--surprise, surprise--played aptly enough by Youngblood), who they've met (after harassing him a tad, no less) on the road. Oddly enough, the rugged stranger initially meshes well in their company, indulging in their campfire chat, but when he tells how other youngsters were murdered under similar circumstances, they get nervous, especially when Hector disappears and one-by-one, they meet their demises. 

"After Dark" offers the same gritty edge one finds in James Landis' "The Sadist" (the legendary film with Arch Hall, Jr.), wherein a no-escape atmosphere permeates. The isolation of the dark, desert setting also makes the youngsters' predicament all the more harrowing, for they never know how and when the madman may strike next.

As Hector, Youngblood becomes the focus, carrying the tension with his enigmatic glint and imposing physicality. He deftly swings from being affable to intense, projecting a disquieting, memorable persona.

The film also offers an interesting twist, which for the sake of a second viewing, will surely grant one an entirely different perspective on events.

On the whole, "After Dark" is a chilling excursion, which unlike other independently produced slasher films, relies more on character and suspense than silly hi jinks. It also stands as an essay on perseverance, which makes it often as inspiring as it is unsettling. 

Youngblood is bound to gain more than a few fans with this one. I, for one, would love to see him tackle further endeavors along these lines, where he not only gets to flaunt his tough-guy exterior, but demonstrates his acting chomps, as well.

("After Dark" is currently available for rental through Amazon; I'm sure its availability will expand in the near future. By the way, check out Youngblood in the latest Mercedes-Benz "Road Warrior" tribute commercial. It's super cool, particularly the final scene.)

On the lighter, erotic side, my pal, Rock Baker has co-scripted a wonderful endeavor called, "Voyage to the Planet of Teenage Cavewomen". It's now available on DVD for purchase through and is worth every cent!

Baker is known to fans for his lovely girlie illustrations and "Femforce" contributions. In this instance, he combined his talents with a young man named Joshua Kennedy, whose appreciation for outer-space women flicks is most evident. 

In fact, Kennedy (in addition to sharing writing credits with Baker) produced, directed and stars in the film. He's the lead scientist/astronaut, actually, and accompanied by his high-school friends, pays homage to the likes of "Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women", "Assignment: Outer Space", "Cat Women of the Moon", "Flight to Mars", "Missile to the Moon", "Queen of Outer Space" and "Rocketship X-M", to name but a few.

The scientists must travel to a set of conjoined planets, which are heading fast toward Earth. To prevent collision, the scientists board an interstellar craft in hopes of deterring calamity, but first must touch base with (and hopefully rescue) the inhabitants of one of the worlds, which holds...well, heavenly bodies of its own right--teenage cavewomen! Hot dog!

The planet attached to the cavewomen world is populated by belligerent men in dark clothes and glasses, who can't stand the light. Thank goodness our intrepid explorers are there to fight the invaders off, save the cavewomen and still take care of the mission at hand, all in the amazing span of thirty-nine hours! 

The film also commences with a introductory scientific monologue by a university physicist, which invokes the opening of Jack Arnold's "Mole People", but as in the latter's case, the justification for the story we are about to see is at best forced, adding to the dry humor.

Yes, "Voyage" is funny, but as Baker has pointed out to me, it was written in a straight, non-comical fashion. It's the elocution that makes it funny, playing itself off as a dubbed, foreign film, with the English voices not quite in synch with the mouth movements. Also, like an Ed Wood film, the sets and decorations are makeshift (e.g, featuring CDs on the spaceship walls). And to amp up the camp, the film features a number of Herman Stein musical cues and colorful, albeit crude, effects that offer limitless fun.

"Voyage" runs about thirty-five minutes, making it a joyful short that (at least for me) works as a nice, pre-slumber sojourn. It's a labor of love, not to be taken too seriously in one sense, but when one considers the time and effort invested into the production, nothing but respect can be attributed to it.

(As a companion piece to "Voyage'"s DVD release, Oldies has included Derek Zemrak's "Bikini Planet": a wild, amazon-oriented, black-and-white/color feature, introduced by Ed Wood legend, Conrad Brooks. The film offers loads of statuesque ladies and silly shenanigans. Check both movies out when you can. They're guaranteed to deliver you from the doldrums.) 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Monster Team-up Reflection #22: Frankenstein vs the Mummy

Writer/director Damien Leone's "Frankenstein vs. the Mummy" is the latest in the monster team-up sub-genre (a follow-up to Johnny Tabor's "Day of the Mummy"), and it's a damn good entry. For one thing, it plays itself straight and never tries to reinvent either mythology. It simply let's the familiarity of its components carry the tale, with one driven by magic, the other by science, but as we all know from Thor lore, the two are often indivisible. 

The characters linked to the monsters also smack of tradition, even if they're relegated to modern times and contrivances. They're conscientious yet amoral, impulsive yet wise, and convincingly bridge the horror sequences. 

Victor Frankenstein, portrayed by Max Rhyser, is a young, hip chap and like Frankensteins prior, he's most insightful in the ways of anatomy and ambitious enough to cull life from death.

His archaeologist lady friend, Naihla Khalil, portrayed by Ashton Leigh, is more reserved in her intent, but also involved in the macabre, though more for study than reanimation. She's obtained a Egyptian mummy and plans to study it at the college where she and Frankenstein work: how conveniently fated. 

There's much discussion in the film regarding ethics and personal beliefs and how such notions impact the world. The monsters are brought to life by human ambition, after all, and they do kill: their victims the result of misguided perceptions. It all comes down to arrogance, really, and perhaps this human flaw, above all, becomes the film's message and warning, but regardless of the story's underlying gist, it never loses sight of what it is, always achieving the necessary chills and thrills. 

For example, the reanimation of each monster is deftly rendered, first catering to the Mummy, wherein scholarly colleague, Dr. Walton (Boomer Tibbs, who holds an uncanny resemblance to Peter Cushing) fiddles with the preserved specimen, removing a Horas amulet from its rib cage. This unleashes an unearthly dust which transforms the professor into a George Zucco-like "caregiver", who then proceeds to kill his assistant, so that the poor fellow's blood may bring the corpse to life (shades of Hammer, one might say).

The Frankenstein Monster is, of course, composed of various body parts, supplied to the doctor by a Burke/Hare character named Carter, portrayed with seedy relish by John Pickett. He delivers his "goods" to the doctor's dreary hideaway, which is equipped with grimy, electrical equipment: not quite Strickfaden, but edging in that direction. (It should also be noted that the after-birth sequence isn't far removed from what Mary Shelley describes in her book, give or take, and the interaction between creator and creation is quite enthralling once it gets rolling.)

Both Monster, portrayed by Constanin Tripes, and Mummy, portrayed by Brandan deSpain (in essence, reprising is role from "Day of...") are grotesquely detailed and imposing, thanks to Leone's outstanding make-up effects. They also exude the necessary body language to captivate: indeed, not just lumbering giants, but calculating, nuanced creatures. In the Monster's case, he does speak, but with a modern, Tom Waits gruffness, which might seem unintentionally comical by the mere mention, but instead invokes a glib creepiness. 

Khalil becomes the focus of each specimen: in the Monster's case, a would-be Elizabeth, and in the Mummy's case, a would-be Anaka. Though she's the common denominator that leads the titans to clash, it's not for the reasons one might expect, which adds a dash of originality to the inevitable confrontation. 

The "epic battle" (as the DVD packaging proclaims) won't disappoint. Like the slaughter that comes prior to the big brawl, blood and gore fly profusely in this altercation, with the melee taking place in Frankenstein's hideaway: a dimly lit sequence, but where the action is nonetheless easy to discern. 

On the whole, "Frank vs Mummy" is really the best form of indie movie-making going today. It presents creativity on all fronts, including superlative performances, crisp direction and deft storytelling. It certainly won't please high-brow critics, but for those who like good, old fashioned horror (albeit in a current context), with the unpretentious additive of two sprawling antagonists, this one won't disappoint. In fact, it's destined to exceed expectations.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Flask of Eyes Characterization #2: Benjamin Underling Meets Frankenstein

As a sequel to my brief essay on Edward Hyde's influence upon Franklin Beacon, a character in my novel, "Flask of Eyes", I'm offering another assessment in the same vein: the link between the Frankenstein Monster and Benjamin Underling.

The Frankenstein element becomes obvious in "Flask" once the story passes several chapters, though from the start, Benjamin is depicted as a giant, which fits Mary Shelley's description of the famed, man-made monster.

Like the Monsters that have come before, this version isn't innately bad, but he's also not driven by vengeance. However, his quest for a mate remains a motivating factor. In this regard, he feels destined to be with the earthly female lead, Karen Gentile. 

Though Benjamin is disguised in fake flesh, he's green-skinned beneath such: a nod to Jack Pierce's make-up in the Universal franchise, which we see in color via "Son of Frankenstein" home-movie footage, as well as the color segments featuring Fred Gwynne's Herman Munster.

Benjamin's image/appearance, in its purest form, is really based on a '70s Creepy Creatures puzzle I received from Santa when I was a child. Please see the following:

Benjamin's birth, however, doesn't necessarily reflect what's featured in literature or film, though I did combine elements of various Frankenstein movies where liquid/chemicals and possibly a spot of electricity were used to bring the specimens to life: "Curse of Frankenstein"; "Andy Warhol's Flesh for Frankenstein"; "Frankenstein--the True Story"; Kenneth Branagh's "Frankenstein '94", et al...all combined with golem lore.

A golem, per Hebrew legend, is fashioned from clay. I opted such to be Benjamin's founding form, with clay as his skeletal structure upon which the witch, Magda, attaches her miraculous life-giving brew. 

The golem influence is also a carryover from my childhood, when I would stare at photos (from horror-film history books) of Paul Wegener's "Der Golem" saga (of which only the '21 version of the trilogy yet exists), as well as "It!", starring Roddy MacDowall. In more recent years, the "Snow in August" television adaptation has further spurred my fascination with this particular mythology.

It should also be acknowledged that the Wegener movies had an indisputable impact on Universal's Frankenstein franchise, both visually and in story structure. Note the examples below:

At any rate, the above aspects have acted as catalysts for Benjamin. Beyond any question, he represents Shelley's creation, embodying the big guy's pathos, confusion and basic need to lead a normal life. He's also one of my story's heroes, which I felt a fitting tribute to one who's generally depicted as sad and forlorn, but as to how things turn out precisely for ol' Benjamin...well, you'll just have to read "Flask" to see...