Evil Toons (1992, directed by Fred Olen Ray)

Evil Toons opens, disturbingly enough, with David Carradine hanging himself.  Carradine is playing Gideon Fisk, the owner of both a run-down mansion and an ancient book that appears to be bound in human skin.  Though Fisk kills himself, he still appears several years later so that he can deliver a copy of the book to the four girls who have been hired to clean his home.

The girls are all students at Miskatonic University, a name that will be familiar to any fans of the work of H.P. Lovecraft.  (Those same fans will also have figured out that the book is the Necronomicon.)  Jan (Barbara Dare) and Terry (Suzanne Auger) want to get the house cleaned so they can get paid.  Roxanne (Madison Stone) wants to party overnight with her idiot boyfriend, Biff (Don Dowe).  Shy and intellectual Megan (Monique Gabrielle) is mostly just worried about surviving until morning.  After the girls open the book, they get Megan to translate the Latin writing within.  This brings to life a cartoon monster, one who looks much like a combination of the Big Bad Wolf and the Tasmanian Devil but which is far more bloodthirsty and horny than either of them.  After killing one of the girls and possessing her body, the Monster stalks the other inhabitants of the house.

Not meant to be taken seriously in any way shape or form, Evil Toons was made by Fred Olen Ray for $150,000.  That probably explains why, despite the title, there’s only one evil toon and it only gets a minute and a half of screen time before possessing its first victim.  Most of the dialogue is deliberately obtuse, with none of the girls showing any alarm upon realizing that forcing Megan to translate the book has condemned everyone to an eternity of torment.  The good thing is that there are enough funny lines to hold your interest and the cast is game (and frequently undressed, which is probably why this film still has a cult following).  Monique Gabrielle proves that she can scream with the best of them while Madison Stone is genuinely funny as Roxanne, delivering her lines with a playful quirkiness and even indulging in a little physical comedy with a hard-to-open wine bottle.

Fans of B-horror will be happy to see Dick Miller in the role of Burt, the man who hires the girls to clean up the house.  After leaving the girls at the house, Burt goes home and watches Bucket of Blood (starring Dick Miller, of course) on television.  “How come that guy never won an Academy Award?” Burt asks.  Burt’s wife is played by scream queen Michelle Bauer, who gets a guest starring credit for a two-minute role that consists of her reminding Burt what Friday night is supposed to be for.

Evil Toons is undeniably dumb but I laughed more than I was expecting too.  I think it helps that the movie confirmed what anyone who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons has always suspected.  Most cartoon characters aren’t that innocent, especially the ones that are drawn in the margins of the Necronomicon.

I Watched Facing Nolan (2022, dir. by Bradley Jackson)

Yesterday, I was feeling down about the Texas Rangers and their 66-89 record so I watched Facing Nolan on Netflix.

Facing Nolan is a documentary about Nolan Ryan, the Texas icon who played in the Major Leagues for 27 seasons and who proved himself to be the greatest pitcher who ever played the game.  He started his career with the Mets, working as a relief pitcher until he saved the Mets from losing Game 3 of the 1969 World Series.  (Somehow, it would be his only World Series appearance as a player.)  He was traded to the Angels, where he finally worked with a coach who was able to get wild pitching style under control.  After his son was nearly killed in a car accident, Ryan returned to Texas and played first for the Astros and then for the Rangers.  After he finally retired from baseball, Ryan became a businessman and a rancher.  He was President and CEO of the Rangers during the two seasons that we made it to the World Series.  I can remember Ryan being interviewed during those exciting playoff games as the Rangers made their way to their first two World Series appearances.  I’ll always associate Nolan Ryan with my two favorites seasons of baseball.

Ryan holds a total of 52 MLB records, including:

5,714 career strikeouts
215 career double-digit strikeout games
7 career no-hitters
12 career 1-hitters, tied with Bob Feller
18 career 2-hitters
31 career 3-hitters
15 200-strikeout seasons
6 300-strikeout seasons
6.555 career hits per nine innings
5.26 single-season hits per nine innings (1972)
Lowest batting average allowed, career (minimum 1500 innings) .204
26 seasons with at least one win
2,795 career walks
10 grand slams allowed (tied)
757 career stolen bases allowed

How did Nolan Ryan set all those records?  According to Facing Nolan, he did it by just being naturally better than every other pitcher in the game.  From his childhood on, Nolan Ryan was a powerful pitcher and a natural leader.  At first, he didn’t even realize how good he was.  When he was drafted into the Mets after high school, Ryan thought he would just play for four seasons, get his pension, and then return to his hometown of Alvin, Texas and work as a vet.  It took the Mets a while to realize how good he was too.  Up until his World Series performance, he was considered to just be a relief pitcher who was as likely to hit the batter as to get the ball over the plate.  When he was with the Mets, he got paid $7,000 a season and, after the Mets won the world series, Ryan still had to get a job installing air conditioning units to support himself during the off-season.  Ryan kept playing as he moved from team to team and, by the time he threw his second no hitter in 1973, everyone knew how good he was.  Ryan also knew how good he was and made sure he got paid a salary that reflected it.  There would be no more installing air conditioners to make ends meet!

Facing Nolan features interviews with Ryan’s family, his former teammates, and his former managers.  George W. Bush is interviewed and it’s obvious that Nolan Ryan’s time with the Rangers is one of his favorite things to talk about.  Facing Nolan was made by a fan for the fans and watching it, I was transported back to those days when the Rangers were winning every game and it seemed like our first World Series victory was just one strikeout away.  Hopefully, all of us fans will get to reexperience that feeling someday soon and, when the Rangers do finally win a Series, Nolan Ryan will sitting in the stands watching.

Game Review: Deep in The Spooky, Scary Woods (2022, Healy)

The full title of this piece of Interactive Fiction is: I Was Too Lazy to Get Started on My EctoComp Entry at a Reasonable Time But I Still Wanted to Enter So I Crapped Out This Masterpiece Or: Deep in the Spooky, Scary Woods.

Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself!  It’s better than anything that I’ve come up with recently.  In this Choose Your Own Adventure style game, you’re in the woods, the spooky, scary woods!  You can cry if you want.  You can build a fire.  You can try to text a friend.  But what you have to be prepared for is that eventually, a witch is going to want to join you and you might very well find your way to Dracula’s castle.  How will you handle it?  How will you interact with the supernatural?  What choices will you make?  Will you get the good or the bad ending?  Play to find out!

Even thought the author states that this game was just something that was put together in an hour, I always enjoy games like Deep In The Spooky Scary Woods.  That’s because I’ve played enough pompous and self-important Interactive Fiction games that I can not help but enjoy one where the whole point is to get the player to laugh and poke fun at the whole genre.  Sometimes, you’re in the mood for Interactive Fiction that is big and complex and full of subtext.  Sometimes, you just want to play something that’s fun, that’ll keep you amused, and which will take less than 15 minutes to complete.

Play Deep In The Spooky Scary Woods!

Retro Television Review: California Dreams 1.9 “Mother and Child Reunion” and 1.10 “Romancing The Tube”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Saturdays, I will be reviewing California Dreams, which ran on NBC from 1992 to 1996.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

Last week, California Dreams dealt with both racism and misogyny.  It was two heavy episodes, featuring important lessons about the problems of the world.  Would the trend continue?  Let us find out!

Surf dudes with attitude, feeling mellow, let’s get on with it….

Episode 1.9 “Mother and Child Reunion”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 7th, 1992)

It’s been over a month since the Dreams last had a gig.  Maybe they should break up!  Matt thinks that they just need to practice more.  (Of course, being a music camp kid, he would say that, wouldn’t he?)  Sly thinks that the band need to change its image and be less beach-y.  Considering what was going on in music in the early to mid-90s, Sly probably has a point.  Anyway, Sly goes out and buys a smoke machine so that the Dreams can use it to change their middlebrow image.  Maybe they just need a new lead singer.  WHERE’S JAKE!?

Now, the smoke machine and the edgy image stuff is actually kind of cute but the majority of the show revolves around Tiffani and her mom.  It turns out that Tiffani’s mom essentially abandoned her when Tiffani was only six.  For ten years, Tiffani’s mom worked as a dancer in New York.  Now, she’s back in California.  At first, everyone is shocked by the fact that Tiffani doesn’t seem to be angry at her mom but it turns out that Tiffani is angry and that anger finally comes out at Tiffani’s 16th birthday party when her mom suggests that Tiffany come live with her for a year.

By the standards of California Dreams’s first season, this wasn’t a bad episode.  Kelly Packard did a good job of portraying Tiffani’s anger.  Plus, this episode did have one good joke, in which Sly tried to rename the band The California Nightmares in an attempt to change their image.  They should have stuck with the new name.

Episode 1.10 “Romancing The Tube” 

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 14th, 1992)

This was a weird episode.  I’ve seen plenty of episodes of California Dreams but somehow, I never knew that Sly and Tiffani were a couple for an episode.  Apparently, Tiffany and Sly fell for each other while Tiffany was teaching Sly how to surf.  It all led to a “Surf Soul Swapping” ceremony, which was overseen by Peter Tork of the Monkees.  However, at the last minute, Tiffani realized that she was just using Sly as a rebound to help her get over her ex.  And Sly never really wanted to be in a committed relationship to begin with.  So, they broke up and I guess it all worked out in the end.

Meanwhile, Matt, Jenny, and Tony were supposed to paint a room in the Garrison House in return for Mrs. Garrison paying them $300 so they could get a new lighting system.  But then they got bored and abandoned the job.  Fortunately, the new lighting system turned out to be a bust so they tricked Mrs. Garrison into taking it off their hands.  No one learned a thing, which was probably about as realistic as California Dreams ever got.

Weird episode.

Horror Scenes That I Love: Edward Van Sloan Introduces Frankenstein

For our first Scene that I love for this year’s Horrorthon, I’m sharing the opening of the 1931 classic, Frankenstein.  The scene below features neither Colin Clive or Boris Karloff.  Instead, Edward Van Sloan breaks the fourth wall and, in his humorously avuncular way, lets the audience know what’s in store for them.

Today, of course, we all know the story of Frankenstein and his monster.  However, imagine how audiences in 1931, many of whom probably knew nothing about the story they were about to watch, must have felt when Edward Van Sloan specifically took a minute to warn them that they were about to see something terrifying.  You have to remember that Van Sloan was talking to the first generation of regular filmgoers and he was introducing them to one of the first true horror films of the sound era.  Today, it’s easy to smile when Van Sloan says, “You can’t say we didn’t warn you.”  In 1931, I imagine it probably sounded more like a dare.  Van Sloan was asking, “Do you have the courage to stay in theater?”  It’s kind of charming, isn’t it?

Edward Van Sloan was a bit of fixture when it came to the early Universal horror films.  Not only did he play Henry Frankenstein’s mentor but, in the same year, he played Prof. Van Helsing in Dracula.  He also had a key supporting role in The Mummy.  When it came to explaining the supernatural and the undead, no one else did it with quite the class of Edward Van Sloan.

Novel Review: Capital Crimes by Lawrence Sanders

Tell me if the plot of the 1990 novel, Capital Crimes, sounds familiar.

The President of the United States is struggling.  The economy is bad.  The U.S. is long ground internationally.  The President’s approval ratings are plummeting.  The members of his own party are searching for a way to get rid of him.  However, the President himself is more concerned about the health of his son, a hemophiliac who seems destined to suffer an early death if he’s not somehow cured of his condition.

Everything looks hopeless until the President meets Brother Kristos.  Brother Kristos is a wild holy man from the backwoods, a sensualist who drinks vodka, believes that the best way to worship is to have an orgy, and who claims that he has a direct line to God and that he can heal the President’s son.  Kristos not only makes the claim but he backs it up by actually doing it.  The President and his wife soon become dependent on the mysterious Kristos.  Kristos goes from being an obscure cult leader to one of the most powerful men in the country but is he a servant of God or the Devil?  While Kristos sets about seducing all of the women in Washington, others try to investigate his background.  Is Kristos a charlatan or does he truly have magical powers?

If this sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’re familiar with Rasputin, the Russian monk who became a shadowy and much-feared influence on the family of Nicholas II, the final Tsar of Russia.  In fact, Capital Crimes so closely follows the story of Rasputin that you kind of have to wonder why no one in the book ever seems to pick up on the connection.  Russia exists as a rival to the United States in Capital Crimes and, as such, one assumes that Rasputin must have existed as well.  And yet no one in the book ever says, “Hey, remember when this happened before and it didn’t end well?  Maybe we shouldn’t invite the unwashed holy man to live in the White House?”

Capital Crimes is one of the books that I found in my aunt’s paperback collection.  I read it a few weeks ago and, beyond the fact that it was so obviously based on the story of Rasputin, there wasn’t anything particularly memorable about it.  The reader is continuously told that Brother Kristos is incredibly charismatic and that his piercing stare can hypnotize almost anyone but telling and showing are two different things and Kristos is such a ludicrous figure that it’s hard to take him seriously.  (Then again, I imagine many initially said the same thing about Rasputin.)  The book flirts with suggesting that Kristos actually does have supernatural powers but it neve really commits to the idea, which is a shame.  If you’re going to write a book about a Rasputin in the White House, you might as well go all out and fully embrace the supernatural aspect of the story.  Instead, the book gets bogged down in the political machinations of all the people who would like to replace the president.  It’s a bit dull.

The book is credited to Lawrence Sanders, who I know wrote quite a few best sellers and who is usually listed among the better thriller writers.  Capital Crimes feels extremely sloppy and derivative so I’m going to assume that it was written strictly for the money.  That’s not necessarily a criticism, of course.  Money’s a good thing!  But so is an interesting plot.

Book Review: Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan

Wow, I thought as I read Kyle Buchanan’s oral history of the making of Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy really did not like each other.

I have to admit that I feel a little bit bad that my main reaction to Blood, Sweat, & Chrome centered around the most “gossipy” part of the book, the chapter in which everyone interviewed talked about how Theron and Hardy simply did not get along during filming.  That, of course, is also the part of the book that got the most media attention when it first came out.  Overall, it’s really a very small part of the overall story.  The books deals with much more than just Charlize and Tom.  It discusses how the stunts were achieved.  It documents just how much time George Miller spent planning Fury Road and also how the project was changed by Mel Gibson’s very public fall from grace.  There’s a very touching chapter that deals with Hugh Keays-Bryne, the Australian actor who played memorable villains in both the first and, to date, the last of the Mad Max films.  There’s a lot of good stuff in Blood, Sweat & Chrome but it’s the chapter about Hardy and Theron that will probably capture the attention of most readers.  They’re movie stars, after all.  We’re all fascinated by stars, especially when they don’t get along.

As for why Theron and Hardy didn’t get along, the people interviewed for the book all have their theories.  Some say that Hardy was not only feeling pressure over stepping into Mel Gibson’s shoes but that he was also miffed to realize that he was primarily going to be a supporting player in his own movie.  Others say that it was a conflict in working styles, with Theron going out of her way to always be professional and on time while Hardy was a bit more relaxed when he would show up on the set.  Nicholas Hoult (who comes across as being both a professional and a gentleman) says that being on set with them often felt like being in the back seat of a car while your parents are fighting up front.  Whatever the reason, Hardy and Theron did not enjoy either’s company while filming.  Shouting matches were followed by meetings with George Miller, who Theron observes was not necessarily always on her side when it came to her conflict with Tom Hardy.  And while actors arguing during filming is hardly a unique event, what stands out about Theron and Hardy is that they both appeared to continue to dislike each other even after filming ended.  Even with the success of the film, one gets the feeling that the two of them will never voluntarily star opposite each other again.  Or, at the very least, they’ll get a lot of money before agreeing to do so.

What’s interesting though is that Hardy and Theron’s dislike for each other was probably a major factor in Mad Max: Fury Road‘s success.  One reason why Fury Road stands out is because neither Furiosa nor Max end up having the type of relationship that you might otherwise expect.  Though they eventually work together, they never become a couple.  Neither surrenders to the other.  Furiosa never stops fighting and Max never stops wandering.  Even when they become allies, there’s still that tension there.  Neither one really trusts the other.  As was so often the case with the production of Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron and Hardy’s contentious relationship, something that should have led to disaster, actually served to make the film better.

Reading Buchanan’s book, one comes away with the impression that, for all the difficulties that were encountered during filming, Mad Max: Fury Road was almost a blessed production.  Everything that went wrong only served to make the final product better.  George Miller’s struggles to get the film into production gave him the time he needed to create a film that had a good deal more thematic depth than the average action sequel.  The harsh working conditions were the perfect backdrop for the film’s equally harsh world.  Mel Gibson’s troubles allowed Miller to rethink the character of Max and also gave Miller room to make Furiosa an equally important character.  That few people were expecting much from Mad Max: Fury Road allowed Miller to take the world by surprise.  Even the fact that many were surprised when Fury Road won Best Picture from the National Board of Review allowed the film to enter the Oscar season as an appealing underdog.  Of course, while Mad Max: Fury Road did win the most Oscars that year, it did not win Best Picture.  But I can promise you that, as you sit here reading this, more people are currently watching Mad Max: Fury Road than are watching Spotlight.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a great film and Blood, Sweat, & Chrome provides an in-depth look at how that happened.  It’s hard not to be inspired by George Miller and he refusal to give up on the project.  Much like Furiosa, Miller never stopped fighting.  Neither Furiosa nor Miller found what they were initially expecting at the end of their journey.  Instead, they discovered something better and, as a result, their stories will never be forgotten.

International Horror Film Review: Bloody Moon (dir by Jesus Franco)

A 1981 West German/Spanish co-production, Bloody Moon open with a disfigured man named Miguel (Alexander Waechter) putting on a Mickey Mouse mask and sneaking into a party being held on the campus of a private school that is known as (deep breath) Europe’s International Youth-Club Boarding School of Languages.  It’s a school that is meant for the young, the rich, and the unburdened.  In short, it’s not a place for Miguel at all.

With his face safely hidden behind the smiling image of Disney’s favorite mouse, Miguel meets a young woman who is dancing by herself.  She mistakes him for her boyfriend and heads into a nearby bungalow with him.  They start to make love but — uh oh! — the mask falls off!  The woman screams at the sight of Miguel’s scarred face.  Miguel grabs a pair of scissors and stabs her to death while Mickey Mouse’s smiling face smiles on the floor.  (One can only imagine how Disney reacted to this film.)

A few years later, Miguel is being released from a mental hospital.  He’s released into the custody of his sister, Manuela (Nadja Gerganoff).  Miguel’s doctor (played by the film’s director, Jesus “Jess” Franco) says that Miguel should be fine as long as he’s not around anything that reminds him of the incident.  Manuela says that she’ll look after him and then promptly takes him back to the school where he committed the murder.  What part of not reminding him did she fail to understand?

Manuela does actually have an excuse for bringing Miguel to the school with her, though.  She and her aunt, Countess Maria (Maria Rubio), own the school.  Countess Maria is an angry, wheelchair-bound woman who is convinced that Manuela wants to kill her so that she can take over the school and it does seem that Manuela does have some hostility towards her aunt.  Of course, another reason for bringing Miguel back to the school to live with her is that he and Manuela have an incestuous relationship …. or, at least, they did.  Now that Manuela refuses to sleep him, Miguel is reduced to lurking around campus and staring at all the students while they sunbathe topless at the pool.  While Manuela stands naked in her room and stares at the moon (the bloody moon?), Miguel is hunched down in the shrubbery and peeping through windows.

Among the students is Angela (Olivia Pascal).  Angela is upset because she discovered a dead body but no one’s willing to believe her because she also enjoys reading mystery novels.  Angela knows that someone is committing murders on campus but is it Miguel or it is Professor Alvaro (Christoph Moosbrugger) or could it even be the enigmatic Bueno (Otto Retzer), a bald guy who seems to randomly pop up around campus?  Can Angela convince her remarkably stupid classmates that there’s a murderer on campus before it’s too late?

Bloody Moon was one of the many films directed by the Spanish auteur and former Orson Welles collaborator, Jesus Franco.  In a career that lasted over 60 years, Franco directed at least 173 feature films.  (It’s felt that he actually directed quite a bit more, usually under a pseudonym.  Franco, himself, claimed that he didn’t really remember how many films he had directed.)  As a director, Franco is remembered for his low budgets, his unapologetic embrace of the sordid, his rather casual attitude towards maintaining continuity from one scene to another, and for occasionally framing an interesting shot or two.  By his own admission, Bloody Moon was not a personal project for Franco.  It’s something that he did for the money, as a director-for-hire.  However, Bloody Moon is unmistakably a Franco film.  The budget is low.  The subject matter is often so sordid that it borders on parody.  As far as continuity goes, Angela goes from wearing a nightshirt when she discovers a dead body inside her bungalow to wearing a colorful sweater when she runs outside in a panic.  (I guess she could have stopped to change clothes with a dead body on the bed and a killer lurking somewhere in the bungalow but I doubt it.  When there’s a dead body on your bed, modesty should be the least of your concerns.)  And yet, as silly as it all is, there are moments when Bloody Moon does achieve a certain dream-like intensity.  The mix of badly dubbed performers, sudden jump cuts, bloody violence, and the total lack of narrative logic makes Bloody Moon feel a bit like a filmed nightmare.  It works despite itself.

Bloody Moon is one of the films that was, for a while, banned in the UK due to its violence and bloodshed.  And indeed, there is a lot of blood and the violence is a bit more graphic than what one might expect to find in the American slasher films that Bloody Moon was obviously meant to capitalize upon.  This film is notable for just how cruel the killer is.  Not even Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees resorted to using a giant radial saw.  That said, this is one of those films that has a reputation for being bloodier than it actually is.  The majority of the film is taken up with scenes of people wandering around campus, either searching for their friends or stalking a potential victim.  Personally, I felt the nonstop searching scenes added to the film’s dreamlike feel but I imagine those who only watch films like this for the kills will find it all to be a bit slow.

Bloody Moon was clearly made to capitalize on the success of American slasher films like Halloween and Friday the 13th.  That said, Bloody Moon has more in common with the Italian giallo genre, right down to the whodunit nature of the plot, the ludicrously sleazy motives of the killer, and the total lack of intentional comic relief.  Like so many giallo films, Bloody Moon takes place in a world where everyone’s either a victim or a killer and no one’s particularly likable.  It’s not one of Franco’s personal films but there’s still enough of his signature style to appeal to his fans.  As with most of Franco’s film, it will be best appreciated by those who like a little ennui mixed with their horror.

8 Shots From 8 Horror Films: The 1930s

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we take a look at the 1930s.

8 Shots From 8 Horror Films

Dracula (1931, starring Bela Lugosi as the Count, Dir by Tod Browning, DP: Karl Freund)

Frankenstein (1931, dir by James Whale, DP: Arthur Edeson)

White Zombie (1932, directed by Vincent Halperin, DP: Arthur Martinelli)

The Mummy (1932, directed by Karl Freund, DP: Charles Stumar)

The Invisible Man (1933, dir by James Whale, DP: Arthur Edeson)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935, dir James Whale, DP: John J. Mescall)

Mark of the Vampire (1935, dir by Tod Browning, DP: James Wong Howe)

Son of Frankenstein (1939, directed by Rowland V. Lee, DP: George Robinson)

The Creepy Covers of Tales of Magic and Mystery

Tales of Magic and Mystery  promised readers a look into the world of the unknown but, despite that, it had a short print run.  The first issue came out in December of 1927.  Four issues later,  the series was canceled in 1928.  The series only ran for five issues but those five issues feature five of the best and most surreal covers that I’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately, the identity of the artist responsible for these covers is not known but they certainly make an impression.

Here, to help kick off October and Through the Shattered Lens’s annual celebration of all thing horror, are the five covers of Tales of Magic and Mystery!

December 1927

January 1928

February, 1928

March 1928

April 1928