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Sunday, August 31, 2008
Hailing from the Soviet Union and other then-somewhat mysterious lands, the foreign kiddie matinee onslaught were had for cheap by American distributors and uniformly featured terrible dubbing that only rendered the movies more entertaining in many cases. THE DAY THE EARTH FROZE, THE MAGIC WORLD OF SINBAD and THE SWORD AND THE DRAGON provided lysergic fodder for the tykes, providing what was for many of us our first glimpse into Russo-Finnish myths and legends, but by far the weirdest (and cheapest) of the imports were the works of Mexican schlockmeisters, more often than not dragged across the border by distributor K. Gordon Murray. Murray brought us such classics (?) of horror as THE WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY, SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN, NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS and the deliriously weird and unforgettable THE BRAINIAC, but he is perhaps best remembered for unleashing a shitload of fairy tale pictures whose bizarro visuals scarred many children for life. PUSS 'N BOOTS, LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, RUMPELSTILTSKIN, and the balls-out warped SANTA CLAUS are all of note for their borderline-hallucinatory imagery, but the one I never got to see was 1964's LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND THE MONSTERS, a film that by all accounts is the STAR WARS of this dubious genre (NOTE: by that I mean the original STAR WARS from 1977, not one of the current cinematic ass-fuckings).
I've seen the trailer for it and was astounded by its parade of "did I eat the brown acid?" weirdness, a gallery of disturbing shit that makes me long to see the actual feature. I mean, just look at some of the stuff it has to offer:
Tom Thumb, an ogre, a Brothers Grimm-style wolf, and a dwarf in a skunk getup.
The heroes in mortal danger, deep within the fortress of "the Queen of Badness" (who is surprisingly not portrayed by Pam Grier or Tamara Dobson).
Sheer, indescribable nightmare fuel in the form of hideous freaks who looked like they escaped from a Ramones album cover.
This looks not too far removed from nearly any given Ken Russell movie, especially LISZTOMANIA (1975), and if I didn't know otherwise this could be a scene from KEN RUSSELL'S THE GREAT GATSBY.
The skunk-dude fends of a monster attempting to make off with Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood in a scene that looks like an outtake from HAXAN (1922).
A fearsome dragon. Hey, if it's got giant monsters in it, I'm fucking there!
What could be the worst "morning after" situation on record.
Have any of you out there in the internet etehr seen this flick? I think you can see why I'm interested in checking this one out, and I intend to snag a copy next payday. You'd better believe me when I say I'll review this bad boy ASAP!
Saturday, August 30, 2008
His work on SPIDER-MAN is indelible to those of us who grew up when that series was on in daily syndicated rotation, and he also provided the voices for two other Marvel Comics mainstays on the 1966 MARVEL SUPERHEROES show, namely Dr. Bruce Banner in the HULK segments and Tony Stark's chauffer, Happy Hogan, in IRON MAN. (As occasionally mentioned here on the Vault, the MARVEL SUPERHEROES show also featured John Vernon, Dean Wormer in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE, as the voices of both Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner.)
But what truly shocked me to the core was the moment when Soles dropped into character as one of the most justly famous animated characters of the TV age; in mid-sentence Soles' voice morphed into the familiar-as-the-back-of-my-hand nasal delivery of everyone's favorite misfit, Hermey the dentist elf from the classic RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964).
So please take the time out to check out the podcast in question. It's loads of fun for us geeks, and while you're at it take a gander at Soles' site that focuses on the Canadian actors who provided the voices for the SPIDER-MAN cartoon.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Essentially I need to shift into a lower gear and just chill for a few days, so I may or may not post anything until the start of the work week, in this case Tuesday (although I may comment on what it was like to see BEN-HUR as it was intended to be experienced). That said, have a bitchin' holiday and don't drive drunk.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Pope Benedict Outraged Over Sculpture of Crucified Frog
'Zuerst die Füsse,' translated as 'Feet First,' by the late German artist Martin Kippenberger
DAILY NEWS STAFF & WIRE REPORTS
Thursday, August 28th 2008, 10:08 AMA sculpture of a crucified green frog has the Pope seeing red.
Pope Benedict called the wooden sculpture, "Zuerst die Füsse," which hangs in the Museion museum in Northern Italy, blasphemous. The work by the late German artist Martin Kippenberger features a frog holding a beer mug and an egg, its tongue lolling out, nailed to the cross like Jesus Christ.
The museum's board is meeting Thursday on whether to take down the controversial piece of art, Reuters reported.
Museum officials had previously defended the piece, stating the artist considered it "a self-portrait illustrating human angst."
That explanation didn't sit well with the Pope and other critics.
"Surely this is not a work of art but a blasphemy and a disgusting piece of trash that upsets many people," Franz Pahl, president of the regional government who opposed the sculpture, told Reuters.
The Pope had sent a letter of support to Pahl's campaign to pressure the museum to remove the "crucifrog."
Two years ago the museum, located in the town of Bolzano, was embroiled in another controversy, over a piece of art that featured a toilet flushing while the Italian national anthem played.
For those too young to recall this mildly-lysergic chestnut, it's basically a guy's stream of consciousness account of basically wandering around and doing a whole lot of nothing while declaring he's made his mind up that some girl he's interested in is going to be his, she being acquired by him picking up her hand and slowly blowing her little mind. During the course of all this, the guy boasts of his own awesomeness by stating that "Superman and Green Lantern ain't got nothing on me" and subsequently alluding to his ability to "make like a turtle and dive for your pearls in the sea, yeah," either a metaphor for being an accomplished cunnilinguist or a statement of his own belief that he can metamorphose into a shelled amphibian. Any way you break it down, it's kooky, charming, infectious and more than a little bit silly, but expressions of love don't have to be erudite to be sincere.
The song is also notable for what may be the first nod to superheroes in a rock tune, what with it's mention of the Last Son of Krypton and everyone's favorite ring-slinging space-cop. Since "Sunshine Superman," comic book heroes and villains have turned up all over the place in rock songs and other pop music efforts (Herbie Mann's excruciating "Super-Mann" immediately comes to mind with its horrendous disco beat and moaning vocalists repeating "Do it to me, Super-Mann, Mann, Mann"), and I'm trying to cobble together a list of songs that features such nods so I can eventually create a playlist of such favorites. Off the top of my head I've come up with the following list:
MAGNETO & TITANIUM MAN (Paul McCartney & Wings)
This not only mentions the two Marvel antagonists of the title, but it also throws in the Crimson Dynamo for no apparent reason. There's no reason to try to make any kind of sense out of it, however, because the song is very obviously the result of reading a stack of Stan Lee-scribed comics while smoking about sixteen bonghits in rapid succession, and one can only imagine the quality of weed Paul had access to at the time.
TV CASUALTY (Misfits)
Perhaps the only song ever to mention Prince Namor, aka the Sub-Mariner, this gains points for specifically referring to the shoddy Grantray-Lawrence cutout cartoons of the 1960's wherein Subby was voiced by John Vernon (aka Dean Wormer in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE).
CATCH ME NOW I'M FALLING (The Kinks)-name-checks Captain America, among others.
GIGANTOR (The Dickies)
I'm not sure if this one counts since it was a cartoon theme song, but Gigantor always counted as a superhero in my book, remote-controlled robot or not.
GHOST RIDER (Rollins Band)
Dirge-like and grim as hell, that is until you pay attention the words. "Baby, baby, baby, he's blazin' awaaaaaay," "Ridin' around in a blue jumpsuit, yeah" and "Ridin' through your town with his head on fire" are hilarious lyrics, sent way over the top by the ridiculous seriousness of the music and the overwrought vocals of good ol' Henry Rollins. This was the only only reason I picked up the soundtrack to THE CROW (at a stoop sale for a buck).
The forefathers of punk rock's nasal-but-great cover of the sixties cartoon theme song.
SGT. ROCK IS GOING TO HELP ME (XTC)
While not a superhero per se, Sgt. Rock is definitely a comics icon, so I make a case for his inclusion here. And it's one of XTC's best numbers, about a guy who earnestly believes he can solve his failures at romance by gleaning tips from Sgt. Rock comics. Brilliant!
CAN U DIG IT? (Pop Will Eat Itself)
A terrific, riff-heavy dance track from the UK, how this wasn't a huge worldwide hit is beyond my comprehension. The first time I heard this was when it debuted as a video on MTV over two decades ago, and in less than thirty seconds it had propelled me up from my seat and spurred me to dance like some prehistoric shaman. It's completely awesome on its own, but it famously name-checks Bruce Lee, Alan Moore, V FOR VENDETTA, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Marvel and DC, so when coupled with one of the best hook/beat combos ever who could I not love it?
This song is so whiny and wimpy, I bet that if Superman existed and heard this he'd find Michael Stipe and banish him to the Phantom Zone for defamation of character.
COMIC BOOK HEROES (The Tearjerkers)-name-checks Cyclops, Angel, Doctor Strange, the X-Men, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four as the singer plaintively bemoans the fact that he's not like them.
SUPERMAN'S SONG (Crash Test Dummies)-featuring one of the most annoying vocals in history, this song has one of the dumbest lyrics ever: "Superman never made any money, savin' the world from Solomon Grundy." Utter crap.
BARBARELLA (The Bongos)
An infectious early-eighties ode (presumably) to the saucy French "astro-navigatrix."
I AM THE LAW (Anthrax)
Not great by any means, but I think it's the only song about a flagship character from England's seminal 2000 A.D. weekly sci-fi anthology, in this case future lawman Judge Dredd.
JIMMY OLSEN'S BLUES (Spin Doctors)
Concrete proof that not everything the Purple One graces us with is good.
JOKER'S WILD (Man...or Astro-Man?)
An excellent cover of the classic Ventures instrumental, this version leaves out the Clown Prince of Crime's maniacal laughter and instead opens with what appears to be an excerpt from an obscure Batman children's LP adventure.
ASTRO BOY and SAILOR MOON (Osaka Popstar)-two more anime theme songs, only with balls added.
BATMAN THEME (The Ventures and The Jam)
Two great covers of one of what is perhaps the definitive superhero signature tune. The one by the Ventures has actually been found to cure hip dysplasia (a fact not confirmed by the AMA).
O SUPERMAN (Laurie Anderson)
I've heard it hundreds of times and I'm still not sure that this actually has anything to do with Superman, so should this one count?
IRON MAN (Black Sabbath and The Cardigans)
This has absolutely nothing to do with Tony Stark, but thanks to the blockbuster movie it has entered the public consciousness as the Golden Avenger's theme song. For those too young to have been there when Sabbath was kicking ass back in the days, all of us budding metalheads thought this was about the comics character we were familiar with, but if you listen to the lyrics you'll learn it's about a guy who "was turned to steel in the great magnetic field, when he traveled time for the future of mankind," only to find himself fucked over by the people he once saved, so he does what anyone would do and dons his heavy boots of lead, after which he starts killing the ungrateful motherfuckers. A good lesson for children to learn. And the loungey cover by The Cardigans is a must-hear.
PRECIOUS (The Pretenders)
One of the Pretenders' best tunes, and it nods to Howard the Duck and his signature plight of being "trapped in a world he never made."
BOY WONDER I LOVE YOU (Burt Ward)
If you never would have imagined a recording by TV's Robin and a pre-Mothers of Invention Frank Zappa you would not be alone, but such a record exists. Burt Ward, as Robin, reads some of his fan mail to Zappa's musical accompaniment and it's just too odd to describe.
THE RIDDLER (Frank Gorshin)
Amid the plethora of novelty recordings designed to cash in on the Batman craze of 1966, this is by far the best of that sorry lot thanks to Gorshin's signature insane delivery. Man, I love his loony laugh!
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (The Webspinners)
A favorite of Yer Bunche since I was seven (1972), this is not merely the best song ever to spring from a kiddie record, this is the best song ever written about Spider-Man. It's a prime example of early-1970's whiteboy funk, and features the incredible line "No one lady's sex-machine, he makes all the little girls sigh!" Yeah, Peter Parker wishes...
THOR THE POWERHEAD (Manowar)
A manly song about the manliest of the Norse gods, by one of the manliest bands ever.
SUPERBOY (Nina Hagen Band)
If the dubious "O Superman" can make this list, so can this German language punker.
That's all I can think of at the moment, but what else do you suggest? Write in!
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
-The rules of the Transcontinental Road race, as explained during a commercial break.
So now there’s yet another remake hiding behind the bullshit “reimagining” label, once again of one of my favorite films and it’s unleashed a shitstorm of terrible reviews. I’ll get around to seeing the remake out of sheer morbid curiosity sometime over the coming weekend, but for now I’d like to spotlight its source.
Back in the days of my misspent youth and the endless nights in the pot smoke-filled dark of the Sono Cinema there were a handful of films that were regularly pressed into service to fill out the often-run sci-fi movie double features, and if you were a regular it was inevitable that you’d see each of those flicks several times (so you’d better like ‘em!). Among this illustrious pantheon was 1975’s DEATH RACE 2000, a film whose reputation for outrageous helpings of gore and graphic violence preceded it, a reputation filtered to my peers by their older brothers and sisters who’d claimed to have seen it. Since fifth grade all of us gorehound kids had been dying to see this miracle of a movie, a film that we had it on good authority showed people’s heads getting run over in closeup by bizarrely customized hot rods, gratuitously nekkid women, old people being wheeled into the middle of the street so they could be intentionally (and legally!) killed in televised vehicular manslaughter, a guy whose car hood was equipped with a gigantic buck knife that he used to drive up some poor bastard’s ass and so much bloodshed that spewing arterial geysers splashed onto the camera lens. If you were a ten-year-old boy, how the hell could you not want to see all of that, and in one movie no less?
Some five years later (Fall 1980) my friends and I began to gravitate to Norwalk’s legendary Sono Cinema and experience the start of our education in the cinema of exploitation, ultra-violent horror, foreign animated features, cult classics and even actual hardcore porno, all thanks to a mostly doped-up staff who didn’t give a fuck how old you were as long as you had the scratch for admission. Thus it was that we came to discover we’d been the victims of the Big Kids in that we’d eagerly believed every word they said about the content of DEATH RACE 2000. Sure, much of what they said was on display on the screen, but they’d neglected to tell us the most pertinent fact about the movie: it’s a comedy, and a damned funny comedy at that.
The first time we saw DEATH RACE 2000 all of us were greatly disappointed and felt completely gypped by the flick and by the fact that revenge could not be sought against the lying older siblings because they had long ago fucked off to college, married life, or drug dependency in Canada. But, to be fair, their perceptions of the film may have been more than a little tweaked by whatever excellent drugs they were on back in 1975, arguably the most stoned period that the USA had seen since the just-passed hippie era, so we decided to cut our barely-elders some slack. But, with repeated screenings during subsequent sci-fi double features, our hard feelings toward DEATH RACE 2000 did a complete one-eighty as we accepted it for the clever cross-bred violence-fest and ham-handed social satire that it was, featuring as it did two stars that we’d come to love just before and during puberty, namely David Carradine — hero to all “pacifists” who not-so-secretly desired to kick lots of ass and get away with like he did on KUNG FU — and a pre-ROCKY Sylvester Stallone.
David Carradine as Frankenstein. I would kill to see this guy race Max Rockatansky!
The film’s “plot” is little more than excuse upon which to hang ludicrous violence upon the social commentary that I guess was meant to legitimize the high octane mayhem in the eyes of the nation’s critics: In the year 2000, America’s favorite televised sporting event is the Transcontinental Road Race, in which contestants with professional wrestling-style flamboyant personas piloting equally ridiculous-looking vehicles from one side of the country to the other, livening up the proceedings by legally mowing down as many pedestrians as possible. The violence occasionally breaks for subplots involving a revolutionary force opposed to the race and a government that would allow such barbarity as a way to placate the bloodthirsty populace, and the rivalries between the racers, most notably the enmity between superstar cyborg racer Frankenstein (Carradine) and Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Stallone).
There’s a very minor romance angle that doesn’t really amount to much (who needs romance in a movie about a bunch of costumed maniacs mowing down innocent people?) and a so-called plot twist that the viewer will see coming a mile away, but taken as a whole the movie is a fun and cheesy exploitation comedy from Roger Corman’s New World days, directed by the late, great Paul Bartel of ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL and EATING RAOUL fame.
The film is also of note, in my book anyway, for what I rate as Stallone’s finest performance to date, turning in a rare asshole role that’s every bit as side-splitting as it is unctuous.
A pre-ROCKY Sylvester Stallone as Machine Gun Joe Viterbo: fuck OVER THE TOP, this is easily his greatest role.
Machine Gun Joe is genuinely hilarious, especially when he’s introduced at the film’s opening and during a bit where he asks a bystander for his opinion on whether he should allow a victim whom he has just savagely run over with his knife-mobile to live or have the job finished in his customary sociopathic style. If you’re a Stallone fan, you absolutely need to see this movie, if for no reason other than to see him play a gonzo Guinzo stereotype to the scenery-chewing hilt.
Machine Gun Joe's "knife-mobile." Yes, he really drives that blade right up a guy's ass at about 100 MPH. And it is wonderful.
And let us not forget the presence of one of my all-time favorite unfairly underrated actresses, the matchless Mary Woronov, also and alum of EATING RAOUL and ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (where she gained screen immortality as the dominatrix-like Miss Togar).
Here’s she Western-themed racer Calamity Jane, and her look plays right into my love of sexy broads in cowboy gear (I can’t explain it and I ain’t gonna try). Oh, yeah, baby...
But fun though the film is, it wouldn't have quite been pushed over the top without the fantastically obnoxious commentary from real-life DJ the Real Don Steele, playing pretty much the same character he plays in — you guessed it! — ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL and EATING RAOUL. He's got several great, hyperactive DJ rants about the race, but nothing beats or sets the tone like his introduction of Frankenstein:
Frankenstein! Frankenstein the legend, Frankenstein the indestructible! Sole survivor of the titanic pile-up of '95, only two-time winner of the Transcontinental Road Race... Frankenstein! Ripped up, wiped out, battered, shattered, creamed, and reamed... a dancer on the brink of death... Frankenstein, who lost a leg in '98, an arm in '99! With half a face and half a chest, and all the guts in the world, he's back!
Simply put, the shit's just plain funny and entertaining in that special way that budget-challenged seventies drive-in junk was, a quality that's as elusive these days as D-cups on a trout. TRUST YER BUNCHE and check out the old school before hitting the Jason Statham "reimagining."
The misleading Japanese poster that makes Stallone look like he's the star.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
In an attempt to wash the fetid taste of the sleep aid that is the current THOR from my mouth, I recently got my hands on the two collected volumes of the classic run from the late-1970's that somewhat successfully fused Jack Kirby's THE ETERNALS series with the rest of the Marvel Universe at large, stuff I hadn't read in nearly three decades but remembered fondly. Well, let me tell you that the memory is not always to be trusted, and if anything the Roy Thomas-scribed Eternals Saga is the polar opposite of the new stuff in that it's got far too much going on and is bolstered by art that's good but merely passable.
Volume one: proof that there can be such a thing as too much ass-whuppin'.
Spanning an annual and eighteen (!!!) monthly issues, The Eternals Saga can be summed up thusly: the Mighty Thor, during an idiotic self-imposed exile from Asgard, uncovers repressed memories of having encountered the Eternals, Kirby's CHARIOTS OF THE GODS?-inspired extraterrestrially-created pseudo gods, a millennia ago and becomes aware of the gigantic Celestials' intention to pass final judgment upon the Earth, all of which is somehow tied to clandestine machinations of his dad, Odin the All-Father (who, while not a bad guy, is by far Thor's most implacable foe). His quest for answers is filled with a literally dizzying number of guest stars, hero-versus-hero fights, Asgardian-versus-monster fights, Asgardian-versus-Celestial fights (although, to be fair, it isn't even a fight thanks to Thor being overmatched to a ludicrous degree), Asgardians-versus-Eternals-versus-Greek Pantheon fights, and even a brief sojourn into a super-powered version of Lucha Libre, and that's just volume one, for fuck's sake!
Volume two: in which we basically get to see Thor watch TV for 143 of 213 pages.
I actually got a headache reading the first volume, but the ante is upped in volume two when the story suddenly more or less forgets the impending threat of the Celestials until the final two chapters and instead ventures even further into the past, recounting the origins of the Asgardian gods, Thor's previous mortal incarnations as Siegmund (who, in a move common in world mythology, knocks up his twin sister, a surprising development for a Marvel Comics story, then or now) and Siegfried, as well as managing to work in THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG, all of which is imparted to Thor by his father's now-gigantic and somewhat malevolent plucked-out right eye (now imaginatively going by the name of "Eye"). Oh, and the long-wondered-about mystery of Thor's birth mother and his previously inexplicable bond to the Earth are answered as well, all of which adds up to perhaps the single most dense piece of Marvel Universe epic storytelling on record. Seriously, if anyone else out there has a candidate for a monthly Marvel story more vast in scope than this one, please write in to remind me of it.
The Eternals Saga is by no means bad, but it is a textbook case of why it's never a good idea to allow a writer to edit his own book; Roy Thomas both wrote and edited all save four issues of this run (the rest being penned by Ralf Macchio and Mark Gruenwald; I'd bet Roy was taken off the book) and it just goes on and on and on, all the while obviously crying out for some judicious pruning. This lack of editing is pretty forgivable in volume one, but once we get to the ancient history of the Norse gods the story could fairly be described as Thor hanging around watching a PBS documentary about his ancestors for nearly nine chapters. By my estimation this whole doorstop of a Thor story could have been told in eight or nine issues instead of over twice as many, and as I read it I realised I'd only read maybe three of four scattered installments when it came out, thus me having no clue at how goddamned long it was. As I said, it's not bad, but it's just so much stuff to process when you're looking for a diverting superhero yarn — including the sometimes three-page recaps of stuff I'd just read in the previous issue, for cryin' out loud! — that by less than halfway through volume two I only continued reading solely to find out how the bloody thing ended. There are many epic-length Marvel stories and I would happily read several of them over and over again, but I cannot say the same of The Eternals Saga. I'll keep it on my shelf for posterity, but if I need to immerse myself in long-assed Norse sagas I'll stick to Snorri Sturluson and THE PROSE EDDA, or THE SAGA OF THE VOLSUNGS.