Quarantime Podcast #2: In this episode I check in with the sweet, gore-geous Ms. Kelli Maroney to talk about her appearance on The Last Drive-In season premiere & see how she’s holding up during our continued El Lay Lockdown.
Live (ish) from Quarantine, I get to chat with Mr. Chris (Freaking!) Jericho, whom I’ve admired for years & who is guest ho-sting the Season 2 premiere of The Last Drive In! (*squeeee!*) We chat about ho-w we’re spending our Quarantime, & get a lil’ nerdy about ho-rror films...Break out the bubbly!
Another frank discussion with Joe Bob (aka my therapist 😉) about my ongoing struggles with BDD/Social Anxxxiety. It was recorded after a cocktail (or 8 ;) after our last live show, right before the Quarantine Era started. Warning: we might have kept it too real, but fuck it...it's the Apocalypse!
We, your corporeal ho-sts, are enamored with the ghostly. We find solace in spectral shades, even if they are beyond our comprehension. Phantoms and spirits do not adhere to the rigid rules of reality, so anything can happen once you introduce one to a story. And to those of us who worship the weird, that narrative freedom is sheer bliss. Ghosts cause chaos! Ghosts bring unmitigated madness! Ghosts turn eXXXistence upside down and inside out! In general, the unreality of spectres manifests in two ways: immediate cartoon anarchy that twists the world like a balloon sculpture (think "Beetlejuice" or 1977's "House") or subtle haunting that you won't fully process until everything goes completely batty (think "The Innocents," "Poltergeist," or "Paranormal Activity"). As ardent admirers of the abnormal, we love ghosts in just about any conteXXXt, whether they come with stylish bombastic or slowburn suspense. Ho-wever, in all our years of watching supernatural sin-ema, there is only one film that marries both styles with absolute grace: 1964's "Kwaidan."
Directed Masaki Kobayashi (a man primarily known for his neorealist "Human Condition" trilogy), "Kwaidan" is a Japanese anthology film based on Lafcadio Hearn's collections of Japanese folk tales, primarily "Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things." It was one of the first Japanese ho-rror movies to be widely screened outside of Asia, earning an Academy Award nomination. If you look to pop culture, you can see its influence in "Tales from the Darkside: The Movie," "Conan the Barbarian," and subsequent anthology pictures. "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" screenwriter Roger Ebert called it, "an assembly of ghost stories that is among the most beautiful films I've seen." And yet, with all that acclaim and influence, there isn't much chatter about it in the ho-rror community. "Ringu" and "Ju-On" (also based on Japanese folklore) are known and loved by most fright fans while "Kwaidan" remains in the grave. If you ask us, that's a crying shame! With all due respect to those two J-Ho-rror cl-Ass-Sicks, "Kwaidan" is simply among the greatest ghost films ever made.
To elaborate on our point about the two types of ghost films, the "cartoon anarchy" ones abandon any pretense about eXXXisting within the real world. In the 10 minutes before the supernatural invades, every facet of their realm is completely Looney Tunes. "Beetlejuice," for eXXXample, ostensibly begins on a note of normality, but the side characters are broadly wacky and the way the Maitlands die is pure Road Runner. We never think of this reality as our own because it arrives on the far side. From start to finish, they are cartoons. And it isn't long after the setup that we begin to see giant worms and gore gags. In the case of "subtle haunting," everything we initially encounter SEEMS normal, even mundane. The people are not raving lunatics, the house is cozy, and everything is just placid... until strange events start to occur. It's always small stuff first: objects in places they shouldn't be, mildly eccentric behavior from friends and family, malfunctioning appliances, and other trifles. As the film progresses, the weirdness builds and builds until reality dissipates entirely. The thing about "Kwaidan" is that it's not eXXXactly on either side; "Kwaidan" is the best of both.
"Kwaidan" is divorced from the familiar without being cartoonish. Artifice is emperor and few things appear as they do in nature... but there is something that feels more grounded than a "Beetlejuice" or a "House," even if it's bizarre in its own way. The pace is as deliberate as it is in "Poltergeist" or "The Innocents," eXXXcept everything is off-kilter from the get-go. In some segments, we see spectres in the first few minutes. The slowburn approach is applied in a world of fantasy; a world in which the sky itself has eyes. The colors are rich and vibrant, resembling a painting more than any place on earth. While we would still call this a ho-rror film, the look and feel of it is often more evocative of a fairytale than a spook story. And to add to that, the ghosts are not really evil: they are ethereal and beyond our grasp, but the conflicts are caused by the frailties of man. As the source material suggests, "Kwaidan" is more folkloric than the average ho-rror picture. There's an air of reverence here that's uncommon for a ho-rror picture, which adds gravity and credence to the phantasmagorical images.
There are four segments that make up "Kwaidan": "The Black Hair," "The Woman in the Snow," "Hoichi the Earless," and "In a Cup of Tea." Three of these are among the best fright-fantasy in cinema, one is... still pretty darn good. "The Black Hair" is perhaps the creepiest, with a morality play style that would be right at home in EC Comics. Without spoiling much, we recommend this tale to those with a taste for creepy cadavers and "Ring"-like spookery. Story the second, "The Woman in the Snow," is the least spine-chilling... but it also happens to be the best (and, oddly enough, the only one cut from the initial U.S. release), telling a grim fairytale that is more tragedy than ho-rror. With that said, the tit-ular phantom is beautifully haunting, as are the visuals. (It may even be the most beautiful segment in any anthology film.) The dead have their own poetry, and "The Woman in the Snow" captures that with lyrical splendour. "Hoichi the Earless" is probably the most famous chapter, definitely the longest, and certainly the most grisly (note the tit-le). The image of Hoichi playing his biwa for a court of spectral samurai is absolutely majestic. If "The Woman in the Snow" is the best, "Hoichi is a close second. "In a Cup of Tea" is last... and certainly least. Don't get us wrong, it certainly isn't bad (the ghost in the tea is a top-notch visual), but it doesn't really have an ending. While that was intentional and we admire the filmmakers for it, it's not particularly satisfying.
Weaker final segment aside (and, like we said, it's still pretty darn good), "Kwaidan" is an absolute masterpiece of ghostly cinema. Though its three-hour runtime might scare folks in the wrong way, we implore you to seek this one out. No matter ho-w you like your spectres, you're sure to find something here that'll haunt you. For a small taste, we have included the trailer. Check it out, Ho-rror Ho-mies!
There are two great forces that are inescapable: Death and stage musicals.
No matter ho-w strange, no matter ho-w unusual, every popular story will eventually yield an original cast recording. Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Dracula, Herbert West, Ash Williams, The Toxic Avenger, and Leatherface are only a few of the ghouls who have crooned for a crowd, and they certainly will not be the last. Face it, fear it, but accept it: all are destined for the stage. Sometimes this inevitability produces a "Phantom of the Opera;" sometimes it spawns a "Carrie: The Musical." You can never tell just where a monster musical will land on the scale, even if the source material itself is superb. "Little Shop of Horrors" inspired a 1986 film that has surpassed the 1960 original in admiration and acclaim; "Carrie: The Musical" inspired a book called "Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops." The Grim Spectre of Theatre must harvest stories, dear friends... damn the results!
In 2018, the Grim Spectre claimed another graveyard favorite: Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice." Now, of all the masters of the macabre, Burton's style is probably most suited for the stage, with its emphasis on artifice and the operatic. And "Beetlejuice: The Musical" was far from the first attempt to capture the spider-haired auteur's vision in a musical. Around the late nineties/early aughts, Jim "Bat Out of Hell" Steinman began work on a "Batman" musical based on Burton's two films. It was intended to have a darkly dramatic tone, with demos sounding like the inner thoughts of every 1990s goth. (You haven't lived until you've heard "Graveyard Shift.") While nothing ever came from it, Warner Bros. and Burton eXXXpressed interest in a Broadway version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to accompany the 2005 film. After the baffling, possibly Faustian success of 2010's "Alice in Wonderland," (It's one of the 50 highest-grossing films!) a Broadway show was in the works... but never found its way out of the rabbit hole.
While those attempts died, the show about death lived. Despite a troubled history and a few negative reviews from prominent critics, "Beetlejuice: The Musical" crept its way into the hearts of fans everywhere, selling out shows and dominating Tik Tok (whatever that is). Fans embraced it like no other show, flooding Tumblr and YouTube (whatever those are) with original videos, drawings, cartoons, and other such creations. It is the internet's champion of musical theater. And yet, even with our affinity for musicals and undying love of the Burton film, we approached BTM with considerable apprehension. "Beetlejuice" is a sacred work of art, much of same caliber as Van Gogh's The Starry Night or Weezer's "Africa." When someone tackles material of profound cultural significance (yes, we're still talking about "Beetlejuice"), we won't accept anything less than unmitigated eXXXcellence, dammit! Does "Beetlejuice" achieve such eXXXcellence or did it go to the prom with Carrie?
The most difficult thing about analyzing art based on previous art is processing change. Changes are inevitable when you adapt one form of media to another, and no great adaptation can be made without necessary changes. Still, when they are done to a story that you have adored for eons, it's sometimes hard to look at those changes objectively. In the case of "Beetlejuice: The Musical," a 93-minute movie that relies heavily on special effects had to be fashioned into a 2-hour stage production. In the musical, the Maitlands (protagonists of the film) are shoved into the periphery, Beetlejuice himself goes from a 16-minute antagonist to co-protagonist, the humor is amped up to 11, and Lydia Deetz goes from simply being a strange goth girl to a traumatized youth shaped by the loss of her mother. It's easy to dismiss a change for being unfamiliar, but we must stand back and ask, "Does this change effectively serve the story." After some initial trepidation, we found that the deviations to the source material... were for the absolute best.
Without trick photography and the power of film on their side, the minds behind "Beetlejuice: The Musical" had to dazzle the audience with more than just Tim Burton's magic tricks. In making Beetlejuice a constant presence, the show successfully substitutes some of the filmic fantasy for anarchic humor. Beetlejuice was always a gangrenous Groucho, but his wisecracks and spook gags support the show to a far greater eXXXtent. With the increase in irreverent humor, there is also a surprise influXXX of heart. Though we absolutely adore Lydia Deetz as the weird-just-because teenager, giving her that personal tragedy endows her with humanity and... dare we say... pathos? This version of Lydia is fiendishly clever, delightfully dark, and sensationally sarcastic, but she feels like a real teenager, which is perfect for the drama. Beetlejuice himself is far more sympathetic, being more a waggish outcast than a fiendish villain. Our favorite scenes in the musical are the ones in which the two misfits bond and participate in that most noble of arts: scaring.
"Beetlejuice: The Musical" may not have the same bag of tricks as the movie, but its illusions are nothing to sneeze at. Puppets, literal magic tricks, otherworldly lighting, and eXXXpressionistic sets are employed to give the Ghost with the Most his ghoulish groove. We only watched a bootleg of the show (Sorry, Theater Gods), yet we were still blown away by the sheer spectacle of it. We tried to pick our favorite setpiece, but there's just TOO much to choose from: a familiar sandworm slithers onstage, a disembodied set of face and hands terrorize the living, a roasted pig sings a tune, limbs are ripped off, and that's not even half of it! Even if you hate musicals, you'll surely find something frightful to enjoy. And if you love musicals, the songs are fairly groovy. For a show about death, the music is mostly vibrant and jubilant, with the eXXXception of a few somber ballads. Our favorites are "The Whole 'Being Dead' Thing," "Dead Mom," "Say My Name," "That Beautiful Sound," and the cheerfully inappropriate "Creepy Old Guy."
As of now, there is no official release of the musical, but there is a bootleg available. With things the way they are, theater has taken an intermission, so watching a recording is really the only way to eXXXperience the stage in May of 2020. Ho-wever, "Beetlejuice: The Musical" is set to begin its national tour in Fall of 2021, and we highly recommend that you see the show when it arrives in your city. It's the sort of spectre spectacle that demands to be seen live(?), especially by lovers of the bizarre.
We couldn't find "Beetlejuice: The Musical" on YouTube, so enjoy this lovely slime tutorial instead:
Mario Bava once remarked, "Movies are a magician's forge, they allow you to build a story with your hands." And through his own works, Bava emphatically proved that point. Bava was essentially a gun-for-hire, wandering from one popular B-movie genre to another. However, Bava was not a mere gun-for-hire: he was also the sorcerer supreme of the silver screen. With meager budgets and well-worn tropes, Master Mario made magic. A Bava picture was bathed in supernatural hues, appearing more like a golden age ho-rror comic than a fright feature of the time. He was the Wizard of Odd! The painterly prestidigitator of putrid pulp pictures! He utilized literal smoke and mirrors to create worlds beyond comprehension... and his low budgets. Bava's films looked like a million bucks on pocket change. Imagination and cinematic sleight-of-hand triumphed over questionable material and a lack of funds. For a demonstration of Bava's legendary legerdemain, you simply can't go wrong with "Hercules in the Haunted World!"
In the Sinister Sixties, peplum (sword-and-sandal epics) dominated the Italian film industry. Many of Italy's greatest directors worked on pepla before their star rose, including Sergio Leone (the man who would kill the genre with his fast-shootin' westerns) and our audacious auteur, Mario Bava. Leone's "The Colossus of Rhodes" is good times, but just about any semi-competent filmmaker could've helmed it; you'll find none of his signature closeups or Morricone music in that one. Conversely, only Mario Bava is more Mario Bava than "Hercules in the Haunted World." The entire film is a showcase of his peculiar vision, even if the story is standard peplum fare. Most peplum purveyors emphasized muscles and strongman feats; Bava's eye was on the uncanny.
Creatures and fantasy were always a feature in pepla, but our master magician pushed them into the spotlight. There are a few instances of beat-'em-up action, yet Bava seems to have little interest in stunts. His devotion is pledged to the phantasmagorical; the boschian ho-rrors that lurk within the hereafter. Sleeves rolled and top hat on, Bava conjures unearthly colors that can only eXXXist within cinema's grand illusion. His "haunted world" is as gorgeous as it is horrid, completely divorced from the sunlit realm of the real. And according to some reports, this film was made for a paltry sum far smaller than the average peplum. Bava employed superimposition, miniatures, mirrors, color gels, and other magic tricks to make the flaws disappear. In one notable eXXXample of Bava's ingenuity, a few columns reflected against mirrors created the impression of more.
The story is slight, but that really isn't detrimental to "Hercules in the Haunted World." After all, film is a visual medium and "Haunted World" takes full advantage of that. What it lacks in plot coherence, it makes up for in gruesome corpse creatures, hideous rock men, and otherworldly spectacle. Plus, it has Christopher Lee as a potential vampire, which automatically makes this a must-see. This is a film for the heart and eyes... not the mind; for the young and young-at-heart, for those with a taste for the absurd and adventurous. It's a pulp opera... so much so that it was turned into an actual opera a few years ago!
Reg Park was not a great actor. He couldn't play Hamlet or Willy Loman; he probably didn't have the depth to play the Mummy. Reg Park was not a great actor... but, as far as I'm concerned, he was Hercules. A three-time Mr. Universe winner, Reg Park looked like a hero; a real two-fisted fellow who could wrestle a real-life cyclops and win. Park leapt straight from a comic book for the sole purpose of playing Hercules. In a film as driven by emotion and fancy such as this one, there was simply no one better suited for the strongman legend than the brawny Mr. Park; a man who evokes a mythic warrior just by walking. Just ho-w impressive was Park? Well, he was the mentor and inspiration to Arnold Schwarzenegger!
Here it is! For your amusement and education, we present the sensational spell that is... "Hercules in the Haunted World!"
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If you'd like to vote on what movies you'd like us to show on The Last Drive In, I've made 2 Ranker lists so Mr. JB can see what we REALLY want him to show neXXXt season! :)
Upcoming Appearances (Updated on the reg, so check back often! :)
Until further notice all live events are cancelled due to the Corona outbreak. :(
This is the vid I put together of a bunch of the Mutant Fam singing The Last Drive-In theme together from quarantine...Thank you so much to everyone who participated!! (And apologies, again, for not being able to fit everyone in...Look out for the exxxtended remixxx coming soon(ish ;)!! xoxo
Our live stream of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter from March 13,2020...Joe Bob does the Dead Fuck Dance!! :)
Big thanks to the fine folks at MasiMedia who got this shindig together, and also to Mr. Roger Jackson (pictured intro-ing a screening of the film in Stu's backyard!! :) who not only came out to party with us, but-t also left me this terrifying vm that I will treasure for the neXXXt billion centuries!! :) xoxo
My Interview with Clint Freakin' Howard!!!
(nude Clint Howard and snow globes...need I say more?)
High History: Why I love Scream so much!
Starring Diana Prince/Darcy the Mail Girl