Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Fright of the Living Dead"

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
The "Night of the Living Dead" FEAR Poster

FEAR that deadliest of all emotions clutching at your heart the... Night of the Living Dead.

Lack of punctuation aside, the skull-oriented "Fear" poster, with the focus on the fright factor, is one of the more unusual promotional efforts done for the movie. While most movies of the time were merely hyped as scary, not delivering on the full extent of the promise, "Night" was one that the posters and hype were unable to communicate the true horrors fully.

There's little that can be said about "Night" that hasn't been said already, and by better writers than me. What I can do is simply relate what it means to me, which is something unique to each person. If you haven't seen it yet, (is there anyone out there that hasn't?) then this post contains spoilers, and you might want to go watch it first then come back. It's required viewing for any horror fan.

While watching the movie again last night (I've lost count of how many times I've seen it), I was struck by how that poster described one scene in the movie particularly. If there was any character most affected by the terror, it was poor Barbara. Already skittish about being in the cemetery at the start, the teasing by her brother didn't help things. Then when the attacks begin, her fragile psyche began to fracture, the fear pounding at her mental defenses like the zombies pounding at the doors. As she takes refuge in the farmhouse, her mind also begins to take refuge in the deeper basement levels of shocked isolation. Unable to face the reality of the situation, she begins a rapid descent into a withdrawn catatonia and state of shock.

Actress Judith O'Dea portrayed a woman whose fear eats away at her before the living dead ever get a chance. We see her begin to fall apart as events beyond her understanding close in around her, going from hysterical denial to simply sitting and staring into space, disconnected from the situation and people around her. Only at the end, as she is grabbed by her reanimated brother and dragged out into the hungry crowd of dead clutching hands, does she seem to come to her senses and make an effort to fight back. Sadly, it is too late, as she is overcome and devoured alive.

I made this series of screen captures below to illustrate the emotional meltdown, from one short scene as Barbara relates to Ben how she and Johnny were attacked and her brother killed. The outburst ends with her unreasonable demand that they go find him, and when Ben tells her that her brother is dead, she slaps him. One quick jab by Ben to the jaw later, Barbara faints, overcome by the emotion, and retreats from reality for the rest of the film.

Although there is an impulse to laugh at the display and consider it overacting by Judith and histronics by Barbara, within the context of the film it plays as a pathetic and pitiable expression of terror too terrible to handle. It seems to indicate a psychological problem brought to the surface and exacerbated by the end of normalcy.

Now, that's Acting, folks! A whole movie's worth of emoting (possibly several), compressed into one short scene about a minute long. Under different circumstances she might have been given the "Shatner Award For Acting Excellence" statue. As it is, we are left hoping we never come to such an emotionally-devasting place where we fall apart in like manner. But if you do laugh at least once while watching it, I can't really blame you. Watching a nervous breakdown in progress is funny until it happens to someone you know.

Oh, and for a change of gears, from fear to fun, here is the next installment of strips from "Garfield In Disguise."

To be continued!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Boris the Friendly Skeleton

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
Boris the Friendly (and Educational) Skeleton

Todd and Elliot learn that, when you take away all the skin, muscles, tendons and organs, Boris was just like them. Only taller.

Skeletons get a bad rap, man. People see one walking -simply walking down the street, minding their own bony business- and they freak out. The screaming, the running, the chasing with torches... Oy! It's enough to make a skeleton hide all day in a closet and not venture out till the dead of night, to gather with friends in an out-of-the-way cemetery and dance till dawn.

But thanks to an effort by open-minded educators, the feared and derided skeleton is getting a new image, with a long overdue public relations facelift. Visiting schools and rubbing shoulders with kids across the country, Boris The Friendly Skeleton makes pals and works tirelessly to change the public perception of skeletons as scary creatures who leap out of dark corners just to frighten people.

Boris and a group of private school attendees have an informal chat about the beneficial effects on society of living/dead relationships.

It's true, that some of the blame for the stereotype must be laid at the metatarsals of many skulking skeletons who love to do just that, dragging guilty double-crossers and murderers down to a well-deserved early grave. But kind and innocent people have little to fear from revenging skeletons, and Boris is making the point wherever he goes. Of course, there was that unfortunate much-publicised incident where he did suddenly strangle a teacher's aide and feed her to the alligators during a field trip. But as he told the press later, "That woman had killed the wife of a fellow teacher she was having an affair with, and disposed of her remains by feeding them to the alligators she cared for on her moon-lighting job at the zoo. I had to act; it's a living skeleton mandate!" After the furor died down, few could argue with the justice in that; but some remain skeptical and worried about letting him around their children.

"See, kids? This skull is from a baby skeleton who was even younger than you when he died. And Boris here doesn't even mind that your hand is on his naked crotch. He has no organs!"

David Finklestein voiced his concern in a recent parent-teacher's meeting. "What if my kid steals a candy bar --heaven forbid-- and Boris suddenly decides to pour acid over his hands in ironic revenge?" Susan Jackson, a mother of two, spoke up. "And who knows what's in the brain of a skeleton... I suppose they have a brain, don't they? Anyway, what if he gets the urge and takes a bite out of my little Billy? It's just in their nature, they can't help it. You can take the skeleton out of a killer, but you can't take the killer out of the skeleton!"

Smiles all around as Boris shares a happy moment with his new little friends.

It was for such unreasoning prejudice that the "Friends of The Long Deceased" society hired Boris and sponsored his tour of public schools around the country. They also created a line of educational toys designed to rear a new generation that was free of skeletophobia. You can see below that they are successful in helping kids be fear-free toward our fleshless relatives.

Deron never knew that blowing into bones could be so much fun!

Little Leslie wants to be a forensic investigator when she grows up.

Teresa's curiosity overcame her parent's warnings that children shouldn't play with dead things.

Read all about it here:

Skeletons are our friends. We should support them, because they support us every day of our lives. And after all, there's a little bit of skeleton in all of us, isn't there?

Today's "Garfield In Disguise" strips:

More to come!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Star Trek's Bones

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
Star Trek's "Bones"

"I wonder why they imprisoned a med-school skeleton?"
It isn't October in a Star Trek Fan's home without a screening of "Catspaw," the Halloween-themed episode of the original series. I have fond memories of this one from when I saw it as a kid about 9 years old. It was close to Halloween when they showed it, and I thought it was one of the neatest shows I had seen.

Over the years, I collected a lot of newspaper and magazine clippings related to Star Trek. So, rather than let them continue to yellow all alone in the collection cabinet, I decided to use the blogging medium to share them with other fans who might find them interesting. And believe me, I have a lot to share, from the early 70's when I began snipping and clipping, on through the various incarnations of Trek through the years.

Yes, it's true: I used that picture of a Trek skeleton above to stealthily (yet shamelessly) justify cross-promoting my new (and fourth) foray into the wide, wide world of blogging. Once you start, you just can't stop! And since some of you here might be Trek fans as well, I wanted you to know about it.

And in case you need more of an incentive, I present:

Many a young red-blooded white boy felt their first desire for some cross-cultural relations right here.

This new blog will often reflect my 35-year-long healthy obsession with the Enterprise's diva, Nyota Uhura. Need I say more?

The intersteller coordinates are: Beam on in and visit there sometime soon!

While I'm plugging, check out my other blog Held Over! for a look at the original TV Guide ads for "The Star Wars Holiday Special."

Oh, and here's the promised next installment of my presentation of the strips from "Garfield In Disguise."

Stay tuned all during the Month of Hallowoctober for more!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Garfield In Disguise

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
"Garfield In Disguise"
(Click on images to enlarge.)

What, you may demand, is Garfield, of all things, doing on Sweet Skulls? Well you may ask... and the answer is, did you notice the skeletal pirate ghosts on the cover? Well, one prominent skull or skeleton is enough to qualify it for this blog, and these are certainly sweet, so there you go.

"Garfield's Halloween Adventure," originally titled "Garfield in Disguise," was the first Garfield TV holiday special, premiering in 1985. Now, if you are the dark 'n moody type who is too into blood, guts and nihilistic gloominess to enjoy a simple laugh (and they don't get much simpler), then you probably despise Garfield, and you might as well skip out now. I don't lo-o-o-ve him, but I'm amused enough by his holiday specials to watch them during the various seasons. The Halloween Special is my favorite, for obvious reasons. Every October, certain cartoons come off of the movie shelf for multiple viewings and this is one of them. I was one happy cat when it finally came out on DVD a few years back as part of the Garfield: Holiday Celebrations collection; I could finally put away my grainy SLP-recorded video where I taped it off TV over a decade ago. (I'll be blogging ever-so-eloquently on my other favorites during October over at Monster Memories.)

Now, I could post screen grabs from the program, and probably will as the month goes by. But since I have the book adaptation, the covers which are posted above, I thought I'd string them out over the next month leading up to Halloween, just for your slow and lingering enjoyment. They might be posted alone, or if the subject matter of a certain day is on something else, I'll post them at the bottom.

There's a lot I like about this special; the songs by Lou Rawls add an element of coolness to the fat cat's crooning, the background art is spooky, the gags funnier than most Garfield material, and it all culminates in the creepy haunted house where an old man relates the tale of the cursed treasure. When the pirate ghosts show up, it's everything you could wish for in a Halloween cartoon.

The book version differs in a few ways from the television version; First, it adds a scene with Garfield telling Odie a little bit about Halloween's history, and the book implies that the old man is himself a ghost, and their boat is merely pulled away by the current instead of stolen by the old man. And finally, an final sequence where Garfield uncharacteristically takes a ring from the treasure and is followed home by the pirate ghosts until he returns the ring.

What is this to the left? I know what it looks like... and yes, it's hidden very carefully in the comic strip below. See if you can spot it...

Oh, and in case you want to see the strips all together, when I post the last strip I'll collect them all on one page and link to it on the sidebar.

Here we go, as the morning of All Hallow's Eve breaks over the horizon. In the glow of the tv, we see the sleeping feline, who is blown out of bed by the viscerally-irritating Binky the Clown's AM show, and unthinkingly duped into a moment's activity...

Here we see Binky's first appearance in a Garfield strip. Grating from the very beginning!

Garfield's understandable desire to kill Binky is tempered by the mention of free candy.

To be continued!

All images from the book and TV special are copyright Jim Davis and United Features Syndicate, Inc.

Don't miss the post on "Monster Memories" from the 1974 "Nightmare" Yearbook of the comic story "Hag of the Blood Basket." It's an epic tale of horror!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Halloween II poster

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
The"Halloween II" poster
(Click on images to view full size.)

"How about if I carve you up this Halloween? How would you like that, huh?"

It's been noted by other bloggers better than I that Halloween is in the air, or at least in the aisles of the stores now. Decorations and candy are moving up toward the front from the back, and by the end of the month will have migrated to the main aisles. So, since October is such as short month, only having a scant 31 days in which to celebrate Halloween, I'm starting now on this blog (and on Monster Memories) in order to squeeze in as much as possible. And what better way then with a movie named for the holiday, which features one of the coolest posters ever? Combining a skull with a pumpkin was a great idea.

When we last saw Michael Myers in the classic film, he had been shot six times by Dr. Loomis (without so much as a "put your hands up!" warning) and taken a nasty tumble from the second-story balcony of the Wallace house where he had attacked Laurie Strode. But that hardly slowed him down, and within only a few seconds he had gotten up and vanished, to finish out the entire Halloween night in the sequel, "Halloween II."

The closing scene of the first movie described above was re-shot for the opening scene of the second, probably because there were subtle differences between the Shapes of the two films. It's somewhat humorous to note how obvious it is that the stuntman is backing up a ramp installed on the balcony as he is "shot," to better help him to fall straight back onto the airbag. And the outline of his body left in the grass is almost cartoon-like, to make sure the viewer gets the fact that he is no longer where he fell. The place where his body lay looks like a flat wooden cutout was pressed down on the grass and stepped on by five or six heavy men, to make such an even impression. Michaels' body would have had to have been perfectly flat on the bottom to leave such an imprint.

Lacking the atmospheric buildup of the first film, and Carpenter's direction, the second film directed by Rick Rosenthal is more workman-like and by-the-numbers. It's not as good as the original by any means, but I still watch it after the first one every October at least once or twice. The credits are cooler, the music gets some added themes, some gorier wince-inducing kills (the one with the naughty nurse in the hothothot tub was especially memorable) we learn that Laurie is Michael's sister, and that they trick-or-treated a lot later back then than they do now. It's not a bad follow-up at all, and notable in that it takes up directly after the first one without a moment lost between them. It really does continue the story and for that reason it's part of a whole. Now, I never cared for any of the later sequels, and felt them to be a cheat. Dr. Loomis got blowed up real good, and shows up again later with only a slight scarring on his face? Michael was reduced to a smoldering husk and then he's good again? I don't buy it. It ended with "II" as far as I'm concerned; it was made with the intention of concluding the story of Michael and Laurie and that's good enough for me.

However, all of Michael's toughness and ability to weather six bullets ("I shot him six times! I shot him six times!") and overall badness I attribute to the fact that he was wearing an altered Captain Kirk mask. Yes, The Face of the Almighty Shat imparted his powers and mere knitting needles, knives, coat hangers and bullets were no match for him. If only he had used those powers for good!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Inn Of The Damned" poster

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
The "Inn of the Damned" poster
(Click on image to view full size.)

"O-o-o-o-owtch! Dang, that sucker's sharp!"

As I mentioned on my other blog "Monster Memories," I'll be out of town for a few days. A short vacation, if you will. So, as I feverishly try to get several days worth of work ahead, I'm squeezing in a little post here just to present something new. The skull-faced killer on the pretty-neat artwork qualifies it for a guest appearance here on Sweet Skulls.

But I wonder... Inn of the Damned what? "Damned leaky roof?" "Damned lumpy mattress?" "Damned toilets that won't flush all the way, leaving bits of corn and paper swirling around in it?" "Inn of the Damned Ice-Machine That Doesn't Work?" The title is a bit vague.

I scanned in the video-release promotional sheet for this movie, sent to video stores back in 1984. I've never seen the movie, released in 1975, but the line "in the tradition of Hitchcock" basically clues you in that it's a rip-off of... er, "homage" to The Rotund One's classic film "Psycho." If you've seen it, tell me what you thought of it in the comments.

Have a good weekend, and I'll see ya, in a manner of speaking, next week when I get back!

Oh, yeah, lumber over and visit my equally-perfunctory (but more entertaining) blog entry for today over at "Monster Memories." It's a scan of an article in a 1975 issue of Monsters Of The Movies featuring an interview with Elsa Lanchester.

If you don't know who that is, go whip yourself for not being educated about the classic monster movies. And don't enjoy it, it's punishment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Legend Of Hell House

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
"The Legend of Hell House" poster
(Click for hi rez)

Synopsis: "A team consisting of a physicist, his wife, a young female psychic and the only survivor of the previous visit are sent to the notorious Hell House to prove or disprove survival after death. Previous visitors have either been killed or gone mad, and it is up to the team to survive a full week in isolation, and solve the mystery of the Hell House."

Once again, I am fooled by misleading poster art. Just FYI, there is no scene wherein a woman's bloody hand holds a miniature model of the Hell House, and there is certainly no giant skull with one green eye floating over it. And I waited the whole movie to see that scene! Skunked again.

Seriously, though, that's an awesomely iconic image that really sends a chill down one's spine. Since it's so well-remembered by the public, can you tell me why, oh, why the DVD cover designer turned up his or her nose at using it? And why they substituted a seemingly random screen-grab that (A.) not only tells you nothing of the film and does not make one want to see it, but (B.) is hard to even tell what it is.

Come on, people; use the famous poster art for the DVDs of horror movies like this and stop thinking you know better, 'cause you don't. Your college degree in art and design taught you nothing. Get your nose out of your Starbucks and realise that the movie poster artists of the past put you to shame, and then get over yourself and use their stuff.

On Christmas at Hell House, it's more likely a demon walking on the roof than Santa and his reindeer.

Anyway, the 1973 release by Academy pictures, starring Pamela Franklin and Roddy McDowell, does a good job of walking the tightrope between physical and psychological causes for the haunting versus the supernatural. The near-documentary feel of the film actually adds to the dread and fear, rather then detracting from it as one might suspect.

"How much are they paying us for this again?"

"I've got a bad feeling about this."

And although the events in the film take place over the Christmas holidays, this is not a film to put on in December to cheer one up, but rather at Halloween or days thereabout. The spirit of peace and goodwill usually prevelent during the holidays doesn't penetrate these walls to the slightest degree. The atmospheric photography really bring an aura of foreboding fear that few other haunted house movies can match, much less surpass.

Being perpetually fog-shrouded should have been warning enough.

"Of course I'm not gay, where did you ever hear that rumor? By the way, that is a simply horrid outfit you're sporting. Who dressed you, the dog?"

For a great review of the movie, check out the typically-insightful post at John Morehead's typically-insightful "Theofantastique" site. With stuff like that out there, I won't even embarrass myself with doing one.

"Oh, no... how did the FBI find out about my pirated film collection?"

In case the above reference leaves you stumped, here's the story. It's quite an interesting read! Makes you appreciate the availability and low prices of films for the individual now. Poor Roddy just lived at a bad time for movie collectors.

The cat knows something, but he ain't telling. Cats are notorious for not volunteering information, and for leaping on your back when you are least expecting it.

"I'm sensing something... Flicka? Is that you?"

Below are pictures of the actual location used for filming; Wykehurst Park, near the village of Bolney, East Sussex, in England. Not exactly a place to vacation to recover from depression.

Image source

Wikipedia entry:
Wykehurst Park is an elegant 130 room 150 year old mansion located near the village of Bolney, East Sussex, in England. The house came into prominence in the early seventies when the external shots of the house were used to film the horror film, "The Legend of Hell House," a psychological horror film, where the house lends its image to the horrifying nature of the story. It is a gothic mansion with turrets and arches and conical roofs, and many architectural devices to give it the appearance of a fairytale mansion from bygone days. The large black gates are fashioned in wrought iron. Alongside these gates, massive griffins with spread wings, perch on either side, and guard the entrance to the property which leads through a pebble drive to a grassed patio surrounding it, descending to a garden laid to lawn at the back. If you are able to get right up to the French windows you will just be able to view a grand, wide, polished wood staircase beginning the passage to the numerous rooms and accommodation upstairs.

Wykehurst Place, Bolney, West Sussex, England, UK

Also featured in "Hammer's House of Horrors" TV series, as well as other movies.
P.S. Don't forget to check out my other blog: "Monster Memories!" The latest post recalls those scary "Lost In Space" monsters.