Sunday, October 28, 2012

Jack #1


Obviously, I'm not posting as much as I'd hoped to. I don't even have time to carve some proper jack-o-lanterns. Anyway, here's my 1 of 3 this year year. Old school.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Boris Karloff's Thriller: The Hungry Glass


William Shatner's pre-Star Trek work doesn't get as much attention, obviously, but the Shat made a staggering number of television appearances leading up to his career-defining role of James T. Kirk, in a wide variety of shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 77 Sunset Strip, The Man from Uncle, Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone and Boris Karloff's Thriller. The casual Shatner fan is probably aware of the classic Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 feet, about a man with a little "problem" who no one will believe (even his wife) when he witnesses a monster on the wing of the jetliner they are all passengers on. One of my favorite episodes of the Twilight Zone, Nick of Time, has Shatner under the thrall of a fortune-vending napkin dispenser in a a small-town diner. In both episodes, Shatner's character is suggested to have some nebulous sort of mental issue and has a doting wife to help restrain his destructive self. For a time, apparently, Shatner endured being typecast as this edgy, bewildered emo-type, mothered by a stereotypical, staid television spouse.


Shatner's character in The Hungry Glass, Gil Thrasher, falls roughly into this category: a Korean-war veteran with PTSD (and possible junkie--it's left a bit vague) who moves into a creepy seaside cliff-house with his alluring young wife. Though here, at least, the Shatner wife (played by Hungry Glass director Douglass Heyes' wife Joanna Heyes) is played with a little more dimension. It's intimated that Marcia Thrasher has a flaw of her own--a benevolent sort of vanity, the love of her own image--which conveniently plays into the central theme of The Hungry Glass. But this isn't posed very convincingly. She doesn't come across as particularly vain, we're just supposed to trust a clumsy charicterization. Her real flaw is in not being able to reassure her tormented husband with much conviction. Weariness is evident in her eyes as Gil begins to lose his grip on himself. She starts to come around to his way of thinking before it's over.


Unfortunately, an excess of the dialogue in The Hungry Glass is composed of other characters trying to reassure Shatner (or each other) that his new house isn't really haunted, while simultaneously trying to assure him that he isn't just going nuts. Not that this somewhat tiresome exposition prevents The Hungry Glass from being a classic Thriller episode. It just pads out the story, which is a bit sleight for an hour-long slot. Basically, the house was once inhabited by an extremely beautiful but vain woman (Donna Douglas--Elly May Clampett in the Beverly Hillbillies) who grew into an old hag enraptured with the sight of her own image in her gallery of mirrors, and finally died by crashing through one in her ardent self-admiration. Over the years, numerous people mysteriously died from broken glass at the house and naturally the locals think it's haunted. An old geezer cryptically mentions the house has no mirrors in it, setting the story to unfold. The story is traditional and the setting atmospheric. The scene where the wife finds the lost mirrors in the attic is especially effective. The ghosts are sufficiently spooky, given the low budget, and the climax is actually kind of shocking.


William Shatner's performance is just fine, by the way. The plot certainly gives him plenty of opportunity to stretch his acting legs. Gil Thrasher is alternately brooding and severe but Shatner makes him likable, if not likely. The Shat went on to star in another Thriller episode, The Grim Reaper, which is frequently touted as the greatest episode of Thriller's brief two-season run.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Thing from the Backyard


Dear Jill and Jackie: 

         Sorry for sneaking up on you wearing my Halloween mask while you were digging up night-crawlers that one evening when we were 11-ish.

     Love, 
               Steve

P.S.: Ya gotta admit--that was Epic!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Countdown to Halloween, won't you?


Greetings! Come right in and have a seat. Permit me to take your shawl for you so I can admire your lovely neck. Blah! Err....Forgive the absence of my Halloween Countdown. She is in the other room getting ready.


It is a bit chilly in here, no? I will put another log on the fire for us. I like to keep it cool in here, ordinarily. Heat promotes decomposition, you know. And fire can be so dangerous. Yet danger can be most stimulating! Wouldn't you agree? But, of course! That is why you are here.


While you are waiting, feel free to peruse my modest library of books. I apologize for their musty appearance, it is the maid's century off. Personally, I rarely find the time to read them, anymore. Everything is the internights and the blahgosfear and Fiercebook and hexting. The children of the night don't even bother to howl anymore, they just send hexts back and forth. But I see I am boring you....

Seriously, I don't like that look in your eyes. You weren't thinking of escape, were you? Not now that I have you in my eternal clutches?


NO! DO NOT RUN AWAY! 

Seriously, stick around. There is more scary fun to come. Happy Countdown to Halloween 2012!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Great Drone Wave




In 1887, a story by famed French science fiction pioneer Jules Verne, titled "Robur the Conqueror" was released in English. The story concerned a wave of sightings of mysterious lights in the night sky and similar phenomenon, which turns out to be the work of aviator Robur and his extraordinary airship called the Albatross. In 1897, with the concept of dirigibles and manned flight burgeoning in the popular imagination, thanks to Verne's story, scores of people began reporting sightings of strange lights, dirigibles and all manner of flying contraptions in the skies over America. This was known as the Great Airship Flap.




Fifty years later, in 1947, pilot Kenneth Arnold made the first sighting of UFOs over Mount Rainier in Wahington state and coined the term "flying saucer" to describe these mysterious flying discs. Hollywood took up this idea of mankind encountering alien visitors, in films such as The Man from Planet X, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing from Another World. Thus was inspired the first of the UFO Waves, as reports of daylight discs, nocturnal lights and similar ariel anomalies flooded switchboards and newspaper stories nationwide and around the civilized world. Though chiefly presumed to be aircraft of extraterrestrial origin, it's interesting that these early UFO sightings seem to coincide with the development and proliferation of the first jet aircraft.



Today in Denver, Colorado, air-traffic picked up an unidentified object which was endangering the flight paths of commercial aircraft. The identity of the flying object is still in question but it's believed to have been an errant law-enforcement drone. And so the latest arial technology once again gives rise to controversy and wonder. Welcome, my friends, to the official start of the Great Drone Wave.




Keep watching the skies!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Boris Karloff's Thriller: The Cheaters


In 1960, fans of horror got their own television show with the hour-long anthology series Boris Karloff's Thriller, hosted, appropriately, by the venerable bogeyman himself and produced by classic horror empire Universal Studios. Unfortunately, the show's producers were so keen to compete with the Alfred Hitchcock Hour, featuring mostly crime stories with a dark climactic twist, that the first 14 episodes of the show were listless imitations of Hitchcock's long-running television franchise--lacking even a hint of supernatural mayhem. It soon became apparent that audiences didn't want a show hosted by Boris Karloff to be just another hour of Hitchcockian storylines, and Universal was finally pressured to retool the show to feature stories of gothic horror, starting with episode #15 The Cheaters.


A story by Psycho author Robert Bloch, The Cheaters concerns a pair of old-fashioned spectacles with very special yellow-tinted lenses that allow the wearer to see "the truth" around them, and the strange tragic circumstances that invariably ensue. The story opens as the reclusive 19-th century inventor of the titular glasses, Dirk Vann Prin (played by Thriller regular Henry Daniell) puts them on for the first time--to his immediate regret. From there, the story continues to the present-day where junk-man Joe Henshaw (Paul Newlan, another Thriller regular) finds the Cheaters while cleaning out the ancient ruins of the Vann Prin house. When he puts on the glasses he finds that they clear up his vision in more ways than one, as the grim designs of his harpy wife (Linda Watkins) and young hired hand (Ed Nelson) are laid bare. The glasses change hands three more times in The Cheaters, until finally a scoundrel intellectual (Harry Townes), thinking he's unlocked the true purpose of the Cheaters, uses the deadly specs to view his own image in the mirror. What follows is a scene regarded by some as the scariest moment in 1960's network television--a category in which the show Thriller appears prominently.


As you might have guessed, the best part of The Cheaters are the moments where it's hapless owners are gazing through it's glass. The Cheaters effect is pulled off through a simple change in lighting and a voice-over to represent the inner dialogue of the viewed subject, but this works quite effectively. The performances of all involved are excellent, as well, and the story is taut enough to sustain interest until the terrifying conclusion at the wonderfully gloomy Vann Prin house. Thriller benefitted greatly by Universal's flair for spooky sets and horror lighting, as well as the vast pool of acting and writing talent it could draw on. Few of the Thriller episodes that followed are at the level of The Cheaters in overall execution, and sadly it only ran for two seasons, but there are enough memorable episodes to testify to it's untapped potential. 9/10

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Watercolor, Traditional vs Digital

I decided to tackle an old unfinished watercolor, this time in the program ArtRage, which is second perhaps only to Corel Paint for simulating traditional mediums like pencil, oil and watercolor.  Below is my original unfinished work (from Night of the Living Dead) which was rendered in watercolor and pen+ink and black pencil. I was unsatisfied with the blue-green color mixture that I had chosen to paint it with and so I elected to stop and scan the painting into Photoshop to tweak the colors and levels until I got this vivid mix of blood red and magenta. That made me want to repaint it properly in the new colors but I never got around to it until now.


Working in real watercolor can be challenging, to say the least. There are no editable layers and no undo button and less latitude to correct inevitable errors even compared to lots of other traditional media. On the other hand, this environment of unpredictability breeds a lot of happy accidents resulting in unique effects. So these very same errors are part of the allure of watercolor in the first place. Only in recent years have the tools to digitally replicate this interesting tactile randomness been available in programs like Paint and ArtRage. Okay, so here's my attempt to redo the painting in ArtRage:


Again, this is unfinished and the colors and levels were tweaked in Photoshop. Obviously there are a great many distinct differences between the two paintings. For me this was just sort of proof-of-concept tinkering, anyway. I know that if I were determined to, I could come a lot closer to replicating the traditional watercolor painting, which I only referenced toward the end of the repainting. If I go forward with this repainting, I might even choose completely different colors. But I think I'll move on....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Part 7


The last handful of Night Gallery's Season 2 episodes boast some of the show's most atmospheric, and chilling, segments, the embarrassing "comedy blackouts" having at long last seemingly fallen out of favor.


In Deliveries in the Rear (2.19.1), Cornell Wilde (Gargoyles) plays an ambitious anatomist at a 19th century medical school who endeavors to have the freshest subjects for his anatomy classes, without regard for the means used to acquire them (namely, via a pair of murderous goons). This segment is well done and generally recommended but, obviously inspired by the true life horrors of the Burke and Hare murders (with all names changed), it rates low among the various incarnations of that story, particularly 1957's The Flesh and the Fiends.

Wilde's Dr. Fletcher is rather open about the probable methods employed to secure his morbid materials and seems keen to provoke the moral indignation of his peers, such that there's little pity for him when he is finally undone by his hippocratic hypocrisy. The story is seen mostly through his limited point of view and exists only to set up the climactic twist. That expediency may work for such a condensed telling of the Burke and Hare saga, but that means a lot of what makes the source material so interesting--medical ethics, class issues, angry mobs and the substance of Burke and Hare themselves--goes unexploited. (6.5/10)


I'll Never Leave You--Ever (2.20.1) is the fog-enshrouded fable of an unfaithful woman (the late lovely Lois Nettleson, who starred in one of my favorite Twilight Zones--The Midnight Sun) whose farmer husband (Royal Dano of Killer Klowns from Outer Space) is slowly wasting away from some icky mystery illness. Repelled by her husbands deathly touch, the desperate housewife consults the local bruja for a way swiftly snuff her sicko husband and free her to be with her lothario boyfriend John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street). The witch carves the wife a wooden voodoo doll in the likeness of her harrowing husband for her to take home and dispose of at will. Unfortunately, the accursed totem's destruction turns out to be other than the tidy solution that she had hoped for.

This is a great, simple and atmospheric segment, reminiscent of E.C. If it has a flaw for me it's that it's rather too easy to sympathize with the supposed femme fatale and her unenviable situation, living with a croaking corpse on a barren, eternally-benighted farm. Aside from the great cast forementioned, I was delighted to see that the horrible old hag was played by Peggy Webber (still alive!) who herself did a turn as a hapless housewife in 1958's beloved MST3K-riffed schlock film The Screaming Skull. (7/10)


The Lovecraft-tinged There Aren't Any More McBanes (2.20.2) plays like a Night Stalker episode without Carl Kolchack to come to the rescue. In it, professional student of witchcraft and all-around slacker Joel Grey turns to the recently-redicovered magical tome of an infamous family warlock to prevent his rich uncle from cutting off his inheritance. Reciting the incantations from this necronomicon, he unleashes a dark force beyond his control and discovers why the book had been lost in the first place.

There's nothing too unexpected in this segment but it satisfies my fetish for funky 70's television that's set in the 70's. Even the special effects are kind of psychedelic. All I can add is that Joel Grey is not a handsome man. I'm just saying. (7/10)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

We Country Children

My mother died nine years ago in July. I recently cleared her room out and got to looking at some of the old pictures from her side of the family. They were sufficiently intriguing for me to start a new tumblr to exhibit the best of them. I chose a title for the blog from this first image, a postcard of the children (or daughter and son-in-law—I’m not exactly sure since I don’t know anything about them) of D.S Hoffman, General Physician of Lake City, Colorado at the turn of the century.