Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

Now... what movie?

For bonus points, name the actor and the year of this release...

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Frankenstein: The Series

As a result of my new "money saving" lifestyle choices, I've been watching a great deal of films, both from the library and through my new Netflix account, which has been working out rather well for me. You might be shocked to realize the sheer volume of movie-watching I've been consuming, but it's been good to relapse into this mode of late - it's proven to be an inspiring reminder of some of the simple things in life that give me pleasure. It's also given me a chance to "catch up" on some key films, some classics, some of those "must-see" works that have haunted me for years. At long last, one such series of classics has now been processed: the original Frankenstein series.

The mere mention of "Frankenstein" immediately evokes the image of Boris Karloff's immortal performance as "the monster" from these early horror films of the '30s. In fact, one source of frustration for many horror cinephiles is the common thought that "Frankenstein" and "The Monster" are one and the same, but, of course, we all know that Frankenstein is the mad scientist, The Monster is his creation. Make sure your references are correct!

Now, as I see it, the original series has four films to it before the spin-offs used the Frankenstein namesake to boost profits. These four films are, in order, Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1936), The Son of Frankenstein (1939), and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1941). The first two films feature actor Colin Clive in the Frankenstein role, with his classic "It's Alive!" mania proving to be his life's work (he died shortly after the 2nd Frankenstein film). Karloff, undoubtedly the quintessential "Monster," played the role in the first three Frankenstein films. It is indeed a classic performance, bringing pathos and compassion to what could easily have been (and what later became) standardized monster lurching and grunting. Lon Chaney Jr. took over the role in the fourth ("The Ghost...") film.

The first Frankenstein film has a dry creepiness to it, but otherwise plays as a very dated period piece. The film opens with a prologue from one of the actors (who later dies in the film) warning the audience, "I thing it will thrill you, it may shock you, it might even horrify you, so if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is the time to... well, we warned you!" Nearly, the entire film is shot on sound stages, so even the exteriors in the cemetary and along the countryside (with few exceptions) feel otherworldly at best, stagey at worst. When the monster escapes from the castle, we get the classic scene of him throwing a little girl into the lake whom he thinks will float like a flower. Apparently, the scene of him throwing the girl as well as the scene of Dr. Frankenstein proclaiming, "In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God!" were cut from subsequent releases (they are now restored). The film ends with the Frankenstein monster trapped atop a windmill as the townsfolk enact their vengeance and light the structure aflame.

The Bride of Frankenstein begins, more or less, right where the first one left off (just like Halloween 2!). But with some rethinking of the predecessor's climax, there is a cavern full of water below the windmill which saves the monster and allows him to wreak havoc on the countryside once again. Bride probably has the most bang for its buck, including miniature people placed inside bottles, the blind hermit who teaches the monster to talk (i.e., "drink! good!"), the flaming Dr. Praetorious and, of course, the hot-as-hell Elsa Lanchester in a double role as Mary Shelly and then later as the Bride herself. This one has a little bit more humor in it - a self-awareness to it in addition to taking itself seriously. The art direction is extraordinary and the music is memorable as well. Plus, you have to love a film that depends on the old "Don't pull that lever or we'll all be blown to smithereens!" to finish things up in a tidy apocalypse.

You could stop at these two and be in good shape ("First two! Good!"), but if you're an occasional completist like me, then we must continue onto "The Son of Frankenstein." Now Bela Lugosi enters the mix as the disturbed hunchback Igor and Basil Rathbone (better known as Sherlock Holmes) as the reluctant son whose inheritence bears a curse of the monster. Turns out, that Igor's been keeping the monster in the castle crypt for his own personal reasons ("He... does things for me..." Igor explains, rather ominously). Just what kind of things is Igor referring to? His tone nearly suggests something sexual, but that's probably my own perverse projections, because what in fact he does mean is that he's using the monster to kill off the villagers who had tried to hang him some years before. One can't help but feel a smidgeon of sympathy towards Igor, but all evil is punished and so Igor gets shot by the young Dr. Frankestein and the monster himself falls into a pit of hot lava within the labratory.

Now, after having been burned in a windmill, blown up in a castle and dropped in a pit of molten lava, you might think the monster had to retire from the Frankenstein business. Well, turns out that Boris Karloff retired from the series at this point and went on to star in several films with considerably less make-up. Lon Chaney Jr. took over the monster roll in the fourth (and for our purposes, final) film of the series... The Ghost of Frankenstein (or aka The Brother of The Son of Frankenstein or The Adventures of Frankenstein's Other Son). Turns out, that not only can Igor survive a good hanging by the neck, but he can survive taking 5 shots to the chest! The film begins with Igor digging the monster out of the dried lava rock and guiding him through the hills (the monster, while not completely dead, is quite weak). A storm begins and the monster is struck by a lightning bolt which revives his body to its former strength... a gimmick used in films countless since. Igor takes The Monster to Frankenstein's second son in a neighboring village and blackmails him into giving the monster a non-violent brain. But while Second Son of Frankenstein laments this issue, Igor talks his assistant into using his own brain. So the operation is a success, and then the Frankenstein monster shouts some lines using Bela Lugosi's voice and the labratory is destroyed. Did I mention that Frankenstein's second son managed to save his daughter first and get away in the nick of time? Well, it doesn't matter anyway... i was all frankensteined out.

After the fourth film, Universal started pairing The Monster up with other monsters, starting first with the Wolf Man in "Frankenstein vs. The Wolf Man." I believe that this was the first "vs." movie of its kind. And also of note is the fact that Bela Lugosi finally took on the role of the monster himself. Since this was a success for Universal, they pulled out all the stops on "House of Frankenstein" which featured Dracula, The Wolf Man, and The Monster (the trailer also boasted two additional "monsters" in the characters of "The Hunchback!" and "The Mad Scientist!") Karloff returned to play Dr. Neimann, who is the Frankenstein substitute in this round, but otherwise the film is pretty insufferablly dull and by-the-numbers. The next appearance by The Monster was in "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" which obviously spoofed the entire genre and took it full circle before being reborn in countless remakes and/or rip-offs.

In the end, I would recommend the first two Frankenstein films as required viewing for any horror film afficianado. Anything beyond that, and you can pretty much guess what you're in for...

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Bolliver T. Slobberguts, R.I.P.


The cat with no shortage of attitude or angry claws has expired, or rather, has been expired. His end was rather sudden and somewhat anticlimactic considering how much physical pain he'd unleashed over the years, but all the same he'll be remembered and missed as the SOB that he was.

Bolliver was an asshole - a little shit, no doubt - one of the most cantankerous and unruly beasts ever to grace the form of feline that I've had the mixed pleasure of knowing. He was prone to sudden and extreme acts of unprovoked violence, though on occasion the violence was quite mutual (hey! it was self-defense!) Always ornery and rarely affectionate, you were much more likely to get injured by Bolliver then you were to have a sweet moment of safe cuddling. But as assholes go, he was a handsome asshole, and so it was very difficult for me to ignore him completely, though it almost invariably backfire in some horrible cry of pain and bloodshed. Nevertheless, Bolliver provided some good stories and a few decent pictures.

Bolliver was discovered in Kokomo, IN by my mother and her niece (my cousin), Heidi while on a walk through the neighborhood near my grandmother's home. A loud meowing was issuing from an abandoned house, and when my mother and Heidi approached, they found Bolliver trapped in a windowsill between a glass window and the screen, crying out for help. A thin and gangly kitten, they saved him from this bleak situation and my mom took him home to Mt. Prospect. Soon enough, the trouble began.

Even as an adorable kitten, he was quite ready to use his claws in a way that was a tad more malevolent than a kitty-cat normally does. It was more than just playing rough, Bolliver was quite ready, willing and able to show that he could inflict damage at will to those that disturbed him. At age 1 (or whatever his age was post house-abandonment) my mom already felt like he was a bit too difficult to keep at home. So when I announced that I was moving into a loft in downtown Chicago, she readily handed him off to me for adoption.

Life at the loft could be a book in and of itself: the chaos, the back-stabbing, the drug-induced laughs and the literal catfights. Bolliver was one of four cats that were being cared for at the loft but there was no doubt that he was the one that ruled the roost. But aside from kicking much feline ass in the name of claiming himself king of the castle, he was always ready to inflict damage on the human tenants therein either. The owner of the loft, D, always hated Bolliver because he would occasionally get at his toddler son, Cassidy, who didn't know any better and would try pick him up only to be in tears seconds later. One night, after everyone had drifted off to a drunken sleep, D went to the bathroom and sat down on the can to relieve himself. Without any warning or provocation, Bolliver leaped onto D's bare back from atop the wall (we didn't have enough dry-wall to build up to the ceilings) and dug his nails right in. D grabbed Bolliver and threw him over the opposite wall, cussing something horrible, and Bolliver strutted away, unphased, probably even a little satisfied with a job well done.

But the most spectacular relationship that Bolliver cultivated was that with Bowls MacLean. Bowls also had a cat living at the loft (Big Daddy, who, unlike his name, was neither big nor very authoritative). Pretty much from the word go, Bolliver and Bowls hated each other, or at least Bolliver hated Bowls and Bowls reacted accordingly. One golden moment was the day Bowls was provoking Bolliver from behind a curtain in the loft's "living room" area (in this case, lack of drywall forced us to use blankets in lieu of walls). Bowls was poking at Bolliver with the remote for the TV, when suddenly, two razor-sharp claws emerged from behind the curtains and dug into Bowls' hands, drawing blood and more than a mild scream from my hapless friend.

After Bolliver and I left the loft and returned to live in Mt. Prospect with my brother, Chuck, Bowls would come over to visit and even still would invariably stir up hatred in Bolliver without even approaching him. Bolliver would even go so far as to stalk Bowls and hide behind doorways to attack his feet when he'd walk by. Bowls later confided in me that he would occasionally have anxiety dreams in which Bolliver had grown into bobcat proportions and would be enclosed with him in tight quarters.

But for all his anger and eagerness to behave violently, he took to domestication in the suburbs very happily. He liked being the master of his own domain, and my brother and I pretty much did his bidding as he wished. He had a brief stint as an outdoor cat, which I'm quite sure he loved as much as the birds and squirrels and other animals he tormented grew to hate. And in spite of his vindictive swipes at humanity at large, Bolliver was a handsome creature who took pride in his personal hygene and was quite soft to the touch. He became somewhat complacent, though no less arrogant or cocky, and his muscle slowly turned to flab. Eventually, I moved out of the townhouse and he became my brother's cat, which was fine since he got along with him with less hostility than I did. And when my brother moved out of the townhouse, himself, Bolliver, of course, was part of the baggage that came to his new residence in Lombard, IL.

I didn't see Bolliver for many years after my brother moved. But fortunately, I did fit in a visit this last Christmas which is where the bulk of these picts were taken. Bolliver was still an asshole, which I took to be a comfort. His hair was a little more matted and it didn't have the irresistible aroma of a show cat's mane, but by all indications it looked like he was going to be around for a good while yet. But this was not to be...

Bolliver had "slowed down" according to my brother, and in the end it was the cancer that started in his liver and spread to his lungs that drew him to a stop. He was put down shortly after the discovery of the cancer, and sadly, Chuck, his true owner, wasn't able to be there at the end due to him being out of touch while this was going on. He was on a houseboat with my dad and incommunicado while my mom, sister and his roommate sorted out the unfortunate situation. But, in the end, the prick had a good life considering his inauspiciuos roots as a homeless kitty trapped in an abandoned house in the economically depressed town of Kokomo, IN. And, in spite of all the scratches he inflicted, he'll be missed terribly by me, my brother, and even Bowls MacLean.

So long, Bolliver... thanks for the scars.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Random # generator

sometimes i feed a beast of compulsion in my head - usually just to appease my own whimsy, but othertimes because i fear the consequences if i do not... that's when i get into trouble. Nevertheless, it is a fun game to play on occasion if you're like me and looking for cheap thrills. One such compulsion lately has manifest itself in the form of my ipod's random mode - please, let me explain...

I have 8064 songs loaded into my ipod, which, i don't know - is something like 3.5 weeks of continuous music. A lot of the music I've amassed has been given to me by friends (i.e., check this out, you'll love these guys, etc.) and so i've often rarely given the music much of a chance in the first place. There are a lot of songs and albums from my own collection to be sure, but there remains a good half of music on the ipod which i simply don't know.

perhaps out of guilt of this feeling of neglecting so many songs and efforts of others that I've never paid for the pleasure of hearing, i am forcing myself to make my way through the entire collection via the ipod's random mode. i don't know how many of you may or may not be familiar with the mechanics of such a mode, but this random mode was done through the "Song" listing on the ipod, which means that when I selected "Random" for my song selections and then began the first track in the listing of all songs on my ipod, the order, while randomly established, is henceforth predetermined.

So far, i've listened to nearly 1100 tracks which is a paltry 13.64% of the entire collection. I listen in one of two places: in my kitchen, where i plug the ipod into a dock and two small speakers i have situated in there, or on my way to and from work and on lunch breaks. It may take a while yet to get through all of this, but it might well be worth it. Who knows what unknown treasures awaitme upon completion - what revelations to the mind and soul!

One thing I've noticed is that my own tendency to find patterns in the random creation of this song listing has concluded that the ipod does tend to clump two songs from a single album within a space of about 50 songs. Also, and perhaps more interestingly, that any "coincidence" i happen upon whilst listening to the music, where it feels as though other forces are at work (i.e., walking past the Dakota and suddenly Lennon's "imagine" comes on), this must be kept in stride with the fact that all of these tracks, the order that they were conceived, are on a predetermined course of destiny (my listening to them). Therefore, whatever chance thought I might have that connects the music I'm listening to my own thoughts and realizations is purely coincidental.

Or is it? Is it, now just wait, perchance that the ipod's "random" mode is just a smaller and more concrete example of my own sense of choice, of "free will?" Meaning just this - is it possible that my own thoughts and actions are predetermined by a random number generator beyond my control?

We all want to believe that we are in control of our own destiny, but sometimes, it seems that someone else has pushed the random button. I just hope they listen to all the songs before the machine gets shut down.

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I have too much time on my hands...

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Twitch of the Death Nerve

aka A Bay of Blood aka Before the Fact-Ecology of a Crime aka Bloodbath aka Bloodbath Bay of Blood aka Bloodbath Bay of Death aka Carnage aka Last House on the Left Part II was finally played last night on the DVD player from the netflix. Of all those titles, I think I like "Twitch of the Death Nerve" because it's the most honest and visceral of the bunch. Had been wondering about this film for quite some time due to its high body count and debatable influence on the slasher genre. Ultimately, a disappointment from maestro Mario Bava but an enjoyable one.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Dear Attractive Woman No. 2,

Only once in my life have I responded to a person the way I've responded to you, but I've forgotten when it was or even if it was in fact me that responded. I may not know much, but I know that the wind sings your name endlessly, although with a slight lisp that makes it difficult to understand if I'm standing near an air conditioner. I know that your hair sits atop your head as though it could sit nowhere else. I know that your figure would make a sculptor cast aside his tools, injuring his assistant who was looking out the window instead of paying attention. I know that your lips are as full as that sexy french model's that I desperately want to fuck. I know that if for an instant I could have you lie next to me, or on top of me, or sit on me, or stand over me and shake, then I would be the happiest man in my pants. I know all of this, and yet you do not know me. Change your life; accept my love. Or, at least let me pay you to accept it.


Dr. Jeffery Korchak

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Monday, October 03, 2005

What is news?

I've had some friends approach me recently and complain that my blog doesn't cover any of my personal issues anymore, and I can't say that they're at all wrong. I've deliberately kept a lid on things more or less these last few months blog-wise, but as i feel i'm somewhat "turning a corner" i'll start up again and see how it goes.

Just so you know - I am not as depressed as many seem to think. Sure, I have some residual anger and shame over my bad behavior from earlier in the year but it's getting sorted out and I'm more and more able to enjoy my time with people rather than dread it. I'm not entirely creative these days but I try to exercise that bone when I feel compelled (i still like taking pictures of my cats). My consumption of films is at a high point - 1 or 2 a day - but that makes things feel better for me and at least slightly progressive as opposed to the stagnation I feel from watching TV on a daily basis.

Manos: The Hands of Fate - Brilliant!
Ghandi - The last great epic of the american cinema
Nashville - A wonderful place to visit - don't know if I'd want to live there, though
Apocalypse Now Redux - Overblown but still packs a punch at 3h20m

Things are getting better rather than worse all the time. Let's get together for drinks soon!

Sincerely yours,

Matthew the Third

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