Saturday, December 16, 2017

Spontaneous Human Combustion Was a Thing in the 70’s, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Six, Firefall

Carl always writes the story he’s interested in, and in most cases, (well, all of them), that story involves mysterious deaths.  In Firefall he chases a pyro-ghost doppelganger who’s immolating the close friends of some famous Chicago conductor.  The doppelganger angle, and how to defeat it, is explained by a nice Gypsy lady who actually believes him, for once.  Watch out for David Doyle, Bosley from the original Charlie’s Angels, as a fire expert.  Or he might be an insurance expert, the episode wasn’t clear.
Some random observations: Ron plays the French horn, which isn’t a euphemism, (except yeah, it sorta is), the INS keeps their deep storage files in the men’s room and while we can all agree that one of the stars of the series is Carl’s gorgeous vintage lemon yellow 1966 Mustang, but is it supposed to be a piece of junk in 1974?  Is this a Millennium Falcon situation?  And how does he find the perfect parking spaces in downtown Chicago?  And who drives up, directly into a crime scene in progress, jumps out, elbows the cops out of the way and starts taking photos?  That’s Kolchak for you, he’s fearless when it comes to getting the story first.

PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  Carl Takes a Moonlit Cruise, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Five, The Werewolf

NEXT, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  Tom Skerritt is Discount TV Damien, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Seven, The Devil’s Platform



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Friday, December 15, 2017

Chicago’s Favorite Vampire Slayer on Sunset, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Four, The Vampire


Carl goes to Hollywood to write an article on Transcendental Meditation and discovers a vampire escort service, which you have to admit, is a clever twist on the Jack the Ripper theme; hooker slashing johns instead of vice versa.  He’s able to antagonize another city’s police department while still giving his long-suffering editor Tony Vincenzo heartburn over the phone.  If you’ve ever had a fetish for a vamp in a 70’s polyester pantsuit, this is the episode for you.
I appreciate The Night Stalker series going with the traditional, old-school vampires, with the requisite sunlight allergies, cross phobias and the old stakey-stakey in the heart.  It just makes things easier.  The episode also bookends nicely with the 1972 TV movie, The Night Stalker; one of the victims of the Las Vegas vampire returns to Los Angeles, where Carl, in an extraordinary coincidence, gets to trap her in a flaming cross circle in the Hollywood hills.  Very cinematic, maybe not so much in these more inclusive and sensitive times.  But dude, he's fighting vampires, stop trying to co-opt Carl's message.


PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: The Truth Was Out There For Carl, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Three, They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be...

NEXT, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Carl Takes a Moonlit Cruise, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Five, The Werewolf



you can read my books for free on amazon kindle,  or buy the paperbacks, available at fine bookstores everywhere (or really, just on amazon). 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Kolchak Takes a Moonlit Cruise, or Thoughts on The Night Stalker Episode Five, The Werewolf

I never get tired of that Courier font, it’s so evocative of the series and quickly establishes a theme: journalism, typewriters, and story, while in The Werewolf (guess what this episode is about), Carl finagles a free cruise to escape the bitter Chicago winter.  Ostensibly to write an article on the singles movement (it’s a single’s cruise, a “love boat”, if you will), our intrepid reporter for the INS gets bored with the lifestyle column and decides to run down the murders that the ship is trying to keep quiet.  There’s no police to antagonize but never fear, Carl makes up for it by upsetting the captain while impersonating his son. 
The Werewolf is especially enjoyable for the motley crew of oddballs Carl somehow convinces to help him: Paula, a comely single brunette, George, a sketchy purser, and a lapsed Catholic priest (he needs a blessing in Latin).  By episode 5 the series also settled into a comfortable formula: there’s a monster, Carl knows it’s a monster, the authorities won’t accept a supernatural explanation, leaving it up to Carl to kill the monster.  However circumstances conspire and Carl is never able to print the real story or tell the truth.  But he confides in us, the audience, and that creates a shared bond and a sense of intimacy, we’re friends with Carl, he’s our buddy, and we share in his successes and failures.  And regrettably, him being Carl Kolchak and all, there’s a lot of failing.   
   



PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Chicago’s Favorite Vampire Slayer on Sunset, or Thoughts on Episode Four, The Vampire


NEXT, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Spontaneous Human Combustion Was a Thing in the 70’s, or Thoughts on Episode Six, Firefall


you can read my books for free on amazon kindle,  or buy the paperbacks, available at fine bookstores everywhere (or really, just on amazon). 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

So Mulder and Stiffler Made a Movie Once, or I Watched Evolution, So You Don’t Have To


Director Ivan Reitman should get a lifetime pass after making Ghostbusters (1984), but if Ghostbusters was 70% comedy and 30% horror, Evolution (2001) is probably closer to 70% sci-fi and 30% comedy, which consists mostly of dick jokes and anal probes.  The movie also suffers from not having Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd in their post-SNL comedy prime, instead casting David Duchovny and Orlando Jones as a pair of community college science professors.  When a meteor lands in the desert teeming with space goo that starts growing and evolving at an accelerated rate, the two are eager for the science/discovery/career boost, that is, until the military steps in and turns the site into a secret base like when SHIELD found Mjolnir (I’m a nerd for making that reference, and you’re a double-nerd for getting it).
The 90’s CGI heavy creatures consist of space-lobsters, space-raptors and blue gorillas.  Which is fine, if you’re into that, but the movie doesn’t succeed as a comedy, or a science fiction action film, and somehow muddles through somewhere in the middle, as if two screenplays had been stapled together.  But if you’ve ever wondered what happened to Seann William Scott he appears as another fratboy doofus reluctant hero, the character he perfected in Dude, Where’s My Car (2000) and American Pie (1999).  Seann portrays Wayne Grey, volunteer fireman and pool boy.  Also with the wasted talents of Julienne Moore as Dr. Allison Reed and Ethan Suplee, Randy from My Name is Earl and Scientologist (I keep track of them) as one of the community college students.  Patient viewers will be rewarded with a Dan Ackroyd cameo, but not much else.


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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Truth Was Out There For Carl, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Three, They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be...

Carl Kolchak switches gears and chases an invisible alien stealing 70’s tech and sucking bone marrow out of zoo animals in They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be, a seminal episode featuring men in black (not in black), government cover-up/conspiracy, and alien abuductee crackpots.   Basically every X-Files plot can trace their lineage back to this specific moment in TV history.
Carl continues to antagonize his editor and random police captains and discovers the alien’s master plan, building an old-school flying saucer and getting the heck off of earth.  Having no guy in a suit was innovative at the time, the concept played with audience expectation used to aliens from Star Trek or Space:1999.  But hey, I like seeing a guy in a suit.  Even a bad costume is better than no costume.  Ironically, it’s a proto-CGI performance, seeing Darren McGavin acting against wind and shadows.
Watch out for Dick Van Patten, arguably a bigger star than Darren McGavin at the time, as a random eyewitness.  Also take note of Tony’s late night formal, full course dinner for one, in his office, complete with tablecloth and waiter.  Tony was a high roller.  (Also a stress eater, and that was totally Carl’s fault).



PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Carl Fights a Voodoo Queen, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Two, The Zombie

NEXT Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Chicago’s Favorite Vampire Slayer on Sunset, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Four, The Vampire



you can read my books for free on amazon kindle,  or buy the paperbacks, available at fine bookstores everywhere (or really, just on amazon). 

Monday, December 11, 2017

When You’re Arnold and Your Kid is a Zombie, or Thoughts on Maggie


Listen: everything that has to be said about zombies has already been covered in The Walking Dead, they’ve beaten that horse (sorry vegans) past death in exploring every iteration of human drama in an undead world.  That being said, Maggie (2015), a small-scale zombie film covers some more of that emotional ground and reminds the audience that zombies were once people, with hopes and dreams and bills and everyday lives.  In this especially bleak version of the zombie apocalypse society hasn’t broken down, the humans are staying on top of the zombie outbreak by herding the infected into camps before they turn, and most of the story takes place in an isolated farmhouse where Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a non-action role, tries his best to cope with the imminent death and zombification of his daughter Maggie.
Arnold is in his late 60’s, and his physique, while still impressive, is less imposing.  Audiences can finally accept him as human, and his portrayal of Maggie’s father is a straight dramatic role full of poignancy and emotion.  He's a father, but he's not John Matrix in Commando (1985).   Granted, Maggie could easily have been written as his granddaughter, the ages are a bit skewed; he looks like he’s playing a character in his 50’s.  He’s still Arnold.  With Joely Richardson, Vanessa’s daughter, Natasha’s sister, as Caroline, Arnold’s wife, while Abigail Breslin (I always confuse her with Chloe Grace Moretz) as Maggie.
I am a great admirer of Arnold Schwarzenegger and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  Sure he’s human, and he’s flawed, but there’s no way I could have moved to Austria, learned German, become Austria’s most famous bodybuilder, then Austria’s biggest movie star, then married an Austrian princess and become governor of Austria.  If you watched that in a movie, you’d never believe it, and yet Arnold made it happen.  How cool is that?




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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Carl Fights a Voodoo Queen, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Two, The Zombie

Our favorite vampire hunter finds himself in the middle of a mob war where each side keeps getting their spines snapped.  The police are confused and keep finding the same dead man at different scenes, riddled with bullets.  They keep burying him and he keeps showing up.  Carl figures out that he’s a traditional, pre-Night of the Living Dead zombie, that is, your basic Haitian voodoo undead servant who doesn’t crave brains.  It’s interesting that everyone knows and is annoyed by Carl, police captains and mob bosses treat him with the same disdain.  The episode also gets crazy sexist when Carl locks a junior (lady) reporter in the trunk of his signature yellow 1966 Mustang.  But it was the 70’s, and he was trying to protect her from gunfire.  And also get the story first, but that’s Kolchak for you.
Watch out for Scatman Crothers, Dick Halloran from The Shining (1980), as Uncle Filemon, a voodoo shop owner, and Antonio Fargas, Huggy Bear from the original Starsky & Hutch as Sweetstick Weldon, a South Side mob boss.   Incidentally, the traditional way to stop a voodoo zombie is to fill the mouth with rock salt and sew the lips shut, though I imagine head shots work too.


PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: When Carl Met Jack, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode One, The Ripper

NEXT, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: The Truth Was Out There For Carl, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Three, They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be...




you can read my books for free on amazon kindle,  or buy the paperbacks, available at fine bookstores everywhere (or really, just on amazon). 

Friday, December 8, 2017

When Carl Met Jack, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode One, The Ripper

Ignoring the two TV movies and diving directly into the series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker debuted with an intriguing updated Jack the Ripper theme that deliberately asked more questions than it answered.  The Ripper (1974) had Darren McGavin as Carl chasing a superhuman killer in an opera cape with a sword cane across Chicago’s gogo bars and massage parlors.  It’s more significant for establishing his many (and mostly) antagonistic relationships; Tony Vincenzo, his long suffering editor, his run-ins with the cops and especially his office nemesis, Ron Updyke.  Prissy, uptight, probably gay from a modern perspective, he is the opposite of Carl with none of the practical instincts of a good reporter.
And speaking of modern perspectives, it’s interesting how non-telegenic the cast is; they look real, and add a level of authenticity that helps sell the supernatural plots.  The acting style is loud, broad and expository, almost like they’re running lines from a radio drama.   Carl isn’t particularly brave or heroic; he’s just chasing the story.  He is however, a great writer, an excellent researcher and is committed to the truth, wherever it leads.  It’s also interesting how each episode is bookended by narration (told you, radio drama), the tales are told in retrospect, but knowing that Carl survived doesn’t detract from any inherent tension.
Incidentally, Tony Vincenzo has a gumball machine in his office.  You know he stress eats.  Karl types on a Royal, and he either has 5 blue seersucker suits, or one.  There is no in between.  But if it’s only one, how does he get all the bloodstains, cobwebs and graveyard dirt off it?


NEXT: Carl Fights a Voodoo Queen, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Two, The Zombie


you can read my books for free on amazon kindle,  or buy the paperbacks, available at fine bookstores everywhere (or really, just on amazon). 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Always Listen to the Locals, or Thoughts on The Hollow

Ever since The X-Files, I have always had a soft spot for movies filmed in Vancouver; there’s something about those grey skies that make the scenes shine, and the production values are so cheap that filmmakers are willing to take chances on new ideas.   Which is a roundabout way of saying if a movie like The Hollow (2015) shows up about a Halloween curse in a small town somewhere in British Columbia, I’m willing to give it a watch and see what happens. 
So three telegenic sisters are going to an island to visit their Aunt Cora and are warned, on two separate occasions, to not go, in addition to the psychic youngest sister who has a “bad feeling” about the island, but this being a horror movie, guess what happens next.  The aforementioned curse has to do with some witches who were burned at the stake and return every 100 years ago to exact their vengeance on the town, in the form of CGI tree demons.  There's a lot of screaming, in-fighting, and (conveniently) handsome locals to help fight the witches.
Needless to say, the monsters are unconvincing, and I really believe that CGI is inherently unconvincing, simply because the actors themselves aren’t convinced.  They’re trying to sell a reaction based on a tennis ball on a stick, and I don’t care how talented you are, I’m never going to believe you’re afraid of that.  Without a real, analog, in-camera, guy in a suit or giant puppet for the actor to bounce off, the performance will always suffer.  Which I suppose is my roundabout (there’s a lot of roundabouts in this movie) way of saying I didn’t enjoy The Hollow, as much as I was predisposed to.  Though it did feature a cameo by Deborah Kara Unger for a hot New York minute (maybe a Vancouver minute) as Aunt Cora.




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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Atomic Blade Runners in The Galaxy Shell (and John Wick 2), or Thoughts on all of my 2017 Movie Reviews

I’m not one of those movie bloggers who loves to complain about how Hollywood has no original ideas anymore (I totally am) and yearns for some random decade when movies were full of wonder and imagination instead of zeroes and ones (I really do).   I did like Ghost in the Shell (reboot), but after Lost in Translation (2003) Scarlett Johannson gets a pass for life, but that’s just me.  I also enjoyed Blade Runner: 2049 (reboot), and John Wick 2 (sequel).  Atomic Blonde was based on a graphic novel and What Happened to Monday, while being clever and enjoyable, was at its core just another dystopian sci-fi drama.  It Stains the Sands Red was an interesting variant on the zombie apocalypse but dude, zombies are so mainstream and played out now.  And yeah, I loved Wonder Woman but who didn’t?  I don’t think you’re allowed to not love Wonder Woman, legally.  I think she’s in the Constitution, or she should be.
So here are all the movies I watched this year that came out this year (not counting the other 289 movies I watched and reviewed this year).  Jeez did I really post 300ish movie reviews this year?  I must really care about you.  Or maybe I just love movies, a lot.





you can read my books for free on amazon kindle,  or buy the paperbacks, available at fine bookstores everywhere (or really, just on amazon). 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Arachnophobic Affairs of the Family, or Thoughts on Spider Baby

Equal parts The Rocky Horror Picture Show (but with no singing) Night of the Living Dead (but with no zombies) with a dash of Psycho and a wardrobe by Frederick’s of Hollywood, Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told (1967) stars Lon Chaney Jr. (who also sings the hep-cat jazzy theme song) as Bruno, the family chauffer and guardian of three violent siblings in a crumbling Victorian mansion.  A very young Sid Haig portrays Ralph, the demented sex-crazed man-child, while twins Virginia and Elizabeth are locked in a homicidal rivalry.  Virginia is obsessed with spiders and likes to play spider baby, a game involving a homemade rope net/web and a pair of kitchen knives.  She also likes eating bugs and crawling around like a spider, so, way to commit to the theme and title. 
The kids suffer from a vague degenerative/de-evolution disease that is slowly turning them into cannibal mutants.  Their mostly idyllic life is interrupted when a lawyer and their long-lost Uncle Peter and Aunt Emily arrive, looking for a quick payout.
Subversive, disturbing and just plain weird, this black and white slice of mid-century horror was written and directed by veteran exploitation/ B-movie director Jack Hill, who would go on to make Big Doll House (1971) and Foxy Brown (1974, with Pam Grier), and has an impressive 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Sid Haig may be better known these days as Captain Spaulding from House of 1000 Corpses (2003).  And this was nowhere near Lon Chaney Jr’s last movie, he amassed a prolific 197 screen credits in a career that spanned five decades.



you can read my books for free on amazon kindle,  or buy the paperbacks, available at fine bookstores everywhere (or really, just on amazon).