August 11, 2020

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Many thanks to Paul Batters at the Silver Screen Classics blog for recognizing Films From Beyond with a Sunshine Blogger nomination. The award is a great, communal way to raise awareness of and appreciation for the labors of love out there that keep classic (and in my case, not-so-classic) movies alive and appreciated in what often seems like a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

Banner - Sunshine Blogger Award

I first interacted with Paul via a blogathon he co-hosted in April 2020, Classic Literature on Film; go check it out, there’s a cornucopia of fascinating posts there. It was the first blogathon I’d participated in in several years, and I was happy to get out of my solitary bubble and participate in some team blogging for a change.

Since reviving Films From Beyond in October 2018 (after a two year hiatus), I’ve been steadily increasing my involvement with fellow film bloggers, but I suspect my interactions are still paltry in comparison with very involved people like Paul.

The Award guidelines encourage recipients to pass along the sunshine by recognizing up to 11 of their worthy nominees and in turn asking them 11 questions. Since several people I’d like to recognize have already received the award recently, I won’t ask them to repeat -- but I’d still like to give them a shout out (see below).

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  2. Answer the eleven questions from the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Nominate up to eleven bloggers.
  4. Create eleven new questions for your nominees to answer.

Now, to dive into Paul’s questions:

What British or International film would you recommend to a friend who has never seen one?

Many years ago I saw a screening of Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman’s The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962; now part of a new Criterion set), and was blown away by it. Zeman had an uncanny ability to make live action film look like fantastic, colorful illustrations brought to life. It’s hard to imagine even the coldest stone heart not melting, at least a little bit, at seeing this unique fantasy.
Still from The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962)
A film "painting" from The Fabulous Baron Munchausen.

 Which classic film director do you prefer and what is your favorite of their films?

Anthony Mann did it all, from B noirs like T-Men and Side Street to sumptuous epics (El Cid, Fall of the Roman Empire). Along the way he directed some of the greatest westerns of all time starring Jimmy Stewart -- Winchester ‘73, Bend of the River, The Naked Spur. My favorite, however, stars Gary Cooper in one of his last roles. Man of the West (1958) is a western re-telling of Orpheus’ descent into Hades (sort of).

Gary Cooper in Man of the West (1958)
Gary Cooper delivered one his great performances
in the twilight of his career.

Which character actor or actress do you think would have made a great lead?

Wallace Ford seemed to be in half or more of the B movies made in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Like my other favorite character actor Dick Miller, Ford was always good for a smile or a chuckle with his characters' bravado and wisecracks masking their urge to turn and run. I would have loved to see Ford do a lead turn as a classic film-noir P.I. like Philip Marlowe. One thing I like about noir is that the protagonists have feet of clay and mess up quite a lot. Ford’s shaky bravado combined with the hard-boiled wisecracks and questionable judgment would have made for an interesting and enjoyable hero.

Publicity still, Wallace Ford
Wallace Ford cleaned up quite nicely from time to time.

What child actor do you believe should have had success as an adult but didn’t?

I recently saw Our Vines Have Tender Grapes with Edward G. Robinson and Margaret O’Brien, about the lives of Norwegian immigrants in 1940s Wisconsin. Jackie “Butch” Jenkins was so natural and believable as O’Brien’s neighbor friend, I looked him up. He made a few more films and then he was done at the age of 10 or 11.

Jackie Jenkins and Margaret O'Brien in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
"Butch" Jenkins was an uncommonly good child supporting actor.

What film do you love, but dislike the ending?

Jacques Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon (1957) is one of the great horror films, but like many fans, I think the producer’s insistence on inserting close-ups of the demon puppet at the climax was unwise and spoiled the carefully-crafted atmosphere.

Close-up of the demon, Curse of the Demon (1957)
"Okay Mr. Tourneur, the demon is ready for his close-up."

Whose onscreen wardrobe do you covet and would like to claim for your own?

Robert Quarry rocks that blood-red smoking jacket in Count Yorga.

Robert Quarry in Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)

Which original film do you think could be improved as a remake and who would you cast?

In Blue Sunshine (1977), Zalman King portrays a young man who is mistakenly accused of multiple homicide when a woman friend suddenly goes insane and kills a couple of people at a party. As he tries to clear his name, he discovers that a bad batch of LSD is turning people into homicidal monsters years after they took it. While the film is still very effective, I’d be tempted to update it with a more contemporary twist ripped from the headlines: a millennial who’s been kicked off of social media is blamed for a series of murders that his friends have committed. He soon discovers that the murders are triggered by an experiment in subliminal social media messages conducted by a demented CEO who wants to prove the mind-controlling power of her platform to the government. I’d cast Tom Holland in the Zalman King role and Charlize Theron as a Sheryl Sandberg-inspired villain.

Facebook is today's Blue Sunshine.
Blue Sunshine meets that social media platform
everybody loves to hate.

Which classic film actor or actress do you think would be successful in today’s film industry?

Barbara Stanwyck - tough, independent, attractive; she’d fit right in. During the westerns phase of her career, she did her own stunts, sometimes taking on things even the stunt people were leery of doing. She would give Charlize Theron a run for her money as an action heroine.

Barbara Stanwyck in The Furies (1950)
Anything you can do, Barbara can do better!

What film trope do you never tire of seeing?

I love the protagonist who is unwittingly drawn into a sinister conspiracy and then suddenly realizes his/her life is in danger from knowing too much.

If you could adapt a piece of classic literature that has not yet been made into a film, what book would you choose and who would you cast in the main roles?

Although it’s supposedly in development, I wonder if the project to do a feature-length version of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness will ever get off the ground. In my version, I would lure Daniel Day-Lewis out of retirement to play Dyer, the geologist and head of the fateful Antarctic expedition. The mysterious Rooney Mara would be great as Dyer’s assistant. Lovecraft is notoriously hard to translate to film, but with my cast and $100 million or so (don’t want to get too greedy), I’d give it a shot.

Daniel Day-Lewis and H.P. Lovecraft
"Dan, this is Howard."

Which of today’s modern actors or actresses do you think would have been successful in classic films and why?

With his distinctive looks, lankiness and versatility, I think Ty Burrell (of Modern Family fame) would have made a great supporting character actor in noirs and light comedy, and would even have been a nice fit for ‘50s sci-fi.
Ty Burrell, photo by Eva Rinaldi / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0
Ty is ready to get in his time machine.

Here are the blogs I’d like to give a shout out to, some that have been sources of entertainment and inspiration since I took my first faltering steps at Films From Beyond, and others that I discovered more recently. (Some of these bloggers are also recent Sunshine Blogger awardees.) You should check them out:

Cinematic Catharsis

Classic Film & TV Cafe

The Dwrayger Dungeon

Grand Old Movies

Krell Laboratories

The Last Drive-in

Mike’s Take on the Movies

Synthetic Cinema

And my questions for any willing nominees:

Many classic A-list actors appeared in sci-fi or horror films, especially in the twilight of their careers. To whom would you give the award for “Best former A-lister performance in a B horror or sci-fi film?”

You can tap any film figure (actor, actress, director, producer, etc.), living or dead, for a lengthy, no-holds-barred interview. Who would you pick?

What actor living or dead, who never played the role, do you think would have made a great Dracula?

You get the go-ahead to remake The Bride of Frankenstein. Who do you cast as the Bride?

You are a screenwriter, and due to a glitch in the space-time continuum, you can claim any screenplay from any movie made during your adult life as your own, and the world will forever remember it as your work. Which one do you choose?

What is your least favorite performance by a child actor?

You can wave a wand and magically prevent any film from ever being remade. What do you choose?

You’re given $20 million to make any adaptation you want from Shakespeare, Stephen King, or H.P. Lovecraft. What’s it gonna be?

What is your worst example of a miscast lead?

What one forgotten or underappreciated movie do you think the world (or at least the blogosphere) needs to know about?

What “bad” movie do you nonetheless enjoy and have taken the trouble to see several times?

August 6, 2020

“Welcome to my parlor,” said the spider to the sci-fly

Arachnophobia is an abnormal or pathological fear of spiders. I don’t happen to share that fear, but I understand it. Spiders, especially in magnified close-up, look positively unearthly. They don’t have faces, per se, they have way too many legs, and many are bristly and hairy and have wicked-looking fangs. They look like they’ve been engineered to grab and eat other living things in the most nightmarish way possible.

Public domain image, an impressive looking arachnid
"You look absolutely mahvelous dahling!"

I love weird things, so I’m more fascinated by spiders than afraid. I suppose this won’t reassure arachnophobes, but house spiders are great at pest control, consuming ticks, fruit flies and cockroach larvae.

Like most things in nature, if you leave it alone, it will leave you alone (and maybe work doubly hard at consuming the truly irritating household pests). Plus, the chances of accidentally being bitten by a honest-to-goodness venomous spider are vanishingly small.

Keep repeating: "spiders are our friends, spiders are our friends..."

Because of their size, “hairiness,” and menacing look, tarantulas have gotten a particularly bum rap in popular culture. There are some tarantula relatives in Central and South America and Australia that are more aggressive and highly venomous, but by and large tarantulas are shy creatures who bite only as a last resort, and even then may only deliver a “dry” bite absent any venom. Most venomous tarantula bites are very treatable -- you don’t want to get one, but they’re not usually life-threatening.

When I was a kid, tarantulas often popped up in movies and TV, and in every case the implication was that one bite meant instant death. Villains were always turning their pet tarantulas loose on people as they slept or on heroes chained up in some dank dungeon. These scenes were guaranteed to make people’s skin crawl, but it’s hard to think of a more inefficient way to kill a person.

A high point for tarantulas in the movies (or low point, from the tarantula’s perspective), may be the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, when one of the villain’s henchmen slips an evil-looking specimen into Bond’s bed. The poor creature, a pink-toed tarantula, gets the brush off and the heel of a slipper for its troubles, even though that particular spider has small fangs, is reluctant to bite, and is not dangerous to humans.

"The name is Antula... Terry Antula."

Whereas Dr. No’s eight-legged would-be assassin seems feeble in hindsight, vintage sci-fi doubled down on the misunderstood tarantula’s skin crawl factor and blew it up to fearsome proportions, to the point where venom was an afterthought -- these gigantic creatures could literally eat you alive. Some were space-age cousins hiding out in caves on the moon, and others were terrestrial, their gigantism the result of radiation or some other misbegotten experimentation. And one was an ordinary house spider dwelling in a basement, patiently waiting for some mysterious radioactive cloud to turn a human into bite-sized prey for him.

Here are clips of some of my favorite retro sci-fi arachnids. As always, this is a select list. If I’ve overlooked any of your favorites, please share in the comments!


The astronauts of a pioneering moon mission discover a cave on the dark side of the moon with breathable air, but the cave also comes with not one but two (count ‘em!) giant, man-eating spiders!





Missile was a remake of Cat-Women (both distributed by Astor Pictures). The giant moon spider in this one makes his appearance much later in the movie, but the thing’s comically bulging eyes and huge, elongated mouth make it worth the wait.





Okay, so this is more of a rat-bat-spider hybrid, but I love how the astronauts at first mistake the creature for an odd-looking Martian tree. See also an earlier blog post with details about how Rat-Batty was brought to life by the effects artists.




Earth vs. the Spider (aka The Spider, 1958)


In a nod to The Blob, teenagers alert a rural town to the threat of a monster -- in this case, a giant mutant spider. Check out the monster spider’s web, which looks more like a net used in a circus high-wire act.




Tarantula (1955)


The King of ‘50s sci-fi monster spiders! This is one of the more effective scenes, set at night, with the added suspense of the horses sensing danger. At first the monster is only seen in silhouette, then it advances menacingly on the stable.




"Hey, go find your own sewing project!"

July 24, 2020

The Drive-in Rises from the Dead

Before the pandemic, the Great American Drive-in was on life-support, with only a little over 300 drive-ins left in the U.S. (down from a high of over 4000 in the late 1950s). Now that social distancing has become the new norm, drive-ins are suddenly cool again.

It's Intermission time at the drive-in

Many existing drive-ins are seeing big upticks in business, and some agile theater owners and entrepreneurs are converting parking lots into makeshift drive-ins. Even some performers are getting into the act, realizing that they can still play to live audiences in a much safer environment -- and instead of applause and laughter, get car honks and flashing headlights in return.

The new pandemic-era drive-in is not without its challenges. Having enough bathrooms and keeping them properly sanitized and users properly distanced is a big headache. And getting snacks out to the cars safely -- no more hanging around the scuzzy snackbar -- requires a lot of labor and planning.

In a recent interview, America’s "foremost drive-in movie critic" and fan, Joe Bob Briggs (aka John Bloom), predictably saw a sliver of a silver lining in dark times, declaring 2020 the “year of the drive-in.” He added:
"Films were designed to be watched together. ... The drive-in is the symbol of that. The drive-in was always a place where everybody gathered. And it was all races, creeds, genders. That’s still true online as we prove every Friday night with our show [The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, recently renewed on Shudder for a 3rd season]. It’s a great thing and it’s an optimistic thing and I hope it helps the real drive-ins, the mom and pops that are still out there doing that good work keeping the drive-in alive.” [“Joe Bob Briggs Declares This the Summer of the Drive-in,” Kelle Long, The Credits, motionpictures.org, 6/1/20] 
John Bloom as Joe Bob Briggs on the set of The Last Drive-in
As long as there are people out there like Joe Bob, the drive-in will never die.

I haven’t been to a drive-in in many years, but I am (ahem) old enough to have experienced its hey-day. My first movie memory is being taken by my parents -- in footie pajamas no less -- to the drive-in to see Darby O’Gill and the Little People. I dived down beneath the dashboard when the banshee appeared. I think that early shot of adrenaline jump started my love of horror movies. Thanks Disney!

Later, shortly after high school, a good friend was hired as an assistant manager at the local drive-in, and he would give me free passes. I’d sit on a lawn chair next to the concession stand and watch second-runs like Hannie Calder while scarfing down popcorn. I fantasized about running my own drive-in, but seeing as how they were already in decline at that point, that thankfully stayed a dream.

An interesting aspect of the drive-in resurgence is that in many cases, venues are going retro, playing movies like Jaws and Back to the Future instead of more contemporary second-runs. This is proving popular, as many apparently want to see older movies to complete the nostalgic effect.

This got me thinking about the movies I would show at my alternate universe drive-in where money is no object and I don’t have to worry about losing my shirt.

My first order of business would be to show truly retro movies that few under the age of 50 have seen. Second, have fun with themes, promotions and even the concessions. And of course, in my perfect universe, there’s no Covid19, so people can hang around the grotty snackbar and kids can get out and run around all they want. Oh, what a wonderful alternate world it would be!

Tonight, this drive-in is going to the dogs!
Dracula's Dog (1977) & Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)

Promotion:
All cars with leashed dogs get in half-price
Featured Snack: Hot-off-Hell's-grill dogs

The "Hot-off-Hell's-grill" dog



Posters: Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) and Frankenstein's Daughter (1958)
Two chips off the old Doc!
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) & Frankenstein's Daughter (1958)

Promotion: Ladies’ two-for-one night at the snackbar
Featured Drink: Mad Dr Pepper

The featured drink is "Mad" Dr Pepper



Posters: Satan's School for Girls (1973) and Satan's Cheerleaders (1977)
At these schools, detention is served in Hell, forever...
Satan's School for Girls (1973) & Satan's Cheerleaders (1977)

Promotion: Half-price admission with a student ID
Featured Snack: Satan's Red Hots

Grab some Red Hots before you get dragged down to Hell



Posters: Panic in the Streets (1950) and Panic in Year Zero (1962)
Don't Panic! It's only two movies!
Panic in the Streets (1950) & Panic in Year Zero (1962)

Promotion: Every admission gets a “Panic” sickness bag
Featured snack: Bring your sickness bag to the snackbar for a free popcorn fill-up




Posters: Night of the Blood Beast (1958) and The Blood Beast Terror (1968)
Your blood will freeze when you see these beasts!
Night of the Blood Beast (1958) & The Blood Beast Terror (1968)

Promotion: Free admission with proof of blood donation
Featured snack: Bloody Red Vines

Red Vines are for sharing



Posters: It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) and Terror from the Year 5000 (1958)
It's about time, it's about space, it's about two terrors vs. the human race!
It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) & Terror from the Year 5000 (1958)

Promotion: Show a selfie with your most terrorized face for half-price admission
Featured snack: Terror tots

Keep repeating: it's only a tot, it's only a tot...