April 24, 2013

Dancing with the Horror Movie Stars

Poster - Castle of Blood (aka Danza Macrbra, 1964)
Now Playing: Castle of Blood (aka Danza Macabra; 1964)

Pros: Creepy atmosphere in spades; Beautiful black and white photography; Barbara Steele is ethereal and haunting
Cons: Purist Poe fans may object to the way he's depicted in the film

I have a nice little morning ritual at work. On the way to the coffee bar in my building for my $1.25 refill, I usually stop at the front desk to chat with my co-worker and fellow sci-fi/horror aficionado Vincent (not his real name). Even with all the blogs I follow and the copious social media interactions, it's nice to talk movies and books in person with someone who shares your interests. Vincent gives me a rundown of everything he's seen since our last talk, and I try to stump him with something he hasn't seen yet (and I usually fail -- in the last year or so, I've only come up with two Netflix instant titles he hadn't heard of).

Our tastes aren't identical. He's much more into the newer stuff, and I'm more appreciative of the old. He's far more tolerant of blood and gore than I am, but he freely admits that he fast forwards through particularly hackneyed and predictable (and egregiously violent) stretches. He's like a grizzled prospector who, after a lifetime searching for gold, seemingly has only the dusty clothes on his back and a mangy old burro with a mean streak to show for it. But he keeps searching, because he knows there's sci-fi/horror gold in them there hills -- and he finds just enough of it to keep going. He is relentless and completely dedicated to his favorite genres.

Syfy: Imagine Better group logo
Vincent also tries to keep up with sci-fi and horror-themed TV shows (at least to watch the first episode or two to see what they're all about). The other day he asked me if I'd seen the premiere of the latest SyFy epic series, Defiance. I don't usually commit to new TV series, even sci-fi and horror, because, well, I've got to have some time left to devote to the classics and this blog. As Vincent was describing the plot, the previews of dozens of recent SyFy and other cable series were dancing around in my head (I may not watch too many series, but I don't live in a cave either, so I do see the ads for a lot of this stuff). Vincent was pretty excited about the new series, but to me it sounded like an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink pastiche of every science fiction series to hit the airwaves in the last several years: Vicious, aggressive aliens whose home world has been destroyed discover Earth and turn off all the electrical power while at the same time unleashing a plague of the walking dead upon humanity; meanwhile, plucky bands of human and alien-human hybrid survivors fight a desperate guerilla war against the cruel invaders. (Or something like that-- it's really hard to tell these shows apart!)

And then there's horror. It looks to me like the angst-ridden teen and twenty-something vampires and werewolves have finally worn out their welcome (knock on wooden stakes). But assorted serial killers, psychos, paranormal investigators, poltergeists, and zombies (herds, hordes, masses, mobs, swarms, multitudes, throngs, and legions of dam**d zombies!) have kicked off their shoes, put their smelly feet up on the coffee table, popped open a foul brew, and taken up permanent residence in theaters, TV, the general popular culture and our collective consciousness. (Just when I'd thought the zombie market couldn't possibly get any more saturated, or that there were any more variations on the theme for callous producers to exploit, along came Warm Bodies, about zombie love. And of course, we can all look forward to World War Z with Brad Pitt this summer. Ugh!)

This stuff isn't scary. Shocking, repellent, nauseating… yes. But really scary? No. You don't need over-the-top shock effects or a bunch of high-end computers dedicated to CGI to raise goosebumps. You can do it with lighting, make-up, sound, in-camera effects, and some imagination. For true fright connoisseurs, there are some subtle, aged vintages down there in the dark cellar, just waiting to be uncorked. The difference between these classics and the current crop of pop horror films and TV shows is like that between a 1949 Lafite-Rothschild and a bottle of MD 20/20. For a domestic (actually Anglo-American) vintage, it's hard to do better than Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963), or almost anything by Val Lewton. For an ethereal, yet complex import with a smoky, supernatural aftertaste, you might want to try Castle of Blood (aka Danse Macabre; 1964).

The classic American drive-in theater
Hurry and get your hot dogs, popcorn and soda...
only 5 minutes 'til showtime!
The first time I saw Castle of Blood, it was doubly terrifying. Somehow, I had talked my brother into letting me tag along on a trip to the drive-in to see an Italian action/horror double feature. My brother's buddy, who had been driving on learner's permit maybe 6 months earlier, decided to see what his souped-up Camaro would do out on the open highway… at night. When the speedometer needle crossed 85, I closed my eyes, said my prayers, and thought about all the things I was going to miss in my short, abbreviated life.  I didn't open them again until we sprayed gravel swerving into the drive-in entrance.

As I recall, the first feature in the double-bill was what looked to be a zero-budget spaghetti western with a small cast and hardly a single word of dialog in the whole thing (for the life of me I can't remember the title). After the initial terror of the mad race to the theater subsided, I remember being mildly curious as to whether either of the principal cast members -- particularly seedy, low-rent versions of the Lone Ranger and Tonto -- were going to say anything. (In hindsight, the producers were brilliant -- they solved the problems with international distribution and language dubbing costs by avoiding dialog altogether. A couple of times over the years I've tried to figure out just what the heck this thing was, with no luck.)

The western was mercifully short, and then it was on to the main attraction. Just a few minutes into the movie, we all got really quiet. None of us had ever seen anything remotely like it. Castle of Blood is a masterful blending of a simple, archetypal story -- a man spends the night in a haunted castle on a bet -- with beautiful, atmospheric black and white photography, sounds that go bump in the night, odd characters in lush costumes who appear out of nowhere, and some wild, unexpected plot twists and turns.

Castle starts out in classic ghost story fashion with a lone traveler wandering into a darkened tavern and encountering an odd, intense man telling a spooky tale to a circle of enrapt listeners. When the storyteller is done, the man introduces himself as Alan Foster (Georges Riviere), a journalist who has traveled a long way to get an interview with the storyteller -- the great Edgar Allan Poe (Silvano Tranquilli). Poe insists that he is not a fiction writer, but rather a journalist like Foster, and that all of his tales are actually true. When Poe matter-of-factly states that the tomb or the grave is not always the end, and that many "live" beyond death, Foster insists the writer is having fun with him. Foster is a rationalist who has a hard time believing any intelligent person can believe in ghosts or the hereafter.

Tavern scene from Castle of Blood (1964)
The fateful bet is made. (From the left: Silvano Tranquilli as Poe,
Georges Riviere as Foster and Umberto Raho as Lord Blackwood)

A third man who has been listening to the two debate introduces himself as Lord Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho), and he gets right down to business, betting the skeptical journalist 100 pounds sterling that he can't spend a single night in his haunted castle out in the country.
Foster: Why, do you believe I might run away from the place?
Blackwood: No, you'd remain there. Of all those who've agreed to take up my wager, not one has ever lived to run away.
At first demurring, the insouciant Foster informs Blackwood that journalists of his ilk are poorly paid, so he can only afford to bet a measly 10 pounds. Blackwood gleefully takes him up on it. They pile into Blackwood's carriage to make the long ride to the castle-- the aristocrat wants to get Foster there by midnight on the "Night of the Dead," a time when "the dead come back to perform again those tragedies which have cost them their lives…" Okaaaayyyy then.

And perform they do! While at first the castle is deathly quiet, soon Foster hears harpsichord music and sees a dancing couple that, upon further investigation, aren't there. He feels a hand on his shoulder, and whirling around, is startled to see an alluring dark beauty dressed in white (Barbara Steele). She introduces herself as Elisabeth Blackwood, Thomas' sister and the sole remaining occupant of the castle. Foster is confused, as Lord Blackwood hadn't mentioned any residents, but also relieved to have such beautiful company.

Barbara Steele as Elisabeth Blackwood
"My heart isn't beating. It hasn't beaten for 10 years.
I'm dead Alan."
In a very simple, yet jarring scene, Foster, thinking his night in the haunted castle won't be so bad after all, lays his head on Elizabeth's chest. After a moment, his eyes open wide and he bolts upright-- she has no heartbeat! In Blackwood's castle, it's hard to tell the living from the dead without a scorecard!  Foster's relief soon turns to terror as the gloomy corridors and rooms come to "life" with the reanimated dead: specters suddenly materialize out of the darkness to stab, strangle and otherwise maim each other; rotting corpses stir with life and take rasping breaths of air; clouds of mist with a life of their own roll out of open tombs and seep under doors; and the woods outside the castle suddenly blossom with dead, hanging bodies (all tastefully done of course!).  And unbeknownst to Foster, the undead residents have a plan in store for him… and his blood. The once skeptical journalist just might not live out the night to collect on his bet and finish his interview with Poe!

Castle of Blood came fairly early in director Antonio Margheriti's (aka Anthony M. Dawson's) long career. His work as a model-maker and documentary film assistant in the 1950s caught the eye of a producer who wanted to capitalize on the late '50s science fiction craze, and Assignment: Outer Space (aka Space Men; 1960) launched him into orbit as a director (see Louis Paul, Italian Horror Film Directors, McFarland, 2005). Margheriti has done it all: horror, sci-fi, sword and sandal, spies, war, westerns, even a martial arts western… but Castle of Blood remains his masterpiece. According to Lawrence McCallum (Italian Horror Films of the 1960s, McFarland, 1998), Castle/Danza Macabra was shot in 1962, possibly in response to the popularity of Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960) and Roger Corman's early Poe pictures, but it wasn't released in the U.S. until 1964, and then, on the bottom of a double-bill with Hercules in the Haunted World (1961). Years later, Margheriti remade Castle, adding color and the talents of such actors as Anthony Franciosa and Klaus Kinski, but the critical consensus is that Web of the Spider (1971) is a pale imitation of the original.

Barbara Steele and Georges Riviere in Castle of Blood (1964)
"Come, I've prepared your room upstairs."
Web of the Spider's biggest failing is that it lacks the presence of Eurohorror queen Barbara Steele. Dark and exotically beautiful, Barbara appeared in some of the best, most haunting and hair-raising horror films of the 1960s: Bava's Black Sunday (aka Mask of Satan); Roger Corman's Pit and the Pendulum (1961); Riccardo Freda's The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962); Camillo Mastrocinque's An Angel for Satan (1966), and of course, Castle of Blood, among many others. In a 2011 interview for the London Guardian newspaper, Steele confessed to not understanding her fans' enduring fascination for her horror films: "It's amazing to me. Incomprehensible. They come up to you as if you made it last Tuesday and they're so thrilled. I can't understand it." And speaking of her experience with such soft-spoken directors as Bava and Corman, she noted ironically, "So many of these people who are enthralled with the chaotic dark side all look like Jesuit priests."

If you've browsed around this site any, you may have stumbled on the list of my all-time favorite horror and science fiction films -- Castle of Blood is on it. It's one of a handful of films that I vividly recall seeing for the first time. With its masterful black and white photography (courtesy of Riccardo Pallottini) and cast of weird characters headed by the enigmatic Steele, Castle of Blood is surprising, surreal and unsettling. It's a modest B masterpiece that, better than almost any other horror film that I can think of, burns its uncanny images in the unwary viewer's brain, leaving him queasy and uneasy. Go ahead, press play late at night, with the lights turned low. I dare you.

Where to find it:
Available on DVD


Available online

Amazon Instant Video

"Here the dead rise from their tombs once a year to repeat their hideous crimes of murder and passion!"

April 16, 2013

Science Meets Seance

The Devil Commands (1941) - Poster
Now Playing: The Devil Commands (1941)

Pros: Dark, forbidding atmosphere; Severe Anne Revere is a deliciously evil villainess
Cons: Ham-handed plot devices move things along briskly, but cause befuddlement and head-scratching

Since the dawn of history and humanity's first, crude attempts at reflective thought, we have been vexed and confounded by the greatest of all questions: what waits for us on the other side? (In my case, I've had a glimpse of the other side, and it's a veritable Shangri-la of green grass, a very nice deck with comfortable, all-weather furniture, and a high-end gas grill guarded by two huge black labrador retrievers, Cerberus and Pluto. Okay, so it's only my neighbor's back yard on the other side of a big wooden fence, but as old as I am, I'm not quite ready to go on the ultimate exploration of the other side, so my curiosity at this point is more earth-bound. And yes, I made up the part about the dogs' names.)

Kidding aside, the 19th and 20th centuries saw an explosion of interest in "the other side" and spiritualism (a horrendous civil war and two world wars that sent tens of millions to early graves, among other catastrophes, did wonders for focusing people's minds on questions of life after death). Gone (or at least held in abeyance) were the certainties of heaven and hell, eternal redemption and punishment from previous centuries. In this new scientific and technological age, there were seemingly as many theories of life after death, and pseudo-scientific methods for testing those theories, as there were people with the time, money and burning desire to answer the riddle once and for all. Ghost clubs and psychical research societies sprouted like weeds in a rundown cemetery.

Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes
and fervent believer in 'the Other Side'.
World renowned celebrities were inevitably drawn into the fray. On the credulous side, physician and writer Arthur Conan Doyle wanted desperately to believe in life after death, having lost his wife at the beginning of the century and a son, a brother, two brothers-in-law, and two nephews during and shortly after World War I. He belonged to several spiritualists' organizations and wrote numerous essays and books on the subject. On the skeptical side, magician and escape artist Harry Houdini dedicated his energies in the 1920s to debunking mediums and spiritualists (ironically, Conan Doyle, who was friends with Houdini for a time, insisted that Harry himself possessed supernatural powers -- Houdini never convinced his friend that his "powers" were simply based on very cleverly-constructed illusions).

In the 21st century, belief in life after death as another plane of existence apart from divine judgement is at a low ebb, while old-school Heaven and Hell has made a roaring comeback (at least in the United States).  Still, the war between the spiritualists and the debunkers continues, if in a somewhat muted, almost frivolous form (think John Edward and Penn and Teller).

Columbia Pictures' The Devil Commands was made at a time when it wasn't such a stretch to think of death as the gateway to another dimension, or to believe that scientific methods might ultimately reveal what lies beyond. Although it debuted toward the beginning of a war that would send millions more to "the other side" and deal yet another crushing blow to humanity's innocence and faith, the film seems the product of a different place and time altogether, at one and the same time innocent, yet dark and macabre. The mad scientist in this film is no one-dimensional stand-in for Nazi evil, but rather a gentle, scholarly man who has become unhinged by grief.

The film starts out with a long shot of a forbidding cliffside mansion on a dark and stormy night. As the camera tracks closer, one of the main characters, Anne Blair (Amanda Duff), introduces herself in voiceover and grimly intones:
"This was my father's house. In Barsham Harbor on nights like this, when lightning rips the night apart, why do people close the shutters that face toward my father's house, and lock their doors, and whisper? Why are they afraid? No one goes near my father's house. No one dares."
Now that we're thoroughly creeped out, cut to Midland University, seven years earlier. The famous Dr. Julian Blair (Boris Karloff) is demonstrating an early form of an electroencephalograph to five eminent colleagues. After strapping his assistant, Dr. Sayles (Richard Fiske) into an upright gurney and clamping a bizarre-looking helmet with large electrodes onto his head, Blair confidently tells the group, "you will be the first people with the exception of my wife and my assistant Dr. Sayles, to see the proof that the human brain can give off an impulse that can be recorded!"

Boris Karloff as Dr. Julian Blair - The Devil Commands (1941)
An early experiment in electroencephalography.
As Blair fires up his lab equipment (somewhat reminiscent of a guy named Frankenstein), a large pen slowly records wave forms on a wall-sized chart. (While this technology is, excuse the pun, a no-brainer for us today, one can imagine that this was something of an eye-opener for audiences of the early '40s when all this was very new.) Blair tells his colleagues that each brain has its own wavelength, and no two are alike. He gets a chance to demonstrate on a second person when his wife Helen (Shirley Warde) comes to pick him up. She gamely agrees and dons the equipment. Feminists take note: her graph is much more pronounced and bold than Sayles': "Every demonstration that I've made so far clearly shows that the wave impulse of woman, the so-called weaker sex, is much stronger and more regular than man's," explains Blair. "Evidently there's a greater natural power in the brain of woman, any woman." (Actually, everyone take note, for it will be important later.)

Before his wife can hustle him out of the laboratory to go pick up their daughter Anne from the train station, Blair boldly predicts that eventually he'll be able to record and read the thoughts of any person, and even send pure thoughts like radio waves across vast distances. (Of course, today people send their (im)pure, unadulterated thoughts instantly, to the whole world, in the form of tweets. Heaven help us!)

That same night, tragedy strikes. Helen drops her husband off at the baker's to get a cake for Anne's birthday before heading over to the train station. Circling the block in the driving rain, she crashes the car and is killed instantly. After the funeral, the despondent scientist goes back to his lab to be alone with his grief. Absentmindedly he turns the equipment on, and amidst the crackling of arcing electricity, he sees the exact same waveform being recorded right underneath the one his wife recorded on her last night! And of course, there's no one wearing the electro-helmet. From this he deduces that Helen's brainwaves still exist and can be intercepted, and perhaps he can even communicate with her.

When he tries to tell Anne, Richard and his scientific colleagues the good news, they chalk it up to his overwhelming grief. Blair's intensity frightens his colleagues, and they caution him that if he's truly right, opening up a portal to the dead might have unintended consequences:
1st colleague: But what if you do find a way to pierce the veil between us and them…
2nd colleague: And let the world of the dead back in upon the living?
1st colleague: We don't know what evil may be lurking behind that veil waiting to get through!
3rd colleague: I know one thing Julian, there are things human beings have no right to know!
A seance conducted by Blanche Walters (Anne Revere)
A ghostly visit from the other side or something else?
It's a veritable Greek chorus of fear, loathing and dread. Seeing his boss' frustration with these small, cowardly men, Blair's somewhat simple-minded but good-hearted lab assistant Karl (Cy Shindell) suggests that there are other ways of communicating with the dead -- Karl has been seeing a medium and talking with his dead mother. Ever the scientist, Blair is skeptical at first, but then agrees to attend with Karl. The seance is presided over by the formidable looking Blanche Walters (Anne Revere), a supposed medium.

During the eerie proceedings, as the ghostly visage of Karl's mother hovers over the group and gives her son a comforting message, Blair is sizing up everything. After the seance, Blair stays behind to talk with Walters. He strides over to a nearby wall, brushes aside a curtain and reveals a cabinet from which the ghost -- a dummy wrapped in gauze -- emerges each session. He then traces a wire to a hidden microphone that broadcasts the supposed voices from beyond. Walters is clearly not pleased, and tells him to get out. Blair has one more question for the fraudulent medium: how did she manage to shock him with a strong electrical charge as she held his hand during the seance? "Are you crazy, I've never used electricity at a seance in my life!" she responds indignantly. Just like that, the good doctor concludes that in spite of her phony methods, Walters nonetheless possesses extraordinary brain and energy potential that might just allow her to communicate with the dead for real. He bribes her to come back to the lab with him for some tests (uh-huh), and sensing a meal ticket, she quickly grabs her coat.

Anne Revere as Blanche Walters
Dr. Blair's methods are a real eye-opener for
Blanche, the phony medium (Anne Revere).
Thus begins a dark and deadly relationship. First, Blair puts the phony medium through a series of risky-looking tests involving electricity, and concludes that the woman can both "receive and transmit" huge amounts of energy -- that in effect, she's the perfect antenna for channeling communications between our world and the one beyond. Next, in order to further amplify the effect, Blair hooks poor Karl up to the equipment in a sort of psychic circuit with Walters, and succeeds in frying his brain in the process.

Walters convinces Blair to pack up, send the daughter away, and move out to the remote New England coast where they can resume their experiments without inconvenient questions from the authorities about brain-frying and other dodgy practices. But their work doesn't go unnoticed by the backward, superstitious villagers of nearby Barsham Harbor. They (and the local sheriff) wonder who the dark, severe-looking woman is who refuses to let anyone see Dr. Blair. Who (or what) is the shambling, mute brute of a man who wanders around the mansion's dark hallways? Why have seven fresh bodies disappeared from the local cemetery since Blair and his odd "family" moved in? And what in tarnation are those strange lights and eerie sounds emanating from the Blair house on dark and stormy nights?

Can Anne and Sayles save Blair from himself and the malign influence of Walters before the villagers light the torches, grab their pitchforks and take matters into their own hands?

Cover art - The Edge of Running Water (1939), by William Sloane
The Devil Commands is based on a (now) little-known science fiction/horror novel, The Edge of Running Water (1939), by William M. Sloane. Back in the late '60s I discovered the novel while browsing a drugstore paperback rack. I'm not sure what drew me to it-- the cover art was unexceptional and the understated title didn't cry out sci-fi or horror. But for whatever reason I bought it, and by the time I put it down, I was having disturbing dreams. This, and Sloane's other notable science fiction novel, To Walk the Night (1937) are masterpieces of mood, well-realized and richly-described characters and places, and slowly building suspense. (While Sloane's own output was regrettably sparse -- in addition to the two novels he wrote several plays and edited a couple of science fiction collections -- he became an eminent publisher, and spent the last twenty years of his life as director of the Rutgers University Press.)

Columbia's adaptation does as good a job as can be expected of capturing the novel's dark mood and some of its more disturbing details in a crisp 65 minute running time. One of the very interesting elements of both book and movie is the mad scientist's technological simulation of a seance circle. From the book:
"The apparatus itself was so much of a nightmare that my glance slid off it the first time without any precise attempt to understand what I saw. My impression was of seated figures, human and yet horribly not human, ranged round a black table with a sort of lectern at one end…  There were seven of them. One, with its back toward me, at the rear end of the table, and three along either side. … They were, I saw, all alike, all polished till the copper of their wires glowed, and they were holding hands. At least, their arms ended in five filaments of wire and these were, in each case, linked with the fingers of the figures on either side. From head to foot they were made of wire and there was something terrible in the fact that I could look clean through them."
A "scientifically enhanced" seance - The Devil Commands (1941)
Science melds with the occult to produce a seance
straight from the bowels of Hell!
The movie takes this chilling description and adds an even more macabre element to it (which I hint at above). When Karloff/Blair fires up the apparatus, it moves in an uncanny and unsettling way. The Devil Commands is the most interesting and unusual of director Edward Dmytryk's B assignments, predating his breakout Murder, My Sweet (1944) by several years (see also my review of another Dmytryk-helmed B horror-thriller, Captive Wild Woman). For Boris, the film was another in a long line of cookie-cutter mad scientist roles, but to my mind, the unusual story, Dmytryk's solid direction, and the eerily effective production design set it a notch or two above his other horror-thriller programmers from this era.

But the film really belongs to Anne Revere (Blanche Walters). She exudes a quiet menace that is right up there with Gale Sondergaard's evil best. She's bad enough scamming credulous rich people as a fake medium, but when she gets her hooks into poor Dr. Blair, all hell (literally) breaks loose. Revere was nominated 3 times for a best supporting Oscar, winning for her role as Mrs. Brown in National Velvet (1944). (Ironically, both she and Dmytryk were caught up in the anti-communist blacklist hysteria of the late '40s and early '50s. She stood her ground, and didn't make another movie for 20 years. Dmytryk recanted and named names, saving his career, but earned the enmity of many who never forgave him.)

Whether you're a Boris Karloff fan, curious about Anne Revere's B movie career, or just intrigued by Gothic-tinged horror with a sci-fi twist, The Devil Commands is well worth checking out on Amazon Instant Video or DVD.

Where to find it:
Available on DVD

Amazon DVD

Available online

Amazon Instant Video

An Anne Revere tribute:

April 6, 2013

Pay it Forward, Liebster-style

The Liebster Award - Pass it on!!
Now Playing: The Liebster Award (Date of origin?)

Pros: Knowing that someone out there appreciates your work
Cons: The terrible, awesome responsibility of passing the award on to other worthy blogs

Recently I've been getting out more into the movie blogosphere, checking out some new (to me) blogs, being more social, commenting (and being commented on in return), liking (and being, gulp, liked in return -- "You like me, you really like me!"), and just generally not settling for the same old, same old. (Those who knew the old, cantankerous, anti-social Brian best are wondering what the aliens did with the body, and how they should handle this obvious impostor -- Hand grenades? Flame thrower? Installing a million volt electrical grid in the hallway outside of its office and luring it out to be reduced to a smoldering pile of ash?)

Anyway, in my explorations, I had come across mention of this thing called the Liebster award, and a graphic that looked something like the UL Underwriters Laboratories' Seal of Approval for blogs, only pinker (and with a cute heart in the middle). Just as I was starting to wonder what it was all about, bingo!, I got an email from Karen at Shadows and Satin (check it out!) nominating my blog (as well as 10 other very worthy endeavors) for the Liebster. It quickly dawned on me that this was not your usual garden-variety award that just sits there collecting virtual dust, but rather something dynamic and brilliant that helps struggling bloggers "pay it forward": to be appreciated, and to appreciate in turn in an ever-widening circle of fellowship and community. And of course, to get to know the people (or the alien impostors) behind the blogs just a bit better.

The blogosphere
For some reason, whenever I encounter the term
'blogosphere,' an image like this pops into my head!
As I understand it, as a recipient I have to a.) reveal 11 random facts about myself; b.) answer the 11 challenging questions Karen has carefully drawn up; and c.) pay it forward to 11 more deserving bloggers. Whew! Well, here goes:

Eleven random facts about yours truly

1. I vowed never to join Facebook right up until about a year and a half ago, when I joined. Now, in addition to my personal page, I maintain a companion page for this blog. Can someone give me some advice on how I can gracefully extricate myself?

2. My wife and I love animals, period. At one point, our little family was up to 3 dogs and 3 cats. We love them all dearly, even as we spend hour upon hour trying to get the pet hair out of our clothes, the furniture, the rugs, etc.

3. In junior high school, I published two spectacular issues of a science fiction fanzine, Fanactic. I regularly corresponded with Lisa Tuttle and Darrell Schweitzer, two fans who would later become celebrated science fiction/fantasy writers. Tragically, I did not become a celebrated writer (until now).

4. Related to the above factoid, I also corresponded with Dean Koontz, who at the time was an up and coming writer and still teaching public school in Pennsylvania. When I reacted ambivalently to one of his books, he sent me a scathing 3 page, single-spaced letter, and I never heard from him again.

5. I am a huge baseball fan. I love putting on the cap and jersey, going to the park, and guzzling down outrageously over-priced beer and hot dogs. Tragically, 2 balls have been hit directly to me in the stands, and I muffed 'em both.

6. As a kid, I wrote and performed plays in my parents' garage based on the Universal monster movies that I was glued to on Saturday nights. Later, I made Super 8 monster movies with friends. Tragically, I did not become another Steven Spielberg or George Lucas.

7. I love German Expressionist art, and I especially appreciate its influence, courtesy of expatriate German filmmakers, on American horror films and thrillers of the '30s and '40s.

8. I have long been on the cutting edge of technology -- for example, I was an early digital photography adopter. But I'm older now, and the desire to be the first on my block with the latest techno-gadget now competes with my instinct to save for retirement.

The original Outer Limits TV show
9. I prefer the original Outer Limits TV series to the original Twilight Zone. (Heresy! Light the fires!)

10. When I was younger, I made fun of old folks (including my parents) who retired to places like Florida and Arizona. Now I'm not sure I can make it through one more snowy winter.

11. I love doing backyard movie parties, with a projector and roll-up screen. I did two last year, and am looking forward to getting the equipment out again when the weather warms up.

Thoughtful Answers to Karen's Questions

1. What movie do you watch every time it comes on TV?

The Big Heat (1953): Fritz + Glenn + Gloria + Lee = must see movie TV (hey, that rhymes!)

2. What’s your favorite movie musical?;

My Fair Lady (1964). Love the music! Love Audrey! Love Rex! (in a very detached, manly sort of way).

3. What classic movie star would you have most liked to meet?

Vincent Price -- for his erudition, his love of art, his cooking -- an all around Renaissance man!

Gravesend Manor (TV show) cast, circa 1960s
The Duke, Malcom and Esmeralda, cast of
'Gravesend Manor' (Claude not pictured)
4. What’s your most treasured movie or TV-related possession?

An autographed picture of the Duke, Malcolm and Esmeralda from the Saturday night horror host show Gravesend Manor, broadcast in central Iowa back in the mid-sixties. A grade school friend's dad worked at the local TV station.

5. If you could make a living doing whatever you wanted to do, what would that be?

Running a classic film revival theater in New Orleans.

6. What’s your favorite movie western?

Man of the West (1958), with Gary Cooper, Julie London and Lee J. Cobb. Intense, gritty, surprising -- the last great film for both director Anthony Mann and Coop.

7. Have you ever had an encounter with a movie or TV star?

A long time ago in a universe far, far away, Margot Kidder did a benefit appearance for a congressional candidate I was working for. I got to drive her to the airport. She was friendly, gracious and down-to-earth -- just delightful!

8. If you could program a perfect day of movies on TCM, what would be the seven films on your schedule?

I'd do a Fritz Lang retrospective: Metropolis, M, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Fury, Scarlet Street, The Big Heat, and While the City Sleeps

9. Who are your top five favorite fictional characters?

Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Bosch, Alex Delaware

Poster - Forbidden Planet (1956)
10. What movie have you seen more often than any other?

Forbidden Planet (1956). I shed a tear every time for poor Morbius.

11. Bette Davis or Joan Crawford?

Joan Crawford. What can you say about a career that includes The Unknown (1927), Mildred Pierce (1945), Humoresque (1946), The Damned Don't Cry (1950), Strait-Jacket (1964), and Trog (1970)?

Now, to pass on the Liebster to the next set of insightful, worthy blogs that you'll definitely want to check out:

Classic Film and TV Cafe

Journeys in Classic Film

Krell Laboratories

The Last Drive-In

Outspoken and Freckled 

Random Ramblings of a Broadway, Film, and TV Fan

Scared Silly: Classic Hollywood Horror-Comedies

She Blogged by Night

Tales of the Easily Distracted

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

Wide Screen World

And, if they're so inclined, my questions for them:

1. What is your guiltiest movie pleasure?

2. What is your favorite character actor/actress?

3. What movie would you show to an alien visitor to best illustrate the meaning of life on earth and being human?

4. What movie made prior to 1970 would you show to a teen or twenty-something who insists that nothing that old could be any good?

5. What movie or actor/actress that you were indifferent about or maybe even disliked at the start, has grown most in your estimation over the years?

6. What movie or actor/actress has declined the most over the years?

7. What actor or actress is most like you?

8. Which would you prefer to do: direct, produce or write?

9. What 3 neglected, underdog movies are most deserving of a revival on TV, DVD and/or online?

10. Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi?

11. What unfamiliar movie genre terrain are you most keen to explore?