Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spider-Man and His Amazingly Craptacular 70s Merchandise

One of the first outlets where I could express my burgeoning geekhood was in my toy collection. While I would inevitably stuff my room to capacity with all things Star Wars, that wasn't my first experience with toys from a major nerd franchise. My first obsession with collectible playthings in the mid- to late-70s was with none other than ol' Web Head himself, Spider-Man.

Looking back, my Spider-Man collection was a modest one. I had some Spider-Man t-shirts, some ViewMaster and Pocket Flix sets, a few comics and even the classic Mego action figure. Then again, most things related to Spider-Man were pretty modest back then. Don’t let the picture above fool you; back in the late 70s, it was hard to come by some top-notch, non-comic-book Spider-Man stuff.

During that time, there was only one Spider-Man cartoon on syndication, there were no video games, and the only live-action adventures could be seen on Electric Company and a short-lived TV series featuring Nicholas Hammond. That was as good as it got. No big-budget big-screen Spider-Man movie in the works (let alone a big-budget big-screen Spider-Man reboot after a trilogy of big-budget big-screen Spider-Man movies), no Spider-Man action figures with 20+ points of articulation and highly-detailed plastic sculpting and paint jobs, and certainly no high-end video games such as the recent Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.

Reflecting this dearth of Spider-goodness, here is a list of the four most disappointing Spider-Man toys that I owned back during these dark ages of superhero merchandising. (All pictures for this post have been provided by the ever-fantastic Mego Museum and Plaid Stallions sites.) Read on ...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Best Jaws 3D Fan Site Ever

Shortly after the recent release of Piranha 3D, I considered doing a retrospective analysis of Jaws 3D, something along the lines of what I previously did for Jaws: The Revenge. Yet unlike Revenge, I have a soft spot for the third entry in the Jaws franchise because it was THE film that got me interested in 3D movies.

Before Jaws 3D, I had a ViewMaster toy and a few sets of reels, and I also knew about previous horror and sci-fi movies from the 50s that were shot in 3D—movies such as Creature from the Black Lagoon, House of Wax and It Came from Outer Space—courtesy of the Crestwood House books and their ilk. But Jaws 3D solidified in my mind just what the illusion of three dimensions meant in terms of movies (as well as comic books and later video games), thus starting my lifetime affair with 3D entertainment. Furthermore, Jaws 3D was the only one of the 3D movies from the early 80s that caught my eye, since it was the only film to offer the chance of seeing one of my favorite movie monsters jump out of the silver screen and into the audience. Sealing the deal was this super-awesome anaglyph Jaws 3D poster that I picked up at a Hallmark store during the film's original release, a poster that I still have in my collection (photo courtesy of the Jaws Collector site):

With such a personal background in mind, I was ready write a detailed examination of the sequel's technical aspects (namely, the 3D photography and mechanical shark effects) and what possibly drove particular creative decisions concerning Jaws 3D's narrative. Little did I know that not only did someone else already do this kind of in-depth analysis of Jaws 3D, but that same person is still doing it in ways that haven't been done before.

Meet Romain Néophyte, French Jaws 3D fan extraordinaire. His Jaws 3D blog site is the most detailed examination of this sequel I have ever seen anywhere; it's also the most devoted and insightful fan site I've seen that's devoted to a single movie. The articles, interviews, pictures and links he has would dwarf anything that I could offer in regards to an analysis of Jaws 3D, so I've instead decided to use this post to list some of his site's highlights. Please keep in mind that Romain’s site is in French, so if you are not fluent in that language you will need a software program to convert the text for you into English. (Google provides a translator and I’m sure that there are others out there, but avoid Babel Fish—it gave me nothing but headaches.) Read on ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Deep Love of Deep Red

Silly me. With all the hubbub of 2010 marking the 35th anniversary of Jaws and the 30th anniversary of Empire Strikes Back, I almost forgot that this year also marks the 35th anniversary of Deep Red (a.k.a. Profondo Rosso), Dario Argento's giallo masterpiece. I first saw Deep Red while I was in college and while I have seen many giallo flicks since then, none of them have been quite as memorable as this one.

For those of you who are new to this, giallo movies are basically Italian slasher films with a greater emphasis on mystery than their American counterparts. What makes Deep Red such a great film is that it does best what giallo movies are known for: mysteries that are solved not through physical evidence, but instead through deeply symbolic explorations of the killer's fragmented, deranged mind. (In some ways, giallo films have more in common with the silent German expressionist horror classics such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari than they do with standard murder mystery narratives.) As the story unfolds, Argento fills Deep Red with suggestive, distinct images and sounds (a single eye suddenly opening in the darkness, a children's lullaby, a maniacally laughing mechanical doll, a painting that holds the secret to the killer's identity, etc.) that stick with you long after it's over. It also has one of the creepiest introductions of a killer that I've ever seen in a movie--it's not done through an elaborate opening murder scene, but in an auditorium where a psychic goes into hysterics when she senses the killer's sinister presence among the audience. That scene and the involvement of a legendary haunted house as a clue add an extra aura of supernatural dread to this classic thriller.

Happy 35th anniversary, Deep Red! I'm sure you'll keep knocking 'em dead for 35 years to come.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hell House: The Awakening: The Review

A few days ago, I posted a brief preview of the upcoming Viper Comics graphic novel, Hell House: The Awakening by Chad Feehan and Ryan Dixon. In the intervening time, Mr. Dixon and the folks at Viper Comics were kind enough to send me an advance copy of Hell House for review. In a nutshell, if you like your horror subversive and somewhat controversial, then you’ll want to add Hell House to your collection when it arrives in comic shops and book stores at the end of this month. Continue reading past the break for the complete review.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Look Back at Portable Video Games

If you're out on the northwest coast this weekend and have a thing for retro video gaming, you might want to head on over to Portland, OR. On September 18 and 19, Portland will be hosting the 5th annual Portland Retro Gaming Expo. It looks like it's going to be a big batch of fun, with events including Nintendo 64 and Atari 2600 gaming tournaments and a cosplay/costume contest.

I grew up during the rise of video game arcades, and the rise and fall and rise again of the home video game consoles. Yet one area of video game history that usually gets overlooked by even hard-core video game aficionados are the portable video games, particularly the pre-Nintendo GameBoy units from the 70s and 80s.

To be sure, the majority of these games weren't very compelling. While arcade games were still exploring their expanding graphical and game play capabilities and the home consoles were racing to keep up with the arcades, the portable video games had even less at their disposal to create a marketable game. Not only was their game play either very simple, annoyingly repetitive or sometimes incomprehensible, but their "graphics" consisted of either Light-Emitting Diodes (LED), Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD), or Vacuum Fluorescent Displays (VFD). LED games were just glowing dots (that's it--dots, dots, and nothing but dots), while LCD and VFD games used series of inanimate shapes or pictures that would light up in certain sequences to suggest motion.

Nevertheless, whenever my thumbs furiously race across my teeny, tiny Blackberry keyboard to answer work-related e-mail after e-mail, I can't help but to reminisce over those early funky, clunky attempts to put the joy of electronic gaming in the palm of your hand. Continue after the break to join me on my trip down insufficient memory lane and learn more about these early computerized toys.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Star Wars Fan Film in 3D & Teenage Son of Predator!

It's a news headline so nice that I just have to say it twice: IT'S STAR WARS IN FREAKIN' 3D!!! Mind you, it's not official Lucasfilm-produced Star Wars; it's a fan-made CGI animated short called The Solo Adventures by Daniel L. Smith and Jeff Scheetz, a short that won Best Animated Feature at this year’s Star Wars Fan Movie Awards at Celebration V in Orlando, Florida. It's a great short by itself (the actor who does the voice of Han Solo sounds almost exactly like Harrison Ford) but the anaglyph 3D really makes this short something truly special to behold. For the first time, you get to see iconic Star Wars vehicles such as the Millennium Falcon, a Star Destroyer and TIE Fighters flying around in 3D. (Of course, you can also watch this same short in 2D, but where's the fun in that?)

I've known for quite some time now that George Lucas has considered converting all six of the Star Wars live action movies into 3D. However, I'm surprised that he hasn't released anything in 3D for his Star Wars: Clone Wars CGI animated TV series, since that would be much easier to convert. I've argued before that CGI animation is the ideal format for 3D presentation, and the Solo Adventures short provides a tantalizing glimpse of how awesome a 3D CGI Star Wars series would be.

The Official Star Wars Blog recently posted an interview with Jeff Scheetz. Also, if you're going to watch this wonderful short in 3D, do it right and pick up a pair of high-quality plastic anaglyph 3D glasses--not the dinky cardboard anaglyph 3D glasses.

Speaking of animation, check out the animated short "Predator's Teenage Son" at the College Humor site. It's a funny parody of the Predator universe (complete with subtitles), and the sudden cameo appearance at the end is a hoot!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hell Yes to Hell House: The Awakening & Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD (Updated)

For all of you comic book hellions out there, you're in luck. This month marks the premiere publication of the Hell House: The Awakening graphic novel, written by Chad Feehan and Ryan Dixon and illustrated by Tsubasa Yozora, from indie publisher Viper Comics. Hell House: The Awakening details what happens when one of these seasonal, religiously-themed events is overrun by something genuinely supernatural. From what I heard in the previews, the end result ain't pretty.

(If by some odd chance that you don't know what a "Hell House" in this context is, you might want to check out the Hell House documentary from 2001. It should also be noted that this kind of Hell House should neither be confused with Richard Matheson's 1971 novel Hell House, nor its 1973 movie adaptation The Legend of Hell House.)

It just so happens that I know--or at least know of--half of this Hell House writing team. Years before he started writing comics, Ryan Dixon produced and directed a few of his own low, low budget movies in western Pennsylvania and he cast of friend of mine in a major role in one of his productions, Scary Movie! or Small Town Serial Killers and Flesh Eaters. You can still watch this movie for free on Dixon's video production company site, Firefly Productions. As for Chad Feehan, he was one of the producers for the ambitious 2006 horror film, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. (The way I see it, any horror film that can add a dark, twisted subtext to Bobby Vinton's version of the otherwise innocuous song "Sealed With A Kiss" is worthy of mention.) Feehan also wrote, produced and directed Wake, another horror movie that has been making its rounds in the film festival circuit.

Hell House: The Awakening looks like it's going to be a big bloody blast of blasphemous fun, so be sure to pick up a copy. This title will be released by the end of this month (September 29, the last I heard), and you can pre-order it now. You can also read an interview with Dixon and Feehan on the Comic Monsters site, and you can read Brett Schenker's positive advance review of Hell House at the Graphic Policy site.

Speaking of graphic novels, the Small Press Expo (or SPX) will be held in Bethesda, Maryland this weekend, September 11 and 12. Admission is $10 for one day and $15 for both days. In addition to having a wide variety of guests, events and exhibitors devoted to comic books and graphic novels, this year's expo will include the First Annual Small Press Expo Animation Showcase. So if you're in the Washington DC area this weekend and have some free time, you should go check this out (that is, if you're not already planning to head north to the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama in the Pittsburgh area).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"I Did NOT Jump The Shark!" Says TV Writer Who Pioneered Shark Jumping

Just thought that y'all might find this commentary piece from the Los Angeles Times to be of interest--I know I did: "In defense of 'Happy Days' ' 'Jump the Shark' episode". It's a commentary piece by Fred Fox Jr., the writer who penned the episode of Happy Days where Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli (played by Henry Winkler) ski jumped over a shark.

Since the term "Jump the Shark" has been around since 1985, it's kind of odd to read this piece so long after the term first appeared. Fox uses his commentary to defend his creative decisions when writing the episode, and how the term "Jumping the Shark" does not apply to his episode in the context of Happy Days and its popularity. Yet for all of the assertions and recollections that he makes, Fox fails to cite the most obvious reason why this particular stunt was put in Happy Days in the first place: to capitalize on the popularity of Jaws and the anticipation of its then-upcoming sequel Jaws 2. For shame Mr. Fox, FOR SHAME, for not acknowledging that you wrote an episode to capitalize on the popularity of a hit movie, Jaws, for a sitcom that was produced to capitalize on the popularity of yet another hit movie, American Graffiti.


All you have to do is look at the poster for Jaws 2 to figure out why Happy Days would have a water skier and a shark, even though it's a sitcom that takes place during the 1950s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Furthermore, Jaws 2 was in production while this Happy Days episode was written and produced (it finally aired in September 1977, less than a year before the sequel opened in theaters) so it's not unreasonable to conclude that the show's producers got word of the movie's ski attack scene and thought that Fonzie + shark = prime time ratings bonanza due to the popularity of Jaws and interest in Jaws 2. Heck, I saw this episode when it first aired and although I wasn't even in kindergarten yet, even I could figure out that this episode was jumping on (over?) the Jaws bandwagon. (For what it's worth, the shark jumping episode was a big ratings hit for ABC after all.)

Yours truly, in my prepubescent
water-skier-eating monster shark attire

In light of this, I propose that all sitcoms should have more sharks in them--preferably, a giant monster shark that suddenly appears and eats a major character, at least once per season, and perhaps a closing "feeding frenzy" scene with multiple sharks for the last episode of a sitcom that has been cancelled. I especially recommend this for sitcoms which air on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. That's the kind of shark jumping I can support.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Top Six Satan-Free Possession Movies

Forgive me fellow horror movie fans, for I have sinned. I'm a self-professed horror movie fan, but demonic possession films neither scare me nor pique my interest in the slightest. Watching one of the recent previews of The Last Exorcism alone reminded me of my particular horror hangup, because to me it just looks like a camera crew taking on a really angry, feral contortionist (an escapee from Cirque du Soleil with rabies, perhaps?). Don't get me wrong--I think that the idea of one's mind and body being overtaken by a hostile, evil entity is compelling and makes for great horror. However, possession films that involve Satan, the Prince of Lies himself, or one of his minions simply leave me cold.

I suppose the reason for my disinterest is that unlike other movie monsters, Satan is also the key part of many religious belief systems; in my opinion, that's just way too much cultural and psychological baggage for a movie monster to bear. On the other hand, without the popularity of films such as The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, we wouldn't have such wonderfully cheesy, sleazy Satan-themed movies such as Satan's Cheerleaders, Satan's School for Girls, and The Devil's Rain, which features William Shatner, a young John Travola, and Ernest Borgnine as a goat-horned satanic cult leader. I guess it all balances out in the end.

Anyway, possession is a creepy/cool idea that fits perfectly within the horror genre. Keep reading after the break to see the list of my six favorite Satan-free possession movies.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mark Your Calendar: Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, September 10 and 11 in Vandergrift, PA

There was a time when drive-in movie theaters were a popular venue of cinematic entertainment, but that time that has long since passed. Heck, I can count the number of times I've been to a drive-in on one hand, and all of those date back to the mid 80s. Nevertheless, the happy horror fans who run the DVD Drive-In Web site won't let this unique viewing format die just yet, which brings us to the fourth annual Drive-In Super Monster-Rama on September 10 and 11.

This two-night horror movie marathon will be held at the Riverside Drive-In Theatre in Vandergrift, PA, which is located outside of Pittsburgh. With the admission price set at only $10 per person each night, this is a sweet deal for any movie fanatic. Check out the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama site for more details. Here's a list of the films that will be playing:

Friday, September 10:

Saturday, September 11: