Film & Television Series

The Shadow of Your Smile: Criterion’s “Vampyr” Box

criterion, criterion blog-a-thon, vampyr, carl theodor dreyer

The 2008 “Vampyr” Criterion Box Set. Loaded with historical goodies.

SkeletonPete Says…
Though I normally end a post with the “SkeletonPete Says” section I think it appropriate to preface this particular blog entry with some introduction to its genesis.

This piece is only one small part of the Criterion Blog-A-Thon that officially began yesterday. The Criterion Collection is noted for its restoration of aging film elements, and attention to detail in its bonus features, often producing what most consider definitive DVD and BluRay releases.

Thanks and kudos to Aaron (Criterion Blues) Ruth (Silver Screenings) and Kristina (Speakeasy) who created and are administering this massive, 200 plus post, Blog-a-geddon. It is unlikely I would have endeavored to revisit Vampyr or Carl Theodor Dreyer’s ethos had it not been for the impetus of this online event. Film buffs who trawl the Criterion Blog-A-Thon should have enough to read until December 2020. Please send the blog posts you like some social media (#CriterionBlogathon) and comment love, and follow the ones that you think will float your boat in the long run.
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Krampus, Your Style: Santa’s Henchman Grabs the Spotlight

ripleys believe it or not, auditorium, krampus, mike drake,

I’d OBEY if I were you! “Contemporary Krampus” runs a campaign of terror. Art: Copyright Stannis Abdulo

Getting Kramped in Here…
Hey, whaddaya call a group of shepherds in Brooklyn? …Ewes guys. Ok – umm, how ‘bout a ram wearing galoshes? …A goat in Totes. “Hey Pete,” you say, “who’s got your goat?” In a word… Krampus, and it ain’t no joke. The nordic/germanic folk character acts as the malevolent sidekick to Ol’ Saint Nicholas and is more than happy to beat the bejesus outta ya with a batch of birch branches.

A likely remnant of the old world veneration of the Great God Pan, American audiences may be largely unaware of Krampus. The admonishment to “be good” lest you find a lump of coal in your stocking appears to be the closest kids in the US get to the dark-side of yule tide. That will soon be remedied as Santa’s satanic enforcer gets his due this coming holiday season. Yep, things get heavier than a little coal as the real nightmare before Christmas is the focus of an upcoming film and a brand new book.
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Game of Moans: Morbid Anatomy Museum to Screen Adventure Classic

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Count Zaroff’s trophy room reveals his preferred prey in 1932’s “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Better Run Through the Jungle…
On Tuesday September 1, 2015 at 8pm The Morbid Anatomy Museum (MAM), one of Brooklyn’s most unique spaces, will present a screening of RKO – Radio Pictures’ The Most Dangerous Game. “Movie Mike” will project a 16mm print of the classic 1930’s jungle adventure with its lurid pre-Hayes Code themes of violence, sex and extreme (pre-Predator) big game hunting. Grab tickets here.

The film has an interesting production backstory that just happens to intersect with one of my favorite obsessions, RKO’s 1933 film King Kong and its debt to the art of 19th Century illustrator Gustave Doré.

Thanks to museum director Joanna Ebenstein I get to shed some light on those connections via an illustrated guest blog on the Morbid Anatomy website. This link will take you there.
morbid anatomy museumMourning Becomes Eclectic…
The Morbid Anatomy Museum and Research Library is a cabinet of curiosities focused on the parallel evolutions of the occult and medical sciences, with lots of side trips that include anthropomorphic taxidermy, gothic tropes, and religious reliquaries. Check out the museum’s calendar for future events including MAM’s Common Shade lecture series, presented in conjunction with the Green-Wood Cemetery Historic Fund, which has yielded two exceptional installments thus far.

No Bikini Atoll: My Beach Party Blogathon 2015 Post


(Editor’s Note: Oowee, got in just under the wire with this one. Thanks to Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy for a neat excuse to write about one of my all-time guiltiest pleasures.)

Oh man, it’s literally the eleventh hour for posting a review Speakeasy/Silver Screenings’ 2015 Beach Party Blogathon, so here goes…

The Ghostess with the Mostest…
Released in April of 1966, on the tail end of American International Pictures’ (AIP) beach party film chronology, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (GitIB) stands as my favorite in the series.

What makes GitIB so much fun is its kitchen sink nature. It feels like there was a tacit acknowledgement that the “endless summer” of the surfin’ 60’s might actually be waning after all and a pull out all the stops attempt to buoy this baby was required. It shares a “more is better” affinity with the latter Universal Pictures monster rallies of House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.

beach party films, beach party blogathon, ghost in the invisible bikini

Cecily (Susan Hart) hips her “Hiram Baby” (Boris Karloff) to his new existence.

Too Much Monkey Business…
Couched in the – even then – hackneyed trappings of the “Old Dark House,” The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini could pass for a live Scooby Doo episode. It also greatly resembles the previous generation’s Kay Kyser vehicle You’ll Find Out, (1940) even sharing Boris Karloff as a cast member. The one twist in the script is that the villains have no idea they are being thwarted by real ghosts. Those ghosts are portrayed by Susan Hart, as Cecily, the titular see-thru character, and Karloff as former carnival owner Hiram Stokely, her surprised to find himself deceased beau.
beach party films, beach party blogathon, ghost in the invisible bikini

Gorilla My Dreams: Mighty Monstro in classic carrying the heroine mode.

Poe Knows…
The rest of the large GitIB cast is run through a series of the oldest story and sight gags in theatrical history. There’s an inheritance at stake, a multitude of revolving walls, secret passages and falling chandeliers, portraits that watch you, an escaped carnival gorilla, damsel in distress on a buzz saw, a grand guignol waxworks, and a string of Mack Sennet style chases. Fans of Roger Corman‘s Edgar Allan Poe films can have a heyday perusing this movie’s mis en scene. To my eye Stokley’s chamber of horrors was also the set of many an AIP EAP romp. Can anyone help out with specifics here?

Original series leads Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are replaced by another post-Disney kid, Tommy Kirk, and Deborah Walley in the hero and heroine roles. Beach film stalwart Harvey Lembeck, does mega slapstick throughout, returning for his last ride as motorcycle gang leader Eric Von Zipper.

Other cast members are a convergence of old and new Hollywood of the mid-1960’s. It’s an aspect the film shares with the contemporaneous Batman TV series, which premiered on ABC TV a few months earlier. Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Patsy Kelly, Jesse Young, and even Francis X. Bushman appear alongside the bevy of beach kids, with Rat Pack scion Nancy Sinatra and Claudia Martin representing a changing of the guard.

beach party films, beach party blogathon, ghost in the invisible bikini

Nancy Sinatra sings “Geronimo” backed by the Bobby Fuller Four.

Teardrop City…
Sinatra offers a catchy pop tune “Geronimo,” backed by The Bobby Fuller Four. Fuller can be seen gyrating wildly through the instrumental “Swing A-Ma Thing” wielding an awesome Vox white teardrop guitar. The group serves as “house band” throughout the film. All songs are credited to series regulars Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner. The Les Baxter soundtrack is augmented by drip-drop reverb laden sound effects.
beach party films, beach party blogathon, ghost in the invisible bikini

Susan Hart, as the transparent title character, boogies through the end credits with the AIP teen troupe

SkeletonPete Says…
Historically Ghost in the Invisible Bikini represents a last innocent romp prior to the LSD exploitation and sensationalism of films like Riot On Sunset Strip, Pysch-Out and The Trip. Those films in turn presaged studio system killers like Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider. Think of the cultural gap between The Monkees’ September 1966 pilot episode and their cinematic swansong Head and you’ll get my point.

I love the film because it incapsulates my late pre-teens with remembrances of the aforementioned Batman and Monkees TV series, The Munsters, Aurora plastic model monster kits, Famous Monsters of Filmland and Monster World magazines, Top 40 from a transistor radio speaker, The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” on the AM airwaves, and begging my pop to take me to see Karloff in AIP’s Lovecraft adaptation Die Monster, Die.

SuperStegoPterodonusExpyAllosaurus: Hasbro’s Jurassic Mash

jurassic world, hasbro toys

Hasbro’s Indominus Rex is ready for his close-up.

Rex on the Highway…
The Jurassic Park franchise is poised for reintroduction with the release of Amblin Entertainment & Legendary Pictures’ Jurassic World (JW) on June 12. You already know the plot premise of dinosaur DNA dithering posited by the late Michael Crichton in his original novel and assayed in three previous films. This new movie takes us a couple of generations down the timeline when the theme park concept is in full bloom and InGen bio-techs endeavor to combine several carnivores into one heavy hitter of a crowd attraction – Indominus Rex. What could go wrong? Ask Victor Frankenstein. Ask Carl Denham.

As I write this, NBC is spinning up some interest with an airing of the original Jurassic Park including some spiel from director Steven Spielberg and I’m guessing a new or expanded JW trailer package. It seems quite appropriate (and about time) I post some views of the Hasbro Toy Company’s related Jurassic World merchandise.

Hasbro was kind enough to afford us a look at their Jurassic World licensed products way back in February during a special New York International Toy Fair event. Some of what is presented here may have been altered by the time it hit the shelves, particularly the paint schemes.

hasbro toys, jurassic world

Hasbro gives Jurassic World the Hero Masher treatment.

Getting Skooled…
Immediately evident at the JW display was the wide range of age levels the toys are aimed at. I was surprised to find myself drawn to the more idiosyncratic items oriented toward a younger audience. Maybe I’ve seen too many dinosaurs since my first Louis Marx set in the late 1950’s, more likely it was the fun factor that attracted me.

In particular I got a smile thinking about these toys in live play rather than displayed on a shelf. The PlaySkool T-Rex has a goofy “I’m going to eat you” smirk and there’s potentially frenetic hands-on competition with the Wreck ’N Roar Play-Doh Game. I especially love the mix and match nature of the Jurassic World versions of Hasbro’s Hero Mashers, which have a serendipitous connection to the film’s mixed DNA concept, and give kids a creative outlet to make their own dinosaurs.

hasbro toys, jurassic world

Hasbro’s “Stegoceratops”

This is not to say that the choices within the more standard collectors line are not without note. In particular the “Stegoceratops” is a neat recombinant oddity that will make a remark worthy addition to any dinosaur collection, and I found the winged Dimorphodon really excellent in sculpt and paint job. It’s something I’ll want to own.

The “chomper” Indominus Rex is the flagship of the Hasbro JW action figure line. Though it has no other scale analog to pair it with, you could very effectively terrorize your pet cat or shitzu with it – or send it into battle with the 40” Godzilla you got last year.

Based on the JW trailers, one toy package that seems representative of what is unique in the film’s narrative is the Indominus Rex and Gyroscope Craft box set. If I was grabbing only one JW piece this would be it. The sculpt on the iRex is very good. It’s scary mean glower seems to suggest it is thinking about its next maneuver.

hasbro toys, jurassic park

Classic “Dino Damage” and JW tattoo recall the original Kenner toy line.

Damage Control…
Nostalgic dads will be glad to see that Hasbro has honored some design features of the old Kenner Jurassic line. The creatures sport JW “tattoos” and visible internal body parts behind removable or clear patches. It’s what collectors call “dino damage” and part of what made the original toy line unique. Some of it even creeps into the Wreck ’N Roar gameplay.

BTW, humans are apparently generic “green guys,” not representative of the film’s cast. It’s not such a big deal as I suspect open ended play will be the order of the day once these items get mixed into your child’s toy box. You can never have too many “red shirts.”

SkeletonPete Says…
It will be very interesting to see how Jurassic World and the Jurassic Park franchise resuscitation is received. What were in 1993 stunning CGI effects of dinosaurs come to life, are now common place on TV commercials. Audience expectations are going to be super high but I hope the filmmakers avoided the temptation to overwhelm with effects. I believe the success of the film will rest mostly on how engaging the characters are, and with Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy’s Starlord) and Vincent D’nofrio (who did a masterful job as KingPin in Netflix’ Daredevil) we should be in good hands.

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