Category Archive: Film, TV & Theater

Mar 27

Re-Evaluating Attack of the Puppet People

Attack of the Puppet PeopleFive years ago, both Andrea and I wrote reviews of the Bert I Gordon film Attack of the Puppet People. We were actually fairly fond of it, although I attacted its screenplay savagely.

But Saturday afternoon, I came upon it on YouTube and I totally changed my mind about it. The screenplay is actually quite good. I loved the film. You can read all about it over at Psychotronic Review: Attack of the Puppet People. As is the idea with these pages, this one has three articles: the two that Andrea and I wrote back in 2012, plus a new one with my more evolved thinking on the film. It’s worth checking out.

(Also, I’ve removed the pages from here. Or rather, if you go to those pages, they redirect you to the Psychotronic Review article. That’s a little pro blogging tip. 301 redirects are amazing things!)

It’s also worth checking out the following absolutely wonderful print of the film. Don’t let the image fool you: this is not a frightening film. It is suspenseful though.

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Mar 25

The Roger Corman Poe Cycle

The Roger Corman Poe CycleI added another page to Psychotronic Review, The Roger Corman Poe Cycle. For those who don’t know it, it probably sounds horrible — like something Arnold Schoenberg wrote in 1930 that still no one quite gets. But it’s actually something really great: eight films that Corman directed (and sometime produced) between 1960 and 1965 based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe. (Actually, one of them is based on an H P Lovecraft novel, but the title is taken from Poe.)

I’ve been watching these films since I was a kid. Yet when I sat down to write about them, I found it really hard. Since Roger Corman was King of the Cheap Movie, the films largely look alike. That’s especially true of House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Raven. And so I found myself confused about just what memory went with what movie.

In addition, fully half of the films deal with someone buried or entombed alive. It’s kind of amazing to think how much drama you can get out of that one idea. But I suspect that most people find the idea of being buried alive to be pretty terrible. And none of the stories are the same. So there you go.

One thing I noticed while going over the films is that they’re a bit on the sexist side. Women are either devoted spouses (or would-be spouses) or they are the most treacherous creatures imaginable. Hazel Court is really the best at that. I do have a kind of bizarre crush on the characters she plays. Oh, to spend my life with such a deliciously smart and evil woman! The only problem would be, of course, that she almost certainly would have murdered me. If not, she would have left me for someone richer and more evil.

Films Worth Watching

All these movies are about an hour and half. If you leave 15 minutes for intermission, that’s 13.75 hours. It would be awesome to rent a movie theater and show all eight films, starting at 10:00 am and running until midnight. It’s shocking that people don’t do that kind of thing more often. I suspect you could rent the films pretty cheaply. The question is: just how many freaks like me would pay ten bucks (And I’d pay a hell of lot more!) to sit in a movie theater all day watching movies made before I was born? Not enough, I’m afraid.

Go check out The Roger Corman Poe Cycle. Over time, I’m sure I (hopefully others too) will write articles about the individual films. I’m sure to write about The Raven. It’s my favorite. The truth is, I like Vincent Price most when he plays a good guy. And the film is a comedy. And it has the great trio: Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff join Price. Plus, there’s Hazel Court — really at her best.

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Mar 24

New on Psychotronic Review: Horrors of Spider Island

Psychotronic Review - Horrors of Spider IslandOver at Pychotronic Reviewwe’ve created a new page for the classic German horror-girly film, Horrors of Spider Island.

If you know the film, it is probably because Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured it in their final season (10th if you don’t count the KTMA season, 11th if you have any class at all). As I’ve been working on the Psychotronic Review project, I’ve been surprised at how often I run into the show. Of course, Michael Weldon’s The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film was their bible, just as it is mine.

But the film is quite good all on its own. I wish I could find it in German. You can get a taste of it in a short clip. In addition to hearing the original language, the picture quality is fantastic — at least compared to all the English language versions online.

Anyway, head over to Psychotronic Review to check it out. The page includes the full movie from It’s the perfect film to watch on this rainy Friday afternoon.

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Mar 21

Psychotronic Review’s First Blog Post

Psychotronic ReviewI fear that many of you may see this image and have the same let-down that I did as a child when I was expecting Night Gallery to come on and instead they aired The Sixth Sense. But what I write there I just would have written here.

The interesting thing about Psychotronic Review is that it isn’t a blog. It is meant to be more of an encyclopedia. While all the articles on Frankly Curious could never be compiled into a book, I suspect that those of Psychotronic Review could be — certainly if I ever manage to write as many articles as I have here.

So on Psychotronic Review each film has a page rather than a post. The different in CMS-speak is that posts are sequential — one after the other. Pages just are. So my page on A*P*E has no indication of when it was create — even relative to other articles.

Anyway, this made me wonder what I was going to use the blog for. I’ve decided that it will mostly be on theory. This first article, however, isn’t that much theory (although I couldn’t come up with a better category for it). It’s The Good and Bad of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It deals with my deeply divided thoughts on the show. On the one hand, it introduced a lot of people to psychotronic films. On the other, it seems to think they are all bad.

Go take a gander.

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Mar 20

New on Psychotronic Review: The President’s Analyst

Psychotronic ReviewNew at Pychotronic Review: The President’s Analyst.

This is a rather long look at this very odd, but funny 1967 film written and directed by the co-creator of Barney Miller. When I first saw it, I didn’t care for it that much. But it has only improved with time and viewings. Read all about its plot, my analysis of its deeper meaning, and a look at the technical side of the film.

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Mar 16

New on Psychotronic Review: Night Gallery

Psychotronic ReviewNew at Pychotronic Review: Night Gallery.

The set-up on Psychotronic Review is that we have pages for movies — and now television series. This works especially well for television series, because we may want to write about particular episodes. And that’s even more true with Night Gallery, because the content was so varied. I just wrote an article on a short segment called “Hell’s Bells.” In addition to this, I transferred the article that I wrote here about “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar.” It will be fun adding to it. I’ll undoubtedly get around to doing The Twilight Zone. But it is better appreciated and therefore less deserving of the attention from Psychotronic Review.

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Mar 13

New on Psychotronic Review: Ishtar

Psychotronic ReviewNew at Pychotronic Review: Ishtar.

We have a new system at Psychotronic Review. We create pages for films. And those pages contain one or more articles about the film. In this case, the article is, Ishtar Is a Funny Movie — Why Haven’t You Watched it? You should know that a film this maligned must have something going for it. And when it’s written and directed by Elaine May, how can it miss? Well, it can’t. It’s just that for some reason, the studio decided to kill it and a whole bunch of people decided to hate it without seeing it.

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Mar 05

Schitt’s Creek: Introduction, Analysis, Review

Schitt's Creek - Still From Third Episode: Don't Worry, It's His Sister

Andrea introduced me to a Canadian situation comedy, Schitt’s Creek. It features SCTV stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as the parents of a once rich family, now reduced to living in a motel in Schitt’s Creek with their adult children, played by Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy. It’s a pretty standard fish-out-of-water story, where the fish are sophisticated and think themselves very much superior to those in their new environment. It very much has the feel of Northern Exposure.

When Northern Exposure was out in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was a big fan. But when I revisited it a few years ago, I was disappointed. It tries a bit too hard to be quirky, and as a result never really jells into anything believable. Schitt’s Creek does a far better of job of this. For one thing, other than the mayor (Chris Elliott), the local people aren’t odd so much as normal. But more important, the family, though pampered and annoying, are smart and quick enough to understand their situation.

The Heart of Schitt’s Creek

The heart of the show features the son David (Daniel Levy) and his relationship with the motel clerk, Stevie (Emily Hampshire).[1] David is an smart, urbane man in his early 30s who has never really had to grow up. He used to run an art gallery, but that was clearly underwritten by his father. He seems lost in his own world. Stevie is certainly David’s intellectual match, but in a very low-key way. And the best moments between them involve the same formula. David says something clueless; Stevie responds sarcastically, but without a hint that she is doing so; David goes with her sarcastic reply, but again, without a hint that he knows.

David greatly improves Stevie’s life, because his general weirdness amuses her. But the two develop the first honest bond in the series, and by half way through the first season, they sleep together. But the rest of the season and the entirety of the second deals with David’s decision that they not be lovers, because he realizes that Stevie is the only true friend he’s ever had. (In the third season, they end up in love triangle of the Cabaret style — David is pansexual. But I haven’t seen any of these episodes.)

The Essence of Friendship

This is the fundamental theme of the entire show: the essence of friendship. The family used to be rich, after all. And they all had lots of “friends.” It reminds me of a line from The People vs Larry Flynt. Larry’s mother is amazed at the number of friends he has at his party, and Larry says in a knowing way, “Lots of money, lots of friends.” When the Rose family, quite innocently, lose all their money, none of their friends step in to help. But in their often crude and clueless ways, the people of Schitt’s Creek do. This is very effectively brought together in the last episode of the second season.

But you don’t have to be too wrapped up in the characters. The truth is that it is a genuinely funny show. A good example of this is the third episode, “Don’t Worry, It’s His Sister.” In it, Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) having decided to sell the town, is on a mission to fix it up. This is when he comes upon the sign in the image above. No one outside the family sees the pornographic nature of it. The mayor, Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott) protests that it is just a picture of his great grandfather, Horas Schitt. (Yes, the show has a lot of “Schitt” puns. Not just Horas and Roland, but Roland’s wife, Jocelyn.) The episode only gets worse (better), although the denouement was pretty obvious.

A Little Humiliation Comedy

There is one thing that bothers me in the show. It’s has more humiliation comedy than I would like. That’s especially true of Catherine O’Hara’s character. (O’Hara really does have no sense of shame as a actor; she will do anything.) But this is made up for by the intelligence of the characters. In fact, there is one really great scene where she is going to the town choir to take it over (she’s a professional actor, after all), only to find that it is quite good and there is at least one singer who is great. So it isn’t The Office, but there are times when I wince.

A Show for Everyone

Of course, it isn’t surprising that I would like this show. It has a very positive message about humanity. And while it makes fun of the foibles of all of the classes, its harshest criticisms are leveled at the rich. I’m surprised there isn’t more of that in entertainment. After all, the rich are a really small demographic. Regardless, I think that Schitt’s Creek a very appealing comedy, that is different enough for people like me to appreciate but not so different that it scares away people who just want a funny show. We’ll see if it ages better than Northern Exposure. I tend to think that it will.

[1] Emily Hampshire reminds me of someone, but I can’t think of whom. And no, it isn’t Ally Sheedy.

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Feb 20

A*P*E: Meta-Film of a Fine Vintage

Psychotronic ReviewNew at Pychotronic Review: A*P*E: Meta-Film of a Fine Vintage.

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Feb 17

Everybody Loves Robot Monster

Psychotronic ReviewNew at Pychotronic Review: Everybody Loves Robot Monster.

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Feb 14

Transubstantiation of Elvis

Elvis PresleyIn 1992, I went to Hong Kong for the first time. I was sitting in the back of a little Irish pub. And I was pretty drunk. And in walks a Chinese Elvis impersonator in a white jumpsuit studded to the ridiculous extreme that we are all accustom to. Holding an acoustic guitar, he performs “Hound Dog,” collects tips and leaves. You got all that, right? Hong Kong, Irish pub, Elvis. The next day I wasn’t sure myself. I had to ask my colleagues, and they confirmed it: I did in fact see a Chinese Elvis do “Hound Dog” in an Irish pub in Hong Kong. Many people go their entire lives without ever experiencing something as magical.

I love Elvis and even more, I love Elvis Culture. In a sense, Elvis is America: a drug addict who wanted Nixon to make him an undercover DEA agent; a white guy who made millions off the work of poor blacks; and a country rube who somehow connects to a universal audience. In addition to all of this, the music is just fantastic. But it’s the Vegas act silliness that drives the culture. Although I do not particularly like watching Elvis at that stage of his career, I do like what it has spawned. I never would have gone to see one of those shows, but I’d thrill to see Elvis impersonators.

So when I noticed that the film Almost Elvis was available on Netflix, I had to watch it. It isn’t a great film, but it is fascinating. It follows a group of Elvis Impersonators as they compete for the “Images of Elvis” prize for the best Elvis impersonator in the world. It focuses on Irv Cass, a professional from Michigan. Little did I know it, but there is a network of Elvis impersonators throughout the world. If you want one, you call up EEN (Elvis Entertainment Network) and they will send one out. Cass is one them, and seems to make a decent living doing it:

Cass is very free with his opinions of the competition. Since he was one of the most established people in the field at that time, he knows them all. He’s rather good at talking about their strengths and weaknesses. In this way, he nicely systematizes what it is to be an Elvis impersonator. And this brings up probably the most interesting part of the film: race. One of the top people in the field is Robert Washington, who is a black man. Mostly everyone is very respectful of him. But they also admit that he doesn’t look like Elvis because of his race.

But here’s the thing. I don’t think that any of the impersonators looks like Elvis the man. If you take away the hair and the sideburns and the outfits, they just look like random white guys. So really, when we are talking about Elvis, we aren’t really talking about his face. Elvis isn’t a person anymore; he’s an archetype. So to me, it is all about getting up on stage with “the look” (hair, burns, suit) and moving and sounding like Elvis. What’s more, in Washington’s case, he isn’t all that black. Until people started talking about it, I just thought he was really tanned.

All the people said the same thing: I question whether Washington will ever win the title, not because I don’t like him, but because of the judges being, well, racist. This is typical: people generally think their neighbors are more racist than they actually are. At the end of the film, Washington came in second. The good news is he later won the event. Check him out; he’s great:

An academic interviewed for the film referred to the “transubstantiation of Elvis” to explain why people want more than just the music. The music is enough for me. But he’s right: these guys do become The King. And that’s pretty great.

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Feb 13

Introducing Psychotronic Review

Psychotronic ReviewIn the margins of a couple of articles recently, I’ve mentioned that was planning to start a new website, Psychotronic Review. But you never know about these things. If I started every website I said I was going to, I would be running about 50 websites right now. But I have indeed started Psychotronic Review, and I think I will continue on with it. Let me explain why.

When I first started Frankly Curious, the idea was explicitly to be a mess: whatever came into my mind. But that idea became worse and worse the better that the site did. Starting at the beginning of 2012, I wrote more and more about politics. And in a way, it became kind of a typical political blog, because most political blogs tend to mix it up. Look at Vox, which is a professional political website (not a blog): it publishes quite a lot about pop culture and science.

Film Needs Its Own Site

But if you look at who reads Frankly Curious, it is a political website. Most of the people who read the site regularly do so because of the politics. And most of the comments are on the political posts. That’s all great. Just the same, for every seven articles I write about politics, I write an article on film, television, and theater. I’ve written a total of 487 articles in that category. And that amounts to almost 6 articles per month. And my single most popular post — Bugs Bunny: Rabbit or Hare? — belongs to that category. So if you removed everything else, Frankly Curious would be a fairly successful film blog.

Now that I know how to transfer all my Google “juice” to a different website, it just makes sense to separate my film writing off to its own website. In addition, I find that I’m more interested in writing about film than I have been. And given that my interest in film is not typical, mainstream film, such a site is likely to attract readers who are interested in it specifically.

What Is Unique About My Film Writing

I do come at the subject differently from most other people. There certainly are a lot of people who are interested in old low budget films. But most of them are following in the tradition of The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. These are people who like to make fun of these film — who think they are bad. It probably is not a coincidence that I’ve started Psychotronic Review only shortly after getting The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. Unlike the Medveds, Michael Weldon actually likes the films he discusses.

I’ve always felt rather lonely in terms of my interest in the typical psychotronic film.[1] Most people treat them as things that are just good to laugh at. And those who genuinely enjoy the films usually feel as though they must apologize for it. I like the idea of presenting a fulsome appreciation of them. After all, these films are generally thought of as bad not because the people involved were incompetent but rather because the producers didn’t have enough time and money to do things in a more competent manner.

(Imagine if the airplane crash from North by Northwest were in the middle of a Bert I Gordon picture. Oh, how people would mock it! Yet Gordon would have an excuse that Hitchcock did not. There is something chauvinistic about forgiving the errors of the rich and powerful while holding the poor and weak to ridiculously high standards. That is doubtless one of the reasons that I admire even the shoddy efforts by those who really “should know” their places and not be making such films.)

The Psychotronic Review Vision

My intent is to make Psychotronic Review more than just a blog. I want it to be a full-featured website. In the long run, I hope it becomes popular enough to support a forum. The truth is that I’m always looking backwards. But psychotronic films are made all the time. (Don Coscarelli is probably the greatest psychotronic filmmakers working today.) And it would be great if people were talking about that while novels were being optioned and money raised.

But I know that I will get to the point of creating biographies for great psychotronic filmmakers: writers, directors, producers, actors, and whatnot. And I’d like to create a database of psychotronic films with links to where they are available on YouTube or Dailymotion or elsewhere (also Hulu and Netflix and other paid services). In fact, I was thinking of creating something like “On YouTube Now” to go on the sidebar of the blog. It would be a list of 10 films that were currently available to watch for free on YouTube. There are lots of other things I could do too.

This is, after all, the greatest time for people interested in psychotronic films. If it weren’t for YouTube, I never would have been able to see Alabama’s Ghost. Currently, it is only available for sale in VHS format for $18. After that, there’s a copy for $2,459.95. But because of YouTube, I was able to watch it as soon as I learned about it (and write about it almost as quickly). And I hope that Psychotronic Review will make this an even better time for people of this inclination.

Changes to Frankly Curious

As a result of all this, you are going to see some articles disappearing from Frankly Curious. For example, I took the articles Death Bed: the Bed that Eats and Review of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, and combined them into a single article on Psychotronic Review, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats Review and Analysis. But it doesn’t matter, because if you click on either of those Frankly Curious links, you will be taken to the Psychotronic Review article. Oh, the power of 301 redirects!

In addition to doing this, I will put most of my new film writing over on Psychotronic Review. I’m not sure if that will include things like my articles about Bugs Bunny, but it will include my writing about art films. (You’ll have to wait for my article defining “psychotronic” to get a better idea of why that is.)

Moving Along

But other than that, I don’t see Frankly Curious changing all that much. I might, however, add a list of the newest articles at Psychotronic Review, so you can see if anything is happening there that you want to check out. Of course, that will just list the blog. And like I said, my plan is for the site to be a lot more than just a blog. But it ought to give you some idea.

Finally, if any of you are interested in writing something for Psychotronic Review, let me know. I hope that readers will write articles highlighting some of their favorite films. I doubt anyone will be interested at first. But I hope that the site gets good enough that people will want to be part of it. That includes having Andrea fix the design of the site. I am aware that it looks like I designed it. But I figured it was best to put something up rather than wait.

Regardless, I hope it all works out and that it is as fun to work on as I expect. If it is, I’m sure people will enjoy using the site.

[1] I used the modifier “typical” because the definition of psychotronic is unclear. But I think we all know what a “typical psychotronic film” is: a relatively low budget science fiction film from the 1950s. Good examples are Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Plan 9 From Outer Space.

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