Odds and Ends Vol 32: Psychotronic Review Edition

Odds and Ends

I’m on vacation and I feel like I’ve already done my civic duty by watching the final presidential debate. And that was some major pain!

The more I see of Biden, the more that I like him. Just the same, it is very clear what the argument for him is: normalcy.

A lot of people are applauding moderator Kristen Welker. I didn’t think she did a good job. But really: no one could do a good job. With someone who is willing to break all norms and lie constantly, pretty much every part of society breaks down.

The fact that 40 percent of the nation still likes Trump shows that 40 percent of the nation is made up of authoritarian followers. I admit: Trump comes off in these debates as more dominant in the way that one dog might dominate another. But does that matter when it comes to being the president?

He plays second-fiddle to most world leaders — as he does to Mitch McConnell at home. It’s all fake. In his bluster we see all of his insecurities. And people with even a modest amount of cunning use it against him.

So let’s forget all that and talk about all the cool stuff that’s been happening at Psychotronic Review!

Christopher R Mihm

There’s a writer-director of direct-to-video films made primarily in the style of 1950s science fiction and horror. They are often amusing but that isn’t so much the point of them. They are more loving tributes of these earlier films — generally better than the originals.

Mihm is a prolific guy. He’s made one film each year since 2016. (The film for this year has been delayed due to the pandemic.) And I watched them all and wrote a 4,000-word discussion of each with stuff about his work in general and specific actors (he has something of a stable).

At this time, all but two of his films are available on Amazon Prime for free. I recommend checking them out!

Diani & Devine

About a year ago, Elizabeth and I began looking for ways to watch films together. Eventually, we settled on a great service, Watch2gether. Lots of services allow you to watch and text. But W2G allows you to talk. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with things like Amazon Prime. So now we combine services when necessary: using W2G for voice and Amazon with its Watch Party.

This has also allowed me to watch films with Andrea, which we haven’t been able to do much in recent years. And since our relationship is heavily film-oriented, this is great. She suggested that we watch a 2011 horror-comedy, The Selling.

It introduced us to a really good comedy team, Diani & Devine. They remind me a bit of Nichols and May with Etta Devine getting the more outrageous parts and Gabriel Diani usually playing the reasonably normal man in an insane world.

Check out my article, Diani & Devine, How Hollywood Sucks, and One Reason to Be Hopeful. They’ve made two excellent films and they are both on Amazon Prime for free!

John Carpenter’s Vampires

I saw John Carpenter’s Vampires in the theater. And I liked it. I noticed that it didn’t do well and that a lot of critics didn’t much like it so I bought the Blu-ray and created a complete review of it. (One thing that annoys me is when people review a DVD or Blu-ray as a straight film review. Read my review and you will see the difference.) It also includes overviews of all the other releases of this film (there are a lot).

I could have written about Vampires on Frankly Curious. Although I admire the film in most ways, it is filled with toxic masculinity. The main character Jack (played by James Woods) is just awful. It wouldn’t be hard to say the same thing about Snake Plissken. But he abuses bad guys. Jack treats everyone badly.

Now I understand: apologists would say, “He’s just kidding!” But if you’ve spent any time around bullies, you know that “just kidding around” is one of the most common claims made by bullies. “Why are you hitting yourself?” is supposed to be a joke.

The Gates of Hell Trilogy

Lucio Fulci was one of the greatest Italian horror directors. From 1980 through 1981, he released three Lovecraft-style horror films known as The Gates of Hell trilogy.

It’s interesting what my love of these films shows about my evolving tastes. I suspect that 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have cared that much for them. But over time, I have come to appreciate what I would call “pure horror.” It doesn’t matter to me if things make sense. In fact, it is often the attempt to explain that ruins films.

This was seen a lot in 1950s science fiction films where the writers went out of their way to provide preposterous explanations for what was going on. It’s so common that I rather like it the way you might come to appreciate a horrible scar on a lover. I’m happy every time I learn that Glenn Manning is going to die because his heart is only increasing in size at half the rate of the rest of his body.

The Gates of Hell films aren’t like that. But they also don’t exactly explain anything. For example, in City of the Living Dead, the four main characters are discussing what to do next. Suddenly, the doors fly open and a wind of thousands of maggots are blown all over them. Why? I don’t know! But it’s creepy, disgusting, and effective!

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust

Let me leave you with another nice discovering: I Survived a Zombie Holocaust. It’s a New Zealand film about people making a zombie film when there is a zombie outbreak and they are attacked. It’s not as good as The Selling, but it’s a lot of fun and very funny throughout the first hour.

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust is playing over at Psychotronic Review. Watch it now!

Until Next Time

This is my last day of vacation. I may be really busy when I get back. Then again, I may be looking for anything to avoid paying work. So maybe I’ll do something here.

15 thoughts on “Odds and Ends Vol 32: Psychotronic Review Edition

  1. On DVDs/Blu-Ray/VHS as normal film reviewing; you’re right, of course, those are not how the film was intended to be seen. But neither are showings in a theater! The standard modern aspect ratios are around 1.85:1 and 2.38:1 — these vary slightly, as I’m sure you know. What you may not know is that standard theater practice is to mask all of them in the projector aperture to 2:1. This is because otherwise you either A) have empty screen space on either side of a 1.85:1 showing, or B) you need adjustable curtains. The motors on adjustable curtains break all the time, kids hang on them and such. Revival theaters are generally better about this.

    What drives me nuts is when films made specifically for streaming services are shot in 2.38. It’s not going to be on a theater screen, what’s your point? TVs are pretty close to 1.85, shoot it that way.

    One reason a Blu-Ray player is essential is for films never transferred to DVD after wide-screen TVs became the norm. Some of those will have old TV 1.33:1 displays with a widescreen letterbox transfer inside the 1.33 quadrangle! A Blu-Ray player will deliver better picture quality when zooming in on your TV screen.

    Any serious film fan should have a disc player hooked up to an amplifier and some speakers; Dolby isn’t necessary, but TV/computer speakers are garbage. Two standard speakers are fine. (Or a good cheap set of ear-covering headphones, if you’re in an apartment.) No more than $200 for the whole setup, and my amplifier/speakers have lasted for almost 20 years; I’ve gone through several TVs faster.

    • I think what you are talking about is progressive scan. It’s been a while since I’ve come upon a DVD that wasn’t made that way. It’s really interesting! It’s also interesting to see films at the old VHS resolution. I used to hate people who made a big deal of video quality, but I have become one. Recently, I’ve had to do comparisons of older (but still progressive scan) DVDs and new Blu-ray releases and the differences are often profound.

      The main thing I remember from when I was shooting film is that contrast is so much better for projected films. Of course, now a lot (most?) drive-ins use a kind of video display. I’m looking forward to the day I can check this out myself.

      • Ah, on progressive scan; that is a thing, but what I specifically meant was things intended to be shown on TV which are framed in “scope” format. If it’s meant for TV, don’t shoot it that way to make it look more “movie-like”! The images are just smaller.

        Incidentally, the latest Kaufman, shot for TV and on Netflix, is in 1:33 and that’s much less annoying, the black bars on the sides are a constrictive choice, the central images are large enough. He’s a much better director now than with “Synecdoche,” I enjoyed this last and “Anomalisa” quite a lot.

  2. You had me interested in a John Carpenter Vampire movie until you mentioned James Woods. Racist garbage person. I am quite fond of Escape From New York. But I think I saw it at an impressionable age. Yes, Snake only abuses the bad guys. But there aren’t any actual good guys, so how could he do otherwise? It was filmed in part of Kansas City that had been depopulated after a fire. The outdoor night shoots made everyone nervous because there was no police presence. But the street people he did encounter were intimidated by Kurt Russell in his costume. They made a model of Manhattan and used luminous tape and paint to get the shot for the glider’s navigation screen. They couldn’t get a computer that could render it in those days. And Kurt Russell got thoroughly manhandled by the giant bald man in the gladiator fight. There is apparently some backstory to why the POTUS is English. I read this a couple of years ago. I think it’s silly when people do this. He has that accent because he’s Donald Pleasance. And just say he went to Oxford and is a pretentious douche. Or just ignore it. If you want to sweat details have people reload their guns every now and then.
    I recently re watched The Thing, which I think is great. Olivia has been wanting to see horror movies this October and we watched it together. I had previously only seen it on VHS and low def TV, so the grossness was more than I remembered. Something from the last days of practical effects, and a great example of them. She had on Edward Scissorhands recently. I saw the first half hour and the last ten minutes. I didn’t feel like I had missed much in between. She agreed.

    • There are some good characters in Escape From New York — in the context of the film. Like Adrienne Barbeau’s character. I’ve come to really like Escape From LA, which I hated in the theaters.

      The interesting this (I think I talk about it in the review), is that James Woods seems so much smarter in the interviews of that time. I wonder if something happened to him. You know: the kind of thing that kills someone suddenly. But in Woods’ case it just turned him into an authoritarian idiot.

      I have The Thing on Blu-ray but I’ve been planning to buy the SHOUT! Factory Blu-ray because I want to write an article about those releases of the apocalypse trilogy (I already have the others). I do love The Thing. I’ve seen it more than any of his other films. But I still think In the Mouth of Madness is his best film.

      I just saw an article that ranked all of Tim Burton’s films and put Edward Scissorhands at the top. I definitely disagree with that. But I did agree with the film at the bottom: Dark Shadows.

  3. @ Lawrence — “Edward Scissorhands” is a very overrated movie. However I would strongly recommend “Big Eyes,” a very underrated Burton movie (it’s written by the guys who wrote “Ed Wood.”) It’s a different type of horror movie, with the horror about being stuck in an abusive relationship. Christoph Waltz is the abuser, and in the movie’s third act, he represents himself in court, with exactly the level of Dumb one would hope for (the old saying about “fool for a client.”)

    On James Woods and artists who are horrid people — yes, he is, and I also struggle with this. Do we separate the art from the artist? Roman Polanski is a rapist, does that make “Death And The Maiden” a less powerful film about gaslighting rape? It’s a great movie, with the end confession by Ben Kingsley being probably the sequence every victim of nightmarish abuse wishes they’d have. (Yes, the kindly Ben Kingsley of “Ghandi” and “Schindler’s List” — he can also play a terrifying monster.)

    Ultimately, I think I come down as separating the art from the artist. But I do consider later revelations of their personal atrocious behavior when I judge their work. Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” for example, is almost a staggeringly condescending movie towards anyone who’s not a wealthy New Yorker. And really, you can see that in every Allen film. I took that as social satire to enjoy Gordon Willis’s cinematography in “Manhattan,” but it’s not satire, it’s diatribe. Allen genuinely does believe that working-class people are uneducated oafs (and his concept of “educated” is truly ridiculous; I’d be bored out of my gourd by those people).

    Do I still think Kevin Spacey in “The Ref” is very funny, though? Yeah, I do.

    • I’m generally not inclined to separate the art from the artist. But it depends. With James Woods, I can’t think what I would be giving up. Contact. But he’s an asshole in Contact, so no conflict. Kevin Spacey is not a big part of The Ref. And I haven’t seen that in ages. Not generally a fan of Woody Allen. The only thing by Polanski I’ve seen is Pirates. It’s OK. I wouldn’t go looking for it. I used to like Mel Gibson. But I grew out of it. I still like Chicken Run. But he’s a supporting animated player. Sounds very weak sauce moralizing. If William Shatner gets outed for being in the Klan I will have a big problem.

      • @ Lawrence — you’re forgetting the all-time TV movie Woods classic, “Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story”!

        Of every living Trek actor, I’d expect Shatner to go hard-core right-wing first. Not out of any personal conviction, just the attention. I’m somewhat surprised none have yet. There is no better guarantee of attention than being loosely associated with liberalism and announcing your loud, proud right-wing nutjob views.

        Woods was in one strong movie, “True Believer,” where he played an idealist defense attorney and flaming liberal. A role’s a role, right? Also gave a good performance in Oliver Stone’s “Salvador,” although that’s an unpleasant film. I would highly recommend Stone’s “W,” though… Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, what more can you want?

        • Shatner said in one of his books that he never comments on politics because as a Canadian he feels like a guest in the U.S. And he very much identifies as Jewish. I’ve seen him discuss it with Leonard Nimoy in interviews. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s not a huge fan of paying taxes. But I think that’s about as far as it goes. All of the principal cast from Next Gen and on seem pretty aware that Star Trek is a left oriented project. Maybe Garret Wang is a Republican mole, but probably not. You would have to go with Kirstie Alley, and she’s only in one of the movies.

          • @Lawrence: I totally forgot Kirstie Alley was in “Wrath Of Khan!” Playing, of all things, a humorless Vulcan, when her best skill as a performer is being funny.

        • I haven’t looked into it (because I don’t want to know), but I’ve heard that Shatner has said some shitty things of late.

          Listen up everyone: Videodrome is a great movie!

      • You haven’t seen Chinatown?! Rosemary’s Baby?!

        It’s easy to forget about Gibson in Chicken Runwhich is an absolutely great film!

    • The guys who wrote Ed Wood (and also The People vs Larry Flint) had started directing the last time I looked.

      I think you have to separate the artist and the person. But I am mostly unable to do it with Woody Allen, perhaps because I was such a huge fan. Throw Polanski in prison and watch his films! James Woods did some amazing work early in his career, but I find his later work too intellectual. And that works in things like Videodrome.

  4. @Frank — they also wrote an outstanding miniseries about the O.J. Simpson case. Which I wouldn’t have thought could be any good at all; I steadfastly avoided all TV coverage of it at the time. It’s excellent.

    I can get firmly behind “throw Polanski in jail and watch his films.” My library does not, yet, have his movie about the Dreyfus case, which I do want to see. Give him work release to make more films; there’s no need to be cruel to inmates if you can keep them away from harming people.

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