Friday, June 30, 2006

Why I love Criterion

Take a look at the picture to the left. Ever heard of this movie? If you're like most people, you probably haven't. Yet Criterion has just released it on 2 DVDs- the theatrical release, 2 commentaries, interviews with the stars. Heck, it's even got an introduction by Forrest J. Ackerman himself!

Why am I so excited?

Let's go back in time, to a mythical land known as mid-1970s era Drexel Hill, PA. Way before cable, there were only 7 stations in my neck of the woods- the three major networks, PBS, and three local UHF stations. One Saturday afternoon, young Bill turns the dial to Creature Features and sees this a bunch of teenagers in the woods messing with a book of spells. Soon, they are being chased by a man named Mr. Asmodeus, and his stop-action demons. The film stock was grainy, the acting was poor, and the stop-action was cheesy as hell. Needless to say, I was hooked.

I'd always loved stop-motion in movies- the jerkiness of the monsters' movements only added to the atmosphere, and the monsters definitely looked cooler than men in makeup. Plus, even though I was a huge fan of the Universal monsters of the 30s and 40s, you knew that no matter what happened there was going to be a happy (and, usually, sappy) ending. Equinox was one of the first movies I remembered seeing that ended bleakly, and that stuck with me.

Over the next several years, I managed to catch it whenever I could- usually around midnight on Friday. And then, nothing. Local TV stations became extinct, and your chances of catching movies like this diminished. No one I knew had ever seen the movie, and it never really appeared in any books about horror movies.

Yet, now, here it is- at least 25 years since the last time I last saw it. And Criterion, of all companies, is releasing it. You'd normally expect to see a movie like this being sold on bootleg quality video at a flea market. But this one’s got two versions of the movie (who knew there was a director’s cut?), commentaries, outtakes, interviews, and more.

I’d spent about half an hour talking up this movie to my wife, basically telling her what I’ve written above, before she told me to be quiet and play the movie already. It was a moment I was kind of dreading- could this movie hold up after all this time? Could I become a 10-year-old boy again?

Well, the first thing I noticed was that one of the actors was Frank Bonner, who later went on to play Herb Tarlek in WKRP in Cincinnati. And then I got to thinking about how much I loved that show, and how I wished someone would straighten out the music rights so we could finally see it on DVD. And that made me a little sad because my mind would never have wandered during this movie when I was a kid. No matter how much I wished otherwise, my adult self could not lose itself into the movie like the kid could- I couldn’t fully get past the acting, or the effects, or the plot-holes.

But there were some good points- for something that was made with no budget in 1967 and is basically a glorified home movie, the effects are pretty good (in fact, Dennis Muran who did the effects ended up having an illustrious career with George Lucas’ ILM). Also, the monsters still looked pretty cool and Asmodeus was creepy. I was struck by how similar this movie was to the first two Evil Dead movies. I guess Sam Raimi haunted his local UHF stations at midnight, too.

So, while it didn’t bring back all of the feelings I once I had, I’d still recommend it to any of you who’ve read this far. I know I’ll hang onto the DVDs until my daughter’s 7, and we’ll spend a Saturday afternoon watching it.

Now, if Criterion will only look into releasing The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

How I spent my weekend

You'll find this out soon enough, but I'm a bit of a geek. One thing that makes me very happy is the Chiller Theatre Convention. Where else can you meet some cool B-Movie stars and your favorite TV actors?

Here are a couple shots from the most recent Convention- how many people do
you recognize?


Somehow it's not as much fun when it's your blog.