Tag Archives: 1978

Throwback Thursday: “Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell” (1978)!

“Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell” (1978) was yet another made-for-television movie that rocked my world when I saw it in early grade school.  But it didn’t age well — not even by a narrow margin.  When I saw it on TV again a few years down the line, like maybe when I was in junior high, I realized it was … truly a third-rate horror movie.  (It was every bit s campy as the trailer below suggests.)

It wasn’t all bad, I guess.  It stars Richard Crenna.  And whatever special effects they used to show the titular monster after its demonic transformation were surprisingly decent for a 70’s TV movie.  (I actually wonder if they used the same rotoscope process that Ralph Bakshi used in the same year’s animated “The Lord of the Rings.”)

 

 

Throwback Thursday: this wall-mounted yellow rotary telephone!

Yep.  I’m pretty sure that this is the telephone my family had when I was a little kid.  It had an actual, physical bell on the inside that literally rang when people called.  (And you obviously had no idea who it was; you had to answer it to find out.)  It was loud too.

The phone was a rotary — it made that weird sound in the earpiece when you turned it.  The fancier touch-tone phones would arrive in abundance as the 1980’s arrived and gained a little steam.  They eventually came to include “cordless” house phones — everyone thought those were especially impressive, even if there was some paranoia connected with them.  “People can listen in in your conversations!,” the Luddites among us would warn.

The phone below was the “downstairs phone,” if I remember correctly.  There was only one other phone in the house; it was in my parents’ room upstairs.  (It was the same landline.)  If one of my older siblings received a call and wanted some privacy, they’d have to ask for permission to to talk up there.

I actually remember learning my first telephone number on this phone — my parents had me practice it a couple of times by dialing it.  If you dialed your own number on a rotary phone, you got a busy signal — as a little kid, I thought that was pretty funny.  (I’m guessing I would have been in kindergarten or the first grade — this was about 1978, about the same time I was thrilled by “The Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew” on television.)  I can still remember my family’s first telephone number.

Hey, if you think all this is archaic, you should have heard the stories my parents and aunts told me when I was a kid.  They were old enough to remember the “party lines” of a few decades prior, where an entire street would share a single phone line.  Weird, weird stuff.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Invasion(s) of the Body Snatchers!!!

Below are the trailers for all four major film iterations of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”  Though these movies enjoy varying degrees of fame, they all remain close to my heart.  There is just something about Jack Finney’s original paranoia-inducing story idea that’s timeless and frightening.  (Finney’s 1955 novel served as the basis for the first film, directed by Don Siegel, a year later.)  And I always thought that the identity-stealing, alien body snatchers were an elegant monster concept too, because they can be rendered effectively on film with little or no special effects.

The first trailer is for the original 1956 classic, which still holds up surprisingly well.  (If you haven’t seen it, then you might discover that it’s got more urgency and less camp than you’d expect from a typical 1950’s alien invasion flick.)  The second trailer is for the genuinely frightening 1978 remake, which is, quite simply, one of the top science-fiction/horror films of all time.

I was introduced to both of these movies by my “movie uncle,” Uncle John.  I remember thinking the original was far better than I’d expected for an “old black-and-white.”  (I’d had a an adolescent’s predictable skepticism about old movies.)  And the dour 1978 masterpiece got under my skin and stayed there forever.

The 1993 installment, simply titled “Body Snatchers,” is probably the least well known —  I’ve never heard it mentioned outside of horror fan circles.  I myself had never heard of it until I stumbled across it in a video store more than a decade following its release.  It had a very limited theatrical release, and it sometimes feels like the most generic of the “Body Snatchers” movies — like maybe a made-for-television movie or an especially good entry for the first revival of “The Twilight Zone” (1985-1989).

I love it.  You could tell it was a labor of love for its screenwriters and its director, Abel Ferrara … it was obvious that they truly “got” Finney’s concept, and that they set out to deliver just what genre fans wanted.  This “Body Snatchers” was freaky, fast-paced and unsettling, and I still feel it deserves a broader following.

The fourth trailer is for the most maligned and recent adaptation of Finney’s novel, 2007’s “The Invasion.”  (My god, was this really made 13 years ago?  Tempus fugit.)  People really dislike this movie, despite a cast led by Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.  It was generally panned by both critics and audiences, and I sorta understand why.  It’s got its share of flaws — most notably a hasty happy ending that feels tacked on by the studio.  I don’t quite love it, but I really like it quite a lot — it’s stylish and ambitious and has a lot of creepy moments.  And if you think Nicole Kidman is easy on the eyes, as I do, you’ll see that she looks like a million bucks here.

If you really enjoy these films and are hungry for more, there are two other alien invasion movies that seem to channel the same muse as Finney’s.  The first is 1994’s “The Puppet Masters” by Stuart Orme.  (It should not be confused with its soundalike contemporary, the “Puppet Master” (singular) horror franchise, which depicts demonic dolls.)  “The Puppet Masters” is campy, but still very cool, and it adapts the eponymous 1951 novel by Robert A. Heinlein.

The second recommendation I’d offer is 1998’s “The Faculty.” It’s an even campier horror-comedy aimed more at mainstream audiences, but it’s still a lot if fun.

 

Throwback Thursday: The “WKRP in Cincinnati” Turkey Drop Scene (1978)!!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

I’m not sure if the below scene from “WKRP in Cincinnati” (1978-1982) is overexposed; it annually pops up a lot before Thanksgiving.  (I’ve shared it on Facebook at least once, I’m sure of it.)  It is, of course, the famous “turkey drop” scene from the Thanksgiving episode of the show’s first year.  (WKRP would have been on the air only two months when this episode first aired.)  The title of the episode was “Turkeys Away,” and it’s still quite well remembered by people interested in television pop culture.

The scene is really funny — people went nuts for it back in the day.  I still remember my parents and older siblings truly cracking up over over it.  And it really is all tied together by Gordon Jump’s perfect delivery of its feckless final line.

Hey … there’s actually another bit of WKRP trivia that’s been making the rounds lately on social media.  It turns out that the lyrics for its closing theme, which many people my age remember quite well, are actually nothing but gibberish.  Seriously, check it out.

 

So I’m introducing a dear friend tonight to “28 Days Later.”

So I’m introducing a dear friend tonight to “28 Days Later” (2002).  It is possibly my favorite horror film of all time, maybe even narrowly beating out “Aliens” (1986), “Alien 3” (1992), John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), the Sutherland-tacular 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and George A. Romero’s first three “Dead” films (1968, 1978, 1985).  (Whenever “Star Wars” fans refer to their “Holy Trilogy,” I muse inwardly that those last three are its equivalent for zombie horror fans.)

My friend thinks it’s funny that I refer to “28 Days Later” as “my sacred cow.”  I’ll be crestfallen if she does not like it, and I told her as much.  And that’s weird for me … I usually don’t feel let down when someone doesn’t enjoy the same books, movies or music that I do.  Not everything is for everyone.  Art would lose its mystique if it weren’t subjective.  If all art appealed to all people, it would lose all its appeal altogether.

Part of me feels, unconsciously perhaps, that “28 Days Later” is the kind of film that “redeems” the horror genre (even though no genre needs such redemption — if art is well made or if it affects people, then it’s just fine).

Most comic book fans of my generation can tell you how people can occasionally roll their eyes at their favorite medium.  (Comics have far greater mainstream acceptance today than when I started reading them in the 1990’s.)   For horror fans, it’s sometimes worse.  Horror is a genre that is easily pathologized — and sometimes with good reason, because a portion of what it produces is indeed cheap or exploitative.  I wish I could accurately describe for you the looks I’ve gotten when acquaintances find out that I’m a horror fan.  They aren’t charitable.

“28 Days Later” and movies like it are so good that they elevate horror to a level that demands respect from the uninitiated.  It is an intrinsically excellent film — it just happens to have a sci-f-/horror plot setup and setting.  It’s beautifully directed by Danny Boyle, it’s perfectly scored and it’s masterfully performed by its cast — most notably by Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson.

Moo.

 

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It’s here — November 2019.

How do you suppose we “Blade Runner” (1982) fans should celebrate?  How do we commemorate the final arrival of the setting for the greatest science fiction movie of all time — and arguably the greatest film of all time?

There aren’t many terribly good suggestions from the movie itself.  It’s not like “Animal House” (1978) or “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975), which lend obvious themes to a party.   If you think about it, much of “Blade Runner’s” action consists of people having labored, intense conversations in dimly hit, high-ceilinged rooms.  There’s also a lot of screen time devoted to Harrison Ford brooding while he drinks alone.  Those things are not exactly the stuff that good times are made of.

I suppose that the idyllic drive through the mountains with a loved one at the story’s end would be a nice way to mark the occasion … but that particular coda is only part of “Blade Runner’s” theatrical release — and most people I know prefer the director’s cut.

And learning origami takes too much time.

Should we … flip a turtle on its back in the desert and resolve not to help it?

Tortoise.  I meant tortoise.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Willard” (1971) and “Ben” (1972)!

“Willard” (1971) and its sequel, “Ben” (1972), were another pair of 1970’s movies that got plenty of airtime on 1980’s television.  I read both books when I was a kid too.

First I picked up Stephen Gilbert’s Ratman’s Notebooks at a yard sale, because that’s how you found cool horror books during summer vacations when you were too young to drive.  (Sometimes adults had few compunctions about what they sold to minors too.  I bought a vampire book in gradeschool that was full of nude photos, for some reason, and that led to what I’m sure was an interesting conversation between my parents and the neighbor-proprietor down the street.)

Anyway, I absolutely loved Ratman’s Notebooks (despite its lamentable absence of nude photos) and I finished it in a day or two.  The novelization of the “Ben” film by Gilbert A. Ralston was somewhat less impressive, but I still enjoyed it.

If you’re a comics fan, like I am, then it might occur you that “Willard” and his army of trained rats seem to inspire a villain in Batman’s rogue’s gallery — Ratcatcher.  Ratcatcher has been a minor league villain since he debuted in DC Comics in 1988, but he’s a pretty neat bad guy when placed in the hands of the right writer.

I feel certain that anyone will recognize Ernest Borgnine in the first trailer below– his  face and voice are impossible to confuse with those of another man.  If the disaffected, spooky, eponymous Willard looks familiar to you, that’s none other than a young Bruce Davison.  He’s a good actor who’s been in a lot of films, but I think a plurality of my friends will know him as Senator Kelly from the first two “X-Men” movies (2000, 2003).

You’ll note the presence of flamethrowers in the trailer for “Ben.”  Flamethrowers were a staple of 70’s and 80’s horror films; it was just part of  the zeitgeist.  They were handy for heroes fighting any nigh-unstoppable nonhuman baddie — think of “The Swarm” (1978), “The Thing” (1982), “C.H.U.D.” (1984), “Aliens” (1986), and “The Blob” (1988), for example.  Hell, 1980’s “The Exterminator” featured a vigilante using a flamethrower to kill criminals.   It was a weird time.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” (1978)!

“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” was a spoof of sci-fi/horror films that hit theaters in 1978, and broadcast television shortly after that.   (The first video below is the film’s trailer; the second is its campy theme song.)  I think I was a second grader when I saw the movie on TV, and I positively loved it.  I still remember rolling around on the living room floor in peals of laughter.  I talked about it for weeks — and to anybody who would listen.  (If you think my social skills are lacking as an adult, you should have seen me in the second grade.)

I was surprised to learn recently that this film has a cult following.  I’ve hardly heard about it since the close of the 1970’s — and I’ve known a lot of flick nuts.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “The Swarm” (1978)!

I was surprised when I recently discovered that “The Swarm” (1978) was a feature film; I remembered it as a made-for-television movie from my childhood.  (After its theatrical release, it debuted on NBC with a hell of a lot of fanfare in February 1980.)  I was also surprised to read that it was both a critical and a commercial flop, and is often named as one of the worst films ever made.  I was in the second grade at the time, and — let me assure you — this was THE movie the kids in school talked about.  We were in awe of it.

The people behind “The Swarm” had high hopes for it in 1978.  The internet informs me that it was based on a best-seller by famed novelist Arthur Herzog. And it was helmed by director Irwin Allen, who gave us two classic 70’s film adaptations of disaster novels — “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972, and “The Towering Inferno” in 1974.  (Those were a pretty big deal back in the day.)  And just look at the cast named in the trailer below.  It’s like a who’s who of 1970’s cinema.  Yet it all apparently just didn’t pan out … contrary to my memories of second grade, “The Swarm” went down in pop culture history as a train wreck.

Check out the bee-proof suits worn by the guys with the flamethrowers.  Talk about an excellent G.I. Joe toy that was never made.  (Of course we had “Blowtorch,” but he was 80’s rad, and these guys in white are 70’s kitsch.)

 

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A very short review of “Halloween” (2018)

I just cannot be partial to slasher films.  It’s never been my preferred horror sub-genre to start with, and, at this point in my life, these movies have become so predictable and devoid of story that I often find them boring.  There are exceptions — some of the the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” films (1984- 2003) and “Child’s Play” (1988) were grotesquely creative and had terrific supernatural setups that were well executed.  But even the attraction of  John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” films (1978, 1981) is still mostly lost on me.

With all of that said, I’ll still say that my horror fan friends were right when they told me that 2018’s “Halloween” was a superior sequel.  It looks a lot better than the segments I’ve seen of of the campier followups in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

It’s far better filmed and directed, it’s occasionally scary and it benefits from a very good cast. (Jamie Lee Curtis is of course quite good as the film’s heroine and perennial “final girl.”  I’m also always happy to see Will Patton on screen, and I like Judy Greer a lot.)  The script occasionally shines unexpectedly, too — the screenwriters have a truly impressive talent for making minor characters vivid with funny throwaway dialogue.  (One of the three screenwriters is actor-writer-comedian Danny McBride, who I liked quite a bit in 2017’s “Alien: Covenant.”)

I’d be lying, however, if I told you that I wasn’t occasionally bored by this latest “Halloween” — simply because its basic, boilerplate plot and conclusion seem endlessly redundant with those of other slasher films.  There are few surprises toward the end — one “gotcha” moment was especially nice — but the overall story is just too tired.  I’d rate this film a 7 out of 10 for its merits, but I can’t actually get excited enough about it to recommend it.

 

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