June 30, 2006
Joys of YouTube
Everyone's nuts about YouTube. Me too. Mostly I watch it for old music videos from the real bands, not from all those lip-synching numbskulls. Thanks to this website, I'm now seriously thinking about tossing out all my old videotapes of 80s new wave, 90s shoegaze, and other bands, all of which I used to record from late-night TV broadcasts. Here are eighteen random favorites (with personal commentary, a kind of chronological lowdown of what these have meant to me). Click on the blue link; see the video.
(1) The Cars, "Touch and Go." I'm not exaggering when I say the Cars changed my life. When I was 13, I was starting to listen to stuff like Journey and REO Speedwagon. Then I got the Cars' albums. I think the band still sounds cool and relevant now, and this song holds up particularly well--how many other bands can you name who release a single partially in 5/4 time like this one?
(2) The Pretenders, "Talk of the Town." This, along with Split Enz's "I Got You" and that Tom Petty / Stevie Nicks "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" silliness, were the first videos I remember seeing on MTV. The close-ups of that shimmery silver guitar. The way Chrissie Hynde says "weesh" instead of "wish" (pronouncing it like a lot of my Kansas classmates did). And that sublime moment she sings "You've changed."
(3) Duran Duran, "Planet Earth." Absolute classic masterpiece. The beginning of a huge Duran phase for me. I remember watching this on my Aunt Corene's brand-new MTV cable service, and thinking "I've GOT to do that to my hair." Lord.
(4) Altered Images, "I Could Be Happy." This is one that never fails to make me smile. I love Clare Grogan's flailing arms, especially at the end when the lion is chasing her. And the boys' haircuts and clothes in the video-- embarrassingly enough, this is sort of how I looked in the early 80s.
(5) Spoons, "Nova Heart." Around 1983 or so, my mom remarried, and one of the only things I liked about my new stepdad was he insisted on getting a satellite dish for our home's TV, even though we could hardly afford it. My sister and I discovered the Canadian channel MuchMusic, which at the time was excellent. This is where I first heard a lot of cool UK and Canadian bands. Spoons were one of the best, and their album Arias and Symphonies was terrific.
(6) The Cure, "Other Voices." College started. What a depressing year: My beloved grandmother died; my sister and I had no money, and were briefly living together in a cramped, ugly, freezing-cold trailer house in Lawrence, Kansas. (The trailer court was called Mobile Acres!) I hated school and knew hardly anyone. But there was the Cure, Bauhaus, 4AD bands, and the like, helping me make it through that year.
(7) Bauhaus, "Mask." Speaking of Bauhaus... this is one of the creepiest videos ever. "The shadow is cast." It must have been great fun to make.
(8) The Durutti Column, "The Missing Boy." Not an actual music video, but a clip of a 1981 live performance. I was really psyched to see this on YouTube. This song is from the album LC, which also helped me get through that awful freshman year of college. Proof that Vini Reilly is one of the greatest guitarists ever.
(9) This Mortal Coil, "Kangaroo." I rejoiced when I found this on here. A few years back, I was great pals with Gordon Sharp of cindytalk, who sings so spectacularly here, but we've lost touch. Dear, lovely, brilliant Gordon, where have you gone?
(10) The Jesus and Mary Chain, "Just Like Honey." I'll never forget the first time I heard this. So fantastically powerful I can't say any further words about it.
(11) House of Love, "Christine." A nice companion piece to the last song. What an amazing guitar sound. At KU, when I lived in the dorms, one of my #1 best friends was named Chris Kean, so of course I loved singing this song to him with his name as the substituted lyric.
(12) Cocteau Twins, "Carolyn's Fingers." Like me, that same friend Chris was a huge Cocteau Twins fan. Blue Bell Knoll was set to be released on my birthday that year, and a few weeks before it came out, KU's radio station, KJHK, played the advance single release of this song. I hate that ridiculous cliche' "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven," so I'm not going to say it here. Oh, I guess I just did.
(13) Talk Talk, "I Believe In You." Quite possibly my favorite music video ever. Definitely one of my favorite songs, from one of my favorite albums (Spirit of Eden). Too bad the song is edited for the video version. If you check this out, you should also look at the one for "Life's What You Make It." I think these all, like the Cure's videos, were directed by the amazing Tim Pope--anyone know what he's doing now?
(15) Ride, "Sennen." Ride's album Nowhere, and the stellar 4-song "Today Forever" ep from which this particular song is lifted, came out not long after I moved to NYC. This was the period when the band were at their most perfect. These were the autumn afternoons when I'd get out of my writing classes at Columbia's School of the Arts, take the subway (the 1 or the 9 train) downtown, get out at some random station, and walk around the city, exploring the explosive newness of everything. And Ride (or Lush, or Slowdive, or Chapterhouse) was quite often the music on my headphones as I walked and walked.
(16) Swervedriver, "Son of Mustang Ford." See #13: I was listening to this band and Raise a lot at the time, too.
(17) My Bloody Valentine, "To Here Knows When." And same with this band and Loveless. Still my all-time favorite album.
(18) Seefeel, "Industrious." Finally, I couldn't believe when I found this clip on the YouTube site. Seefeel!! I worship whomever uploaded it. I doubt there's an actual Seefeel video in existence, but this live clip, even though it's blurry and sounds terribly murky, is a thrill nonetheless. To my knowledge, Seefeel only played NYC live once--and it was with two of my other favorites at the time, Main and the sublime Labradford. In the years that followed, I got to see Main and Labradford, but sadly, that night when Seefeel played, I couldn't snag one of the sold-out tickets. So catching this troubled, glitchy little YouTube video is priceless.
June 26, 2006
Gleaming and fresh in my mailbox this week (in my new house!--tons to report on that front, which I promise to do in the next blog entry) was the new novel by Peggy Munson, Origami Striptease--the latest in a quickly expanding line of excellent books published by Suspect Thoughts Press. I'm reading the book right now, and it's really great--filled with odd, wandering, wonderfully nasty-minded characters, and written in an exciting prose style. If you're looking for some edgy, thrilling, strange, and/or sexy books to read this summer, I highly recommend heading over to the "adults only" Suspect Thoughts site and checking out some of their other titles. (You can even read excerpts from some of the books to give you an idea what you'll be getting.)
Suspect Thoughts is exciting because they're doing edgy, risky books at a time when (sadly) fewer and fewer people read, at a time when (sadly x2) most mainstream publishers are only publishing their tried-and-true moneymaking standbys. Suspect Thoughts has also published the books pictured above and below: the mindblowing and hilarious Pulling Taffy by Mattilda, ie Matt Bernstein Sycamore; the bizarre "contemporary gods" fantasy The Forgotten Ones by my beloved Canadian pal Douglas Ferguson; the brutally lovely and oddly Shakespearean One of These Things Is Not Like the Other by D. Travers Scott; as well as other excellent titles (novels, poetry collections, essays, and anthologies) by folks like Tom Woolley, Jennifer Natalya Fink, Justin Chin, Dodie Bellamy (one of the world's greatest, most inventive writers), and the late Sam D'Allesandro (about whom I've previously blogged). These are just a few--there's still a bunch of Suspect Thoughts books I want to read but haven't.
Coming up later this summer is the new book by Stephen Beachy. I can't f@#$ing wait for this!!!! Stephen is a good friend of mine, but he's also one of my favorite writers, past present future. I love his books just about as much as I love theme parks, old horror movies, warm friendly dogs, etc etc. Among writers still living, he's right up there with folks like Joy Williams or Robert Glück or Daniel Woodrell or Cormac McCarthy (click this McCarthy site link to see more work by my own great website designer, Michael Borum!) or Alice Munro or Kevin Killian or Dennis Cooper (I know--that's a pretty eclectic list). Stephen is completely brilliant, and his prose is always astonishing. (Some of you might know about him from his scandalous expose' of the J.T. Leroy lie in New York Magazine last year; you should also check out his novels THE WHISTLING SONG and/or DISTORTION). Some Phantom / No Time Flat is two of Stephen's novellas sandwiched into one book, and you can bet I'm going to be writing a lot more about it around August or September when it's published.
Tomorrow or Wednesday: an update on the stresses of moving into our new house.
June 19, 2006
Happy Birthday, Nick Drake
Oh, Nick, how I love you so.
My five favorite Nick Drake songs:
(1) "Hazey Jane II"
(2) "Pink Moon"
(3) "River Man"
(4) "Northern Sky"
(5) "Place To Be"
June 15, 2006
Burnt With Water
We're getting ready for the big move. Pretty much everything I own is in boxes. So I'm still fighting off the depression and the second-guessing.
Out of left field, then, here's a confession: I'm a closet fan of industrial dance / EBM ('electronic body music'--I know, silly name) bands. I've been listening to this stuff again lately. In the late 80s, I was listening to this sort of music A LOT. While the recent crop of "industrial" or EBM-styled bands aren't on my radar anymore, a lot of the earlier examples of the music has stood the test of time, and sounds equally exciting and hard and contemporary today. So here I've made a list of my favorites from that period. In keeping with my obsessive idiosyncratic guidelines for silly list-making, I limited myself to one record per band. I stopped the list around 1990 (so I didn't include later stuff like Godflesh, Scorn or other Mick Harris projects, or The Downward Spiral, all of which could have snuggled somewhere into this list). It begins with one of the bands that started it all:
(1) Cabaret Voltaire, The Arm of the Lord. Still sounds utterly fantastic. And the synth sounds are like no one else's. I remember when the "cooler" gay clubs used to play "I Want You" on their once-a-week-requisite "alternative night"... oh, those were the days. Sort of. And oh yeah, "Sensoria" is to this day one of the greatest videos ever.
(2) Skinny Puppy, Vivisect VI. SP is one of the few bands that I think still sound complex and exciting after all these years, and this is my favorite out of all their terrific, harsh, often-mimicked records. "VX Gas Attack"'s lyrics are so eerily prophetic now, given recent history. I saw them live when they toured for this record in St. Louis, MO; they spattered fake blood and burning dollar bills on the audience and played played played the film loop of R. Budd Dwyer blowing his brains out on TV. All of this fit the music strangely perfectly; the black-clothed audience was elated.
(3) Coil, Love's Secret Domain. I just listened to this again today, and Wow. This one's essential. I love Coil's more ambient and more grating electronic records, too, especially Horse Rotorvator and the later Black Light District. But "Domain" is just perfect. There are three total masterpieces on it: "The Snow"; "Further Back and Faster"; and "Dark River," the latter of which I swear I'm going to use as the opening credit theme to the horror film I want to someday direct. R.I.P. Jhonn Balance.
(4) Clock DVA, Man-Amplified. Great creepy synth parts and intricate, repetitive bass lines. I always loved the subversive, mega-intelligent liner notes that Adi Newton would write for their records. Not long after I first moved to NYC in 1991/1992, Clock DVA were slated to play at the Limelight, and I excitedly went, only to be devastated when their visuals weren't working or some other glitch. The band was visibly pissed, and they wound up playing a handful of tracks before disgustedly stopping. It was exciting nonetheless. And although it isn't on this particular album, here's a seizure-inducing video for "The Hacker."
(5) Chris and Cosey, Techno Primitiv. I love everything this band has ever done. Techno Primitiv is perhaps not as heavy and beat-driven as the other things on this list--Chris and Cosey would get a little closer to that style in later years--but this is my favorite of their many records. It's so haunting and cool and sexy and eerie. Cosey's voice is like a ghost's in some faraway haunted house. "Misunderstandings" is my favorite song of theirs, and it's on this record.
(6) Meat Beat Manifesto, 99%. One of the bands originally on the stupendous, short-lived Sheffield-centered UK record label SWEATBOX (along with equally great bands like In the Nursery and A Primary Industry). Much of their music was sort of the bridge between 'industrial' and hip-hop. And Jack Dangers was, and still is, really cool. There was a brief time in Kansas City when many of these Wax Trax! bands came to play live concerts at a little Westport-area club called THE SHADOW, and my sister, my black-clad friend Lori, and I would head there to see them. We also saw live bands like Pankow, MC 900 Ft. Jesus, a: grumh, Consolidated, Moev, Die Warzau, and others, but Meat Beat Manifesto was one of the best. "Psych-Out"... "Hello Teenage America"... "Helter Skelter"... all amazing songs.
(7) Revolting Cocks, Big Sexyland. I think this is the best thing Al Jourgensen ever did. Once again, a huge hit for the goth kids on 'alternative night.' I also love some of the stuff on their live album-- "In the Neck" and "Cattle Grind" especially.
(8) Finitribe, "Let the Tribe Grow" 12". I first heard their song "Detestimony" on "Night Flight," that late-night weekend video program that used to be on the once-sorta-cool USA Network. I love how they use clanging church bells as percussion. Finitribe later wimped out and tried to have a hit album; they should have stuck to this sound.
(9) My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Confessions of a Knife. I always liked the "scary and funny" Thrill Kill Kult more than the "sexy and funny." They were great at lifting samples from cult and horror films (thank god for the Edith Massey samples on "The Days of Swine and Roses"); thanks to them, I searched out Alucarda (also known as Sisters of Satan or Innocents From Hell), a great, campy Mexican horror film about devil-possessed lesbian nuns. My friend Scott Savaiano and I still quote that ridiculous film any chance we get. Oh, and here's the video for "Kooler Than Jesus."
(10) Front 242, Official Version. I wish I could count the number of times I heard "Aggressiva" or "Quite Unusual" in a dance club back then. Or especially that b-side of theirs called "Welcome to Paradise"-- you know, the one that goes "hey, poor/you don't have to be poor anymore/Jesus is here." Does that ever really get old? (Actually, yes, when you're hearing it about 5 times per night at Kansas City's lame THE EDGE nightclub in 1990.) Pairing industrial dance music with Christian televangelist rantings--Cabaret Voltaire did it years earlier, but Front 242 brought it to the goth-kid masses. "Official Version" isn't as heavy (or commercial) as they eventually got, but it's still my favorite. Years and years after first wondering what the initials on the opening track stood for, I finally figured out that it's "What You Hear Is What You Get." I think.
(11) SPK, Zamia Lehmanni--Songs of Byzantine Flowers. Australian noise band who were sort of notorious in my nearby Kansas City at the time for some disturbing show they did with autopsy films playing behind them or something of the sort. Their early music is really difficult, and after this one, they briefly got into embarrassingly kitschy dance-pop. Then leader Graeme Revell got hugely rich & famous doing movie soundtracks, many of them for horror or fantasy films... SIN CITY, STRANGE DAYS, THE CRAFT, DEAD CALM, OPEN WATER, RED PLANET, THE CROW, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, etc etc etc. But anyway, "Zamia" is a totally beautiful, dreamlike instrumental album, sort of like Dead Can Dance but with more "found" sounds and noises processed into melodies. There was one whole year in my college dorm room when I would play this just before sleep, letting it usher me into dreamland. (Oh, and does anyone know if their name really stood for "surgical penis klinik"?)
(12) Gruesome Twosome, "Hallucination Generation" 12". I don't know much about this band, but any band who lifts its name from a Herschell Gordon Lewis film has got to be good. They used terrific samples ("Hollywood is about as glamorous as my ass") and a great electronic drum sound. I had their Candy From Strangers full-length, but it wasn't nearly this good. And it's got a cool record sleeve by Steven R. Gilmore.
(13) Ministry, Twitch. Yeah, the later guitar-heavy, thrashy Ministry was pretty cool at times. But although they probably denounce this one, with its heavy sequencers and faux-British-accented vocals, I think it's their best. Especially Side One (that's the first four songs, for those of you who've only experienced CDs instead of vinyl) and "Over the Shoulder".
(14) Severed Heads, Come Visit the Big Bigot. Maybe not quite as "EBM" as some of the other bands on this list. Mostly the project of one dude, Tom Ellard; their early records were freaky experimental electronics, and their later ones got very dancefloor-centered. This one, though, was a nice (but still bizarre) halfway point.
(15) The Tear Garden, The Tear Garden ep / Tired Eyes Slowly Burning. Totally beautiful electronic music with twisted, dreamlike lyrics, originally a band consisting of Edward Ka-Spel from the Legendary Pink Dots and cEvin Key from Skinny Puppy. "The Centre Bullet," "Coma," and especially "Ophelia" are all gorgeous songs. (One night in 1987, my car broke down on a deserted road in the center of Kansas, with no one around for miles, and "The Tear Garden" ep was playing over and over and over and over in my car's cassette player, but even after that I didn't get sick of it.) Plus, once again, the great Steven R. Gilmore-designed covers are amazing.
(16) Acid Horse, "No Name, No Slogan" 12". A one-off collaboration between the dudes from Ministry and the dudes from Cabaret Voltaire. Two great, wholly different versions on one 12", a strange mixture of disco and cowboy songs.
(17) Controlled Bleeding, Trudge. A lot of this band's other records were noisier, more brutal and abrasive, oftentimes unlistenable; others are calmer, prettier, sometimes almost New Age-y. "Trudge" was probably their most typically "EBM." I always thought their main dude Paul Lemos was sexy, and I also loved their band name.
(18) Nitzer Ebb, Belief. Often when you mention "industrial" music, people will pick this band as their favorite. I never loved them that much, but "Belief" does have some excellent songs, most specifically "Control I'm Here." And some of their earlier videos are infectiously repetitive and vaguely anarchic and homoerotic. Oddly, MTV wound up loving this group--you couldn't get through a broadcast of "120 Minutes" without 'em. I guess they were probably the closest this music ever got to being popular in college fraternities across the country.
(19) Front Line Assembly, Gashed Senses & Crossfire. Probably the best at miming their countrymates Skinny Puppy. I also liked a lot of their spinoff bands and records, ie Intermix, Synaesthesia, and Noise Unit. As happened with the guy from SPK, these dudes got lots more rich and popular much later, when they started producing gigantic hits for other people and creating worldwide smashes on the dance / DJ side of things.
(20) The Anti-Group, Digitaria. Scary scary scary album. Same folks as Clock DVA. Supposedly has all these subliminal noises and messages, blah blah blah. The end.
June 13, 2006
Happy Birthday, Paul Lynde (R.I.P.)
I'll take a break from my usual long weblog posts to mention that today (June 13th) would have been Paul Lynde's 79th birthday, had he lived through his supposed drugs-and-poppers-fueled sex romp with a hustler back in 1982. I've always been fascinated with Paul Lynde. I loved him on Bewitched, as Templeton the Rat in Charlotte's Web, and as the host of his surreal Paul Lynde Halloween Special (which also featured the Osmonds, the nightmarish Witchiepoo, Wicked Witch Margaret Hamilton, and KISS, whom I totally worshipped back then). Honestly, I can't get through a single old episode of Hollywood Squares without cracking up at Paul. There was a brief time I entertained the notion of attempting a biography of him, but then others beat me to it. For some good internet overviews of Paul and his career, and some of his choice answers to Hollywood Squares questions, check out some of these sites: here; here; and here.
June 11, 2006
I've been depressed all week. Mildly mostly but, at times, intensely. I think the main reason for this is the preparation for the upcoming move. There's nothing like getting ready for a big address change to stir up a brainload of stagnated memories and nostalgias, right? Instead of just boxing things up, I've chosen to read through old letters, leaf through old photographs, trying to decide what to keep and what to throw away. Probably not such a good idea. Of course this means finding lots of correspondence from old friends and, even more piercing, from my mother. I wish I could be a little more like Michael, who's been great about tossing what he absolutely no longer needs. Instead, I wade through all the memories.
A week's worth of nonstop Cape Cod rain, even though it's usually my favorite weather, isn't doing much to help chase away the blues. I haven't been sleeping well. My computer's TAB key is stuck. And Michael's been away for the past few days, visiting his Amish comrades in Indiana (hopefully he'll return tonight with something from their annual community auction). I'm still waiting to get my We Disappear revisions back from my editor; with every day, my paranoid side is convincing me that her silence means she hates the book.
(Speaking of books, I'm currently reading two great ones in "advanced reader's copy" form. Both are forthcoming, and both will eventually appear in lengthier wrap-ups on future installments of this blog: Charity Girl, novel #3 by my wonderful, beautiful boyfriend Michael Lowenthal, released at the beginning of next year; and Winter's Bone, by the astonishing Daniel Woodrell, released in August. Oh, and if you haven't seen this cool website already, my friend David Meiklejohn has a cool project going at One Hundred Books. )
But back to my feelings of depression. Yesterday I drove the 65 miles back to Boston to attend the gay pride parade, which (figuratively and literally) was something of a washout. I felt about 80 years old. I missed New York, and I missed my friends in New York. I think my malaise, and my disconnected feelings from my supposed social group, were compounded by our brainless, misguided administration's recent attempts to treat gay people as lesser US citizens. Naturally I'm happy Bush's attempt at a Constitutional amendment stalled, but overall the whole week of anti-gay news left me feeling a little nauseous, especially at a time when (1) gay people are still the victims of hate crimes, like this weekend's NYC anti-gay violence against Kevin Aviance, and (2) certain gay (but not "publicly" gay) high-profile news and entertainment personalities are at the forefront of media blitzes and promotional junkets, yet aren't coming clean about their sexuality at a time when it could really, really, really matter.
Andy Towle at the Towleroad site sums up what I'm trying to say quite nicely.
Switching gears: I'm really psyched for the new Thom Yorke solo album. Now there's a guy who's genuine. Will it be as stellar as the latest Scott Walker masterpiece? Both geniuses are pictured below.
Thanks, everyone, for posting so much on the "TV horrors" entry. You've made me go back and re-watch EXORCIST III, and you've made me glad I wasn't the only one scared by the Magic commercial or by Lady Elaine or the Vegetable Soup freaks. Oh, and thanks Sarah Beasley and the always terrific Michael Schaub at the always terrific Bookslut for alerting more folks to this site.
On Thursday, Michael's dad & stepmom return to the Cape; on Friday, I'm off to LA for the Mysterious Skin theater production (which is getting good reviews so far--you can read the first one here). If you're in the area, get your tickets because it's selling out. And I'll definitely be there on Saturday night). Anyway. Apologies for turning this blog into my evening confession and sob story. Next time I write, I'll hopefully feel better.
June 02, 2006
Scary, Part II: Television
My horror movie post got some good responses. Now I have to admit I forgot some things, including films and scenes you guys suggested. Yeah, that hospital murder from The Exorcist III is stunning. And yeah, various scenes and images from The Shining. But also: the drowned Jason leaping up to grab Adrienne King at the end of the first Friday the 13th. And: the brief appearance of someone in Catherine Deneuve's mirror in Polanski's Repulsion. And perhaps most of all: Freddy Krueger's arms outstretching to knife-scratch the alleyway walls in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Now here's a follow-up. This time, I've made a list of things originally on television--made-for-TV movies, TV series, even a TV commercial--that truly scared me. Apologies for perhaps not remembering all of these completely clearly.
Again, in no particular order:
(1) Bad Ronald. Creepy nerd Ronald (played by the hot, at least in my eyes, Scott Jacoby) kills a girl. Overprotective mom hides Ron behind the walls of their house. Soon Mom passes away, and Ronald gets loopier. Then another family (with three sexy blonde teen daughters, of course) moves into the house, unaware they aren't alone. This movie really affected me when I was a kid, so much so that I was constantly checking the refrigerator to see if food was mysteriously missing (because in the movie, Ronald steals food from the family's fridge) and fingering the walls for peepholes (Ron spies on the girls while they're sleeping, taking baths, etc). This film is also a direct influence on a scene in my upcoming novel. I'm not the only one obsessed with it; you can find lots of stuff on the web, including a snippet of the film's creepy theme music. Oh, and something many of the movie's fans don't know: BAD RONALD was first a now-very-hard-to-find novel by Jack Vance (not to be confused with the late Jack Nance of David Lynch film fame), and in the book, Ronald was a LOT "badder."
(2) Speaking of David Lynch... next on this list would be any scene featuring "Killer Bob" (ie Frank Silva, R.I.P.) on Twin Peaks. In the horror-film post, I mentioned that scene from Fire: Walk With Me, but there were some equally scary Bob moments in the TV show. Bob climbing over the couch. Bob crouching behind the bars of Laura's bed. And Bob / Leland killing cousin Maddie. Here's what wikipedia has to say about Frank Silva: "According to legend, he was dressing the set of Laura Palmer's bedroom in the pilot episode, when Lynch accidentally caught him on camera when his reflection appeared in a mirror. The image of a long-haired man appearing in a corner of the image gave Lynch a shock. Lynch loved the image so much that he created the character of Bob, a dark spirit who haunts Laura, and cast Silva in the role." You can also hear Lynch tell the story his way.
(3) One night in the late 70s, my sister Tamyra and I stayed up late to watch a movie called Force of Evil. Apparently this film was also shown as "Tales of the Unexpected," but it didn't have anything to do with the Roald Dahl TV series of that same name; instead, it one of those Quinn Martin productions. I remember the film starred Lloyd Bridges, a late-teenage Eve Plumb of the Brady Bunch, Pat Crowley (pictured, below center, when she guested on Match Game, a TV horror in itself), and Cindy Eilbacher, who was also in BAD RONALD, lucky girl. And I remember "Force of Evil" scared both my sister & me senseless. The plot concerned a prosecutor whose family is brutally terrorized by a murderer he once convicted (the movie begins with the guy sending them an amputated arm in a flower delivery box). It did the "killer who won't stay dead, no matter how many times you think you've killed him" schtick a year before Halloween and its myriad mimics. I have no idea if "Force of Evil" will ever make it to dvd, but just tonight I discovered it is available on VHS, so I've ordered it used on amazon. Maybe it wouldn't hold up so well now, but it sure gave me nightmares when I was ten.
(4) Kolchak: The Night Stalker. As a kid, I was scared by lots of things on this show, but one episode, "The Trevi Collection", affected me the most. Mannequins come to life and kill people: a storyline that's never failed to scare me (see last week's post, re: Tourist Trap).
(5) "Abracadabra, I sit on his knee. Presto, change-o, and now he's me. Hocus, Pocus, we take her to bed. Magic is fun . . . we're dead." That was the ventriloquist dummy's voice-over on the original television commercial for the film Magic. It traumatized me for weeks. (There's a really good essay on the phenomenon of this TV spot right here.) Overall, Magic isn't bad, and it's pretty scary in parts. But it's certainly not as exquisite as its TV trailer, this thirty-second piece of brilliance.
(PS--staying on the topic of horror-film TV commercials--another that freaked me out was for the little-seen 1980 slasher film Silent Scream, even though the commercial gave away the film's scariest moment.)
(6) "Screamer," an episode of the TV show Thriller. This one grew to legend proportions during my childhood: I remember this episode aired really, really late at night, and I could only stay up for the first two-thirds or so before falling asleep; my sister, however, saw the whole thing, and breathlessly related it detail-for-detail to me the next morning. To my disappointment, the episode never reran. Since I now have an all-region DVD player, I think I just might order this "Thriller" anthology so I can see that episode again. (Besides, I loooove those 70s British horror anthologies--films like VAULT OF HORROR and TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.) Oh, and "Screamer" starred the goddess Pamela Franklin, who was also in horror classics like The Innocents and The Legend of Hell House. That's Pamela (in "Hell House"--I couldn't find any shots from "Screamer"), below right.
(7) During my preteen years, PBS ran a trippy, bizarre, and often unintentionally frightening kids' show called Vegetable Soup. It usually aired after the common line-up of Sesame Street, Electric Company, and ZOOM. But Vegetable Soup was different. Their animation was scary. Their theme song ("C'mon a-long an' JOIIIN UUUUSSS... in a little bowl of VEG'TABLE SOUP") was scary as well. But scariest of all was the show opener, an ongoing story about kids travelling through space in their homemade spaceship. The "stars" of these segments were mutated puppets with lifeless fishy eyes and real-sized hands (although the puppet heads were small, the puppeteers' hands were gloved and constantly, wildly gesturing at the sides of the expressionless puppet faces, making for some truly surreal and horrifying viewing). By the way, I'm not the only one who found these freaky things horrifying--you can also read a blog entry about 'em by Nick Sagan, son of Carl.
(8) The previously mentioned Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
(9) "Home," the fantastic X-Files episode with the inbred family and their limbless, under-the-bed mother. Even the house (below) scared me.
(10) The loon-voiced, rosacea-faced, rhyme-spouting idiot Lady Elaine Fairchilde from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I can't even look at her picture without shivering.
(11) Salem's Lot. One of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel, even if it was made-for-TV. All of the scenes with Reggie Nalder as the vampire were horrifying. But the scariest scene to me involved the bloodsucking little kid floating in fog outside the window, tap-tap-tapping, wanting to get in....
(12) In Search Of. Even the theme music and Leonard Nimoy narration got me. The "Bigfoot," "Jack the Ripper," "Spirit Voices," "Loch Ness Monster," "Ogopogo," and "Ghosts in Photography" episode(s) were especially creepy. The decade-later, updated IN SEARCH OF TV series didn't even come close to the smartness or scariness of the original.
(13) Charles Durning starred in a freaky TV movie called Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Here's how the film is described on its amazon VHS page (where, as in the cases of BAD RONALD and DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, its rare used VHS copies run for outlandishly high prices). "A retarded man is unjustly accused of killing a young girl. Disguised as a scarecrow, he hides in a cornfield, only to be hunted down and shot. Later, members of the search posse are killed by a mysterious scarecrow." Holy shit. Once again, I remember my sister and I losing some serious sleep after we stayed up late for this one. After all, we grew up in Kansas, where scarecrows weren't all that uncommon.
(14) Sybil. With the great Joanne Woodward and Sally Field, and a screenplay by the genius Stewart Stern. I was obsessed with this TV movie when it first aired. Certainly not a horror film in the conventional sense, but some of the flashback scenes of Sybil's abuse (those enemas!!!) did some damage on my nine-year-old brain. Therefore I read the Flora Rheta Schreiber book (below) about 20 times after I saw the movie.
(15) Many, many moments and episodes of Unsolved Mysteries. I still watch this occasionally on Lifetime reruns. (And now, as pictured below, a lot of the shows are available on these DVD box sets.) The show could get really creepy and effective with their re-creations, especially in some of the "ghost" episodes (ie, the headless ghost who haunted a restaurant and would made his decapitated head materialize on tables, etc... or the elderly couple who lived with a ghost who would taunt them by tinkling a little bell after they'd leave the room...) or the UFO episodes (the Allagash abductions!). My favorite segment ever, though, is one I only saw once, and now I'm not even sure if it was indeed Unsolved Mysteries, or how much of this I even recall correctly. It involved a boy kidnapped while camping, and a girl kidnapped while riding her bike; no one knew the cases were related until a woman found a Polaroid outside a convenience store that showed the two kids bound and gagged in the back of a van. Does anyone out there remember this episode? And if so, how can I get more information about this case?
(16) Trilogy of Terror. The first two segments didn't do much for me. But the third, "Amelie," in which the fantastic Karen Black is terrorized by a convulsive, dead-eyed, fang-toothed Zuni warrior doll, made me feel like I'd swallowed battery acid.