Halloween Horror #5: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

Ok, I know it’s not Halloween anymore. But these things take time.

This epic can more properly be described as a Monster Movie, or kaiju film as they call it in Japan, rather than a horror movie. It is a sort of mashup of kaiju, Planet of the Apes, and kung fu, with a three-minute serenade to a monster.

Everyone knows who Godzilla is. But Mechagodzilla? He is, of course, “a robot designed by aliens to conquer Earth, [an] enduringly popular villain”, as The Criterion Collection folks describe him in the notes accompanying their release of the film.

Now all you cineastes can feel relieved. I mean, if the freaking Criterion Collection has gone to the trouble of “curating” this multi-monster fight-fest, then there’s no need to hide your adoration of it from your Truffaut-loving friends.

Here’s the real guy and the pretender facing off:

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is the 14th Godzilla film (out of 38) and was the penultimate film of the Shōwa era, named after the historical era associated with the reign of Emperor Hirohito. All Japanese monster movies (kaiju eiga) are grouped into four eras, of which Shōwa is the first.

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Halloween Horror #4: The Mummy

Hammer’s The Mummy (1959) features the same writer/director team (Jimmy Sangster and Terence Fisher) and male stars (Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) as Hammer’s Dracula; and evokes with its title another Universal classic, The Mummy (1932), starring Boris Karloff. Its plot, as with Hammer’s Dracula, strays a good bit from the Universal version, in this case being more related to later Universal efforts in the 1940s, The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb.

In both the original Universal and the Hammer versions, the central character is a high priest of an Egyptian cult 4000 years in the past, Imhotep in the Universal version and Kharis in the Hammer version, who has been mummified alive and made to stand guard over a dead Princess, whom he loved and attempted to bring back to life, thus violating a cultish taboo.

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Halloween Horror Films #3: Horror of Dracula

Hammer Films. Let’s start there. Last summer a very film-literate friend observed my copy of Hammer Complete : The Films, the Personnel, the Company and ventured that perhaps it had something to do with the crime novels featuring Mike Hammer. Presumably, only the side binding was observed, as one would think the frontispiece would give the game away.

This made me mourn the state of our educational system. I will do my small part to remediate this failing.

Without getting into a potted history of Hammer Films, here is the short version for Horror neophytes. The first great era of horror films came out of Universal Studios in the 1930s, largely through the work of the producer Junior Laemmle, and included the black-and-white films featuring Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man etc, with its most famous stars being Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

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Halloween Horror Films #2: Curse of the Demon

Whereas Eye of the Devil (see earlier post) was what Frank Sweeney referred to as “folk horror”, invoking The Wicker Man as the film that established this genre retrospectively, Curse of the Demon is in the “witchcraft/devil worship in modern times” genre. Modern meaning 1957, which in demonological terms is like yesterday.

Like Eye of the Devil, this is on the high end of such productions, with a cast including Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins. It is based on a short story, “Casting the Runes” by the famous English writer, M.R. James, first published in 1911. Lovecraft gave high marks to James in his 1927 essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”. James was a medieval scholar at Cambridge and Eton but is more famous for his ghost stories, which often reflected his antiquarian interests, as this tale certainly does.

Here is the opening of Wikpedia’s plot summary:

“In England, Professor Harrington begs his rival, Dr. Julian Karswell, to rescind a curse he inflicted on him; in return, Harrington will cease his investigation into Karswell’s Satanic cult. After learning that a parchment he gave Harrington has been destroyed, Karswell promises to do what he can. As Harrington arrives home, he perceives a gigantic demon in the trees. Harrington tries to escape in his car but crashes into power lines. The authorities declare electrocution as the cause of death.”

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Halloween Horror Films #1: Eye of the Devil

October is one hell of a month for horror movie fans, thanks largely, in the US anyway, to TCM, which brings it strong.

My personal taste in horror is influenced by what I watched growing up, which was largely courtesy of UHF television and Dr. Shock, a faux vampire host modeled on John Zacherle’s Roland (himself a famous ghoul who appeared on TV in Philly and New York in the 50’s and 60’s).

Dr. Shock’s broadcasts were heavy on the Universal and Hammer canon along with other varieties of schlock horror from such eminent sources as Roger Corman, particularly his work for AIP (all those Poe movies).

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The Sopranos on Writing

I’ve been reading Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of the Sopranos by Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti on the show) and Steve Schirripa (Bobby Bacala) with Philip Lerman. The book was born out of the podcast Talking Sopranos hosted by Michael and Steve, and features interviews with many actors, writers, producers, directors and other crew members from the series.

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Philly Soul: Brewerytown Beats, The Thompsons and The Ultimates

Credit: Photo by Ron Clark from back cover of I’ll Get Over It

(Spoiler alert: This piece is in large part a shout-out to Max Ochester and Joshua Kwedar for their efforts at bringing forgotten Philly Soul classics back to life, and to Dan DeLuca and A. D. Amorosi for spreading the word about this work.)

I first got in touch with Max Ochester who runs Brewerytown Beats, a great record store in Philadelphia, a few years ago when he was helping me pitch a story about The Showstoppers, of “Ain’t Nothin But a House Party” fame (still looking for a home, but that’s another story). I had been referred to Max by Jack McCarthy, a Philadelphia music historian who teaches a regular series of excellent courses in local adult education venues about Philadelphia music from the revolutionary period onward and has authored a series of articles on the Hidden City Philadelphia site on a wide range of topics related to Philadelphia’s music history.

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Ace 45’s: Alvin “Red” Tyler and Huey “Piano” Smith

When you see an Ace 45, you have to at least consider buying it. Ace was a label started by Johnny Vincent in Jackson Mississippi and was the most successful Mississippi-based label of the 1950s and 1960s, featuring many great blues, R&B, soul and pop artists, many of whom came from Louisiana. Casual R&B fans might recognize “Sea Cruise” by Frankie Ford, which was a big hit for Ace.

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Motor City Memories Vol. 1 LP – Review and Guide (Side 2)

Answer records, a book that may be the Rosetta Stone of rock’n’roll and . . . . finally, Nolan Strong and the Diablos.

It’s taken a while but here are notes on Side 2 of Vol. 1 of Motor City Memories.

For those who missed my post on Side 1, here is link: Motor City Memories Vol. 1 LP – Review and Guide.

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Motor City Memories Vol. 1 LP – Review and Guide

Wildly high falsettos; spoken sections; blatant plagiarism; and “guys attempting to operate musical instruments”

I recently was gifted a three-LP set, Motor City Memories, on the Motor City label, released sometime in the last few years. Each LP has 14 R&B songs by Detroit artists that predate the Motown era.

The LP’s come in plain white covers/sleeves/jackets. There is no identifying information on the records, except the catalog numbers (MC1001, MC1002, MC1003), label and record name, and artists/song titles. No songwriting credits, no BMI/ASCAP, etc.

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