Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Future is Passe

A Facebook friend recently made me aware, through his status update, of a milestone about to pass unfulfilled. With only one day left in the year 2010 it would appear that we are NOT going to "make contact" as promised in the movie "2010: The Year We Make Contact" (1984). This realization made me think of other science-fiction movies that failed to predict the future before their settings became part of the past instead of the future.

Science-fiction tends to be speculative, and that's a good thing. It doesn't really try to "predict" the future, per se--just use the genre to tell a story that may or may not seem feasible in the real world. The "fiction" part of science-fiction allows for most any setting and plot lines the author/film-makers can imagine. The time frame can be any period in the past, present or future. The "science" aspect of science fiction frequently (but not always) tends to cause the setting to be in the future. Time travel stories/movies are a notable example. Usually the time machine apparatus is invented in the future ("The Terminator" (1984)), or the present ("Back to the Future" (1985)), and the protagonists of the story can then travel to any point in the past or future ("Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989)...).

Now, when a science-fiction story is set in the future, the author/film-makers can choose between a couple of different ways to express when the action is taking place. The first method is to simply describe it as "the future", "the near future", or the futuristic setting can simply be implied by the story itself without needing to state it outright. What makes this method effective is that no matter when the story is read (or the movie watched), it will always be taking place in "the future". The other method is to explicitly state the time that the story is taking place in. This gives a sense of just how far into the future the story is unfolding and gives a sense of relativity to the reader's/viewer's own refernce point in time. This is perfectly fine with a newly published book or a recently released movie, but poses a problem when reading older books or watching older movies. What was "the future" in the story might actually be "the past" by the time someone reads/watches it. With the possible exception of Nostradamus and other future predictors, no one really knows what the future is going to bring. This is what makes science-fiction such an interesting and wide-open genre. One can speculate any kind of future that one can imagine and make an interesting story out of it. Of course, when the time of that story actually comes to pass, the "predictions" made in a future-based story will almost always not reflect the present world's reality.

There are many examples of this paradox, and more are happening all the time. I haven't done any exhaustive research on this topic, but here are a few examples that come to mind from my own movie-watching experience. "2010: The Year We Make Contact" is a very topical example, because 2010 is about to expire with no contact (that I'm aware of) with a higher intelligence from "out there". Jupiter has not collapsed in on itself, and it's going to have to do it pretty quickly if it wants to beat Dick Clark ringing in 2011. Of course "2010" was the sequel to the better known "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968). Both of these movies were based on Arthur C. Clarke books. As of tomorrow, the dates of both movies will be in the past. Clarke DID write two more books in his series, "2061: Odyssey Three" and "3001: The Final Odyssey". There's still quite a while before the book set in 2061 becomes dated, and 3001 is definitely going to be safe for some time.

Big Brother was watching us in the George Orwell novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" and a couple movies based on that novel. 1984 probably seemed pretty far in the future when Orwell wrote the book in 1949, but obviously it is now pretty far in the past. My interest in science-fiction really solidified in the early 1980s so I remember hearing about the movie version that was released in 1984. I have never read the book or seen the movies (though I probably should), but am somewhat familiar with the whole "Big Brother is watching" theme. While 1984 came and went without Orwell's dystopian predictions coming true, the idea of "Big Brother" really has become part of our collective conscience. Whenever there's fear of loss of personal freedom or privacy because of corrupt government, identity theft, internet security issues, and the like we tend to hear something about "Big Brother".

The "Terminator" franchise is based on time travel, so some of its problems with time catching up with it can be explained away, but when you get right down to it, Skynet was supposed to become self-aware in August of 1997. It wasn't long after this date that the computers declare war on humanity. This date can be adjusted as the series continues by saying that the heroics of the good guys in the movies (TV show, comics...) caused a delay in when Skynet finally went online. Now that's science-fiction at work! The original time traveling in "The Terminator" occurred when characters were sent back to 1984 from the year 2029, so there's still a little while before that becomes dated.

Another 1980s-based time travel series of movies is coming close to a time of reckoning itself. "Back to the Future" (1985) is pretty safe. In that movie, Doc Brown invents a time machine in the present (1985) and Marty McFly travels 30 years in the past to 1955. No problems there. But in the first sequel to the movie, "Back to the Future Part II" (1989), Marty and Doc Brown travel into the future. How far in the future? All the way to the year 2015. As of tomorrow, 2015 will only be four years off.

TV shows aren't exempt from these time problems either. I first started watching the original "Twilight Zone" (1959-64) back in the early 1980s, when the show was already 20 to 25 years old. I remember at least a couple episodes that took place in the 1980s. It was interesting to hear that (seeing as how I was actually living in the 1980s), but it obviously broke the mood of a story that was supposed to be taking place in the not-too-distant future instead of the present.

"Space: 1999" came out in the mid-1970s, so the year 1999 was pretty far away at the time. Of course, the show (as well as Prince's song "1999") is now more than a decade out of date. It is now almost twelve years after the show was set, and (last I knew) the Moon is still very much in orbit around the Earth. The whole millennium era (1999, 2000, 2001) has always been a tantalizing setting for science-fiction stories. The simple change of century and the simple amazing-ness of imagining a year called "Two Thousand" instead of "Nineteen-Whatever" just seem made for sci-fi. Well, at least it SEEMED like an appropriate setting for stories filmed or written many years before the actual year 2000. Strangely enough, the real world had a very sci-fi-esque potential problem as we actually approached the millennium--the Y2K Bug. That turned out to be nothing much, but had the potential of being a very effective science-fiction story come to life. A world that had allowed itself to become so dependent on computers and technology (cell phones, satellites, the internet...) suddenly finds itself plunged into a new Dark Age when all that technology suddenly and completely stops working.

The TV show "Lost in Space" premiered in 1965. The story was set in the year 1997. I'm sure 1997 seemed quite distant in 1965, but of course now it's even more dated than "Space: 1999". When they made a movie out of the show in 1998, they adjusted the setting to 2058. That ought to keep reality from catching up to the movie...for a while at least.

I suppose the next date to be concerned with is 2012. Not only does the ancient Mayan calendar predict that the world will end in 2012, Hollywood recently gave us a movie about the world ending in that year called..."2012" (2009). I haven't watched that Ronald Emmerich-directed, John Cusack-starring special effects bonanza, but probably should before 2012--just in case the world ends and I don't get a chance to watch it later. While I understand why the film-makers chose to name this movie after the year 2012, they could have easily avoided the problem of having an outdated premise in a couple years by using a title more like 2004's "The Day After Tomorrow". While I didn't find that one to be a very good movie, it does have an almost perfect, foolproof science-fiction name. The day after tomorrow indicates something in the VERY near future, yet it's a date which will never actually arrive in reality. The day after tomorrow will ALWAYS be in the future!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Horror That Is "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer"

As a kid, I always loved watching the animated Holiday specials around Christmas (as well as other holidays throughout the year). These shows were truly special, in that, they were only aired on television once a year and they would pre-empt regular programming. If you weren't able to be in front of your TV at the right time you'd not only miss the show, but you'd have to wait for a whole year for another opportunity. Nowadays they seem to run many of these shows more than one time during the Holiday season. And, once they became available on VHS, and later on DVD, the "special" aspect of the programs was really lost. They're still great shows of course, just not the events they used to be.

While there were many great Christmas shows, it's pretty easy to pick my two favorites: "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965) and "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964). It's impossible to place them in order of first place and second place. I suppose they're both tied for first in my opinion. One thing that set "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" apart from all the other specials was the fact that it was the only one that not only entertained me and put a bunch of catchy Christmas tunes in my head, but also scared the crap out of me! Yes, I admit that I was afraid of this show as a kid. Well, not the entire show itself, but one specific character...The Abominable Snow Monster of the North.

I was fascinated by all kinds of "unsolved mysteries" as a kid (and still am today for that matter). UFOs, ghosts, The Loch Ness Monster, the statues of Easter Island, spontaneous human combustion and the possibility of "ancient astronauts" guiding the Incas and Aztecs were among the things that interested me. Basically anything that might have been covered in the Alan Landsberg produced, Leonard Nimoy hosted show "In Search of..." was fair game. However, one mystery rose above all others for me. That was the mystery of Big Hairy Monsters (BHMs), such as Bigfoot, Sasquatch and The Abominable Snowman (Yeti). The idea that such creatures had been reported for centuries and could actually exist in our world (where monsters supposedly DON'T exist) was at once fascinating and terrifying to me.

The Abominable Snowman had been a mythical creature for hundreds of years in the Himalayas, but really entered the psyche of the western world in the 1950s when people began trying to scale Mount Everest. In 1951 Eric Shipton photographed giant footprints in the snow made by the Yeti. Then, in 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary also reported seeing similar footprints. The Abominable Snowman became enough of a part of popular culture that a slew of movies about it were released in the mid- to late-1950s. "The Snow Creature" (1954), "Man beast" (1956), "The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas" (1957) and "Half Human" (1958) (an American re-working of the 1955 Japanese movie "Beast Man Snow Man", directed by Ishiro Honda of "Godzilla" fame) are some examples of how pervasive the idea of The Abominable Snowman was at the time. Apparently there was still enough interest in the creature in 1964 to cause the makers of "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" to add The Abominable Snow Monster of the North into the cast of the show.

I love the story of "Rudolph". While some of the messages of how you should be true to yourself and how people shouldn't deem others "misfits" just because they're a little different may have gone over my head when I was young, I still enjoyed the whole story. The only problem was that the Snow Monster would periodically show up to terrify me. My main defense against this horror was to pull the blanket I was wrapped up in over my eyes and watching the scary scenes through the little spaces in the material. Exactly how I thought this would save me I'm not sure. Maybe I just figured that the monster wouldn't be able to see me. While this might seem like a bit of an extreme reaction to an animated holiday special I have read and heard about others who were similarly petrified by the experience. In fact, one of my best friends confided in me that he had also employed the blanket defense against the fearsome creature.

For the most part "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" unfolds as a typical animated Holiday special. It, of course, tells the familiar tale of Rudolph that is well-known from the song. The story is fleshed out by the additions of Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist instead of a toymaker, the Island of Misfit Toys, and the gold and silver seeking prospector Yukon Cornelius. Not too far into the story we get our first, unexpected glimpse of The Abominble Snow Monster of the North as Donner and Rudolph hide from the creature, who walks past them, leaving giant footprints in the snow. Sam the Snowman (the Burl Ives-voiced narrator of the show) says of the monster: "He's mean! He's nasty! And he hates everything to do with Christmas!" We only see the creature's legs and hear its fierce roaring in this scene, but it's obvious that it's something to be feared.

The monster isn't heard from again for a while. We kind of forget about it as we learn just how much Rudolph and his new friend Hermey don't fit into their respective environments. Eventually they decide to run away together to get away from everyone who insists they're misfits (freaks, non-comformists, odd balls...). Not too long after they leave Rudolph's nose attracts Abominable's attention and we see his face for the first time as he peeks over the mountains. As Sam the Snowman says: "Like I said, the outside world is up to its ears in danger."

I think that, as a kid, I was heartened by the fact that Sam the Snowman (the narrator of the story) was so frightened by the monster's appearance, that even he had to hide behind his umbrella--shaking like a leaf. This made me feel a bit better about hiding behind my trusty blanket.

We get another reprieve from the monster for a bit as we meet Yukon Cornelius, and Burl Ives sings "Silver and Gold". But it's not long after the misfits and Yukon set out together that the Abominable Snow Monster (or the "Bumble", as Yukon call it) really starts chasing them in earnest. It's almost a half-hour into the show and we've only seen the creature three times, but the way they space it out is very effective. The first time we only see its legs. The second time it is peeking over the mountain tops. And this time we see its giant, pointy teeth for the first time as it pursues our heroes.

The monster returns to the background for a while (but is always on everyone's mind thanks to Rudolph's danged shiny nose) as the main characters meet the denizens of the Island of Misfit Toys. But Rudolph strikes out on his own so as to not endanger his new friends. Sam lets us know that the Abominable Snow Monster was always just one step behind Rudolph (wonder what exactly it was that the creature had against that shiny nose?). Rudolph eventually finds that his parents and girlfriend, Clarice, have been captured by the Snow Monster and are being kept in its cave. Rudolph tries to save them just as the monster is about to make a venison snack out of Clarice, but is knocked unconscious by the raging beast.

One of the best lines in the whole show comes when when the Snow Monster is standing menacingly over the four reindeer and Clarice tearfully exclaims: "Oh, why doesn't he get it over with?". Finally, Yukon and Hermey rescue the reindeer and render the monster harmless by pulling out its teeth. At this point it is what Yukon calls "a mighty humble Bumble", and ceases to be the frightful presence that it had been up to that point in the show.

Yukon and the Snow Monster disappear when they fall off a cliff, but they return at the end of the show. They show up at Santa's castle and we learn that Yukon has reformed the Bumble into a docile, friendly critter who only wants a job placing stars on top of Christmas trees--without even needing a step-ladder. Despite having the knowledge of the Abominable Snow Monster's ultimate, cuddly fate at the end of the program, I would still have to cower behind the blanket when it made it's first appearance during the following year's airing of "Rudolph".

The years have passed. I'm now a father myself. My daughter is now very familiar with the story of "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" herself. I made a point of showing it to her when she was two or three years old. It was very exciting to see her finding the Abominable Snow Monster frightening like I did when I was little. I could recapture a bit of the feeling of the past by watching her experience the joys and terrors of the show for the first time. And, wouldn't you know, she even had to hide behind her own blanket when the creature would make an appearance! I finally broke down and bought "Rudolph" on DVD last year. Possibly as a result of repeated viewings beyond the once-annual airing on TV, she has already grown out of most of her fear of Abominable at the age of only five years old. I don't know exactly when I stopped hiding behind my blanket, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't until I was quite a bit older than five.

Here's my Little Monster enjoying "Rudolph" back in 2008 (age 3)

And here she is hiding from the Snow Monster, just like her dear old Monster Dad!

Thank you Rankin and Bass!


As a bit of an epilogue, it's worth noting that Billie Mae Richards, the voice of Rudolph, just recently died on September 10, 2010.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Baby Names: Part 3

Here's another update on the Little Monsters' nicknames. In the first and second blogs about this topic I mainly stuck to the "Monster" and "Beast"-based names. I guess I figured that, since "Monster Dad" was writing them, the blogs should have a "Monster" angle to them. This only tells part of the story though. In reality, both of the Monsters have literally hundreds of nicknames. Anything can set off a new name (a physical trait, a newly reached milestone, a noise they make, laughing, crying, having the sniffles). Pretty much everything is fair game when it comes to nicknames.

The first Monster will be turning five in a couple days. As many of her names have come and gone over the years, it would be difficult to make an accurate survey of them. For that reason, this blog will concentrate on the relatively new names that have been given to the second Monster (or "The Littlest Monster" or "The Insane Beast") just for the freshness factor. One new "Monster"-type name does have to be added since "Baby Names: Part 2" though. Almost immediately after that one was published The Beast earned a new monicker which has really stuck (and which isn't really as much of an incendiary-sounding name as "Monster" or "Beast"). She's now frequently referred to as a "Critter". It can be as simple as "Critter" or "The Little Critter", but more frequently it's combined with other terms to form names like "Critter Beast" or "Beastly Critter", and it's also been modified into "Critterling" and "Critterly", either alone of combined with other names.

Anyway, onto the non-Monster names. Here's a pretty good sampling of some of the Littlest Monster's nicknames that she's picked up in her first eighteen months of life. The majority of these are take-offs of proper names (either of real people or of names of characters in movies and TV). The reason for most of these names should be pretty obvious, but I'll put the reasons for some of them (as well as the real names they are based on) after the names whenever it seems helpful.

Drool Barrymore: (Drew Barrymore, when she drools)

Droolie McCoy: (Julie McCoy from "The Love Boat", when she drools)

Mark Spitz: (Olympic hero Mark Spitz, drooling/spitting)

Spittin' Image: (when she's drooling/spitting)

Moistly Mozart: (Mostly Mozart, when she's drooling/spitting)

Dribble Glass: (drooling/spitting)

Adolph Spitler: (Adolph Hitler, drooling/spitting)

Adolph Hit-Ler: (Adolph Hitler, when she hits)

Adolph Sitler: (Adolph Hitler, when she sits down emphatically/falls into a sitting position)

Phil Crawlins: (Phil Collins, when she started crawling)

Digger Phelps: (a college basketball coach, when she uses her head to dig into your chest while holding her)

Ted Turner: (Ted Turner, when she uses her head as a wedge to wriggle out of your grasp)

Head Turner: (same as above)

Turner Network Television: (same reason as above)

Tina Turner: (same reason as above)

Long Head of the Law: (Long Arm of the Law, same reason as above)

Small Arm of the Law: (Long Arm of the Law, because she's small and also when she tries to escape from you by pushing away)

Small Arms Fire: (same as above)

Squintin' Tarantino: (Quentin Tarantino, when she is startled or in bright light and squints her eyes)

Christie Blinkley: (Christie Brinkley--former supermodel, when she blinks when startled)

Walker: Texas Ranger: (from the TV show of the same name, when she walks)

Spin Cycle: (when she spins around in circles or squiggles on the changing table)

Jack Tripper: (Jack Tripper from "Three's Company", when she trips herself up)

Jack Ripper: (Jack Tripper, when she destroys something by ripping it up)

Jack the Ripper: (same reason as above)

Kelly Ripper: (Kelly Ripa, same as above)

Fallin' Gong: (Falun Gong, when she stumbles)

Downward Dog: (named after the yoga position, used when she falls down)

Christina Reachie: (Christina Ricci, when she reaches for something)

Roy Liftenstein: (Roy Lichtenstein, when she lifts herself up on the changing table...)

Lifted Sister: (Twisted Sister, same reason as above)

Squealie Dan: (Steely Dan, when she makes squealing noises)

Observe-ine Junior: (Absorbine Jr., when she intensely watches something)

Jon Cryer: (Jon Cryer, when she cries)

Cryogenically Frozen Baby: (when she cries)

Crylie Cyrus: (Miley Cyrus, when she cries)

Hannah Moan-Tana: (Hanna Montana, when she moans and groans)

Moaner Lisa: (Mona Lisa, when she moans and groans)

Moaning Lisa: (Mona Lisa, when she moans and groans)

N-Groan Toenail: (Ingrown Toenail, when she moans and groans using an "N" sound)

Droppler Radar: (Doppler Radar, when she drops something)

Drop-Down Menu: (when she drops something)

Gargle-Mel: (Gargamel from "The Smurfs", when she makes a gargling noise)

Wavy Gravy: (Wavy Gravy of Woodstock fame, when she waves)

Bess Eatin': (Bess Eaton, when she eats something--usually something that she shouldn't)

Eatie Gourmet: (Edie Gorme, same reason as above)

Gasperski: (Kasperski computer security company, when she makes a gasping sound)

The Great Gaspie: (The Great Gatsby, when she gasps)

Toothsome Twosome: (when she bites--especially when she first got teeth)

Nibble-E-Peg: (when she bites)

Bite-Wing X-Ray: (when she bites)

Gronkenstein: (when she makes various "gronk" or "kronk" sounds in her sinuses)

Gronkowski: (Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots tight end, same reason as above)

Kronkenstein: (same as above)

Walter Kronkite: (same as above)

Cronkle-Cut Potato: (Crinkle-cut potato, same reason as above)

A. Martinez: (when she makes "A" sounds)

Al Gore: (when she first started making sounds she'd utter something that sounded exactly like "Al Gore")

Troublesome Truck: (from the "Troublesome Trucks" of "Thomas the Tank Engine", when she causes trouble)

Fingerling Potato: (when she grabs with her little fingers)

Pat-Ner in Crime: (Partner in Crime, when she makes the classic pitter-patter walking noise)

Fartner in Crime: (Partner in Crime, when she farts or makes fart-like sounds)

Fart Lee Dykes: (Hart Lee Dykes--obscure New England Patriots draft bust from 1989, same reasons as above)

Thumbelina: (when she sucks her thumb. The first Monster was called "Thumble-Lena" for same reason)

Kelly Wigglesworth: (contestant from first season of "Survivor", when she wiggles to try to escape from your grasp)

Lenny & Squiggly: (Lenny & Squiggy from "Laverne & Shirley", same reason as above)

There's many more names that could be listed, but that's a pretty good sampling of at least one style of nicknames for the Insane Beastly Critter.

Here's Hart Lee Dykes (for anyone who's curious)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"The 'burbs"

With the recent October Challenge now over, it's time to undertake a much more daunting challenge. With much trepidation I am now going to attempt the near impossible: I will do my best to convince a doubting and resistant public that the 1989 movie "The 'burbs" is a great film. If I could get even just one non-believer to change his/her ways and become a fan of the movie I'd consider this challenge a success. Scoff if you will, but please at least continue reading and give me a chance before you totally close your minds to the possibility.

"The 'burbs" stars Tom Hanks, at the height of his first career as a movie funny man--not too long before he abandoned comedy and became "Tom Hanks: Serious Actor and Oscar Nominee/Multiple Winner". Sure, he has dabbled in funny material occasionally over the past twenty years (most notably by voicing Woody in the "Toy Story" movies), but there really is a clear line (marked by his first Oscar turn in "Philadelphia" in 1993) between his two acting careers. I know it was a long time ago, but perhaps you remember the old Tom Hanks. He first gained a certain amount of fame by starring in the early 1980s sitcom "Bosom Buddies". He quickly turned his comedic timing and knack for physical comedy to the movies, starring in such seminal 1980s comedies as "Splash" (1984), "Bachelor Party" (1984), "Volunteers" (1985), "The Money Pit" (1986), "Dragnet" (1987) and "Big" (1988). After "The 'burbs" he continued in that same comedic vein with "Turner and Hooch" (1989) and then started off the 1990s with "Joe Versus the Volcano" (1990) (another underrated "odd" comedy like "The 'burbs"), "A League of Their Own" (1992) and "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993). I guess he showed enough "serious" acting chops in "Sleepless in Seattle" and "The Bonfire of the Vanities" (1990) to convince himself that this was the direction he wanted to go in. Winning the Best Actor Oscar for "Philadelphia" couldn't have hurt either.

Back to the movie. Co-starring with Tom in "The 'burbs" was an odd assortment of actors, some well-known and some unknown, who really came together to make a great cast: Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Henry Gibson, Gale Gordon and...Brother Theodore! Dick Miller even makes a great cameo appearance as a garbageman in one funny scene. "The 'burbs" was directed by Joe Dante, who had started his career working for uber-independent filmmaker Roger Corman. He is best known for such quirky horror and comedy movies as "The Howling" (1981), "Gremlins" (1984), "Explorers (1985), "Innerspace" (1987), "Gremlins 2: The Next Batch" (1990) and "Matinee" (1993). The music was done by Jerry Goldsmith, the composer of MANY great movie soundtracks, including: "Planet of the Apes" (1968), "Patton" (1970), "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970), "Chinatown" (1974), "Logan's Run" (1976), "Alien" (1979), as well as most of Joe Dante's movies, and many of the Star Trek movies and television shows. In "The 'burbs" he used a great combination of creepy, atmospheric horror-movie stuff intercut with some absolutely silly sounding comedy-movie music that fits the film perfectly.

For whatever reason, "The 'burbs" is such a quirky combination of comedy and horror elements that it wasn't able to find an audience when it was released (at least that's what I'm blaming). Even now, it doesn't really seem to even qualify as a "cult" movie--which would at least give it enough fans to be considered a success on some level. It seems like it simply appeared, disappeared and was forgotten about. Because of this everyone seems to think that it's a bad movie. I don't feel this is justified. There seem to be two camps that side up against "The 'burbs": those who have never seen it (or even heard of it for that matter) who have no interest in watching it now, and those who saw it when it came out and hated it (or at least disliked it). Either way, trying to convince someone to see the movie today seems to be tougher than trying to convince someone to join the Osama bin Laden fan club.

Believe it or not, I actually fall into the saw-it-when-it-came-out-and-didn't-like-it category. I was in the U.S. Army when it came out in 1989, stationed at Fort Knox, KY. There were two movie theaters on the post and, being a movie fan who didn't have much of a social life in his downtime (or a license for that matter), I tended to visit those theaters pretty often after the workday ended. Two theaters which offered one movie per week each didn't exactly offer a lot of variety. I remember walking the two miles or so to one if the theaters one day and seeing that "The 'burbs" was playing. My unit had just gotten back from spending the better part of a month training in the desert in Texas (Fort Bliss). I wasn't really up on the current movies and had not heard anything about "The 'burbs" (surprise, surprise). I did like Tom Hanks though and enjoyed seeing "Big" not too long before at the very same theater. Since I'd have to walk all the way back to the barracks with nothing to show for it if I didn't see the movie I was a captive audience. Whether I would have chosen to see "The 'burbs" at a megaplex which offerred all the rest of the movies out at that time I don't know. Not having much choice I paid for my ticket and saw it. I walked out of the theater after the movie thinking "What the hell was that?". Nearly everyone I know who saw the movie when it came out had the same reaction and never thought much about it again. I probably would have fallen into this category as well, I said, I didn't have much of a social life.

The following week I found myself taking the long walk to the movie theater once again, having no idea what would be playing, but feeling in the mood to watch a movie. Wouldn't you know, they didn't get a new movie in the week since I had last visited. Yes, I stood in front of the theater staring at the marquee which said the the movie playing that evening would be "The 'burbs"! My first thought was to go back to the barracks and watch TV, but I was there and I would have had to walk all the way back with nothing to show for a wasted night. So...I bought another ticket and walked back in for what I was sure would be a boring re-watching of a bad movie. Then something strange happened: I loved it! It seems that the subject matter of "The 'burbs" is just kooky enough to require more than one viewing to really "get it". I believe that I even went back to the theater again later that same week to watch it for a third time.

Four or five months later I left the Army and returned home. One of the first things I did when I got back and was visiting with friends was to ask them if they had seen the movie "The 'burbs". Most of my friends had seen it (and didn't regard it too highly of course). When I asked them there must have been an excitement in my voice that indicated I loved the movie, because everyone seemed to cautiously indicate that they felt the movie was "okay". It didn't take much brainpower to realize that they were trying to shield me from the fact that they actually felt it was a total piece of crap. Luckily, they were willing to cave in to my pestering and watch the movie again on video. After a lot of pointing out just what I thought made it so funny they saw the light and were converted into believers! One friend who had not seen it watched it with me and (despite my constant pointing out of all the little details) loved it as well. You might be thinking that these people merely felt sorry for me and were just humoring me, but we've watched the movie together a number of times over the years and still quote it endlessly to this day, more than twenty years later.

I think the biggest problem with trying to show the movie to someone who's never seen it today is the simple fact that it's now over twenty years old. It's no longer a recent release ans does have an undeniable late-80s look and feel to it. However, I still think that the humor and spirit of the movie continue to shine through.

Here's the trailer for the movie:

The entire film takes place in a little suburban cul-de-sac called Mayfield Place. The main characters are all neighbors on this street. A new family, the Klopeks, has recently moved in, and no one can figure out what they're all about. They seem to have no interest in taking care of their lawn (a suburban no-no) and strange noises come from their dilapidated house at all hours. Tom Hanks plays Ray Peterson, who lives next door to the mysterious newcomers. Rick Ducommun and Bruce Dern play neighbors Art Weingartner and Mark Rumsfield. These three eventually come to the conclusion that the Klopeks are up to no good. Ray at first tries his best to be reasonable and deny that anything untoward is going on, but eventually the evidence piles up and there seems to be no other possibility. One of their other neighbors seems to have disappeared and the trio believe that he has been kidnapped (perhaps even murdered) by the Klopeks. They decide to break into the Klopek's house to find evidence while the family is gone for the day. Much action, drama and hilarity ensue as they try to prove that the foreigners are up to no good..

While I've loved "The 'burbs" for a long time, I do have to say that living in a small neighborhood myself has added to the fun of the movie. Whenever you find yourself talking about the eccentricities of your neighbors you are reminded of the comic situations of the movie. While it's definitely a comedy, there does seem to be a kernel of a caution story in it as well. You experience the strangeness of the new neighbors right along with the main characters. You can see the dangers of judging someone who's different from yourself. The clues build up and the accusations snowball until it gets to a point where something that would have seemed almost unfathomable at the beginning seems to be the only possible answer. Despite all the comedy, at the end almost everything is explained and the Klopeks seem to be innocent victims of a bunch of paranoid neighbors whose imaginations get the better of them. Ray finally sees the error of his actions and lashes out against Art with a speech about how wrong they were to jump to conclusions about the Klopeks:

"So they're different. So they keep to themselves. Can you blame them? They live next door to people who break into their house...and burn it down while they're gone for the day! Remember what you were saying about people in the 'burbs? People like Skip? People who mow their lawn for the 800th time and then snap? Well, that's us! It's not them. That's us. We're the ones who are vaulting over fences and peeking in through people's windows. We're the ones who are throwing garbage in the street and lighting fires! We're the ones who are acting suspicious and paranoid, Art. We're the lunatics! Us! It's not them! It's us."

The ending is actually a bit of a surprise. Are the Klopeks innocent victims or guilty monsters? You'll have to watch the movie to find out, but it makes for a fun ride if you're willing to go along with an open mind.

Here's one of the funniest scenes of the movie:

Once you "get" the humor of "The 'burbs" it starts to seem like a true masterpiece. Nearly every line in the movie is quotable. I find myself struggling to not speak practically every line aloud while watching it (people seem to find that annoying for whatever reason). Every character seems to have his or her place in the proceedings. Even someone as annoying as Corey Feldman is watchable in this movie (his character, Ricky Butler is supposed to be kind of annoying). It's tough for me to pick the best parts of the movie, but there are many hilarious scenes: when Ray, Art and Mark first spy on the Klopeks and see some odd behavior, when Ray and Mark drop in on the Klopeks for a visit with their wives, When the neighbors break into the missing man's house to see if they can find clues about what happened to him, when Art and Ray discover what they believe to be the femur bone of their missing neighbor in the Klopek's yard, when they undertake the mission to enter the Klopek's house to gather evidence against them... The fun all starts right away with the brilliant opening scene. The Universal logo that opens the movie turns into a tracking shot which zooms in from a view of the earth in outer space right down to the cul-de-sac and to a street-level view of the Klopek's house at night. From that moment on everything is all about the neighborhood vs. the Klopeks.

If anyone is willing to take a chance on this movie for the first (or second) time, it's available on DVD and can be watched in a number of places online. I'm willing to lend out my DVD to anyone interested, and am always happy to arrange a screening for friends. I promise to try my best to keep the live running commentary track to a minimum!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The "October Horror Challenge" Post-Game Report

Happy Halloween to everyone out there! Today (October 31st) is not only Halloween, but also the last day of the month of October (obviously). That means that Monster Dad's challenge to himself to watch 31 horror programs in the month is now over. Now it's time to see the results and break it all down.

The final score of the challenge finds Monster Dad with 46 movies/shows watched--easily besting October's 31 days. The fifteen point differential was very satisfying to reach. However, Monster Dad admittedly did set the difficulty level pretty low for himself. He not only allowed himself to count science-fiction subject matter and comedies as "horror", but he also considered it okay to count episodes of television shows too--though they did at least have to be episodes of shows that were at least an hour long. That means thirty minute episodes of shows like "The Twilight Zone" couldn't be counted--regardless of how awesome they might have been. The question is, what happens to the score if some of this "questionable" material is disqualified by someone with a tougher definition of what can be allowed?

The first entry that would probably have to go would be the Halloween episode from second season of "The Love Boat". Yes, it was a Halloween episode, and it did have the immortal Vincent Price as a guest star (not to mention Gopher, Doc and Isaac dressing up as Dracula, a werewolf and Frankenstein, respectively, for the cruise's Halloween party), but it's still "The Love Boat". Okay horror snobs, we won't count that one!

Next up is all the episodes of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" that Monster Dad watched. Though there's a good amount of humor in many episodes, the subject matter is most certainly appropriate for the challenge. Unfortunately, it was a TV show and the episodes can't be considered movies--if the challenge had to consist of movies only. All told, Monster Dad watched (and counted) eight episodes of "Kolchak" during the month. There was also the "Graveyard Shift" episode of "Circle of Fear"/"Ghost Story". Add in the "Love Boat" episode and we're up to ten questionable entries. That would make for a final score of Monster Dad-36, October-31.

Now comes the most controversial aspect of the challenge--namely, when a movie is predominantly meant to be a comedy (intentional), just how much horror has to be mixed in for it to be counted? "Return of the Living Dead" has plenty of intentional horror-based humor, but I don't think it can be denied that it's a horror movie. On the other hand, "The 'burbs" is very much a comedy, one which has a number of horror elements at its core. Similarly, "Young Frankenstein" does feature the characters from Mary Shelley's horror classic, but it is a Mel Brooks comedy. And how about "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"? This one not only features Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster, but it's a Universal movie too (the company that produced the original movies that featured those monsters) and stars Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's Monster. They all played those same monsters at some point in the original Universal monster movies as well. Similar issues could be raised with other comedy movies on the list: "Shaun of the Dead", "Ghostbusters", "The Lost Skeleton Returns Again" and "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla". Other than "Return of the Living Dead" I could understand a horror-purist lodging a complaint about the rest of these titles. this makes seven more titles ineligible. Subtract seventeen titles and were suddenly faced with Monster Dad finishing with only thirty entries--which would obviously not qualify as a successful challenge. Final score: October-31, Monster Dad-30.

Finally, where does one draw the line when it comes to science-fiction? The inclusion of movies like "Wizards", "Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet", "The Cosmic Man", "Project Moon Base" and "Time After Time" would all come into question. Many of these have horror elements, but are predominantly science-fiction in nature. Not only that, but "Manbeast! Myth or Monster?" was a documentary. That's another six movies potentially wiped off the board--leaving a total of only twenty-four qualified entries. Final score: October-31, Monster Dad-24.

Luckily, this was Monster Dad's challenge. It's Monster Dad's blog and it's Monster Dad's rules. Monster Dad wanted this challenge to be fun and entertaining as well as "challenging". He's not a huge fan of "real" horror or slasher movies and stuff like that. He could have watched every entry in the "Friday the 13th", "Halloween", A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Saw" series, but that wouldn't have been as much fun for him as this particular mix of old favorites and new-to-him movies and shows proved to be. Also, he wouldn't have been able to share any of those movies with The Little Monster. Watching stuff like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", "Young Frankenstein" and, yes, the Halloween episode of "The Love Boat" with his Little Monster are what Monster Dad is all about. In the end Monster Dad was able to watch a number of DVDs from his own collection (old favorites as well as stuff he'd been waiting for the right time to watch), DVDs from Netflix, DVDs from various public libraries, and various presentations of movies at theaters (including entries in the Silver Screen Classics, Zombie Feast, RiffTrax Live and Spooktacular series put on at various venues in Worester and Millbury, Massachusetts and Keene, New Hampshire). No matter how you choose to count it, the challenge has made for a great month of viewing for Monster Dad, and the "official" final score will indeed end up being:


For all the details on each of the entries, as well as a day-by-day log of exactly what was watched and when, please refer to the original blog about the challenge, "An Absolutely Horrible Month".

Monday, October 18, 2010

Night of the Living Bread!

Here's a true horror story, of sorts, for Halloween.

I know I shouldn't complain about healthy foods. After all they are healthy and good for you and all. I'm not a young creature anymore and bad eating habits are starting to catch up to me. And, being a Dad (or Monster Dad, as it were), I also agree that it's important to instill healthy eating habits in my Little Monsters. But...

The Wife has been on a mission over the past few years to get us all eating healthier foods. As someone who wasn't exactly watching what he ate for the first thirty years of his life I can certainly see the wisdom of this. Unfortunately, all those years of less-than-healthy dieting has made me rather enjoy food that tastes good (read junk food). It's not the easiest thing to transition from McDonalds and Chinese takeout to whole wheat and soy-based food products. The Wife's main enemies seem to be high fructose corn syrup and anything processed or prepared (which is pretty much everything I enjoy eating).

Like I said, I'm all for eating better. However there's only so much vegetarian lasagna (heavy on the spinach) and tofu stir fry one guy can take. Every once in a while I need a junky break. Luckily The Wife understands this (at least to a certain extent anyway). Last week we had Lasagna with meat AND without spinach. What a treat! While we've never really done a heck of a lot of takeout (mostly due to financial constraints) we did used to eat a pretty good amount of prepared foods (frozen pizzas, meals-in-a-box...) back in the pre-kids day. I do miss this stuff (though I have to say that The Wife does make a very tasty homemade pizza dough). Besides tasting good, these prepared foods were some of the few things that I could actually "cook" myself (giving The Wife a little break from the cooking chores). Even with this potential benefit to her, prepared foods are still pretty much verboten in our household.

We used to eat white rice with many meals. It's interesting in way to see how we've slowly evolved from the evils of over-processed white rice to more organic and natural sides. The white rice was initially replaced with brown rice. It wasn't quite as good, but sometimes pretty close. The next step was couscous. I had a tough time with this one at first but it kinda-sorta grew on me a little bit. Nowadays we're frequently presented with a side called quinoa. I'm not exactly sure what this stuff is, but I do know that I'm not a big fan of it. Oh, for the simple pleasure of a mound of plain-old white rice with a touch of butter and salt!

One constant battlefield that we have between us is the basic food staple of bread. As a kid I loved the taste, texture and even color of Wonder white bread. While it doesn't necessarily have to be Wonder, I still do prefer white bread in general. While white and wheat breads are made with pretty much the same ingredients, apparently the processing process that the grains used in white bread go through makes it very unhealthy. A mystery to be sure, but that's what I hear anyway. I don't have a huge problem with wheat bread--at least as long as it's pretty much like white bread except for the color. When you start introducing terms like "whole grain", "multi-grain", "twelve grain", "whole-oat" and stuff like that, the bread becomes much less palatable. When I can actually see grains, seeds and nuts in my bread I feel it's gone a bit too far.

I can understand that all these grains and things are good for you, but does it have to look like someone spilled birdseed all over your bread? It becomes a dry, crumbly mess. If it's a good thing to have all these thingies in the bread, why can't they throw them into a blender, pulverize them and then add them to the bread dough? If five pounds of seeds and nuts mixed in the bread are a good thing, then why aren't five pounds of the same stuff blended into a fine powder also good for you? Do they think that if we don't actually see all this stuff embedded in and on the bread that we won't believe that they're in there? Or that we won't believe it's good for us?

Anyone remember the "Seinfeld" episode where George is eating a sandwich and exclaims "This bread has nuts in it!"? Well, that's how I feel at times. Here's a semi-related story. The Wife used to belong to a church that was somewhat earthy-crunchy. I used to go with her on occasion. As a kid my family belonged to a more "traditional" kind of church. while I was never a huge fan of going to church in general, when I did have to go it was always a treat to be there for communion. It was kind of neat to get a little square of white bread and that tiny glass of grape juice. It certainly didn't fill one up, but it was a treat just the same--beyond the obvious religious connotations obviously (hey, I was a kid after all). Anyway, the church The Wife went to had a couple different ways of doing communion. One of them was similar to how we used to do it in my childhood church. You'd stay in your seat and ushers (or whatever they are) would bring bread and wine (juice) to you. The only difference was that they'd use all kinds of different breads. You never knew what was coming. Sometimes it would be a store bought bread, sometimes a freshly baked bread made by one of the parishioners. Sometimes it would be a form of pita or some other less-common type of bread. I thought of the Seinfeld episode when I accepted my little piece of bread one time and saw that it had bits of nuts and grains embedded in it. I had to stifle the urge to blurt out "This Body of Christ has nuts in it!" (a la George Costanza).

The culmination of all this bread blather was when The Wife recently brought home something called "Ezekiel 4:9". Yes, that is the name of a bread. Apparently the religious connotation of the name comes from the fact that this "bread" contains many elements mentioned in a passage of the bible: Wheat, Barley, Beans, Lentils, Millet and Spelt. What the hell is SPELT?!? It advertises itself as being a "100% Whole Grain Bread". But this stuff goes way beyond the garden variety whole grain bread that we usually are subjected to. It's also "Flourless and Low Glycemic". Not only that, but it's "Sprouted" (whatever that means). The Wife keeps this stuff in the freezer. That seems a bit weird to me, but she explained that, since it has nothing at all unnatural in it, it really doesn't have any shelf life. The thing that disturbs me the most about this bread (as if all the above wasn't enough) is the fact that the wrapper touts what it calls "The Live Grain Difference!". I guess this is somehow related to the fact that it's "Sprouted", but the way they put it I feel like the bread is actually alive--a living organism of some type. It has to be kept in the freezer to keep it in hibernation so it doesn't become some kind of bakery created Frankenstein bread monster loaf or something!


Friday, October 8, 2010

Recurring Nightmares

I want my Little Monster to experience some of the movies I watched and loved as a kid. Many of these movies scared me, and I constantly have to evaluate how ready she is for some of these films. Many of them seem corny and cheesy when re-watching them as an adult, but I have to keep in mind that The Monster still has the mind and imagination of a four-year-old. She has seen some movies much earlier than I did. Of course part of the fun of watching monster/horror/scary movies is to be scared. On the other hand, there's a fine line between "fun" scary and "emotionally scarring" scary. For the most part I've avoided subjecting The Monster to stuff that would give her bad nightmares. The toughest part of this whole thing is having to not show her something that I really love because I don't think she's ready for it yet. It's difficult but imperative that I make sure I do this.

I was a kid myself a long time ago. Thanks to local television channels (most specifically the show Creature Double Feature on Boston's WLVI channel 56) and a sister who took me to some movies I was probably a bit too young to be watching, I saw a good number of monster/horror/scince-fiction movies as a kid. I wasn't especially prone to nightmares, but I certainly had my share. To this day I still vividly recall two recurring nightmares that I experienced a number of times each. The memory of waking up in terror after having these dreams is part of the reason I want to be so careful about exactly what I show The Monster--and when. I've had many dreams and nightmares over the years, but most of them tend to fade pretty quickly from my mind and memory after waking up. These two were different. I'm sure at least part of the reason was the simple fact that they were both repeated a number of times.


I would be sitting in the upstairs (second floor) living room of my childhood home. The fact that this was the room in which I watched Creature Double Feature most of the time might have something to do with the setting. From way off in the distance I'd suddenly hear a loud pounding noise similar to far-off thunder. Somehow I knew that this noise was the sound of Godzilla stomping around downtown. Of course the sound incrementally got louder as Godzilla walked through the center of town and started heading...straight for my house. I couldn't see the monster approaching, and for some reason I couldn't leave the room either. The living room had three large windows, and I felt like I needed to hide out-of-sight of those windows to be safe. The only place to go was a closet in one corner of the room. I say "closet" even though this particular closet only had one wall. The side facing the closest window was completely open and in plain view of said window. The footsteps grew louder as Godzilla walked up the hill that my street was on. I knew he was very near the house as I cowered in the corner of the closet, trying me best to be invisible. Suddenly Godzilla was right outside the house. He would peer right into that one window that I couldn't hide from. I'd see his gigantic eye looking in at me and...wake up breathless and in a cold sweat. To the best of my knowledge this dream never varied. I don't know exactly why I had it, or why it kept recurring, but it did.

Many years later I was reminded of just how tuned into the mind of child Steven Spielberg is when I watched "Jurassic Park" (1993) for the first time. The scene where the T-Rex gets loose and first terrorizes the people in the tour cars included a moment where it peers into the window of the car that has the two little kids in it. It was eerily similar to what I remembered my dream being like. Check out this video to see the scene in question. The part similar to what I experienced in my nightmare takes place at about 1:10 into it.


This dream featured a dinosaur instead of Godzilla (more shades of "Jurassic Park"), but was somewhat similar in its tone. I wasn't especially interested in dinosaurs as a kid. There was a basic interest of course--I mean they were dinosaurs and I was a kid after all. The old Sid and Marty Krofft show "Land of the Lost" was probably responsible for the dinosaur in this dream. The most interesting aspect of this nightmare is that, unlike the first one, this one did have a variation.

This nightmare took place at my childhood home as well. In this case I was outside though. Standing near a small tree by the side of the road I was suddenly aware that, from behind, a large dinosaur (T-Rex?) was charging out of the woods toward me (we lived at the end of a dead-end street that and there were woods almost all around our house). The dinosaur came from the opposite direction that Godzilla came from in the first nightmare--Godzilla walked up the street while the dinosaur came out of the woods.

Upon seeing the dinosaur and realizing it was coming for me, I naturally tried to run way. I went through the motions of running but (as is common in dreams) couldn't get anywhere. It was as if I was running in a vat of molasses. As I futilely tried to escape, the dinosaur closed in on me. I watched from above as the beast opened its huge jaws and leaned down toward me and...woke up breathless and in a cold sweat. End of nightmare.

You know how they say that if you die in your dreams you will die in real life? Well, as I said, this nightmare had a variation. One time I was experiencing the dinosaur nightmare as usual. As scary as it always was, I think there was also a kind of familiarity that I developed after having these dreams so many times. I don't want to say I was comfortable with them, but it did seem that I was somehow aware that I was dreaming while having them. This awareness became obvious when the dinosaur bent over to pick me up. I was kind of waiting to wake up and was surprised to have the dinosaur actually clamp onto my shirt and start picking me up. This had never happened before and I was suddenly aware not only of the fact that it hadn't happened before, but also of the fact that I was about to be eaten by this dinosaur. The simple fear of being eaten by a dinosaur was supplemented by the fact that I was convinced that if I died in the dream I'd die in real life. Whether it was the end of the dream, or the awareness of the fact that it was a dream woke me up I don't know. all I do know is that, for a long time afterward I was terrified that I'd have the dream again and it would end with me being eaten by the dinosaur. To this day I've never had the nightmare again. I hope it stays that way.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Seeing the Past in the Future (Hello Kitty vs. Bigfoot)

This morning The Little Monster did something that reminded me a LOT of myself as a kid. While she has watched a fair amount of scary and semi-scary stuff over the past few years, it's always amazing just what the imagination of a young child will decide is scary.

The Monster was in the living room watching her "Hello Kitty Becomes a Princess" DVD. Yes, I do allow her to watch non-monster based programming. To say that this particular DVD is not scary would be an understatement. Nonetheless, she came out to the kitchen to bother her little sister--who was trying to eat breakfast. When I asked her why she wasn't watching her show she said that it was a scary part that she didn't want to see. Not only did this thought seem hilarious--that something in the Hello Kitty DVD (which she's watched dozens of times) would scare her enough to walk out of the room--it also reminded me of something from my Monster Kid past.

As a kid I loved (and frequently feared) the show "In Search of...". This was the syndicated half-hour show hosted by Leonard Nimoy which explored many mysterious and supernatural phenomena around the world. Some of the topics that I best remember include the episodes that covered stuff like Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, UFOs, and the like. As a kid these shows could be VERY scary. The fact that they were seriously investigating such strange occurrences and treated the subjects as real made them seem all the more "real"--and subsequently, scary. The re-enactments were probably the scariest parts of all.

As a kid, I was very interested in Bigfoot, The Abominable Snowman, Sasquatch, Yeti, and all the other names for the big, hairy monsters that might have lurked in the forests and mountains of the world. The fact that there might be real monsters out there similar to the stuff I'd see in monster movies on TV was just too interesting to ignore. It was always a special treat when "In Search of..." would focus on one of these legendary beasts. I remember one night when a Bigfoot-related episode was on. I wanted to watch it, but at one point they had one of those monster-point-of-view recreations of a Bigfoot incident that seemed way to real to me. Much as The Little Monster's imagination made something scary out of something as innocent and kid-friendly as Hello Kitty, my imagination made this Bigfoot encounter much more than a simple re-enactment. I left the living room and went downstairs to my sister's room. Ostensibly I was going down to tell her that there was something really cool on TV that she should see. In reality, I was escaping from the certain-to-induce-intense-nightmares scene that was unfolding on the screen.

It was a very similar event to what would happen to my Little Monster this morning, except that she was big enough to admit that she didn't want to watch her scary scene because it was scary. I had to try to disguise my fear behind a mask of false concern that my sister (who wouldn't have been interested anyway) would miss something cool--while I was purposely missing it in order to inform her about it. Aah, the inner workings of the mind of a child...

I'm not sure if this is the exact one that I referred to above, but it's a good example.

Sleep Tight!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Absolutely Horrible Month

At least I hope so!

There's less than an hour left of September 29, 2010 as I write this. Tomorrow is the last day of September, then October starts. My Little Monster is very excited about Halloween this year (her fifth Halloween). I have decided that I simply have to watch as many horror movies as I can in the month leading up to All Hallows Eve. This isn't a bold move by any means. Many cable channels have featured 31 horror movies in 31 days for October in the past. My goal is to watch as close to 31 movies myself as possible in that period. Watching horror movies comes pretty naturally to Monster Dad, so what's the big deal? Let me explain.

Watching an average of one horror movie a day for a month wouldn't have been much of a challenge for Monster Bachelor. The same goal would be a bit more challenging for Monster Husband. For Monster Dad, the enterprise takes on a whole new twist--mainly, simply finding the time to watch that many movies.

While it's certainly true that The Little Monster has watched quite a few "scary" movies with me, I don't know how many of these movies will be appropriate for her. My definition of "horror movie" for this endeavor is going to be admittedly kind of vague, but I still don't know how many I'll be able to watch with The Little Monster. That means I won't be watching many of them during the day. The Wife is not terribly interested in horror movies, so the block of time between her return from work until her bedtime will probably not include many horror movies either. That leaves the late-night time slot as prime viewing time for this project. True, "the witching hour" of midnight is certainly an appropriate time to be watching a horror movie, but after a day of chasing two Mini-Monsters around, this forty-one year old Monster Dad can start getting a wee bit tired by that point. "Luckily" (and I mean that with a touch of sarcasm) the Red Sox aren't in the playoffs, so I won't be watching highlights/lowlights of their postseason games on the eleven o'clock news. That should allow the movie watching to start a little earlier.

"Horror Movies" in this case will include not only what one would normally expect in a horror movie, but will also include monster and science-fiction movies as well. Basically anything that I like that falls into that very general description will be eligible. To stretch things further, I'll be including episodes of TV shows too. I'm currently finishing up watching the TV series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" (borrowed from the local library). Each of the last few episodes I have left will be considered a "horror movie" if I watch them in October. I'm also predicting that The Monster and I will soon be watching the second season Halloween episode of "The Love Boat", called "Ship of Ghouls". Yep, that will count too! Sorry purists. Hey, at least it stars Vincent Price!

While this type of viewing is no stretch for Monster Dad, I have been neglecting the genre just a bit lately. After a steady diet of horror/Sci-Fi over a long period of time, plus my recent (September 9-12) trip down to the Pittsburg area for the two-night Drive-In Super Monster-Rama (which featured eight classic horror movies over two nights at the Riverside Drive-In), I've recently taken just a bit of a break from the stuff. Recent movies viewed have included "Super Fuzz" (1980), and a bunch of recent titles like: "The Road" (2009), "The Book of Eli" (2010), "Land of the Lost" (2009) and "It's Complicated" (2009). The Wife and I even celebrated our birthdays last week with a little date night--which included going out to see the new Ben Affleck movie "The Town" (2010). With the most monster-filled month about to start, it seemed like a good time to do something interesting, and get back to what truly makes Monster Dad Monster Dad.

Here's the line-up for the awesome Drive-In Super Monster-Rama!

Stuff I'll be watching will include many things in my own collection that I've never found the time to watch, Netflix movies, borrowed library materials, and perhaps even a few things at the local movie theaters. National Amusements is running a series called "Zombie Feast". The third movie, "Resident Evil" (2002), will be shown tomorrow night. Unfortunately that one won't count, as tomorrow is only September 30. There will be two more weeks left (October 7 and 14) that I hope to make it to. October 7th will feature "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), while October 14th will be the series finale--dubbed the "Zombie House Party" and featuring the premiere of "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) in 3D! Also, on Thursday, October 28, the gang from RiffTrax will be doing a live show broadcast at various movie cinemas which will feature the Vincent Price classic "House on Haunted Hill" (1959). They don't announce locations until October 1, so I'm crossing my fingers that they'll be broadcasting to a theater near me.

While it might have been a good idea to save them for October, I've recently watched a couple movies that would have been perfect for the marathon. This week alone I saw two late-50s movies which are barely over an hour in length each: "Teenage Monster" (1958) and "The Astounding She-Monster" (1957). I guess I'll call these my "preseason games". Kind of like a little "Fall Training" for the real thing if you will.

Check back often, this blog entry will be updated regularly through the month (via the "Edit Post" feature) to keep track of how the project is going. Not sure if this will be a success, but it should be a fun ride while it's unfolding!

Stay Tuned!

To Be Continued...

This Is Only The Beginning!


OCTOBER 1: Thursday's National Amusements "Zombie Feast" movie, "Resident Evil" (2002), ended at about 11:45 PM on September 30, so I wasn't able to include it in this challenge. I considered watching something upon getting home from the show after midnight, but it just didn't happen. Later on October first I was able to watch the 1978 version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1). I've owned the DVD for a few years, but have never gotten around to watching it until today. It was a little special too, because I've been listening to old audio cassettes that I taped back in the early 1980s lately. The one that's currently in the player contains parts of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" from when it aired on ABC back on September 27, 1981. I was watching it once again almost exactly 29 years later! I was also able to see the "Primal Scream" episode of the series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" (2), and later on even watched part of Ralph Bakshi's trippy 1977 animated feature "Wizards".

OCTOBER 2: Today I was able to not only finish up "Wizards" (3), but also watch the 1978 TV movie "Cruise into Terror" (4). This one was a bit of a surprise, as I had seen it as a kid and had always wondered what movie it was. I watched it today, not realizing that it was the same movie that scared me all those years ago (most likely on Friday, February 3, 1978 when it premiered--though it could have possibly been a later re-run of the movie that I saw). The busy movie-watching day concluded with seeing Saturday Fright Special's presentation of "Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet" (1965) (5) online. Saturday Fright Special is a cable access horror host show that originates in New Hampshire, but which is now seen on local cable channels all around the country and which is also streamed online.

OCTOBER 3: Watched the rather terrible 1984 "thriller" "Scream for Help" (6). I remember being excited about this movie when it came out--but only because John Paul Jones (formerly of Led Zeppelin) did the music for it. Last time I saw it (and the only time until now) was when it came out on VHS and I rented it. Even then it was pretty bad.

OCTOBER 4: Late tonight I watched part of one of my all-time favorite Bigfoot movies, "Creature from Black Lake" (1976). More on this movie when a Bigfoot blog is finally written.

OCTOBER 5: Finished up "Creature from Black Lake" (7) and also watched "Ghostbusters" (1984) (8) with The Little Monster.

OCTOBER 6: Watched the "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" episode "The Trevi Collection" (9), and later saw "The Cosmic Man" (1959) (10).

OCTOBER 7: Today The Monster and I watched the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment of "Eegah" (1962) (11). Later I went to the Zombie Feast feature "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) (12).

OCTOBER 8: Watched an old favorite from the Creature Double Feature days--the Hammer classic "Five Million Years to Earth" (1967) (13), also known as "Quatermass and the Pit".

OCTOBER 9: Watched the 1956 Hammer movie "X: The Unknown" (14). Had never seen this one before. Pretty good.

OCTOBER 10: The first day this month I didn't manage to watch something that could be added to the list.

OCTOBER 11: Watched another episode of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker". This one was the "Legacy of Terror" (15) episode, which featured a guest turn by a pre-CHiPs Erik Estrada. The Wife watched this one with me--her first Kolchak experience. She didn't hate it.

OCTOBER 12: Pretty good day. I started it last night, but finished "The Thing that Couldn't Die" (1958) (16) today. Then figured it would make a great double feature with "The Brain that Wouldn't Die" (1962) (17). Never saw the first one before, but the second was a favorite Creature Double Feature title. The Monster and I did end up watching the aforementioned season two Halloween episode of "The Love Boat". It's called "Ship of Ghouls" (18). I know it's an iffy one to include on the list, but it does feature Vincent Price at least. Finally, I finished up the night with another "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" episode. Tonight's episode: "Chopper" (19).

OCTOBER 13: Watched "Blood Creature" (aka "Terror is a Man") (1959) (20), which wasn't all that great. Oh well, they can't all be gems.

OCTOBER 14: Attended the final night of National Amusements' Zombie Feast series. Tonight was the "Zombie House Party", which featured the premiere of the colorized version of George Romero's 1968 zombie classic "Night of the Living Dead" (21) in 3D! It was pretty fun to see.

OCTOBER 15: Watched the 1953 movie "Project Moon Base" (22).

OCTOBER 16: After attending the Rock and Shock convention in Worcester (where I bought a bunch of new stuff on DVD) I watched the "Demon in Lace" (23) episode of "Kolchak: The Nightstalker". Also saw Saturday Fright Special's take on the 1972 made-for-TV movie "Moon of the Wolf" (24) online.

OCTOBER 17: Life intervened and prevented me from watching anything for the challenge today. The New England Patriots pulled out a last minute overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens, which could have been a true "horror" to watch if they had lost, but that's a different story.

OCTOBER 18: Watched the 1959 William Castle classic "The Tingler" (25). This was one of Castle's greatest gimmick movies. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but must have been very fun (and possibly scary too) for audiences to experience when it first came out. This movie is part of a William Castle double feature DVD--along with "Zotz!" (1962)--which I have from Netflix. These movies should make for a nice appetizer as the October 28 RiffTrax Live show featuring "House on Haunted Hill" approaches!

OCTOBER 19: Today I finally watched "Time After Time" (26). I haven't seen this great 1979 movie about time travel, H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper (mentioned in an earlier blog about time) in years. Last October I met star Malcolm McDowell at the Rock and Shock convention in Worcester, MA. I decided at that time that I should see the movie and it's taken a whole year to do so. It's more of a science fiction movie than a horror, but it does feature Jack the Ripper committing murders in modern day San Francisco. Of course the "modern day" of the movie is now over 30 years old.

OCTOBER 20: In honor of the 43rd anniversary of the filming of the famous Roger Patterson Bigfoot film I decided to watch the 1978 Bigfooot documentary "Manbeast! Myth or Monster?" (27). Finished off the night by watching 1952's "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" (28) in honor of Bela's birthday. Certainly more of a comedy than a horror movie, but I'd never seen it and it does have Bela as a mad scientist!

OCTOBER 21: While I wouldn't call it a "waste" of a day, I watched the second part of the William Castle double feature DVD today. "The Tingler" was pretty good, but I didn't realize that today's flick, "Zotz!" was going to be such a comedy. While it did concern mysterious powers which came from an ancient coin, and it was directed by the immortal Mr. Castle, I just can't count this movie as part of the challenge (and, yes, this is coming from the guy who counted the Halloween episode of "The Love Boat" a few days ago).

OCTOBER 22: Getting back to business. Today I watched one of the all-time classics, Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960) (29). I'm not a big fan of slasher movies, but this forerunner of many of today's blood-and-guts horror movies is a definite favorite. Also watched another episode of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker"--"The Knightly Murders" (30).

OCTOBER 23: With over a week to go in the month I watched the 31st entry in the challenge today! Will continue through the rest of the month though and see what happens. Today's movie was "Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks" (1974) (31), part of Elvira's Movie Macabre series from back in the early 1980s. Finished the day with a late-night viewing of "The Youth Killer" (32) episode of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker".

OCTOBER 24: Finished up the "Kolchak: The night Stalker" series today with the episode "The Sentry" (33), about a crocodile monster! This episode is notable (in a timely way) because it featured a guest appearance by the recently deceased Tom Bosley. Also watched the "Graveyard Shift" (34) episode of the old 1970s show "Circle of Fear" (originally known as "Ghost Story"). This was a special feature on the "The Tingler"/"Zotz!" DVD.

OCTOBER 25: Warning: do not attempt to watch a Larry Buchanan movie late at night. Not because it will scare you or give you nightmares, but because it will put you to sleep. I attempted to watch Buchanan's 1969 disaster "It's Alive!" (35) after midnight last night. I wasn't able to get more than about a half-hour into it. Had to finish it up today. Also got to the National Amusements' Silver Screen Classics show with my parents. Today's feature was "Bride of the Gorilla" (1951) (36), and starred Raymond Burr as the guy who turns into a gorilla and Lon Chaney Jr., who...DOESN'T play a monster. Finished up the night by watching one of my absolute favorite desert-based 1950s monster movies: "The Monolith Monsters" (1957) (37). I remember watching this one on Creature Double Feature way back when. It still holds up very well and has some of the best special effects I've ever seen in a movie (considering the limitations of the time when it was made and comparing it to other movie from the same period).

OCTOBER 26: A big day for Monster Dad and The Little Monster. I've been struggling for the past year or two to put this off until I felt she was old enough for it, but today was the day! Today we watched "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948) (38). Yes, this is a comedy, but I can't see any reason for it NOT to be on the list. It was a bit of a reunion for the classic Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and the Wolfman) a few years after those three series kind of played themselves out. It is funny, but also has a lot of that classic Universal horror movie vibe to it. It's also kind of shocking to see how some of the characters get knocked off (including one of the female leads getting tossed out of a window by Frankie, the Wolfman plunging to his apparent demise from a balcony and Frankenstein's monster getting--surprise, surprise--burned up at the end). I felt this was an excellent way to introduce The Little Monster to the Universal monsters without being too scary (or potentially too boring--as I'm not sure how her attention span would hold while watching the non-monster parts of a movie from the 1930s). She seemed to enjoy it. A few scenes were a little scary to her (as expected). And she has seen a few A&C movies already so she was a;ready familiar with them.

OCTOBER 27: Got a chance to visit a couple friends tonight and watched "The Lost Skeleton Returns Again" (2009) (39) with them. This is the sequel to "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" (2001), and I've been waiting a long time to see it. Bought it at the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama last month and have been putting off watching it until I could get together with my friends. This is most definitely a comedy/parody-type movie, but because of the movies that it is paying homage to through its humor (1950s-60s horror/sci-fi movies) I have no qualms about adding it to the list. I was also able to watch John Carpenter's 1987 creepfest "Prince of Darkness" (40).

OCTOBER 28: I got to go to the RiffTrax Live show tonight. The guys from RiffTrax did their thing to the classic Vincent Price/William Castle movie "House on Haunted Hill" (1959) (41).

OCTOBER 29: We started this yesterday, but today The Little Monster and I finished watching "Young Frankenstein" (1974) (42). Yes, it's another comedy, but it's just such a perfect Halloween movie. I've loved this film for nearly as long as I can remember. My sister took me to it when I was so young that I actually was somewhat frightened by it. Much like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", I've been wanting to introduce The Little Monster to this movie for a while--but had to wait until she was old enough to find it somewhat scary, but not too scary. She seemed to do okay with it, and didn't even have any nightmares about it last night--even though she predicted she would! I also finished up watching "Reptilian" (43), the 1999 movie that re-imagined the semi-classic monster (or its name at least) from "Yongary, Monster from the Deep" (1967). While I'd never complain about a new giant monster movie being made, I do have to admit that this one was pretty bad (and not in a good way unfortunately). I should have just watched "Yongary, Monster from the Deep" again. Oh well... Finished up the night with an unexpected treat. The Wife suggested that we watch one of my all-time favorite movies: "The 'burbs" (1989) (44). Why was this unexpected? Well, let's just say that it's not one of The Wife's faves. This one's yet another comedy, but it has enough dark elements, and is enough of a parody of scary movies that I'm going to count it.

OCTOBER 30: Headed up to Keene, NH today for some pre-Halloween fun. Saw 1954's "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (45) in 3D at Keene State College. What a great experience to finally see this classic Universal monster movie the way it was meant to be seen! Later on I was able to go to the Colonial Theatre for Spooktacular V. This is the show put on by the people behind the horror host show Saturday Fright Special. The movie for this show was "Return of the Living Dead" (46), the "unofficial" 1985 sequel to George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". Finally, although I already saw "Psycho" earlier this month, the only real disappointment of today was that I wasn't able to get back to Keene State for their 11:00 showing of "Psycho". All in all, a great way to finish off a month of fun movie/show watching.

OCTOBER 31: Halloween. There wasn't a chance to watch anything that could be added to the list today, the last day of the month, but it was a very good Halloween and I have to say that I'm pretty happy with the results of the challenge.

The final score for the October challenge is: Monster Dad-46, October-31!