Today’s cool and under-seen flick is From the Dark, an Irish movie now available on Amazon Prime. It was allegedly filmed in County Offaly but we all know it was really filmed in County DRACULA because it startS with a peat-digger uncovering a very old box, which contains a very old vampire. Oops! Next thing you know a nice yuong couple’s car has broken down near the peat digger’s house and all hell breaks loose – well, no, actually, all hell just slowly stalks them but that is EVEN BETTER. You see, this vampire is a cool Nosferatu/Petyr/1979 Salem’s Lot style spook and he spends an awful lot of time just standing and looking creepy in the Irish Mist which is AWESOME! And also he’s hyper-allergic to any form of light which is the one thing that gives the couple any sort of chance against him. But if you’ve ever had a flashlight that you had to whack every now and then because it would go out suddenly (also my remote control did that while watching this but that is unrelated) you will relate to their struggle! Overall a fun thriller that is perfect for a Halloween watch!
Well, he acts like it anyway. Today’s neglected but pretty great Netflix goody is a little indie called He Never Died starring the aforementioned Rollins, former Blag Flag lead singer and sometime stand-up comic/motivational speaker. Whatever you think of Henry in these roles (if forced to pick a LA punk band, it would be the Dead Kennedys for me), he’s always good in movies; he’s no Brando but he has a larger-than-life quality that gives his characters impact. He rarely has a lead, but this is a perfect one for him – a sullen loner who just may be an immortal demon. As the plot plays out, Rollins’ character finds himself forced to help people despite his own deliberate reclusiveness – which is not entirely selfish, he keeps to himself because he has a compulsion to eat flesh! The movie is packed with humor and a good deal of violence, which to be honest is quite fun as the recipients mostly deserve their unpleasant fates. Supposedly there will be a contiunation of the story in the form of a miniseries, and if Rollins is back then sign me up!
No, not me specifically. I refer, of course, to the Netflix Original I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. I’m starting this Halloween look at some underseen or under-noted movies currently on streaming with this little gem for a very good reason: it was my favorite film from last year’s week-long Halloween binge-a-thon. Now, this is not for everyone. Ha, usually when you hear that phrase it means “gore so extreme and intense that even devotees of Italian Cannibal movies will cringe”. Well, it sure don’t mean that in this case! No, IATHPTTLITH is what you might call a “slow-burn” horror movie. Yep, you might call it that but you’d probably be overstating things by including the word “burn”. It really is best looked at as a spooky tone poem, a film of mood and presence that kind of floats along like a chill mist in a deserted hallway. It’s directed by Anthony Perkins’ son Osgood, and he conjures up such a specific Shirley Jackson vibe that it is a genuine tragedy that Netflix didn’t turn to him to do its Haunting of Hill House series (which looks dire). If that sounds like your cup of tea, then I think you will be delighted, though perhaps you wouldn’t want Merricat to put in the sugar for you*.
Okay, I had some technical difficulties getting started this month. Hopefully that isn’t some sort of die harbinger; last month the power in much of my home state of Maine went out right before the holiday and I got to enjoy an old-fashioned Halloween shivering in the darkness. This year my aim is to Watch this space!
Here’s The Rattles with their classic heavy-psych hit song The Witch from 1970. They were a German band who started out at the same time as the Beatles and even gigged with them in the early days. To give an idea of their evolution, their first hit was “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah”. Then, this.
I love it when a classic rock band manages to come up with something cool decades after their heyday. Deep Purple’s 2013 track Vincent Price fits the description ably; a good, snarly (if kinda dumb) tune about everyone’s favorite suave bogeyman. Sure, it sounds more like Alice Cooper than it does vintage Purple, but it sounds like good Alice Cooper. Deep Purple in their prime (the 70s) were one of the greats of British Hard Rock, with the sharp distinctive lead guitar of Richie Blackmore and the percussive Hammond Organ of the late Jon Lord forming their one-two punch. “Smoke on the Water” is their most famous tune. Fans of Supernatural and Ash Vs. Evil Dead will be quite familiar with some of their classic hits, especially Highway Star.These days Blackmore isn’t with the group, busy doing his own thing with Blackmore’s Night, which does a lot of wiccan/pagan folky type material.
One of my favorite Halloween Hits is this little ditty by Don Hinson and the Rigormorticians, produced and partly performed by the producer and co-author of The Monster Mash, Gary S. Paxton. The Karloff impression on this funny and satirical number is Don Hinson, who followed this up with a 40-year career as a disc jockey. Paxton is a fascinating character who was also The Hollywood Argyles (“Alley Oop”), and later became part of the hippie “Jesus Freak” movement, survived an assassination attempt, and was rumored to have been “intimate” with Tammy Faye Bakker. Ugh.
All you goths and new wavys are probably more familiar with the version done in 1980 by 45 Grave, who were horror-punk goth-pop glam-wave pioneers. To me their version is fun (and the video is hella cool) but marred by the sort of detached, ironic approach to the vocals that is the hallmark of too much post-70’s spook rock (I’m looking at you, Cramps!) Like, you know, “Look at me I’m being ‘spooky’.” Say what you will about Don Hinson, he means it, man.
Here’s Phil Harris’ zany 1950 hit The Thing, which has nothing to do with James Arness, John Carpenter, or the Addams’ Family. It’s a goofy song about the contents of a weird box which could, if your imagination stretches there, hold something unholy and Lovecraftian. (“Boom-ba-boom”=“Eldritch Thing”).
Phil Harris was a singer and bandleader on the Jack Benny show for a zillion years, and subject of many Benny gags.This clip is from the 1951 movie The Wild Blue Yonder, which is elsewise disappointingly free of eldritch things. Harris is probably best remembered for his unforgettable performance as the voice of Baloo the Bear in Disney’s The Jungle Book. He was also O’Malley (the Alley Cat) in The Aristocats and the very Baloo-esque Little John in Robin Hood.
One of the best TV theme songs of all time has to be the Scooby Doo theme. I probably don’t need to say more than that but I will anyway. This is the more bubblegummy second season version, which is sung by Austin Roberts, who also sang and co-wrote all of the “chase songs” for the show. Austin Roberts later had a hit with a song called Rocky (1975) which is a classic of the icky-treacly-tears-on-my-Xmas-shoes soap-opera story-song genre. You know the type, they usually end with someone dead (which I support) followed by some sort of uplifting coda (which I DO NOT). Just listening to a bit of it causes a reflex reaction in my AM-radio button-switching finger.
Getting back to Scooby Doo, here is the superior first season version of the theme – more prominent drums, rocks a little harder, creepier organ, less cheery background vocals. But my intensive five minutes of research failed to reveal who sings this version, so let’s just assume it’s Ronnie James Dio.
Tonight is the night that It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown airs for the 51st year. Yikes! The show is easily one of the best holiday specials of all time and fans can fight it out with Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas special over which is number one. (Me: They’re all great). One of the genius decisions that was made when the first Charlie Brown special was made (the Christmas one) was hiring Vince Guaraldi to score it. That soundtrack was amazing, and his score for Great Pumpkin is as good or even better. His jazz sound is just the right combination of sad, whimsical and eerie to perfectly capture the autumnal feeling of the show. Ironically, he got the Charlie Brown gigs because of a happy accident – his group released a single that was a cover version of a song but the deejays discovered the B-side, an original called Cast Your Fate to the Wind and made it a left-field hit. The Peanuts producer heard it and rolled the dice. And the rest is…
Some fun trivia: Vince’s uncle was a famous whistler, that’s him on the Hugh Montenegro single of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Vince was friends with the Grateful Dead and he’s in the picture on the back of Aoxomoxoa!