6 Months of Film Writing

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I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting Cinebeats again but I’ve been busy with various personal projects and obligations. I’ve also recently started writing for Publishers Weekly but I thought I’d finally update with some highlights from TCM’s Movie Morlocks. Here’s some of the more interesting (in my estimation) film related writing & entertaining babble I’ve produced in the last 6 months. You might notice that the topics I cover have gotten a little “lighter” in content and that’s by design. TCM’s blog readers generally prefer light reading about familiar topics so I’ve been trying to accommodate them more often.

March, 2015:
Superhero Saturdays on TCM: BATMAN (1943)
Bold! Noble! Daring! BATWOMAN (1968)
William Mortensen in Hollywood
Hammer Noir: A Poster Gallery
April, 2015:
“Robbery & Murder Were Their Code of Living!” – THE CATS (1968)
A Troy Donahue Top 10
Cooking with Sophia Loren
Orson Welles at One Hundred
May, 2015:
Think Pink: The Enduring Appeal of Lady Penelope
Two on the Run: DEADLY STRANGERS (1975)
The Hollywood Style
June, 2015:
Hollywood Comes to Hearst Castle: Memories & Musings
Men Among Monsters: Remembering Christopher Lee & Richard Johnson
Bugging Out! A Poster Gallery
Classic Hollywood Actors Discuss Women, Beauty & Femininity with Arlene Dahl
July, 2015:
Underrated ’65
Elisabeth Lutyens: Horror Queen of Film Composers
Midsummer Reading Suggestions
Q&A: Michael Kronenberg From the Film Noir Foundation
Birdwatching in Bodega Bay
August, 2015:
A Few Fun Facts About Michael Caine
The Kitten & The Cowboy: When Ann-Margret Met The Duke
Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride
Closing Act: Shelley Winters

April & May at The Movie Morlocks

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Highlights from my April & May contributions to TCM’s Movie Morlocks. You can read all the articles by following the links below:

Happy Birthday Doris!
Excerpt: “The legacy of this vivacious movie star, popular vocalist, television personality and animal rights advocate is truly unparalleled. And knowing Doris Day’s is still here with us doing good work that benefits us all is something worth celebrating!”

When Insects Attack: GENOCIDE (1968)
Excerpt: “The unexpected blend of film genres makes GENOCIDE a unique viewing experience that benefits from some impressive psychedelic inspired visuals. Director Kazui Nihonmatsu uses a number of imaginative film techniques including superimposition and slow dissolves to express the fractured state of mind of his tormented cast as well as the apocalyptic nature of their plight. And the relentless close-ups of actual insects munching on human flesh gives this low-budget production an uncomfortable documentary-like ambiance. Fans of Toho’s more atypical outings such as THE H-MAN (1958), THE HUMAN VAPOR (1960) and MATANGO (1965) will appreciate GENOCIDE and if you enjoy a good bug invasion movie as much as I do you should find this interesting little gem worthy of your time.”

Matrimony, Madness and Murder: HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)
Excerpt: “What sets HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON apart from many other pretty-boy “psycho-thrillers” (a term I’m borrowing from film journalist Kim Newman) that were prevalent in the late sixties and early seventies is its international setting and baroque setpieces. Bava’s film was shot in France, Italy and Spain and used the elegant villa of the infamous Generalissimo Francisco Franco as one of its backdrops. The House of Harrington contains an extravagant bridal salon adorned with mannequins that model beautiful wedding gowns and resemble the lifeless corpses of dead brides. And it is in this enclosed and highly stylized setting that the killer feels most at home as does Bava’s camera which lovingly lingers over every macabre detail allowing us an intimate look into the murderer’s mind.”

Rough, Raw & Randy: UP THE JUNCTION (1968)
Excerpt: “Peter Collinson’s effective slice-of-life drama UP THE JUNCTION (1968) makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut in the U.S. this week thanks to Olive Films. Today the film is often fondly remembered by fans of sixties cinema for its South London setting, colorful mod fashions, beehive hairdos, boastful bikers and jazzy psychedelic pop score by Manfred Mann. But UP THE JUNCTION has more to offer viewers besides an abundance of great style and an unforgettable soundtrack.”

Bad Movie Mothers We Love to Hate
Excerpt: “TCM is celebrating Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 11th) with a great program of classic films showcasing notable mothers. While looking over Sunday’s line-up I was surprised to spot NOW, VOYAGER (1942), which features Gladys Cooper as the incredibly cold and domineering mother of Bette Davis. Cooper won an Oscar nomination for her memorable performance and went on to play another overbearing mother in SEPARATE TABLES (1958) who torments poor Deborah Kerr. While considering Gladys Cooper’s portrayal of two heartless mothers I started thinking about other horrible movie moms that I’ve enjoyed watching over the years.”

Spy Games: BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! (1966)
Excerpt: “BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! Is just one of hundreds (possibly thousands) of spy spoofs that were released in the sixties following the world-wide success of the early James Bond films. Its unwieldy plot and cookie-cutter characters will be familiar to many but thanks to a solid cast, the spectacular North Africa locations and some thrilling action sequences this amusing romp managed to keep me entertained throughout its 92 minute running time.”

Mystery & Melodrama: THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE (2012-2014)
Excerpt: “It’s a shame that so many women who took on incredibly difficult and challenging jobs during WW2, such as flying planes, driving tanks, nursing the wounded, spying for their governments and breaking complicated codes shared by enemy nations, have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. Rosie the Riveter has become a symbol of female ingenuity during wartime but women did much more in WW2 besides working in ammunition factories. THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE shines a welcome light on a group of heroic women that have all too often been forgotten by history and brings them to vivid life.”

“The World’s Most Beautiful Animal!” – Ava Gardner in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954)
Excerpt: “Ava Gardner makes one of my favorite film entrances of all time in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954), which airs on TCM June 1st. If you want to kick off the new month with a bang I highly recommend making time for this verbose Technicolor-noir that critiques Hollywood excess and the powerful studio system that frequently exploited its stars. Mankiewicz’s film is a heady brew of CITIZEN KANE (1941), LAURA (1944), SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and the director’s own ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) shot with abundant style by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff.”

H.R. Giger 1940-2014

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I was disappointed to learn that H.R. Giger has died at age 74. He was a brilliant man and one of my favorite artists. In recent years he was still active and his work has been on my mind a lot following the release of PROMETHEUS (2012). I hoped that we’d get the opportunity to see more of his film production work before he left us.

Besides making incredible art and sculptures, Giger also dabbled in filmmaking with Swiss director Fredi M. Murer and they produced a number of short films based on Giger’s work including HEIMKILLER AND HIGH (1968) and SWISS MADE 2069 (1969). My favorite of Giger’s short film experiments is SECOND CELEBRATION OF THE FOUR (1976), which was a sort of funeral dirge for his first wife, actress Li Tobler, who committed suicide. It’s an eerie, esoteric and unsettling little slice of cinema that recalls scenes from some of my favorite horror films and it seems appropriate to share it here today.

At Cinebeats & The Movie Morlocks:
Prometheus Unbound: Ridley Scott & Me
In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

Further Reading:
HR Giger Obituary at The Guardian
H.R. Giger, Surrealist Artist and ‘Alien’ Designer, Dead at 74 at Rolling Stone
H.R. Giger, 1940-2014: the Xenomorph’s father by Matt Zoller Seitz

January at the Movie Morlocks

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Had planned on posting this a few weeks ago but it slipped my mind. Still trying to get back into the swing of things around here. What follows is a list of my January posts for TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog:

Peter O’Toole: A Hellraiser Remembered
Excerpt: “I can’t speak for my fellow Morlocks but I often find it very difficult to write about the artists I admire right after they’ve died. It can be a painful and revealing process that feels like you’re pouring salt into an open wound.”
Joan Crawford in The Best of Everything (1959)
Excerpt: “…director Jean Negulesco seemed determined to make New York look threatening and downright scary at times by shooting the towering skyscrapers like they’re unreachable monuments built to celebrate masculine dominance over commerce. The tall office buildings appear to swallow up the women who dare to enter them and cast great shadows over their activities throughout the film. It may not be a conventional horror film but there are plenty of monsters in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING and Negulesco’s stylized direction made me feel as if I was watching a thriller or a mystery at times.”
At Home with Joan Crawford
Excerpt: “Crawford’s streamlined but colorful apartment, particularly when seen along with the other overstuffed museum-like houses featured in Celebrity Homes, is a testament to her good taste. And the lifelong friendships she had with her interior designers tell us a lot about an actress that has too often become the subject of misunderstanding and the butt of bad jokes.”
In space no one can hear you scream: ALIEN (1979) vs. GRAVITY (2013)
Excerpt: “35 years have passed since Ripley saved the world from an alien threat but Hollywood still seems incapable of accepting the idea of a female hero who faces danger head-on without wailing about her predicament or relying on a man to guide her to safety.”
Hello Hello Conrad: A look at BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963) star Bobby Wayne “Jesse” Pearson
Excerpt: ” I’ve always found Pearson’s audacious performance as the confident rock star who seduces the entire female populace of a small Ohio town with a few swings of his hips and strums on his guitar to be one of the highlights of this madcap musical. But while doing a little background research on the man I was surprised by the lack of information available so I started to dig deep into various news and history archives in an effort to learn more about Pearson. What I found really surprised me and some of the facts seem to contradict information that can be found on popular sites like IMDB and Wikipedia so I thought it was worth sharing.”

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Going Under: Revisiting COMA (1978)

I recently re-watched Michael Crichton‘s COMA (1978) and was pleasantly surprised by how effective the film still was. You can read my full take on the film at the Movie Morlocks but here’s an excerpt:

Taking its cues from films like Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and Bryan Forbes’s THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975), COMA uses elements of fantasy, science fiction and horror to ask important questions about gender inequality as well as office politics in the wake of the sexual revolution. Today COMA might seem somewhat outdated in its broad portrayal of gender biases (or incredibly pertinent depending on your social outlook) but it’s important to remember that Roe v. Wade was only 4 years old at the time that COMA was made and the medical field was still largely a man’s world where women were destined to take nursing positions.

Bujold’s character is expected to follow orders and her handsome boyfriend (Michael Douglas) seems determined to keep her in line but throughout the film Bujold rejects every attempt to confine her and her ideas. Is Bujold just an emotionally unstable woman trying to blame the hospital for her friend’s medical dilemma? Or are the coma victims pawns in some sinister plan being executed by a Hippocratic brotherhood? I may have given too much of the movie’s basic plot line away but COMA has plenty of unexpected twists and turns that should appeal to mystery and horror enthusiasts as well as science fiction fans.

You can find my full post at the Movie Morlocks
Going Under: Revisiting COMA (1978) @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks

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Prometheus Unbound: Ridley Scott & Me

How much did I love Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979) after seeing it at the tender age of 11? Too much. The commercials for ALIEN terrified me and the film’s tagline (“In Space No One Can Hear You Scream”) sent unprecedented chills down my spine but I was determined to see it. I can’t remember how I convinced my mother to let me go to the movie with friends but she never set any rules regarding what I was allowed to watch and read. I’d seen plenty of adult films before but ALIEN was the first ‘Rated R’ film I saw in a theater without parental supervision. I went with three friends (one female and two male). One of the boy’s fathers picked us up in his custom painted van with plush carpet interior. When we arrived at the theater the boy’s father preceded to tell the woman at the ticket booth that he ‘approved’ of us kids seeing the film alone. We bought popcorn and settled in for the film.

I’d grown up watching horror and science fiction movies (Note: including ALIEN predecessors like PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE) but nothing had really prepared me for what I was about to experience. The POV camera shots combined with the murky cinematography and natural performances made viewing ALIEN an uncanny experience unlike anything I’d witnessed before. I spent most of the time watching the movie between the fingers of my left hand, which gripped my face tightly like an alien “facehugger.” By the end I had become a lifelong member of the Ridley Scott fanclub. Not only was ALIEN a great movie but it had also provided me with a female hero I greatly admired. Forget that bitchy broad Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley was my kind of space heroine! She was tough, smart, uncompromising and didn’t take shit from anyone. But in the face of incomprehensible danger she was also empathetic enough to worry about a cat. Last but not least, she managed to kill the monster all on her own without any help from the boys. You go grrrl! All the sexual innuendos in ALIEN (tentacle rape, white undies, etc.) went over my head at the time but I do remember feeling slightly unnerved by it. But feeling unnerved by a film is something I’ve come to deeply appreciate. It was only later when I started exploring H.R. Giger’s darkly erotic artwork that I would start to understand the sexual implications of Scott’s film.

I don’t remember discussing the movie much with my young companions. We were probably all in various stages of shock (at least I was anyway). I do remember coming home after seeing the film and being greeted by my mother who asked me about ALIEN and all I could muster was, “It was one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen!” Afterward I bought the novelization by Alan Dean Foster, collected the bubblegum trading cards (which I still own – see picture above for scanned evidence) and was inspired to buy my first film magazine, an issue of Famous Monsters featuring ALIEN on its cover. I read that magazine over and over again until it literally fell apart in my hands. Soon afterward I would buy more film magazines (Famous Monsters, Fangoria, etc.) and start reading reviews by film critics in my local newspapers, which led me to write my first movie reviews a few years later for my school paper. Seeing ALIEN in 1979 was one of the many important steps that led me to create Cinebeats 6 years ago.

Flash forward 12 years later . . .

I met my future husband at a screening of the director’s cut of BLADE RUNNER (1982) in 1991. Afterward we spent hours discussing the movie. The impact of falling in love while you’re immersed in the world of Phillip K. Dick as re-imagined by Ridley Scott and special effects guru Douglas Trumbull (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, SILENT RUNNING, etc.) shouldn’t be underestimated. We’re celebrating our 15th anniversary this year and the foundation of our relationship owes a sliver of gratitude to Scott’s visionary science fiction film. Coincidentally, during our delayed honeymoon trip to the UK in 2000 we visited the London Museum where the Gladiators & Caesars: The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome exhibit was on display inspired by Scott’s film, GLADIATOR (2000). It was one of the most spectacular exhibits I’ve ever seen and it managed to make me feel like I could afford a trip to Italy as well as the UK that year. I must tip my hat to Scott for that as well.

Which brings me to PROMETHEUS (2012) . . .

Ridley Scott has always been a whipping boy for critics and while I haven’t liked all of the director’s films myself, I made time to see his third excursion into the realm of science fiction when it opened last week. Reviews of PROMETHEUS are unsurprisingly mixed but I personally enjoyed the movie a lot. It wasn’t without its problems and I had issues with the character development but as usual, Michael Fassbender managed to enthrall me. His performance as the android David was the key (or the finely stitched together monster) that held the film together.

All of Ridley Scott’s science fiction films can be linked to Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which happens to be my favorite work of fiction so it’s not too surprising that I’m drawn to Scott’s movies like a moth to a flame. Man’s desire to create life, both naturally and artificially, in an effort to fend off or put an end to our own mortality is ever present in Scott’s best work. In PROMETHEUS the director tackles these big ideas head on. Having only seen it once I don’t feel that I’m ready to really delve into the film’s execution but I was impressed with its depth and scope. It may not have hit every intended target but I appreciated how wide it was willing to throw its net. The production was stunning and I literally felt like I was walking through some of H.R. Giger’s paintings at times thanks to the wonders of modern film technology. I also enjoyed the way Scott’s film gently reminded viewers of the original ALIEN while embracing the new. PROMETHEUS seemed to want to mix the outright scares generated by ALIEN with BLADE RUNNER’s thoughtful slow-burn approach to maximize suspense. It worked well at times but I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I was hoping for a few more “jump out your seat” moments while watching PROMETHEUS. My desire to be scared witless undoubtedly colored my view of the film but I was able to put aside my expectations and enjoy the ride PROMETHEUS took me on. Overall, I think the film’s a fascinating and important addition to Scott’s patchy oeuvre.

So much has already been written about all of Ridley Scott’s film that its unlikely that I’ll throw my own hat into the ring but I may return to PROMETHEUS and write more about the movie in the future. In the meantime I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passages from Percy Shelley’s poem, Prometheus Unbound, followed by links to reviews of the film that I particularly liked.

This is the day, which down the void abysm
At the Earth-born’s spell yawns for Heaven’s despotism,
And Conquest is dragged captive through the deep:
Love, from its awful throne of patient power
In the wise heart, from the last giddy hour
Of dread endurance, from the slippery, steep,
And narrow verge of crag-like agony, springs
And folds over the world its healing wings.

Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance,
These are the seals of that most firm assurance
Which bars the pit over Destruction’s strength;
And if, with infirm hand, Eternity,
Mother of many acts and hours, should free
The serpent that would clasp her with his length;
These are the spells by which to resume
An empire o’er the disentangled doom.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

Recommended Reading:
At the Cinema: Prometheus by Craig Bloomfield
Prometheus (2012) by Tony Dayoub
The Savior of Summer by Zach Baron
Recommended Viewing:
– Mark Kermode reviews PROMETHEUS on his radio show (video posted below).

Do the Jellyfish!

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STING OF DEATH (1965) tells the strange and tragic story of Igor Egon (John Vella), a horribly disfigured loner who just might be Oliver Reed’s ugly American cousin. Egon works for a scientist (Jack Nagle) in the Florida Everglades who is studying jellyfish, in particular the extremely dangerous Portuguese Man of War. Egon also happens to be in love with the scientist’s pretty daughter Miss Karen (Valerie Hawkins) but Miss Karen only has eyes for John (Joe Morrison), a clean-cut and incredibly dull young man that also assists her father. John smiles a lot, seems to enjoy berating Egon and likes to take his shirt off. Things get interesting when Miss Karen arrives at her father’s swanky Florida home with a bunch of her cute girlfriends. John throws Miss Karen a wild party and a group of local hipsters arrive to drink, dance and assault poor Egon. But unbeknownst to them, Egon has been hatching a sinister plan!

Undoubtedly inspired by a steady diet of comic books and low-budget Japanese monster movies, Egon transforms himself into a deadly jellyfish-like monster and begins eliminating the rhythmless party guests who seem determined to prove the old adage is true: white people can’t dance.

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“Wella, I’m saying fella, forget your Cinderella and do the jella, the jilla-jalla jellyfish!”
– Neil Sedaka

Before this no-budget movie comes to an end you’ll see people “Do the Jellyfish” and witness some of the most unconvincing special effects ever captured on film. It might be hard to believe but STING OF DEATH is probably my favorite William Grefe film. Grefe directed and produced a batch of vaguely interesting American B-movies shot in Florida during the ’60s and ’70s such as DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966), THE WILD REBELS (1967) and STANLEY (1972). STANLEY, which tells the odd tale of a Vietnam vet with a penchant for killer snakes, is probably the director’s most respected and best-loved film but I personally prefer STING OF DEATH.

Maybe it’s the “Do the Jellyfish” ska inspired tune sung by Neil Sedaka? John Vella’s scene stealing turn as the sympathetic Egon? Or could it be the cheap jellyfish monster costume that stuntman Doug Hobart risked his life to wear? Whatever the case may be, I found STING OF DEATH a hell of a lot of fun to watch and it’s available from Something Weird Video. If you have cable TV you can currently see STING OF DEATH on demand, which is where I recently watched it.


Trailer for STING OF DEATH (1965)


One of the film’s highlights!
A ska influenced musical number “Do the Jellyfish” sung by Neil Sedaka

Recommended links:
William Grefe’s Official Homepage
Eccentric Cinema’s review of Grefe’s STING OF DEATH & DEATH CURSE OF TARTU with jellyfish monster sound effect!
STING OF DEATH was the subject of a B-Masters blogathon & you can find a batch of reviews for the film at their site.
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Reinventing Lolita

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Top: Sue Lyon in Murder in a Blue World (1973)
Bottom: Sue Lyon in Lolita (1961)

From my latest post at The Movie Morlocks:

One of the most iconic images to emerge from the cinema in the 1960s is the figure of a young Sue Lyon, peering over her sunglasses at a leering James Mason in Stanley Kubrick’s LOLITA (1961). And I’m definitely not alone in my view. The Spanish genre director Eloy de la Iglesia must have agreed with me when he decided to cast Sue Lyon in his intriguing futuristic thriller, MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (aka CLOCKWORK TERROR; 1973). Eloy de la Iglesia’s film has often been labeled a low-budget and poorly constructed Spanish knock-off of Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) and it’s easy to understand why. But its meta-referencing goes way beyond A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and tips its hat in equal measure to Kubrick’s LOLITA. In fact, MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD is really an homage to Kubrick himself and arguably one of the most interesting films released in Spain during the early ‘70s.

Murder in the Blue World (1963)

Murder in the Blue World (1963)If you’d like to read more about Sue Lyon in Eloy de la Iglesia’s MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD please follow the link:
Reinventing Lolita in MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (1973) @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

I’ve also compiled a Flickr gallery of images from the film that you can find here.

Our Primal Fear of the Primordial Ooze

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Yumi Shirakawa in The H-Man (1958)

This week at the Movie Morlocks I discuss our primal fear of the primordial ooze and highlight some of the slimy scares to be found during TCM’s Drive-In Double Features tonight. Some of the movies being played during this evening’s line-up are personal favorites and include THE BLOB (1956), THE H-MAN (1958) and X THE UNKNOWN (1955). A brief excerpt from my post:

“Whatever the reasons may be, I definitely have a fear of slime. It’s not a full-blown phobia but when I watch THE BLOB or THE H-MAN my heart starts to race and I get a little jumpy. I find these classic science fiction films genuinely scary. There’s just something incredibly creepy about a giant mass of ravenous slime that deeply unnerves me and I think being engulfed by a thick gooey substance would be absolutely horrifying.. There’s one scene in THE BLOB that I’ve always found particularly disturbing. It takes places in a car garage at night. Ralph Carmichael’s creepy score builds quietly in the background using a two-note progression to create suspense that predates John Williams’ similar score for JAWS (1975) by some 20 years, while we watch helplessly as one of the mechanics talks about his weekend plans to go hunting unaware that he’s been left alone. THE BLOB was a smartly scripted science fiction film and the irony of that scene isn’t lost on me. When the mechanic is hunted down and suddenly consumed by the creeping blob I have to fight the urge to close my eyes and cover my ears so I won’t have to listen to the grown man’s earth rattling screams.”
THE BLOB

You can read the entire piece by following this link:
It Creeps and Leaps and Glides and Slides @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks

Comic Book of the Week: Land of the Giants

Land of the Giants #5 (1969)

Land of the Giants was a short-lived comic book series published between 1968-1969 by Gold Key Comics. I’m not sure who the artist and writer were because there are no credits in the comic but it was based on the television show of the same name. The series only lasted two seasons and I think it was one of Irwin Allen’s most interesting creations. It’s sort of a strange hybrid between Gulliver’s Travels, Lost in Space, Planet of the Apes and the 1965 film Village of the Giants, which Allen undoubtedly borrowed his title from. I wrote a little bit about the show a few years back when it was released on DVD so if you’d like to know more about Land of the Giants you can find information here.
Land of the Giants #5 (1969)

Land of the Giants #5 (1969)