Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

I had a busy day today so I am going to leave you tonight with a poem befitting the season, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published on 29 January 1945 in The New York Evening Mirror.  Despite the fact that he wrote several short stories and several other poems, "The Raven" would remain his best known and perhaps his most popular work. Indeed, it has provided the inspiration for several films, the first being a silent film produced in 1915.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

Friday, 28 October 2011

Some Halloween Horror Movie Trailers

Movie trailers have been a means of promoting films for nearly 100 years. It was Nils Granlund, advertising manager for the Loews theatre chain, who invented the trailer. In 1913 he produced a short, promotional film for The Pleasure Seekers. It became a standard practice for the Loews chain, and it soon became a standard practice throughout the movie industry. Today it is difficult to conceive of a time when movie trailers did not exist.

Naturally, movie trailers would prove important to the horror genre. Not only do horror movie trailers have to give individuals a taste of what the movie is about, but also provide a little bit of the frights to be found in the film as well. For this reason, horror movie trailers would become a bit of an art all their own.

Perhaps the best known trailer for a horror movie ever made was the teaser trailer for Psycho. In fact, it could well be the greatest movie trailer ever made. Written by James R. Allardice (who also wrote Alfred Hitchock's introductions on Alfred Hitchcock Presents), the trailer features Mr. Hitchcock's trademark humour, as well as one big fright. At nearly seven minutes in length, it was also one of the longer teaser trailers ever made.



A perfect example of a trailer that showed what to expect from a horror film was the original trailer to Hammer Films' version of Dracula (1958), under its American title Horror of Dracula. I rather suspect that the American trailer for Hammer's Dracula was rather shocking to Americans at the time, given that it showed rather more blood than most horror movie trailers did at the time and an undertone of sex that was pretty much unknown in American horror movies.



Sadly, the trailers for the early Universal horror films Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) have not survived. Fortunately, the trailer for The Wolf Man, made ten years later in 1941, has.



Movie trailers are not simply an American phenomenon, as they were also used in the United Kingdom to promote films as well. Indeed, the perfect example of a trailer that may have actually hurt a movie's chances with critics and audiences may well have been the original trailer for Peeping Tom (1960). Much like Psycho, released the same year, Peeping Tom is a horror with a good deal of psychological depth and complexity. And just as Psycho was directed by a respected auteur, Alfred Hitchcock, Peeping Tom was also directed by a respected auteur, Michael Powell. Both films would be controversial, but in the case of Peeping Tom it is arguable that its trailer made matters worse. A complex, sophisticated film, the trailer for Peeping Tom treated it as if it was a mere exploitation film.



While the trailer for Peeping Tom is bad because it totally misleads viewers as to the nature of the movie, other trailers are bad because they simply reveal too much. The trend towards spoilers in trailers started in the Seventies and has not really ever gone away. Indeed, a perfect example of this is the trailer for the film Black Christmas (1974). A poorly done, pre-Halloween slasher film, its trailer very nearly gives away the whole plot. And at nearly four minutes, the trailer is also much too long.



From the above examples, it would appear that creating a trailer for a horror movie is a bit of a balancing act. One must give the audience enough of fright that they want to see the movie, without misleading them as to the nature of the film or giving away too much. In many respects the teaser trailer for Psycho was nearly prefect in this regard. Sadly, it would seem the trailers for Peeping Tom and Black Christmas were not. Of course, it must also be pointed out that a good film can overcome a bad trailer. Peeping Tom is not regarded as a classic. On the other hand, a bad film probably not going to be helped by a good trailer. Even if the trailer for Black Christmas had not given away too much of the plot, the film would still be considered a bad film regardless.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Monster Mash

Perhaps no song is as identified with Halloween as "Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers. Regardless of what other spooky songs may be played from year to year at Halloween, one is guaranteed to hear "Monster Mash" several times during the Halloween season.

The song has its origins in Bobby Pickett's rather remarkable impersonation of Boris Karloff's voice. One night while performing with his band The Cordials, during a performance of The Diamonds' song "Li'l Darlin'," Mr. Pickett went into his Boris Karloff impersonation. The performance received accolades from the audience to the point that fellow Cordial Lenny Capizzi urged Bobby Pickett to continue utilising his Boris Karloff imitation in performances. As a result, Bobby Pickett and Lenny Capizzi recorded '"Monster Mash." Their backing group, credited as The Crypt-Kickers, consisted of Terry Berg, Johnny McCrae, Rickie Page, Gary S. Paxton, and pianist Leon Russell.

"Monster Mash" was released on 25 August 1962. During the week of 20 October 1962, right before Halloween, "Monster Mash" hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. What is more, the song would hit the Billboard Hot 100 three more times: in December 1962, August 1970, and May 1973. The song would also be covered several times. A notable cover version was performed by Boris Karloff himself on the 30 October 1965 episode of Shindig (the original footage of which has been lost). It has also been covered by The Beach Boys, The Big O, The Misfits, Smashing Pumpkins, and even Vincent Price.

Here, then, is the original version of "Monster Mash" and Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers.



Here is The Misfits' cover version, combined with footage from Rankin/Bass' Mad Monster Party.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Some Halloween Songs

Tonight I thought I would provide you with some Halloween songs. First up is a reconstruction someone made of Boris Karloff's performance of "Monster Mash" from Shindig. The clip was long ago lost, so an individual used the remaining footage along with some audio to recreate the performance! Also included are performances by Jim Doval & the Gauchos and The Wellingtons. Ted Cassidy appeared as Lurch on the same episode of Shindig performing "The Lurch," so the individual included footage of Lurch from the Los Angeles local show Shivaree (a show like Shindig or Hulabaloo that aired from 1965 to 1966).



Next up is a video that mashes up Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs' "Little Red Riding Hood" and footage from the Tex Avery classic "Red Hot Riding Hood."



Finally, here is a video I made myself that combines Frank Sinatra's version of "That Old Black Magic" with footage from the classic film Bell, Book, and Candle.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Vincent

It is a rare thing when one has a personal tie to a celebrity. And generally it is not a very strong tie. For instance, I am very distantly related to Lucille Ball. I can also say that I live an hour away from the hometowns of Steve McQueen, Walt Disney, Samuel Clemens, and Cliff Edwards. Among the celebrities to whom I can claim a personal tie is the great Vincent Price. Sadly, Mr. Price died on this date in 1993.

As to my personal tie to Vincent Price, I must point out that not only was he born in St. Louis (the only true metropolis Missouri can boast), but he also put in a yearly appearance at Northeast Missouri State University in Kirksville for years and even taught workshops on acting and art history there. I have known and met many people who had the opportunity to meet Mr. Price. In fact, except for Dawn Wells of Gilligan's Island (who went to Stephen's College in Columbia, Missouri), I think he may have been the actor who maintained the closest ties to the northeastern and central regions of Missouri. While I never met Vincent Price, then, I feel the same sort of bond I also feel with Steve McQueen and Walt Disney, a bond of having walked the same streets and in some cases even encountering some of the same people.

In some ways it is fitting that I have a personal tie, no matter how tenuous it is, with Mr. Price, as he has always been one of my favourite actors of all time.  While he is best known for his horror movies, it must be pointed out that Vincent Price had an extensive career that included many different genres of film. In fact, from the late Thirties into the Forties, if Vincent Price was known for any genre, it was perhaps costume dramas and period pieces. He appeared in such films as The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1938), Hudson's Bay (1941), Dragonwyck (1944), and The Three Musketers.  He also appeared in Otto Preminger's classic Laura (1944), the adventure film Green Hell (1940), the film noir Leave Her to Heaven (1945) and the Western The Baron of Arizona (1950).  By 1948 Vincent Price had appeared in only four horror movies, and one of those was a comedy: Tower of London (1939), The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The House of the Seven Gables (1940), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Of course, Vincent Price is best known for his horror movies. After many years in the film industry, Vincent Price appeared in House of Wax (1953), a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933).  House of Wax proved to be a huge success and as a result it would begin Vincent Price's identification with the horror genre. As the Fifties progressed Mr. Price appeared in more and more horror movies: The Mad Magician (1954), The Fly (1958), The House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959),  The Return of the Fly (1959), The Bat (1959), and The House of Usher (1960).

House of Wax would also set the course of Mr. Price's career in other ways as well. The plot of House of Wax centred on wax figure sculptor Henry Jarrod who, after being badly burned in a fire set by an arsonist, sets out taking a very grisly form of revenge. Unlike such notable horror actors as Bela Lugsoi, Boris Karloff, and Christopher Lee, Vincent Price never played monsters. Unlike notable horror actor Peter Cushing, Vincent Price generally did not play monsters hunters such as Van Helsing or villainous mad scientists such as Dr. Frankenstein. Instead, more often than not Mr. Price played tragic figures, individuals who through circumstances or through the ill intent of others had been driven beyond the brink of sanity. In The Raven (1963) Mr. Price played Dr. Craven, a sorcerer mourning the death of his wife. In The Last Man on Earth (1964) he played Dr. Robert Morgan, the loan survivor in a world filled with humans transformed into vampiric creatures by a plague (it was the first adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend). In The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) Vincent Price plays Anton Phibes, whose wife died on the surgical table following an accident and who decides to take revenge on the medical team who worked on her. In Theatre of Blood he played Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who wreaks vengeance on the critics he feels have ruined his career.

While Vincent Price would play characters who more clear cut heroes (The Tingler) or villains (Witchfinder General), it would be the more tragic, more complicated characters in his horror movies for which he would be best known. These were characters who were neither purely evil nor purely good, characters who had often faced great tragedy and hand not come out unscathed. This made Mr. Price's characters among the most sympathetic characters in horror films. Indeed, even the characters played by Peter Cushing do not elicit sympathy in the way that many of Vincent Price's characters do. All of us have lost people we have loved, all of us have faced injustice at one time or another. And while most of us do not go mad, let alone seek revenge on those who have wronged us, we can still sympathise and even identify with Vincent Price's characters in a way that we may not sympathise or identify with characters played by other horror actors.

The simple fact is that Vincent Price endowed his characters with a sort of humanity rarely seen in films of any genre. Many of his characters may have been mad, but we could often understand why they were so. It is for this reason that I number Vincent Price among my favourite actors of all time. Between feeling a tie to Vincent Price through the state in which we were born and admiring his craft as an actor, 25 October 2011 would be a very sad day. Indeed, given how much Vincent Price and horror movies are identified with Halloween, that Halloween was a very depressing one for me. I had lost an actor with whom could claim at least a tenous tie and the world had lost a great talent.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Halloween Pin Ups

As those who regularly read this blog know, I usually the week before Halloween to posts fitting the holiday. Today I'd like to treat you to one of my favourite things, classic pin ups with a Halloween theme. From the Twenties into the Fifties, it was routine for the Hollywood studios to have pin up photos taken of their starlets as a means of publicity. These photos would often have a holiday theme, so that a startlet might pose with snowmen and a Christmas tree for Christmas, fireworks for the 4th of July, or jack o'lanterns and black cats for Halloween.

First up is the It Girl herself, Clara Bow.


Next is Betty Grable, with some reading material suitable for the holiday.


This is the bewitching Ann Miller.



And here is Anne Gwynne.


Next is Cyd Charisse


Finally, one of my all time favourite actresses and pin ups, the beautiful Elaine Stewart

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Actress Sue Lloyd R.I.P.

Actress Sue Lloyd, who appeared in such movies as The Ipcress File (1964) and such TV shows as The Baron, passed on 20 October 2011 at the age of 72.

Sue Lloyd was born on 7 August 1939 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Her family moved to Birmingham. She attended Edgbaston high school. She took up ballet after she watched Margot Fonteyn at Covent Garden. In 1953 she won a scholarship to the Royal Ballet located at Sadler's Wells theatre in London. Miss Lloyd was one of the last two d├ębutantes to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace before the ceremony was discontinued.

Sue Lloyd began her career in entertainment as a dancer and also had a good deal of success modelling. She trained in acting in Los Angeles under actor Jeff Corey. In 1963 she made her television debut in an episode of The Sentimental Agent. She appeared in episodes of Armchair Theatre and Gideon C.I.D. before making her feature film debut in The Ipcress File. She was a regular on the TV series The Baron and His & Hers. She also guest starred on such shows as The Avengers, The Saint, Journey into the Unknown, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and Department S. She appeared in the films Hysteria (1965), Attack on the Iron Coast (1968), Corruption (1968), Where's Jack? (1969), and Lola (1970).

In the Seventies Miss Lloyd was a regular on The Two Ronnies and Crossroads. She appeared on such shows as The Persuaders, Jason King, Justice, and Sherlock Holmes & Doctor Watson. She appeared in such films as Percy (1971), Go For a Take (1972), No. 1 of the Secret Service (1977), and Rough Cut (1980).  In the Eighties she appeared on the shows Super Gran and Bergerac.  She appeared in the film Eat the Rich (1988). In the Nineties and the Naughts she appeared in the series Comic Strip Presents and Keeping Up Appearances. She appeared in the movies U.F.O. (1993) , Bullet to Beijing (1995), and Beginner's Luck (2001).

On the West End Sue Lloyd played John Steed's partner Hannah Wild in the short lived play based on the TV series The Avengers in 1971. Since 1976 she worked as a professional artist, painting murals and portraits.

Sue Lloyd was quite good at playing glamorous and often powerful women. In The Baron she played secret agent Cordelia Winfield. In His & Hers she played the account of the City of London and the breadwinner in her marriage. She even played one of the talented amateurs who partnered with John Steed, although it was in the play based on The Avengers rather than the TV series itself. Given her appearance and natural grace, it was perhaps natural she should generally play glamorous roles. Miss Lloyd played all of these roles well and convincingly. For that she will be remembered.