Friday, April 30, 2010

Karloff in TV's "The Black Prophet": A surprise

The Infinity/CBS dvd set Suspense: The Lost Episodes, Collection 2, released last year, features the March 17, 1953 episode, "The Black Prophet." In it, Boris Karloff plays the infamous Rasputin, the dissolute mystic who was a sometimes-malign influence on the Russian royal family in the early part of the 20th century.

I am as big a fan of Boris Karloff as they come, but I expected Boris to be miscast. It seemed highly unlikely that a cultured, elderly English gentleman such as Boris Karloff could credibly play the middle-aged Russian peasant-turned-mystic.

I should have had more faith! (Which is probably something Rasputin said, too.)

Who would ever have expected the soft-spoken British actor to embody the charismatic Russian? But Boris does it. In an expansive lead character part, Boris goes for it with a surprising vitality, and becomes the avaricious, uncouth, and eccentric Rasputin. Though he never loses his English accent, he moderates it, and uses a roughened speaking voice that sometimes hints of a growl.

It's a bravura performance in a part that would be easy to overplay, but Karloff never makes the coarse and drunken character a buffoon; when Boris droops and dribbles the poisoned wine he is drinking, you aren't tempted to giggle. The expansive characterization is balanced with flashes of underlying suspicion and hints of a resignation to his fate. The performance rivals the noted film portrayals of the mad monk from his fellow Englishmen Christopher Lee and Tom Baker, in Rasputin: The Mad Monk and Nicholas and Alexandra respectively. And it happens in spite of the distractions and limitations of a low-budget live television production!

Also surprising is the performance of Leslie Nielsen as the Russian officer Sergei Soudekine who has been assigned the job of poisoning Rasputin. He is confident in his portrayal as a man determined to free the royal family from the strange monk, whom he considers an agent of evil.

Boris' dark, protruding brows and deep-set, dark, wide eyes often magnified his expressions more than other actors. This was an asset when playing fearful, unbalanced, or obsessed characters--which was often. Other times it made him appear to "take it big," as actors say--to play broadly. I don't think this was ever intentional on Boris' part in serious roles. Here, balanced with with a bushy black beard, wild hair and even wilder personality, Boris' eyes are perfectly expressive here, and the intelligence and enthusiasm of this performance stays in my memory.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boris Karloff's Worst Work!

This year, thanks to two official dvd releases and two bootlegs, I was able to see four of the least-seen performances of one of my favorite actors, the late horror star Boris Karloff. These television appearances were on Studio One Presents, Suspense, Hallmark Hall of Fame, and Playhouse 90. All four performances surprised me, but for four different reasons, interestingly. The first one I saw was one of his worst; the next a good performance in a role he might seem miscast in; the third was a surprisingly restrained but effective performance in one of his most celebrated but least-seen roles, and the last one I watched was one of his very best, an excellent performance in a small dramatic role.

This is the first post about Boris' television work of a few I plan to do , and I might as well comment on the worst one now so I can focus on the good stuff.

Karloff's Worst Performance

Thanks to the Alpha Video dvd Golden Age Classics, I was at last able to see Boris play King Arthur in the 1952 Studio One Presents broadcast of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Boris was 65 in 1952. I fully expected to see either a sage and regal elder Karloff, playing it straight in Mark Twain's light comic fantasy; or a comic "elderly-but-cute" old duffer turn, such as Boris gave us in films like Night Key or A Comedy of Terrors.

But instead Boris actually gave a bad performance.

Boris didn't underplay, like he did in the phoned-in performance of The Climax, or overplay, like he has been accused of doing in The Lost Patrol. Worse, he sometimes didn't actually play at all, in a deliberate sense.

In roughly the first half of his performance, he can clearly be seen glancing at cue cards for support. Along with this distraction, sometimes he uses the reflexive, play-to-the-back-the-house gestures of melodrama, which seem not to be thoughtfully-considered mannerisms for the part, but merely stock posturing. I was embarrassed to see it. (The gestures might have been suitable for his role as the caricatured father "Mr. Darling"of the children's classic Peter Pan, but not here.) When you read accounts of Boris Karloff's life, over and over again you read praise from those who worked with him and knew him for his dedication, preparation, and thorough professionalism. This performance is uncharacteristic of all his other work.

Given the short rehearsal times for live tv shows back then, I was tempted to think maybe he had been too rushed, but 60 year old star Thomas Mitchell has a considerable number of lines and never once appears to cheat with "idiot cards."

Above: Boris appears to rely on cue cards at times.

Karloff appears to recover by the second half, not looking anywhere but where his focus should be, without the broad gestures of before; his characterization is of an affable, slightly-self-important-but-not-real-bright old gent. Suitable to the light comic tone of the teleplay, if nothing memorable.

I'm gonna try to forget even writing about it!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Really! Join the club!

I mean it! YOU should visit the clubhouse of the Strange Kids Club! There you will read the strange story behind the nauseatin' photo above! (The head on top of the pitcher is better-looking than the head IN the picture, wouldn't you agree?)

It's strong drink being served there (proof of age not required) and you won't want to miss out on the intoxicatin' (emphasis on 'toxic") mess on tap!

And if you don't go, I'll have my wife introduce you to her Women's Club!

(Sorry for the outta date and sexist joke, but you know I love puns, even old disreputable ones!)

Image source for rolling pin found HERE.

Strange Kids' Club and odd treehouses

Two recommendations today. Check out the Strange Kids Club blog where misfits like me go to hang out sometimes, and also THIS photo gallery of unusual treehouses that are all occupied!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Phil Kim is the new publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the venerable, influential, and sometimes controversial magazine for fans for horror films, especially the classics of monster moviedom. Mr. Kim has not only rescued the magazine from mishandling and a sullied reputation, but is taking the nostalgic brand name into the 21st Century with an expanded, multimedia approach that includes a website, video, and events and a focus on both classic and contemporary films.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Kim. The variant covers of the debut issue of the revived Famous Monsters magazine illustrate the conversation and can be seen to the right of the text. Mr. Kim graciously answered a few questions by e-mail and phone; our dialogue follows.

What's your first memory of
Famous Monsters of Filmland?

It was 1977 or 1978 and I was 8 or 9 years old. I went to the library as I always had and saw issue #137 on the periodical rack. Of course every kid was nuts about anything Star Wars and I was no exception. Unfortunately history tells that to be the beginning of the end for FM 1.0. Anyway, I started combing through it and I was hooked. I started noticing the existence of FM after that. It was like when you buy a car, all of a sudden you notice that car model everywhere you go.

You once played a Martian in a film titled
Flying Saucer Rock and Roll. Will we be seeing you in mask or makeup in the new FM magazine, in the tradition of former FM publisherJames Warren and former editor Forrest J. Ackerman?

I hope so. I came into this field as a filmmaker. I have produced two feature films in the last 3 years. The first was Radio Free Albemuth, one of Philip K. Dick's last published books, and Downstream, an original story I wrote. I was in both of them as a cameo.

Let's say I am a 20 year old college student who likes horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. (Let's say that because I'd sure like to be 20 years old again!) Why should I read Famous Monsters of Filmland?

Because it's awesome. Well because we are going to make it awesome. When I first took over the mark 2 1/2 years ago, I tried desperately to create something exactly like the original Warren- published FM. After spending an enormous amount of time beating my head against the wall, it dawned on me. Forrest J Ackerman's legendary following happened not because of puns or editorials but because of his love of the genre. He wanted to share the knowledge of film making, bring the nuts and bolts of movie magic to teenage boys that later went on to create unimaginable and epic worlds. He was the primer that gave us some of the greatest story tellers we have ever known. That became our mission.

Mimicking a 52 year old magazine 52 years later would certainly not excite the next crop of Peter Jacksons and Guillermo Del Toros. We needed to understand and reproduce the spirit of Forry with a cutting edge feel. The last 27 years was a historical remembrance of FM. The original FM was pretty cutting edge and risque at the time if you remember and it had to be for teenage boys to be interested.

Let's pretend I'm a 53 year old film buff who liked the original FM as a kid. (I say "Let's pretend" because I'm, of course nowhere near that old, and NO, you can't see my driver's license.) What will I like about about the new FM?

The new FM will have somewhat grown up along with its fans. The cover will be card stock with premium paper inside. It will be full color and well over 120 pages. It will cover the latest content not from a review side (fans can get the latest reviews and news from our website) but from a deep and in-depth editorial perspective. Much like the original FM, readers will find who is behind the masks, explosions and design of your favorite films past and present with lots of humor and reverence. We will bring you opinions and stories from the industry insiders. These are the people that grew up with the original FM readers much like yourself.

What's going to be fun about this for you? What is going to be the single biggest challenge about it for you personally?

Well, my job entails hanging out with Bela Jr., Sara Karloff and Ray Bradbury while we are throwing Carla Laemmle's centennial birthday in Hollywood. I get to open up the magazine to legendary artists like Rich Corben, Stout and Basil Gogos. I get to work with some of the most creative and experienced people in our industry like editors Michael Heisler and Jessie Lilley. I have the most diligent and intelligent staff any publisher could wish for and a family that is nothing but supportive. I have to stop now, cause I think I am the luckiest man alive or maybe I just took the blue pill.

My biggest challenge is having enough time to enjoy all of this with the people that I love. It really has become my whole life and then some. Good thing I enjoy it.

You're a writer. Name one genre film, new or old, you could write about with ease and affection. And do you see yourself contributing to the website and the magazine occasionally?

I love post apocalyptic, dystopic stories and Zombie movies. Ya, I kinda live there. My favorite film of all times? Well, I have two: Road Warrior and Dawn of the Dead. I plan on contributing my narratives in the future issues. The readers can take the journey with me as I write my next feature film.

Former publisher James Warren is known for his flair and drive; former editor Forry Ackerman was known for his enthusiasm and eccentricities. How do you compare with them in those terms? (And c'mon, you can share an eccentricity or two-- although I hope it doesn't involve ketchup where it doesn't belong.)

I really am fairly simple. I grew up an immigrant's son so I have a lot of old fashion values of hard work and loyalty. But I also love beautiful things and I especially live for a good story. I'd rather be known for the good I've done in the world than the bad. So I work hard to make that happen. I hope I succeed but I'll only know at the end.

I'm hoping you succeed too! And I'm expecting you will. But, um, isn't there even one teeny-weeny little eccentricity you can share?

Well, I always pick up the tab for lunch or dinner for my employees-- but with a caveat. They have to finish everything or give me the leftovers! Because I can't stand waste!

Sounds like you are someone we need in Washington. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.

My pleasure.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Note: The links below are NSFW or children.

From the press release I received:
Twilight Parody on Tonight’s New Episode

On tonight’s new episode of “Ugly Americans,” the city contends with a bizarre epidemic and Mark counsels a young woman who wants to become a vampire. Tune in to “Ugly Americans” tonight at 10:30EST on Comedy Central.

Vampire Conversions

So, you want to be a vampire?

Larry King Sighting!

Mark and Randall wonder what Larry King is up to on the swings at Tony Danza High School.
Help the zombies, robots and vampires of New York keep their jobs and stay out of trouble in the great Citizen Ugly digital game:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

FINAL GIRL to end?

You'll hope that Final Girl blogger Stacie Ponder goes into some other vocation once you get a load of the crap she's got posted right now. Disgusting.

What happened to her judgment? This sort of thing will give the once-great Final Girl a black eye for a long time.

(But I'm fond of black eyes-- and dark hair, and teeth that shine brightly under a full moon, and- oops! Sorry, got carried away, there.)

Good luck to Stacie Ponder in the future. She's gonna need it after her readers see for themselves this amazingly atypical post.

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Frankensteinia, Pierre Fournier's superlative blog* on all things related to the King of Monsters, is celebrating the 75th anniversary week of the release of Bride of Frankenstein, one of my all time favorite films.

You owe it to yourself to join the party-- check out all his posts from April 18th through April 25th. (Above right: A modern recreation of Elsa Lanchester as the Bride, by Ukrainian photographer Aleksey Galushkov, from the site Retroatelier.)

Prior to his posting on the various women said to be considered for the role played by Elsa, he and I had a few laughs suggesting other thespians for the part of the Bride: shrieking skinny-Minnie Una O'Connor and a few others. One I suggested was Ernest Thesiger, the waspy British actor who played Dr. Pretorious in the film. We got a few laughs outta that, but not as many as the ones I got from this photo of Thesiger in drag:

Thesiger almost appears to be trying out for the part of Glinda the Good Witch!

Pierre sent the photo to me, and identified it as one taken January 15, 1925 at the birthday party of British entertainer Ivor Novello; Thesiger was dressed as "the Fairy Queen."

Interesting facts about Thesiger: he wrote the book Adventures in Embroidery (and taught the current Queen Elizabeth II how to embroider when she was a child), and is alleged to have referred to himself as "the stitchin' bitch." Believe it-- or not.

Well, I've gotten far afield of the subject line of this post, but whadda ya gonna do? Sue?

You want tight posts that don't go astray for the sake of a cheap laugh, then head to Frankensteinia. You'll be glad you did.

*As opposed to my blog, which is superfluous.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Punitive damage

Here's a puzzle, my peeps: Can YOU deduce the answers to "The Worst Visual Puns of All Time"? (found at The Huffington Post)

My favorite one:

It's a catastrophe!

I almost would rather have one of these than a Rondo Award-- it would complete the "Addams Family" look of my home-- but only "almost."

The rest of the cat might have wound up inside a television chef in Italy. Who perhaps got the meat from a butcher. And didja hear about the lady butcher who backed into the meat grinder? Disaster! (And she got a little behind in her work.)

"If I were to be punish-ed
for every little pun I shed
I'd hie me to a punny shed
and there I'd hang my punnish head."
---Dr. Samuel Johnson

Related post: Forry's Last Pun

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Can't wash that film right outta her hair

Writer Stacie Ponder has found a sham poo film.

In case you don't slavishly read every post here at TDSH, I recently wrote about what I like to call a "sham poo" film. No, not the Warren Beatty film or films like it. I mean films that are "faux feces"-- sham poo-- or not entirely cinematic pieces of shit, even though they might seem so reading a description of them. Near duds but with something worthwhile and, importantly, enduring about them. Sham poo films are ones that ought to come with the instructions, "Watch. Wince. Repeat."

(Yeah, I know-- it's a tortured path to a coupla cheap gags. But the concept is still viable, and once you know the term "sham poo film" and the explanation behind it, I won't have to keep posting the set up when I refer to one.)

At the risk of looking like a Stacie Ponder stalker (since I just posted a link to her review of Spider Baby), I want to post a link to her Final Girl review of The Birds II: Land's End. She has found something of value in it-- a feat never before accomplished by film-o-philes. Read her review and maybe YOU will want to find this sequel movie that might be a POS-- or might POSsibly not be one.

Amazon marketplace sellers of unwanted VHS tapes should send her a "thank you" card.

Future star of a reality show?

This is stale news , but I wanted to share this. Japan seems on it's way to cloning it's citizens with metal and rubber. Could be useful to have your own 'droid doppelganger...

Read more HERE.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Final Girl vs. Spider Baby

Spider Baby stars Carol Ohmart and Sid Haig in a TV ad for a perfumed Danish hand lotion, Sniphmineffinkers.

That funny and finely-writ blog Final Girl has posted a review of the low-budget blackly-comic cinematic gem Spider Baby. Here's the opening paragraph:

"You know what people love? People love Jack Hill's Spider Baby. It's got a certain something something that appeals to the monster kid in all of us (yes, I'm speaking for all of us). It's not just a movie one admires, hates, or feels decidedly "meh" about; no, Spider Baby (1968) is a movie you want to hug. What can I say? I do so love a family of homicidal cuckoo nutsos."

FG 's Stacie Ponder covers the movie as part of her "Final Film Club," where she gets a variety of blogs to post about the same flick at the same time. It's just part off her blogging charisma. (I had wanted to join in the Spider Baby review fun too, but I just didn't have the time, alas and alack.) Check out Stacie's take on this cult classic here-- and then check out her links to all the other Spider Baby blog awesomeness.

The name "Final Girl" makes me think of Funny Girl, which leads me to imagine Barbara Streisand battling Michael Myers in Halloween.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

The post I didn't think I'd write!

As I write this, it's a week after the announcement of the winners of the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. I think it best to not go much past a week in talking about it--so this is my last "I won" post. And I think I'll spend it telling you what I REALLY have been thinking about the whole thing the whole time!

Which is what I thought I wouldn't do. But I didn't think I'd really win, so...

(This is gonna be long, so I'm gonna pepper this post with pics that sum up to me what TDSH is all about. Click on 'em to see 'em bigger-- or just put your face up to the screen.)

The first thing that comes to mind is that it's been a helluva week. Over a hundred people have congratulated me, either in person or online. Mostly online, at forums, Facebook, here, etc.

Hits here went way up; Facebook friend requests up, too. I gained a few more "followers." (Thinking about buying a fortified encampment where we can all live together in harmony-- with me in charge, of course.)

For most of the long voting period, I thought I didn't deserve it. No major research done (except for my article on fan artist Linda Miller, which I am proud of), only a handful of film reviews, very few rants written in anger or disgust. How could TDSH be any good?

Didn't keep me for lobbying for it, though-- but with self-deprecating jokes, and I was always honest about wanting it. ("It'll end years of therapy!") Let self-deluded peeps take an "above-it-all-I-only-blog-for-the-personal-satisfaction-of-writing" stance, sez I. Hey, last year I somehow had come in second to author/critic Tim "My cabinet's full of awards" Lucas, which was like losing to Albert Einstein on Jeopardy! Aw, it was a frickin' fluke, I said to myself then... but second? SECOND?! CAN MIRACLES REALLY HAPPEN?

I was hell-bent to find out. If TDSH was worth something, then coming in 2nd again-- for a second year in a row-- wouldn't happen just because I had friends who'd vote for me. Or just because it was a new category with few nominees, like the previous year. No, no, no-- and it wasn't like I could hold a gun on voters to make'em send in a private e-mail ballot. (Well, not enough of 'em to make a difference, anyway.)

One friend of mine told another they hadn't been around me because I was "too busy lobbying...Poor Max." Yeah-- I was exhausted! (I decided not to cross the line of sending out mass "Vote for my blog" e-mails to strangers or near strangers. I was getting plenty of those for other categories myself.) Most of the Rondos are chosen in a "People's Choice Award"-style poll, I felt it was okay to "campaign." As the historical figure John L. Lewis once said, "He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted."

Of course, all the joking and noodging haha-like with a link to my blog wasn't reinforcing my self-image any. But I began to get e-mails from folks saying why they liked my blog. They all cited some things in common: I entertained them and I didn't take myself too seriously. The lack of a focus on doing one main thing meant they had a reason to check back. (I was dead sure--I'd say "cocksure" but I'm a severed head-- that that meandering aspect of my blog alienated everybody but almost-ADHD-like me.) As Carl Manes of I Like Horror Movies told me,"I love that The Drunken Severed Head offers a much broader look at Horror in all wakes of life, ranging from comics to classic Horror to current community events on and off the blog scene!" (And I love anyone who'll pun on "walks" with a fun-ereal "wakes.") Others said I wasn't as impersonal as other blogs, that TDSH had a "voice." (Most of the other nominees do too, but not every one.)

People I never expected to vote for me, or express congrats later, did. Five bloggers I like went out on a limb (thankfully, NOT severed) and endorsed me. I mean these are all people who've done and know more than me! (I hafta wonder if the world's gone mad-- but if so, I hope it never gets totally sane!) My blog's motto is "Weirdness is where you find it," and those words were never truer.

I think Halloween blogs are under-appreciated by too many horror bloggers (as if by posting much on our favorite holiday is be too childish, sentimental, or irrelevant.) But I'm proud to contribute to the "Blog-A-Day" Halloween blogathon every year, though it wears me out. (I'm old-fashioned enough to have an inner voice that suggested "tuckers me out," but that makes me sound like Grandpa Simpson; I'd prefer Grandpa Munster. Pull my finger, Herman.) I love Halloween blogs and I'm guessing a fair number of my votes may have come from "Halloween-year-round" bloggers and blog readers. Take note, future Rondo nominees!

The voting occurred over part of Feb., all of March, and the first 3 days April. What a slog! Probably helped the blog category though, as it allowed for plenty of time for the nominated blogs to be looked over. Which is why I was certain someone else would win, most likely my friend Pierre Fournier of the surpassing, scholarly yet fun Frankensteinia. (I was only desperately hoping to come in second, so that last year wouldn't appear to be the total accident I thought it was.) Even though he'd been endorsed by highly respected writer's blogs like Tim Lucas' Video Watchblog, Pierre wasn't so sure. (I thought the amazing endorsements Pierre got would blow him waaay past anyone else.) In fact, we had a bet: if Pierre placed at all (meaning first through fourth or fifth-- "honorable mention" territory) I'd have to do a guest post at his impressive blog. He was convinced he wouldn't even place-- so now he has to do a guest post here. Well, there goes HIS reputation! In spite of that, (wink wink) his Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award is coming, I know. Pierre and many others deserve one.

Although I won "Best Blog," there is NO single "best." Certainly not TDSH. There ARE, however, nominees of different styles and purposes that are among the best.

Having interviews with a variety of people (and not just film folk) probably helped me. I like focusing on other people-- everyone's got a story. I've seen complaints at other blogs about interviews with the non-famous, but properly introduced and illustrated, people DO read them. My hits have shown that.

After my Rondo Award win was announced among the others, I was expecting a LOT of "hits"-- critical hits made by bricks and flaming arrows lobbed by observers of the horror blog scene. I am floating in the air that such a singeing shower never happened. Whew!

If you voted for my blog, or just know me and we're friends, thank you very much for your support. You're someone who has made this honor possible. I'm sorry to be behind in saying so.

(Dammit, I'm always draggin'. Well, that's Life.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Beer limits lead to a strike

According to recent news reports, limitations on worker's access to free beer while at work has led to a strike at a Danish brewery. Scores of warehouse workers, production employees, and truck drivers are participating in the work stoppage. Read more here.

At last, a revolt everyone can understand! (A certain old Beastie Boys frat-boy anthem is playing in my brain right now.)

What's this post at a blog like this without some monsters and beer illustrations? Here:

Image source here.

Clip art by "Mister Elements." Image source here.

I saved the best for last. Here's an impressive lagersaur by UK artist Andy Council:

Image source here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Anthony Hopkins kills wife

An evangelist named Anthony Hopkins has been convicted of murder after killing his wife and hiding her body in a freezer.

Yes, I'll ask what every one is thinking-- "Did he eat her liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti?"

Update: Part of me regrets this post-- the original crime is a tragedy, of course, and the star of The Silence of the Lambs (one of my favorite actors) can't help the name coincidence. But I said it, so I'll leave it up; it IS what lots of people must have thought when they saw the headline.

Image source HERE.

Cool Blog. Yes?

Check out these cool, candid congratulations made at the blog Stabbing Stabbing Stabbing:

"I have been informed by people who pay attention to things that The DRUNKEN SEVERED HEAD has won a Rondo award.

"Now I’ll be honest, I am not that familiar with this blog in question, but I did skim it for a good ten seconds or so and remember seeing it before and decided in lieu of a Cool Post award I’d give this blog a Cool Blog? award....So um, cool blog, I think."

Read the whole post and comments HERE.

The blogger's voice here reminds me somewhat of "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski-- and imagining Lebowski wearing a blood-spattered hockey mask makes me smile!

Thanks, man-- For keeping it real, and not harshing my mellow. Your post made me laugh in delight.


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