Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Not-So-Secret Shame

This will probably come as no great shock, but like all the best people in the world, when I was in college, I supplemented my two-job income by bootlegging movies. I specialized in foreign and out-of-print cult films, primarily Hong Kong movies. I traded with other bootleggers all over the country, finding them through "USENET" groups and rudimentary websites. While I avoided anything commercially available in the U.S., I did make an exception by selling and trading letterboxed movies duped from Laserdisc.

Some of these terms may be foreign to you, and I understand. This was in the great, prehistoric VHS era, and I had two VCRs going non-stop for nearly seven years. The collection grew to ridiculous proportions until I had topped a thousand tapes, most of them single-titles recorded in SP mode. (Some of you out there are scoffing, but to me, this was a sizable amount of inventory.)

After I graduated, I returned to trading only. I didn't really have a lot of choice, though, as DVDs put VHS into the archives and landfills. Since the DVD revolution, I've been working to replace a lot of these titles and clear out space in the house. I've moved three times since starting this little obsession. For the last three or four years, I've tried to be diligent about weeding out the collection, particularly since I hadn't watched a VHS tape in that entire span of time. Problem is, even after weeding out, I was still the proud owner of at least 300 tapes I'd never watched and/or hadn't been able to replace.

In July, Amy "retired" from Verizon and has been on a remodeling and cleaning spree. Our left-hand closet in the living room was filled to the brim with tapes and, really, it was time to get rid of them. Except that I couldn't bring myself to just pitch them. I had an old stand-alone DVD recorder, but it's been getting more and more finicky over the years, to the point where it would only record on DVD+RWs and wouldn't finalize them to enable playing on any other machine.

Biting the bullet, we broke down and bought a VHS - DVDR combo and have spent the last week transferring, finalizing and discarding. We've only gone through about 25 so far, but it's a start. I'd forgotten some of the riches I'd had. Old fan-dubs of Jet Li's The Master and The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk; a version of The Satanic Rites of Dracula that had only been released in the U.K.; Jackie Chan's cut of The Protector (as opposed to James Glickenhaus' sub-standard cut); most of John Woo's pre-The Killer titles--it's been wonderful going through them.

It'll take a couple of months, honestly, but soon we'll have all those outdated bricks pitched and replaced with super-slim discs of love and joy.

And then I'll have to take a leave of absence from work to watch all the damned things!

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Happier Blog About Happier Days

Saturday, Amy, Tara and David Cooper and I made the trek out to The Oaks Theater to see a terrific double-bill: Texas Chain Saw Massacre II and Amityville II. This was the second of two double-bills set up courtesy of the great and powerful Art Ettinger, manager of the magazine that people actually read, Ultra-Violent. The premiere weekend consisted of Cannibals Holocaust and Ferrox, which I eschewed attending on the simple fact that Italians make crummy horror movies. And I didn’t enjoy seeing the turtle being murdered the first time around, so the prospect of that projected on a big screen more than made up my mind, despite my desire to support Art and UV. It also didn’t help that we had other plans that weekend…

Anyway, so off we four went tra-la-la to Oakmont. Amy and Tara got dolled up in wigs and glitter and bangles and all sorts of womanly accoutrement. David and I made sure we wore pants. Stopping off for numerous alcoholic beverages at a local imbibery, mere feet away from the theater, we were costumed and coiffed as we consumed and quaffed.

Then on to the shenanigans. We stormed into the theater and I plunked down money, demanding four tickets for The Duchess. Turned down flat, we opted instead for the movies we actually wanted to see. And see them we did.

I’d almost forgotten how much fun Texas 2 was, and how effective Tom Savini’s effects were, and just how loony Bills Moseley and Johnson were as Chop-Top and Leatherface. Jim Seidow is wonderfully over-the-top as The Cook as well. Ahhh. Having never seen this before on the big screen, it was like Christmas and National Blow Job Day all at once.

Then came Amityville 2, which Art introduced as “one of the sleaziest movies ever made”. And since both films had been prefaced by a quartet of ‘70s sleaze trailers from Art’s own collection, he was the inarguable authority. And boy-howdy does Amityville 2 live up to the sleaze. If you haven’t seen it, then you have prevented some part of your soul from dying. If you have seen it, you know the lunacy of which I speak. The child abuse, the incest, the murders, the interminable tacked-on Exorcist ending, the wonderful mustache-beard combo worn by the Defense Attorney, the look of despair on Brock Peters’ face in every scene he appears. Just heaven, I tells ya.

And through it all we hooted and guffawed and… okay, irritated the sour-looking blonde woman a few rows in front of us. Granted, we weren’t the only ones talking back at the screen and applauding and howling but, quite frankly, we were probably the loudest. Not the strangest, though. That honor goes to the young man who attempted to charm his way into Amy’s and Tara’s individual pants through the time-tested method of seduction via card tricks. Granted, he was a very good up-close magician. Also granted, he arrived and departed alone.

On the whole, I would give the entire evening an 11.5. If you weren’t in attendance, you can hang your head with shame. If you were there, I apologize for the numerous circumcision jokes.

My Two Cents on THE SPIRIT movie

I've been harassing a great deal of you with my outrage at the upcoming The Spirit movie that Frank Miller, after years of a close friendship with creator Will Eisner, seems intent on turning into Sin City 2.

I know most of you have no frame of reference for what I'm talking about. So I will ask that you all go Here to my article at Film Threat and read my final vitriolic screed on the subject. I swear I'll leave you alone after this, but please take the time to check it out.

Leave me a message here. Let me know if you think I'm blowing this out of proportion. That it's going to be "just a movie". I promise I won't slaughter any of your sacred cows in retaliation if that's how you feel. I just want my two cents to be taken without change returned.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cinema Wasteland Remembered

Briefly… It was another terrific Cinema Wasteland. Seriously, I almost wish Ken and Pam would put on one that sucked just to break up their record! But no, we had a vast amount of fun, made a decent amount of money and got to see our bi-annual friends and catch up with life. This trip we had a few "newbies"—Tara Cooper (who truthfully lost her Wasteland virginity in April), Tabatha Carrick, Nikki McCrea and Aaron Bernard came out to help us promote Demon Divas and the Lanes of Damnation and it was fun watching the madness unfold through their eyes. Seriously, how do you describe writer Joe Knetter ("Zombie Bukkake") without visuals? How do you explain the films of Bill Zeebub without the proper demonstrative tools? And since we had Henrique Couto with us, and his ever-present ukulele, that just added to the surrealistic nature of the weekend.

There was a last-minute snafu, however, that turned things on an interesting curve for us. Damian and Ed, the creators of the ubiquitous "Living Dead Dolls", had to cancel at the very last minute due to transportation problems. To keep from having empty spaces, Pam shuffled some of us around, putting the Teddy Scares folks in the corner usually occupied by "Living Dead Dolls" and moving us behind Art and Allana's Ultra-Violent table. So for the first time in, I believe, five years, we weren't facing the door.

Now you wouldn't think something as minor as that would be a disaster—and in truth, it wasn't. But it was a completely new perspective for us, facing the room instead of the door. Because Wasteland is one of our favorite places on Earth, we don't handle change well. Hell, we nearly wept when our directly-behind-us neighbors moved an aisle over for more space! Now where we were, we were given a bigger table and had all the space we needed to spread out (necessary, as we're behind-the-table slobs), but it was almost an alien perspective at first. I experienced instant paranoia, thinking people were sneaking up on me all weekend. Again, not a big deal except what we made of it. We were still there among the ones we loved and by 5:00 on Friday, we were used to the view, but beyond anything else, we discovered what creatures of habit we truly are.

I'm choosing to blame our Friday-night rule breaking on the new perspective, even though I should really pin the accusations on our own lack of responsibility. Friday nights we try to take things easy, get to bed at a decent hour and save our partying for Saturday. But the French Canadians—Simon, Hugo and Steve—were in the house as well, and they can drink us virtually under the table so… we slipped.

I didn't get hammered, but since my drink of choice is rum and coke, invariably, if I drink too much, the alcohol wears off faster than the caffeine. As a result, I spent much of the nocturne hours between 1:00 am and 8:00 staring at the blinking light on the smoke alarm, growing increasingly convinced that Dick Cheney was watching me. Amy and Tara fared no better. For some reason, the Holiday Inn chose to replace their downy comforters with something made either out of crinoline or old tambourines. Regardless of their composition, every move any of us made beneath those comforters would echo through the room. Madness, I tell you.

So as a result, we looked terribly hung over, minus the joyful memories of being drunk the previous night. All I wanted to do was crawl under the table and sleep, but the show must go on! And go on it must'vely.

Because of my sleep-deprived condition, I found myself reaching my maximum level of small talk quicker than usual. Perhaps the never-ending ukulele music wasn't assisting. Or perhaps it was the unusual amount of political banter surrounding me—yes, Sarah Palin is an empty-headed mannequin and John McCain is a pod person. I agree, go away—but by about 2:00 that afternoon, I was attempting to lure passersby into conversations about Proust, Billy Wilder and Marcel Marceau. I just couldn't talk about the election, torture porn or "Slaughtered Vomit Dolls" any longer. God help us all!

Oddly, because it's Wasteland, the movie and convention gods were on my side. Whenever I started to slide too far to either side of my homicide – suicide scale, someone would invariably swing by to cheer me up, whether it was Art Ettinger making another "Minutemen" joke about my name, Mike and Carrie presenting me with a genuine "Mike Watt" etched glass, or Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni giving me a personal introduction to Lamberto Bava. It's hard to have lowered spirits at Cinema Wasteland for very long.

Two other surprises were in store for me that weekend. The first was discovering that I was mentioned twice in the UK book "Zombiemania: 80 Movies to Die For", by Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg and Andrew Hershberger. The first was for writing Dead Men Walking and the other in a capsule review of The Resurrection Game. That the book is a ridiculously thorough look at zombie movies of all budgets didn't suck the wind out of my sails in the slightest. And the fact that they spelled my name as "Watts" should be more than enough proof that I am not affiliated with the writers and in no way cajoled them into including me.

The second surprise came from one of our fans and supporters and con friends who showed me a little souvenir thing he bought at Borders called "Whack-A-Zombie". It's a box that comes with a small inflatable bob bag with a zombie painted on it, so that you can slap it around to your heart's content. It also comes with a little book, a guide to zombies, zombie lore and zombie entertainment. In it, it has a short list of "the better-known" zombie novels available out there. Predictably, it includes books like "World War Z" by Max Brooks and "The Risen" by Brian Keene, but right there, at number five, is "The Resurrection Game", with my name spelled correctly. "Better known"? Thank you very much! So the authors of this little book are responsible for my tiny quarterly publisher's royalty check! I'm eternally grateful.

As usual, Sunday rolled around leaving us torn between wanting to go home and never wanting to leave. While we did achieve sleep Saturday night, we were all afflicted with a degree of hotel kennel cough, leaving us hoarse and exhausted. Amy, as we discovered, was developing a sinus infection that would chase her through the rest of the week. I just wanted to sleep for another month or so.

It took us a good hour to say our good-byes—always longer than the hellos. We got to hang out with Michael Berryman and Kane Hodder for a little bit, though, which was nice. And we made plans to try and get together with the Kishs and some of the other Wasteland crew who we've come to know and love. On the drive home, we looked back at the weekend, realizing that Tara makes a terrific personal assistant/one-woman personal support group, Henrique and Charles are a cool comedy team (that will someday result in a ukulele passing completely through Henrique's digestive tract), Tabatha and Steve are nauseatingly cute, Hugo can take a punch, Simon is hiding a very clever and very cruel streak that I hope to see come out more, and Rhonda and Kyle are more disturbed than I had even suspected. In short: another terrific Wasteland.

* * *

Don't forget, Sirens of Cinema 13 is officially available at fine stores or, more directly, from It features a beautiful cover by Dave Stevens and a three-page memorial of his amazing artist. Other highlights include an exclusive look at the upcoming movie Bitch Slap, the completion of Justice Howard's Twisted Fairy Tales photo series and the first look at Demon Divas and the Lanes of Damnation. So don't miss out! You'll hate yourself. And we'll hate you more.