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ONE DOZEN Interesting FANTASY FILMS You May Have Missed

One Dozen Interesting FANTASY FILMS You May Have Missed

If you don’t know me personally, just ask my family: when it comes to sad (or incredibly beautiful) scenes in films, I can leak like a sieve. One of my ten favorite films of all time (which happens to be a fantasy film) is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Hell, I’ve seen that film so many times that I cry now in anticipation of scenes. Looking over the list below, I can spot at least five that will trigger some weepiness on my part.

1) On Borrowed Time (1939)
Lionel Barrymore is crazy about his grandson Pud. When Pud’s life is suddenly threatened by an accident, Gramps traps Death (Cedric Hardwicke) in a tree. As long as Death is in the tree, nothing in the world can die. The sentimental (some might call it maudlin — but not me) end of this film always gets me — more so now, probably, since I have grandkids.

2) The Blue Bird (1940)
This Technicolor fantasy extravaganza stars an adolescent Shirley Temple and was meant to rival the previous year’s fantasy extravaganza, The Wizard of Oz (in fact, Shirley Temple was briefly considered for the role of Dorothy). She (Mytyl) and her brother Tyltyl, both spoiled brats, must find the Blue Bird of Happiness in this adaptation of Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1908 fantasy play. They travel through fantasy worlds with their deadly sneaky cat Tylette (Gale Sondergaard) and loyal pet bulldog Tylo (Eddie Collins). My favorite land is the place where children are waiting to be born. There, Shirley and her brother meet the boy who will become Abraham Lincoln. That scene always triggers the waterworks.

3) Hellzapoppin’ (1941)
If Harvey Kurtzman’s and Will Elder’s MAD comic book stories could be successfully put to film, they would probably look a lot like Olsen & Johnson’s Hellzapoppin’. Perhaps the wackiest movie ever made, it also boasts the most incredible jitterbug sequence (courtesy of the gravity-defying Congeroo Dancers) ever to appear in a movie. Martha Raye is at her best. The cast also includes the great Elisha Cook, Jr., Shemp Howard and Mischa Auer. The second half is not as dazzling as the first half — but that first half is like nothing you’ve ever seen on film.

4) Once Upon a Time (1944)
Cary Grant plays a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer who finds a little kid on a street corner with a phenomenal new act in his little peep holed shoe box. Let the story escalation begin! The scene where Cary commits a very un-Cary act is shocking and does me in every time.

5) The Enchanted Cottage (1945)
A serviceman (Robert Taylor) deformed in the war meets a homely maid (Dorothy Malone) in an enchanted cottage that magically transforms their physical selves upon their falling in love. The scene resulting from his parents’ thoughtless observations and interference always gets me. Herbert Marshall is terrific, as always. I was scheduled to be the production designer of a remake back in the 1980s (with Steve Miner directing) but the project never found funding.

6) Stairway to Heaven (aka A Matter of Life and Death) (1946)
I just re-watched this last night. In the five minutes it takes for an English WWII pilot’s (David Niven) plane to crash, he and the American dispatcher (Kim Hunter) he talks to on the way down fall in love. Heaven screws up and doesn’t collect Niven. Niven finds the dispatcher. A French angel is sent down to collect Niven — but Niven claims, “Sorry — too late! You had your chance, hesitated, and I fell in love. Everything’s changed. So, I’m not going.” Heaven is in black and white; earth is in Technicolor. Written, directed and produced by the great team (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus) of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; shot by the amazing Jack Cardiff (I was fortunate to work with Jack on Conan the Destroyer). Raymond Massey plays Heaven’s prosecutor.

7) Portrait of Jennie (1948)
Painter Joseph Cotton meets a girl dressed in old-fashioned clothes (Jennifer Jones). He sketches her. The drawing launches his art career. Every time he encounters Jennie, however (with whom he has fallen in love) she seems to be growing up at a very accelerated rate. She also acts as if many years-old events only just happened. Ethel Barrymore plays Cotton’s art dealer. This was Dave Stevens’ favorite film.

8) Ilya Muromets (1956)
This Soviet fantasy about a Russian folk hero boasts a cast of 106,000 (plus 11,000 horses) — basically, a big chunk of the Soviet Army. There’s a cool dragon and a roly-poly little guy who can puff up his cheeks and blow gale force winds. Directed by the incredible Soviet film fantasist Aleksandr Ptushko, this was the first Soviet film to be shot in CinemaScope (how else to fit that many people and horses on the screen?) with four-track stereo sound. Watch the original Soviet version — not the butchered (sorry, Roger) and re-edited US (The Sword and the Dragon) or UK (The Epic Hero and the Beast) versions.

9) The Ruling Class (1972)
Peter O’Toole is an English aristocrat who thinks he’s Jesus. Why? Because when he prays, he finds he’s talking to himself. His family works hard to “cure” him. They succeed — oh, brother, do they succeed. It’s rumored that this film was banned in the UK for decades (I could find nothing on the internet to back this up) for its outrageous portrayal of the hypocritical and absurd Olde Guarde English aristocracy. The UK attempted to blacklist and prevent the showing of all subsequent films by producer Jules Buck. Peter O’Toole described this movie as “a comedy with tragic relief”. Original running time: 2 hours 34 minutes.

10) The Rapture (1991)
Man, oh, man — this one sure didn’t go where I thought it would! Mimi Rogers plays a bored L. A. sexual swinger who eventually marries David Duchovny (pre-X-Files) after coming upon some life-changing information. Very haunting and extremely disturbing.

11) Human Nature (2001)
Leave it to my uniquely talented fellow Pasadenan Charlie (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) Kaufman to come up with a story about a mad scientist (Tim Robbins) trapping and studying a feral child (Rhys Ifans). Robbins’ fur-covered (!) girlfriend (Patricia Arquette) fights to preserve the young man’s feral nature.

12) Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2008)
This movie pushed all my buttons. It should have been a hit. A return to the feeling of the sci-fi serials of the 1930s, this flick’s got giant Fleischer Superman robots, Nazis, King Kong references, Angelina Jolie in an eyepatch and a perfect sepia-ized Art Deco environment. Plus: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Giovanni Ribisi and Laurence Olivier!

Lens cap!

13) The Fall (2006)
Filmed in 18 different countries by director Tarsem Singh, The Fall is an unusual cross between a David Lean-style epic and a mad Terry Gilliam fantasy. Tarsem’s other films come nowhere near this labor of love in quality. Catinka Untaru, the actress who plays the little girl, is the find of the decade. Spectacular costumes by Eiko (Bram Stoker’s Dracula). You will not be able to guess the object of this film’s tribute until it’s revealed at the very end. Because of the scale (again, think David Lean) and scope of this film, it should be seen on the big screen if at all possible.

Watch ’em and lemme know what you think…

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1) Monolith Monsters (1957)
This one took me by surprise. The stills I had seen from the film kept me from watching it, as it made me think, “Big, scary crystals? Really?” Instead, this movie turned out not to be goofy, but a fairly adult, literate and effective thriller with not only giant, threatening crystals but petrified people as well. It’s well worth catching.

2) The 27th Day (1957)
This blatantly anti-communist film is bizarre. Another one that slipped by me somehow, it stars Gene (War of the Worlds) Barry in a story about individuals from around the world (chosen by aliens) who are given the means to destroy all human life on earth. A fascinating study of human morality and ethics.

3) I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958)

Despite the lurid title, this is a smart little gem with a cool monster design. Future bestseller author (and Texas John Slaughter TV star) Thomas (Tom) Tryon stars in this thoughtful tale about aliens switching places with humans.

4) The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
How I missed this one, I’ll never know. My son James was considering taking a class on Sci-Fi films at Stanford. I asked him to read me the course list of movies. This one was on it; I was shocked I had never even heard of it. I immediately bought the DVD. What a classic! Very sexy, literate and adult, this Val (Quatermass I and II) Guest-directed end-of-the-world suspense thriller stars Edward Judd and features a surprisingly sensuous performance by former Walt Disney ingenue Janet Munro. Don’t miss it (and watch for a very young Michael Caine as a policeman directing traffic).

5) Seconds (1966)
Rock Hudson’s best performance (and Rock’s own favorite movie from his filmography) is in this incredible John (The Manchurian Candidate) Frankenheimer thriller about second chances in life. It starts slow and then builds and builds to its shocking climax.

6) The Stranger Within (1974)
This ingenious little TV movie written by the great Richard Matheson (if you don’t know who he is, then shame on you — and look him up on IMDB) stars Barbara (I Dream of Jeannie) Eden as a pregnant housewife who begins to do some very, very strange things. Does her behavior have anything to do with the forthcoming baby?

7) Endangered Species (1982)
The plot of this movie revolves around the mysterious cattle mutilations that were taking place in the late 1970s/early 1980s. The great cast includes Robert Urich, JoBeth Williams, Paul Dooley, Hoyt Axton and Peter Coyote. Bob (Myron Moose) Foster turned me on to this one.

8) Impulse (1984)
Tim Matheson and a very sexy Meg Tilly star in this adult sci-fi thriller about a rural town whose inhabitants lose all impulse control.

9) The Stuff (1985)
I love Larry Cohen movies, especially when they star Michael Moriarty. Their collaborations include Q, A Return to Salem’s Lot, It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive and The Stuff. Cohen usually writes his own films. He’s very inventive and always entertaining, as is Moriarty. The Stuff is a kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers type of thriller revolving around this Dream Whip-style goo that everyone seems to be hooked on. Big time fun!

10) The Hidden (1987)
This little sleeper doesn’t reveal itself to be a sci-fi film until well into the movie. It stars two people with whom I’ve made movies: the talented Kyle (Dune) MacLachlan and my Return of the Living Dead pal Clu Gulagher. They pursue a violent, speed-driving, rock music-loving criminal alien that can pass its sentience from human to human.

11) Body Snatchers (1994)
This oft-overlooked second sequel to Invasion of the Body Snatchers was directed by Abel (King of New York) Ferrara. It (brilliantly) takes place on an Army base where everyone already looks and acts alike (because of the uniforms and military rules and restrictions), making it extremely difficult to tell normals from pod people. Meg Tilly is amazingly scary… “Where you gonna run? Where you gonna hide? NOWHERE!”

12) Infested (2002)
This little gem of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers/mutant insects mash-up was written and directed by Academy Award-nominated writer (A History of Violence) and my former Masters of the Universe art department production assistant, Josh Olson.

13) Attack the Block (2011)
Aliens invade but pick the wrong neighborhood in this wild little film that pits very scary aliens against South London teen gangbangers. Woo hoo!

I should also mention a little favorite of mine (and Mike Kaluta’s), The Magnetic Monster (1953). We mostly like it for the incredibly spectacular footage appropriated from the 1930s German film GOLD.

What do you think? Got more to add? Agree? Disagree? Lemme know!

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ONE DOZEN Interesting HORROR FILMS You May Have Missed

Presented as a service to horror fans everywhere.

1) The Uninvited (1944)
This spooky Ray Milland movie was one of the inspirations for Poltergeist (1982). The scent of mimosa is detected just before each ghostly appearance (which is referenced in Poltergeist). The ravishing melody of Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight” is the incredibly enchanting theme played throughout the film. This is one great creepy ghost story.

2) Dead of Night (1945)
The finest horror anthology ever made, the English film Dead of Night hosts a wonderful déjà vu framework in its structure. It contains the most chilling ventriloquist dummy story ever filmed, with Michael Redgrave as the ventriloquist. My blood still runs cold during the film’s final appearance of his dummy.

3) Grave of the Vampire (1972)
This low budget grindhouse mini-classic has one of the best openings of any horror film. William Smith (I helped land him the role as Conan’s father in Conan the Barbarian) is terrific as the unholy spawn of his mother’s rape, hunting down the vampire who committed this violation. The script is by David Chase, much better known as the creator of The Sopranos.

4) Raw Meat (aka Death Line) (1973)
Talking ‘bout grindhouses, I saw this disturbing horror romance (really!) at my favorite local Hollywood grindhouse, The World Theater (no longer in existence) — three movies for 99¢. This English tale is set in the last remnants of a forgotten tube (subway) tunnel colony living underground for over fifty years. It stars the great Donald (Halloween) Pleasence. Surprisingly touching.

5) They Came From Within (aka Shivers) (1975)
David Cronenberg’s first film is a low budget classic. The concept is pure Cronenberg: a confined colony of apartment residents rapidly fall victim to a parasite that is a combination venereal disease and aphrodisiac!

6) Dead & Buried (1981)
Another film with an absolutely brilliant opening, Dead & Buried plays like one of the best Twilight Zone episodes you have never seen. Written by Dan (Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Blue Thunder, Dark Star) O’Bannon and Ronald (Alien, Total Recall) Shusett.

7) The Company of Wolves (1984)
The second film directed by the great Neil (The Crying Game) Jordan, this horror anthology mixes classic fairy tales with werewolf lore. The amazing production design is by Anton Furst, who later went on to design Tim Burton’s Batman and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket before leaping off the top of a building at age 47, permanently ending a budding brilliant career. The movie stars Angela Lansbury, David Warner and Stephen Rea.

8) The Gate (1987)
The Gate is told from the point of view of three children who accidentally release a gaggle of demons from a hole in their backyard. There’s stop motion animation, too! For years, my young sons used The Gate as the measuring stick for scariness in other horror films (“Is it as scary as The Gate?”).

9) Body Melt (1993)
This wild roller coaster of an Australian horror film never lets up. The movie’s ad tagline was “The first phase is hallucinogenic… the second phase is glandular… and the third phase is… BODY MELT”. Woo hoo!

10) Dagon (2001)
My pal Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon directed this moody horror piece that combines H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon” and “The Shadow Over Insmouth”. It boasts what must be the longest chase in cinema history. I detect good ol’ Bernie (Swamp Thing) Wrightson’s (uncredited) influence in the design of the fish people.

11) Frailty (2001)
Before anyone else suspected how good Matthew McConaughey could be, Bill Paxton did when he cast McConaughey in Paxton’s first feature length directorial effort, Frailty. I predicted exactly where this chilling film was going — and I was completely wrong. Powers (Deadwood) Booth and Jeremy (Peter Pan) Sumter also star.

12) The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Of all the films on this list, this is the one you most likely saw. Co-written by Joss (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Whedon, it came out at the same time as Joss’ blockbuster The Avengers, so it may have gotten lost in the cinematic shuffle. I think it’s better than The Avengers; it’s certainly more original. It fools you into thinking you’re watching another garden variety teen slasher film (albeit with better dialogue) and then WHAM! — something unexpected happens and the movie is off and running. Big time thrills and fun, it stars Chris (Thor) Hemsworth, actor’s actor Richard Jenkins and Bradley (West Wing) Whitford.

Since you may have seen The Cabin in the Woods, I’ll add one more to the list for a Baker’s Dozen:

13) Viy (1967)
This epic Russian horror fantasy has one of the greatest horror sequences ever filmed. It comes near the end of the film when the film’s young priest “hero” must spend three nights alone with the corpse of a witch and demons begin oozing from the church’s walls. Co-written by the great Aleksandr Ptushko, who directed the spectacular fantasy epic (a cast of 106,000 plus 11,000 horses!) Ilya Muromets, the first widescreen Soviet film.

That’s my Baker’s Dozen. Agree? Disagree? Got obscure horror flicks you’d love to share? I’m always up for discovering something good I may have missed.

Join the party!

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Today’s the big Godzilla art day at Creature Features in Burbank! I’m just about to rush over there to see their Godzilla art show (location and other details in this site’s “Appearances” section).

I’ve got two pieces in the show….the one above and a huge (40″ x 30″) new ink piece depicting Godzilla in 1941 being attacked by Japanese Zeros and a WWII Japanese submarine. Mount Fuji’s in the background, along with downtown Tokyo, including the famous clock tower destroyed by Godzilla in the first Godzilla movie.

I got an advance peek at the show. John Fasano created a wonderful, very dramatic piece.

I hope to see you there! Leaving in a few minutes (it’s 2:00 PM now)!

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50 Great British Blues Recordings – Box Sets & Compilations

You’ve seen my Top 50 British blues selections in past Journal entries. Here are four other recommendations; they’re all excellent various artist compilations on the British blues.

1) Various – The Blue Horizon Story 1965–1970 Vol. 1 (1997)
This 3-CD set (with a 60 pp. book) is a solid retrospective of the UK’s most important blues label. While mostly British blues, there’s a strong presence of classic American blues artists as well. British singers and players include Chicken Shack, Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, Fleetwood Mac, Jo Ann Kelly, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, T.S. McPhee, Christine Perfect, Savoy Brown’s Blues Band and Top Topham.

2) Various – The Immediate Blues Anthology (1996)
This 3-CD (72 songs) box set (with a 36 pp. booklet) hosts 6 LPs’ worth of a rich variety of some of the best late-1960s blues singers and players out of Britain. Jimmy Page was an Immediate staff producer who recorded and produced several blues tracks for the company. The label’s blues stable (featured on CDs 1 and 2) at times included John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton, T.S. McPhee, The Savoy Brown Blues Band, Jo Ann Kelly, Jeremy Spencer, Cyril Davies, Jeff Beck, Dave Kelly and Fleetwood Mac, among others. The set’s third CD consists of bluesy cuts by Immediate pop talent such as Rod Stewart, The Small Faces, Amen Corner and Chris Farlowe.

3) Various – Hoochie Coochie Men – A History of UK Blues and R&B 1955–2001 (2002)
This terrific 4-CD (98 songs) collection with loads of rarities from both well-known and very obscure purveyors of British blues is the only set on the subject that covers such a wide time span, from Lonnie Donegan to Gary Moore.

4) Various – Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues – Red, White & Blues (2003)
This CD complements the British blues episode of Martin Scorsese’s TV blues series that ran on PBS in the U. S. Among the older cuts there are fine, new blues recordings, including “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (Tom Jones), “Goin’ Down Slow” and “Hard Times” (both by Tom Jones & Jeff Beck), “Drown In My Own Tears” (Lulu & Jeff Beck) and “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” (Jeff Beck). The DVD is enjoyable as well and features the above artists plus Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, Van Morrison and others.

That’s pretty much it for the British Blues until I finish my next blues book. In the meantime, I’ve compiled a few more film lists, including three on good Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy films you might have missed. Coming Soon!, as they used to say at the drive-in.

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50 Great British Blues Recordings – Part 10

46) Kim Simmonds appears to have never lost his love for the blues with Struck by Lightning (2004; “Struck by Lightning”, NRBQ’s “Ain’t No Free”, “Talking ‘Bout New Orleans” and the reprise of “Struck by Lightning” all stand out) and his two solo acoustic blues CDs Solitaire (1997; best tracks: “Bad Morning”, the slide instrumental “Blind Alley”, and “I’m Cuttin’ Out”) and Blues Like Midnight (2001; try “Hold On Baby”, “My Woman Blues” and “Blues Like Midnight”).

(Yup; I got it signed by Kim)

Kim and his current version of Savoy Brown are still at it, as witnessed by Goin’ to the Delta (2014; with “Cobra”, “Goin’ to the Delta”, “Just a Dream” and “I Miss Your Love”).

While not as solid as my previous Savoy Brown recommendations, they’re all still worth checking out.

47) Ten Years After – Stonedhenge (1969/2002)
The 2002 reissue of this mostly blues LP by Alvin Lee’s Ten Years After has 4 bonus tracks, including the single version of their Woodstock signature piece, “I’m Going Home”, plus “Boogie On”. “Hear Me Calling” is a great blues song, later covered with vibrant intensity by Slade on Slade Alive!.

This band’s first LP, Ten Years After (1967/2002), was nearly all-blues with the 2002 reissue adding 6 bonus tracks from the same time period. Paul Jones’ “I Want to Know”, Blind Willie Johnson’s “I Can’t Keep From Crying, Sometimes”, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” and Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Help Me” all make for pretty solid listening. “Rock Your Mama” (a version of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby”) is a bonus track.

48) Ten Years After – The Chrysalis Years 1969–1972 (2010)
This 3-CD set is a great value that collects Ten Years After LPs 4 through 8 (from Ssssh. to Rock & Roll Music to the World) and includes a couple of bonus tracks. Good blues tracks include “Two Time Mama”, Sonny Boy Williamson I’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, “I Woke Up This Morning”, “Year 3000 Blues”, Arthur Crudup’s ”My Baby Left Me”, “One of These Days”, “Turned Off TV Blues” and “Choo Choo Mama”.

Just want the blues from Mr. Lee? Then Alvin Lee and Ten Years After’s Pure Blues (1995) compilation will make you very happy. The 13 tracks (it shoulda been a double CD set, at least) span Alvin’s entire career from 1967 up to 1995.

49) Robin Trower – Dreaming the Blues (2004)
This 2-CD collection of 20 live (1974–1998; from This Was Now) and studio (from 1994’s 20th Century Blues and 1997’s Someday Blues) blues tracks spans much of guitarist Robin Trower’s post-Procol Harum solo years. My faves: “Alethea”, “Too Rolling Stoned”, “A Little Bit of Sympathy”, Robert Johnson‘s “Crossroads”, “Extermination Blues”, “Precious Gift”, the dreamy “Secret Place”, “I Want You to Love Me” and “Someday Blues”.

All of Robin’s Procol Harum tracks are well worth seeking out, especially his tribute to Jimi Hendrix, “Song for a Dreamer” (the songs on Trower’s first few solo LPs all pretty much sound like Hendrix tributes as well).

50) The Yardbirds – The Yardbirds Ultimate! (2001)
This incredible Rhino 2-CD box set covers the entire career of this amazing band with stunning examples that showcase each of The Yardbirds’ famous lead guitar players: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. My favorite blues songs by the band that turned me on to the blues include Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would”, Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” and “Here ‘Tis” from the Clapton era; “I Ain’t Done Wrong” (Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong”), Mose Allison’s “I’m Not Talking”, Tiny Bradshaw’s (by way of the Johnny Burnette Trio) “The Train Kept A-Rollin’”, “Lost Woman” (a re-written version of Snooky Pryor’s “Someone to Love Me”) and “Jeff’s Boogie” (Chuck Berry’s “Guitar Boogie”) from the Beck era; “Stroll On” (a reworking of “The Train Kept A-Rollin’” for the film Blow-up) from the brief duel lead guitars Beck/Page era; and “Drinking Muddy Water” (Hambone Willie Newbern’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”) and the Yardbirds’ most Led Zeppelin-esque track, “Think About It” from the Page era. Although it’s not a blues song, it should be noted that this set also includes the only Yardbirds version of “You’re a Better Man Than I” with an extra verse.

That finishes up my Top 50…but wait — there’s just a bit more on the way!