Friday, December 19, 2014

Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete

It all started with a motorcycle accident.  Bob Dylan and The Hawks [later to become The Band] toured the world during 1965-66.  For Dylan it was a mind-frying experience.  Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home documented Dylan’s transformation from acoustic folkie into an electric rock performer.  His fans were not pleased.  For a bunch of enlightened leftists who demanded social change, they were very intolerant of the change in the direction of Bob Dylan’s music.  People purchased tickets to his shows for the expressed purpose of booing him.  This culminated in a show performed in Manchester, England in May 1966 [captured in its entirety on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert].  As with all shows during this tour, the show was split into two parts.  The first set was a solo, all-acoustic affair.  His audience listened in silent reverence during the first half.  He brought out the Hawks for the electric second half.  The fans heckled and they booed.  They clapped between songs to throw off his timing.  Between Ballad of a Thin Man and Like a Rolling Stone you can hear one fan yelling out “Judas!”  Another fan shouts out “I’m never listening to you again, ever!” to which Dylan retorts “you’re a liar!”  After all this, Dylan turned around and you can hear him telling the band “play it fucking loud!” and off they launched into Like a Rolling Stone.  It was that kind of tour.

After the world tour finished, Dylan’s seminal Blonde on Blonde was released.  Dylan was faced with the prospect of repeating the experience he just endured.  As fate would have it, Dylan had his motorcycle accident in July 1966.  Rumor had it he broke his neck and several other things.  I don’t know the extent of his injuries, but Dylan retreated to Woodstock, New York to recover.  He also took the time to concentrate on raising his young family out of the spotlight, and he escaped the clutches of “the machine.”  This meant there would be no more touring in 1966, which was just fine with him.  Nine months later Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson joined Dylan at his house in Woodstock on worked on new music.  When things got too loud for Dylan’s house [I’m sure he got some grief from the Missus for waking the children], Dylan the Hawks relocated to a house in West Saugerties, New York, a house that became known as Big Pink.


Dylan’s songs from The Basement Tapes (1975) original release:

Odds and Ends, Million Dollar Bash, Goin’ to Acapulco, Lo and Behold!, Clothes Line Saga, Apple Sucking Tree, Please, Mrs. Henry, Tears of Rage, Too Much of Nothing, Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread, Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood), Tiny Montgomery, You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, Nothing Was Delivered, Open the Door, Homer, This Wheel's on Fire

Orange Juice Blues [Blues For Breakfast], Yazoo Street Scandal, Katie’s Been Gone, Bessie Smith, Ain’t No More Cane, Ruben Remus, Don’t Ya Tell Henry, Long Distance Operator

What was the reason for the recordings in the first place?  Was it music therapy for both Dylan and the Hawks as they dried out and detoxed?  Was Dylan creating demos for other people?  I suspect it was a bit of both.  When one looks at the complete song list of “the Basement Tapes,” one finds that Dylan and company covered a lot of musical ground just for the hell of it.  There are songs from A.P. Carter, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, John Lee Hooker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ian & Sylvia, Pete Seeger, Tim Hardin, Bo Diddley, and Curtis Mayfield, as well as quite a few traditional songs from the public domain. 

Several songs from these sessions ended up being recorded and released by other artists.  Dylan and his manager Albert Grossman were co-owners of Dwarf Music, a music publishing company that provided songs for other people.  The Byrds recorded You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere and Nothing Was Delivered for 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  They later recorded This Wheel’s On Fire for the follow-up, 1969’s Dr. Byrd & Mr. Hyde [my favorite version of this song – if you can find it, get it!].  When the Hawks got their own recording contract [and became The Band], three of these songs found their way onto Music From Big PinkTears of Rage, I Shall Be Released, and This Wheel’s On Fire.  Manfred Mann recorded Quinn the Eskimo [The Mighty Quinn].  Fairport Convention did Million Dollar Bash, while Peter, Paul & Mary did Too Much of Nothing.  These were among a fourteen-song demo that made the rounds to people who might be interested in recording them.

So between April and October of 1967, Dylan and the Hawks recorded all of these songs.  When they were done, they sat unreleased.  These songs were all of demo quality.  Some of the recordings are pretty rough.  They weren’t intended for release.  But in 1969 there appeared a Dylan bootleg called Great White Wonder, some of the songs of which came from the Basement Tapes.  Once the songs from 1967 saw the light of day, so began the mythology of this great, mysterious treasure trove of unreleased Dylan music.  While the music from the Basement Tapes was unintended for release, they did show that Dylan was heading in a different direction with his music, as is evident on 1967’s John Wesley Harding.  The music, some of which was re-recorded by The Band for their debut Music From Big Pink, shows a group of musicians going against the grain in 1967.  This was the year of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, the debut of The Doors and all other kinds of psychedelia.  Such was the effect of Music From Big Pink that once he heard it, Eric Clapton decided to leave Cream.  The Beatles did the White Album, and the Stones started their four-year winning streak of great releases with Beggars Banquet.

The tapes sat unreleased until 1975, when Robbie Robertson compiled the original release.  I don’t know his motivation for including the songs from The Band on this release.  These songs were recorded in a professional studio in either New York or Los Angeles, not in Big Pink’s basement.  One can find these very same recordings on the expanded releases of Music From Big Pink and Cahoots.  The 1975 release was just the tip of the iceberg.  Some prominent songs were missing - I Shall Be Released and Quinn the Eskimo [The Mighty Quinn] come immediately to mind.  Why did Robbie Robertson leave those songs off?  Only he knows.

There are two versions of The Basement Tapes released in November 2014.  There is the behemoth, six disc version [The Basement Tapes Complete] that contains 139 songs [there are multiple takes of several songs].  This version is for the uber completest.  If you’re like me and can’t afford this monster, there is a two disc version [The Basement Tapes Raw].  The Basement Tapes Raw contains all the Dylan songs from the 1975 release.  These songs come are either alternate takes, “restored” versions, or “without overdubs.”  The alternate takes are self-explanatory.  Some of the songs on the 1975 release received some overdubs from The Band.  Those overdubs were removed for the 2014 release.  Other songs from the 1975 release were “restored” to their original state.  In this context that means they had the echo removed, and they were restored to the original stereo mixes from the mono versions that appeared in 1975.  Unless you’re hardcore and listen very closely to each and every track on headphones, the differences between what was released in 1975 and what was released last month are negligible.

One Too Many Mornings / I Don't Hurt Anymore / Ain't No More Cane / Dress It Up, Better Have It All / I'm Not There / Johnny Todd / Quinn the Eskimo / Get Your Rocks Off / Santa-Fe / Silent Weekend / I Shall Be Released / Minstrel Boy / All You Have To Do is Dream / 900 Miles From My Home / One For the Road / I'm Alright / Blowin' In the Wind / You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere [Alternate Version] / Folsom Prison Blues / Don't Ya Tell Henry / Baby, Won't You Be My Baby / Sign On the Cross

While some of these songs are released to the public for the first time, some of these have been released before, to include:

  • Minstrel Boy first appeared on The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969–1971)
  • I Shall Be Released and Santa-Fe first appeared on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991
  • I'm Not There first appeared on the I'm Not There soundtrack in 2007

Interesting takes: 

  • A six-minute, full band shuffle of Blowin’ in the Wind
  • Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues
  • Sign on the Cross
  • I Don’t Hurt Anymore
  • Get Your Rocks Off [very silly]
  • Ain't No More Cane [Levon Helm sang the version that appeared on the 1975 release]
  • Don’t Ya Tell Henry [Levon Helm sang the version that appeared on the 1975 release]
  • Full band version of One Too Many Mornings [originally appeared on The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)]

Unlike the 1975 release where Dylan and The Band received equal billing, this is a Bob Dylan release.  This begs the question – is there a bunch of unreleased music from The Band?  Perhaps time will tell.  The Basement Tapes Raw is a good companion to The Basement Tapes from 1975, but if I was going to compile The Basement Tapes Raw, I would not include any titles that appeared in 1975 or on any other releases.  As it stands now, of the 38 titles released on The Basement Tapes Raw, 16 came out in 1975, 4 came out on other releases.  That’s 20 more previously-unheard/unreleased songs that Columbia could have put out.  I guess that’s their way of getting you to buy the big box.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Allman Brothers Band - The Final Show

Back in January of this year, both Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks announced they would be leaving the Allman Brothers Band at the end of 2014.  Shortly thereafter I asked the musical question – was it the “end of the line” for the Allman Brothers?  This lineup has been together since 2001 – the longest-lasting lineup for this storied band.  I thought then as I do now that the daunting task of finding not one but two new guitarists would be too much to overcome.  Apparently Gregg Allman came to the same conclusion as he announced the band would stop touring after 2014.  Since the band no longer records [their last studio album Hittin’ the Note came out in 2003], no more touring meant it was the “end of the line” indeed.

The band scheduled their usual March Madness at the Beacon Theatre in New York.  They were scheduled to play 14 shows, but they managed to play only 10 of them because Gregg Allman came down with bronchitis and couldn’t sing. The band played two of those 10 shows without Gregg, but then they postponed the remaining four shows until a later date.  Gregg has his own Gregg Allman & Friends band, Derek Trucks records and tours regularly with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Warren Haynes has Gov’t Mule.  Given the busy schedules of the individual band members, the “later dates” came in October.  In addition to the four make-up dates, the band tacked on two more shows.  The final date – October 28th.

I belong to the official Allman Brothers web forum, Hittin’ the Web with The Allman Brothers Band.  As soon as the dates for the final shows were announced, much speculation about who would be there commenced.  The biggest topic was Dickey Betts.  Would he or wouldn’t he be there?  Would there be any other guests like Beacon runs of the past?  The answer to both questions turned out to be “no.”  The band decided they would do this run themselves.  However, according to Gregg Allman, they reached out to Dickey, but he was “on a hunting trip.”  Derek Trucks confirmed the band tried to get Dickey, but Dickey’s manager called “bullshit.”  So who to believe?  It doesn’t matter – Dickey didn’t show.  There were three musical “guests” – they just weren’t people.  Three of Duane Allman’s guitars, two of which are owned by daughter Galadrielle, were in the house.  Warren and Derek played them during the run.  The next subject of speculation was “the final song.”  What would it be?  Opinions varied between Whipping Post, One Way Out, No One To Run With, and Little Martha.  I thought it might be Little Martha – the only song Duane Allman wrote.  But in the end, the band had a surprise – more on that later.  A theme emerged during the final six shows – Will the Circle Be Unbroken.  The old gospel hymn that was sung at Duane Allman’s funeral crept into the set lists one way or another.  On one night it might be just an instrumental tease, other nights Gregg and Warren would sing a verse or two.  But every night, that theme was there.

A couple of days ago I received my copy of the final show from Hittin’ the Note.  Most of the shows that I bought were 3 CDs, some are only 2.  This show has 4.  When the original six members were all in their twenties, the length of their shows became legend.  When they closed the Fillmore East in July 1971, they went on-stage at 2am and came off-stage at 6am.  Butch Trucks often tells the story about that show.  When they finished the show you could hear a pin drop.  No applause, just all smiles.  And then the doors opened, the first rays of the new morning sun came in, and this New York crowd quietly walked out.  Butch quotes Duane as saying “God damn!  It’s like leaving church!”   This final show wasn’t like that.  The band was “hittin’ the note,” and the crowd was amped up.  They played three sets instead of their usual two.  It’s become cliché that whenever a sports team plays the game of their lives, it’s referred to as “leaving it on the field.”  In the musical context, sometimes the Allman Brothers Band “left it on the stage,” and sometimes they didn’t.  That’s not to say that the shows where they didn’t leave it all there were bad.  On the contrary – they’re just old and can’t do it like they used to night after night four decades ago.  But having listened to this show, I can honestly say these old guys lived up to their legend.  So enough of the qualitative, here’s the Joe Friday “just-the-facts” scorecard:

The final setlist:

Set One:
Little Martha >
Mountain Jam >
Don't Want You No More >
It's Not My Cross to Bear >
One Way Out
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
Midnight Rider
High Cost of Low Living
Hot’Lanta
Blue Sky
You Don't Love Me

Set Two:
Statesboro Blues
Ain't Wastin’ Time No More
Black Hearted Woman
The Sky is Crying
Dreams
Don't Keep Me Wonderin'
In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed

Set Three:
Melissa
Revival
Southbound
Mountain Jam >
Will The Circle Be Unbroken? >
Mountain Jam

Encore:
Whipping Post
Trouble No More

After the thunder and frenzy that was Whipping Post, the band all gathered center stage and Gregg, usually a man of few words began to speak:

“A few years ago, just a few years ago, I was called to come and meet these guys in Jacksonville, Florida.  And it was kinda like, a little stiff in the room until one of them handed me a lyric sheet and said “Sing!”  And this was about 3:30 in the afternoon in Jacksonville, Florida, March 26th, 1969.  Never did we have any idea that it would come to this.  We give you a heartfelt ‘thank you.’  And now we’re gonna end on the first song we ever played, that broke the ice.” 

Given that Gregg didn’t know any of his future bandmates except for his brother when he walked into that first rehearsal, I have no doubt that the “one of them” who said “Sing!” was Duane.  With all of the stories I’ve heard and read about Duane, that way of saying hello would be totally in-character for him.  Oh, to have been a fly on the wall the day a new music genre was invented…

Usually the talkative one who tells the same stories over and over again, Butch Trucks simply echoed what Gregg said.  The band would bookend the Allman Brothers Band with the first song they ever played.

Jaimoe, who usually says fewer words than Gregg [if you can believe such a thing is possible], said this:  “Hello hello, thank you!  Thank you so much.  We couldn’t have done it without you.  Two things I always wanted to do in my life – I wanted to be Mr. America and I wanted to be the world’s greatest jazz drummer.  Well, I gave up on Mr. America, and on my way to New York City I went to Alabama to meet Duane Allman.  And then I was a jazz drummer, that’s when I discovered what that was all about.  So thank God for Duane Allman and all these fellas, and thank God for you!”

The band picked up their instruments and played one final song, which indeed was the first song they ever played as a band – Muddy Waters’ Trouble No More.  Five hours after they took the stage, at 1:30 AM on October 29th, the 43rd anniversary of Duane Allman’s passing, the band came off stage for the final time.  The circle was and is unbroken.



Thursday, December 4, 2014

Frank Zappa's Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

It was the first week of December 1971. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were on tour in Europe. Decemberd 4th saw  them in Montreux, Switzerland. They were playing at the Casino, one of the regular venues on the European circuit. Deep Purple were in town to record their next album [Machine Head] with the Rolling Stones mobile studio. FZ’s show was to be the last show at the Casino before it closed for the season. Once they cleared out, Deep Purple would load in and record Machine Head. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

While Don Preston was performing his synthesizer solo during King Kong, somebody in the audience fired a flare gun. The flare got lodged in the trunking in the ceiling, and before too long, the entire place was an inferno. FZ and the Mothers lost all of their equipment in the fire. Deep Purple lost their venue for recording Machine Head. Amazingly, nobody was killed. This incident inspired Deep Purple’s song Smoke on the Water. If you want the details, they’re all there in the lyrics.

Fast forward six days to December 10th. FZ’s tour continued on to the Rainbow Theatre in London. As fate would have it, FZ and the Mothers were playing King Kong when a crazed fan went on-stage and pushed FZ into the orchestra pit. The fall was about ten-fifteen feet onto a concrete floor. FZ suffered severe injuries. He had a crushed larynx, head trauma and multiple fractures. The crushed larynx left him with a lower voice, and the fractures [including a broken leg, broken rib, broken pelvis] left him with a limp and a bad back for the rest of his life. FZ was wheelchair bound for several months, during which time he made the albums The Grand Wazoo and Waka Jawaka.

According to FZ:
“My head was over on my shoulder, and my neck was bent like it was broken. I had a gash in my chin, a hole in the back of my head, a broken rib, and a fractured leg. One arm was paralyzed… I was taken to a public hospital. I remember being in the emergency room which, like the rest of London at that time of year, was freezing cold. They were clearly understaffed - a guy two beds down from me had his balls smashed in a brawl someplace, and was howling, unattended… They couldn't give me any anesthetic because I had a head injury, so after a while I just passed out, and woke up later in a bad-smelling room with beds all around, in a circle, with curtains hung between them. I remember the curtains parting in front of me and a black nurse coming in and seeing my face; like she had just seen a monster. I was pretty mashed up… I was later transferred to the Harley Street Clinic where I stayed for a month. I had a twenty-four-hour bodyguard because the asshole who had hit me was out on bail, and we didn't know how insane he was.”

The guy who nearly killed Frank Zappa is named Trevor Howell. He was wacked out on weed and LSD. He thought he saw FZ making sexual gestures toward his girlfriend, freaked out and pushed FZ into the pit. He did only a year in prison for "assault with malicious intent to commit bodily harm.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Who at 50


The Who are celebrating their 50th anniversary as a band this year.  They just released yet another compilation album called The Who Hits 50.  Besides it being their 50th year, I thought this might be a play on words, that they might actually have a compilation with 50 songs on it.  I was wrong – it has only 42.  Close, but no cookie.  So… as is my wont, I compiled my own list of 50 Who songs that I like.  I did it with the Rolling Stones in 2012, so now it’s The Who’s turn.  Most of them were written by Pete Townshend, a handful were written by John Entwistle, and there is one cover.  I threw in one solo song from Pete Townshend [because I can, but there’s a reason].  Here they are, in chronological order:

Singles 1965-68
I Can’t Explain [1965]
My Generation [1965]
Substitute [1966]
The Kids Are Alright [1966]
Happy Jack [1966]
Boris the Spider [1967] [Entwistle]
I Can See For Miles [1967]
Magic Bus [1968]

Tommy [1969]
Overture/It’s a Boy
Sparks
Pinball Wizard
The Acid Queen

Live at Leeds [1970]
Summertime Blues

Who’s Next [1971]
Baba O’Riley
Bargain
My Wife [Entwistle]
The Song Is Over
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Pure And Easy [2003 Deluxe Edition]
I Don’t Even Know Myself [2003 Deluxe Edition]

Singles 1971-72
Let’s See Action [Nothing Is Everything]
Join Together
Relay

Quadrophenia [1973]
The Real Me
The Punk and The Godfather
I’m One
Helpless Dancer
Is It In My Head?
5:15
Love Reign O’Er Me

Odds & Sods [1974]
Long Live Rock

The Who By Numbers [1975]
However Much I Booze
Dreaming From the Waist
Success Story [Entwistle]
In a Hand or Face

Who Are You [1978]
Had Enough [Entwistle]
Trick of the Light [Entwistle]
Who Are You

The Kids Are Alright [1979]
A Quick One
Young Man Blues

Empty Glass [Pete Townshend – Empty Glass, 1980 – Who band demo on remastered Who Are You]

Face Dances [1981]
Don’t Let Go the Coat
The Quiet One [Entwistle]
Another Tricky Day

It’s Hard [1982]
Eminence Front
Cry If You Want

Endless Wire [2006]
A Man in a Purple Dress
It’s Not Enough
Tea & Theatre

Saturday, November 1, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - REC: Zombie Trilogy

Between 2007 and 2012, Spanish filmmakers Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza filmed three horror movies in Barcelona [REC, REC 2, and REC 3: Genesis].  On the surface, all three films are your typical zombie movies.  But unlike most zombie films, these films attempt to get to the root cause of what is causing people to attack other people and spread their affliction.  For the most part, all three movies are done in the Blair Witch Project technique of the “found footage,” like the events were recorded on personal video cameras [hence the word REC in the title of all three movies.
The first movie [REC] begins in a Barcelona fire station.  Ángela Vidal and her cameraman Pablo are at this fire station to film what happens on a typical night shift for a news program called While You Sleep.  While Ángela and Pablo are filming, the station receives a call about an elderly woman trapped in her apartment.  When the firemen and some police arrive on scene, they find the old woman incoherent and aggressive.  She attacks one cop, bites off his ear and part of his cheek.  They end up shooting the old woman.  Pablo gets this all on tape.  The cops want him to stop filming, but Pablo continues.  The residents of the building are scared shitless, while police and military try to seal off the building.  Ángela interviews a girl named Jennifer, who is sick from what her mother says is tonsillitis.  She says her dog is sick too, and he’s at the vet.  It turns out the dog attacked other pets at the vet and had to be put down.  As Ángela interviews other tenants about the dog, Jennifer becomes violently ill and pukes all over her mother and runs back to her apartment.  She got infected by a dog bite.

Quickly, more and more people of the apartment building get infected, leaving Ángela and Pablo as the only healthy ones.  They’re forced to flee to the penthouse.  It had been abandoned by some guy who was working for the Vatican.  He was searching for a cure for a virus that causes demonic possession.  The virus was confirmed in a little girl named Tristana Medeiros.  The Vatican guy had kidnapped Tristana and taken her to the penthouse to conduct his research and hopefully find a cure.  She got worse, and the disease she had become contagious.  The Vatican guy couldn’t find a cure, sealed the girl off in the penthouse and fled the scene.  Tristana found Pablo and Ángela before they found her.  Tristana attacks Pablo with a hammer after he trips and falls.  Ángela picks up the camera and keeps filming.  She starts to run, but she too trips and falls.  She dropped the camera but could not find it in the darkness.  As the movie ends, one can hear the demonic Tristana on the tape [camera still recording after being dropped], and Ángela screaming as she’s being dragged away.

REC 2 picks up where REC ended.  A doctor Owen and some Spanish special ops troops arrive at the apartment building to “control” the situation.  It turns out Dr. Owen is a priest sent by the Vatican to assist the guy who had abandoned Tristana Medeiros in the penthouse.  Dr. Owen was tasked to find a blood sample from Tristana that was taken from her by the other guy.  After getting Tristana’s blood sample, Dr. Owen performs some kind of religious rite. During which the blood bursts into flames.  The good news is that was the blood Dr. Owen was looking for.  The bad news is he has to get more blood, and the only way to get more is to capture Tristana.  While all of this transpires, there are three teenagers up on the roof.  They don’t have a clue what is happening in the building beneath them.  They soon find out and try to leave, but the building is sealed off from the public.  They soon find Dr. Owen.  One of the teenagers [Tito] is attacked and gets infected.  Dr. Owen forces Tito to tell him where he can find Tristana.  The answer – the penthouse.  So back to the penthouse they go.  Who should they find along the way?  Ángela!  She’s still alive and not infected.  I don’t know how she managed that, but she did.  Anyway, she told Dr. Owen she saw Tristana with the camera’s “night vision.”  When they arrived back in the penthouse, they find a bathtub filled with water that can’t be seen by regular light.  Suddenly Tristana pops out of the tub, grabs the one of the surviving special ops guy and drags him into the tub with her.  When the lights come back on, there’s no special ops guy and no Tristana.  Dr. Owen, Ángela and the last special ops guy try to remain quiet so they won’t alarm Tristana.  But then Dr. Owen’s radio makes noise and Tristana reappears.  Ángela is armed with a shotgun and blows Tristana’s head clean off. 

Dr. Owen is pissed because he wanted Tristana alive, but Ángela just wants to get out of the building.  When Dr. Owen refuses she starts to beat the crap out of him, and she kills the last special ops guy.  It turns out that Ángela was possessed after all [by Tristana], she could just hide it a lot better than everyone else.  She tells Dr. Owen she didn’t need his help getting out of the building.  She can impersonate his voice, and so knowing this, she kills Dr. Owen.  She uses his radio to tell those outside [in his voice] that the “operation” was over and that there is one survivor [Ángela].  She also tells those outside that Dr. Owen is remaining in the building because he’s infected.  When she is asked how she survived, she looks at the camera and smiles.

As the events in the apartment are taking place, its Koldo and Clara’s wedding day [REC 3: Genesis].  Koldo’s cousin Adrian and their wedding photographer are filming everything.  All goes well during the wedding, so the scene turns to the reception.  Adrian finds his uncle Pepe, who has a bandaged hand.  He says he was bitten by a dog [Jennifer’s dog?], but says he’ll be okay.  So while the reception guests are all dancing, we see uncle Pepe fall from a balcony.   Was he drunk?  Adrian caught him vomiting on camera before he fell from the balcony.  He also caught guys outside wearing hazmat suits.  Pepe’s wife went to him to see if he was ok, but he awakened and bit her neck.  He stands up and pukes blood all over another wedding guest.  Then a whole bunch of people get infected very quickly, and they attack other guests who were not.  In the ensuing chaos Koldo and Clara get separated.    They spend the remainder of the film trying to reunite.  
This stuff is all of your typical zombie apocalypse survival, and then something completely different happens.  The priest who married Koldo and Clara started reading from the Book of Genesis over the public address system.  As he reads, all of the zombies stop in their tracks.  This was the first time I had seen a zombie movie where demonic possession had figured into the mix.  Usually it was some kind of unexplained virus that made people want to attack others, but this was the first time that it was put into some kind of religious context.  When I saw all of these movies, the third movie was the one I saw first.  Then when I went back and saw the first two, this whole religious angle suddenly made sense.  But to get back to the story, one of the guests who had become infected didn’t stop in his tracks.  He was deaf, so when the priest began reading the Bible over the PA, he didn’t hear it.  He ends up biting Clara, who by this time had been reunited with Koldo.  She is slow to infect but Koldo knows she is doomed.  He carries her outside, where police and special ops troops await them.  They tell Koldo to let her go because she’s infected.  He refuses and shares one last kiss with Clara.  She bites off his tongue and starts to attack the armed police.  The police respond and mow down both Koldo and Clara in a blaze of gunfire.

This zombie trilogy isn’t your typical zombie fare.  These zombies didn’t eat their victims after they attacked them.  Their motivation wasn’t to satisfy hunger.  Their motive was to spread demonic possession.  For this, I give these Spaniard filmmakers an “A” for originality.

31 Days of Horror Movies - 28 Days Later




In almost every zombie movie I've seen, the zombie apocalypse is in full swing as the movie starts.  The cause of said apocalypse is never given - it just "happened."  Not so with 28 Days Later.  It all started with animal rights activists breaking into a lab where experiments are being conducted on chimps.  These activists are discovered by a lab employee.  As the activists begin their task of releasing the animals, the lab employee tells the activists that the animals are infected with "Rage."  This virus can be spread by contact with blood or saliva of the infected.  One activist is bitten immediately after she released one chimp, and almost as quickly she shows the symptoms of this "Rage."  She then attacks her fellow activists.  



The scene shifts to a London hospital, where we see some guy named Jim emerging from a coma.  This was 28 days after the incident at the animal testing lab, hence the name of the movie.  When he awakens, the hospital is deserted.  He checks himself out and finds all of London is deserted as well.  He stumbles into a church where he finds many people who appear to be dead.  Out of the shadows emerges an infected cleric.  He starts to run after several infected people wake up and go after him.  Unlike zombies in other movies, these zombies don't stumble around - they can run!  As the zombies give chase, two people (Selena and Mark) rescue Jim by throwing Molotov cocktails at the infected.  This results in blowing up à gas station, and so the fun begins. 



Selena and Mark take Jim to their hideout, which was a snack bar in a tube station.  Jim convinces them to go to his house to check on his parents the following day.  Once they arrive the Jim finds his parents committed suicide.  The three of them are attacked by infected people.  Selena and Jim survive unscathed, but Mark gets cut up, and he's infected.  He knows he's doomed, and Selena kills him almost immediately.  She tells Jim the same thing will happen to him "in a heartbeat."   So our two heroes start walking the streets of London when they find some blinking lights coming from a block of flats.  Since the do-gooders released the monkeys and the Rage, civilization collapsed.  There's no electricity, no running water, little food, not many people around.  The people who are around are infected with the Rage and want to puke blood all over you.  The thing about these zombies is that when they die, they stay dead.  You don't have to bash their brains in.  Shooting then is sufficient to kill them.  But I digress...  Selena and Jim go to the block with the blinking lights, where they get chased upstairs.  They're rescued by a cab driver named Frank.  He lives there with his daughter Hannah.  After spending the night, Frank plays them a military broadcast.  It says to come to a blockade northeast of Manchester to find a haven and the 'answer to infection.'  So off they go... 

The four travelers reach the blockade.  When they arrive (after a detour around a burning Manchester), they blockade is deserted.  Frank is soon infected, and soldiers come out of the woodwork to kill him.  The three survivors are taken to a secluded mansion that been fortified.  One notices very quickly that Serena and Hannah are the only females there.  As the major in charge shows Jim around the mansion, they meet Mailer, an infected soldier who is chained up in the back yard.  The 'answer' is to find out how long it takes for Mailer to starve to death.  The other part of the answer is to repopulate with any females attracted by the radio broadcast.  Uh oh... 

Our three travelers try to escape, but are caught.  Jim is taken away with an NCO who disagrees with the major's plan.  The NCO opines that the infection is limited to Britain while the rest of the world goes on living.   As the soldiers shoot their NCO, Jim gets away.  After he gets away from the soldiers, he sees an airplane flying overhead.  The NCO was right – Britain has been quarantined from the rest of the world.  As he tries to make his way back to the mansion, Selena and Hannah are being readied for a gang rape.  But after they try on the clothes that the soldiers provided them, zombies attack the mansion.  The soldiers beat back the attack, but in the ensuing chaos Jim manages to sneak back into the mansion.  One by one he’s able to kill some of the soldiers [and arm himself in the process].  Jim found Mailer, shot his off his chains and set him free.  Mailer begins to run around the house and kill off those soldiers that Jim hadn’t gotten to yet.  Jim found one last soldier who was in the room with Selena and Hannah.  Jim jumps him and starts to bash his head into a wall.  For good measure, Jim gouged out his eyes.  Selena thought the violence Jim showed to be so unlike him that she thought he was infected.  Just as she was about to kill him, she paused.  Jim pointed out that Selena took more than a heartbeat to try to kill him, at which time she realizes Jim is ok.  So as Jim, Selena and Hannah try to get away, they come face to face with the commanding officer, who shoots Jim in the abdomen right before the zombies get to him.  While the zombies are occupied with the British officer, our three heroes make their escape. 

Another 28 days later, approximately 61 days after the initial outbreak, we see Jim recovering from his injuries at a remote cabin.  The landscape suggests they are in Scotland.  Selena is sewing lots of bed sheets together.  When she is done, she Hannah and Jim spread out the bed sheets to spell out “HELLO.”  A fighter jet flies overhead the survivors and sees the “HELLO.”  He calls for a rescue helicopter, at which point the movie ends.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - Young Frankenstein (1974)

Quick!  Name Mel Brooks’ best movie!  Most people will probably tell you it’s Blazing Saddles, but I’m not one of them. , it would be Young Frankenstein.  It’s not a horror movie, but a damn good spoof of a horror movie.  I include this in my 31 Days of Horror Movies because it provides comic relief within the horror genre context.  I think it is must-watch viewing during the month of October.  It is sufficiently reverential to the Boris Karloff 1931 movie without going completely over-the-top.  I read somewhere that Mel Brooks even used some of the same props used in the 1931 classic.  As a bonus, any opportunity to watch at a young Teri Garr is not to be passed up.

You know the story, so there’s no use recounting it here.  There’s not a bad performance from the ensemble cast. 


Tony’s Favorite Moments [in a movie full of great moments] – in no particular order…


Teri Garr – Roll, roll, roll…would you like a roll in the hay? ‘Nuff said…

That’s “Fronkensteen” – The young doctor is so upset that one of his students keeps calling him “Frankenstein” that in a fit he stabs himself in the leg with a scalpel.  “Class dismissed…”

“What a filthy job” – “Could be worse – could be raining” [cue thunder].

“Abby Normal” – Igor [it’s pronounce Eye-gore] was so afraid of lightning he dropped Hans Dellbruck’s brain.  Dr. Frankenstein nearly chokes him to death when Igor tells him he put an abnormal brain into such a gigantic creature.

Gene Hackman – at this point in his career, who knew that Popeye Doyle could be funny.  His turn as the blind man whom the Monster encounters is hysterical.  I felt sorry for the Monster when he had the hot soup poured in his lap.  But I really felt sorry for him when the blind man set his thumb on fire.  Bonus points for Peter Boyle for the delayed reaction.

"Puttin' on the Ritz" –How could Peter Boyle dance with those big, clumsy elevator boots?

"Yes! Yes! He vas my…boyfriend!" – Cloris Leachman was great as Frau Blücher [cue the scared horses].  For the longest time I didn’t know that “Blücher” was a word for “glue.”  I believed her when she said young Dr. Frankenstein’s grandfather was her boyfriend.

Madeline Kahn’s singing – It’s funny how Madeline Kahn’s singing became a euphemism for an orgasm.  He must have had an enormous schwanzschtücker.

Put the candle back!             



Friday, October 24, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - The Shining (1980)

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"

I think if I was cooped up in a hotel for five months with only Shelley Duvall and a little kid for company, I’d go mad too.  I was actually rooting for Jack Nicholson to kill her.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

If you think that Pit and The Pendulum and House of Usher were the same movie, you aren’t the only one.  Roger Corman directed once again, he used the same screenwriter and cinematographer, and the music was scored by the same guy.  The themes are similar – sins of the father being visited upon the son, premature burial, life and love and death and madness [madness…madness…madness…].  Francis Barnard [John Kerr] is like the Philip Winthrop character from House of Usher, but instead of coming to claim a bride he’s coming to investigate his dead sister.  Like Winthrop, Barnard has to contend with a barely-balanced brother-in-law, Nicholas Medina [Vincent Price].  And also like Winthrop, Barnard refuses to take “no” for an answer and won’t leave until he gets one that satisfies him.  Barnard is more of an asshole about it, though.


Don Medina’s father was just as evil as Roderick Usher’s family.  His father was a member of the Spanish Inquisition [“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”] who had his own torture chamber.  As a small child, Nicholas used to sneak to the dungeon to player in the torture chamber.  One day, he saw his father bring his mother Isabella and his uncle, Bartolome.  He watched him beat Bartolome with a red-hot poker [whilst screaming “adulterer” over and over again].  He then entombed Isabella behind a brick wall while she was still alive.  So when Nicholas Medina entombed his wife Elizabeth, he feared he did so prematurely.  It was his greatest fear that he who share the same fate.


Nicholas believes Elizabeth’s ghost is haunting the castle.  He hears her harpsichord playing in the middle of the night.  He and Barnard open Elizabeth’s tomb and find a withered corpse inside that was trying to get out.  Nicholas is now convinced he buried Elizabeth alive.  Now he’s afraid – very afraid, then he hears her voice calling for him.  He went to her room and found it was trashed.  He’s going insane.  He went back downstairs to her crypt and found her walking towards him.  Then it looks as if he drops dead of a heart attack.  His best friend, Dr. Leon, has been having an affair with Elizabeth.  Thinking Nicholas was dead, the two of them begin to mock Nicholas about their plan to drive him insane so they can inherit his fortune and run away to be together.  However…Nicholas woke up, thinking he was his father.  He pushed the good doctor into the pit [killing him], and he threw Elizabeth into an iron maiden.  Meanwhile, Barnard came downstairs.  Nicholas, now completely insane, confused Barnard with his dead uncle Bartolome. 




What happened next?  You guessed it – Barnard got strapped to a table and Nicholas fired up the pendulum.  Of course, as it swung it came down a few inches until it finally started splitting Barnard’s shirt.  But just in the nick of time, Nicholas’ younger sister Catherine and Maximilian [one of the servants] bust in and save Barnard.  Nicholas and Maximilian tangle for a short time before Nicholas joins Dr. Leon in the pit.   At the movie’s end, we see Barnard, Catherine and Maximilian leave the torture chamber, vowing to seal it forever.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth is still trapped inside the iron maiden.  It sucks to be her… J


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Days of Horror Movies - House of Usher (1960)

England had Hammer Films, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. We had Roger Corman and Vincent Price.  It was a great time to be a fan of Gothic horror movies.  Vincent Price and Roger Corman made eight films together that were based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  The first of these movies was House of Usher (1960).  It was based loosely [very loosely] on the tale The Fall of the House of Usher.  The characters are the same, but other than that… Philip Winthrop [Mark Damon] is a man on a mission.  He’s traveling to meet his fiancée, Madeline Usher [Myrna Fahey].  She lives in this creepy mansion that’s in the middle of a swamp.  The place looks like death and pestilence and plagues.  This creaky pile of a house is very spooky, and it has the feel of being a sentient being in its own right.  The house is decaying, which is a mirror for the Usher family itself.  The house creaks and cracks.  It shakes so badly that a chandelier falls and almost kills Winthrop.  It's falling apart - the outside has a giant fissure running through it.  A bannister gave way at the slightest touch.  A casket in the crypt nearly fell on him.  Burning coals jumped out of a fire at him.  It's crumbling away under the weight of the Usher family's sins of the past, like it's some kind of sin eater.  And because the house has eaten the Usher sins, it too has become wicked. 


Her brother Roderick [Vincent Price in a horrible blonde wig] is as creepy as the mansion within which he lives.  He’s hypersensitive to light and sound.  He and Madeline can eat only bland food.  The sound of footsteps is painful to the Ushers.  He’s also barely sane [a common Poe theme].  When Winthrop tells Roderick of his intentions to marry Madeline, Roderick vehemently opposes it.  He tells Winthrop the Usher family has a curse, one that drives all Ushers insane.  Roderick doesn’t want any future Usher children to inflict any harm on the world - the Usher bloodline must end with Roderick and Madeline.  Roderick shows Winthrop a gallery of paintings.  They were all of Ushers past.  They were a family of killers, slave traders, drug addicts, swindlers, forgers, blackmailers, smugglers and thieves.  Roderick said "foul thoughts and foul deeds were committed" in the house.  Roderick thinks the world will be a better place without any more Usher evil spawn.  The house is crumbling away under the weight of the Usher family's sins of the past, like it's some kind of sin eater.  And because the house has eaten the Usher sins, it too has become wicked. 

Philip doesn’t want to hear it and makes plans to leave with Madeline the next day.  But during the night, Madeline has an argument with Roderick, after which she dies [or so we think].  Roderick entombs her in the family crypt.  As both Roderick and Philip pray over Madeline's open casket, Roderick sees a couple of Madeline's fingers move.  She's not dead, but Philip didn't see it.  Knowing that Madeline is still alive, Roderick closes Madeline's casket anyway.  Before Philip leaves the mansion, the butler told him Madeline suffers from a disease.  Madeline has catalepsy, which only makes her look like she’s dead.  Philip went to her tomb, opened it, and found she wasn’t there.  The Usher madness had set in, and with it Madeline gained superhuman strength and clawed her way out of her casket.  What Philip doesn’t know is Madeline is seeking to avenge herself on her brother – she’s pretty pissed off, and rightly so.  Wouldn’t you be pissed if your brother tried to bury you while you’re still alive?  Premature burial was another recurring Poe theme – see The Premature Burial, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Cask of Amontillado. 




Philip went into the crypt to look for Madeline but he could not find her.  Exhausted, he went upstairs to rest has a dream.  He encountered all the Ushers from the paintings, and he saw a skeleton in Madeline's casket, while Roderick carries her off somewhere.  He found himself trying to open Madeline's casket.  When she opened her eyes and screamed, he awakened.  There's a storm outside.  Winthrop again searches the house for Madeline.  When he finally found her, she nearly choked the life out of him. Once Madeline appeared before Roderick in the flesh, he’s driven over the edge into full-blown insanity.  Then Madeline and Roderick engaged in a battle to the death, which they both lose.  As the Ushers fought each other, the house cracked up as they crack up.  The house went up in flames and sank into the swamp, taking Roderick and Madeline with it.  So both houses of Usher [the family and the building] were erased from the planet.  At least Philip Winthrop got away.  Roderick Usher saved him after all.





Trivia.
1.  The cinematographer on this movie was Floyd Crosby.  He won an Academy Award for his work on High Noon.  He’s also singer David Crosby’s dad.

2.  Roger Corman shot this movie in only 15 days with a budget of only $200,000.