After the launch Playboy in 1953 a deluge of adult entertainment magazines spilled across America. A “flood tide of filth” as one critic described it. Magazines like Adam, Dude, Rogue, Gent, Torchy, Candid, Twilight and Sultry filled the magazine racks. These girlie mags were blamed for the “promulgation of decadence” intended to corrupt America’s youth and make it impossible “for men to revert to normal attitudes in regard to sex.”
Adult magazines were deemed as great a threat to the American way of life as Communism.
Compared to today’s porn industry—these jazz mags are tame. Codes of censorship meant models were more artfully photographed. Full nudity was forbidden—well, until Penthouse broke that ban in the late sixties and Playboy followed with its first full-frontal centerfold in 1972. The focus was mainly titillation or T & A.
There was always some moralizing religious do-gooder (like future financial felon Charles Keating, see below) who claimed these images encouraged perversion, fetishised breasts and were intended to “appeal to the sodomist.” With all this in mind, it’s quite remarkable that our baby boom grannies and grandads grew up to be average, run-of-the-mill, suburbanites.
Or did they?
More from this ‘flood tide of filth,’ after the jump…
Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) having fun smashing glass with his head on the set of ‘Twin Peaks.’
I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.
Agent Dale Cooper
Many of the photos in this post captured while the cameras weren’t rolling on the set of Twin Peaks were taken by actor Richard Beymer (who played ‘Benjamin Horne’ in the series) after the photographer hired to take promotional shots for the film quit (you can still buy a few of Beymer’s beautiful photos here). Others are what appear to be candid photos including an amusing polaroid of director David Lynch yelling into the ear of actress Grace Zabriskie (who played Laura Palmer’s mother Sarah in the original series) with a megaphone.
Deputy ‘Tommy Hawk Hill’ (played by actor Michael Horse) hanging out with a deer head.
As pretty much everyone on the face of the earth has been following along with the drama that has surrounded the return of Twin Peaks to TV (predicted to occur sometime in 2017) after Lynch said sayonara to the folks at Showtime via a series of Tweets to his “Twitter Friends” noting that he had himself began to notify the cast that he was no longer attached to the shows revival. Thankfully for lovers of the Log Lady about a month later the one-of-a-kind master of cult films decided to come back as did pretty much every one of the members of the original cast. And if that’s not enough for you to get excited about the fact that television is about to get really fucking weird again the show will start shooting scenes in location around Washington State specifically North Bend—the home of Twede’s Cafe that still serves up “Twin Peaks” signature cherry pie and of course “a damn fine cup o’ coffee.”
Loads of cool behind-the-scenes shots from 1990 series follow.
Actress Grace Zabriskie (Sarah Palmer) and David Lynch on the set filming one of the last episodes of ‘Twin Peaks’ on March 13th, 1991.
‘Caroline Powell Earle’ (played by Brenda Mathers), David Lynch and ‘Annie Blackburn’ (played by Heather Graham).
If there’s one show that’s generating a ton of buzz right now, it’s the Netflix original miniseries Stranger Things. A lovingly-crafted homage to the 70s/80’s “Golden Era” works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter, this show is inspiring the kind of love we haven’t seen for a TV program in a long time. Having heard so much good stuff about Stranger Things, I went into watching it with high hopes indeed. On paper this show is so my kind of thing that it’s not even funny: John Carpenter is my all-time favorite director. Stephen King is the guy who inspired me to write, and I can trace my obsession with movies back to formative experiences watching Spielberg’s films obsessively as a child.
So what could possibly go wrong? Well I have a confession to make: Having watched the show now, for the most part I found it… well… kinda boring. I certainly didn’t hate Stranger Things or anything but I definitely didn’t find it anywhere near as “awesome” as everyone else did either. I think it’s basically just… okay. For most of the viewing experience I had a nagging sensation of “Is this it? THIS is the show people are losing their shit for?!” But in truth anything that gets this sort of across-the-board, almost scarily uniform praise—like this particular show—it should raise suspicions.
And before anyone jumps in to tell me that I “just don’t get it!!“my fanboy credentials are more than sound. The fiction I write is horror with teen protagonists! From 2004-2008 I was part of the synth/prog group The Evil Eye, taking influence from John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream and soundtracking various short films including the 80s/video nasties-inspired web serial TV Face. On top of working on these things I am also a child of this era, so I’m as surprised as anyone that I didn’t love the shit out of the show. And trust me, I don’t wanna be The Grinch Who Stole Your 80s Nostalgia Buzz, either. Stranger Things has some serious problems that people seem willing to overlook in the rush to hype it up. So in the interest of fair and balanced journalism, I have put together a guide to what I find to be eight of the major flaws with Stranger Things.
Dare you taste the Hatorade?
1. Winona Ryder
Don’t get my wrong, I love Winona. She’s the beating heart of some of my all-time favourite movies. I’m a Veronica. But BY GOD did her performance do my head in! To the point where I zoned out whenever she was on screen. Her role as “Joyce” (and I had to look that name up, that’s how unmemorable the character was) never strayed from the single, overbearing note of “despairing mother.” Which is not necessarily Ryder’s fault as she was given so little to work with. Still, color me disappointed. I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of the writers/creators Shawn Levy and the Duffer Brothers. Stranger Things’ characters were paper thin despite some great performances from the child actors. But the adults? From Winona Ryder to Matthew Modine, not to mention the oddly clueless suburban parents and the totally clichéd sidekick deputies… sorry. In the end it seemed like only Steve and Will were genuinely changed by what they had experienced.
But I was willing to forgive all that until it got to:
The treatment of Barb neatly sums up everything wrong with this show. I knew “who” Barb was before I’d even seen a single frame of Stranger Things, which is why I was expecting a lot more from this “beloved” character’s role. But the way they handled her storyline left a bad taste. [SPOILER] After her abduction at the end of episode 2, Barb gets, what, maybe three more mentions over the course of the next six hours? And in the middle of one child disappearance investigation, the disappearance of another kid gets completely and utterly overlooked by the police? Please! I’ve seen mention that this is a comment on the general lack of urgency placed on missing-girl cases (which IS a thing) but that’s retroactively applying something to the show that just isn’t there. Once Barb has served her purpose to the plot she’s basically forgotten about. I get the feeling that the show’s creators expected the audience to feel a lot more empathy for Barb than they ever showed her. Simply put, it was cheap and lazy. And her predicament left dramatically unexplored.
3. The Pacing/Plotting
Let’s be honest here, the pacing was wildly uneven. Long stretches—entire episodes, in fact—passed where the plot barely advanced a single inch. Perhaps this is another homage as Stephen King has been guilty of this kind of uneven pacing and self-indulgent mood-setting in his fiction. But when he has to, he can knock that shit out of the park. Much of Stranger Things felt saggy and repetitive. It’s clear the Duffer Brothers and Shawn Levy haven’t got a grip on writing episodic television yet. Compare the plotting to the 2013 conspiracy-adventure drama Utopia (a masterpiece in my opinion, and a benchmark for mystery-thriller-TV, written by Dennis Kelly.) Utopia covers roughly similar ground: a world-threatening government conspiracy is uncovered through a pop-culture cypher by a ragtag gang of geeks along with a mysterious woman with major ass-kicking abilities. The twists and turns of Utopia‘s plot in the first three episodes alone took the viewer deeper into an unpredictable, exciting story while serving up some boundary-pushing scenes. By contrast, the plot of Stranger Things only really seemed to get going by the end of episode 3, and rather than shock us or surprise us, every plot twist had an almost mind-numbing familiarity. Like how is Will hiding in the electricity? Oh yeah: Because Spielberg.
4. The Relentless Pastiche-O-Rama
It got bloody tiring! While I did enjoy the show in places, at no point did Stranger Things ever transcend its influences to become something truly great with its own unique voice. And that is something the films it references managed to achieve, lest we forget. The show instead relies on a checklist of “spot-the-cliché” (well-produced clichés, but clichés nonetheless.) Despite a couple of entertaining peaks, after the end credits rolled I was STILL thinking about Spielberg, King, Carpenter, Lucas, Craven, Cronenberg, et al, and not the actual story I’d just watched. This seems to be true of almost everyone else talking about the show, too, which says a lot. That’s the fundamental problem with pastiche: not only does it have to be as good as the classics if it’s going to constantly remind us of them, it actually has to stand apart from them too if it wants to eek out its own place in that canon. Otherwise the referencing becomes distracting and makes a viewer wish they’d just watched the originals instead. “We have consumed more 80s pop culture than you!” is really not the best basis for telling a story. It certainly never answered the question as to why I should use eight hours of my life to watch it when I could watch a quadruple-bill of ET, Close Encounters, The Goonies and Poltergeist. With still time for a lil’ Freaks & Geeks thrown in.
5. Eleven’s Psychic Realm
And this was the moment when the relentless pastiching just became TOO much for me. When it spilled over from cute into ugly. When it went from being a constant, wearying nag of “now where have I seen that before?” to “I know exactly where I have seen this before, and GROAN.” The direct lift from Under The Skin (like Utopia, another modern masterpiece) felt incongruous. Not for Under The Skin‘s adult themes or modern setting, but because that film worked so damn hard to take us out of our comfort zones and show us something unique and genuinely alien. Seeing that reflective-black-empty-world (NSFW) again in the context of a cozy-nostalgia-80s-synth-kids-horror-adventure was both jarring and annoying. It was also a hugely missed opportunity: seeing inside the mysterious Eleven’s mind (literally) could have been a chance for the Duffers and Levy to show us something awesome and bizarre and new, but no, they cynically opted for more lazy pastiche. Instead of investing in genuine character insight or visual innovation, we got yet another “have you seen THIS film?” wink-and-nudge reference. Boring!
Which brings me to:
6. The Monster/The Threat
I think we can all agree that the monster in Super 8 was rubbish, right? Both its design and its role within that 80s throwback felt off. But having said that, you have to give JJ Abrams this: at least his monster had an endgame. It had a motivation. A back story. Even a primitive logic. But the Stranger Things monster (as yet un-named, even by the fans. How odd!) had no sense of having its own life beyond being a plot device. Not to mention that its feeding rituals (dead deer or fresh humans?!) and appearances in and out of our dimension were so loosely sketched as to lose any genuine sense of creepiness. Vagueness can be cool if the audience is confident that behind the twitching curtain lurks something truly terrifying (The X-Files coasted on this approach for years until it blew it with a farcically convoluted mythos: We saw behind the curtain and it was just some greasy-haired nerd typing in his Mom’s basement.) In horror for “The Threat” to work it has to be fully realized. This wishy-washy threat never gets satisfactorily explored or convincingly/consistently deployed and this was obviously going to be the case from the first episode. (See also: It Follows.)
To top it all off I just wasn’t a fan of the creature design. The five-second scene of the melting head from The Thing blew it out of the water.
And speaking of John Carpenter…
7. The Score
Everyone’s going on about how fantastic the soundtrack—by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin-based synth quartet S U R V I V E—is. And I’m not saying that it’s bad. It’s certainly authentic sounding, which is good. But just one question—how does it go again? I can’t remember, can you whistle the theme tune for me please? The beauty of John Carpenter’s original synth-based scores was not just in the signature sound palette he managed to conjure up, but in the memorable melodies he lodged in our brains, melodies that came back to haunt us long after the credits had rolled. He’s also the master at using minimal music cues to build genuine tension. In contrast, some of the Stranger Things music cues were way too much. The pounding drums during the sheriff’s breaking in at the research facility didn’t make the scene more tense, it just became grating. One of the things that tripped the score up in my mind, was the inclusion on the soundtrack of some genuinely atmospheric synth masterpieces that put the original score in the shade. I’m thinking in particular of this, one of my favourite pieces by Tangerine Dream (that was used to accompany a fist fight scene?!?):
Which brings me to…
8. The Hype
Ah, the hype. The Stranger Things hype is the thing that is really pissing me off, more than anything actually featured in the show itself. To the point where I felt compelled to write this piece so at least there could be ONE dissenting voice out there to balance the (suspiciously universal) adoration for the show.
“The Insult that Made a Man out of ‘Mac’” (or a variation on the theme) was impossible to avoid if you read practically ANY comic book between the 1940s and the 1980s—and maybe beyond. It was an ad for the Charles Atlas “Dynamic-Tension” fitness program—our hero, a weakling named “Mac,” is humiliated in front of his girlfriend by an archetypal sand-kicking bully on the beach. Later, at home, wounded by the affront, Mac subscribes to the Atlas Dynamic-Tension program and quickly becomes a he-man cut like a Greek statue. He returns to the scene of his emasculation to knock the bully down with a single punch and become the “HERO OF THE BEACH!” His girlfriend of course immediately returns to his side, but other women are taking notice of the musclebound Mac, sooooo…
I am frankly baffled by a contradiction as regards the longevity of that ad. Not that it doesn’t deserve its classic status—disregard for the moment the cringeworthiness of its deference to violent machismo and misogyny and note how well it adheres to the “Hero’s Journey” template, though it first appeared years before Joseph Campbell named and described that literary trope in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. My problem is just that, OK, look, obviously people were buying the program or the ad wouldn’t have run in every comic for decades, but male comics fanatics aren’t exactly reputed for being chiseled physical specimens (obviously there are exceptions but go to a con and tell me how much beefcake you see). If the ad was so successful, wouldn’t the opposite be the case? Wouldn’t the comic shop guy on The Simpsons be an Adonis instead of an obese, embittered, overlooked snob?
I’m tempted to conclude that nobody who bought the book actually followed through with it.
The ad’s eternal appeal has made it fit matter for parody, and indeed, it’s been parodied plenty. Recently, John “Derf” Backderf, the Eisner-winning author of Trashed and My Friend Dahmer (we’ve told you about him before), hipped me to “The Insult,” a webcomic that’s detourned the ad nearly 100 times. Currently, its creator Scott Marshall is posting a new one every day in a lead-up both to his own birthday and to this weekend’s Dartmouth Comics Arts Festival in Nova Scotia. If you have an idea for an “Insult” strip, Marshall maintains an online suggestion box.
Here’s an assortment of strips. Dangerous Minds’ column width makes them a little small to read properly, but a mouse click will spawn an enlargement.
Muhammad Ali spinning records on his very own car turntable.
Though I’d be the first person to admit that drivers don’t need anything else to distract them from the road (I’m looking at you EVERYONE) I’ll also be the first person to endorse bringing back the trend of installing record players in cars immediately. Because it doesn’t get much more romantic than being able to listen to your favorite 45s during a hot car makeout session.
The driving idea behind installing record players in cars was that it would allow people to not only control what they were listening to while cruising around but it also eliminated having to put up with endless radio commercials (which sounds pretty good to me). The first “Highway Hi-Fi” was put out by Chrysler in 1956 and was available to install in several car models ranging from a Dodge to various Plymouths. The component, designed by CBS Labs was only compatible with seven-inch LP’s that were put out exclusively by Columbia Records which contained about an hour’s worth of jams for your road trip. Apparently when you bought the console Chrysler would then hook you up with six selections from Columbia’s catalog—artists like Percey Sledge and Cole Porter. Of course all this tricked out audiophilia was pretty spendy and Chrysler’s hi-fi on wheels cost a whopping $200. Which was a fortune when you consider that the average family was only making about $3500 dollars a year in 1956.
Starting in 1960 other less expensive car record player units were produced by RCA, Norelco, and Phillips that could shuffle through multiple 45s and according to an article published by Consumer Reports in 2014 the consoles worked pretty well on the road with the help of a heavier stylus. Sadly the trend had a short life and was replaced by the next big thing to have in your car in the late 60s—the forever groovy eight-track tape player.
If this post has got you thinking about installing one of these vintage gadgets in your own car I’m here to tell you that while it’s possible it isn’t going to be cheap. If you’re lucky enough to find one that is brand-new in a sealed box it could run you a couple of thousand dollars to say nothing of how much it might cost to install. I’ll leave you to think about all that while you look at images of George Harrison and the late great Muhammad Ali (pictured at the top of this post) playing around with their car turntables as well as other vintage photos of the units themselves in action.
The mysterious Steelberg has been re-imagining newly released movies as VHS tapes that you would have rented from your local video store when video stores were everywhere. Housed in beat up cases with torn plastic slip jackets, curling price tags, staff recommendations and various other battered stickers (Beta!), Steelberg replicates the real thing to an eerie degree.
Stranger Things is particularly effective for the very reason that it’s an homage to those 80s movies that packed the shelves of Blockbusters back in the days when you could be kind by simply rewinding. This is what we’re talking about when we talk about form following content.
In 1976 Topps released a set of Shock Theatre trading cards that featuring gory stills from classic Hammer horror films. Each pack sold contained three cards and one stick of chewing gum. On the front cover was a cartoon of Christopher Lee as Dracula. A speech bubble from his blood-splattered mouth said “It sure doesn’t taste like tomato juice!” It set the tone for the cards inside.
Each card had a still from one of Hammer’s famous movies. For some reason there were more vampires than man-made monsters. The films featured were Dracula Has Risen for the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula AD 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula and Frankenstein Must be Destroyed. The images were framed in red with a truly godawful joke across the bottom. There were fifty cards in total to collect. Though apparently there was no #47 and two #17s.
I remember when these came out—but was too busy spending my hard-earned pocket money on books, records and single cigarettes. I loved horror movies. I was a cheerleader for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. But I didn’t take to this particular series because of the dumbass quips plastered across each card. With that earnestness only a child can muster I thought the “jokes” demeaned the artistry of Hammer movies. Yeah, I know…
But now: I’m older. And know a little better. Enough to admit I should have bought them just for the money these babies fetch on the collectors’ market.
View the full set of Hammer Horror trading cards over at The Reprobabte.
More gory Hammer horror trading cards, after the jump…
During the 1960s, several years after he’d begun making himself infamous as one of the greatest terrible auteurs in the history of cinema, Edward D. Wood Jr. moonlit as the author of lurid pulp novels, many about gay men, which he wasn’t, and cross-dressers, which he rather famously was, with a fixation on angora so powerful it made its way into his film Glen or Glenda. (That last detail is actually Ed Wood 101 stuff, and if you haven’t seen the wonderful Tim Burton biopic about him, by all means, you should—the direction and performances are superb. If you’re more the bookish type, I’d suggest reading Nightmare of Ecstasy.)
Per SIN-A-RAMA, Feral House’s excellent survey of trashy sex novels (my DM colleague Chris Bickel told you all about it not long ago), Wood wrote not just under his own name, but under at least eight pseudonyms, and according to the outstanding 2011 exhibition catalog Ed Wood’s Sleaze Paperbacks, there were more than that—they list a few books as Wood’s that are credited to I shit you not Norman Bates.
This points to a big problem in identifying Wood’s work. Some pulp pseudonyms were shared by more than one author, and the possibility exists that some books attributed to Wood were falsely credited by unscrupulous vintage resellers seeking to increase their sale price. It seems odd that Wood used pseudonyms at all—he relished in being credited under his own name, and since many of his more scandalous pulps were published under his given name, it’s hard to imagine that the tamer stuff could serve as a blow to his reputation!
If you’d care to actually read this stuff, brace yourself for collector pricing—an asking price of $200 is on the low end for some of these. A few of them havebeenreprinted, though, and the collection Blood Splatters Quickly compiles short stories Wood wrote for adult magazines.
More of Ed Wood Jr.‘s pulp fiction, after the jump…
Bill Rebane’s Blood Harvest would be a totally unremarkable bad movie if not for the inspired casting choice of having none other than Tiny Tim play the deeply unsettling clown “Marvelous Mervo.” Made in 1987 in Wisconsin, Blood Harvest is a riot of bad dialogue, bad acting, softcore sex scenes and a bit of splatter. Rebane’s cinematic anti-style is warmed over Herschell Gordon Lewis with a topping of moldy cheese in the form of the wonderfully silly Tiny Tim.
According to IMDB:
Tiny Tim was making a personal appearance at a beer carnival in Lincoln County, Wisconsin, in 1985, and local filmmaker Bill Rebane was in the audience. He had an idea for a horror film and decided to see if Tiny Tim was interested in appearing in it. He was. This is the result.
No part of Stranger Things was inspired by this 80s atrocity. It does have a nice twist at the end but I ain’t going to spoil it for you.
This cut is comprised of all of the scenes in which Tiny Tim appears. I generally link to sites where you can buy whatever I’m reviewing but Blood Harvest is long out of print on DVD. I found a copy for $100, but as much as I do love me some Tiny Tim playing a freaky clown, I’ll wait for the Criterion release with five hours of extras.
At the 2:32 point in the video I detect an homage to The Shining. Marvelous Mervo’s “I’m here” followed by actress Itonia Salchek looking more than a little bit like Shelley Duvall.
The credit crawl is included so you can enjoy in its entirety the fab song “Marvelous Mervo” written by Tom Zang and sung by Tiny.
The New York Rocker was a punk/new wave magazine founded by Alan Betrock in February 1976. It was produced by a dedicated, tight-knit group of young men and women—a “remarkable breed” of contributors—who had a passion for music that was outside the mainstream. They wrote feisty, opinionated reviews. They took their subject matter seriously, giving it the respect the well-financed music press gave to say Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Genesis, The Eagles or any other stadia-filling corporate-backed band. The New York Rocker was hugely influential early on in identifying and promoting American indie rock.
A total of 54 issues were published between 1976 and 1982 when the magazine folded. It was briefly revived in 1984 but never achieved the same success.
Just looking at these covers for New York Rocker there’s a great sense of the history and in particular the incredibly high quality of new music that came out of punk and new wave each week during the late 1970s and early 1980s—the likes of which we may never see again.
More covers from the New York Rocker, after the jump…