Who’s Your Mummy?

October begins this week, kicking off my favorite season for movies. Cable channels will run monster marathons. Weekends will be dedicated to horrors, hauntings, and whodunits.

I love suspense and thrills, though not too much gore. My imagination fills in plenty of that on its own. Monsters, aliens, psycho-killers, mutants and zombies are the fare I enjoy with the lights dimmed and the popcorn popped.

In recent years, wizards, vampires, werewolves, zombies and fairy tales have been the hot subject of both the big and small screen. As a friend of mine eloquently said, “When things are tough, people need to escape.” All of these fantastic creatures and their stories are a fun way to do just that.

A monster can, in our mind, embody all of the stresses and calamity we see every day in our real lives. Through the hero of the story, we can face our fears of the beastly attacks and come out victorious. It’s almost therapy. Not that the problems have gone away, but that we find refreshment in the moment of fear. The adrenaline rush can supply us with clarity for a while. Things become black and white—good and evil—and we know right from wrong without question.

Fairy tales populated with monsters and darkness have been around for centuries. They began as a means for parents to teach their children the dangers of disobedience and the hazards that exist outside the home. The perils are still there, though not in the form of vampire or zombie. Children of every age long for the comfort of boundaries and the security of a home. When these are threatened, we need reassurance.

This is the perfect time to gather friends and crowd the couch. Put on your favorite monster flick. Laugh, scream, and jump when the cat pounces down from the top of the closet. You know that once you finally get your breath back that will be the precise moment that the killer appears. Enjoy the fear from the safety of your living room or within the reach of your best friends. October will be filled with surprises.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Vampire Hunter in Chief

Maybe it’s just me, but Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter just seems wrong. Don’t misunderstand; I love quirky movies. I’m a big believer in weird and supernatural stuff that makes other people raise eyebrows. But Abraham Lincoln?

What worries me is the responses I’ve heard about the film from some of the young people I know. “If you really think about it, it starts to kind of make sense.”



When I REALLY think about it, I get a headache. You can call me old. I know.

I recently read the Belfast Telegraph article about archaeologists who unearthed two centuries-old graves in Bulgaria of people who had been buried with iron rods through their chests in an effort to prevent them from rising from the dead and feasting on the living. I guess the remedy worked.


Stories of vampires have been around for ages, and rise and fall in popularity with the news of the day. That’s the nature of the unexplained.

While I’m quite certain that there were people who explored, and perhaps even hunted, the evil deeds of those with vampire-like tendencies in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, I believe that the public, and even the “private,” life of Abraham Lincoln is thoroughly documented. I can’t find any vampire hunting in those historical accounts. Not even in the Wikipedia entries.

Back to my concerns—is the fact that Lincoln abolished slavery in this country not enough to warrant our respect and adoration? Must he also protect us from the undead? Considering he was dealing with a country torn in two, the mental instability of his wife, personal family tragedy, and constant threats against his life, he already had a full plate.

I can hear my kids now. “Mom, it’s a movie. It’s just for fun.”

I understand that. I just hope and pray that everyone else does, too.

Perhaps I’m wrong about the whole thing. I admit that I’ve been wrong about many a film. Stories and actors that I seriously doubted have turned around and surprised me. I really love when that happens. Who knows?

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Special Effects are Real!

This month the movies are all about the monsters, the creatures, and the special effects. Since man first invented the motion picture, he used it to create a world of fantasy. Even the earliest films took a leap just beyond the realm of the possible.

The 1902 feature, A Trip to the Moon, which was loosely based on both Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, incorporated extensive make-up, camera effects, and pyrotechnics. The black and white masterpiece of brothers George and Gaston Melies runs 14 minutes, and can be seen on YouTube in its entirety. Village Voice honored the film by naming it #84 in the “100 Greatest Films of the 20th Century.”

To see this film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYRemE9Oeso&ob=av1n

The first film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s horror story, Frankenstein, was made in 1910 as a Thomas Edison Production. The special effects in this movie also included make-up, mirror effects, and fire.

The truth is that movies and special effects—in all their forms—go together like peanut butter and jelly. I love watching the monster movies from the ‘40’s and 50’s, because I love to see how far technology progresses each decade.

A few months ago, my family watched the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans, starring Laurence Olivier, Harry Hamlin, and Burgess Meredith. I loved that the movie used the stop-motion animation (for creatures like Medusa, Pegasus, and Calibos) pioneered by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. His techniques brought to life Mighty Joe Young as well as armies of warrior skeletons.

As I watched Clash of the Titans with my guys, I adopted a new slogan. When Poseidon issued the order to “Release the kraken!”, my sons began to giggle. The water effects with the Olympian and his beast, while impressive for 1981, were decidedly weak for today’s audience.

I responded to their scoffing with my most insuppressible declaration, “That’s real!” They laughed. I was a little hurt.

Imagine what a terrific task it is for these special effects artists and their teams of magicians to keep up with the demands of the times. Technology changes hourly, and what was mind-boggling in Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, must be re-mastered and CGI-ed frame by frame just to not look silly next to the sequels and prequels.

I feel for these technicians. When I think about how freaked out everybody gets when Facebook updates its format, I can hardly imagine what fury must rush through the rendering studios whenever there is a new process. “This has to look real, people!”

One of my favorite monster movies is the horror-comedy, also from 1981, An American Werewolf in London. This was the first movie to win an Oscar for Best Make-Up Effects, and when you see artist Rick Baker’s werewolf creation (after his own dog, Bosko) you understand why. I know there are many werewolf movies all over the place now, but for a good twenty years, nobody could compete with the monsters in this flick. Baker was a man way ahead of his time.

When I watch creature features, I figure I’m living in denial anyway, so why not suspend reality just a bit further. If the effects are a little cheesy, who cares? If I can see the wires or zippers on the costumes, what’s the difference?

I know that Hugh Jackman isn’t really a quadruped. I don’t actually believe in zombies or krakens or vampires. But for an hour or two, it’s real!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!