This is a real departure for the Dr. Film blog, and we’re not going to do this very often, but, well, just this one time.
an interview between Dr. Film and his alter ego Eric, about Eric’s new book. If you haven’t followed the podcasts,
Dr. Film is Eric’s utterly hostile, completely film-centric alter-ego.
Dr. Film: Hi, Eric, nice to see…er… be you.
Eric: Nice to be you, too.
Dr. Film: I hear you have a new book coming out.
Dr. Film: Well, it’s about film, right?
Eric: Nope, not really at all. There’s only one section in it that has a film
reference. It’s a joke, that only film geeks will get. It’s called “Pardon Me
While I Have a Strange Interlude.”
Dr. Film: Then why are you wasting our time with something
that’s not about film?
Eric: Because I already have an audience here, so I might as well.
Dr. Film: I see. So tell us about the book.
Eric: It’s called A Fearful Thing to
Love. It’s a weird science-fiction/horror sort of story about a young woman
who’s turned into a vampire. But not your standard vampire. It’s also a romance
and sort of a science-gone-wrong story.
Dr. Film: Wow. So it could be a movie.
Eric: Well, I hadn’t thought of it as a movie. I suppose it could be. It
would probably be expensive, since some of it is set in 2091, some of it during
WWII England, and some of it in late 1600s France.
Dr. Film: So she lives a long time.
Eric: Yes, a very long time. It’s been compared to the Twilight Zone story Long Live
Walter Jameson, by Charles Beaumont, but others have found elements of The Andromeda Strain and other things in
it, except those aren’t about vampires and this is.
Dr. Film: OK. What made you write this?
Eric: I got tired of reading the standard vampire story about curses and evil
and stuff, and all the religious trappings. I get that out of the way early in
this one, and it doesn’t come up again. This is more like an unfortunate
Dr. Film: How is it that people who have known you for years
have never heard you talk about this?
Eric: Because there’s nothing more boring that an author
talking about a book he hasn’t written, unless it’s a filmmaker talking about a
film he hasn’t shot. People write
you off really quickly; they can’t be part of your vision because they haven’t
seen it. It’s like the people I
used to see at Star Trek conventions asking me if they’d like me to read their
story about Mr. Spock. NO! RUN!
Dr. Film: So is there a lot of sex and violence in the book?
Eric: Some. Not what you’d call a lot, and it’s not explicit, except some at
the beginning. It’s more a character study and an exploration of ideas.
Dr. Film: OK, you have a female vampire, so that means we have
to have lesbian scenes with hot chicks in it, right?
Eric: (looks at audience) I’m sorry, folks. He’s a
politically incorrect idiot, but what are you going to do? I see that’s what
you’re expecting. Well, this is written to go counter to your expectations. If
you’re looking for Stoker or LeFanu, or even Hammer’s Countess Dracula, you’ll be disappointed.
Dr. Film: I’m trying for the hard sell and you’re making it
tough here, dude.
Eric: Think moody, think more Outer
Limits or maybe a lighter version of Charles Beaumont or Lovecraft, and
you’ll be closer to what this is.
Dr. Film: Well, that’s something, I guess. How is it that you
have time to do this with all your film work?
Eric: Good question. I didn’t. I get calls and emails all the time so it’s
impossible to concentrate on something like this. I gave up writing seriously
in about 1990 or so, because I just wasn’t producing the results I wanted. I
worked on this during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years for the last
several years, the three days of the year that no one pesters me.
Dr. Film: What made you dig it up after all these years?
Eric: Easy answer. I’ve been pestered relentlessly by Glory-June Greiff, my
co-conspirator on the Dr. Film show, to do something with this. She liked it
better than I did.
Dr. Film: So does that mean you have more fiction writing that
we haven’t seen?
Dr. Film: What is it?
Eric: Let’s see how this one does.
Dr. Film: No hints?
Dr. Film: A sequel to this one?
Eric: Not in the works, no.
Dr. Film: So this is a different sort of vampire story,
written to counter your expectations. What else can you tell us about how it’s
Eric: It’s deliberately structured to go counter to the standard English
teacher way of laying out a novel. It’s not in 3 acts, but rather 5. And
instead of escalating action and danger, it has less as the story progresses.
And the last act is almost a comedy, with a happy ending.
Dr. Film: A happy ending in a vampire story? That’s weird.
You’ve still disappointed me that there isn’t a lesbian scene in it.
Eric: I didn’t say there wasn’t a lesbian scene. There is one, but not with
hot chicks, and there’s absolutely no sex in it.
Dr. Film: You have a lot to learn about marketing.
Eric: Spoken by the genius.
Dr. Film: Does this mean that you’re going to be doing less
Eric: Not necessarily. It just means I’m not a one-dimensional cliche
character like you are.
Dr. Film: I represent that. What sort of film work do you have
Eric: That’s more of a question for you, isn’t it?
Dr. Film: I suppose it is. Well, there are two projects that
may be coming up soon, but I can’t tell you about them.
Eric: Yeah, I can’t either. But maybe soon. I had some time with no film
projects and I put it into getting this and the podcast done.
Dr. Film: Those podcasts are cool.
Eric: Yeah, you would say that.
Dr. Film: We get a lot of requests to restore more film. Why
aren’t you doing that?
Eric: Because our dear market isn’t strong enough to support the sales of
these films, and a TCM sale fell through when Filmstruck collapsed. If I’d sold
more copies of Little Orphant Annie, I’d be
working on more film projects.
Dr. Film: So the fact that you’re doing this book is because
you didn’t have enough work otherwise?
Eric: I suppose you could say so.
Dr. Film: Does that mean that you’re going to be polluting my
sacred film space with promoting your junky book?
Eric: No, I would never do that to you. I know how it would hurt you. If I
write a film book, then that’s another story. I’m planning one; it’s about
Dr. Film: Well, is there a place that people can go to discuss
Back in 2003 or so, Mike Schlesinger was promoting a trailer for a movie that Sony had just picked up. I saw the trailer and howled with laughter. Mike told me that it was a real trailer for a real movie. I asked him if the filmmakers could keep that pace up for the length of a whole feature, and he assured me that they did. It was a little film called The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, and I bugged Mike mercilessly to find me a theater where it was playing.
Making a movie is a tricky thing, and independents doubly so. It’s almost a delusional state, or a psychological malady. You need to have a crew of at least a dozen people working together on a project that the odds say may never be seen outside of the 2am-4am time filler slot on TNT. Most don’t make money, and most lose their investment entirely.
This is why I’m often enchanted with the can-do spirit of 1950s filmmakers. As much as we like to make fun of him, Ed Wood was a successful filmmaker. He beat the odds. He got films made and released. Roger Corman was and is a successful filmmaker. His films hit theaters and TV. Were they silly? Sure! Cheap? You bet! But they got made… and the directors came back to make more. I’d guess that 90% of movies that are started are never finished, and maybe half of those that are finished are ever released in some fashion.
I sensed an immediate bond with writer-director Larry Blamire’s creation when I finally got to see it. A lot of people don’t really understand what he was trying to do. The most clueless critics (I’m not going to link to a clueless review… find it yourself) say that Larry is spoofing 1950s-60s movies and making a deliberately bad film. He’s not. He’s making a tribute to those films, and he’s even limited in much the same way they were. Sure, it’s funny, and it’s a little more over-the-top than the originals were. But it’s clear that Larry loves movies, low-budget or not.
One of the marvels of Lost Skeleton was the way Larry aped that poetic but tin-eared dialogue that we know so well. Ed Wood is famous for it, but you can hear it ring through epics like The Conqueror and most of the Roger Corman films of the period. It’s the sound of “Get it done by tomorrow morning so we can shoot this.” Larry nails it.
And it takes a special kind of actor to be able to read that sort of dialogue without sounding like he’s an idiot. John Wayne couldn’t do it, but Charlton Heston could. Lyle Talbot did it in Glen or Glenda. But all of Larry’s talented stock company does it brilliantly. It’s a joy to watch these folks tear their way through the film, with innovative reaction shots, and clever but not-quite-hammy portrayals.
When Larry premiered Lost Skeleton Returns Again at a convention in Kentucky, I drove for several hours to see it. I did it again to see his cut of Trail of the Screaming Forehead. (I even resisted the chance to throw spitballs at Mike Schlesinger when he won the Rondo award, and that was self-restraint, people.)
But now Larry is spearheading a brilliant and innovative Kickstarter campaign to make the third Lost Skeleton film. I couldn’t let this opportunity go without talking to him about it. Most Kickstarter campaigns are pretty static and dry (like mine was), but Larry has a new video or hook every couple of days. It’s quite cool.
For the record, The Lost Skeleton Walks Among Us is a project I endorse wholeheartedly. But then again, I’m that guy who has a popular blog for a TV show that he can’t sell! Still, we all must do our part, and this is mine!
I INTERVIEW NOW! (Did you see what I did there? Well, if you didn’t, then skip it.)
Q1. You’ve done some clever satires of popular genres. Your first picture was Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. That’s been discussed to death, but I’d like to talk to you about the pictures that inspired it. It has a very Bert I Gordon/Roger Corman/even 50s Universal feel to it. These pictures have a feel of “Wow, these poor guys had nothing to work with. It’s amazing that the film even got finished.” You seem to celebrate that spirit. Would you discuss that feel of 1950s filmmaking and maybe give us some films that gave you some inspiration?
LB: I wrote a play in the late 80s, a comedy-with-heart called Bride of the Mutant’s Tomb that had an Ed Wood-like director scrambling to finish his film in Bronson Canyon while everything seemed to go wrong. I didn’t realize that would be me several years later. Although everything wasn’t going wrong for us of course, it was still a mad scramble and that now almost seems a “method” approach to what we were emulating. My relationship with 50s low (or medium) budget scifi is complex; I chuckle with respect. That is to say no matter how unintentionally funny some of them were (and plenty weren’t) I still admire that they got it done. It’s almost heroic. And I love when a film like my oft-mentioned Attack of the Crab Monsters conveys genuine atmosphere, a sense of doom. It’s crazy. They often touch a surreal vein in me, the incongruous imagery they present, whether consciously or not. The reversed footage of The Blob running up the old man’s arm, giant eyes crawling around snowy mountaintops, even that skinny big-headed monster in Fire Maidens of Outer Space lurking in a lush natural Eden-like setting. Unconscious strangeness is still strange.
Q2. I really loved that your sequel to Lost Skeleton was not just a rehash of the original, but it was a much bigger-budget production that went in a completely different direction. From an artistic standpoint, tell us how you like to approach the idea of sequels. I know that a lot of the 1950s sequels don’t do a good job of changing direction and become rehashes. One particular film that does it well is Revenge of the Creature, which is quite a different film from the picture that spawned it, Creature from the Black Lagoon. On the other hand, the Godzilla pictures really started to get old quickly after a promising start.
LB: I agree. And Revenge of the Creature is a great example. I enjoy that film as much as the original (though every time I watch it I do want just a little more monster-on-the-loose action). I do dislike sequels that rehash. I only did the second Lost Skeleton movie because I had a different idea, and I went from dead set against it to “I gotta make this movie.” Even the music reflects something entirely different; from the low budget scifi style production music to the Herrmannesque feel of Morgan and Stromberg’s score. I love both but the latter reflected the matinee adventure perfectly. Expedition, jungle, monsters–I still love that formula. And guess what–it still worked for my favorite Jurassic Park movie, Jurassic Park 3, another example of a sequel treading different ground. Hell, it was more fun than either of its forerunners. Do a sequel if you have something different up your sleeve, otherwise don’t bother.
Q3. As everyone knows, you’re currently trying to finance the third Lost Skeletonmovie, which I understand is a departure from the last two. Your Kickstarter campaign is really brilliant. What did it take for you to get this going?
LB: Well, thank you and it’s taken a lot of work. I tried to start it up last year but I was taken away by other projects. Several months ago I began making the videos that I felt were necessary to try and get across that we do some wacky and different stuff. It started with the “lost” footage from the original “silent” Lost Skeleton, which was created to be only one small part of the faux documentary A World Without Lost Skeleton. And that piece was a (something) load of work for me, some pretty intensive editing. But I have to say I was as happy with the outcome as anything I’ve created. It sets up the conceit of the Lost Skeleton being at war with me, which I thought might be an amusing arc to keep the Kickstarter interesting. Add to that exec producer Mark Stuart’s mighty effort with the pledge incentives and you’ve got a lot of work put into this. As to The Lost Skeleton Walks Among Us, once again the story came to me and presented something very different from its predecessors; the characters living in the suburbs circa 1963, with Dr. Paul experimenting with atmosphereum while a series of “radiation murders” is going on, and the Lost Skeleton moving in next door as he seeks to get his full power back. It reaches new heights of absurdity, which is always of interest to me.
Q4. You made a number of episodes of Tales from the Pub, which are quite hilarious. Those are great spoofs of 1950s “spooky” shows, particularly One Step Beyond and even some of the John Nesbitt shows. I particularly like the way that you have a nasty film-like splice in the credits of every episode, just like a bad syndication print would have. Can you talk a little about the 1950s shows that inspired you for this?
LB: We were having meetings in Dan Conroy’s basement pub like once a week, looking to plan our next project and it came to me as something of a creative outlet; these perfect little economical pieces that we could shoot on our own and post online just to keep ourselves sharp, and of course have fun. I’m pretty sure I had just seen a fairly creepy episode of Lights Out (I think it was) called “The Martian Eye” that had something of a claustrophobic paranoia to it. These were infectious for me; the more I wrote the more came to me–and I really enjoyed the challenge of having to tell a story in just a couple pages. The cast was game and everyone chipped in wearing different hats; shooting, lighting, etc. One Step Beyond was probably the closest model, but likeour movie parodies I hesitate to add that I really do enjoy that show. It’s nothing like, say, spoofing something cause it’s “bad”, it’s spoofing it because it’s fun.
Q5. I almost feel that your spoof of “old dark house” pictures, Dark and Stormy Nighthas too much material to spoof, since it’s never really been done before. You caught everything in these pictures, from the scheming relatives to the rigged seance, the dumb “wait, that’s impossible” character identity switches, and the hidden gorillas in the basement. I’d like you to talk about this genre a little and how it inspired you. Give us some specific vintage titles you’d recommend.
LB: I really do love old dark house pictures–Jen [actress Jennifer Blaire] and I have been known to binge on them–and it’s sad to think we may be (incredibly) running out of ones we haven’t seen (I’m still hoping Columbia’s 1933 Fog, which sounds like an old dark house on an ocean liner, may turn up). I decided it would be absurd fun to incorporate every ODH setup there is (some of which you mention), combining the will, stranded travelers, washed-out bridge, curse, escaped lunatic, etc. When Jen and I watch them we have strict criteria; for instance if the night lasts only one act, or if the police arrive and the setting is no longer so isolated, we’re inevitably disappointed. If there’s no storm, that’s a letdown–at least give us some howling wind for crying out loud. In fact, atmosphere might just be the most important ingredient for us. And even though DASN is a comedy I wanted it to have some of that. Just to rattle off some favorites: The Phantom of Crestwood, The Bat Whispers, Night of Terror, Menace, Rogues Tavern, One Frightened Night, House of Mystery to name a few. The Old Dark House is wonderful of course, though highly atypical, and Rene Clair’s And Then There Were None is probably the classiest, and a wonderful film in any category. Of the made-for-TV movie heyday, the best would have to be the excellent but unfortunately titled She’s Dressed to Kill (1979). Of course I love the alternate venues, like the old dark baseball stadium in Death on the Diamond or old dark movie studio of The Preview Murder Mystery.
Q6. I know you’d rather not be typecast as “that Lost Skeleton guy” because you have a lot more ideas to offer. Please discuss Steam Wars and what you’re doing with that.
LB: Steam Wars is my epic and it’s coming into its own, starting with the first three books of a graphic novel, the first of which is almost at the printer, followed by action figures–all leading up to a movie (and possible franchise). I’m partnered with Jerrick Ventures on this, which is Jeremy Frommer and Rick Schwartz. SW incorporates everything I love about big action movies, swashbucklers and cliffhangers and involves massive Victorian fighting machines shaped like armored warriors and manned by crews. It’s steampunk, though I was developing it before there was such a term.
Teaser trailer for Steam Wars
Q7. Rumor is that you’ve worked a little with Ray Harryhausen… I’ll tip my hand and admit that I am a big fan of Ray’s. Just because I’m a fan… tell me a little about that experience…
LB: Well, I would never say I worked with Ray (if only!). However just to have his blessing on Trail of the Screaming Forehead, in that we were using traditional stop-motion, was a thrill for me. Hell, hanging with him on several occasions was a thrill. One of my boyhood inspirations and idols, the last true cinema magician. The Cyclops emerging from the cave in 7th Voyage of Sinbad was a defining moment for me. I’m proud to have Trail called a “Ray Harryhausen Presents.”
Q8. Trail of the Screaming Forehead is a departure from the Lost Skeleton genre, but a subtle one. It’s more of a bright Technicolor film, much like some of the color 1950s and early 60s fare. Can you discuss the different artistic “feel” of Trail and what films inspired you on this? I keep thinking of Invaders From Mars for some reason…
LB: Definitely, as well as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Small town residents gradually taken over until the heroes become more isolated and paranoid. I wrote it immediately after the first Lost Skeleton and it just came to me; again, a need to do something quite different but with a similar humor. This one had no “strings showing” though. It looks slick and polished, as though made by different folks in the early 60s. Mike Schlesinger calls it Douglas Sirk meets Body Snatchers or something like that. It definitely has that look. Are you familiar with that great book Still Life, with those ridiculously rich color photos from 1950’s movies? Like that.
I should also mention I’m writing the audio Adventures of Big Dan Frater, with Brian Howe, Dan Conroy and Alison Martin reprising their Screaming Forehead roles in a series of outrageous tales. The great Philip Proctor (Firesign Theater) is narrator. These will be available soon, and ongoing.
(Dr. Film responds: I’m not familiar with Still Life. I suppose I should be.)
Q9. I know you shoot digitally, which is a particular preservation problem. The version of Final Cut Pro that you used to cut Lost Skeleton is now unsupported and obsolete! Do you have any plans to preserve your films so that the master materials are not lost? (I didn’t make a pun about the Lost Skeleton becoming lost, so you’re welcome…)
LB: Thank you for that. No, you know, I really don’t. But I should. Definitely.
Q10. I often get interviewed by people who have no idea or understanding about what I do, and I think they don’t ask questions that are entirely relevant to the point. What question should I have asked that I didn’t ask, or what would you like to answer that I didn’t ask?
LB: I actually really liked these questions because they’re somewhat different than what I’ve gotten before. The only thing that comes to mind is something like “what are you watching now?” which may or may not be of interest. I just finished With Fire and Sword, Jerzy Hoffman’s 1999 epic that wraps up his trilogy set in 17th Century Poland, which I found beautifully entertaining and richly satisfying. It might even edge its way into my top ten favorite movies which changes gradually over time. René Clément’s Les Maudits made it on there not too long ago. Blowup may always be at the top for me.
I get really upset about people showing movies or running video with the wrong screen shape. I’ve been warned that this forum should stay a “math-free” zone, so I won’t mention ASPECT RATIOS and use numbers, but we shouldn’t need them. While I rant about this–and expect me to go on about it–let me interrupt with an aside that’s particularly telling.
I went to a screening of The Quiet Man (1952) a few years ago. Maureen O’Hara was in attendance before and after the film, but she went out to dinner during the showing itself. She said she’d seen the movie enough and didn’t need to see it one more time. I was dismayed to see the picture start with the grand Republic Pictures logo, an eagle over a globe… this time only to say A Republic… (without the Picture.)
You see, the projectionist had decided not to do his homework on this film, and he ran it in widescreen format. If he’d bothered to check, he would have known that in 1954 the industry switched from conventional “Academy-sized” format (almost square, like most tube-TVs), to widescreen (much like your newer flat-screen TVs). The problem is that if you run an older film in widescreen format, you cut off the top and bottom of the image, which is what was done with The Quiet Man…
ALL THE WAY THROUGH…
I found this highly annoying, since it ruined much of the movie’s great photographic composition. I plotted my revenge against this idiot projectionist until it dawned on me that I might have a much more powerful ally. Ms. O’Hara did a nice Q&A session with the audience, and I saw that this is a woman who takes no guff. From anyone. Ever. She’s very nice about it, but whenever someone said something stupid or wrong, she corrected the error.
I wanted the projectionist to be in big trouble for screwing this up (after all, they’d taken my money for the show), so I figured the best thing I could do was to tell Maureen O’Hara about it. I waited until the Q&A was over and went to the reception. Gingerly, I approached her and introduced myself. (Forgive the numbers here… but I am reproducing what I told her…)
“Are you aware that they ran that entire picture at 1.85?” I asked.
Her eyes flashed. “What? That’s not a widescreen picture!”
I was happy that she knew exactly what I meant without explanation. She went on…
“What about the scene when Duke is dragging me across the glen?” she asked.
“You were off the bottom of the screen during the entire shot,” I answered.
“I ruptured a disc on that scene! I’m going to speak to them about this!”
I reported this story to a friend of mine who’s in “the industry,” and he was amazed. This fellow had met O’Hara as well. He had only one question: “What did she do with the bodies?”
The projectionist had decided that they had a wide screen, and he had to fill it. I’ve heard the quote from people before: “I paid for a wide screen, and I’m going to fill it up.”
And you can do that, but you’ll have to stretch, crop, and malign the image so much that any artistic intent of the original filmmakers is completely lost. In this case, the projectionist cropped the image. This annoys me in the extreme.
The problem is that there are several different screen sizes, and they literally do not fit with each other. The rectangles are different shapes. That’s why they call the newer formats “widescreen.”
These are the notable ones:
1) Movies 1894-1954 are generally in what’s called “Academy format,” which is a narrow rectangle slightly wider than it is high. (Yes, film geeks, I’m aware that silent aperture is different, and I project them properly, but that gets a little technical, so don’t bug me.)
2) Movies 1954- adopted a widescreen format that is wider. In America, this is a bit wider than in Europe, so there a European widescreen and an American one.
3) Cinemascope/Panavision (1953-) uses a special photographic process to squeeze a widescreen image into the older Academy format and that yields an even wider screen. (Yes, I know that’s not quite accurate, film geeks… lay off!).
4) Finally in the 2000s, TV got into the act, adopting another screen size that is between the size of American widescreen and European widescreen.
The upshot of this is that we have to mix and match screen sizes all the time. If you run a widescreen movie on a narrow Academy screen (like old TVs), then it doesn’t fit, so you either have to crop off the sides (ick) or “letterbox” it, where we see black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.
These black bars aren’t there because we’re masking off part of your narrow screen, but rather because the narrow screen isn’t wide enough to accommodate the picture. See what I mean here:
The opposite problem is now occurring because we have widescreen TVs that are showing older Academy programs. That, properly shown, would leave black bars at the sides of the image, like this:
Instead, the vast majority of TV owners opt to stretch out the narrow image to fill the black bars, like this:
I HATE THIS! When the picture is stretched out this way, thin people look fat and fat people look enormous. I call it “the egg people,” because everyone has an oblong, egg-shaped head.
Here is a brief animation showing how the image is stretched in your TV to create egg people:
I’ve had people tell me that “you get used to it,” and that they like the screen filled up. Well, I don’t get used to it, it’s wrong, and don’t expect me to get used to something that is wrong. I hate watching movies and sports this way.
I’m telling you all that if you don’t reset your TVs to eliminate the egg people, I’m going to send Maureen O’Hara out to your house. She’ll do it for you.