Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shocktober: Thursday is Bring Your Mego Monsters to Work Day

Since I'm not at work tomorrow--I'll be home most of the day, watching cheap horror films from the 1940s, drinking Red Dog and eating cheese--I've brought in toys most of the week.

Today, I finish with a flourish--a complete set of Mego Monsters. They were released in the mid-1970s, when I was a child enamored with horror films--I watched "Creature Features" on WGN every Saturday night (or Friday, if it was bumped up a day for some reason) and read Famous Monsters of Filmland with the fervor of a religious convert.

My toys reflected my passion. Sure, I had GI Joes, including the Talking GI Joe who was never quite the same after he was accidentally dropped in a bathtub full of water, and I had a respectable number of Mego superheroes. But my shelves were lined with Aurora Glow-in-the-Dark model kits, and my toybox, though full of many different action figures, always had the Monsters, eyes and hands green in the gloom of my tiny bedroom, on top.

I loved the Frankenstein Monster for his stern expression, even if he does look a bit like James Garner. (The Rockford Files was a hit for NBC at the time--maybe somebody at Mego was a fan?) The Mummy looked gaunt yet poewerful, and the lack of pupils in his eyes made him all the more intimidating. I never had Dracula as a kid--even then, I thought his facial expression was more goofy than scary, and his unitard, intended to give the impression of a regal count, instead made him look more like a ballet dancer.

My favorite, though, was the Wolfman. He didn't look like a guy with a facial hair problem--he looked like a wolf that had taken human form. His teeth shined, his eyes blazed away in the dark, and instead of hands, like the other Mego Monsters, the wolfman had claws instead of hands. He not only looked fully capable of dismembering anyone unlucky enough to run across him, but looked like he'd actually enjoy the subsequent bloodshed.

I'm fond of this figure for another, more personal reason: Since I gave away most of my childhood toys to a family with seven kids next door (Mom maintains to this day that I did this voluntarily; Mom is wrong), I lost my Mego Wolfman long ago. However, some years back, my best friend from childhood needed cash and wanted to sell off several of the toys he still had left over, including a couple of GI Joes in reasonable shape...and a Mego Wolfman. He was missing the shirt off his back (faux fur and all), so I had to track one down. (I found one in, of all places, Rockford, where I was wandering through a second-hand book/video shop that also had toys in a glass case. The shirt for the Wolfman was on a Planet of the Apes Zira figure, and the owner wouldn't sell me the shirt alone--had to buy Zira as well. Oh well. The Wolfman got his top on, even if Zira is nekkid to this day.)

So, technically speaking, this Wolfman really is a toy I played with as a child. That makes him extra special, although the Mummy has added significance as well--he was my first purchase on eBay. (There have been many since, but you never forget your first time, do you?)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Shocktober: Hidden Horrors, Part 2

I promised more less-than-well-known monster movie picks. Now? I deliver.

Strangler of the Swamp (1946). Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC for short) was the lowest of the low for movie studios on Hollywood's Poverty Row in the 1940s--you only worked there if you were desperate. Director Frank Wisbar must have been, because he made more than one movie for PRC after emigrating from Germany in 1939. This, though, is his best effort, a remake of one of his earlier films. A man who was lynched for a murder he didn't commit (Charles Middleton, best known for playing Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon serials) comes back to haunt and exact revenge not only on the men responsible, but their descendants as well, including the granddaughter (former Miss America Rosemary LaPlanche) of one of the men. The pacing is leisurely and the romance between the granddaughter and another descendant (future director Blake Edwards) is stale, but the scenes with the ghost, who is always shown as a soft-focus wraith with a commanding voice, are riveting and memorable.

The Werewolf (1956). A successful stab at combining traditional horror and '50s-style sci-fi: An auto accident victim (Steven Ritch) is irradiated by a couple of mad-but-well-intentioned scientists and becomes a hairy, snarling beast. The budget is low, but the werewolf makeup is seriously scary.

Quatermass and the Pit (1967). Writer Nigel Kneale wrote four sci-fi serials for British TV featuring rocket scientist Professor Bernard Quatermass, who investigated and defended against various alien invasions. Three of them were adapted for the big screen by Hammer Studios, with the first two filmed in black & white and starring American actor Brian Donlevy as the gruff, irracible Quatermass. The third one, though, is in color and stars Andrew Keir as the professor, this time checking into what looks like a spaceship full of grasshopper-like monsters buried in the London underground. Is it a hoax perpetuated by the Nazis during World War II? Or a remnant of an invasion that's been hidden for millions of years, waiting patiently for someone to find it and complete the original mission? Some of the special effects are lousy (the scenes of the grasshoper alien things marching across the surface of Mars usually provoke laughter), but many, many other moments are tense and terrifying. One of Hammer's best, released in the U.S. under the title Five Million Years to Earth (which just meant that it got inevitably confused with the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion epic, 20 Million Miles to Earth).

Witchfinder General (1968). A historical horror starring Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, a witch hunter in England during the reign of Oliver Cromwell. Hopkins is much more interested in making money and getting laid than finding any actual witches, but is perfectly willing to torture and execute anyone who isn't willing to go along with him. Price is often dismissed (the way many of the great horror film actors are) as overly theatrical, but his performance here is restrained, subtle and menacing--arguably his finest. (Because Price had just finished a run of Roger Corman-directed adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories, the American distributor of Witchfinder General renamed it Conquerer Worm and had Price add a voiceover of the poem--my favorite Poe verse--for the beginning of the movie.)

I, Monster (1970). Hammer's chief competition in Great Britain was Amicus, a studio that specialized in horror anthology movies like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors and the House That Dripped Blood, frequently borrowing Hammer stars like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. This was their adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's oft-filmed novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. For some odd reason, though, they changed the names of lead characters to Dr. Marlowe and Mr. Blake (suddenly, all the English majors sit up straight) and the story. Maybe that's why not many people remember this more-or-less faithful adaptation of Stevenson's story, even though it stars Lee as the doctor who unwisely experiments on himself and unleashes a fiend, and Cushing as his friend. Whatever you want to call it, it's an entertaining version of the classic tale, with Lee doing a great job in both roles, that stands up well against the many, many renditions before or since.

Shocktober: Wednesday is Bring Your Vampire Slayer to Work Day

Buffy obvious heard about all the fanged activity on and around my desk the past week and came in to get things under control as only she can--by kicking serious vampire ass. And she's come fully armed with a crossbow to take down any bloodsuckers she encounters.

Unfortunately, no one told Ms. Summers that Lon Chaney wasn't a real nosferatu in the long-lost London After Midnight, but was only pretending to be a vampire in order to trap a killer. So he was a good guy. Really.

Sucks to be you, Lon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shocktober: Tuesday is Bring Your (Faux) Vampire to Work Day

For a certain generation that grew up in Chicago, the sight of any representation of silent film star Lon Chaney dressed as the Vampire (also known as "The Man in the Beaver Hat") from the Tod Browning-directed 1927 movie London After Midnight is enough to make fear finger their ribs and squeeze none too gently.

The reason is simple, if somewhat ironic: TV station WGN (then local, now a cable powerhouse) used a line drawing of Chaney's Vampire as the "host" for horror-movie show, "Creature Features," even though the film was never shown on their weekly monster showcase because it was--and, sadly, still is--lost. (No print is known to exist, and the hopes of finding one diminish with each passing year.)

Still, the image of Chaney with bat-wing cloak spread and mouth filled of razor-edged fangs was potent enough to employ, divorced of relevant context, to do what the Chaney/Browning film no doubt did: Scare the daylights out of little kids, even though Chaney wasn't playing a "real" vampire, but a detective pretending to be a vampire in order to capture a murderer. (Roughly the same ploy was used in Browning's Mark of the Vampire (1935), with the part split in two--Lionel Barrymore played the detective, while Bela Lugosi played the fake vampire, a role he was not unfamiliar with.)

Perhaps it's a sign of my age, though, that no one at work recognized the figure on my desk as The Man in the Beaver Hat. One co-worker thought he was Mr. Hyde; another assumed him to be The Penguin from Batman Returns (a movie that makes multiple references, both overt and subtle, to silent horror cinema). No one knew him for what he was: an eight-year old's worst nightmare.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shocktober: Hidden Horrors

At this festive time of year, it's customary to thumb through one's video collection and bring out the, the classics of the horror and sci-fi genres for one's viewing pleasure.

It's easy to lean toward the more popular titles--your Boris Karloff Frankenstein, your Bela Lugosi Dracula, your Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man or, if your tastes run more toward the modern than the monochromatic, your Freddys, Jasons, Michaels and Jigsaws.

But there are plenty of lesser-known (at least to average fans, if not aficianatos), yet eminently worthy, monster movies to make your run-up to All Hallow's Eve even more creepy. Here are a few suggestions now--I'll have a few more later.

The Old Dark House (1932). The least known of the horror films from Universal's golden age (1931-1936), even though it has a terrific cast--Melvyn Douglas, Ramond Massey, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, Ernest Thesiger and Boris Karloff (who gets top billing, even though he has only a small supporting role)--and James Whale as director. Not only is it the best representative of its subgenre, the "Creepy Old House Stalked by a Madman/Killer" movie, but in terms of mood created through simple yet detailed sets, artfully placed lighting and shadows (some painted on the set walls) and use of sound (no musical score, but plenty of creaks, groans and howling winds), this may well be Whale's best directing job--and the perfect movie for a dark and stormy night.

Fiend Without a Face (1958). Set on the Canada/U.S. border, this sci-fi flick about changing thoughts into matter gets off to a slow start, but be patient--once the monsters show up, you won't be able to forget them, no matter how hard you try. They're stop-motion animated brains! That fly across the room at their intended victims! And strangle them with dangling spinal cords! Then suck out the victim's brain! It's brain-on-brain crime! Aaaaaaah!

The Flesh and the Fiends (1959). Yet another excursion into Victorian-era body-snatching territory (after The Body Snatcher and Corridors of Blood), but with much period detail, great performances by Peter Cushing (as the doctor who receives the curiously fresh corpses) and Donald Pleasance (as one of the particularly nasty "ressurectionists"), surprising amounts of nudity and violence (for a film made in Britain in 1959, at least) and an alarming willingness to dispatch major characters well before the movie is anywhere near over, adding to the viewer's already substantial discomfort level.

Scream of Fear (1961). A young woman in a wheelchair (Susan Strasberg) visits her father's villa in France, where she meets her stepmother (Ann Todd), the family's hunky chauffer (Ronald Lewis) and the local doctor (Christopher Lee). But where's her father? "Away on business," she's told. So why does Dad--looking very, very dead--keep popping up all over the house? Is he really dead? Is the young lady going crazy? Will you figure out the multiple-twist ending? An unusual, monster-free black & white psychological thriller from Hammer, the studio that brought you Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula in blood-red color.

Count Dracula (1977). Bram Stoker's novel has been filmed numerous times, with varying degrees of fealty to the source material. While this version, shot for the BBC on film and videotape, tweaks the story as well--Mina and Lucy are now sisters, and Louis Jourdan doesn't look a thing like the vampire Stoker describes (he's more of a Bela Lugosi-type Dracula)--this is still the most accurate adaptation of the novel, incorporating characters (like Quincy Holmwood) and scenes (like Dracula feeding infants to his vampire brides) that most versions leave out. Plus, Jourdan makes a suave, imposing bloodsucker.

Dog Soldiers (2002). Good werewolf movies have been few and far between, but here's the best one in recent years. Writer/director Neil Marshall (whose next film, The Descent, was a huge hit, while his latest release, Doomsday, was not) sets his story in the Scottish wilderness, with a platoon of British soldiers (led by Sean Pertwee) comes face-to-furry-face with a pack of werewolves. The budget is low, but Marshall gets the most out of it, playing things for laughs and action as much as scares, and wisely chooses to avoid using digital effects for his lycanthropes, giving them a tactile believability that all too many modern movie monsters lack. It's a shame that Dog Soldiers got unceremoniously dumped onto the video market here in the U.S.--I bought my copy from the discount bin at my neighborhood Walgreens. This would have been a kick to see on the silver screen.

Shocktober: Friday is Bring Your Vampire to Work Day

Or, at least it is on this Friday before Halloween, when Bela Lugosi, Jonathan Frid and Christopher Lee are gracing my workspace with their fiendish presence. Coworkers have had little trouble recognizing the two actors who played Dracula on the bir screen, but have struggled to identify Barnabas Collins in the middle--perhaps because Dark Shadows went off the air before most of them were even born. (Yes, I'm old.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Many Thanks...

...for all the condolences and hugs (real and virtual) over the passing of Ms. Christopher, including comments, emails, phone calls and text messages from both the Left and Right Coasts and many points in between, and blog tributes from Green Dreams and Superbadfriend.

I think the old bird would have been quite surprised at the number of lives she touched. Then again, she probably would have hidden under the couch until all of you were gone.

Friday, October 17, 2008

It May Be a Sad, Gloomy Friday...

...but it's still Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day, and today attracted quite a crowd. (Perhaps my coworkers sensed I needed the emotional boost.)

Hence, we have King Kong (and Fay Wray, of course) surrounded by various Marvel MiniMates (Spider-Man, Iron Man, Iron Monger, Mysterio, Bruce Banner and the Hulk); a small, diecast Wolverine; a giant Wolverine head (just barely visible behind Kong's head); and Admiral Akbar, who seems to be desperately trying to tell Kong "It's a trap!" The 8th Wonder of the World, however, doesn't appear to be listening.

Swimming Underwater

That's what it's felt like the past couple of days.

After rallying somewhat over the weekend with her new, improved meds, Ms. Christopher declined suddenly and rapidly starting Tuesday, when she was unsteady on her feet (never a good sign for a cat, one of the most surefooted creatures on Earth) and not inclined to eat, through Wednesday night, when I coaxed her to chow down on some Meow Mix lobster & crab combo even though she was having trouble walking, through Thursday morning, when I put her down on the floor (after keeping watch over her all night and getting not a wink of sleep) and watching her try to stand, cry out in pain and sit back down.

Superbadfriend told me a few days ago that Christopher would let me know when the time had come. She was right.

I kept her comfortable for the remaining hours before dawn, made the earliest appointment I could with the vet (who was as heartbroken as I was at this sad, sudden turn of events) and got her there by cab as quickly as possible (rush-hour traffic nothwithstanding). The vet made a brief examination, determined that Christopher's liver had finally given out and did the only thing left that we could do for her--end her suffering.

I would later take Chris down to Mom's house and, with my brother's help, lay her to rest, with one of her favorite catnip toys tucked between her paws, in the backyard, just a few feet away from Gray Cat (my Russian Blue who made it to 20 years old before having to be put down in 1997), Monkey (Mom's cat who passed last year) and several other family pets. I went to work for a few hours--sick as it sounds, the distraction was welcome--and finally, regretfully returned La Casa del Terror, which still smelled strongly of sick cat on a day that was too cool for open windows.

Olivia ran up to me and begged for food and attention, but then started searching the apartment for Christopher, looking under the bed and couch (two of Chris's favorite hiding places), around corners, in the litter pan. The two cats didn't like each other much, but they'd been roommates for nearly four years and Li'L O couldn't understand why the big fluffball wasn't there. "She's not coming back," I explained to her as calmly as I could through tears. "It's just you and me for now." And there were phone calls and messages from friends from coast to coast, grieving along with me.

The hardest part, though, was the minutes spent in the examination room, comforting my poor, dying Girlish Girl--my friend who'd blessed my life with unconditional love for 13 of her 15 years--while the vet and her assistant administered the muscle relaxant to ease her pain and the final injection to end it. The whole time, the vet, the assistant and I stroked Christopher's fur, telling her what a good, sweet kitty she was, even well after she couldn't hear or feel us anymore.

And so she was, as anyone who ever met her--and quite a few who didn't--knew well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Way Over Yonder

Lyrics by Carole King

Way over yonder is a place that I know
Where I can see shelter from hunger and cold
And the sweet-tastin' good life is so easily found
Way over yonder, that's where I'm bound

I know when I get there, the first thing I'll see
Is the sun shining golden, shining right down on me
Then trouble's gonna lose me, worry leave me behind
And I'll stand up proudly in a true peace of mind

Way over yonder is a place I have seen
It's a garden of wisdom from some long ago dream

Maybe tomorrow I'll find my way
To the land where the honey runs in rivers each day
And the sweet-tastin' good life is so easily found
Way over yonder, that's where I'm bound
Way over yonder, that's where I'm bound

At just before nine this morning, a sweet old bird flew home.

My thanks to everyone who offered prayers and best wishes for Ms. Christopher--we both appreciated it.

Ms. Christopher

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sick Old Bird Update #6

The appointment with the vet Saturday morning did not go well.

Due to vomiting spells Thursday and Friday nights, Ms. Christopher lost even more weight--she's now down to 7.5 pounds. Worse, she'd been very lethargic Friday night, not wanting to eat or socialize or do anything but sit in one spot and stare into the distance. It looked like she was getting ready to check out. It scared me. I cried. A lot.

Worse (yes, it does get worse before it gets better), when the vet palpated Christopher's abdomen, she felt a mass she hadn't felt previously (probably because Chris weighed more the last time the vet palpated her). A mass usually translates to a tumor. A growth. Cancer. But right now, that's not even her biggest problem. She's in no shape for surgery or chemo--she needs to gain weight or, at the bare minimum, stop losing it.

The vet and I discussed medications. The vomiting and loose bowel movements were costing her any gains in weight or nutrition, so the vet changed her antibiotic to an antidiarrheal and added and antivomiting tablet to the mix. I also mentioned that she seemed better after receiving steriod shots, so the vet assigned a twice-a-day steriod (which, as a side benefit, also stimulates appetite and thirst).

Lastly, the vet was very concerned with Chris's hydration, so she asked if I'd be comfortable giving subcutaneous fluids at home--in other words, hooking Chris up to an IV every other day. I said I'd have no problem with it and did a successful test run on the examination table.

I took Chris home by cab, let her loose in the living room of La Casa del Terror and laid down to cry for a while.

I had previously arranged to go see Quarantine with Dee and JB (Christopher's original owner), so I got up, showered off and gladly embraced the distraction. After the movie (which is really good in a "If Cloverfield had been about zombies instead of a giant fucking monster" kind of way) and a fine dinner at the Daily Bar & Grill, I went home, gave Chris her evening meds and syringe of stinky sick kitty food and settled in for Earth vs. the Flying Saucers on Svengoolie.

I cried some more, but my tears were slowed a bit by Chris herself--she still wasn't inclined to eat much on her own, but her bowel movements had steadied out (looking more like real poop instead of pure liquid), she didn't throw up at all (and hasn't since Friday night), and, most importantly, I think, she was much more alert and active than she'd been the previous couple of days. She was walking around the apartment more and came over to jump in my lap, where she stayed for quite some time.

Sunday morning, I got up early to feed both kitties and medicate Chris, and afterward I brought Chris back to bed with me. She curled up under my left arm, purring loudly and smiling noticably. She stayed only for an hour before jumping down from the bed, but for that hour she was the Christopher I knew and loved so much, not the shambling ghost her illness had made her. I still cried, and really had a hard time holding it together at Mom's house last night (her cats, sensing my emotions, all took turns spending time with me, inadvertently making things that much worse). Back at La Casa, though, Chris was still alert, pooping closer to normal and not tossing her kitty cookies.

Even better, she made more of an effort to eat, and returned to the bowl several times to nibble a little more. If nothing else, she's acting more like her normal self for the moment--and for the moment, I'll take it.

This morning, after feeding and medicating, I gave Christopher her first subcutaneous fluid dose, with the patient sitting on a blanket atop a couple of storage containers and the IV hanging from the coat rack. It's really pretty easy and entirely painless to her:

1. Pinch the skin on the back to form a tent.

2. Insert the needle at a 45-degree downward angle (so as to not punch through the skin or accidentally hit bone or muscle).

3. Adjust the needle to be sure it's all the way in.

4. Start the fluid flowing and make sure the cat sits still during the procedure.

All pretty straightforward--except for the one point I forgot to check off my list:

5. Make sure your other, younger, more rambunctious cat is secured in another room so she can't "assist" during the procedure.


Just after I'd unlocked the fluid flow control and started the hydration process, Olivia grabbed the dangling line and tried to run off with it. After I yelled something suitably awful at her and chased her away, I brought the line up out of her reach and had to reinsert the needle (it had come loose enough to send a couple tablespoons of fluid down Christopher's back and onto the comfy blanket). Fortunately, we were very early in the process, so I was able to get the rest of the fluid into Chris without incident.

When I left La Casa this morning, I made a point of petting both kitties on my way out the door, but especially my sick old bird. She's being so good, trying so hard. Neither of us is ready to give up yet. So we won't.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Shocktober: Squeak for Your Treats!

At lunchtime today, I snuck outside to enjoy some crisp autumn air and the buzz and hustle that is downtown Chicago. I needed to get out of the office and let my eyes adjust, for but a few fleeting moments, to the wonder that is natural light.

This didn't last long, though, for near my workplace, where an empty storefront (formerly occupied by an "express" version of one of those gargantuan office supply stores) had stood, now a Halloween-themed outlet beckoned. I didn't bother with even token resistance.

It turned out to be more of a costume shop than a tchotchke place--great if you wanted to dress up like Michael Myers, Princess Lea (Slave Girl version), a saucy witch or a naughty nurse, not so much if you just wanted another pumpkin or skeleton for your casa (like I don't have enough of those already). Aside from a really cool, really affordable Guy Fawkes mask, there wasn't much there to hold my interest.

Of the many costumes on display, only one truly perplexed and appauled me: The Giant Rat costume.

Can someone--anyone--explain the appeal of this costume to me? Is there a child out there anywhere who would request or willingly submit to being dressed as an enormous rodent (and not of the Mickey Mouse or Ratatouille varieties)? Is there a parent out there anywhere who would think this is "cute" or "funny," as opposed to, say, "guaranteed to be brought up repeatedly in expensive therapy sessions in about 15-20 years"? Why not just dress the kid in a t-shirt with 'KICK MY ASS, PLEASE" in big block letters across the chest? Even if I hadn't recently had a bad experience with a rat, this would seem like a bad idea.

I left without buying anything, but scarred nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Shocktober: Boris Karloff

Boris Karloff (born William Henry Pratt in London in 1887) was 44 years old (by sheer coincidence, the same age I'm at now) and had been working in Hollywood for more than a decade in supporting roles when he seemingly came out of nowhere and gave the performance of a lifetime as the Monster in director James Whale's version of Frankenstein in 1931. From that point on, he starred almost exclusively in horror films, working steadily until his death in 1969.

It's possible--probably, even--that because Karloff had so many lean years, he took on so many acting jobs, even after he was famous, because he didn't want to be caught short if hard times befell him again. Consequently, he made a lot of movies that were mediocre at best. However, he made quite a few films beyond his hits at Universal Studios (the first three Frankenstein movies, The Mummy, The Old Dark House, etc.) that are certainly worth a look.

Here are a few you may not have heard of, but might well enjoy:

The Ghoul (1933). Karloff's first film in his native England was this awkward plot mashup of The Mummy and The Old Dark House, in which he plays an dying archeologist (or, as another, less charitable character puts it, a "robber of graves") who orders his butler to bury a valuable, supposedly mystical jewel with him so he can rise from the dead. When the jewel goes missing after relatives and various hangers-on gather at his spooky mansion for the reading of the will, Karloff rises from the dead anyway, stalking the hallways in search of the stolen artifact. The plot may creak, but the moody visuals create the properly creepy atmosphere (especially the rising-from-the-grave scene), Karloff's makeup is suitably gruesome and the supporting cast (including Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Richardson and Ernest Thesiger) is unusually strong for such a low-budget effort.

The Black Room (1935). Karloff must have relished the opportunity to star in a historical gothic drama that not only allowed him to give three distinct performances--as en evil, lecherous baron, the baron's kindly twin brother, and the evil baron impersonating the kindly twin--but also didn't require him to be buried under gallons of makeup. The plot may be predictable (once you hear the legend of the Black Room early on, you pretty much know where this is going), but Karloff's performances more than make up for it.

The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936). In one of the earliest of Karloff's many, many mad scientist roles, he plays a doctor experimenting with transferring one person's mind into another person's body, which makes the movie's title a delightfully subtle pun (too subtle for some distributors, who tagged it with misleading monikers like Doctor Maniac and The Man Who Lived Again).

The Walking Dead (1936). In the 1930s, Warner Bros. specialized in gangster dramas, not horror films, which may explain this weird hybrid, in which Karloff plays a low-level hood framed and executed for a murder he didn't commit, but brought back from the dead by a less-mad-than-usual scientist (Edmund Gwenn). Karloff then haunts the thugs who did him wrong, causing them die without ever laying a cold, clammy hand on them. Even though it's obviously intended as a B-movie, it's got an A-list director (Michael Curtiz, who later helmed The Adventures of Robin Hood and Casablanca, among many others) and is made with an usual amount of care for a supposedly disposable product.

The Body Snatcher (1945). Producer Val Lewton was charged by executives at movie studio RKO with making a series of inexpensive horror films with exploitive titles to compete with Universal's popular line of fright features. Lewton delivered, turning out nine carefully crafted films that horror fans generally consider superior to the Universal movies they were designed to compete against. Karloff starred in three of these films for Lewton (the other two were Isle of the Dead and Bedlam), but The Body Snatcher, based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, was the first and best of the three. He plays a coachman who steals bodies for a doctor (Henry Daniell) to perform medical experiments on, sometimes not bothering to wait until the individuals are actually dead yet. There are lots of scary moments throughout, but the ending, in which Karloff's corpse haunts Daniell, is especially nightmarish.

Corridors of Blood (1958). Another take of the same turf as The Body Snatcher, this time with Karloff as the noble-minded doctor performing experiments in anesthesia (usually on himself, which leads to addiction) and Christopher Lee as a blackmailing, graverobbing killer. This was one of two movies Karloff made in England that year (the other was The Haunted Strangler), and both feature quality late-career performances by the Master of Menace.

Sick Old Bird Update #5

The appetite stimulant the vet prescribed seems to be having some effect--Ms. Christopher still isn't eating much when she puts her head in the bowl and seem to still be having some difficulty chewing, but she's going back to the bowl with greater frequency (even after I shoot a syringe of food down her throat) as well as spending more time at the water dish. She's even gone back to batting the water dish with her paw to get the water moving before she drinks it. And last night, she had a firm bowel movement for the first time in at least a week. Who knew I could get so excited about cat shit?

I'd feel more confident if she were eating more on her own, if her strength were to return (I have to lift her to the bed at night) and if her litter pan deposits stayed solid (her second one last night was loose again...dammit). But we're hanging in there. Thanks again for all the good wishes and prayers. Let's hope that, when I take her back to the vet Saturday, she's put on some weight--the vet and I would both feel better.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

One Brief, Not-So-Shining Moment

Remember a few days ago, when I briefly mentioned that the Cubs and the White Sox were in the post-season in the same year for the first time since 1906? When I wrote that, I didn't know how much emphasis would be placed on the word "briefly."

The Cubs, despite having the best record in the National League, were swept out of the playoffs by the Dodgers, who had the worst record of any team in the playoffs this year. That doesn't make them bad, obviously--in fact, for the last month of the season, they were the hottest team in either league, and the Cubs had the misfortune of encountering them when they were still tearing the cover off the ball. The Cubs also suffered from a lack of support from players who'd been money all year, like Ryan Dempster, who'd won 17 games and had been downright dominant at Wrigley Field; or Alfonso Soriano, who vanished into vapor for the second post-season in a row; and Aramis Ramirez, who'd driven in key runs all year, only leave his bat at home come October.

(In the past, I've accused Ramirez of not being a clutch hitter, of being a guy who collected most of his hits and RBI when it didn't matter. This year, I was prepared to eat my words with a touch of salt and a dash of Trappey's Louisiana Hot Sauce--until Ramirez demonstrated that he'd saved up his choking for the worst occasion possible.)

The White Sox, on the other hand, had to scratch and claw to get into the playoffs, overcoming injuries, drama and the general bitchiness of their manager, Ozzie Guillen, to win the last game of the season, forcing them to play and win a makeup game (which is nothing like makeup sex, though oddly satisfying in its own way) with the Tigers, forcing them to play and win a tiebreaker game with the Twins.

After all that, winning in the playoffs would have been gravy. Unfortunately, they ran into the surpise team of the year, the Tampa Bay Rays, who'd never even finished over .500 in their 11-year existence, much less made the playoffs. The Sox didn't go nearly as meekly as the Cubs, winning one game before finally succumbing in the 4th game of the series.

But now a playoff season that had visions of Red Line rivalries dancing in the besotted heads of fans on both the North and South Sides has ended not with a bang, nor even a whimper, but with sullen silence.

Oh well. The Bears are playing now and leading their weak division, and the Blackhawks start their season this coming Saturday night--the game will even be on WGN, marking their first regular-season appearance on local broadcast TV in decades.

It's not much consolation as the baseball playoffs continue without our fine city's participation, but as the chill of fall settles in and the days grow shorter and darker, we'll take whatever consolation we can get.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sick Old Bird Update #4

I took her to the appointment with the vet Saturday morning, but this time the news wasn't so rosy.

She'd lost more weight--nearly a pound since the last visit two weeks ago--and blood tests showed that she's slightly anemic and still has elevated liver values. It wasn't all bad--her temperature is normal, her mouth has healed fine, and the vet could feel no swelling in her throat or abdomen.

Honestly? The vet isn't sure what the problem is. If her liver were really going downhill, Christopher would be in much worse shape than she is. But she needs to start eating pronto, so the vet prescribed an appetite stimulant along with an antibiotic in case there's inflammation in the jaw preventing her from chewing properly.

And? I need to get at least half a can of the special food into her a day. That means lots more time spent with the syringe. And I get to stuff pills into her. Score!

When I got home Saturday, I cried. A lot. I had so hoped that Chris had turned the corner and was headed in the right direction. When I got up Sunday morning, though, my resolve had reasserted itself. This week will need to be about turning Chris around. Stop the weight loss. Eliminate the anemia. Get over the hump, then leave the hump in our dust.

There's no thought of giving up here--not from me, and not from the lady herself.

We go back to the vet again this Saturday. Any prayers offered in the meantime will be appreciated.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

(Text) Message in a Bottle

The Chicago City Council is proposing to ban text messaging while driving.

This seems like common sense--you can't drive very effectively if you're not even looking at the road, and you shouldn't be endangering pedestrians and other drivers just so you can tell your BFF "LOL!"

On the other hand, why is the city council bothering to consider, much less pass, such a law when the last "distracted driver" law they passed--banning talking on cell phones while driving unless a hands-free device is used--is barely enforced? I see dozens of drivers every day who yak on their cells while behind the wheel and have even seen police officers look directly at them as they drive by, oblivious to everyone and everything except the voice on the other end of the line.

If Chicago's finest haven't the capability or will to arrest drivers for the law that already exists, what makes the City Council think that they'll make even a token effort to enforce this proposed new law? Hell, I'd be happy if the cops in this city busted drivers for the more basic stuff that endangers my pedestrian ass every day, like the lack of turn signal usage (it's not optional, kids) or lack of attention paid to stop signs. (This morning, I saw three cars in a row cruise through a stop sign at a busy intersection like the sign wasn't even there--think they'd have tried that shit with Officer Friendly sitting at the corner with a camara, a radar gun and a desire to bust anyone not following the strictest letter of the law?)

Welcome to...SHOCKTOBER!

This is my month.

You are, of course, invited to share it with me. You know I'm not greedy like that. There's more than enough Shocktober to go around.

There will be the usual updates during Shocktober--about my state of mind and heart, about Ms. Christopher's health, about sports (how could I not have at least some small comment about the fact that both the Cubs and the White Sox are playing in the postseason in the same year for the first time since they faced each other in the World Series in 1906?), about the weather, know, the usual babble.

But I'll also be writing more than usual about horror movies, dancing skeletons, glowing pumpkins--all the things that make this month so much fun.

Shocktober got off to a rousing start this a.m. at La Casa del Terror, where the recouperating Ms. Chris, after nibbling at some Friskies and having a deep drink from the same water dish she's sipped from for the past 15 years, suddenly jumped off of what's left of the couch, ran across the livingroom and caught, killed and ate (not sure it was exactly in that order) an insect (don't ask me what kind--she ate it too quickly) on the floor before the TV--her tribute to Renfield, perhaps?

Whatever the case, I took it as a good omen for Shocktober. May the rest of the month be so lively.