Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Shocktober 10/31/12

Another Shocktober crawls back in its grave and closes its coffin lid, only to arise again next year.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

This Week's Travel Reading

Of all of the Universal monsters, the Creature from the Black Lagoon has always been my favorite.

Aside from being the coolest looking of the bunch, he also had an organic believability that Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster just didn't. I could believe such an animal existed--and, for however brief a time, I did believe not only that he existed, but that he lived in the lagoon in nearby Humboldt Park. (Well, it was a lagoon, and the water was murky enough to be black...the logic of a 10-year-old.)

The novel pictured above was written for the original movie's premiere in England in 1954 but, for whatever reason, was not published in America until a couple of years ago. It seemed appropriate for the waning days before All Hallow's Eve.

On the Way to Work This Morning

Shocktober 10/30/12

A strange byproduct of the studio system of the golden age of Hollywood was the miscasting of actors in roles they were never meant to play, especially in horror films: Carole Lombard in Supernatural; Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Doctor X; Spencer Tracy in Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.

These aren't necessarily bad films--each is interesting in its own way--but they're all exceedingly odd as well.

Not quite as odd, though, as Lon Chaney Jr. cast as Count Dracula in Son of Dracula.

The role of Dracula had been played at Universal before with formal menace by Bela Lugosi and would be played later with booming Shakespearian authority by John Carradine, and both were still active at the studio, at least in supporting roles. But they chose to cast Chaney anyway, even though he would rather have played the lead role in the remake of his father's greatest hit, Phantom of the Opera.

Universal's casting of Chaney Jr. as the world's most famous vampire makes a slight bit of sense when you consider that, by this point in his career, he'd already played the Wolf Man, Frankenstein and the Mummy. However, the role required a level of suave sophistication that Chaney simply did not possess.

It's a credit to Director Robert Siodmak (his brother Curt wrote the screenplay) and cinematographer George Robinson that, through mood and clever use of effects and sets, Son of Dracula is a successful horror film in spite of Chaney, not because of him.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Shocktober 10/27/12

Tonight on Svengoolie...Werewolf of London!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Shocktober 10/26/12

Frankenweenie started out as a short by then-Disney animator Tim Burton back in 1984. It was the story of a boy named Victor who brings his dead dog back to life. It was cute. It was morbid. It was sweet. It got Tim Burton fired from Disney.

Fast forward nearly three decades. Burton is now one of Hollywood's biggest directors with a smash hit in his recent past (Alice in Wonderland) and a not-so-smash flick this year (Dark Shadows). He's got more than enough juice in Hollywood to revisit his old project and remake and expand it on a big budget.

The result? Roughly the same story, but longer. It looks great--I don't think Burton has ever made a bad-looking film--and I appreciate that the resurrected dog, appropriately named Sparky--acts like a real dog rather than an animated movie dog. But the newer, longer Frankenweenie feels just that: Longer, not necessarily better.

I was hesitant about seeing this movie at all. It is, after all, the story of a beloved pet who dies and whose owner grieves deeply over his loss. When I saw the first preview for this back in April, I burst into tears--olivia had just been diagnosed with kidney failure, and I wasn't sure how much longer she would be around. Now that it's six months later and she's still around and doing pretty well, Seeing Frankenweenie wasn't that much of an issue at all.

If only it had been something more than a short stretched beyond reason.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On the Way to Work This Morning

What exactly is going down (pun intended) in this graveyard?

Shocktober 10/25/12

John Zacherle may well be the most beloved of all horror hosts. He first hosted a horror film show in Philadelphia called Shock Theater (as many such shows were called in the 1950s) as Roland and later starred in New York on Zacherley at Large as, well, Zacherley, and was wildly popular in both places.

Unlike many horror hosts from the era, like LA's Vampira or Chicago's Mad Marvin, there are some tapes of Zac's broadcasts still in existence. They're fun to watch--at times, his bits (especially where he inserted himself into the movies themselves) were obviously thought out well in advance, while many other times he seemed to just be winging it on live TV. Either way, he appeared to be having a very good time, whether cracking jokes in general or poking fun at the movies he was showing in particular.

Zacherley may also be, quite possibly, the oldest surviving horror host. Zac turned 94 in September, bless him--and, according to his website (yes, he's an old ghoul, but he's still in step with the times), will be appearing, as he has numerous times before, at the annual Chiller Theater Expo in New Jersey. This year's Expo happens this coming weekend--just in time for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This Week's Travel Reading

I hadn't been born yet when Mars Attacks cards made their brief appearance in 1962. Produced by Topps, the same folks who've done baseball cards (as well as many pop culture card sets) all these years, the Mars Attacks cards were a hit with kids, but horrified their parents with images of graphic violence--Martians killing people in various gruesome ways (burning, freezing, etc,) and even blowing away a faithful dog! Topps must have suspected something like this would happen--they produced the cards under the pseudonym Bubbles Inc.--and cut distribution of the cards off.

No matter. They became the stuff of legend anyway, feverishly collected and coveted. I didn't hear about them until the 1980s, when I read an article about them in Heavy Metal. I thought the artwork, painted by Norman Saunders based on design work by Bob Powell and Wally Wood, was terrific, but it's beyond me how Topps could not have seen how wildly inappropriate these things were for kids.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Mars Attacks card set, so the book above commemorates that event by reprinting the whole set with notes on their creation and pop-culture impact (including that awful Tim Burton movie), along with sketches by Powell and Wood and cards produced for later reissue sets.

Fun, sick and kinda creepy--perfect for the week before All Hallow's Eve!

Shocktober 10/23/12

Monday, October 22, 2012

Shocktober 10/22/12

"...And introducing Rondo Hatton as the Creeper" reads the screen credit in House of Horrors--an exceedingly odd screen credit at that. This wasn't Rondo Hatton's first film--he'd been acting in films, mostly playing thugs of one sort or another, for the previous decade and a half. It wasn't even Hatton's first appearance as the Creeper--that came in 1944's Pearl of Death, in which Hatton's Creeper menaced Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes.

But House of Horrors was, in fact, Hatton's first starring role in an unlikely movie career that began and continued because he developed acromegaly, a disease of the pituitary gland that enlarges and distorts the extremities. For Hatton, this meant having an unforgettable face that didn't need layers of makeup to be frightening.

Hatton stalked across the screen in several films for Universal from 1944 to 1946, always as a homicidal maniac of one kind or another. (As the Creeper, he was fond of snapping his victim's spines.) Though he wasn't terribly tall--in House of Horrors, he appears to be not much taller than his female costars--and wore a padded costume to make his look bulkier than he really was, his heavily browed face and large, muscular-looking hands gave him a threatening appearance that appealed to Universal--at least until Universal was bought out and the new management found the exploitation of Hatton's disease to be tasteless. (The studio passed off Hatton's last film, The Brute Man--a prequel of sorts to House of Horrors--to Poverty Row outfit PRC for release.)

Unfortunately for Hatton, acromegaly also meant that he couldn't enjoy his fame and popularity for very long. Not long after House of Horror premiered in 1946, Hatton died from a heart attack directly related to his disease at the age of 51. The Brute Man wasn't released until October 1, 1946, nearly 8 months after Hatton's passing.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012


A coworker who did not have his glasses off told me that this apple fritter looked like a broasted chicken. I took my glasses off as well, and damned if he wasn't right.

On the Way To Work This Morning

Shocktober 10/19/12

The House at the End of the Street tries to latch onto a retro-horror vibe, with its mystery surrounding murders in the residence of the title and the mother and daughter (Elisabeth Shue and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively) who move in next door--even that title harkens back to similar-sounding films like Last House on the Left and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. However, despite being competently directed and photographed and featuring solid performances from Lawrence and Shue, its elements are just too familiar to distinguish it from any of the other retro-horror films that have come out in recent years. Even back in the '70s or '80s, this would have been forgettable fare.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thursday Is Bring Your Frankenstein Monster to Work Day

OK, I didn't really "bring" this sad-eyed Frankie to work today--I had him delivered.

I rather like this melancholy monster. He reminds me quite a bit of comic book writer/artist Dick Briefer's Frankenstein, who went from a serious, scary antihero before and during during World War II, to a funny, warm-hearted creature after the war, to a mute, back-breaking beast during the great horror comics boom of the 1950s.

Shocktober 10/18/12

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shocktober 10/15/12

Mr. M&M is all dressed up for Halloween already. This makes it difficult to get chocolate out of him. Not impossible, mind you, but difficult.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

On the Way Home Last Night

Thousands of leaves already on the ground along Campbell Avenue.

Olivia, Six Months Later

It's somewhere north of six a.m. The sun won't be up for another hour or so. I'm semi-awake, but hoping to nod back off again before the alarm goes off at 6:30.

Olivia has other ideas. She walks up alongside my head, sticks her face close to mine, and starts meowing. I roll over and turn my head to the other side. This does not deter her in the least--she pads across the pillow above my head and resumes pleading her case to be fed now. Not when the sun rises, nor when the alarm goes off--NOW.

I throw the top sheet off, toss aside the sleep mask (it gets really bright in my bedroom in the morning) and stumble toward the kitchen. I'm not grumbling, though, as I flip the switch and see that Olivia has cleaned her plate of the previous evening's kibble, and certainly not as I empty a fresh pouch of Friskies Gravy Sensations onto the English salad plate as the furry body at my feet rubs against my legs and purrs so hard that I can hear her all the way up here.

I'm not grumbling because I remember what happened April 13 and know how much worse it can be.

That was the day--Friday the 13th, no less--that I took Olivia to the vet because she was not eating and was losing weight. That was the day the vet told me that it was serious, that Olivia was in kidney failure and had lost about 75% of her kidney function, that Olivia needed to be admitted immediately for emergency IV fluid therapy (she was severely dehydrated) and that we were in for "an uphill battle."

And the vet was right about that. An uphill battle it was. Olivia wound up on that IV in the hospital for a week. During that week, I visited her as often as I could, and she did indeed look and sound better each time, but I remained a nervous wreck. I stopped eating. I lost weight. I cried a lot.

Once Olivia was released from the hospital, she struggled for weeks after. It seemed like every time we got one aspect of the disease under control, another would run wild. Her appetite went up (when I gave up on the prescription foods, which she wouldn't touch, and gave her the Friskies she craved), but so did her phosphorus level. We gave her aluminum hydroxide (Maalox without the calcium) and her phosphorus went down, but her creatinine level went back up. Her appetite continued to waver, and her stimulant dosage was upped to once every 48 hours (from once every 72 hours).

For much of this time, I was just trying to get her from one signpost to another. I wasn't sure she'd make it to my birthday, just about three weeks after her diagnosis. But then she did, so I tried to get her to her one-month diagnosis anniversary, then to Memorial Day, then to each holiday or anniversary thereafter. I felt relieved every time we made it to another signpost, but despaired with each new setback or challenge, most especially with that increase in her creatinine--creatinine levels usually start to rise, in spite of all treatments, when a cat has reached the final stage of the disease--so this latest setback had me more than a little bit freaked out.

That spike in her creatinine happened Memorial Day weekend.

Then, something happened. Something wonderful.

Olivia took a turn--for the better.

With the increase in her appetite stimulant, her eating habits more or less returned to what they were before she became sick. (She still has "bad days" once in a while where she picks at her food and eventually throws up, but they are now fewer and farther between.) In fact, her appetite is so good that we've backed off her stimulant and only give it to her once every three days again (sometimes once every four days, when her chowing down is especially robust).

With the increase in subcutaneous fluids after the rise in creatinine before Memorial Day, her creatinine dropped dramatically (from over 7 to 4.4 in three weeks) and has continued downward ever since. Her calcium level spiked a few weeks ago and remains slightly elevated, but the vet prescribed Metamucil to bring it down. (If that doesn't work, there are other treatments we can try.)

Most important (and delightful) of all, Olivia is back to running around the apartment, chasing her toys with enthusiasm, jumping up and down off the furniture at full speed and hitting the top of the exercycle seat on a straight jump from the floor. (These days, she spends more time in that seat than I do.)

In fact, if I did not have to medicate this cat every morning and every night, I would not know that she's sick at all.

I don't want to get cocky, though. There are still challenges ahead and always will be. When we reach the top of one hill, we'll see another hill after, and another after that. Chronic feline kidney disease doesn't go away. It's permanent. And, ultimately, it's terminal. Either the CKD will kill Olivia, or one of any number of related diseases will. We are holding back the inevitable.

But those are thoughts for another day. Right now, Olivia is head-down in her morning meal (yay!) and will soon be in the bathroom to receive her antacid injection, aluminum hydroxide oral meds and 100CCs of lactated ringers (boo). She'll cry and argue and try to make a dash for it when I put the needle in the scruff of her tortie fur. And tomorrow, the six-month anniversary of her diagnosis, she and I will go through the same routine.

And, with some work and love and just a touch of luck, we'll go through that routine for many more mornings to come.

Shocktober 10/12/12

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

On the Way to Work This Morning

Every Picture Tells a Story 10/1/12

I have no idea why these were arranged thusly on the sidewalk as I came back from brunch at West River Cafe. They just...were.

Shocktober 10/1/12

It begins yet again--my favorite month of the year. Be here for scream-tastic photos every day, plus maybe some essays and scary movie reviews, if time and/or sanity allow.