Sunday, September 25, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 361

The Date: September 25

The Movie: The Vault of Horror (1972)

What Is It?: Amicus’s second portmanteau to mine classic E.C. Comics for big-screen fodder isn’t quite as consistent as Tales from the Crypt, and the vampire makeup (a handful of joke-shop fangs) in “Midnight Mess” is laughable, but this is still a quality collection of spook stories. Best of the bunch is “Drawn and Quartered”, one of E.C.’s best stories and one of the best portmanteau episodes in the history of portmanteaus.

Why Today?: Today is Comic Book Day.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: 'The Rolling Stones in Mono'

Keith Richards is a pretty vocal mono purist, so it must have galled him that The Rolling Stones had been inconsistently represented in his preferred format since the end of its dominance in the late sixties. Their US debut, the UK and US editions of Out of Our Heads, bits and pieces of a few US hodgepodges, and ABKCO’s triple-threat Singles Collection were the only ways to hear the Stones in mono during the CD age. This was a dire situation, because their cro-mag gang rock relied so much on its sonic solidarity. The Stones bled an alluringly swampy murk in which Keith’s guitar was rarely discernible from Brian’s, and Bill’s bass throbbed through their wall of sound as if his band mates had hid his amp under the floorboards. Stereo dilutes that murk, violates its magic. 

That magic is finally back in full frenzy. The 16-disc Rolling Stones in Mono box debuts the complete sixties-catalogue in mono on CD, and for the first time since these albums were released five decades ago, vinyl (the vinyl box includes a coupon for digital downloads of the full set).

Although the new LPs and CDs were remastered using the same Direct Stream Digital process as ABKCO’s excellent stereo SACDs released in 2002, they now sound warmer, offering fresh details even among the mono mixes that managed to come out during the CD age. “19th Nervous Breakdown” retains its usual power but also rings with a newfound clarity on the Stray Cats comp, which sweeps up all the non-album tracks.

Alternative soundscapes are even more apparent on the LPs that have long only been available in stereo.  Between the Buttons abounds with differences: the extended ending of Yesterdays Papers”, Keith’s more up-front grunge guitar in a chest-thumping mix of Connection”, and the weirder echo effects and unique theremin squeals in “Please Go Home”. On Flowers, Mick’s improvisations are wilder through the fade of “Ride on, Baby”. The majority of fans who always found Their Satanic Majesties Request to be a cluttered mess will probably dig the fact that details in tracks such as “Citadel” and “The Lantern” are less pronounced in mono. Satanic is the point where I really start to prefer the stereo mixes, and I miss the prominent Mellotron sax in the former and Keith’s absurdly loud lead guitar in the latter…but then again, my opinions on this particular album are not very conventional (in his liner notes, David Fricke even goes so far as to say that Satanic “is no one’s favorite Stones album of the 1960s”… beg to differ with you, Frickey Boy!). With the exception of “Sympathy for the Devil”, Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed were never even given dedicated mono mixes; they appear as fold downs in this set. However, when it comes to early R&B monsters like 12x5 and Rolling Stones Now!, and even more progressive pre-Satanic items such as Between the Buttons and Aftermath, the UK edition of which had been desecrated with a particularly anemic stereo mix, there’s less room for debate. It’s mono all the way.

My only knock against The Rolling Stones in Mono is the packaging. The images on the record sleeves are poor digital reproductions, completely lacking the detail and texture of the originals. All references to Decca and London have been scrubbed from them, and in a stranger move, all times have been eliminated from the inauthentically re-keyed text on the back covers. There’s no lenticular photo on Satanic Majesties, nor does it contain that groovy inner sleeve adorned with pink clouds (Let It Bleed is the only album that has a printed inner sleeve). For some reason, Satanic’s front and back cover images are also blown up to bizarre dimensions. The skinny, softcover booklet has the flimsy feel of an oversized CD booklet. Fortunately, the same cannot be said of the heavy, super-quiet vinyl, and ultimately, the sounds are where its at with The Rolling Stones in Mono, and these sounds will make you run like a cat in a thunderstorm, howl at yer ma in the drivin’ rain, and achieve complete satisfaction.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 360

The Date: September 24

The Movie: The Dark Crystal (1982)

What Is It?: Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s puppet fantasy looks like the tchotchke shelf of a head shop  brought to life. The gelfling heroes are bland, but the monsters, music, and atmosphere are magical.

Why Today?: On this day in 1936, Jim Henson is born.

Friday, September 23, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 359

The Date: September 23

The Movie: Phantom of the Opera (1925)

What Is It?: The first true American horror film that looks like a full-blown, Hollywood production, trumpeting a cast of thousands and exquisite costumes and sets, particularly the Phantom’s underground labyrinth. As familiar as stills of Lon Chaney's face as Erik the Phantom are, the uninitiated may be surprised by how truly scary that puss is when moving on the screen. Here the Universal era and the golden age of horror begins.

 Why Today?: On this day in 1909, the serialized publication of Gaston Leroux’s novel begins in Le Gaulois.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 358

The Date: September 22

The Movie: The Wolf Man (1941)

What Is It?: Writer Curt Siodmak, director George Waggner, and makeup wizard Jack Pierce reinvent the werewolf. Much of what we now associate with lycanthropes—their aversion to silver, their association with the pentagram, their kinship with gypsies—leaped from Siodmak’s imagination. He also composed an ace nursery rhyme repeated infinitely throughout The Wolf Man and its sequels (“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night / may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”). The film’s other great innovation is the introduction of Lon Chaney, Jr., as the next successor in his father’s monster-movie-star legacy.

Why Today?: Today is the first day of autumn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 357

The Date: September 21

The Movie: Carrie (1976)

What Is It?: Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Carrie is one of the best Stephen King (and De Palma) films because the story is focused with a relatable, emotionally resonant lead character. King and De Palma’s often-painful look at adolescence, and its disturbing, misfit wish-fulfillment finale, are offset by humor that while occasionally too silly for its own good (the sped-up tuxedo-modeling sequence), gives the film the flavor of an E.C. Comic.

Why Today?: On this day in 1947, Stephen King is born.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 356

The Date: September 20

The Movie: Stepford Wives (1975)

What Is It?: Despite being the creation of men, The Stepford Wives treads where no horror film had before and few have since: feminism. Katherine Ross is a young wife and mother with ambitions of becoming a photographer who “messed a little with women’s lib” while living in New York City. Now she and the family have moved to the pre-fab community of Stepford, Connecticut, where she is surrounded by submissive wives and husbands who gather to collude in the mysterious Stepford Men’s Association. Finding a likeminded ally in neighbor Paula Prentiss, Ross scratches through Stepford’s veneer and is horrified by what she discovers. Although its title wives have entered the vernacular as shorthand for subservient women, The Stepford Wives does not receive the attention it deserves as one of the sharpest films of its day.

Why Today?: Today is Wife Appreciation Day—think of todays movie as a lesson in what not to do today.
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