A Deliciously Macabre Cult Movie


The Stranger From AfarThe best horror movie I’ve seen in a while is called The Stranger From Afar, or it’s original name, Marebito. Here are excerpts from a review on Midnight Eye: 

“Can I face the terror to which the only escape is to kill myself?” Shinya Tsukamoto, director of the cult films Tetsuo and A Snake of June plays Masuoka, a freelance TV cameraman with a finely honed proclivity for the morbid and macabre . . . 
His quest leads him deep into the catacombs of hidden tunnels that lie deep beneath Tokyo while avoiding the fearsome DERO or “detrimental robot”, rumoured to prowl the subway passages spreading terror. Amongst the subterranean ruins of an ancient city lying far from the sun, he discovers a strange, feral young girl, blank-eyed and barely human in her movements . . . In recent years, wunderkind horror director Takashi Shimizu has forged a rather envious reputation for himself as Japan’s new Crown Prince of Horror.

Read More at Midnight Eye

A Sci-Fi Screenplay Written by Artificial Intelligence

Here’s an intriguing article about a screenplay written by a computer. I found this at ARS Technica.

Knowing that an AI wrote Sunspring makes the movie more fun to watch, especially once you know how the cast and crew put it together. Director Oscar Sharp made the movie for Sci-Fi London, an annual film festival that includes the 48-Hour Film Challenge, where contestants are given a set of prompts (mostly props and lines) that have to appear in a movie they make over the next two days.

“As soon as we had a read-through, everyone around the table was laughing their heads off with delight,” Sharp told Ars. The actors interpreted the lines as they read, adding tone and body language, and the results are what you see in the movie. Somehow, a slightly garbled series of sentences became a tale of romance and murder, set in a dark future world. 

Benjamin is an LSTM recurrent neural network, a type of AI that is often used for text recognition. To train Benjamin, Goodwin fed the AI with a corpus of dozens of sci-fi screenplays he found online—mostly movies from the 1980s and 90s. Benjamin dissected them down to the letter, learning to predict which letters tended to follow each other and from there which words and phrases tended to occur together. The advantage of an LSTM algorithm over a Markov chain is that it can sample much longer strings of letters, so it’s better at predicting whole paragraphs rather than just a few words. It’s also good at generating original sentences rather than cutting and pasting sentences together from its corpus. Over time, Benjamin learned to imitate the structure of a screenplay, producing stage directions and well-formatted character lines.

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The Last of the Hippie Filmmakers

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster. “It happened” was a bit of an exaggeration…

Via Taki’s Magazine, Joe Bob Briggs looks back on Tobe Hooper and the making of  the  original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I enjoyed this article on several levels: Film history, biographical, human interest, horror movies, and just plain good writing. Brigg’s calls Hooper “the last of the hippie filmmakers.” Here’s a brief quote from the article:

(Hooper’s) masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, was condemned as pornography by both coasts even as inferior horror films out of Andy Warhol’s Factory and Warner Brothers’ backlot were being praised as works of genius. Hooper then spent the rest of his life knocking on various Hollywood doors that would occasionally be cracked open just wide enough to give him one job at a time, often by C-level producers who turned up their noses at his pedigree and then micromanaged his work until it was all but destroyed. His one big break, Poltergeist, was plagued by the persistent fake news that Steven Spielberg ghost-directed it. This libel followed Hooper throughout his career and was even appended to many of his obituaries. First of all, let’s state the obvious. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the most successful independent films in history.

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Dark Glories and Edge Zones

This is from a blog called A Year in the Country:

The Films of Old Weird Britain

Recent years have seen a ‘rural turn’ in British cultural studies. Artists have wandered into an interior exile and a re-engagement with the countryside – its secret histories, occult possibilities. Psychogeographers are drawn to its edgezones and leylines, fringe bibliophiles are rediscovering the dark glories of writers such as Alan Garner, John Wyndham and Nigel Kneale, while organizations such as English Heretic and Lancashire Folklore Tapes exult in mystical toponymies and wiccan deep probes.

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From Gothic Thriller to Art Film

The Burning Court was directed by Julien Duvivier

Another fun website that reviews and analyzes genre films is Braineater, created and maintained by Will Laughlin. In this installment he reviews the French film La Chambre ardente (1962), “a movie that sits somewhere between an art film and a Gothic thriller,” directed by Julien Duvivier, based on a classic novel by the American author John Dickson Carr. 

Here’s an excerpt from Laughlin’s review:

Carr, after a slow start in the late 1920’s, came into his own in the early 1930’s. He was soon recognized as one of the finest mystery writers of the so-called Golden Age. In 1937, he published what many consider his greatest novel, The Burning Court. However, his work — while always professional — was sometimes uneven; and after the Second World War, his career began to falter. A new generation had come to maturity, and they considered Carr and the writers of the Golden Age too old fashioned, too academic… a remnant of the old order that had been destroyed by the war. Nevertheless, Carr continued to write Golden Age-style detective stories well into the late 60’s and early 70’s. Though there have been periodic revivals of his work, and though he has always had supporters in fellow writers like Kingsley Amis and Anthony Boucher, Carr has never recaptured the recognition his admirers consider he deserves. If you think about it, there’s an obvious reason Duvivier chose to turn The Burning Court into La Chambre ardente

John Dickson Carr

Author John Dickson Carr

Julien Duvivier

Director Julien Duvivier







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The Creature’s Lesser Known Cousin


JON M. FLETCHER / The Times-Union -Don Barton, who made "Zaat" in the early 1970s, kept the original creature costume in his garage. 2009 file photo. Above: Photo by JON M. FLETCHER / The Times-Union -Don Barton, who made “Zaat” in the early 1970s, kept the original creature costume in his garage. 2009 file photo.


Upon the death of Don Barton, the June 10, 2013 edition of Florida Times-Union (and Jacksonville.com),featured an article by Matt Soergel, who wrote “Don Barton brought “Zaat” to life in the early 1970s, and while the movie about a giant radioactive walking catfish-human monster was quiet for decades, it never really went away . . . The 1971 creature-feature played for a while at drive-ins and movie houses, mostly in the Southeast. It was bootlegged and retitled several times, and Barton learned hard lessons about the cutthroat movie business. It had a renaissance, though, after being mocked in 1999 on TV’s “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” which featured science-fiction movies generally thought of as bad. By June  2001, “Zaat” made it to theaters again, playing to two packed auditoriums at the now-gone St. Johns 8 Theater on the Westside . . . Mr. Barton was a co-founder of the Florida Motion Picture and Television Association and won several awards for documentaries. In 1984, he became vice president of marketing at what’s now St. Vincent’s HealthCare, and later served on the hospital’s executive board.”  Read entire article

I visited the estate sale for the late Mr. Barton  on Saturday, November 2nd and purchased some memorabilia.

Zaat Memorabila 

Jamie Defrates in the movie ZAAT (1971)Above: Jamie DeFrates as he appeared in ZAAT


When I first saw Don Bartin’s low-budget horror movie, ZAAT (1971) I was surprised to discover that Jamie DeFrates makes an appearance! DeFrates is an accomplished musician/composer/producer, who lived in Jacksonville, FL at the time. DeFrates was born in Springfield, Illinois. His parents ran a Christian ministry that included a radio show called “The Golden Gospel Hour.” After college he traveled the country, playing guitar and singing in clubs from New York to San Francisco. DeFrates has been a national opening act for: Willie Nelson, Janis Ian, Leo Kottke, Little River Band, Jerry Jeff Walker, Richie Havens, Doc Watson, John Hartford, John Lee Hooker, and others. He eventually settled in Jacksonville, where he established a publishing company and recording studio. The music in ZAAT is credited to Jamie DeFrates and John Orsulak. 

ZAAT movie cedits

Just below the credits for DeFrates and Hodgin, we see “Electronic Music: Jack Tamul,” another interesting Jacksonville musician and composer. Tamul specializes in synthesized music.

Jack Tamul Above: Jack Tamul


The April 2001 issue of Scary Monsters magazine and the ZAAT 2-disc combo DVD set

Ed Tucker is an aficionado of classic and vintage science fiction & horror films and memorabilia. He hosts the Fan Lexicon twice a year in Jacksonville, FL. Mr. Tucker wrote the liner notes for the ZAAT 2-disc combo DVD. The official ZAAT website features an excerpt from an interview with Ed Tucker that first appeared in the April 2001 issue of Scary Monsters Magazine. Tucker begins:

I suppose being born in Ocala, Florida in the 1960’s in some way predestined me to my love and appreciation of motion pictures. The small town of Silver Springs is located so close to Ocala that, today, it is almost considered a suburb of it, but in the 1950’s and 60’s, it was a booming conglomeration of widely varied tourist attractions. Chief among these was Silver Springs itself, with its glass bottom boats, jungle cruises, and wildlife exhibitions. Hollywood often utilized the spring’s clear waters and jungle-like settings for every manner of production. From installments in the Tarzan film series to episodes of Sea Hunt and I Spy. But in my mind it will always be remembered for the underwater footage filmed for the 1957 3-D horror icon, Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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ZAAT DVD Features

The Scattershot Lunacy of Movie Director Richard E. Cunha

Frankenstein's Daughter Movie Poster

Anyone who has visited Bill Ectric’s Place for any length of time knows that I like reading about low budget B movies, especially horror and science fiction. Sometimes watching them can be fun; sometimes reading about them is better than actually watching them. Unless you are either watching them on Mystery Science Theater, or with friends who can appreciate the craziness.

I’ve pretty much read every entry of 1,000 Misspent Hours and Counting, but that’s okay – I just discover a new blog called Radiation Cinema, written by Mykal Banta. There may be other writers on board, but Mr. Banta seems to carry most, if not all, of the weight.

Here’s an especially good review he wrote about Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958). I especially like the beginning and the end of the review, more than the actual synopsis of the film. Sometimes he throws in a good comment during the synopsis, though.

On Frankenstein’s Daughter, he says:

The DNA, that beautiful double helix of genetic instruction, has become seriously degraded in the Frankenstein lineage by the summer of 1958 . . .

. . . And with that, we have touched upon the glory of the maligned, beloved work of  us to Director Richard Cunha, who was at the helm for this enduring, radioactive fragment from the Atomic Age. Say whatever negative you want about Cunha’s work and you will probably be right. Yet his films were never without their own poorly-funded experiments, done in the blink of an eye under the powerful duress of time; all of which produced a kind of scattershot lunacy that simply keeps me riveted. He produced a quartet of drive-in offerings: All made in the span of a single year (1958): She Demons (his best work), Giant of the Unknown, Missile to the Moon, and Frankenstein’s Daughter. I find myself watching these films repeatedly, never for hidden subtext or moments of deepening meaning (there simply aren’t any of those); but more to enjoy the sharp stab and flash of oddball edginess, and something more; a certain connection I find difficult to understand.

Read the entire review here 









7 Films About Neuroses & Psychoses That Don’t Get Enough Attention

Peter Dinklage Natalie Wood as Daisy Clover Stig Jarrel

Jonathan Eng writes on CURNBLOG, “Film history is jam-packed with neuroses, psychoses, and character disorders writ large and small. As Vivian Leigh and Dustin Hoffman and Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman can attest, having a DSM-5 condition can lead to an Oscar. Russell Crowe, in A Beautiful Mind, had to settle for a BAFTA.

“When handled properly, onscreen breakdowns can tear at your emotions and stay with you long after the final credits role. Here are seven such on-screen breakdowns from movies that may be a little bit off the beaten path. Some feature outwardly normal characters getting pushed a little bit past their breaking points. Others show characters who walked onto the screen in a psychologically fragile condition. Whatever the diagnosis, chances are good you’ll remember the breakdown.”

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Inherent Vice Revisited


With Inherent Vice now a movie, I thought I would repeat this post that originally appeared at Bill Ectric’s Place on 2011:

The books of Thomas Pynchon are so chock-full of cool references, I had to make two collages for this blog entry. Pynchon is one of my favorite writers. I recently read his noir-hippie novel, Inherent Vice (The Penguin Press, New York, 2009). The term “inherent vice” is a legal term that refers to  physical properties of goods which may cause them to suffer deterioration or damage without outside influence, like rust or decay. Near the end of the book, someone asks if  “inherent vice” is like “original sin.” By  this time, the story has unfolded to the point where we recognize that even the so-called “good guys” are flawed, which is not a new theme of course, but Pynchon just does it so well. Here are some of the observations I jotted down while reading Inherent Vice, whenever I had the presence of mind to do so:

There was a show on television about drugs, either PBS or the History Channel, which ended by suggesting that the internet might provide the “expanded consciousness”  sought by hippies and psychedelic gurus like Timothy Leary. And, in fact Wikipedia tells us:

By the mid 1980s, Leary had begun to incorporate computers, the Internet, and virtual reality into his aegis of thought. Leary established one of the earliest sites on the World Wide Web, and was often quoted describing the Internet as “the LSD of the 1990s. ” 

Pynchon touches upon this idea in Inherent Vice. Private investigator Doc Sportello consults with an 1970 version of a computer geek named Fritz, is, who looks up information on a forerunner of the World Wide Web called ARPAnet. Fritz calls it “surfing the wave of the future.” He tells Doc:

(We) just got this new hire in, name of Sparky, has to call his mom if he’s gonna be late for supper, only guess what – we’re his trainees! He gets on this ARPAnet trip, and I swear it’s like acid, a whole ‘nother strange world – time, space, all that shit. 

“So when they gonna make it illegal?” asked Doc.

I like the way Pynchon throws philosophical concepts into his stories without annoying anyone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about philosophy. Case in point, again from Inherent Vice:

While spying on some shady characters, Doc Sportello is surprised and alarmed to see a rather risque, hand-painted image of his ex-girlfriend, Shasta, on a neck-tie worn by one of the thugs. Not only does Doc feel a twinge of jealousy, he also realizes that Shasta’s life may be endangered by her involvement with suspected criminals. In trying to cope with these concerns, he thinks:

Back in junior college, professors had pointed out to Doc the useful notion that the word is not the thing, the map is not the territory. He supposed you could extend this also to the nudie necktie is not the girl.

Doc’s professors were quoting Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski (July 3, 1879 – March 1, 1950) was a Polish-American philosopher and scientist best known for developing the theory of general semantics. This theory says that people can’t experience the world directly, but only through impressions we get from our five senses and through our understanding of the meaning of words; or to put it another way, words are merely imperfect symbols that represent reality, therefore, reality can never be perfectly understood. This concept is sometimes incorporated into the work of science fiction writers such as A. E. van Vogt, Robert Heinlein, and Samuel R. Delaney, as well as Beat writer William S. Burroughs (whose work can sometimes be classified as science-fiction as well).

Pynchon paints uncanny pictures with words – uncanny because they remind me of scenes or situations I’ve found myself in. It’s not so much that I’ve been the the same exact situations; it’s more a feeling of deja-vu experienced vicariously through Pynchon’s characters:

The sun vanished behind clouds which grew thicker by the minute . . . After hours of detouring for landslides and traffic jams and accidents, Doc and Shasta  finally located the mystically revealed dope dealer’s address, which turned out to be an empty lot with a gigantic excavation in it, between a laundromat and an Orange Julius-plus-car wash, all of them closed. In the thick mist and lashing rain, you couldn’t even see to the other side of the hole . . . Doc and Shasta sat parked by the edge of the empty swamped rectangle and watched its edges now and then slide in, and then after a while things rotated ninety degrees, and began to look, to Doc at least, like a doorway, a great wet temple entrance, into someplace else . . .

Good stuff.

For more information on Thomas Pynchon, here is a page created by   Penny Padgett and augmented by The San Narciso Community College. I especially like the section on Pynchon’s influences.

First of the Fifties

destinationmoon Movie producer George Pal with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis
Movie producer George Pal with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis


Destination Moon produced by George Pal, is widely considered the first science fiction film to attempt a high level of accurate technical detail. Filmed in Technicolor, based on a book by Robert Heinlein, adapted for the screen by Alford Van Ronkel and James O’Hanlon, the film was released on June 27, 1950 in New York and on August 1, 1950 all over the United States. Background scenery and outer space scenes were created by Chesley Bonestell. Actually, the movie Rocketship X-M was released 25 days before Destination Moon. Because of the publicity buzz surrounding Destination Moon, with its budget of half a million dollars, Lippert Pictures saw an opportunity and rushed their relatively low budget ($94,000) Rocketship X-M into production, completing the entire film in only 18 days. These two movies were the start of something big. 

I enjoyed this review of the film by Scott Ashlin on his web site 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting:

“This is another one of those big, important movies that dorks like me are always going on about at the slightest excuse. Destination Moon’s importance stems from its being the first of the vast numbers of science fiction films that were produced during the 1950’s. Those were years of unprecedented visibility for science and technology, and the time was surely ripe for an equally unprecedented spike in the popularity of science fiction, provided the writers and filmmakers could find the right approach to tap into the zeitgeist.”

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And here is Scott Ashlin’s review of Rocketship X-M.