Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ted Baxter Meets Norman Bates

Long before Ted Knight became Ted Baxter on Mary Tyler Moore, he played a policeman in the last few minutes of Psycho, and I never noticed despite having seen Psycho dozens of times and despite the fact that young Ted Knight looks almost exactly like Mary Tyler Moore-era Ted Knight.

ted knight psycho

And that is neat, and not just for my weirdo crossover fanfiction plans.

Psycho, previously:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Things That Go Bump in the Night / Give Me a Terrible Fright

Please celebrate the coming holiday by watching the video for the 1976 rock song “It Came in the Night,” by the improbably named band A Raincoat. It’s a good track — Dangerous Minds calls it “one of the most insanely catchy songs of all time” — but it’s fairly obscure. That’s too bad. It’s dark but fun, much in the way the animation used in the video treads the line between scary and funny. In short, it’s perfect for the spirit of Halloween. In fact, it should be the official anthem of Halloween. Enjoy.

The songs biggest claim to fame is being featured in abridged form in Kenneth Anger’s “Rabbit Moon.”

I’m not sure which makes for a creepier visual accompaniment.

Anyway, because I think it’s a song more people should know about, I’m posting it for your downloading pleasure. Click here to download.

Creepy, previously:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Three-Dimensional Death in a Two-Dimensional World

Back in Donkey Kong, Mario died by spinning in a circle and landing flat on his back, with a little halo floating above his head.

However, he died differently by the time he got his second starring role — Mario Bros., which isn’t Super Mario Bros. but is instead the game that dumped him in the sewers, introduced Luigi and for the first time pitted them both against a host of creeping turtles. When one of those turtles got too close, Mario leapt to his death, more or less. It’s weird when you think about what you’re actually seeing: In a game where Mario spent the whole time either facing left or right and scurrying along a two-dimensional plane, he died by facing the screen and jumping off the platform, toward the screen.

This style of video game death wasn’t invented in Mario Bros. A year before, Nintendo released the direct sequel to Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., where the main ape died in a similarly theatrical manner: making bug-eyes at the screen, flailing his hands and then plummeting down with a cartoony slide whistle noise. But Mario did it in Mario Bros., and Nintendo used it again in Super Mario Bros., and that’s the game that hit big. Perhaps as a result of the popularity of Super Mario Bros., it ended up everywhere in video games from that era — mostly Mario-style platformers, of which there were many, but some other genres too. Your character died, and he or she looked at directly at the screen — at you, effectively — before they spasmed and leapt into oblivion. It’s like they were saying, “Hey. Fuck you. You killed me.” And then the leap. It seems strange, given that it ads a z-axis into a world that often only had an x and a y previously. But that’s how it happened.

I don’t know how many games featured characters dying in some kind of variation on this Mario-style death, but I think it’s interesting how prevalent it once was in video games. And so I did a little look-through of NES sprites to see what I could pull find. What resulted is the eight-bit Halloween celebration you see below.

Enjoy it. This time, it’s not your failure.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Typography-Inspired Superheroes That I Demand Exist

Not that there needs to be typography inspired superheroes, but I’d imagine at the very least that the people who put comic books together would get a kick out of them.

Heroism! Surprise? Yes, make way for... THE INTERROBANG!

And to a lesser extent, maybe also make way for...

That last one… I can’t really explain. I just think pilcrow is a neat word. (Image modified from Captain Marvel art found in a post on this nifty superhero Tumblr.)

EDIT: So the guys at The Bionic Broadcast actually thought through these and came up with what their superpowers might be. Check it out, and if you want to skip to this part, fast-forward to 31:20.

Superheroes, previously:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Helpful Mnemonic Device for Artisans

Everyone may be an artisan now, from candlestick-makers to sandwich-slapper-togetherers, but I have a mental block against remembering how to spell the word. Sure, maybe because I hate it. Nonetheless, I’ve recently stumbled upon a handy way to remember the spelling.

Yup — artisanal is just “art is anal.” There, just try and think about your artisan sandwich spread the same way again.

Mnemonics, previously:

Friday, October 25, 2013

But Then They Came...

Some well-done pixel art from the intro to a largely forgotten 1990 NES video game, Low G Man.

Slightly modified from sprites found here.

Pixel art, previously:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

That’s Miss Public Enemy No. 1 to You, Batman!

Interests of mine:
  • the C-level supervillains of the DC universe
  • the C-level supervillainesses of the DC universe
  • the C-level supervillainesses of DC’s Batman universe
That’s why it surprised me that I’d never heard of Dragon Fly, Silken Spider and Tiger Moth until now. It’s “Make way for the Moondancers!” all over again, just with better dialogue this time.

via tom peyer
I’m choosing to refer to them collectively as The Bug Dames. And really — “Silken Spider”?

Context, via the Batman Wiki’s entry on Tiger Moth:
The display of the paintings at the Gotham City Museum attracted a parade of men, including Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. The duo was present when Poison Ivy crashed the scene, protesting that she was public enemy #1, her long career as a criminal overlooked because her crimes “were too perfect.”

Eventually, Ivy sent letters to the alleged world public enemies along with a plethora of other felons from the “most wanted” list, each message suggesting that their rivals were the superior criminal. The note invited them to a neutral site in the country to hash things out. The F.B.I. is still trying to figure out how Ivy got their addresses.

Incensed, Dragon Fly, Silken Spider, and Tiger Moth each vowed to arrive at the rendezvous early and kill their rivals. Parachuting into a crowd of dozens of feuding criminals, Batman and Robin prepared to take out all the criminals. Taking flight, Tiger Moth and company stopped long enough to fight over a gold crown that Ivy claimed she would present to “the real no. 1 wanted woman criminal of the world.”
So in other words, a victory for feminism all-around. The Bug Dames did not skitter away after their debut, I was surprised to learn, and have occasionally crawled out from under their rock to cause trouble again. Dragon Fly’s antennae were inverted into sideburns and Silken Spider is now black, so thank goodness the didn’t name her the Black Widow. See, here they are making Nightwing’s life worse than usual:

via dc wiki
Oh, please let their hideout be an overturned rock.

Superheroes, previously:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Where Monsters Grow in Garbage Cans

It’s Friday, and you may need a release from the grind of work. It’s for this reason that I present you with Dorine Hollier’s 1984 performance on Superclassificia Show, which I’m unsure how to explain. Please just watch. You will not be bored.

Some notes:
  • Dorine’s stage laugh makes me think she’s never heard any human laugh ever.
  • Her dancing : other people’s dancing :: Italian conversational gestures : how non-Italians gesture in conversation
  • Dorine occasionally bears a passing resemblance to Tracy Morgan. Look for those moments.
  • You can’t say she’s not giving it her all.
  • She’s also a good dancer. It’s just that the song requires her to dance like a crazy person.
  • If she reminds you of Cha Cha DiGregorio from Grease, you’re in good company. In the red universe, this is the career that Cha Cha found after high school.
  • I wish I could shake off a cardigan the way Dorine takes off that jacket.
  • This is how everyone should dance. I may yet.
And here are the lyrics, as best as I can figure them:
You see me walking with my man
You go your way
We go ours

[psychotic laughter]
That’s a way to talk!
[psychotic laughter]
Don’t laugh!
I’ll bet you want
You never dare
Capture the girl
That walks on air
You’re such a nut
You make me scream
Let’s all go strut
’Til like a dream
The situation’s out of hand
That’s good! Mmm — divine!
In this confusion I connect
I correct!

Tonight! Crazy night!
Oh boy, what a sight!
What a way to love!
Tonight! Crazy night!
Oh boy, we’ll be tight
What a way to love!]
We’ll walk along
In weirdo land
Where monsters grow
In garbage cans
Seems like the moon
Has grown a nose
Dance like a loon
A million shows!
Imagination never ends
My mind understands
In exploration of my brain
I correct!
[chorus twice]
[bizarre spoken section:
Situation’s out of hand — that’s good!
And this situation I connect
Now there’s a law across the land that says there will be no law
Well, the funny moon at the end of the nose]
[psychotic laughter]
Don’t laugh!
I’ll bet you want
You never dare
Capture the girl
That walks on air
You’re such a nut
You make me scream
Let’s all go strut
’Til like a dream
The situation’s out of hand
That’s good! Mmm — divine!
In this confusion I connect
I correct!
Italo disco, previously:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Six More Pieces of Silver

Suspiria is Dario Argento’s golden movie, but Profondo Rosso (a.k.a. Deep Red) takes the silver. As a nice little follow-up to Monday’s post, here are five stills from Rosso that demonstrate that Dario Argento can shoot a beautiful movie even the screen isn’t awash in primary colors.

And here’s the trailer, if you’re interested.

It’s highly recommended Halloween-time viewing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

It’s Better Down Where It’s Wetter

A strange trend for you to consider.

Released: August 9, 1989

Plot summary: A civilian diving team are enlisted to search for a lost nuclear submarine and face danger while encountering an alien aquatic species.

Released: March 17, 1989

Plot summary: Underwater deep-sea miners encounter a Soviet wreck and bring back a dangerous cargo to their base on the ocean floor with horrifying results.

Released: January 13, 1989

Plot summary: At the bottom of the ocean, the DeepStar Six has just discovered a new and deadly alien menace.

Released: July 1, 1989

Plot summary: A down-on-his-luck sea captain goes treasure hunting for a wrecked Spanish galleon that is rumored to be cursed by God and protected by supernatural forces.

Released: April 21, 1989

Plot summary: Man has finally conquered the ocean. America's first self-contained undersea laboratory is the pride of the nation, and expectations are high for an elaborate undersea mining operation. What wasn’t expected was the inhabitants of an undiscovered world.

Released: March 9, 1990

Plot summary: An experimental submarine, the Siren II, with a very experienced crew is sent to find out what happened to the Siren I, mysteriously disappeared in a submarine rift. Things go awry when they begin to find things that shouldn't be there...

My takeaway: WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED IN 1989? What made people — and Hollywood especially — so terrified of the ocean? What about the ocean are we no longer so terrified of? Are we foolish for ignoring the brackish menace at our shores that Hollywood tried to warn us about back in 1989? Is it weird if The Little Mermaid painted a far rosier picture of the ocean back in 1989? What was Disney trying to cover up?

But no, seriously, my takeaway: What so affected the human psyche during this time period that we all turned our attention to the depths of the sea, if only for this brief period?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why the Minotaur Is So Much More Fucked-Up Than You Thought

Half-man, half-bull, completely disturbing, more or less a warning against weird sex: the minotaur.

“minotaur with dead mare in front of a cave,” by pablo picasso
Last week’s American Horror Story premiere introduced Kathy Bates as Madame LaLaurie, a psychopathic society woman who expresses her creativity by incorporating classical touches into her acts of torture. In particular, she places a severed, hollowed-out bull's head onto to that of a slave as punishment, turning him into her own personal minotaur.

In Madame LaLaurie’s eyes, this punishment would be fitting, as she doesn’t look kindly on her slaves’ mixed ethnicity, and the minotaur is a primo classical example of a mixed thing, a mongrel, a thing-that-should-not-be. But while people know the basics of the minotaur’s story — he lives in a maze, the Athenian youths are sent down into his lair as a sacrifice to him/lunch for him, and Theseus ultimately kills him — there’s a backstory that’s even darker and weirder than all that.

Let’s skip over to the story of Icarus, the boy whose father invents wings that allow him to fly until they don’t. (Kerspslat.) Did you ever wonder what, exactly, Icarus and his father were trying to fly away from? Those faulty wings were no mere weekend project. Icarus and his father, the inventor Daedalus, were actually in prison in a tower on Crete, and they were sent there for two reasons: (1) to prevent Daedalus from blabbing about the Labyrinth, the maze he was forced to invent in order to trap the minotaur; and (2) because Daedalus was being punished for indirectly creating the minotaur. You see, Daedalus’s reputation for inventing was known even back in his day. And according to some versions of the minotaur story, his knack for inventing machinery proved a little too helpful. Queen Pasiphae was married to King Minos, ruler of Crete, who had offended the sea god Poseidon by declining to sacrifice a rather stunning bull. In revenge, Poseidon made Pasiphae fall madly in love with the bull, and when her human form proved incompatible with the bull’s, Pasiphae asked Daedalus for his assistance. The solution? A cow suit, logically enough, which Pasiphae crawled into and which was passable enough — and equipped with a rear flap, apparently — that she soon conceived the minotaur.

pompeiian fresco of daedalus and icarus presenting pasiphae with the bull suit
So yeah — the minotaur looks like he’s half-man, half-beast as a result of the most obvious possible reason: he literally is. A human woman, under a love spell placed by the mythology’s most vindictively manipulative sea god, did the nasty with a male bovine, and she subsequently gave birth to a child-like middle ground between bull and woman. (I wonder what she called the baby. Minnie? Lil Moo?) It’s interesting, really, that King Minos’s reaction to this news wasn’t to slay the boy-calf but to let it grow to burly, bashy, flesh-gnashy adulthood, whereupon he required imprisonment in the Labyrinth. Leniency for the minotaur not withstanding, Daedalus got the same fate: imprisonment, though curiously not in the super-prison that Minos just had Daedalus build but in a facility that’s easier to escape — thus the wings, thus the escape, thus Icarus going kersplat. (I assume Icarus was imprisoned alongside his dad as the result of some kind of father-son internship. So it goes.)

So remember, the next time you’re confronted with a minotaur — on TV, in your dreams, in literature, in some kind of withdrawal-induced nightmare vision — take a moment to remember that the minotaur doesn’t exist as do the centaurs or the mermaids, who are a half-human, half-animal race unto themselves. No, the minotaur is a one-off, thankfully, as well as classical mythology’s cautionary tale against bestiality.

You have to wonder, though: How much more disturbing would the minotaur have been if he had been a human head on a bull body?

Mythology, previously:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Suspiria: All the Colors of the Night

Hollywood decided that this October is the season of the witch, and that put me in the mood to watch Suspiria, Dario Argento’s film about a ballet academy that serves as a front for a coven of malevolent witches. But while it’s a horror movie, with a few gory scenes, it’s also one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. The story plays out saturated in reds and blues and greens, and I’m not sure Argento allowed a single shot with pure white or black. Every dark or light is charged with color. Even when something awful is happening, it still looks beautiful.

Here, look.

suspiria hi def stills

suspiria screengrabs

suspiria dario argento

suspiria film stills

Sunday, October 13, 2013

“Beware the Ragman If You Stay Up Late!” (or — A Most Fanciful Flavorof Nightmare Fuel)

EDIT: This post gets a quite a few clicks from people looking for high-quality video from the movie. If this is you, click here to check out a new post where with a better version of the Ragman clip.

Surely, some language must have a word for those dimly remembered childhood events that seem so surreal that you suspect you remember them wrong — that you’re actually remembering a dream, maybe, or that the passage of time and your stupid child brain have jumbled the details. If no word exists, then I motion that one should be created, specifically so I can more easily explain the half-remembered movies and TV shows that I saw on early cable, back when I was too young to be in charge of the remote. Even when the programming was intended for children, the deeper recesses of the cableverse exposed me to some wild stuff.

And one of the weirdest would have to be Nutcracker Fantasy, a Sanrio-produced, stop-motion retelling of The Nutcracker that seesawed wildly between cheerfully colorful and horrifically dark.

The trailer for the Japanese version hints at these extremes.

The version I saw had been dubbed in English. Melissa Gilbert voiced Clara, years before she’d return to voicework playing Batgirl on Batman: The Animated Series. According to the film’s Wikipedia page, Eva Gabor provided the voice of the Queen of Time, whom I have no memory of but who seems like someone that should exist in a Japanese retelling of The Nutcracker, I guess. The page also notes that the film is often mistaken for being a Rankin-Bass production. It’s not, but it’s just as creepy; those puppets herka-jerking around onscreen tread into Uncanny Valley territory just as easily as anything you’d see in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.

I found one YouTube user who’d posted three of the film’s more beautiful segments — and they do look beautiful.

Sanrio spared no expense on the sets, and this miniature world is one kids should probably like. However, like I said, this movie has a dark side. Even scarier than the snarling Mouse King is another character unique to this version of The Nutcracker: the Ragman, a horrifying boogeyman who haunts the opening few minutes of the film and who walks the streets at night, preying upon children impudent enough to stay up past their bedtime. Believe me, it’s no exaggeration that this clip was posted with the simple description: “Welcome to the worst 2.5 minutes I experienced as a two-year-old.”

Long after I forgot about the rest of this movie, the Ragman lingered. I cannot tell you how many nights of my young life were spent trying hard not to think about the Ragman out of worry that I’d accidentally summon him, because that’s how these kind of things work. It didn’t occur to me that my house existed far from the quaint cobblestone streets that he walked on and that boogeyman can’t fly on airplanes. Watching it today, I’m surprised how accurately I remember it: It’s essentially as scary as I remember.

The quality of that clip isn’t great, but I did find a supercut of the scariest scenes from Nutcracker Fantasy that more clearly demonstrates the Ragman doing his awful thing. The supercut is, alas, set to Orgy’s cover of “Blue Monday,” which you may remember from the I Still Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack and which exists in a different sector of my brain’s vaguely remembered pop cultural experiences. Still, you get to see more of the Ragman doing his thing as well as other ways the film’s director sought to counteract the candy-colored sweetness of the other scenes.

Rock out and enjoy:

Miscellaneous notes:
  • If I remember correctly, Clara’s flights into fantasy land are the result from a terrible fever. Because fevers are magic. Go get a fever, kids!
  • Two other inappropriately terrifying scenes from movies intended for children? The Jabberwocky scene from the 1985 version of Alice in Wonderland and the “Bunyip Moon” sequence from Dot and the Red Kangaroo. Go, watch, experience my trauma.
  • The English version also includes a performance by Jo Anne Worley as Queen Morphia, and I think there’s a joke in there somewhere but I have yet to find it.
  • The person who uploaded the Japanese Nutcracker Fantasy clips has collected a whole lot of older Japanese cartoons. There’s one titled “The Phantom Ship” that’s worth watching — every bit as beautiful and disturbing as the Ragman scenes. Silhouettes are creepy too, just not as much as stop-motion puppets.
  • I appreciate how this poster advertising the Japanese release skews more creepy than cheerful.

  • Finally, this little ambulatory strawberry bears a striking resemblance to Toad from Super Mario Bros., don’t you think?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: A Character Guide

I've simplified the complicated universe of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with a handy character guide. So just refer to the below visual aids the next time you’re all "Wait, which character is talking? What am I supposed to know about this person?"

Please keep on hand for future viewings.

Superheroes, previously:

Monday, October 07, 2013

Fonts and Video Games: A Doubly Nerdy Proposition

If I can pride myself on anything, it’s my thorough command of niche trivia, but I got nothing on this one. Please, can someone with a command of both video games and fonts help me out?

Here is some text that may look familiar:

It’s the logo to this blog. I made it a few years back, and I now can’t remember what font I used. I searched the major font sites and found nothing. I’m pretty sure it came from some eight-bit video game, but I can’t tell which and wouldn’t know how start looking. Do you recognize it? Like, not from this blog? Because it would be helpful if you could tell me.

Thanks in advance if you can.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Tulips of Los Feliz

Insidious scared me. I watched it on my computer, and it got to me enough that I had to stop watching it that night and finish it again in the morning, when there were fewer places for ghosts to hide. I’m big enough to admit that. And while it had a few good jump scenes — Mr. Make-Up Face playing peekaboo with Barbara Hershey stands out in particular — the scene that lingered the most didn’t have a jump at all. It’s a quiet one that plays our during the daylight — where, as I mentioned, ghosts shouldn’t be able to hide — with Rose Byrne’s character walking outside the family house and then peering in to see a ghost dancing in the living room to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

So imagine my reaction when I was walking up the street and heard that very song playing from a ramshackle bungalow whose picture window gave me a direct look into the living room. I got goosebumps before I actually processed that those ukulele strums where from “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” and I stopped in my tracks. I looked into the living room just in time to see the part where Rose Byrne herself is just looking through the window seeing the ghost. It’s as meta as real life can get — a fictional character in a movie watching a scene play out through the frame of a window, with that scene playing on the frame of a TV screen watched by real people as seen by me, watching through a the frame of a another window. I got caught up in the moment and didn’t realize that the people in the living room had spotted me and that I had become the audience to me watching them watching a movie with Rose Byrne watching a ghost. For just a second, I thought I might explain how I wasn’t actually the creepiest component to this increasingly academic scenario, but then I decided I’d let these nice people just get terrified in peace. And like the dancing ghost, I vanished.

By the way, people know about how the ghost shows up before his big dancing debut, yes? I noticed it, but I wonder if it’s one of those near-subliminal things that slip past other people. If you didn’t see him, he’s in the laundry room, in the left third of the screen at the 33-second mark.

Scary movies, previously:

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Where Are All the Gods?

Here are the opening credits to a show you probably haven’t seen, and, if you have seen it, you probably haven’t thought about it in years: Cover-Up.

I bring it up only because it’s so strange to watch this slam-bang opening sequence — which plays like so many others from shows I watched in the 80s, what with the posh life contrasted against action, feminine beauty against masculine can-do, Hart to Hart-style — and have it all look completely unfamiliar. I’ve never seen an episode of Cover Up, and it almost seems like a “red universe” thing: superficially familiar even though I know I haven’t seen it. (I would remember a set-up as implausible — even by 80s standards — as a photographer and a special forces agent taking on globe-hopping missions disguised as fashion shoots.) It’s pop culture déjà vu. In the red universe, this Jon-Erik Hexum might have had Tom Cruise’s career — or at least Pierce Brosnan’s.

Of course, he didn’t, but not for the reasons you might think. Just a few weeks into the show’s first season, Hexum accidentally killed himself on set when he fired a gun loaded with blanks into his temple. Amid some controversy, CBS replaced Hexum with a new character played by the equally hunky Antony Hamilton, who stayed with the show until its cancellation in 1984. Hamilton died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1995.

The Hexum-Hamilton split itself seems like a blue universe-red universe thing, but I suppose in the end the paths converged to the same point. Clearly, though, both actors appeared in the show during their prime, and the casting director certainly had an eye for a particular type of leading man.

cover up jon-erik hexum antony hamilton
let: jon-erik hexum; right: antony hamilton
As far as coincidences go, it’s worth noting that the theme song to Cover Up was sung by the subject of a recent post here on this blog, E.G. Daily, who was dating Hexum at the time he died. On some level, that makes me think about what might have made her create a career out of voicing cartoon characters.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Naughty Ducks Dream Adventures

No, that’s not the middle line of a haiku. That’s the Japanese title for DuckTales.

You have to admit: it’s evocative. There apparently exists a semi-translated version of the original NES DuckTales video game floating around online, which has an ending in which Scrooge tells Huey, Dewey and Louie that there is something in the world that is more precious than money or hidden treasure. And it’s the following:

I mean, you’re kind of a dick if your argue with the sentiment or point out that it’s not something Scrooge McDuck would ever say, but you’re allowed to quibble with the grammar. This mangled bit of English was memorable enough that it actual spawned a whole retrogaming website. So that is neat.

And yes, by the way, there’s also Japanese lyrics to the DuckTales theme song: