“An American Werewolf in London, 1981”

“A naked American man stole my balloons.”

An American Werewolf in London, 1981 (David Naughton), PolyGram Pictures

To appreciate An American Werewolf in London is to understand David Kessler’s predicament. Back-packing with buddy Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) through the moors, they come upon a quaint pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. The locals can sniff out the Colony blood and take an immediate dislike to them. Before they hurriedly leave, they are warned to stick to the roads and “beware the moon.” Jack is attacked and killed by a large, fur-covered beast with fangs, and David (David Naughton) is injured. While David recuperates from his injuries and flirts with pretty nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter), he is visited by undead Jack, who informs him they were attacked by a werewolf, and that David will transform into a werewolf at the next full moon. David writes off Jack’s warning as symptoms of impending madness.

What if he’s right? What if he’s going mad? A lot can be ascribed to psychosomatic underpinnings; that the brain controls the body to a certain extent, and if you truly believe and adapt to your surroundings, you can control those surroundings (including the suspicious appearance of fur and fangs). If what you believe is your reality, and in your reality, you believe you are a werewolf, you will become that thing. The same predicament befalls Nicolas Cage in Vampire’s Kiss (one of Cage’s few movies I can stomach) with similar results. The core of the movie’s logic depends on the character’s disbelief of the facts as they are handed to him by his undead friend who, in various stages of realistic decomposition, continues to warn him and then to advise him on the best (or most efficient) ways to off himself so that he doesn’t murder innocent people.

Nurse Alex has taken him into her home and he avails himself of her unexpected British hospitality. A charming romance blossoms between the two, even if she thinks he’s completely off his nut for insisting that he will become a werewolf. They have a wonderful, foreshadowing conversation about David’s theory that a werewolf can only be killed by someone who loves it. The next day, she goes to work and later that night, he transforms into a werewolf, and the sequence is truly frightening. If not for the immense pain Naughton appears to be going through, then for his complete astonishment at what is happening to him. The transformation puts us, the audience, in the room with him, and as we watch it, we become complicit in his secret. He charges off into the night and kills six people; all of whom join Jack to visit him in a porno theater in Picadilly Circus the following day.

With the central conceit (the suspension of disbelief) of the story out of the way, we can enjoy the strange humor of David’s condition. Not completely a comedy and not all the way serious, director John Landis shopped his script around for ten years before he found financing. It was only when he had three box office hits in The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, and The Blues Brothers under his belt that he was able to finally make the movie. An American Werewolf in London, along with The Howling, were the two big werewolf movies of 1981 and, while sharing Rick Baker’s startling tutilege, also exist in a world of werewolf movies. Both movies reference the classic 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. movie, The Wolf Man, written by Curt Siodmak. An American Werewolf in London is a fun, sexy, horror movie that transcended both horror and comedy genres and was enormously influential on movies that would follow.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

 

“Wolfen, 1981”

“You don’t have the eyes of the Hunter. You have the eyes of the dead.”

Wolfen, 1981 (Albert Finney), Warner Bros.

Albert Finney loves to eat! I mean, he loves food. There is nary a shot in Wolfen (at least up through three-quarters of the movie) where Finney doesn’t have something in his mouth that he is chewing. Come to think of it, a lot of people in this movie are eating something. The problem with a filmmaker like Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock) is you don’t know if he’s making a comment, or if he’s just being cheeky. Wolfen is very much a “social justice” type of movie, before such a thing became fashionable. Beautifully shot and visually spectacular in showing us a New York City that no longer exists, Wolfen isn’t really a werewolf movie; more a schizophrenic shape-shifter movie.

A series of brutal murders kicks off with a rich real estate developer and his well-dressed wife. Cop Dewey Wilson (Finney, with an obviously affected New York accent) is called in to investigate. Criminal psychologist Rebecca Heff (striking Diane Venora) and soul brother Medical Examiner Gregory Hines join Dewey as he attempts to unravel clues (some of which are quite clever) as to the identity of the perpetrator or perpetrators. Along the way more bodies fall, and despite the Mayor and Dewey’s superior, Warren’s (great character actor Dick O’Neill) assertion that the murders were conducted by “terrorists,” Dewey is convinced the murders are linked to a development project in the Bronx. This is where the movie loses me.

The scenes of contemporary Bronx (in 1980/1981) are horrifying; buildings torn apart, scenes of devastation, dilapidated structures and foundations. The decay doesn’t do anybody any good, and it’s looks crazy dangerous to boot. Why protest the demolition of this place in order to build up newer, safer, and more practical properties? The Bronx depicted in this movie is a war zone. It looks like it’s been hit with a hydrogen bomb. I understand the need to preserve culture and history (provided that culture and history is preservable) but when a conglomeration of progress, entropy, and indifference all collide to topple buildings, why let those buildings rot? Regardless, the local “Indigenous” population (that’s 2017 Newspeak slang for American Indians) are, dare I say it, restless, and do not approve of these developments.

Leader of the pack (so to speak) is Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos with his creepy eyes), who boasts to Finney that he and others are capable of shape-shifting (the ability of a being or creature to completely transform its physical form or shape – thanks Wikipedia!). Finney and Hines (with the help of liberal naturalist/white-guiltist Ferguson, played by Tom Noonan) deduce that the attacks were perpetrated by wolves, or wolf-like creatures. From the audience’s perspective, Olmos looks like a nut-case, but the murders are all too real, and Finney has no other suspects. There is no real resolution to this narrative other than that Finney guesses the wolves will be placated if he makes a grand gesture of destroying the impressive model demonstrating the construction. This works as the wolves all howl to each other and take off.

“If you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.”

Wolfen is beautifully photographed by Gerry Fisher with Panavision lenses. New York City is an ominous landmark with a topography similar to animal habitats with high peaks and low valleys represented by buildings in various states of decay. The wolf “point-of-view” appears to be a form of solarization or thermal photography and traverse is shown as a series of Steadicam shots. There are plenty of symbolist visual markers in the movie; the most pronounced being the similarity between the state-of-the-art lie detector technology used by the cops and the wolf’s vision, which seems to show that wolves can see when other creatures are being deceptive. Unfortunately, there are too many inconsistencies with regard to character motivation to justify the plodding narrative.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“The Omen, 1976”

“Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.”

The Omen, 1976 (Gregory Peck), 20th Century Fox

I remember a funny story Richard Donner told while being interviewed by The Movie Channel upon the broadcast of The Omen. He said he planned for the final shot of Damien at his father’s funeral to have a simple fade-out on the boy observing all the powerful politicians in attendance and then the credits would roll. Instead, the kid (Harvey Stephens) turns and looks at the camera and smiles. The moment sent a chill up the director’s spine so he kept it in the movie. It was just one of those happy accidents film directors are sometimes gifted. On it’s own merits, The Omen is more often than not, schlocky. The embarrassing and unnecessary 2006 remake starring Julia Stiles, Liev Schreiber, and Mia Farrow is even more so; substituting this version’s beautiful photography and deliberate pacing for over-saturation, jump scares, and terrible performances.

Please don’t smile!

Gregory Peck (who allegedly turned down a salary in exchange for box office percentage points) plays American diplomat Robert Thorn. His wife (Lee Remick) gives birth but the baby dies (or so he is told) so he arranges to adopt a child in it’s place rather than upset his wife. Soon after he is transferred to the United Kingdom and Damien grows. On the occasion of Damien’s birthday, his nanny kills herself after locking eyes with an evil-looking dog. Well, that’s peculiar. Thorn is visited by a creepy priest who insists Damien is the son of Satan, the Antichrist. This freaks out Peck, as it would freak out me, my wife, and everyone around us if we were given this information. If I were the priest, I would’ve started off with a series of urgent letters, each becoming more and more ridiculous until I had to finally meet the guy. Peck, being a rotten cheat politician assumes he’s being blackmailed. I think God would look poorly on blackmail.

Meanwhile groovy photographer David Warner has been tailing Peck and Damien. He snaps a photo of the priest as he is escorted off the ground and sees a strange “photoshop” in the picture after he develops it. Apparently, the priest is going to be impaled shortly. His camera must be evil! The Thorns hire creepy new governess Billie Whitelaw to replace the lady who killed herself. Billie has unearthly powers over the evil devil-dog and wields an amazing amount of control over young Damien. The Thorns want to take Damien to church, but Billie advises against it. On the way to church, Damien flips out and suddenly gets a temperature. That’s not a good sign, is it? Nor is the evil devil-dog who constantly guards Damien’s bedroom door and growls at everyone but Billie, who defies the Thorns at every turn. Mom takes Damien to the zoo and he scares the giraffes and makes the baboons go nuts. The movie goes along like this as a series of episodes until Warner enters the picture with his Twilight Zone camera.

Damnit! Stop smiling!

Poor Lee Remick! Already on the verge of a nervous breakdown, she becomes pregnant, falls from a high ceiling (with Damien’s help), miscarries, and is then pushed out of a hospital window, where she mercifully dies. It’s interesting how much ill fortune can befall a family who just wanted to have a kid! I mean, good Lord! This big budget spectacle is over-the-top in it’s depictions of violence. Warner isn’t spared either. You might say he loses his head! Thank you! I’m here all week! Donner directs Dvaid Seltzer’s original script with tongue planted firmly in cheek. In fact, you could re-cut this movie as a comedy and lose nary a narrative beat. Even scenes of tragedy are somewhat raucous and could be played for laughs. Still, The Omen is a lot of fun. Due to his experience as a television director, and with only three feature films to his credit, Donner (beginning with The Omen) would become a premier director-producer for Hollywood in ’80s and ’90s with films such as Superman, The Goonies, Ladyhawke, and the Lethal Weapon franchise.

Next up – more wolf stuff!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

WGC – He loves me, he loves me not

Episode 18 – He loves me, he loves me not


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Mark and Chris Cooling get together to discuss the beloved He loves me, he loves me not” episode of Little House on the Prairie.

If you would like to hear from from Chris Cooling head over to http://www.forgotten.tv where Chris discusses everything about forgotten television and more on his podcast! Click here to subscribe

If you would like to hear more from Mark head over the http://www.vhsrewind.com or subscribe to his podcast by clicking here

The opening song “Albert” is written and performed by the amazing Norwegian band, Project Brundlefly and is used with permission.
Check them out at:
https://www.facebook.com/ProjectBrundlefly

“The Howling, 1981”

“Humans are our prey. We should feed on them, like we’ve always done. Screw all this ‘channel your energies’ crap.”

The Howling, 1981 (Dee Wallace), Avco Embassy Pictures

The proverbial “girl with a head on her shoulders” and ’80s horror movie scream queen, Dee Wallace, is a TV news anchor on her way to a clandestine (yet fully advertised) meeting with serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). Through a series of clever happy face sticker visual markers, she makes her way to a cozy adult movie theater, where she witnesses Eddie transform into something, but she isn’t quite sure what (though we do get glimpses of fur and we hear growling voices). The cops show up in the nick of time and gun him down. She’s left in a state of shock and suffers some selective amnesia. Pop psychologist Patrick Macnee invites her and husband Bill (Christopher Stone) to spend some time at The Colony, a Northern California retreat for neurotics and sex maniacs.

What Dee doesn’t know is that Patrick Macnee, in addition to his pioneering work into “inner self” and “animal instinct” analysis, is the defacto governor of a group of “domesticated” werewolves whom he has convinced to adapt to modern human society. There are some stragglers (a peachy keen John Carradine among them) who resist Macnee’s philosophy. I don’t know what their plan is; they seem to welcome Dee and hubby into the pack (heh) but then they play dumb when mysterious things start to happen. Dee hears howling in the woods late at night. They find dead animals everywhere. Bad-boy Bill comes home with nasty scars. Eddie Quist, a gifted artist with a fetish for sketching wolf creatures is linked to Macnee’s Colony.

Dee’s friend, Terri (Belinda Balaski) joins her at the Colony, but is very quickly killed by a furry tenant. The werewolf is revealed to be Eddie as werewolves can’t be killed by conventional means. According to an occult bookstore owner (hilarious Joe Dante regular Dick Miller), only fire and silver bullets will successfully dispatch these creatures. They’re worse than cock-a-roaches! Adding up the clues, Dee and Terri’s grieving boyfriend, Chris (Dennis Dugan) come up with a plan to expose the werewolf activities at the Colony. It’s interesting how this quite frightening horror movie is cut like a comedy, though it’s not as overt as the same year’s An American Werewolf in London.

The Howling is a self-referential horror/satire that mocks new age psychology, much in the way 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake pokes fun at the “Me” generation and it’s obsession with self-help psychology. Here we have bloodthirsty animals attempting to assimilate (at least some of them) into human society. It’s also a movie made by horror film fans. There are cutting references to The Wolf Man (starring Lon Chaney Jr.) made in 1941, as well as cameos from Roger Corman, Forrest J. Ackerman, screenwriter John Sayles, and Kevin McCarthy. Dee Wallace would appear in E.T., Cujo, and Critters. Joe Dante would go on to direct a segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gremlins, and it’s underrated 1990 sequel.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“Humongous, 1982”

“You god-damn stuck-up bitch!”

Humongous, 1982 (Janet Julian), Embassy Pictures

Labor Day weekend, 1946. A floating point-of-view killer shot cuts across some still water and we see overly-made-up white people enjoying their whiteness. I honestly don’t know what white people get up to these days. They seem to want to make everybody else feel ashamed for their whiteness, but that’s none of my business. Most horror movies with an eye toward ripping off either Halloween or Friday the 13th find it necessary to begin with a quaint flashback. Some minor past trauma and then we’re off to the races. A young couple argues in the cricket-deafening woods and some dogs go nuts. The argument goes south real fast and then turns into rape. It reminds me of Ray Liotta’s rape of Pia Zadora with a garden hose in The Lonely Lady, but this is far more graphic. Can you imagine walking into this movie with a bucket of popcorn and seeing this? The rapist is then attacked by the lady’s vicious dog and then she finishes the job. Credits roll. Nice.

I don’t get it. We go from this horrific opening bit to some badly-written, badly-acted nonsense with teens in their late twenties walking around, clothing-optional, playing crazy head-and-sex games with each other. They go on a boat ride and rock out and drink beer and dance (such rebels!). So we have a fresh differentiation between rape and sex, or do we? Most of the time, the boys are acting out the aggressor part while the women tease and seduce them. We cut to creepy night and fog rolling in around that really nice boat. I wonder if I missed the explanation of what the hell they’re doing out there. They come across a smaller boat with a man. They bring him in and tie off the boats. It seems the kids are on their way to an island, but their passenger warns of dogs inhabiting the island, and a crazy old woman (you see where this is going) who takes care of them. The dialogue is so bizarre I thought the actors were given incorrectly-labeled pages. Anyway, the boat catches fire. Maybe the dogs were playing with matches. Bad dogs!

The kids jump off the boat and land on the shore of the Crazy Dog Island (that’s my name for it). So we have the kids stranded on this island and being menaced by either dogs or hooded figures. It’s an interesting twist on the slasher genre, but the kids come off so stupid and annoying you’re just praying they come to a quick death. The story (for me) recalls The Most Dangerous Game and Attack of the Killer Shrews. It’s up to the kids to disseminate the clues, as it seems some strange dog-beast is knocking them off, one by one. Of course, rather than seek help or find some means of getting off this Crazy Dog Island, they wait around to be killed, which is extremely boring. I mean, at least give me something to chew on! It turns out the woman in the pre-credits rape scene (through a helpful journal she kept) had a deformed rape baby that is really pissed off. Always remember to have your dogs (or mutant spawn) spayed or neutered!

Welcome to Vintage Cable Box’s 2017 coverage of horror movies shown on cable television during those times.  It wasn’t unusual to see a boat-load (heh) of crazy horror and slasher movies on cable television.  Happy Halloween!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.