Walt Whitman and the Amityville Horror – an Abby’s Road anniversary!

Walt Whitman and the Amityville Horror

Five Years Ago Today … an Abby’s Road anniversary

 

            September 30, 2009. The baby was due tomorrow. Of course, by now the baby’s delivery date had been delayed and cancelled more times than a Jeff Beck concert, but we were cautiously optimistic. As with our visit to Theodore Roosevelt’s home several decades before (Esther insists it was only ten days), we … well. I … wanted to get in some last bits of sight-seeing…

Starting at page 143:

whitman

            “We spotted the signs for Walt Whitman’s birthplace on our Sunday drive. It was closed that day and Monday and Tuesday, so we went back on Wednesday. It had a small museum but it was packed with information about a person of which I knew very little. I read “Leaves of Grass” in high school. That was it.

            His father built the home over 200 years before (between 1810 and 1814) and Esther and I enjoyed walking through it. It was just she, me and our tour guide. He was a very nice gentleman who could not be budged from his rehearsed lectures. He ignored some of my questions until we got to that part of his lecture.

            We had fun befuddling him, though. You could tell he was used to school children or adults who were not raised as lower-class mid-westerns. 

            He picked up a piece of wood. “Can anyone guess what this is?” “A bootjack” said Esther.

             “Umm, that’s right… This?” He held up a large metal cylinder with a rod in the middle.

             “Fireplace rotisserie.”

            “Ummm, yes… “

            …

***

amityville

            Also during our Sunday drive we found Amityville. Yes, that Amityville. I was tickled. I am a horror fan from way back. I wanted to go back and find … the house.

            During the week I found out what I could about “The Amityville Horror”.  The story generated a lot of controversy in Amityville. The city itself wants nothing to do with the publicity and sides with the debunkers. The city changed the address and the house was extensively remodeled. Horror fans still found it – the back of the house still retains the distinctive peaked roof.

            Esther went with me and smiled at my joy in finding the street. We drove it a few times until I was sure I had found the house. I went to the next street around the estuary where I spotted the dock, the boat house and peaked roof unchanged. I took photographs from the car. I didn’t want to get out in case it annoyed the neighbors. If they were as kind as other Long Islanders we met, I suspect they would let me take my few pics as long as I left when I was done. I did.

            Amityville is a lovely town! Lots of boutiques and places to eat.  When we go back in years to come we’ll spend more time there to thank them for their patience in letting a giddy horror fan snap some photographs from his car.”

***

cover

“Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped” leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife.

Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.


Abby’s Road is available at Amazon here: 
http://www.amazon.com/Abbys-Road-Long-Winding-Adoption/product-reviews/0692221530/ref=cm_cr_pr_top_recent?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending


at Barnes and Noble here: 
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/abbys-road-the-long-and-winding-road-to-adoption-and-how-facebook-aquaman-and-theodore-roosevelt-helped-michael-curry/1119971924?ean=9780692221532


and at Smashwords here:
 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/457270

 

Copyright 2014 Michael Curry

 

 

 

 

 

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My Favorite Horror Films, or Why I Can’t Sleep at Night

MY FAVORITE HORROR FILMS
or, Why I Can’t Sleep at Night
                There is an interesting article in a recent Entertainment Weekly stating that January and February are now the prime time for horror movies to show in theaters.
                This is a complete reversal of the usual trope from decades before – horror movies belonged in October. January was the dumping grounds for trash on which the Oscar contenders and leftover holiday blockbusters sat.
                I suspect one or two horror movies made a splash in January and the trend caught on. October is now the dumping ground – a metaphoric breathing-in between summer and holiday blockbusters.
                I have been thinking about horror movies lately. I Tivoed a cheesy program called Monsters and Mysteries in America from the Destination America network. It is a step-child of the Discovery Channel family and airs mainly white-trashy reality shows. But amongst the Cracker TV fare are a few cheesy gems: UFOs over Earth, When Ghosts Attack and Alien Mysteries.
                Yes, these shows are mainly about rednecks discussing being anally probed by aliens after their sister/wives ran off with Bigfoot, but they also feature authors and … um … “scientists” taking this schlock seriously.
                I admit to being a sucker for anything about Bigfoot or aliens. I consume any book by Zechariah Sitchin or Erich von Daniken. I am a faithful viewer of Ancient Aliens on the “History” Channel.
                This episode of Monsters and Mysteries in Americafeatured Momo the Missouri Monster. I’ve heard of and read about Momo, so I wanted to watch the show. Momo was the first feature. The third (last) feature was about a bat-creature that terrorized a mining town in Iowa in the early 1900s. The middle feature was about the Shadow People in Maryville, Missouri.
                Here’s a good blog about the show: http://vulpesffb.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/momo-shadow-people-and-the-van-meter-monster/
                The Shadow People segment pushed all my buttons. Dark figures with glowing eyes standing next to your bed as you sleep; whispering …
                I was awake until two that morning afraid to open my eyes. I knew; I KNEW I would see one standing next to my bed. A “real” one? No, but my active imagination was going on all cylinders that night.
                I see figures standing in my room or next to my bed quite often. That’s been the case since I was a kid living with my parents. I frequently saw a lady in a red dress sitting in a chair across the room from my bed; I saw a winged creature hovering over my bed. The latter was my hat collection and other wall-hangings through my still-bleary-myopic eyes – my mind making sense of a blurred shape. The former … well, where did the lady in the red dress come from? A teenager with raging hormones imagining a woman in his room? Oh my goodness, someone call Dr. Freud…
                Just a few weeks ago I dreamt someone was grabbing me while I was in bed. I screamed so loud my wife was afraid I would scare our daughter in her bedroom. She slept through it. Once I dreamt I was lying in bed next to my wife as a vampire stood over me; keeping me hypnotically frozen. My wife said I was saying, very calmly, “Esther wake me up, Esther wake me up,” as I slept. When she nudged me I jumped up and out of the nightmare.
                It reminded me of a post-college nightmare when my roommate ran into my room after I screamed bloody murder when a vampire at the foot of my bed leapt at me. It was the ceiling fan.
                Before that, in college, I saw a man in a blue-and-red-striped shirt walking through my room. I called out the name of my roommate – “Scott, what are you doing?” – and the figure turned and walked toward me. By now my roommate (Scott) walked into my room. He heard me call his name and woke me up by asking me what I wanted. The figure disappeared as I gained consciousness.
                So the Shadow People were right up my fearful alley, if you know what I mean. Add to this my love of horror movies and stories and you can see why I was up most of the night. I could start quite a cause-and-effect argument here.
                My reading and viewing of all things horror have been curtailed by my marriage and my daughter. I don’t want either of them walking in during The Exorcist, for example.
                My wife is getting more accustomed to it: she’s become a fan of Sleepy Hollow … fairly light-weight in the horror department (although they’ve had some good shows) and just about at her tolerance-level.
                So I’ve missed out on a lot of horror-themed TV series and movies in the past decade.
                During my sleepless evening I compiled a list of my favorite horror movies. These aren’t the critically best (although some are) and not the most financially successful (although some are); these are mine. To repeat the phrase – the ones that press the right buttons; sometimes much to my regret.
                Except for the first on the list, these are on no particular order:
1.       The Haunting (1963). It’s a black-and-white movie with a plot that in these “modern” times is something out of Scooby-Doo (spending the night in a haunted house to see if it really IS haunted), but this fifty-one-year-old flick is the scariest thing I have ever seen. The scene in the girls’ bedroom where the ghost (or whatever it is) pounds on the walls, making pictures and plaster fly, and watching it head to the door that pulses and creaks … I get chills down my back just thinking about it.
2.       The Exorcist (1973). A very canny choice, I know, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a genuinely terrifying movie. The movie went straight for the throat (or vagina if we’re talking crucifix) – there was no doubt little Regan was possessed by the devil. If they remake it they should do more of the book – we were never sure if she was possessed or had a psychotic breakdown while the terror was merely a ruse by the housekeeper to cover up a murder.
3.       Prince of Darkness (1987). John Carpenter movies make up a quarter of this list. A priest finds a cylinder of swirling green liquid in the basement of an abandoned church. He brings in a team of scientists to examine the cylinder. The liquid is the anti-Christ’s ectoplasmic form. It squirts at the scientists one by one causing them to go insane in beautiful Lovecraftian fashion. It awoke in time to summon its father – the anti-god. A movie that includes scientific method, intergalactic elder things and Alice Cooper? How can it be bad?
4.       In the Mouth of Madness (1995). John Carpenter takes on an even more Lovecraftian-themed work. An insurance investigator looks into the disappearance of horror author Sutter Cane (a very thinly veiled Stephen King) and tracks him to a town that appears in one of the author’s horror books – a place that should not exist. Ends up the author was channeling real horrors from eldritch dimensions who are ready to take over the earth. Can Sam Neill (the investigator) stop the coming apocalypse? Are you kidding?
5.       Halloween (1978). Another John Carpenter movie. Another canny choice. But this is one of the scariest flicks ever made. Carpenter’s soundtrack alone brings chills – I usually cringe in horror when I hear cheap Casio music anyway, but this is genuinely scary music! And there’s not one startling moment in the movie – we see Michael approaching and stalking Lady Hadin-Guest (Jamie Lee Curtis) and we know where he is and what he will do at all times – it is all suspense in the best Hitchcockian style.
6.       Blair Witch Project (1999). Not the first movie of the “found footage” genre, but the one that put the genre on the map. A lot of people hate this movie, but I am a big fan. Creepy, scary and realistic. Movies like this HAVE to be realistic. The more founded it is in reality the scarier it is. I would put this movie above Cloverfield (2008) another found-footage movie only in a science-fiction vein based on a what-if-a giant-Godzilla-like-thing-REALLY-attacked-New-York story.  I think Blair Witch has aged well (as all of these movies have) and Cloverfield was creepy even on cable in between long commercial breaks and watched over three days (when the wife and daughter were elsewhere).
7.       Evil Dead (1981). Evil Dead II is one of my favorite movies, period. II combined spooky stuff with humor – humor and horror go VERY well together when done right – but the original was cheaper and scarier. This movie put Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell on the movie map and rightly so. Very Lovecraftian – it includes an appearance by the Necronomicon – and the fact that it was made on a small budget only adds to the realism. True story: I saw this in college with assorted roommates, friends and girlfriends. Being college cool cats, we had our TV set up through the stereophonic hi-fi. In one scene a rescued victim (who had been maniacally giggling throughout a scene) stopped giggling. The surviving cast look at her. She looks up and sings “We’re going to get you; we’re going to get you…” We screamed and shuddered. I had enough and jumped up to turn the TV off. Trouble was, it was on VHS. I turned off the picture, but the tape was still rolling and the speakers were still playing. “We’re going to get you; we’re going to get you…” If the neighbors weren’t in the house watching with us, they would have called the police.
8.       Night of the Living Dead (1968). Speaking of small budgets adding to the realism … Do you REALLY need me to describe this movie? And its impact on the genre? Really? Turn on the TV or scroll through your Facebook wall for about two minutes. Did you NOT see something about zombies? You’re lying …
9.       Pandorum (2009). I saw this movie on the SciFi Channel and loved it so much I bought the DVD. You‘ve might not have heard of it. I’ve discussed the synergy between science fiction and horror in prior blog (http://michaelgcurry.blogspot.com/2013/06/thesynergy-of-science-fiction-and.html) and this one, to me, hits all the right notes. Something that Event Horizonsomehow missed.  The premise was a great one and almost made it. A two-man (originally three-man) crew was revived from their deep-space hibernation to take their shift in a generational/colony ship. We learn that in the meantime earth had been destroyed and these colonists are all that is left of humanity. Trouble is, our crew is revived to find their ship lost and out of power. Making their way out of their assigned department, they discover the ship is overrun with flesh-eating superhuman humanoids. Where did they come from? Is there anyone else alive on the ship? Can they escape or at least get the ship up and running so they can defend themselves? It is a claustrophobic and intense thrill-ride. I think the secret of the Hunters is disappointing when finally revealed. But the final twist at the end more than made up for it. The ending and final solution took me completely by surprise. It was meant to be a trilogy but was unsuccessful at the box office – although it has gained quite a cult following. Myself included.
10.   Alien (1979). Speaking of science fiction and horror … I go into a lengthy discussion of how this movie works so well in my blog about Event Horizon (hyperlink is above). I won’t repeat it here.
11.   The Thing (1951 & 1982). Both the Howard Hawks and John Carpenter versions are included here. The original is more cerebral and the horror is left off-screen. Carpenter’s gore is front and center. Both are excellent in their own way and both are scary-scary. Arctic scientists find a spaceship with a frozen alien inside. The alien thaws out and chaos ensues. Great stuff!
                Honorable Mention: Silence of the Lambs (1991). This could be better described as a police thriller rather than horror, but there are parts that are intense as hell and it won an Oscar for chriss’ sake! The early scene where Clarisse is walking past the inmates (including one played by the actor who also played Chef Brockett on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) until we see Hannibal Lecter for the first time – standing quietly and politely in the center of his cell; watching, as if he knew she were coming. Anthony Hopkins deserved his Oscar. He stole every scene he was in and his character cast his shadow over every scene in which he was not.  The serial killer Buffalo Bill was creepy; Lecter was creepier – and all he did (until his gruesome escape scene) was talk quietly. And stare blankly. And smile sweetly. And suck air between his teeth. The sequels lessened his impact. Forget them.
                Se7en (1995) compares favorably to Silence … it ups the gruesomeness ante, making it more horror than police thriller. A great cast helps – Kevin Spacey hasn’t been this sinister since he played Sonny Steelgrave.
                Movies I have not seen, but probably would be on the list include The Ring (2002) and Paranormal Activity(2007). I’ve heard lots of good stuff about these two in particular. Someday when I have three hours of uninterrupted TV or online-video-streaming time I will give these a chance.
                I feel bad not listing 28 Days Later (2002) and the classic Phantasm (1979), but the former and its sequel I consider more action films (great as they are) dressed as horror and the latter just weird, weird fun! “BOY!!!!”
                Then there are the classics – not as heart-pounding as those on my list, but classics! Without these movies, most of which have aged quite well, I wouldn’t have a subject to discuss. I’m talking about the Universal Monster movies (I include The Black Cat (1934) and White Zombie (1932) here), the American/International Poe pictures (and their ilk) and of course movies from the Hammer Studio. God love you, Hammer Studio.
               
                These movies are not the horror vein, but are damn scary and want to mention them: Jaws (1975) makes the list of course – you KNOW the plot to Jaws, come on…
                Look for Dead Again (1991) a Hitchcockian thriller that will keep you guessing until the end. I went with my friend Jon (who accompanied me to Event Horizon – see the aforesaid blog about that film) and Peyton to see Dead Again. Here were three fairly seasoned horror/thriller movie goers. Yet one scene was so intense I turned my head and lifted my legs from the theater floor. Jon did a face-palm and said, “Oh God.” Peyton said, “Jeee-sus” and gripped the arms of his seat. The rest of the theater shouted or gasped. It wasn’t gory, but it was the most intense part of the movie – you’ll know it when you see it. That single scene put the movie on this list.
                Some television shows have given me “the creepies” – to quote the character I play in the Sparta Community Chorus’ latest production “Murder in the Magnolias”. Doctor Who’s “Blink” won a Hugo. They don’t give Hugo’s to television shows (do they?). Aliens shaped like angel statues can only move (and attack you) while you are not looking at them. If you turn your head, you’re dead. Blink. The statues come closer. Blink. Closer. Blink. Closer. Absolutely creepy.
                Night Gallery’s “The Cemetery” scared me as a youngster and thrills me to this day. A man murders another to inherit his mansion. On a wall in the mansion is a painting of the house complete with cemetery next door. The killer (Roddy McDowell) walks past the painting (on the staircase landing) – the grave of the man he killed is open. Later, a figure is sitting in the open grave. He walks past the painting later – the figure is climbing out of the grave. Then it is standing next to the grave. Then it walks to the house. It is on the steps. It is at the door. It is knocking on the door. There is a real knock at the door. Is it…? I don’t know if this is intentionally based on a short story by M.R. James – but he wrote a similar tale seventy years before.
                The X-Files’ “Beyond the Sea”. Scully’s father dies and (in an unrelated matter) a shyster-medium is caught. He claims to be able to channel her father. Is he for real? The scene where Scully’s father appears in her house, staring into space and moving his mouth is quite creepy. She gets a phone call that he had died. “But he’s right here sitting on my …” but he is gone. X-Files has a lot of creepy moments like that.
***
                Maybe I can finally get some sleep tonight. But with all these movies and TV shows running through my head … I can expect another night where I don’t want to open my eyes.
Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry
             


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The Synergy of Science Fiction and Horror: the lost potential of “Event Horizon”.

The Synergy of Science Fiction and Horror: the lost potential of “Event Horizon”.
                The film “Event Horizon” was on television over the weekend. I saw it in the theater when released in 1997 and I wondered if it was really as laughably bad as I remembered it.
                Time has mellowed my opinion of it. It wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t good either, but it wasn’t bad.
                Some of the movie’s worst crimes mellowed on the small screen; by that I mean the cheap scare tactics weren’t as bad when not amplified. When I left the theater in 1997 I told my friend (and fellow movie-attendee) Jon, “Next time let’s save some money. Instead of paying to see this movie, we should just randomly startle each other every two or three minutes and achieve the same effect.”
                This led throughout the night and the next week or so with our conversations peppered with the following routine.
                “Jon?”
                “Yes?”
                “BOO!!”
                That was the total sum of the scariness of “Event Horizon” – build-up, build-up, build-up, soundtrack getting more and more ominous … and then … and then …
                The music stopped, the character’s fear was unfounded. The strange thingie he thought was approaching him was … nothing. Sigh of relief.
                Boo!  Oh no! The thingie attacks!
                Actual scene – Sam Neil hears his dead wife’s voice. The lights fade in and out. “Sara?” Lights on, Sam is on the right of the screen. Lights go out. Lights go on. Sam is still alone. Music swells.
                “Get it over with!” I shouted.
                Lights go up. Nothing. He turns to his right. Oh no! The ghost of his dead wife is to his right, not left! Music swells! He screams! The horror! The horror!
                A member of an as-yet-undiscovered tribe in the Amazon would see that coming. And the movie is filled with this tactic.
                I still dislike the movie despite the amazing cast. Sam Neill, Lawrence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlin, Joely Richardson, Sean Pertwee (the son of Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee) and a pre-Draco Malfoy Jason Isaacs.  Richard Jones overplays the black crewmember in all his token glory. He was the first one I wanted to go… Of all the shortcuts taken in this movie his was the worst. The other characters at least TRIED to appear three-dimensional. It was obvious the writers, producers and directors could not handle horror. They apparently can’t handle a black character that possesses dignity and self-respect either. The film made LL Cool J from “Deep Blue Sea” seem like Poitier…
                I was (and am) disappointed. With the right tweeking here and there it could have been a horror masterpiece up there with 1963’s “The Haunting” and perhaps even passing that OTHER famous scary sci-fi movie … the mother of them all … but more on “Alien” in a moment.
                Horror and science fiction fit very well together. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. Some like peanut butter with other things, some like jelly with other things, some like only one and not the other, some like neither. But you cannot deny their popularity as a team.
                Or compare it to two brothers who are identical yet a decade apart in age.  They go together even though at times they are vastly different.
                “Frankenstein” is arguably the first science fiction novel. If so it is definitely the first science fiction/horror novel.
                Of course, a movie or a book with science fiction elements doesn’t make it science fiction; no more than a book or movie with scary moments makes it a horror flick.
                If that were the case “Godzilla” and almost every monster movie would be labeled “sci-fi/horror”. They are monster movies. Some are very good monster movies, but not sci-fi/horror.     (“Deep Blue Sea” could be considered a sci-fi/horror film, but it was more of a monster flick…)
                Any sci-fi/horror blend has to be compared to the movie “Alien”. Isn’t that a monster movie too? In a way, but only in the way that a serial-killer movie is a monster movie. If “Alien” is a monster movie, then so is “Silence of the Lambs”.
                “Alien” had horrific situations folded in science fiction trappings. Want an easy way to describe it? “Jaws” in space. Or better – “Halloween” in space.
                But making it that simple misses the greatness of the movie. In “Alien” we have solid characters (not necessarily likeable one, which is important) and truly frightening and/or intense scenes. Hitchcock would have approved of the monitor scene. The alien is shown as an electronic blip slowly approaching the captain in an access crawl space. We see it coming and all we can do is what Ripley did, “Run! He’s getting closer!”
                It is good science fiction and scary as hell. The sequel “Aliens” is also a good movie, but it is works better as an action movie than a horror movie. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make a difference. You watch “Aliens” to be thrilled and cheer on the good guys, not to be scared or creeped out.
                The bad guys in “Event Horizon” were originally written to be an alien race. The movie-makers wanted to wisely avoid the “Alien” comparison and decided to get their horror from another vein. They went Lovecraftian.  The pitched it as “The Shining” in space.
                This is why I had such high hopes for the film. The few moments of true creepiness were overshadowed by “the startle” – the cheap way to get a scare (“Boo!”).  They should have let a horror writer come up with ideas.
                Ironically, Sam Neil appeared in one of the most genuinely scary movies out there – “In the Mouth of Madness”. A flick firmly ensconced in the Lovecraft/Stephen King mold. Plus it was directed by John Carpenter. That kind of fear-making should have been incorporated into “Event Horizon”.
                I’m reminded of an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” called “Night Terrors”. The crew finds a missing Federation starship as a derelict with the crew missing (except one). They discovered that the crew of the missing ship killed each other and the Enterprise crew starts exhibiting the same symptoms – paranoia, violence and hostility. That’s the plot of “Event Horizon” too…
                There are moments when the “Star Trek” could have been horrifying. When Dr. Crusher was in the morgue with the dead crew of the missing ship, she hallucinated the bodies had sat up (the audience never sees the bodies move). She clenched her eyes shut and the scene pans out to show the bodies lying on their slabs again.  I waited for the next inevitable moment, but it never happened. The show moved on to the next scene.
                The bodies should have flailed.  They should have thrashed around while the doctor screamed her pretty red head off. A scary moment missed.
                That was “Event Horizon” – the scary moments were right there. Right. There. Ready to be exploited. But it went for the “Boo!”
                Or it went for the gore. Evisceration is not scary. The before and after, if done right, can be.
                A shame, really. Such potential. That’s why I still don’t like “Event Horizon”.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 4: The Sound of Silence – some silent movie versions

Three Scrooges, Part 4: The Sound of Silence – some silent movie versions
Thought of the Blog: Whither Dick Wilkins? Scrooges’ fellow apprentice who liked Scrooge very much. Is he still alive? In business for himself? Has he ever visited the man who thinks him his best friend?  How would Scrooge react of Dick, instead of Fred invited him to Christmas dinner? Would Scrooge have been so curt or glad to see him (glad for Scrooge that is)?
Bit of a change of format here as I would think most silent film versions of “A Christmas Carol” to be quite rare…
1901 – only 3-1/2 minutes exist, but it tells nearly the whole story. Marley shows Scrooge his past, present & future with sophisticated special effects for its day.
1910 – ten minutes, but packs more into the story than most hour-long specials. It even includes mankind’s children Misery and Want (instead of Ignorance and Want). As sometimes is the case in version of the novel, here Scrooge goes to Cratchet’s house to present the goose and give him a raise. Here, as in Patrick Stewart’s version, Cratchet wields a weapon to protect himself from the obviously crazed Scrooge (in this case a fireplace shovel). In this version, as in the 1951 film, Scrooge makes his nephew Fred a partner. These are the only two versions I have seen this happen. Scrooge also give Fred enough money to marry his beloved fiancé (in most versions, they are already married).
1923 – Russell Thorndike plays Scrooge in this silent version of “A Christmas Carol”.  My copy is on a DVD and it is in desperate need of restoration.  At times the copy is so bleached you cannot see the faces or costumes of the actors – only their outline. Actually, that would make a better ghost effect than the double-exposure see-through (the height of special effects at the time) that they used here.
                This version runs 27 minutes and the beginning hits all the highlights – Scrooge barking at Cratchet about the coal fire, Fred, the businessman (singular) visit, the “You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose”. Marley does not appear until 12 minutes in!
As usual in these short silent films only a few segments of the novel are used (only his break-up with Belle is shown in the past and the Ghost of Christmas Present appears, lectures Scrooge and leaves without showing Bob’s dinner or Fred’s party) and the sets are sparse at best.
                Uniqueness of this movie? The Ghost of Christmas Past is only two foot tall, Ghost of Christmas Present is basically Father Christmas.  Tiny Tim, the lynchpin of most adaptations, is nowhere in the film! No Tiny Tim? Scrooge does attend his nephews’ party at the end and there is a brief scene with Topper wooing Fred’s sister-in-law (in a much less eely fashion than in the Patrick Stewart version). Topper yes, Tiny Tim no?
                A nice aspect of the silent movies is the costuming – Cratchet is dressed in near-rags and Scrooge’s suit is threadbare.
                With his black Edwardian suit and longish white hair this Scrooge reminds me of William Hartnell’s Doctor Who. (An aside – the television show “Doctor Who” has also done a Carol adaptation – and a good one – but sentimental me was hoping for an appearance by a former actor appearing as a Doctor-Who-of-Christmas-Past. Rumors always abound of Peter Davidson appearing (Doctor #5), which would have made the perfect opportunity. A Doctor-Who-of-Christmas-Yet-To-Come would have featured a future regeneration, but his features stealthily hidden).
NEXT: Gone Hollywood
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 2: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before

Three Scrooges, Part 2: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before
WELL KNOWN SCROOGES
                “A Christmas Carol” ran on the TNT network in 1999 to mixed reviews. I refer to it as the Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol for its star who plays Scrooge. Its reception was only fair, probably due to the high expectations (see my Rare Scrooges entry).  I wish I could say I enjoyed it as much as I anticipated I would, but I walked away from it disappointed. Since its release I count it as a wonderful movie – its flaws have faded over time.
                It is a very cold movie – the scenery, the acting, almost everything about it. It is the antithesis of the George C. Scott version with its beautiful and bright sets. That is one aspect of it that I did not like at first but love now.  It’s almost as if the camera lenses were covered in a blue film. Everyone and everything is dark and drab.
                And Scrooge is frozen emotionally. He does not have mean or harsh feelings towards either – he has no feelings. You’d think he was the actor who played Data, not Picard (Star Trek references are inevitable, so I got this one out of the way quickly).
                There are so many things I like about this movie, so many little moments that make it stand out:
                1.                “Games, Spirit, games…” – Scrooge begs the Ghost of Christmas Present to stay at his nephews party. You can barely hear the pleading seep through the ice. In the novel, Dickens says Scrooge asked to stay in an-almost childlike way. Stewart’s way was much more to his character. Seeing him laugh and play along (“he can see” during blind man’s buff – yes it is buff, not bluff) showed the ice thawing.
                2.            The Cratchets are probably best portrayed here than in any other movie. Malnourished, poor teeth, sunken cheeks – they hired a Tiny Tim that actually looked like he may be seeing his last Christmas.
                3.            The Ghost of Christmas Present ages noticeably through his Stave.
                4.           Scenes with Welsh miners, sailors and sea and lighthouse keepers all celebrating Christmas were shown – rare scenes in “Carol” adaptations.
                5.            “I’ll give you a shilling,” if the boy running past his window would return with the prize turkey. Stewart said the line hunched low in the window – as if afraid someone would hear. I laughed out loud at this. I enjoy the few times Scrooge has had difficulty with his conversion.
                6.            When Scrooge told Cratchet Merry Christmas during “The End of It”, Cratchet backs off and grabs a fireplace poker and wields it in defense from what must be, to him, a Scrooge who has finally cracked.  Scrooge realized what he must seem like and backed off.  I laughed out loud.
                Some things I did not like about the movie still gnaw at me: Scrooge’s toe taping during Fezziwig’s dance while still being stone faced.  Wouldn’t it have been better for Scrooge to not only tap his toes but also to try to smile, cracking the facade slowly?  Scrooge’s convulsion that turned into laughter: true it was meant to show the ice finally breaking, but seemed tooforced, too obvious.
                This movie contains two things of note that are not in other versions: the discussion at the very beginning about what is so dead about a doorknob.  Also, Caroline and her husband are shown – they are happy that Scrooge is dead and thus payment of their debt to him will be delayed long enough for them to save it up! In the musical “Scrooge” the character (unique to that movie) Tom Jenkins takes their place leading to the rousing “Thank You Very Much” musical number. No other version I have seen includes Caroline.
                Then there was Topper, the friend of nephew Fred’s who flirted with his sister-in-law. Played by Crispin Letts in an oily, stalking manner that makes Eric Roberts character in “Star 80” look like Sebastian Cabot in “Family Affair”. Kudos! This is the ONLY version of “A Christmas Carol” that has a character more unlikable than Scrooge!
RARE SCROOGES
                I had a cassette tape set of Patrick Stewart’s one-man stage production of “A Christmas Carol” long since worn out and trashed. I expect it is still available on CD or download. If so, get it. It was this program that made me (and presumably the disappointed critics) so look forward to Stewart’s movie. The only thing better would have been seeing it live.
                Stewart used Dickens’ stage notes when the author would perform the work.  Talk about a faithful adaptation…  While not a word-for-word reading of the novel, it comes pretty darn close. It makes any road trip worth the journey.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                “A Jetson Christmas Carol” from 1985. Since I am critiquing Patrick Stewart’s versions of the tale I thought I’d keep with a faux-sci fi theme. In this version the Jetsons are the Cratchets and Mr. Spacely, his boss, is Scrooge (although they are never called that). I expect it is filled with silly future gadgets and does not stray from the basic story. It has good reviews on IMDB, so I expect it not to be a complete waste of time.
                I would imagine the best part would be listening to all the original voice actors playing their roles for one of the last times. It was always fun hearing Daws Butler’s octogenarian growl trying to sound like a young child. And by now Mel Blanc’s voice was so low it vibrated the windows.
                Astro as the sickly Tiny Tim?
NEXT: Scrooge, a Song and Dance Man…
                                                                                                               Copyright 2012 Michael G Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 1: Famous First Editions

Three Scrooges, Part 1: Famous First Editions
                Question of the blog: Note how Belle, when asked by her husband to guess who he saw, immediately says “Ebenezer Scrooge”?  How often does she think of him? How many times does her husband walk past his office? Does she still have strong feelings for him? Is her husband stalking Scrooge? Does he bring up his wretched state often as a way of showing her she made the correct choice? What kind of control freak did she marry?
WELL KNOWN SCROOGES
                “A Christmas Carol” has been filmed as long as there has been film. But “Scrooge” from 1935 is the first talkie of the novel. It stars Seymour Hicks in the title role. Look very quickly to see Maurice (Dr. Zaius) Evans in a bit part. It is on the public domain so it has often been run on TV and released many times on video cassette tape and DVD. I wish someone would take the time and resources to restore it.
                While not the best of the films, it is not the worst either. Seymour Hicks’ Scrooge looks ghastly. Wild hair, pasty and craggy face – he exudes the bitter hatred Scrooge seems to feel toward humanity. He doesn’t seem the caricature that is typical in Carol adaptations – he seems a genuinely grumpy old man.  Hicks also plays the younger Scrooge during the scenes with Belle – he is either made up to look very much older or younger than he was. An excellent job either way!
                It is a canny effort with the usual expected scenes. Some scenes included here and rarely elsewhere is Scrooge dining in a pub before going home. There is also an extended scene that no other version shows…
                The Lord Mayor’s Ball was mentioned only briefly in the novel and then forgotten. In this film we see the Lord Mayor’s banquet and contains the funniest line from any Carol adaptations. “My Lord, will you make your speech now or will you let the ladies and gentlemen continue to enjoy themselves?”  Genuine humor in Carol adaptations is rare indeed.  I think it was included in order to air “God Save the Queen” during the dinner – a patriotic touch in a depression-era Englandbeginning to hear the early thunder of war…
                Uniqueness: Marley is never seen! Scrooge emotes to an empty chair, beating Clint Eastwood by 77 years! Certainly saves on the film’s budget.  Ghost of Christmas past is a bright light shaped like a tall man’s shoulder and head; Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is a black shadow against a wall (only the Ghost of Christmas Present is cast – and is played as a gluttonous blob). They air the lighthouse keepers and the sailors, but not the coal miners.
                It is a product of its time – filled with melodrama and enough overacting to embarrass even the child actors on “Barney & Friends”.  But it IS fun to watch. The first talking version of the novel and a very fair version.
RARE SCROOGES
                “Christmas Carol” was a silent film version released in 1913. It was re-released in the USunder the title “Old Scrooge” in 1926.
                This movie is 100 years old this year. Wow. It has long thought lost, but the version I have on DVD is in incredible shape – it must have been meticulously restored.
                Like most silent versions of Carol, this was based on a stage play rather than an original adaptation.
                Here is Seymour Hicks again, 24 years earlier, still with craggy face, white hair almost comically askew and dressed in an even more threadbare suit.
                Uniqueness: the movie opens with a bit of the history of the story – telling us of Dickens’s past and childhood. It opens with Dickens at his desk writing the opening line. We are told Scrooge is an ogre with a frozen heart and body. Scrooge lives where he works – remember this was based on a stage play – which is pretty common in silent films to save the cost of different sets.  Strangest of all, I think, is that a creepy Marley (draped in white sheets), not the three spirits, shows Scrooge his past, present and future. And yet they DO change scenes to show Scrooge visiting Cratchet and giving the children coins. This was a “dream segment” – he later plays the usual trick the next day pretending to be the same old covetous miser before revealing to Bob his changed nature.
                Was this the first film version of Carol? No, but it is the first time Seymour Hicks played Scrooge on film; and his second film was the first talking version.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (versions I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                My friend Clyde Hall (whose blog is http://playmst3kforme.blogspot.com) posted on Facebook about a version of Carol I have never seen. The cartoon “The Real Ghostbusters” did a Carol episode in which the ‘Busters caught the three Christmas Ghost and thus Scrooge never redeemed himself. The ‘Busters try to reverse what they did. Note “The Real Ghostbusters” is a cartoon based on the movie, not the cartoon based on the Saturday morning cartoon from the 1970s.  That should have been called “The Actual Ghostbusters”. Spencer, Tracy and Kong came first…

Next: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before…

Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
                For over a decade my Christmas tradition began Thanksgiving night with a reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.  Not to a crowd or to a child, just to myself. Usually I finished it before the long weekend. Now with a wife, a child, work, writing and games it takes about a week, haha.
                I love the story in all its incarnations. I love the movies, the TV spoofs and once got to see a stage production in St. Louis.
                The plot is … well, if you don’t know, stop reading right now.
                The story behind the story is almost as interesting. (taken liberally from Wikipedia, but I did check the facts …) Dickens was concerned about the plight of poor children. In early 1843, he toured a tin mine where children worked. The conditions of the FieldLaneRaggedSchool he visited that year were equally appalling to him. In February 1843 a parliamentary report exposed the effects of the Industrial Revolution upon poor children; it was called Second Report of the Children’s Employment Commission.  Dickens planned to publish an inexpensive political pamphlet tentatively titled, “An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child” in May of that year but changed his mind, deferring the pamphlet’s production until the end of the year.
                In a fund-raising speech on 5 October 1843 at the Manchester Athenæum (a charitable institution serving the poor), Dickens urged workers and employers to join together to combat ignorance with educational reform, and realized in the days following that the most effective way to reach the broadest segment of the population with his social concerns about poverty and injustice was to write a deeply-felt Christmas narrative rather than polemical pamphlets and essays. It was during his three days in Manchester, he conceived the plot of Carol.
                Dickens had already written a tale of Christmas redemption as part of “The Pickwick Papers” in 1837; Gabriel Grub was a lonely and mean-spirited sexton, who undergoes a Christmas conversion after being visited by goblins who show him the past and future. 
                Although Dickens made little money from it at first, it was an immediate success – stage productions and readings (some by Dickens himself) developed quickly. The first was February 1844 (it was published two months earlier). It has since become as much a holiday classic as “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.
                It has been called an indictment of 19th-century industrial capitalism and  Scrooge’s redemption underscores the conservative, individualistic, and patriarchal aspects of Dickens’s ‘Carol philosophy’, which propounded the idea of a more fortunate individual willingly looking after a less fortunate one. Personal moral conscience and individual action led in effect to a form of “noblesse oblige” which was expected of those individuals of means. I knew I liked the story for some reason…
                This idea would make some In this politically-charged atmosphere faint dead away. “Use our means to help the poor!? Why on earth would we want to do that?” Because Jesus told you to. And as of 1843, so does Charles Dickens.
                The current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by A Christmas Carol. Hutton argues that Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a self-centred festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In superimposing his secular vision of the holiday, Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit.
                This simple morality tale with its pathos and theme of redemption significantly redefined the “spirit” and importance of Christmas, since, as Margaret Oliphant recalled, it “moved us all those days ago as if it had been a new gospel.” and resurrected a form of seasonal merriment that had been suppressed by the Puritan quelling of Yuletide pageantry in 17th-century England.
                I enjoy reading through the small bits and pieces you usually do not see during the films and plays – the many religious references for one (other than Tiny Tim’s hoping his being in church would remind others of who made lame men walk, etc.).  “Carol” has turned into a secular Christmas tale, but I was surprised how many references to the birth of Christ, the visit of the Wise Men, and so forth, are peppered – lightly, but still peppered – throughout the story. I also enjoy Scrooge’s political debate with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge is thoroughly back-handed by the ghost, who all but says Scrooge is no Jack Kennedy.
                This was a nice bit taken from IMDB about the 1938 movie. It’s a good description of Scrooge: The word “humbug” is misunderstood by many people, which is a pity since the word provides a key insight into Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas. The word “humbug” describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people only pretend to charity and kindness in an scoundrel effort to delude him, each other, and themselves. In Scrooge’s eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to fool him and take advantage of him. This is a man who has turned to profit because he honestly believes everyone else will someday betray him or abandon him the moment he trusts them. 
                From now until Christmas I will be reviewing three adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” in each blog. One will be a well known, often-played version; a rarely-seen version; and a version I have not seen. How can I review something I’ve not seen? Oh please, happens all the time.  It won’t be a comprehensive list, but I’ll do my best to keep to the format.
                I enjoy watching all the different versions of the story – there have been dozens and dozens. How closely these various adaptations follow the story is fun to discover – what they add and what they leave out are intriguing. Most of the cuts, especially in the early films, are economical – we have five minutes to tell this story, we’re not spending a lot of time on where Cratchet’s daughter Martha works; but in some cases they producers have to add bits to fill in two hours of content. Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s an entirely new scene. That’s half the fun of watching. The other half is enjoying a jolly good tale!
                More to come!