Prologue to the Countdown of My 100 Favorite Horror Films

Bela Lugosi as Dracula
Bela Lugosi brought Dracula to the stage and screen.

The past few years I have counted down my 100 favorite horror films on Facebook in a run up to Halloween. Horror films and literature are my chosen forms of entertainment. I have been a fan of Halloween, horror, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, werewolves, mummies, science gone wrong, and anything and everything that goes bump in the night since I was a kid. I grew up on Hammer Horror, Universal monsters, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, local Chiller Theater, Commander USA, Night Gallery and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The 1970s were the golden years for horror films and you’ll find many of the films from my countdown were made in the 70s.

This year I am bringing the countdown to The Jerry Project blog. Starting Thursday, Oct.1, I’ll feature three movies per day and tell you why I like them or what my personal connection is to the film.

I have a theory. I don’t think I am the first to posit this because I am pretty sure I got the basis from someone or something else.

I think horror movies reflect what we, as a society, are afraid of at any given time. There is one thing that seems to persist throughout the horror film genre that transcends time. But I’ll get to that one later.

When horror movies began in the 1920s, they were silent and prime examples of expressionism in many cases. Dracula became Nosferatu’s Count Orlock without permission from the Stoker estate and almost every copy was destroyed in a copyright fight won by the Stoker estate. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a wonderful example of German expressionism, explored the concepts of the unconscious mind and mind control. An early shot at The Call of Cthulhu was taken. These things explored two familiar concepts to the new moviegoer – Gothic horror and the unknown. We’ll always fear the unknown. I think it’s human nature. Technology seems to have made us a bit more adventurous.

The 1930s brought Gothic horror to the big screen in a big way. Universal gave us Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf Man – and all of the sequels. Again, familiar concepts but never before seen larger than life on screen. Masterful performances by Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Boris Karloff brought these characters to life for the first time. Moviegoers were afraid as their literary nightmares leaped off the screen.

“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make.” – Bela Lugosi as Dracula

The 1940s brought World War II and a void in horror films. War was horrific enough. “Horror” films became lighter, comedic as Abbott and Costello took their turns warding off Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster…and even the Mummy.

The 1950s ushered in the nuclear age and now we were afraid of the Russians, communists and giant bugs. Anything to do with radiation, we were scared out of our minds. Giant ants, tarantulas, octopus, numerous manners of sea creatures terrorized the country while the government and their top minds plotted solutions. We also developed a fear of creatures descending upon the Earth from outer space.

TarantulaThe late 1950s and 1960s brought all kinds of hell as Hammer resurrected the Gothic horror films of Universal from the 1930s. Free love, drug experimentation and the Vietnam conflict meant experimentation in Hollywood. The 1960s saw the rise of the satanic cult movie, numerous new horror concepts, monstrous babies, haunted house rivals, ZOMBIES, and more. George Romero introduced us and crafted the modern zombie in The Night of the Living Dead. We were afraid of a lot of the things in the 60s and the movies reflected it.

The 1970s began to define the genre as we see it today. Vampire films took on a new eroticism; the slasher film became a thing, Fear of outer space became claustrophobic and personal and demonic possession was perfected on screen. A shift started to happen in the 70s. We started to become afraid of the human monster. In many regards these monsters were transformative creatures, half human, half something else.

The 1980s really saw the slasher film take off. Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees became household names. These franchises endure today. There were plenty of creature in the woods films but the human monster really started to take shape. Familiar monsters reappeared as the always do – vampires, werewolves and the like. Moviegoers were finally exposed to Clive Barker.

The 1990s brought us more encounters with witchcraft, demons and the devil – more familiar concepts. More creatures reigned terror down on us from outer space. Japanese hauntings were imported and remade. The 1990s resembled the 1960s, we seemed to be afraid of a great many things and again, Hollywood reflected this.

The 2000s took the human monster to a new level. The Saw and Hostel franchises introduced us to a new term – torture porn. Director Eli Roth represents a new breed of horror director. He seems to have a foot in two worlds as he explores new frights and revisits old. Giant monsters come back around every decade but it’s the human monster where we are now. The depths of depravity and suffering one human being is capable of visiting upon another seem to have no bottom.

It’s important to note that the one monster, the one creature, that seems to have a place in every decade is the vampire. The one overarching character is Dracula – one of the most sinister, evil, ruthless, characters every imagined.

The two things we are still afraid of are science and the unknown. Both go hand in hand sometimes. These two themes permeate every decade of horror movies. Frankenstein was as much science fiction as it was horror – perhaps the first science fiction story written. The darkness, internal and external, the unknown, the things that go bump in the night – those things will always scare us and make for great horror movie fodder. Science, well, as long as there is belief in an all-mighty God and as long as there are scientists, there will be conflict here. Science gone wrong is a fun place to explore the horror movie genre as it crosses over into science fiction.

I love it all. True, I prefer Gothic horror. But I love anything that is capable of scaring me, frightening me, making me jump, making my skin crawl or say out loud, “holy shit.” This is my time of year. I love fall and I do so love Halloween. So, my blog readers, I do hope you enjoy the countdown, which begins in two days and remember…

…It’s only a movie.

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Et Tu GEICO?

The Most Interesting Man in the World reads my blog!
The Most Interesting Man in the World reads my blog!
Several years ago I read an article that said that my generation would not create a great work of art, or produce a great leading man or lady. It was written that my generation’s lasting contribution to culture is the television commercial. For the life of me I have no idea who wrote it or published it. I wish I did. Considering that the TV commercial has become part of pop culture as evidenced by what goes on in and around the Super Bowl, I have a hard time disputing that claim. The Golden Age of Hollywood is long gone. There may be a few top-notch actors today, and certainly we have our box office draws but the studio stables are nowhere near as full as they used to be.

I know people who record everything on their DVRs just so they can fast forward through the commercials. In many cases the commercials are far more entertaining than the program.

Conversely, I cannot and will not buy a product, I don’t care if it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, if I find the commercial to be particularly poorly made, insipid or just plain tripe.

Allow me to illustrate.

I think the greatest commercial of all-time is an animated Nissan 300 Z spot featuring, GI Joe, Barbie and Ken. It’s set to David Lee Roth’s version of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me. GI Joe hops in his remote control 300 Z, avoids all kinds of household obstacles, including the cat, to get to the Barbie Dreamhouse. He invites her for a ride and she goes from tennis to do-me outfit in three seconds flat. Barbie hops in the 300 Z with GI Joe and speeds off much to the chagrin of Ken who is left flabbergasted on the balcony.

I don’t know about you but every time I go by the Dreamhouse, GI Joe’s Jeep is parked in the driveway. Just sayin’.

I very much enjoy the Most Interesting Man in the World commercials. I think the writing is superb, they couldn’t have chosen a better actor and the vintage footage is brilliant. I don’t necessarily drink Dos Equis because of them, I was partial to it already.

As beer commercials go, Heinken has really put some good efforts forth lately with the Skyfall themed spot with Daniel Craig, The Entrance and The Date. I am not a Heineken fan but I certainly appreciate the production value and the musical research – especially when you pull the Bollywood track Jaan Pehechaan Ho by Mohammed Rafi out of your ass.

Movie trailers have long been the crème de la crème when it comes to TV spots. However, ever since Don LaFontaine passed away, they haven’t quite been the same.

There are plenty of creative and fun car commercials out there. Restaurants continue to find new ways to get us to drink more and eat more.

For a long time the soft drink peddlers set the bar in the soda wars. Coke and Pepsi went at it for years throwing money, celebrities and a little accidental fire at trying to get people to buy their sugary beverages.

Some ad agencies have had some success recycling music and bands from bye gone eras. Nissan also had a nice little spot featuring virtuoso guitarist Dick Dale. Starbucks had a great little run with Survivor and a man named “Glen.” This can go a little far – I’ll get to that in a minute.

Insurance companies seem to really push the envelope. I like the Farmer’s Insurance spots with J.K. Simmons, Allstate with Mayhem, and of course GEICO with the talking gecko.

As I mentioned I will not buy a product if the commercial is inane. I have GEICO for car insurance. I don’t mind the gecko, I really don’t. I think it’s played out a bit. However, a new GEICO spot chapped my ass tonight. When I was a kid, I worked at McDonald’s. I worked with this heifer who I could’ve sworn keyed my car once. We worked the opening shift and she got there before I did and set the radio station. And for the love of all that is holy, you could set your watch by it, Europe’s The Final Countdown came on the same time every God damned morning. I don’t like hair metal and I honestly grew to hate the group and the song (never mind the bitch who keyed my car).

GEICO has dusted Europe off for a reprise of The Final Countdown for their new commercial and I have to say, I am considering changing insurance companies. I talk a big game and probably won’t do anything but it makes for good blog material. And oh yeah, I still hate that damn song.

There are several products on my list of “nevers.” Sticking with the insurance theme, I will never switch to The General. The creepy little animated military figure just drives me nuts. The snuggie is another product. First of all it’s a glorified effing blanket. Second of all, the “actors” they get to model this thing in real-world environments should never be seen or heard from again.

I can’t tell you how many commercials I’ve seen, mostly of the local variety, that feature some sort of weird animated character and I swear the business owner asked his kid to whip something up on the old Commodore 64.

I accept the infomercial for what it is. It’s a televised version of the state fair huckster. I get it. The next time I’m up at 3 a.m. and feel like I need some steak knives that can saw a car in half I’ll be in luck.

There are tons of commercials out there with production value, a good hook and even some storytelling. And there are just as many made by a 12-year old with an iPad and an app. If you are going to put one on TV, just make sure you make a high definition version because, I am telling you now, your kid’s animated car mechanic just plain looks creepy in standard def. You’re trying to get me to buy something or use your service, not recreate the video for Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing.

I grew up in Rochester, N.Y., the home of the House of Guitars, who just happen to be the 1970s kings of the homegrown commercial. You will never top what they did, don’t even try. I’m the real Easter Bunny, hop hop. Columbus, Ohio car dealer Fred Ricart ripped off every TV show of its time and came off as a cheesy huckster even though he had the biggest dealership in the state capitol.

Bottom line is this – if you put some time, money and effort into your TV spot I may or may not buy. But if you don’t, I sure as hell won’t and I won’t care how good the product is.

Another 5K Bites the Dust

For the record, I only run two organized races per year – the Oakland Running Festival (ORF) 5K and the Oakland Raiders Back to Football 5K. These races are approximately six months apart. The 2013 ORF 5K was at the beginning of my fitness journey and is an important marker. It’s not that I don’t aspire to do more. I actually want to increase my distance and run a 10K. I was heading in that direction when I hurt my back.

I really enjoyed this race even thought I lost a bet. Once again, not wise to challenge those half your age but it was all in good fun. I finished in 30:05. Not my fastest organized 5K time but considering I just started running again July 29, I’ll take it. My personal best for an organized 5K is 28:55, which I turned in at the ORF back in March.

My winding way through the Raiders 5K.
My winding way through the Raiders 5K.

The course was challenging but not daunting and I never felt like I wanted to quit or start walking. In fact my second mile was faster than my first. My back tightened up some toward the end but I had enough want to and gas left in the tank to sprint to the finish.

I ran again today, a slow 3.12 miles. I had the wind in my face for the first half of the run. Nothing takes the piss out of me more than running into the wind. I don’t mind a little weather but running into the wind, not so much.

Quite a few people have been telling me to get on Snapchat. I barely know what the hell Snapchat is. I do not have the bandwidth for another contraption, doodad, doohickey, gidget, gadget, web site, social network, streaming service or TV from space. However, my social media director is trying to make something of my periodic (frequent) rants and post them to Snapchat. So, if you want a peek into what I’m really like, follow Knaakchat at Themarc85.

Here I am finishing my 6th organized 5K in 3 years.
Here I am finishing my 6th organized 5K in 3 years.

I wrote recently about turning a corner. I don’t know what corner I have turned. I see the surgeon Monday so hopefully I can find out why I still wake up in pain in the middle of the night every night. You can almost set an alarm to it. Nothing helps – Ibuprofen, Norco…bourbon. I have good days and bad days and I have recommitted to exercise.

Speaking of…I alluded to it in my last entry but, um, yeah, I was eating too much. I can’t say I was consuming 3,000 calories and not exercising. However, 2,000-2,300 per day was too much. I lost nearly 60 pounds eating 1,200 a day. I was an idiot to think I could maintain my weight. So, I am back down to 1,700 or so per day and working out six days a week when possible. I am trying to run every third day or so. My body can’t handle every other day right now. I find running under 10-minute miles quite acceptable.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get back on the horse and start training for a 10K. I would have liked to run the Rock and Roll event in San Jose but my schedule won’t allow it. Eventually I’ll get out to longer distances. But first, let’s see what the hell is going on with my back.

Startling Revelations

I visit the Emerald City once a year. I have posed for a photo in almost the same exact spot for the last four years. No, I will not give you directions to the Fountain of Youth.
I visit the Emerald City once a year. I have posed for a photo in almost the same exact spot for the last four years. No, I will not give you directions to the Fountain of Youth.

I’m not sure if I am angry, confused, happy, motivated, encouraged, or all of the above. After not gaining a pound and staying at 180 pounds in the weeks leading up to and after back surgery, I have been gaining weight of late. I resumed lifting weights, I finally started running again, and I adjusted my diet with an emphasis on protein. Thank you to everyone who suffered my insufferable countdown to running.

After watching my weight climb as high as 188 and bottom out at 183, I decided to start counting calories again. Holy crap. When I was in the process of actually trying to lose weight, I was consuming between 1,200-1,700 calories a day. After logging a full day’s worth this past Monday, I saw a number north of 2,000. Knowing this was a typical day’s worth of calorie consumption, I was very disturbed…well, more disturbed than usual.

Not that long ago, I asked someone I know who is into fitness for advice about my belly fat. His first instinct was to tell me to lose weight, to ingest fewer calories than I take in. I found this interesting because this person was familiar with my efforts. After logging calories for a day, I now understand why he said this. After realizing that my diet was out of whack, watching my weight climb, and some anecdotal evidence…

…I am officially back in weight loss mode.

No worse for wear after a 4-mile run, my longest run since April.
No worse for wear after a 4-mile run, my longest run since April.

So, before I share my conclusions, let me update you on the goings on. Yes, I started running again. The countdown ended July 29 and I started the Couch to 5K plan. The app is great except that it still doesn’t work when the phone is locked. Four weeks of interval training and I decided to attempt non-stop distances. I managed two 5Ks, one four-mile run and one 2.2-mile run (hills in downtown Seattle are a bitch). Thanks to ibuprofen and dogged determination, I haven’t had any real issues. Some tightness and soreness in my hips and a little post-run swelling are the only symptoms I’ve had.

My times are getting better as I prep for a 5K.
My times are getting better as I prep for a 5K.

I’m definitely stronger. I have been pushing myself with weights, with one exception of course. I’ll never do another deadlift as long as I live. Good thing there are substitutes. I have been experiencing some “bench press elbow” which was exacerbated by drunken arm wrestling a 23-year-old. Not wise to take on someone half your age when you don’t have your wits about you. I was engaging in two-a-day workouts during the month of August and I really enjoyed that. My schedule no longer allows it as much as I’d like, but I’ll do as much as I can. I actually am going to be back in a more regular routine so I’ll really be able to get a handle on this. Chest workouts are challenging when you have a sore arm. I can pull but it’s hard to push. Bench press and pushups are difficult at best but I feel better now than I have since I was “pulled over” or somesuch.

You may be wondering what’s going on with my back. Well…the daily pain and stiffness is much less than it was. I am still awakened at 4 a.m. with an ache in my hip just about every day. That’s the aggravating part. As better as I am, as confident I am that my injury has been repaired and that the chronic problem as been addressed, I’m still not right. And I don’t know how long that is going to take. I’m tired of it. Never mind that I haven’t gotten a good night sleep since 2008. I guess I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

My most recent run, the hills in Seattle are a bitch.
My most recent running activity, not too shabby.

The running has been going fairly well. Back or hip pain has been minimal. It’s the cardio-vascular that is taking the time. I can’t seem to get my lungs back. I’m sure smoking a pack a day for 18 years, although I am seven years removed, has something to do with it. I logged a 9:06 mile Thursday morning, I’m at about a 10-minute mile pace and I think I am close to being ready for an organized 5K that I’m running Sept. 12.

Do I have a point to all of this? Well, as much as I felt like I accomplished something by getting to 180 pounds and staying there for a while, my back injury threw everything off and I forgot what I was eating right around the time I blew out the tire at L4L5. Yes, more protein=more muscle=less fat. Yeah, yeah, I know. My belly fat has been the one overriding issue I’ve had. It seems to be the one area I can’t seem to resolve. It stands to reason that I am still covered with body fat. I am starting to resume the progress I was making before back surgery but I am overweight and skinny fat (I still can’t believe that’s actually a thing).

Based on all of this, my desire to achieve certain goals, to look a certain way, all comes back to the fact I wasn’t finished losing fat. Unfortunately that means losing weight. It may only need to be a few pounds, 10 or less, but it still needs to be done. Now, the average person can consume 2,000 calories per day and maintain their weight. At my age and with my metabolism, I can’t do that, I don’t care how healthy I’m eating. Using a Basal Metabolic Rate calculator – 1,788. Jiminy Christmas, I wish I would’ve known this six weeks ago. Using MyFitnessPal, I capped my calorie goal at 1,700. I guess I wasn’t too far off. No wonder why I’ve been gaining weight. No wonder why I can’t lose my belly or uncover my muscles. We won’t even discuss the alcohol consumption.

It’s back to the drawing board on my daily food consumption. Granted, I have increased my exercise level in recent weeks and months but that doesn’t compensate for the fact that consuming 2,000-2,300 calories per day is too much.

Add all this together and I now how do I feel? I am pissed. I have figured it out. Back to training mode. Back to weight loss mode. Back to beast mode.

Mechanism cleared and reset.

“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass and I am all out of bubblegum.” – RIP Rowdy Roddy Piper