When Will I Ever Learn?

My fitness journey is well-documented, that’s what this blog was originally meant for, and hopefully it is continuing despite a recent stop at a roadside rest area. As we get older our metabolisms slow down, many abandon exercise early on, we trend toward sedentary lifestyles, and we tend to pack on a few pounds. For some, the weight gain is gradual over time, for others, it seems like it’s dramatic and overnight. And for yours truly, who completely wrecked his metabolism, it has become a never-ending battle. I hate to do this, but for new readers of my little corner of the blogosphere, a recap is in order.

On January 2, 2013, I checked in at 236.6 pounds, the heaviest I had ever been. I had decided a month earlier to do something about it. So, I started with walking and some time on an elliptical and worked my way up to strength training and running. I was told to pick an ideal, so I chose Daniel Craig, he’s one year older than me, same height, and weighed what I wanted to weigh. I took before, during, and after photos. On November 2, 2013, I had achieved weight loss goal #1 – 190 pounds. On December 26, 2014, I blogged that I had achieved my goal weight of 180 pounds. I didn’t look like Daniel Craig, but whatever.

“I think you’re just getting started.”

Moneypenny to James Bond in Spectre

During that time I had a few setbacks, one that required an embarrassing surgery, and a couple of bouts with back spasms that were a precursor to a catastrophic injury to come. But, I reached my goal, although it took almost two years to do it. I managed to stay pretty close to that goal weight for the next few years, even through recovery from back surgery (catastrophic injury). I had achieved a pretty cool running goal at the end of 2017 and I pretty much gave up running after that. Another harbinger of things to come.

Sometime between 2017 and today, I hopped on the fluctuating weight roller coaster. By June of 2017, my weight had climbed back up to somewhere near 200 pounds. Thanks to a fantastic family friend who happened to be a kick-ass personal trainer, I dropped 20 pounds in 12 weeks and I was under 180 again. But my willpower failed me and I went back to eating and drinking whatever I liked. I have vacillated between 190 and today’s 222.8 ever since. Somewhere along the line I have discovered that the fitness/dietary supplement industry, especially when it comes to protein, is full of shit. That’s a story for another day.

The past 6-8 months on this bitch of coaster ride have been the most troubling. Before I get to that most recent of updates, I have to say that for almost 8 1/2 years I exercised 4-6 days per week, almost without fail. Up until the end of May of this year, nutrition is the biggest problem I have. Okay, so, I suspended my workout regimen at the end of May. Between a new job and a pending move, I just didn’t have the time to fit it in. I told myself I would resume as soon as the move was complete. Unfortunately, a good portion of my exercise equipment would not fit in the truck. “No worries,” I told myself, I’d figure it out at the new house. Yeah. About that …

Six months later I have hardly done anything. A few three-mile walks exploring the new neighborhood, a few walks and football throwing sessions on the beach here and there. One or two weight lifting sessions. The most strenuous thing I’ve done is play some basketball. Leave it me to move to a place where craft beer is even more popular than the place I left.

Before I get to this next part I have to tell you that I have been told for a number of years now that I cannot quit, that giving up exercise would be detrimental. Because of the arthritis that has settled in my spine, and presumably in a few other places at this point, quitting would be the worst thing I could do. Never mind the cardio-vascular ramifications. I knew in my heart this advice was wise. I spent eight and a half years trying and I never got the body I wanted. I was probably in the best shape of my life. I definitely was stronger than I have ever been. Even though I wasn’t even in what I would call good shape, I have often wondered how long it would take to fall out of shape again. Six months. Six fucking months, that’s how long. That’s it. Six measly months. I’ve lost muscle, I’ve lost strength, and I am stiff as hell. My knees don’t work right. I work remotely so I am on a lot of Zoom calls. I can see my weight gain in my face.

I worked for my firm at the Los Angeles Comic Convention this past weekend. I walked a lot, I was on my feet quite a bit. I couldn’t bend over to pick up a pen that had fallen to the floor. My knees and my feet were killing me after just two days in Los Angeles. I also saw myself in some photos. Yeesh. I maintained a brave face, but I was mortified and I hid the pain. Six months ago, I would have blitzed through the convention weekend like it was nothing. Six months ago I was loading and unloading my house at either end of an 800-mile move. I get winded putting my pants on now.

Last January I resolved to lose weight and improve my fitness. And for five months I did okay, well, January sucked, but other than that. After the move I had lost about 15 pounds and I was back down to 205. That didn’t last and the past several weeks I have been complaining about the state of me and my youngest finally told me, in the most respectful of ways, to shut up and do something about it. I promised that after the L.A. weekend I would get back on the stick and mean it.

So, despite stiffness and sore feet, I got up at 6:00 a.m. this morning and walked three miles in blustery and wet 42-degree weather. I did not wear appropriate clothing, although I thought I did, and I was soaked and chilled to the bone. The sock on my left foot slipped down and I now have a nice blister. But I kept my promise. Now, it means absolutely fuck all nothing if I don’t back it up with some kind of workout or exercise tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. We used to say in training camp in the NFL, you have to stack practices on top of each other to get better and prove yourself.

Last January I posted a video that was meant to be as much motivation for me as it was an announcement for you. I am loath to post it again, but I feel as though I have to.

I’m 52 and I am not done yet, people. I’m just getting started.

More Ways to Get the Knaak

Yours truly hosting SportsTalk in the NBS studios at NAS Keflavik, Iceland in 1994.

UPDATED! When I was in the United States Navy, I had the distinct pleasure to attend the same school (Defense Information School) as Robin Williams’ character in Good Morning Vietnam, Adrian Cronauer. After graduating at the top of my class, I was allowed to choose my next duty assignment. I chose the Navy Broadcasting Service Detachment Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland, so I could work for the great CWO4 Tom Jones. I was privileged enough to spend three years with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), which at one time was simply Armed Forces Radio. Considering the history of this illustrious organization, it was an honor.

I hosted a total of three radio shows during my time in Iceland, Vintage Vinyl Rock, After Midnight, and SportsTalk (the only sports talk radio show on Armed Forces Radio). We programmed After Midnight like we were running a college station, we played all the ALT rock we could get our hands on. I did live remote on-scene reporting from events and play-by-play for the men’s and women’s NATO/Iceland basketball tournaments. I was also a television board operator, a TV news anchor and field reporter, weatherman, and a TV talk show host. I directed and served as technical director and videotape and chyron operator for more newscasts and TV talk shows than I can remember. I also did a turn as the assistant television programming director. I did a lot in three years. I miss radio the most.

It’s not like I didn’t try to get a job in commercial broadcasting. On the contrary. But wasn’t in the cards. I did, however, use all of the multimedia skills I learned in the Navy in my job in digital media in professional football for 20 years. Five years ago I launched the Get the Knaak podcast and 3,700 plays later I am still enjoying myself. So what if I don’t have Joe Rogan’s numbers. I even had the opportunity to host a podcast for two years in my NFL job. There is a small handful of people who listened to my radio shows in Iceland back then who listen to Get the Knaak this very day. I made some lifelong friends in Iceland, including Chris Ingalls, who is a frequent guest on the podcast.

Sometimes I can be a bit myopic and I tend to take the path of least resistance. I have been quite happy with SoundCloud as my hosting service. I pay for premium unlimited. It’s an easy path to Apple Podcasts from there and I figured that’s all I needed. However, with the rise of Spotify and Google Play, I have only just realized that I have been missing out on growing my audience. So, I have submitted to those services and you can find the podcasts there now. I also published to Audible and Amazon! I have also submitted it to Pandora, and that is pending review.

I have made it a point to produce a show once per week and have some great guests on this season and I have achieved both so far. From repeat guests to first-timers, from published authors to horror movie aficionados – I’ve had fun conversations with entertaining people. And there is much more to come. I do hope you give it a listen.

Drop me a note in the comments and let me know where you find podcasts to listen to.

A Fangtastic Finish

It is Halloween and I did promise to finish the countdown by tonight. I do hope you have enjoyed the COUNTdown of my favorite vampire movies and discovered some new films to watch and revisited some you may have forgotten about. Fangs for indulging me.

3. Bram Stoker’s Dracula – 1992

Oh, how I crave a faithful adaptation of my favorite horror novel. I’ve never gotten one. A couple have come very close. Francis Ford Coppola helmed this ambitious picture that tries to stay very true to the novel with a few major differences. I do not know why so many screenwriters and directors want to inject a love story into Dracula. There is no love story in the book. There is no reincarnated princess from Dracula’s days as the Prince of Wallachia.

I have done a fair bit of research into Bram Stoker’s process for writing the book and I can say with confidence that he did not “base” the Dracula character on Vlad the Impaler. He borrowed some elements, most notably the name, but the creature itself owes more to Countess Elizabeth Bathory, werewolf lore, and the Irish vampire legend of the Dearg Due than it does the one-time prince known for his sadistic methods for dealing with enemies.

An all-star cast featuring Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, and Tom Waits bring Stoker’s story to life in ways never seen before. Too bad Reeves is not far enough removed from Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan. Hopkins seems to be in a different movie from everyone else. I love the film for its music, costumes, effects, and most of the acting. It is the truest adaptation of the book (in my estimation) and that’s probably why I like it so much.

2. The Lost Boys – 1987

Let’s see … Jason Patric (son of Jason Miller, The Exorcist’s Father Damien Karras), Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, the two Coreys, an awesome soundtrack, vampires … what’s not to like?

Set in Santa Carla, Calif., (actually Santa Cruz, along the beach boardwalk), vampires take up residence and they are recruiting. Well done in a manner that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s heavy and dark with lighthearted moments. This film explores the seduction the life of a vampire offers and the struggle to maintain one’s humanity.

Soundtrack spoiler, this is a bit of a pet peeve – it’s Echo and the Bunnymen’s version of People are Strange over the closing credits, not The Doors. That being written, I think this film has the best horror movie soundtrack in movie history.

1. Dracula – 1931

I wrote about the genesis of this film in my piece about the Universal cinematic universe. As the title of the countdown stipulates, these are my favorite vampire films. I was very young when I first saw this, I read the book at a young age too. I have to remind people that this is a film adaptation of the stage play that was derived from the novel. Many characters are omitted, names changed, etc. A good bit of the story is reworked as well. However, there is one reason this movie is No. 1 on this list – Bela Lugosi. Many people argue that the Spanish-language version, filmed at night during the making of the English version, is better. It does have some good cinematography and technical elements that surpass director Tod Browning’s effort, however, Lugosi is masterful as Count Dracula.

There is so much to unpack with regard to how Lugosi came to play Dracula. He was fantastic in the stage production. And he is who we imitate when we think of Count Dracula today. I won’t go into all the differences between the movie and the book. The film is dark and atmospheric and almost plays like a Sherlock Holmes mystery movie.

Edward Van Sloan plays Van Helsing, and Helen Chandler and David Manners also star. Lugosi only played Dracula one more time on the big screen in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Just remember, there are such things.

31a./31b. Blacula/Scream Blacula Scream
30. The Lair of the White Worm
29. Son of Dracula
28. Vampire Circus
27. Innocent Blood

26. The Hunger
25. Countess Dracula
24. Dracula (1979)
23. Count Dracula (1977)
22. The Vampire Lovers

21. Dracula’s Daughter
20. Kolchak: The Night Stalker
19. Salem’s Lot
18. Shadow of the Vampire

17. Interview with the Vampire
16. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
15. Twins of Evil
14. Lifeforce
13. Thirst
12. What We Do in the Shadows

11. Hammer Studios’ Dracula franchise
10. Fright Night
9. Underworld
8. From Dusk Till Dawn
7. Blade

6. 30 Days of Night
5. Nosferatu
4. Let the Right One In/Let Me In

A Little Thursday Night Bloodletting

As I have mentioned at various points during the Countdown of My Favorite Vampire Movies, I am a genre purist and I don’t care for breaking the “rules” as it were. I do, however, enjoy vampire stories that play around in the margins and try to add something to the mythos that seems to be a natural extension. A couple of films in tonight’s installment do just that.

6. 30 Days of Night – 2007

Josh Hartnett’s very short appearance in Sin City intrigued me. There was an oddly alluring darkness to his portrayal of “The Man.” Two years later he became an action hero in 30 Days of Night. 28 Days Later introduced us to “rage” zombies, and 30 Days of Night brought us “rage” vampires.

Based on Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s comic, David Slade directed this tale of a band of vampires who figure out how to beat the sun by descending on the town of Barrow, Alaska, where, you guessed it, the sun doesn’t rise for a month. Their arrival is heralded by “The Stranger” played by Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand) who steals and torches cell phones, murders sled dogs, and does whatever else he can to prevent the local townsfolk from leaving or communicating with the outside world. The gang of feral vampires does the rest.

Hartnett’s Sheriff Eben Olsen, his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), brother Jake, and a ragtag band of locals team up to not only fight to survive against Marlow (Danny Huston) and his pack of bloodsuckers but also to make sure Barrow’s story gets told.

This has become one of my favorites because of how vicious and violent the vampires are. The concept of preying on people where the sun is taken out of the equation as a weapon against the vampires is an interesting idea, except when you wonder why they haven’t thought of it before now. There are some great individual performances as well.

5. Nosferatu – 1922

Every schoolchild in America lit up when the teacher wheeled in the16mm film projector. I don’t remember how old I was or what grade I was in, but I had a teacher who screened F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu over the course of two or three days. I couldn’t tell you much of that first viewing other than Max Schreck’s performance as Count Orlock was mortifying.

We almost didn’t have this one, much like the lost London After Midnight. F.W. Murnau did not have the Stoker estate’s permission to use Bram Stoker’s Dracula for this movie, so Murnau changed the characters’ names and some plot details and scenes. Nosferatu is still basically Dracula. A judge sided with Stoker’s widow and ordered all copies destroyed. Fortunately, at least one survived. This film is atmospheric and suspenseful. The influence of German expressionism is evident throughout and Murnau’s cinematography is almost a character unto itself. What’s interesting is the opening credits of the restored English language version shows the character names as they would have been if Murnau didn’t have to change them.

Klaus Kinski takes on the role of Count Orlock, actually Dracula, in Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of Murnau’s masterpiece. Kinski’s performance is nuanced and layered. Herzog was able to use the names of the characters from Bram Stoker’s novel since rights issues have been long resolved. So, Orlock is now Dracula. Bruno Ganz plays Jonathan Harker and Isabelle Adjani plays Lucy Harker.

4. Let the Right One In/Let Me In – 2008/2010

A young bullied boy befriends the supposed female vampire who moves in next door. The original Swedish version is phenomenal and the American remake is excellent. Kåre Hedebrant (Oskar) and Lina Leandersson (Eli) star in the Swedish version, while Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz star in the American version. Cara Buono (Stranger Things) plays Owen’s mom, while Elias Koteas (the original Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) plays a local detective who starts to figure things out.

The relationship between the bullied Oskar and Eli/Owen and Abby (U.S. version) begins as friendship and slowly becomes co-dependence and maybe even love as the two learn to protect each other, and even desire to do so. Although a bit slow-paced, these films are unusual and different and very well acted. It doesn’t take the viewer long to understand that Eli/Abby has a caretaker or guardian (Per Ragnar as Håkan/Richard Jenkins as The Father), and why they don’t tend to stay in one location for very long. A vampire passing as a 12-year-old girl feeding on housing project residents tends to draw attention, especially when the guardian fails in his cover-up duties. Oskar/Owen eventually realizes that he is destined to become that guardian and that he won’t be the last.

Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it’s a new-age tale of Gothic horror for the vampire and a coming of age story for the bullied boy, these movies are well-written and gritty. The original is pitch-perfect and well done, and the American version is pretty damn good too.

31a./31b. Blacula/Scream Blacula Scream
30. The Lair of the White Worm
29. Son of Dracula
28. Vampire Circus
27. Innocent Blood

26. The Hunger
25. Countess Dracula
24. Dracula (1979)
23. Count Dracula (1977)
22. The Vampire Lovers

21. Dracula’s Daughter
20. Kolchak: The Night Stalker
19. Salem’s Lot
18. Shadow of the Vampire

17. Interview with the Vampire
16. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
15. Twins of Evil
14. Lifeforce
13. Thirst
12. What We Do in the Shadows

11. Hammer Studios’ Dracula franchise
10. Fright Night
9. Underworld
8. From Dusk Till Dawn
7. Blade

Vampires, Werewolves, and Hybrids, Oh My!

Everyone knows that I am partial to classic horror films and that will become more evident as we get to Halloween. Everything in the horror genre is cyclical – vampires, werewolves, zombies, and even mummies keep coming back around. You can’t keep a good monster down as they say. Tonight’s three-pack features three “newer” films. Whether or not they are destined to become classics remains to be seen.

9. Underworld – 2003

The film that launched Kate Beckinsale’s career and a movie franchise. Beckinsale stars as Selene, a vampire “death dealer,” a soldier in a trumped-up war against werewolves (lycans). Bill Nighy, Scott Speedman, and Michael Sheen star. This atmospheric film has its issues. You have no idea exactly where the movie is set, somewhere in the Czech Republic if I had to hazard a guess. The genre rules get bent a bit, but director Len Wiseman makes it all work somehow as he creates a mythos that really doesn’t go sideways until later films.

I don’t know if I would so much call this a horror film as some kind of supernatural thriller or action/adventure. There are vampires (which puts it on this list) and werewolves, so I suppose it qualifies. There is plenty of murder and mayhem and betrayal and blood.

The sequels are hit or miss. They aim to tell a complete story arc of the origin of the two species and the war between them and carry that into the future. You would be fine if you quit after Rise of the Lycans. Shane Brolly’s horrible overacting as Kraven damn near derails this movie. But it has plenty of redeeming qualities.

8. From Dusk Till Dawn – 1996

I consider this to be George Clooney’s best movie. It really is two movies in one – taut hostage drama/batshit crazy vampire film. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the Gecko brothers, a pair of violent fugitives on the run from the law. They kidnap Harvey Keitel and his family – played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu – and hatch a plan to cross the border into Mexico, where they are to meet up with Cheech Marin (who plays three characters in the movie) who is to take them to the sanctuary city of El Rey (all part of Robert Rodriguez’s interconnected movie mythos).

Everything goes smoothly until they head to the rendezvous, a bar called the Titty Twister. The band of border crossers meets up with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (Frost) and Tom Savini (Sex Machine) at the bar, which happens to be run by vampires – Cheech, Danny Trejo (Machete), all the dancers, the waitstaff, the band, and the leader – Santanico Pandemonium (played by a vamped up Salma Hayek).

The vampires show their true colors, and all hell breaks loose. This is a fun, ridiculous movie. Michael Parks plays recurring Tarantino/Rodriguez character Texas Ranger Earl McGraw.

7. Blade – 1998

When Wesley Snipes wasn’t running from the IRS, he was hunting vampires as the vampire/human hybrid Blade in the first Marvel superhero film. Kris Kristofferson plays Blade’s trusty sidekick, Stephen Dorff stars as rogue vampire Deacon Frost and Donal Logue, and Arly Jover co-star as Frost’s right and left hands as it were. Former adult film star Traci Lords gets her name in the opening credits and lasts about 10 minutes. Stephen Norrington directed Stephen S. Goyer’s screenplay.

As the story goes, Blade was born a vampire/human hybrid when his mother (Sanaa Lathan) is bitten while she is pregnant with him. He meets up with Abraham Whistler (Kristofferson) as an adolescent and grows up to be a vampire hunter. Meanwhile, Frost discovers an ancient vampire prophecy with promises of the coming of the Blood God. He defies the vampire council, headed by Dragonetti (Udo Kier). Blade rescues a hematologist named Karen (N’Bushe Wright), who gets tangled up in the mess and even tries to cure Blade. Frost channels the Blood God and squares up with Blade, who has been trying to hang onto his humanity for decades, in an epic showdown with plenty of Samurai swordplay.  

There are some excellent, if not campy, individual performances in this movie, including Eric Edwards as Pearl the recordkeeper and Logue as Quinn.

This has become one of my favorite movies in any genre despite the underdeveloped vampire subculture, mythology, and history. Blade II tries to explore the vampire underworld but doesn’t do a very good job, and Blade Trinity, well …

31a./31b. Blacula/Scream Blacula Scream
30. The Lair of the White Worm
29. Son of Dracula
28. Vampire Circus
27. Innocent Blood

26. The Hunger
25. Countess Dracula
24. Dracula (1979)
23. Count Dracula (1977)
22. The Vampire Lovers

21. Dracula’s Daughter
20. Kolchak: The Night Stalker
19. Salem’s Lot
18. Shadow of the Vampire

17. Interview with the Vampire
16. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
15. Twins of Evil
14. Lifeforce
13. Thirst
12. What We Do in the Shadows

11. Hammer Studios’ Dracula franchise
10. Fright Night

A Vampire Named Jerry?!?

I do hope you are enjoying the countdown of my favorite vampire movies as much I am bringing it to you from beyond the grave. Whenever I explore these topics I am overwhelmed with a sense of nostalgia and I hope that sentiment comes across. So many of these films are woven into the fabric of my life, especially childhood and adolescence. I also feel like some movies and TV shows capture moments in time, lightning in a bottle, and distilled with a modicum of charm create a one-time-only, single-use potion. Tonight’s entry in the countdown is all that wrapped in my nostalgia blanket.

10. Fright Night – 1985

I have always been a fan of Roddy McDowell, ever since the Planet of the Apes franchise and things like The Legend of Hell House, as well as his distinctive voice-over work. I’ve also always been partial to horror movie hosts like Elvira, Svengoolie, and Joe Bob Briggs. McDowell combines all of these things in his Peter Vincent character. But I am putting the proverbial cart before the horse as it were.

Handsome, apple-chomping (there’s a clue) Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) and his housemate Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), move in next door to young Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and his single mom Judy (Dorothy Fielding). The only problem is, Jerry is, well, a vampire. Yes, a vampire named Jerry. After brazenly committing an act of atrocity in front of Charley, and nobody believing Charley’s accusations of murder, Jerry sets his sights on Charley’s girlfriend, Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse).

Charley turns to recently fired horror movie host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), who supposedly knows about vanquishing the undead, for help. Vincent agrees reluctantly, but only pretends to go along. Eventually, Vincent comes to realize that Charley was right and that Dandridge really is a vampire.

Comic relief in the movie arrives in the form of Evil Ed, a quasi-friend of Charley’s who is transformed into a vampire and causes all kinds of hell throughout the film. He is played by Stephen Geoffreys, who coincidently had quite the run as an adult film actor under the name of Sam Ritter. The things you learn when you’re researching these movies.

In 2011, Colin Farrell, horror movie royalty Toni Collette, David Tennant, and the late Anton Yelchin starred in a remake that I really didn’t care for. It had it’s moments, but it just wasn’t that good. In 1988, Ragsdale and McDowell reprised their roles for Fright Night 2, and to be honest, I can’t get past the first 10 minutes of that train wreck.

You may find it interesting that Fright Night is brought to you by the same Tom Holland who wrote and directed Chucky in 1988, wrote and directed Stephen King’s Thinner and The Langoliers (he also starred), and was involved in Tales from the Crypt and Masters of Horror. He also appeared in Stephen King’s The Stand mini-series in 1994, wrote and appeared in Psycho II, and starred in an episode of 77 Sunset Strip.

31a./31b. Blacula/Scream Blacula Scream
30. The Lair of the White Worm
29. Son of Dracula
28. Vampire Circus
27. Innocent Blood

26. The Hunger
25. Countess Dracula
24. Dracula (1979)
23. Count Dracula (1977)
22. The Vampire Lovers

21. Dracula’s Daughter
20. Kolchak: The Night Stalker
19. Salem’s Lot
18. Shadow of the Vampire

17. Interview with the Vampire
16. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
15. Twins of Evil
14. Lifeforce
13. Thirst
12. What We Do in the Shadows

11. Hammer Studios’ Dracula franchise