DVD REVIEWS (3/17/06):
MONSTER KID MINI-MOVIE MOGULS!
Film Covered: MONSTER KID HOME MOVIES (2005, PPS Group) features three soundtracks (original music and effects, audio commentary, original music and effects with 8mm projector sound effect). To order, visit their Web site at www.monsterkidhomemovies.com. $20.00 (plus shipping and handling)
Reviewed by Marian Owens Clatterbaugh
Thanks to a monumental effort by producer Joe Busam, what began as a few Monster Kids sharing their old home movies with others at Monster Bash in The Old Dark Clubhouse has turned into a fascinating and touching compilation reflecting the filmmakers' devotion to the horror genre going back to their childhood. I had the pleasure of viewing many of the Monster Kid Home Movies at last year's Wonderfest along with many of its filmmakers, and then spent an enjoyable afternoon with the DVD at home.
Most of the films were made starting from the beginning of the monster craze in the late 1950s up to about 1980, with even a winsome 2003 camcorder episode by Robert Tinnell starring his young daughter, Isabella, and two friends.
Conceived by Joe Busam and Gary Prange, and produced by Joe (also the film's colorist and production/graphics designer, now a traditional animator and artist), Monster Kid Home Movies comprises 30 films, shot on 8mm, Super 8mm, or 16mm, by twelve young filmmakers, from eight years up to high school age. In his own offering, The Raven, an adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe poem filmed as a high school project in 1970 using his father's 8mm movie camera, Joe plays Poe's character visited by the inscrutable Raven (amusingly crafted from an old sock!).
The films range from the incredibly cute (Caveman Comedy, 1962, by Richard Olson) to an intriguing exhibition of budding talent and future careers (The Monster, 1953, by Bob Burns, renowned horror/fantasy film historian; Out of the Frying Pan, 1977, by Disney animator and classic monster artist Frank Dietz; Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, 1970, by illustrator Kerry Gammill; The Landing, by advertising creative director Joe "Sorko" Schovitz; Frankenstein, 1977, by writer/director Robert Tinnell; and Up For Grabs, 1980, by writer Tom Weaver and featuring impressive stunt work by his late brother, Jon).
It's particularly fascinating to see the filmmakers' early attempts at special effects, such as in Bob Burns' and Lionel Comport's The Monster, where they made scratches in the film to depict electrical charges at the time Dr. Demon and Daniel bring The Monster to life.
In Out of the Frying Pan, Frank Dietz early on exhibits his talent with animation, and his love for Ray Harryhausen's work is evident (not to mention his dedication to getting the shot at all costs---cavorting around a live electric train track rail?!). Leave it to teenage boys....
Illustrator and conceptual artist Kerry Gammill's three film offerings are astonishing with their use of makeup, special effects, and fight choreography. Perhaps the most amusing (and effective) approach to wolf man makeup in all the films was Kerry's use of his Scottish collie's hair glued to a paper bag with a cutout face in Dracula Meets the Wolf Man (1965). "Fang" came in handy whenever the young filmmakers needed werewolf hair! Using Dick Smith's Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook, Kerry's early work was amazingly professional. In his werewolf role in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Kerry's resemblance to Lon Chaney, Jr., is uncanny, and friend Larry Purselley looks "dead"-on made up as Frankenstein's Monster. The old reliable film-scratching technique was again put to great use to depict the lightening, and the castle's demolition is very clever and worth a close look. In his Miscellaneous Tests and Makeups, done in the 1960s, Kerry's Phantom of the Opera makeup and expression as he rips off the mask are astounding, and his entreating hand gestures as Karloff's Monster are superb ("Why was I ever made?"). And don't miss Kerry's effects in Superheroes, which celebrates another of his passions; he later became an artist for Marvel and DC Comics.
Many of the filmmakers were launched into monster moviemaking by the adults in their life. Mike High, a self-described Monster Kid of the '60s, received a Super 8mm movie camera from his parents on Christmas 1978 and in a couple of hours that day made The Alien, using a mask he received as another gift.
Dan Schies turned friend Richard Harland Smith into a Van Helsing-like vampire in Dracula Must Be Destroyed (1972). And thanks to the fact that Richard's dad was the high-school principal, the teenage filmmakers had the use of their school's chemistry lab in Mr. Hyde (1973).
When Bruce Tinkel's father took him and his brother to see The Werewolf, starring Steven Rich, Bruce's love of horror films was off and running. In his The Blue Death Strikes (1964), Bruce took over the title role of The Blue Death by virtue of having the indispensable blue jacket as well as being the tallest of the gang---and the biggest horror fan---that's just the way things worked back then! Return of The Blue Death, filmed a year later, added a stuntman and point-of-view shots.
In Dracula's Lab (1967), Richard Olson's mother even drove the cameraman in her car alongside a graveyard so "Dracula" could be filmed in action running among the graves. Richard's early love for the classic monsters is evident in his '60s monster figures and models used as props throughout his films. And Caveman Comedy features a couple of Sinclair "dinosaurs" that weren't likely preservable for the ages after that film was wrapped up!
Joe "Sorko" Schovitz got caught up in the '60s monster craze after his father surprised him with an Aurora Frankenstein kit. After many a late-night horror show, Joe decided to put his family's Super 8mm movie camera to good use, and he read about how stop motion was done. Joe's love of Ray Harryhausen's work inspired The Landing, and his budding talent is evident in his use of stop motion and ingenious set designs.
Robert Tinnell began filming in Super 8mm as a young teen and even published a horror fanzine, Demons of the Mind. In Scream of the Vampire (1976) and Frankenstein a year later, Bob exhibits his close-up and freeze-frame skills and puts the titling set he received from his parents to good use. As an adult, Bob has written and directed several films, including Frankenstein and Me (1996) and Believe (2000).
The Gentle Old Madman (1974), by Alan Upchurch with his twin brother Mark, is notable not only for its elegant filming but also for its thoughtful commentary by Tim Lucas (Editor and Publisher of Video Watchdog) and award-winning screenwriter and director Tom Abrams (Shoeshine  and Performance Pieces ), who also co-wrote the film. Both Tim and Tom were close friends of the late Upchurch brothers, and they tell an amazing story of the twins and their achievements. Alan and Mark began filming in 1971, when the family acquired a Super 8mm movie camera, and the opening credits of Madman were designed by their father. The film, styled after the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, has Mark Upchurch playing the title character, Arthur Grimsdyke (a nod to the character played by Peter Cushing in a 1972 Tales From the Crypt episode), and Alan playing a Kolchak-like character. The brothers entered The Gentle Old Madman in the Kodak Teenage Film Contest, and the film won an Honorable Mention in the Senior Category.
The last gem in Monster Kid Home Movies is also the most moving. Up For Grabs was made in 1980 by veteran interviewer/writer/film historian Tom Weaver (e.g., Monster Kid Memories, with Bob Burns, 2003) with his late brother Jon, after Jon received some about-to-be-discarded expired film from his science teacher. Not wanting to waste the film, the brothers decided to spend an afternoon making a scary movie, which featured Jon's obvious talent as a stuntman as well as Tom's considerable ability as a fledgling cameraman. The film's many effects are worthy of an aspiring stuntman, and perhaps the highlight of the film is when friend Alex crawls up from below the ground. Tom's brother Jon was killed several years later when he walked in on a holdup at a hotel where he worked, and the film they made together is undoubtedly one to be cherished.
Monster Kid Home Movies, which has a running time of about three hours, features an enticing introduction by USA Today editor David Colton and Dave Conover, with highlights from some of the films. Each film can be viewed with its original music and effects (in most cases, added by Joe Busam), an audio commentary, or the hum of an 8mm projector combined with original music/effects. In addition, each film starts with a short 8mm leader to enhance the home movie feel, and a biography of each filmmaker is included.
Carefully restored and remastered, the transfers are impressive---sharp and colorful, thanks to Joe Busam's remarkable work cleaning them up and adjusting the color balance---and largely free of (unintentional) scratches. Audio quality and menu navigation are excellent. The DVD disc is artfully designed to resemble an 8mm reel, and the insert shows "How to Make a Box Monster" (courtesy of Richard Olson, Caveman Comedy)!
Watching Monster Kid Home Movies makes me wish I had thought at age eight or so to make use of my father's 8mm movie camera (and his filming talent) and constructed a similar childhood saga (maybe Aquaman and "Aquagirl" with the boy next door in his pool---my tastes back then leaned more toward the comic book super heroes than monsters). These films are indeed treasures and, as Tim Lucas noted, astonishing displays of the "sheer spirit of enterprise" of the young filmmakers.
So, don't miss out on Monster Kid Home Movies, and start digging around for your own old films---because, happily, future volumes are anticipated!
BURSTING THE BALLOON OF A MONSTER KID CHILDHOOD
Film Covered: FLIP: A Short Film (2004, Spooklight Productions) features five audio commentaries plus additional bonuses. To order, visit their Web site at www.spooklightproductions.com. $7.50 (plus shipping and handling)
Reviewed by Marian Owens Clatterbaugh
Remember being eight?
Old enough to be targeted by the local bully but too young to fight back fully? But, thankfully, also young enough to take comfort in a vision of your favorite super- or monster-hero watchin' your back.
Too fuzzy to recall? Then take yourself back with Flip: A Short Film, a clever, live-action gem from Spooklight Productions set sometime between 1966-69, just after the big monster craze. Flip features eight-year-old Phillip "Flip" Adams (Landon Knowlton), a comic book and horror film fan, who receives a birthday dollar in the mail from his grandmother with the gentle admonition to "spend it wisely." Flip decides the wisest place to shop is the novelty pages in back of an old comic (remember x-ray vision glasses for 95 cents? a pair of ventriloquist dummies for $2.95? the Greedy Fingers Coffin Bank?). "Six-to-eight weeks later," what Flip receives for his dollar really bursts his bubble about what he'd been imagining.
First-time director Kirk Demarais (also writer and story editor for Flip) created and introduced Flip as a Web 'Toon available for viewing on his pop-culture Web site www.secretfunspot.com. Producer Todd Knowlton, owner of Spooklight productions, optioned Flip to make a short film based on the Web 'Toon. Knowlton, who also did the impressive production design for the film, brought in Demarais to direct the live-action Flip, Jamey Clayberg as cinematographer and sound editor, and Scott Alan Kinney as executive producer. David E. Allen (Dog Soldiers: Fresh Meat) assisted in the filming and also starred as a Hollywood producer in one of Flip's fantasy sequences.
The concept of Flip is a touching remembrance of childhood illusions, and the filmmakers were fortunate to have available for the lead role the very engaging Landon Knowlton. The character of Flip required an expressive young actor, and the talented Landon offered a convincing and versatile portrayal. Not many kids could have pulled this off---and looked as perfect for the role on-camera.
All of the young actors were a credit to the film, in particular Harrison Knowlton as the neighborhood bully and Andrew Haught as one of his young victims. In addition, Quincy Knowlton injects a wonderfully campy moment as the screaming girl being terrorized by the "wolf man" in another of Flip's fantasy sequences.
Filmed in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, Flip took about a year to produce, and the attention to detail is evident in the carefully crafted sets, particularly the old dime store filled with vintage 1960s toys and candies, and the remarkable mad scientist laboratory, including a little man in a jar (Josh Clayberg), one of the Flip's many references to old horror films (The Incredible Shrinking Man). Flip's birthday dollar is an authentic 1963 one dollar bill purchased on e-bay for $6, and a vintage 1965 space helmet is used in one of Flip's daydream sequences. Flip's (fake) comic, The Haunted Casino, is the filmmakers' tribute to the old DC comics. Of the three t-shirts Flip wears during the film, the Shockmonster shirt is worn only during the fantasy sequences, the idea being that Flip's parents disapproved of his wearing that one. As explained in Jamey Clayberg's audio commentary, Flip's wavy dream transitions were accomplished using Final Cut Pro and further manipulated avoid a stock or hokey effect.
Aside from the fifteen-minute title film and the informative commentaries, the DVD includes a 27-minute "Making Of" segment; Uncle Laff's Legacy, the original Web 'Toon by Kirk Demarais on which Flip was based; The Phantasmagoria, an earlier Web 'Toon by Kirk Demarais that must not be missed; a trailer for the Revenge of the Beast segment directed by Scott Kinney and featuring Jason Rovenstine as mad scientist Dr. Jargov; an Image Gallery depicting vintage toys and games that will make you want to buy back all those lost childhood treasures from the five-and-dime store, plus Flip's fantasy Hollywood contract---right out of a kid's dream (read it!); and a hilarious Comic Book Ads versus Reality segment.
Flip: A Short Film was an official selection of several film festivals, including the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival. A trailer of the film can be viewed on Spooklight's Web site. To add to the charm, the DVD and box cover insert include reproductions of the old comic novelty ads, with the back of the insert depicted as The Haunted Casino comic book.
As for your DVD money, you'll "spend it wisely" on this lovingly made journey back to an idyllic 1960s Monster Kid childhood.
--Marian Owens Clatterbaugh
TO VIEW PREVIOUS DVD REVIEWS CLICK ON THE LINKS BELOW:
DVD Reviews 2/1/01
DVD Reviews 5/18/02
DVD Reviews 10/14/02
MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT
P.O. Box 981
Abingdon, MD 21009-0981