Don Coscarelli wrote and directed this when he was 22 (he'd go on to make Phantasm at the ripe old age of 25). Little-seen but very well-loved by its viewers, it's a plotless series of incidents in the life of an 11-year old boy. There's a thoughtful essay about it over here.
Anyone who grew up in the 70's is really going to dig this. I haven't seen another film that captures childhood of the era so well.
No longer on netflix, this movie is out-of-print on DVD. But the last few copies are still available on amazon for under $10. And Blockbuster online is still renting it.
From 1925 to 1968, Hubert's Museum sat on 42nd street in Times Square. It offered exhibits of taxidermied exotic animals and gaffed cryptids in a series of cases encompassing the perimeter, but the real action was to be found on the stage, where live performances were constantly going on.
Zip The Pinhead performed here in the 1920's, when Coney Island wasn't in season. There was also Andy Potatochips the Russian Midget, The Headless Woman in a Box, Sealo the Seal Boy, Congo the Jungle Creep, Susie the Elephant Skin Girl, Eddie the Jewish Giant, and Prince Randian the Caterpillar Man. Many of these folks also appeared in Tod Browning's Freaks and Diane Arbus' famous photographs of Hubert's performers. It was also home to the last Flea Circus to be found in America, located in the museum's basement and experienced in groups of six people per show for an additional charge.
The museum closed in 1968 due to poor attendance and the changing neighborhood. It was replaced by a peep show.
It took awhile to find, but hubertsfreaks.com is worth your time. It seems to exist to market a book, but there are some great photos, as well as audio recordings of the "talker" out in front of the museum describing the acts inside, with all the idiomatic embellishments you'd expect.
I've already plugged krautrock: the rebirth of germany, alchemists of sound, and synth brittania on this blog, but the great music documentaries keep on coming in from the U.K's channel four. This one focuses on the nascent years of punk rock, spending equal time between the London and New York scenes. Well-researched and produced. Check it out:
I saw this for the first time at a revival theater a couple years ago. It isn't on DVD, and it must not gave gotten much play on TV (or at least I never caught it as a kid), but it's such a great movie.
This has it all. In both theme and entertainment value, it's like a combination of King Kong and Freaks. Bela Lugosi is in a very unusual role, Lota The Panther Woman is played by a very unusual person, there are scores hideous mutants being vivisected, and the movie is a major inspiration for Devo's "Jocko Homo", the official anthem of this blog.
My favorite bit of trivia from the imdb page:
To create the language of the mutants sound-man Loren L. Ryder recorded a mixture of animal sounds and foreign languages, then played them backwards at alternating speeds. The effect: the sound induced nausea and caused the audiences to vomit in the theaters.
Who knows why this isn't on video. It might have something to do with the fact that it was made by Paramount, but then purchased by Universal in the 50's, and Universal might not want product that competes with their own 1930's horror films. Or it might be the H.G. Wells estate that's in the way. But tcm.com has a petition page for every film that's not available on disc. Let yourself be heard here.
Until then, here you go:
My favorite dark ride in America, based on my limited experience, was Dante's Inferno at Coney Island. It was removed when Coney Island basically got sold to condominium developers. We've already discussed that here and here.
Second favorite: definitely the Haunted Castle at the Santa Cruz boardwalk. I've just learned that it was demolished last summer. God-DAMN-it. Here's a ride-through:
Crews are hard at work building a new Haunted Castle with multiple floors and Disneyland-style rotating buggies, set to open later this year. I'm sure it'll be a technological improvement, but the cheap-thrills carny style of the original will be missed. Here are some of the plans:
As long as I'm talking about this, the thing I miss most about the two years I lived in Germany is all of the Geisterbahns. There was always at least one at every Bierfest, and the Munich Oktoberfest had dozens of them. They seem to be no less a crucial component of German culture than scale models.
Speaking of which:
This is the greatest object I've ever seen. The guy who shot this video built and painted it from a kit. Faller models of Germany sells loads of motorized carnival model kits, including woodie roller coasters and working log flumes (unfortunately, this particular model has been discontinued since the mid-90's). They have a website, but the video maker guy has a better one here, complete with more videos and build-up instructions. Super-fun. If I didn't fancy myself as a sculptor rather than a kit-builder, I'd buy alla this shit, man.
And if you're interested in visiting the handful of dark rides remaining in America, once again, the resource for finding them is here.
Old Chicago opened to great fanfare and over 15,000 visitors on June 17, 1975, with an enormous building that housed major rides, such as a roller coaster and a Ferris wheel, as well as a shopping mall. Only six months after opening, however, the complex ran into financial troubles due to construction cost overruns. Despite management changes, the center continued to lose money. By 1978, the mall began closing on Mondays and Tuesdays and in early 1980 the entire amusement park shut down and the rides were sold, only five years after opening. Efforts to find alternative uses for the huge building failed, and the structure was demolished in the spring of 1986.
We went here for my brother's birthday in 1977. The building was designed in such a way that the amusement park was in the center of the complex with the mall encompassing the perimeter, and you had to walk the entire mall circuit before reaching the park. And you know how everything in the 70's was all turn-of-the-century-olde-timey, but in a sickening burnt orange / chocolate brown / mustard yellow palette? Like this?
So even by the time we finally walked through all of the mall and got to the park itself, nobody was having fun.
Also, imagine what kind of noise levels you could achieve in an indoor space with lots of screaming kids and thrill rides, including a steel looping roller coaster. Even as a seven-year-old my nerves were fried within a minute, so I can only imagine what sort of hell my mom was going through. I can't say I enjoyed the experience, but it was impressive and memorable.
Criticisms aside, this place should have succeeded. Weather in Chicago is miserable all year round, so you'd think an indoor park would be a no-brainer. It sounds like its downfall was due to more to bad construction estimates than attendance.
Negative G is a site about the park which is impressively detailed, considering how short-lived the place was. The video page contains a non-embeddable clip of the Ramones playing a concert there in '79.
Also, for the ultimate Old Chicago video which is not on youtube for proprietary reasons, rent Brian DePalma's The Fury from 1978. It has a long sequence of destruction within the park, and anyway, the movie is worth seeing for its overall absurdity. I already spoiled the ending for you a few weeks ago, but so what.
Then there's this guy who built motorized scale replicas of rides from the park, which is really obsessive and weird.
see his other models on his youtube page.
Finally, some home movies shot on (aaahhhh....) super-8, with the only appropriate soundtrack for 70's amusement, ye-olde-timey Scott Joplin.
In 1954, the comics code authority pretty much destroyed everything good about comic books. Ten years later, Creepy magazine came along, which bypassed the code by publishing in a magazine format. After its success, Myron Fass and his company, Eerie publications, started releasing horror titles which made all the gore and nudity in Creepy look tasteful by comparison. The following text is excerpted from the super-excellent Frankensteinia blog:
Myron Fass was the ultimate exploitation publisher, flooding the newsstands with countless magazine titles. There were skin mags like Jaguar, Poorboy and Flick (its title in caps reading like another four-letter word), true crime, hot rod and gun magazines, Famous Monsters knockoffs like Thriller and 3-D Monsters, pop music and gossip titles, TV Photo Story, and a slew of wild paranormal offerings like ESP and Official UFO. Writers were hired out of college and encouraged to make everything up. Al Goldstein, who would go on to publish Screw, learned the ropes as one of Fass’ writers. Contents were slapped together, printed on the cheapest newsprint available and rushed out to the stands. A title’s survival was predicated on a single, simple rule: It had to sell at least 20,000 copies.
In 1966, Weird was Eerie Publications’ downmarket entry into the black and white horror comic magazine field pioneered by James Warren’s Eerie and Creepy. It was soon joined by Terror Tales, Horror Tales, Witches’ Tales, Tales of Voodoo, Terrors of Dracula and Tales from the Tomb, all basically the same magazine with different titles and interchangeable covers and contents. Early issues carried reprints of lowbrow horror comics from the Fifties, spruced up with ink washes or redone with added grue.
As new material was phased in, the sleaze and gore scores were jacked up, making the Eerie titles synonymous with bad taste and stomach-churning violence. Black ink blood spurted across the pages and severed heads, for some reason, became a signature image, nearly ubiquitous on the covers, either hanging by their hair, strewn about the dungeon, lined up on laboratory tables or kept in bell jars.
Covers were unsigned... nobody agrees on who might have painted the lurid, disturbing images of gleeful torture, bloody impalement, cannibalism and other indignities visited equally on semi-clad, bound females (often fanged vampiresses) and various drooling monsters.
I have a stack of these magazines; I stopped reading superhero comics when I was 13, but I made occasional visits to comic shops in the 80's and 90's to dig these up. There was no collectors' market for them at the time, and I'm not sure there is now (although they're quite rare, because most of them were thrown out for being the trash that they are).
But there's Zombie Factory, a fantastic trade paperback that collects many stories from them. It's been sitting on my bedside table for almost two years now; every few weeks I'll pick it up and flip through it, bringing me such indescribable joy that I'd almost diagnose it as Stendhal Syndrome.
A gallery of cover art is over here. The same website has scans of some of the stories. This one is as good an example as any.