The Haunting

A dim memory from my earliest years of reading comic books, "The Haunting" is an amazingly bad, but still surprisingly effective, record from the early 70's, available only through comic book ads by mail order for $1. Brought back to my attention from the excellent but long-inactive Scar Stuff blog, which writes,

the record has a freakishly lame and astoundingly perfect charm all its own. It even manages to scrupulously follow the rules of the mighty Rip-Off Halloween Record genre (those being: a totally half-assed "story telling" side, and a banded "sound effects" side using most of the same audio library just without the narration), while still happily amplifying both their cheapest AND most exploitive qualities! Yeah! I honestly don't want to spoil it for you too much (Threadbare plot! Terrible narrator! One sound effect repeated ad nauseam! Children in peril!), but believe me, as far as I'm concerned it was more than worth the 30+ year wait. And hey, it even works just like the ad said it would!

Invite over some guests, turn out all the lights, and give it a listen:


Futurechimp Theater, Halloween Edition: Living Dolls

Thanks to kindertrauma.com for turning me on to this. It certainly tops Building Sites Bite and Fur Coat Club in creep-factor.

Somewhat related: another short film, linked from the youtube page for this one, which I'd also never seen before. The Dummy, made in the same era as Living Dolls and similarly picked up by the USA network to screen in between movies in the early 80's, is definitely worth seven minutes of your time.


Love in the Age of Circuitry

The following text is excerpted from Analog Days and takes place in the early 70's. For additional context, you might want to first scan the wikipedia pages for the Buchla synthesizer and Suzanne Ciani.

Suzanne's ultimate goal in working for Don Buchla was to acquire her own synthesizer. She slowly built up her $8,500 synth, module by module, acquiring some of the basic ones while at Buchla's workshop. To have the system she wanted, she realized she'd need to earn more than the $3 per hour she was paid for stuffing Don's circuit boards. She got a break from a friend of a friend who filmed commercials, and was hired to make sound signatures. The skill she was developing was in "sound design": "It wasn't so much the note as it was a poetry of sound - you know, what is the sound of a fur coat? What is the sound of perfume? And developing metaphors in sound... the feeling you got listening to it. This poetry of sound is what I brought to the industry."

(samples can be found here)

With the money from these first commercials, Suzanne put together her Buchla 200. As she added modules, she found herself becoming closer and closer to the machine: "Some people have a fear of technology, they look at this thing with all the knobs and holes and dials and go, "Oh my God". Whereas for me, it was like, "I'm going to get to know this. This is a living, breathing, entity. It has desires and abilities, limitations and possibilities... and it was alive, you know, and you build up a relationship."

As a struggling artist trying to make it in New York, Suzanne increasingly turned to sound signature work. She became known for many industry trademarks: The GE dishwasher beep, the Columbia pictures logo, the ABC logo, the Merrill Lynch sound, the Energizer battery sound, the Coca-Cola logo and the Pepsi logo.

Suzanne by now was so enamored with her Buchla that in New York it was about all she had for companionship. Her apartment contained no furniture, just her Buchla with its flashing lights in the middle of the room. It was her partner, co-worker, and courtesan: "It wasn't a static thing. Everything was shifting, everything was breathing. It was on, literally on, for ten years. I had a problem, in a way. I was scared, because I was in love with a machine."

In addition to commercial work, Ciani did the voices and soundtrack for Xenon, the sexiest pinball machine in history (coincidentally, the author of the post you're reading has had a crush on Xenon since he was 11).

Yet another one of those "I can't believe I've been given the opportunity to see this" moments which happens so often while searching youtube; an Omni documentary all about the Xenon project:


Shemp of the Dead

Shemp Howard, a.k.a. Sammy Horowitz, will always be the true third stooge. Not only do I consider him to have the best comic timing, but he formed the original act with Moe and Larry on vaudeville, and was replaced by Curly after he chose to pursue a very lucrative solo career. After Curly's death, Shemp felt obligated to temporarily help out his brother Moe by appearing in a few films. To his chagrin, he ended up keeping the job for the rest of his life. In 1955, he died suddenly and painlessly in the back of a taxicab, while lighting a cigar, on his way home from a boxing match. He was 60. However, the Three Stooges were under contract to deliver four more shorts to the studio. Bring in "Fake Shemp".

Joe Palma, a longtime bit player in Stooges shorts, unconvincingly filled Shemp's shoes, as this video will attest. I can't find a picture of the guy online. This footage doesn't even hint at what he might have looked like; he's only shot from behind. But he sure is tall. That's why he's walking around like a hunchback. In his first two appearances in this collection of clips, he uses his actual voice. In the rest, Shemp's voice is dubbed in post-mortem.

These films were terrible, but it only got worse: when it came time to renew their contract, Moe and Larry braved on with the awful Joe Besser ("Joe") followed by the dreaded, horrible Joe DeRita ("Curly Joe").



Zip The Pinhead, alias William Henry Johnson, was born to impoverished and newly freed African-American slaves in New Jersey. In the late 1850's, when he was a teenager, a traveling circus pulled through town. They noticed his oddly-shaped head and speculated "we could build an act around this". Soon he was in the sideshow wearing a fur suit, acting batshit crazy by throwing himself around a steel cage and speaking only in grunts. Darwin's Origin of the Species had just been published, and the resulting media furor was capitalized upon with Zip's promotion; He was a missing link, discovered in the Congo. Charles Dickens, upon witnessing him, exclaimed "What is it?" This caught on, and Zip was called the What-Is-It for the rest of his long, lucrative career.

His two mainstays were the American Museum (covered in last week's mermaid post) and Coney Island, where he allegedly rescued a girl from drowning while between acts. He performed for 67 years and is estimated to have personally entertained one hundred million people. Amazingly, he also stepped forward at the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 to present himself as an evolutionary mutation, "proof" of Darwin's theories.

But these days, Zip would not be classified as anything more than an unusual looking guy. He was definitely not a real pinhead (microcephalic), a general term which is manifest by chromosomal aberration and most commonly includes traits like mental retardation and dwarfism ('Beetlejuice', a recurring and cruelly exploited guest on the Howard Stern show, would have to be the most famous contemporary pinhead). He seemed to possess, at the very least, an average intelligence. He was certainly a shrewd businessman; his lifetime income would translate into millions of today's dollars.

He died of bronchitis complications at 83, within days of his last performance. He's buried at the Bound Brook Cemetery in New Jersey under his birthname.



Voder (an acronym for "Voice Operating DEmonstratoR) made its premiere at the 1939 World's Fair, just like Elektro. But unlike Elektro, which used a built-in record player with a pre-recorded voice of a guy imitating a robot, Voder synthesized the human voice with an array of vacuum tubes, operated by a hu-man via an extremely complex interface:

There's one oscillator (which could be raised and lowered in pitch to change between male and female voices) and a hissing sound from a gas discharge tube used to simulate human breath. These were the only two actual audio sources; the rest was filter controls for ten vowels and four consonants, a volume accent button, and a footpedal pitch-bender. Allegedly, it took about a year for an operator to get the hang of it, making voder more musical instrument than robot.

Voder and Elektro totally should've hooked up at the fair.

Wendy Carlos does some email Q&A about the Voder and the Vocoder here.

Barely related, but very cool: a collection of toy robot commercials through the years.


Moments with Ron Ormand

The Trailer for the much-loved classic Mesa of Lost Women (1953):

(this film is public domain, so you can stream the whole feature here)

Innocuous mother-to-daughter chitchat from Please Don't Touch Me (1963):

A representative clip from The Exotic Ones, a.k.a. The Monster and The Stripper (1968):

Shortly after The Exotic Ones, Ron Ormond survived a plane crash. As a result, he turned to Christian morality tales. The most famous, and by a long shot the most entertaining, is If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (previously plugged on this site). A collaboration with baptist nutjob Reverend Pirkle which has something to do with Jesus and Communists:

And a moment of Lynchian freakery from The Believers Heaven, another Pirkle movie:

editor's note: this is a re-post from years back. I'll be travelling for the next couple weeks and probably unavailable for comments, but selected recyclable posts will appear on a daily basis.


Netflix Stream of the Week: Popcorn

Just saw this for the first time and it was okay. I knew I had to get to it eventually, as the screenplay was by one of my heroes, Alan Ormsby. He also directed, but was replaced by someone else halfway through. The lead was similarly fired and the part was given to Jill Schoelen, which is permissible cause she's a total fox.

Ormsby had his name replaced with a pseudonym for writing and directing credits. Given his pedigree, it's safe to assume it would have been a better film had he been given the opportunity to finish it. Most of the movie looks like a typical 80's USA Network hackjob. The editing is indifferent, and the pace slows to a crawl towards the end. It's also contrived enough that you can turn it off 20 minutes early and not miss much of anything. It could have been so much better, but as is, it's still worthwhile. 

Like Joe Dante's Matinee which came a few years after, Popcorn is set entirely in a cinema which is screening 1950's William Castle-type gimmick movies. These non-existent films within the film are the best part of Popcorn, like "Mosquito", which features a giant light-up remote-controlled bug flying over the audience, "Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man" with random  seats wired to shock theatergoers, and "The Stench", a Japanese Toho-looking production with smells piped in from the projection booth on cue. There are also lots of movie references and cool details like an "Incredible Melting Man" poster in the lobby. And "buy a bag, go home in a box" is an inspired tagline, you must admit.

Filmed inside a real movie theater in Kingston, Jamaica. In many shots, you can clearly see the audience of white people on the main floor and black extras up in the background of the balcony.

Been out-of-print on dvd for awhile, and I can't find it on flash video anywhere, but it's on netflix streaming here.


By the Way, The Name of This Movie Is "The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant"

Count the number of times you hear the title in this one-minute radio ad.


Movie of the Week: Fire and Ice

This 1983 Ralph Bakshi / Frank Frazetta collaboration is a mixed bag, with some inspired sequences and long stretches of drudgery. Even at 81 minutes it wears out its welcome after awhile, with the plot consisting of little more than the two principal characters getting captured and escaping repeatedly.

Also, nearly every frame of the movie clearly uses rotoscoping, a cheat which has been employed in animated feature films since the beginning (even Snow White was a rotoscoped actress), but is especially ostentatious in these Ralph Bakshi movies. At no point to you forget that you're watching actors on a soundstage, making it reminiscent of the Adventures of Huck Finn segments on The Banana Splits. So most of the time there's little interest in the animation. But sometimes the more colorful characters, like the subhumans, are rendered with some artistic flair. And the background paintings are really nice.

I just saw this for the first time in 28 years and, despite its flaws, was still impressed. But maybe it's just nostalgia: Fire and Ice was the first movie I liked enough to dub a video copy (which required the borrowing of a second VCR from a neighbor). I saw it many, many times on VHS in those following months, coinciding with my interest in Dungeons and Dragons, Tolkien, Heavy Metal magazine and Black Sabbath records. So it fit into a very mythic, imaginative time for me, before I matured into a disaffected teenager.

But admittedly this movie is dumber than a brick. I can't imagine anyone over 15 being into it, unless you're one of the people who never quite got past the age of 15 in your head. Then it's totally great. Like a fuckin' Molly Hatchet album cover come to life!

The whole movie is below, embedded from youtube, but if you have netflix streaming you should watch it there in HD.

Bonus: a behind-the-scenes documentary from when the film was in production.
Look, you get to see a real ink-and-paint department, staffed by American citizens. Those went extinct by the end of the 80's. And I remember wearing that white cotton glove with the fingers cut off when I was an animation student; it was so you could hold your brushes with your fingers, but still rest your palm on the acetate cel without getting it dirty.


Thing Theatre

I don't recognize this, but I should; it aired Sunday afternoons on channel 44, a Chicago UHF station, in the late 70's, when I was the most obsessed with monster movies.

A youtube commenter named the highly inappropriate theme music; it's from the soundtrack to "Car Wash".