Sunday, December 18, 2016


Like it or not we live in a pop cultural world now more than ever. Much of that is due to the amount of leisure time families now have, a gift that those back in the pioneer days could not afford. As technology increases and more items become accessible more easily you would be hard pressed not to have access to the biggest of pop culture influences, movies.

This whole column weekly talks about movies. I try to offer you a glimpse into what is being released each week and give my opinion as to whether the titles discussed are worth your time and effort to seek out. As a lifelong movie fan I find most of them have something worth offering. But there are the occasional turkeys out there, the non-stuffed sort. But movie are there for everyone to enjoy these days whether on disc or Netflix or whatever other platform you choose to view them with.

But it’s not just having access that makes some movies worth watching over and over again. It’s not just that they are available that makes them worth buying and adding to your home collection. It’s more than that. As times have changed traditions have altered along as well. Where families once gathered around the fireplace on a Christmas season night, we now find families too involved in numerous events to do so that often. Gymnastics, vocal lessons, Christmas pageants, multiple family get togethers and more cut into those stay at home traditions.

But there is one way to still get one in. Make time, just one night, to gather your family together in front of the TV, pop some corn, pour out your favorite beverage and sit down together to watch a movie, THAT movie, the one that brings back memories or instills them into your child now. Sure some of these are available on TV but it’s not the same as watching them uninterrupted. Not to mention the commercials these days are a far cry from those when we were growing up. I could be wrong but I don’t think Charles Schultz had Victoria Secret commercials in mind when planning A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS.

These days almost every Christmas special or movie we grew up with is available on DVD, many now on blu-ray as well. For me as a child I grew up with MR. MAGOO’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL. It’s in my collection now. Right alongside RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER. At 59 years of age I still enjoy watching them at Christmas.

Then there is the tradition my wife and I started a few years back. Each Christmas we pull out WHITE CHRISTMAS with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and watch it. I even picked up the new diamond edition for her this year with all the extra bells and whistles including karaoke tracks you can sing to. I’ve given her the gift of not being subjected to my vocal stylings. This has become our tradition, to watch this every year now. Well most of it. She usually dozes off about half way through now and it takes us a few nights to finish it all.

I’ve said before that my favorite Christmas film is IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. That’s because the first time I saw it I was fortunate enough to see it with director Frank Capra in attendance. It left a mark on me. This was before it became a staple on TV each year. We’ll be adding that to our traditional Christmas film fest as well, even if it takes another few nights. I picked up the new special edition of it as well.

The thing is that watching these films is a family thing and family things are falling behind these days. Few set aside the hustle and bustle to just sit down together and have a good evening watching a Christmas movie that’s filled with hope and good cheer. As easy as it is that’s sad. So let me offer a suggestion this Christmas season. Take the time to sit down as a family and watch a movie that means Christmas to you and yours. It could be HOME ALONE or FROSTY THE SNOWMAN or even DIE HARD. Yes that movie takes place at Christmas. It could be the Grinch or NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION. But get together as a family, sit down, relax and enjoy that movie that means Christmas to you. Let the kids know what movies bring back fond memories of Christmas past for you.

You never know. As you sit there watching you just might find a smile cross your lips as you think back to being a kid. You might get a tear in your eye at some sentimental moment in one of those movies. And you just might start a new tradition in your house, a special movie night that comes once a year at Christmas time. A special night that your kids will remember and carry on with their kids. What better time to do this than tonight?

Merry Christmas all and I hope everyone finds a special movie they love under the tree.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Growing up in the fifties and sixties gave fans of science fiction and mystery the best years available when it came to TV series. Anthology shows were the norm rather than the exception and the eerie made its way to television screens weekly with shows like THRILLER and ONE STEP BEYOND. But the granddaddy of them all was written by a man named Rod Serling, one of the best screenwriters of all time, who appeared at the beginning of his series each week to take us to…the Twilight Zone.

The name itself has become synonymous with the odd and out of place, a location where time stands still and dreams come true. As Serling said each week “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call…the Twilight Zone.” Rarely is prose like this found on TV today.

For most THE TWILIGHT ZONE is nothing more than a marathon shown on the SyFy network every so often. One episode after another for three days straight. For fans it’s a gift, for those unfamiliar with the show it’s a novelty and for those who don’t give it a chance it’s a tedious chore to watch. Unlike series today with quick cuts, fast moving shots and locations and plotlines that have to be understood in nanoseconds rather than take the time to play out, THE TWILIGHT ZONE took the time to tell stories, to take new ideas as well as the works of famous authors to be shown each week.

Serling chose the best of the best from stories that drifted from science fiction to fantasy to eerie tales to downright mysteries. Many are well remembered and some forgotten, but once seen they are difficult to forget. Consider “Time Enough At Last”, the story of a henpecked man who loves to read and does so by escaping to a vault on his lunch break. When the apocalypse arrives and wipes out mankind, he now has all the time he wants to read. SPOILER. And then he drops and breaks his glasses. It was twists like this that made the series must see TV.

Or how about “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” where a group of neighbors display their deepest fears about each other when it appears one of them might indeed be an alien from outer space. As they try and determine who it is the paranoia can be sliced with a knife. “A Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” tells the tale of a man who looks out the window of the airplane he is on to see a creature tearing the plane apart in mid-flight but who can’t convince anyone else of what he is seeing. These are some of the more notable episodes that people have discussed for years.

So why talk about this series now? Because it is finally available at a decent price in the best transfer possible. Individual seasons of the show previously released on blu-ray ran anywhere from $40-56 each. At that price being able to afford the entire 5 year series was a bit pricey. Even the earlier version on blu-ray ran high with a $180 price tag. But now you can find THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE COMPLETE SERIES  on blu-ray for just $84. That might still be higher than most would pay for a recording of their favorite show but when you consider you get all 5 seasons, all 156 episodes of the now classic series, it’s honestly a bargain.

No longer will the fan have to wait until SyFy runs a marathon, staying up until the wee hours of the morning to get a glimpse of that favorite episode. Watch it whenever you want and in the best format possible. In addition to the episodes you also get the original pilot, interviews with cast and crew, isolated music scores, audio commentary by author Marc Scott Zicree, radio dramas and more. This makes the greatest gift possible for that hard to find person, the one who loves this series but has held off on buying it.

Fans of the series will delight to find this item under the Christmas tree. Once again it will take them to that fifth dimension, the dimension of the imagination, a dimension knowns as the Twilight Zone. And with any luck while watching, a new generation will have the chance to discover some of the best TV has ever had to offer.

Click here to order.


Horror fans are the most dedicated fans you will find. The only group that comes close are those who love the tear jerking romantic films like THE NOTEBOOK, movies that will be watched again and again. But horror fans will not only watch a movie multiple times, they will buy every edition that comes out, will watch every extra in detail and will watch the film with every commentary track included. That’s how dedicated they are.

So when it was announced that the 1979 horror classic PHANTASM was being restored this year in a 4k version supervised by J.J. Abrams, the director of the first two movies in the new STAR TREK movies, SUPER 8 and the recent STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, fans were thrilled to know the movie was in good hands. It turns out that Abrams was a fan of the film as well and contacted director Don Coscarelli to help with the restoration. Not only have they cleaned up the look they’ve polished up the soundtrack as well.

If you’re not aware of the film it’s an interesting tale. Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is a pre-teen troubled after the death by accident of his parents. When his older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) helps with the funeral of his friend Tommy, Mike sneaks about the cemetery watching the funeral. Rather than the normal situation he watches as the funeral director known only as the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) returns to the gravesite after everyone has gone and single handedly lifts the coffin into his hearse to take back to the funeral home.

This is just the first encounter Mike has while dealing with the deaths around him, Jody possibly leaving town and leaving Mike with his aunt. With each encounter with the Tall Man Mike finds himself drawn into something bigger than a few deaths or the mysterious behavior of the man. In the funeral home he wanders the halls of the mausoleum and is nearly caught by a groundskeeper. But as he is grabbed a flying silver sphere suddenly comes down the hall with three protruding blades in it, sticking into the groundskeeper’s forehead and draining him of blood.

Mike tries to tell his brother about what is happening and eventually convinces him he’s not seeing things. With the aid of Jody’s best friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), the three determine to enter the mausoleum and discover just what the Tall Man is up to. Shrunken humans, odd shaped people, a portal to places unknown and more flying spheres help to make this film a combination of science fiction and horror with a little heavier lean on horror. The story might sound simple but the visual storytelling of Coscarelli makes it all work and holds your interest from start to finish.

The movie did decent at the box office but nothing spectacular. Even though it was considered a low budget film the look, style and feel of the film make it seem all the more impressive. While it does have that low budget drive-in atmosphere about it the movie offers more than most films made for those locations ever offered. This could be the reason that the film has drawn such a dedicated fan base.

It had enough fans that the film spawned 3 other sequels over the years. Oddly enough most were never completed under the same studio banner making their release in a box set nearly impossible (and yet it happened). Each sequel left an open ending with more story to tell. That has resulted in what has been called the final installment, PHANTASM: RAVAGER, which also comes out this week.

Fans of the film will be ecstatic over the look of this restoration. I’ve never seen the film look better than this and I’ve seen it a number of times, from my first viewing at the local drive-in to VHS to DVD. The images here are sharper than ever before, the darks are actually dark rather than the milky look they’ve had in some incarnation and the clean up on some of the effects make them better than they’ve ever appeared. Abrams and his crew deserve recognition for the wonderful job they’ve done here.

If you love the film you’ll want this edition in your collection. It also includes some notable extras including an episode of GRAVEYARD CARS where they recreate the classic car from the film, interviews from 1979 with Coscarelli and Scrimm, deleted scenes and a commentary track with Coscarelli, Baldwin, Scrimm and Thornbury. And if you’ve never seen the film before now is your chance to do so with the best edition you will more than likely ever find. With Christmas around the corner this is the perfect gift for any horror fan. Just look for PHANTASM: REMASTERED.

Speaking of horror fans those who can’t get enough of trailer compilations, those previews shown before movies, will want to get their orders in for TRAILER TRAUMA 3: ‘80s HORROR-THON from Garagehouse Pictures. With over 250 trailers and running over 7.5 hours, this trailer compilation will most likely be one of the best ever offered. It comes out December 21st, just in time to make it under the Christmas tree.

Click here to order.