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Vincent Price (#110 of 7)

Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

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Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD
Holy Moly! Batman TV Series Now on Blu-ray and DVD

It’s easy to forget that there was actually a time when Batman was fun. That time was 50 years ago, when the ripples of Fredric Wertham’s despicable anti-comic diatribe Seduction of the Innocent were still being felt. His book claimed that comics were sinful trash that converted the children—by God, the children!—into homosexual deviants. The television series Batman, which ran from 1966 to ’68 on ABC, knowingly acknowledged and lampooned Wertham’s seething, masturbatory harangue in a way that defied the era’s TV standards. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward, two unknowns cast largely for their affable faces, the series (now available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray in a snazzy, wallet-purging boxed set from Warner Home Video) remains one of the format’s great cultural touchstones. Replete with double entendres for the parents and giddy inanity for the kids, it’s everything Susan Sontag loved and loathed about camp amalgamated into a half-hour lark.

Summer of ’88: Dead Heat - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Dead Heat</em> - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops
Summer of ‘88: <em>Dead Heat</em> - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

Believe it or not, there’s an interesting idea lurking inside Dead Heat. It arrives too late to save the viewer, but it should have been the pitch that got this film made. Rather than focus on the one-sentence plot description (“It’s a buddy cop picture where one of the buddies is D-E-D-Dead!”), writer Terry Black should have lead with the reason the machine that reanimates corpses exists. During the climax, mad-scientist Vincent Price explains to his rich investors that his machine will reanimate them after death so they can live forever and screw their heirs out of their inheritance. The machine will also perform maintenance on them so they can look their best, while those greedy bastards they sired wither away and die. “That’s a great idea!” I thought. “This is Death Becomes Her before Death Becomes Her became Death Becomes Her!”

Unfortunately, this development comes out of left field and is quickly discarded in the ensuing climactic carnage. Until this point, the machine was being used to create an indestructible race of jewel thieves. Two of these creatures are seen in the opening of the film, appearing just as a snooty rich woman utters, “I was hoping for a little more suspense.” She’s talking about jewelry, but she’s also echoing the audience’s sentiment. Dead Heat bills itself as a horror-comedy, but it’s not gruesome enough to satisfy gorehounds, and it isn’t intentionally funny at all. It keeps the sad promises offered by the familiar red New World Pictures logo that graced similar ’80s output: sober people with little time on their hands need not apply, as this one’s for bored drunks on lonely Saturday nights.

As the zombie robbers smash and grab, detectives Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) appear on the scene…along with half the police department. The criminals are shot 40,000 times but will…not…die. Mortis, Bigelow, and their cop brethren respond to this far too calmly. “Maybe they’re on PCP,” says one cop. Nobody thinks to shoot them in the head, though one is blown up by a grenade. “You have the right to remain…disgusting!” says Bigelow to the exploded corpse.

On Location Las Vegas

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On Location: Las Vegas
On Location: Las Vegas

Like many, I did my vacationing first by way of the movie screen, making all subsequent traveling the realization of romanticized visions. When I moved to New York, it was a thousand cinematic moments made real, an excitement that still continues in spurts, despite the inevitably of the city having become, simply, the place where I live. But wherever I go, for the first time, specifically, there’s some kind of filmic attachment. In Rome, there was the evocation of countless Fellini scenes, and in Iceland…well, there wasn’t much in Iceland, really, save the Blue Lagoon spa, a high-tech, seemingly impossible haven that I’ll always compare to a Bond villain’s lair. Las Vegas, where my partner and I recently went for our fifth anniversary, has its own unique link to the movies. One might even say the town has spawned its own subgenre. Defined by glitz and excess, it’s a place that was built to be photographed, so much so that I even started to feel guilty, as it inspired more snapshots from me than the whole of Vatican City. It’s also a veritable theme park for adults, preferably for those willing to, if I may quote the Showgirls tagline, “leave [their] inhibitions at the door.” The entire atmosphere is one of fantasy, which, thanks to film, has evolved through various stages of glorification. And the city, in an almost otherworldly way, welcomes those chasing that fantasy with, big, outstretched, glittering arms, standing as a mecca of gluttony, temptation, and, of course, sin. You don’t have to be bad to do Vegas right, but it helps, as the movies have certainly taught us.

15 Famous Movie Vampire Hunters

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15 Famous Movie Vampire Hunters
15 Famous Movie Vampire Hunters

For high-concept, lowbrow thrills, your hot ticket this weekend is surely Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Timor Bekmambetov’s visualization of Seth Grahame-Smith’s why-the-hell-not novel, which reimagines that most benevolent president as a part-time vamp vanquisher. The revisionist actioner may not be bound for the bloodsucker canon, but its lead character proudly continues a surprisingly prevalent filmic trend: that of the hero whose key duty is to pound a proverbial stake through the heart of evil. From Blade to Buffy, we’ve always needed fearless soldiers to battle creatures of the night, and to make sure that the only thing Dracula and company are biting is the dust.

Avant-Garde Traveler: Jean Epstein

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Avant-Garde Traveler: Jean Epstein
Avant-Garde Traveler: Jean Epstein

Jean Epstein is one of the great filmmakers cinephiles discover after deciding there are no more worlds left to conquer—and the effect is blinding and humbling. Like many such revelations, his work throws the map of cinema into disarray, knocking over the mile markers and headstones set up long ago by the official canon: surrealists over here, expressionism over there, social realism way over there. He was a little bit of each—none exclusively—and more. He associated with the surrealists, but the oneiric qualities of The Fall of the House of Usher (adapted by Luis Buñuel, who also served as assistant director on the film), like much of his work, are found in some unquantifiable space between special effects and elementary moods. Work that seemed to foretell the neorealist, social-realist, or magical-realist subdivisions just as often turned into daydreams, or intricate music boxes that deflated the heaviness of their own narrative concerns. A common sight—or sensation—in an Epstein film is the vast, oscillating sea, indifferent, unimpressed, a law unto itself, governing the internal physics of a given work, as well as the hearts of men and women.

Summer of ‘86: The Great Mouse Detective

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Summer of ‘86: <em>The Great Mouse Detective</em>
Summer of ‘86: <em>The Great Mouse Detective</em>

The Great Mouse Detective (1986) is not a Disney movie about good vs. evil but, rather, a Disney movie about two, fiercely-opposed egos. On the one hand we have charming, energetic Basil of Baker Street: lives under Sherlock Holmes’ floorboards, cross-dresses in Japanese fat suits, plays his violin whenever miserable. On the other hand, we’ve got menacing, charismatic Professor Ratigan: lives in the waterfront sewers, dresses in kingly get-ups, despises it when people call him a “rat.” They’ve both spent their entire professional lives trying to hunt each other down. Nothing is more important to them than the long-desired satisfaction that comes with a superior mind.

Disney specialized in movies like The Great Mouse Detective in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, back when the studio used to believe in making films that stressed themes of intelligence and character study. Then the ’60s and ’70s gave us a series of movies that were significantly less-inspired (101 Dalmatians; The Sword in the Stone; The Jungle Book; The Aristocats; The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh; The Rescuers), and it was as if Walt Disney’s long-term artistic promises had all but evaporated. Had it not been for Disney’s short-lived nirvana in the ’80s and early ’90s, it seems likely that the studio would have been gone for good. Thus, The Great Mouse Detective ranks with The Fox and the Hound (1982), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992) as one of the last truly excellent 2-D films released by Disney—before the studio grew into the corporate monster that it is today. The movies have gotten cheaper in quality again, and the concepts are no longer fresh. Without the beneficial support of Pixar, we would probably forget that Disney still plays a major role in our lives as moviegoers.

5 for the day: Jack Nicholson

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5 for the day: Jack Nicholson
5 for the day: Jack Nicholson

More than any actor of his generation, except maybe his buddy Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson has become not just an actor but a brand. Whether sitting courtside at Lakers games, literally talking out of his ass during a Golden Globe acceptance speech, or smirking at us from the silver screen, Jack is always Jack. While some may consider this an acting weakness, I disagree. Jack may always be “playing Jack,” but he scores a multitude of symphonies with that particular note. Here are five performance pieces from one of Noo Joisey’s favorite sons.

1. The Last Detail (1973). The story goes that Columbia Pictures passed on M*A*S*H because “people don’t say ’fuck’ in movies from Columbia Pictures.” The Last Detail is a Columbia Picture, and as befitting the naval occupation of its main characters, every other word is some variation of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. “I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker!” screams “Bad Ass” Buddusky. “I am the motherfucking shore patrol!” Clearly, a lot had changed in the three years since Altman’s masterpiece. Scored, like “M*A*S*H, by Johnny Mandel, The Last Detail is an antiestablishment piece that uses the military as its object of rebellion. But Detail—written by Robert Towne and directed by Hal Ashby—is a smaller movie, and its ending is unrepentantly angry and bitter.

Like his fellow sailor Mule (Otis Young), Buddusky is a Navy lifer; both are dissatisfied with the Navy, but only Buddusky speaks his mind about how ass-backwards he finds his superior officer’s commands. Both are thrown together on the titular assignment: bringing 18-year old kleptomaniac Meadows (Randy Quaid) back to the brig so he can serve an eight year sentence for robbery. Bad Ass and Mule think the sentence, for robbing the favorite charity of a high ranking official’s wife, is overly harsh, and decide to show the young man a good time before he sacrifices his youth to the prison system. The journey is filled with prostitutes, drinking, swearing, fighting, betrayal of trust and more honesty than most contemporary movies could muster in a single frame.