Sunday, August 22, 2010


My time-space shifting pal Phileas is always flitting around the Internet, hooked up - no doubt, Gibson style - downloading gigabytes of information a second into that weird A.I. of his. 9-K, that's his designation for the A.I., has this freaky habit of sending out emails in Phileas' name to all the people (and other things) in Phileas' address book. Most of the emails are info-dumps of complex mathematical equations that claim to explain the answers to Life, the Universe and Everything, which of course I immediately delete. However, sometimes they link me to things that I find of actual value and I read them, then promptly get either elated with joyous rapture or pissed off with raucous rage! When I received this latest email, linking me to a website for the NPR radio program On Point, [] which featured a podcast of the show that asked three "experts" what their top ten all-time sci-fi films were. Nothing gets my freaking dander up like pseudo intellectuals spouting hot gas on why their opinions are more important than anyone else's. I've listed their top ten lists and beside them I've posted my rants where I couldn't help myself. I've also posted my list of top ten sf films and finally Phileas' top ten list of science fiction films. I've done all this to prove that anyone's opinion of what the top ten sf films are is just as viable as any so-called expert's.

Here are my (not so) humble opinions on the top ten sf film lists. (All my opinions next to the lists are in italics):

Picks of A.O. Scott, New York Times: This idiot cheats like crazy! If it’s a top ten list; pick one film!
AI/ET/Close Encounters of the Third Kind All these films are bad sf. Spielberg is too visceral and not interested in sf ideas.
Alien/Aliens Pick one film!
Alphaville Boring!
Fahrenheit 451 Ditto!
Gattaca Double Ditto!
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Kevin McCarthy and Donald Sutherland versions; not Nicole Kidman version) Pick one film! I prefer the original, but the ’78 version is good also. Still, neither is top 10 material.
Metropolis–Fritz Lang version and Rintaro anime Pick one film! One is too dated and the other is anime, which to me is a separate genre from live action films, no matter the quality.
Spaceballs/ The Empire Strikes Back Pick one film! How are these even in the same space?!
Robocop/Starship Troopers Pick one film! Robocop is maybe top 50 and Starship Troopers isn’t even top 100!

Picks of Annalee Newitz of This ditz includes ties (still cheating) and doesn’t know sf!
The Day the Earth Stood Still Definitely top 25, but not top ten… if she means the 1951 version.
Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (tie) Pick one! ST: TWoK This film hasn’t aged well, but is still on my top 20.
Blade Runner
Videodrome This is visceral crap! No David Cronenberg movie belongs on any top ten list!
Terminator 2 I prefer the original (just), but both are on my top 20.
Ghost in the Shell (Japanese version) Sorry, I can’t count anime.
Teknolust (Lynn Hershman-Leeson) I haven’t seen this, but it’s a freakin’ black comedy, not sf!
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (I hadn’t thought of this as sci-fi but it makes sense) The reason she hadn’t thought of this as sf is that is not sf!
Honorable Mention: Primer (Shane Carruth) Once again, cheating! Once again…. boring!

Picks of Mike Brotherton, University of Wyoming: This twit has bad taste, but at least he knows how to count to ten.
Destination Moon Good science for the time, but dated. Unfortunately, (sorry Mr. Pal) also kind of dull.
2001: A Space Odyssey
2010 This makes my top 50, because it is good sf, but not a great film.
Predator This makes my top 25; but just barely.
The Abyss A very good, but flawed film. Also, not very good as an sf film.
Contact This alien jingoistic peace of crap belongs on the top ten worst sf films of all time!
Deep Impact Give me a break! This is not sf! It’s not a very good film either.
Red Planet What drugs was he on when he watched this? This is a bad film and mediocre sf.
Minority Report Bad sf! Once again, Spielberg is not a good sf film maker.
Primer Once again…. boring! The ridiculously low budget kills an interesting premise with poor acting, efx and… everything else!

Picks of Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein, Guardians of the Genre - feature writer 
My top five have remained the same, occasionally changing positions, for the past twenty years. I also refuse to count films that came out in the last ten years, because to be in a top ten list, it must stand up to the test of time.
Blade Runner (1982)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Alien (1979)
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
War of the Worlds (1953)
The Fifth Element (1997)
The Matrix (1999)
The Thing (1951)
Stargate (1994)
The Time Machine (1960)

Picks of Professor Phileas Photon, University of the Universe
Blade Runner (1982)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Star Wars (1977)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
War of the Worlds (1953)
The Matrix (1999)
The Terminator (1984)
The Time Machine (1960)
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
THX 1138 (1971)

There you have it! The three "experts" top ten sf film lists and the two Guardians of the Genre's top ten sf film lists. What are your top ten sf films? List them... if you dare... or don't... 'cause I don't care! Okay, I do care! Let's see some lists people!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I plead guilty. A few months ago, I started watching I Sell the Dead when it first aired on the premium channels… and I just couldn’t get into it. I think the story framing devise is what frustrated me with this film initially. The film opens with Arthur Blake being led into a small room in a (late-19th century?) prison. He sits at a table and is interviewed by a priest, who wants his testimony on how he came to be a grave robber. This leads to his first story of his youth and how he becomes an apprentice grave robber to his soon-to-be partner and mentor Willie Grimes. This set up takes about a half hour of film time and that is where I initially became bored with it. For weeks, I Sell the Dead kept festering in the back of my mind. How could a film with such a great cast star in a dull film. So, this Saturday night, I sat though it again and stuck though I Sell the Dead to the end. I’m glad I did, because this horror comedy is delightful blend of a period piece, a character drama and a truly unique and darkly funny horror film. As Arthur continues to tell more stories of his business with Willie, we are treated to their run-ins with many different denizens of the undead. They eventually start selling vampires, which become a hot commodity on the corpse market. Eventually, they dig up all sorts of supernatural (with one very funny and surprising exception) corpses that eventually end up with them being arrested for killing rival grave robbers. You’ll have to take my word for it that if you stick with I Sell the Dead through to the end, you'll be rewarded with one bizarre and hilarious climax.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


In a post from last June, FREAKY FRIDAY! 100 YEARS OF MONSTER MOVIES!, I wrote bout a wicked cool web site that is streaming horror movies every Friday night. For details go to:  On August 27th, in less than two weeks, one of my new favorite horror hosts will be featured on a double bill with Fury of the Wolfman and Werewolf In A Girls’ Dormitory! Your furry host will be none other than Wolfman Mac! Arrrrooooowwwww! I wrote about Wolfman Mac's Chiller drive in January of this year: Don't forget to go to on Friday night at 8pm EST on August 27th and have yourself a howling good time!

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Zacherley is one of the earliest horror hosts to appear on television and therefor this freak never had the opportunity to see him "live". However, I have watched some of his classic shows on video tape I bought about ten years ago called The Zacherley Archives, which features nearly two-hours of his sketches on TV in the 50's transferred from old kinescopes. Zacherley's dark humor was revolutionary for its time and watching these tapes you can understand why kids loved him and parents hated him. Zacherley's history is fascinating and quite convoluted. I have taken some excepts from his "official" biography, but you can read the full story at:

John Zacherle was born on September 27, 1918 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His childhood was normal and seemingly uneventful. One interesting fact about Zach's youthful years was that his parents were strict and refused to allow him to see the horror films that were all the rage among young theater goers in the 1930's. Returning home to Philadelphia at the conclusion of the war, and in the army reserves. Zacherle took his time finding the right job. Someone mentioned acting and this lead to Zach's audition with a local repertory group called the Stagecrafters, who were based in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania.

Gradually, Zacherle made his way to television where his first notable appearance was in a fateful role in a daily live serial-styled western, Action in the Afternoon. At one point, it was decided to hire an actor to portray the town undertaker, a onetime role that could be used to dispose of the recent victims of gunfights and hangings. Somehow, it was decided to award the part to Zacherle. The budget conscious costume department decided to dress the town's new undertake in a long black frock coat and this item of apparel would become one of Zacherle's most important visual props, one which remains with him to this day.

Not long after the undertaker role, Zach received a phone call from Philadelphia TV station WCAU and was asked to host Shock Theatre. Zach adds, "Someone remembered me from the western. I never even tried out. I whipped out the old black coat I wore as the undertaker on the cowboy show." Zach parted his hair in the middle and applied the famous ghoul-like makeup and the rest was history.

Shock Theatre debuted in September of 1957 with Zach appearing as Roland, a crazy character who lived in a crypt. Charlie Vanda, the president of WCAU came up with the name and as Zach is quick to point out, the accent was on the second syllable -- Ro-LAND. Roland had an assistant named Igor, and his wife lived in a coffin. The wife was referred to as "my dear" and occasionally Roland would make her day with a well-placed thrust of a wooden stake. Originally, the program was aired in the 11:15 late night movie slot on Monday and Tuesday. However, the show was popular not only among adults but among children as well. Therefore, the program was moved to Friday and Saturday and Roland's popularity increased in leaps and bounds. It was at WCAU that Zach, in the guise of Roland, stumbled upon his most unique and creative bit of satire. This was known as the "break-in" or "jump-in", whereby, Zach would insert himself into the actual film, usually, to great comedic effect. The first time this occurred was during a broadcast of The Black Cat with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Writer/Producer, Ed White, originally got the idea. In this instance, Karloff was presiding over a devil worship ceremony and at one point the camera panned to close-ups of the various participants. The WCAU cameraman shot to Zach making a face and then back to the film.

[Reasons for Zarcherley's] move to New York, have never been 100% clear, but it appears that a great deal of unpleasantness on both sides regarding salary, ownership of the character, and other details may have precipitated the change. Zach had made some contacts in New York City as a result of the success of "Dinner with Drac" and was able to negotiate a deal for himself at the WABC affiliate, Channel 7, just at the time his one year contract with WCAU was ending. The Manhattan station had been airing the Shock Theatre package since 1957, around the same time that WCAU started to run them. As the premiere of Zach's WABC show came closer, TV Guide and the local papers were utilized for a promotional campaign. Coming September 22, 1958, Master Ghoul Zacherley will host Shock Theater Monday and Friday". The letter "Y" was added to Zach's name to make pronunciation easier.

Zach made his New York debut on September 22, 1958, at 11:15 pm, hosting The Mystery of Edwin Drood. As the weeks passed he hosted many of Universal's second line productions,including The Mad Daughter of Market Street and The Mystery of Marie Roget. Many tuned in strictly to see Zach and laugh at the "break-ins". Some of Zach's bits from this time included "Zach's discussion of the nervous system", "Zach's attempt to cure Isabel of insomnia", and "Gasport's medical check-up."During this period of time, Zach also appeared in a pictorial in issue #4 of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which was released in the spring of 1959. Also, during March of 1959, WABC sent out a press release that announced that "Ghoul Zacherley will be given his own show of creep films to host Friday and Saturday night called Zacherley At Large." It was also announced that the name Shock Theatre would be retired. Unfortunately, Zacherle's tenure at WABC was coming to an end. During the June 20, 1959, show, Zach appeared during the last commercial interruption without makeup and announced that this was his last show for the year and when he returned in the fall it would be on WOR - Channel 9.

Although Zach's Channel 9 show didn't debut until October 30, he was far from dormant during this time. Beginning May, Zach embarked a series of personal appearances in large theaters, such as the Astoria (Long Island), the Fabian (Paterson), the Branford in Newark, the Jefferson in New York City, and the Stanley in Jersey City.

Zach's first WOR show saw him hosting Zombies On Broadway. As the show opened Zach was thrown forcibly into his new crypt. Zach yelled, "Let me out of here," a few times then settled down to eat a banana and host the film. Unlike WCAU and WABC, Channel 9 spent very little on the Zacherley show set. A canvas mail cart was used for Isobel's "box" and no attempt was made to give the set a crypt-like appearance. While repeats of Zach's Channel 9 programs aired occasionally very late at night, no new programs were taped and Zach's contract expired.

During 1964, WPIX made a number of programming changes in an effort to improve ratings. Zacherley was made the host of Chiller Theatre, thereby allowing him to do what he does best - host films. Unfortunately, Zach's deal with WPIX ended during 1964.

[Well into his in his 80's , Zacherley continued] music recording, television, and live appearances, Zach appeared on radio station WXRK where he occupied the Saturday morning slot with a nostalgic 1960's revival program. The station, K-Rock, is noted for being one of the highest rated in the New York area and includes among its on-air personalities several very popular disc jockeys.

Zach's still got it! Zacherley with Elvira!
Zacherley is a true original and well deserving of being in my horror host hall of fame! Goodnight, Zacherley... whatever you are.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I was intrigued by the concept of the film Inception, but not enough to spend two-and-a-half hours in a dark theater trying to figure it out. However, it seems my “friend” Phileas had other ideas. I was taking some much needed time off from my work in the lab, to spend some quality time with my buddy Bill E. Bones. We were in a deep discussion about who was the hottest horror hostess of all time. Bill said it was Vampira and I remained steadfast in my admiration of Elvira. When I pointed out to Bones that Vampira was dead, he said, “My point, exactly”. Before I could lay waste with another verbal assault, I found myself instantaneously transported to the local cinema, where the film Inception was just beginning to unreel. I turned to my right and sure enough, Professor Phileas Photon was sitting beside me with a guilty grin on his bearded puss. “Phineas”, I yelled under my breath, “I thought I told you never to space-time-port me again, just to watch another of your damn ‘artsy-farsty’ movies”? Phineas pulled out his trump card and simply said, “Then don’t ask me to time-transport you to Memorial Day in 1977 again.” I tried again to convince him that the premier of Star Wars was a significant historical event, but as usual he wasn’t buying it.


Fast forward to two-hours, thirty minutes later….

I’m not a huge fan of director Christopher Nolan. I still haven’t seen Memento and have no wish to (don’t get any ideas, Phileas). I liked Batman Begins well enough, but The Dark Knight was too dark and overrated. The Prestige, his underrated dark and fantastic study of two competitive magicians was my favorite film of his, but still I found it too dreary for my tastes. Inception also deals with dark and deadly ideas and themes, but, for Christopher Nolan, it had a surprisingly upbeat ending. I’m not wasting our brief time here telling you what Inception is about – that’s what Google is for people – so, I just want to let you know that if you are waiting to watch Inception on DVD/Blu-ray, because you think you’ll get bored with Inception’s “mind-bleep” plot (as I read one critic call it), think again. If you are a film fan, and more importantly, a fan of science-fiction/fantasy, you owe it to yourself to give Inception a try at the theater, where you will be forced to sit through it’s entirely without any breaks or interruptions (which almost always happens when viewing movies at home). Yes, because Inception takes place almost entirely in the dreams of other people, the time and place of events in the film can get confusing. However, don’t let anyone convince you that you need a degree from MIT or Harvard to understand the plot or themes of Inception, because Nolan has done an admirable job of using the medium of film and the structure of story to make the plot understandable and the themes of Inception perfectly clear to any film fan.

Phineas kept looking at me expectantly as we exited the lobby of the theater, and I reluctantly admitted to him that I liked Inception. After promising me that he wouldn’t abduct me for further film viewings, Phileas “popped” back out of our space-time, leaving me to hitchhike home. Hey, I don’t carry my wallet in my lab coat!