Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Our Feathered Friends in the Wild

First, a bit of parrot-related trivia:

The following is a list of average life-span of various exotic birds that are popularly bred for captivity.

Macaws 50 - 100 +

Cockatoos 40 - 60 +

Amazons 50 - 70 +

African Grays 50 - 60 +

Eclectus 65 - 85

Conure 12 - 30

Lories and Lorikeets 13 - 25

Caique 30

Senegal 50 years

Cockatiel 12 to 20

Parakeets 7 to 18 years

Lovebirds average 15 to 25

Canaries average 10 to 15 years

as you can see, one of the defining characteristics of these birds is that they live, a really, really long time - Provided that they don't meet their end either from assholes with pellet guns, or dimwitted cats with speech impediments. They're remarkably hardy creatures, and can flourish in just about any climate. I've also enclosed a map (the red zone) illustrating suitable habitats for the above listed birds (I know, I know, just trust me I'm going somewhere with this).

And finally, I went over to Craigslist to see what I could find over there.. I chose Pensacola, Florida, at random, and I found four birds for sale: 1 African Gray, 2 Cockatoos, and a "Bluw Bird of Paridice" which I'm thinking is either an illiterate tweaker looking to sell their macaw, or they were attempting to book a transvestite from the Adult Services Page and got mixed up somehow.

So what, you ask? What's the point of all of this rambling about exotic birds. I say to you: evolution, and in this case, a truly awesome form of evolution is taking place. You see the only thing idiots enjoy more than buying really expensive birds that they cannot take care of and eventually just set free, is buying really expensive birds that they can't take care of...

...Then teaching them a bunch of really foul language...

...And then setting the birds free again. What's making this even better, is that studies have shown that the foul mouthed birds released from captivity are now teaching their wild brethren all sorts of obscenities and racial epithets to be called out all over the world. So you could be hiking somewhere in the wilds of Borneo someday, when all of a sudden a 4 foot long Macaw starts screeching F-bombs at you, only to have a myriad of birds begin to repeat the call, all across the rain forest.

Think this sort of thing sounds impossible? Heh - it's already begun,


Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Origin of the Bat

Sunday evening I took the kids to go see The Dark Knight Rises, but only after spending the afternoon trying to convince them that the movie had been sold out for the day, and that we were in fact, headed out to go watch Tyler Perry's newest Madea movie. It was funny, but when the younger kids started to cry I only kept the charade up for like fifteen more minutes.

One of life's greatest pleasures is having kids, raising them and providing for them, and occasionally really screwing with them. To be perfectly fair, once a year, my own parents used to co-conspire with one of my uncles (my favorite uncle, Robert) to pull variations of a prank involving locking me and my cousins in the basement level of this sprawling 200 year-old manor owned by my great aunt Abbey, and then strategically placing shredded clothes covered with fake blood, large soup bones festooned with strips of meat, and in one case not long after my 11th birthday, a large bloody axe that had been buried into a sheet of drywall, with more blood splattered in a corona pattern around the point of impact. I'm seriously not making that shit up, they used to do that, and I love them for it, all of them, so very very much.

I went off on a bit of a tangent there, but my .point was that the kids got to see the Batman movie, and all was forgiven. My thoughts on the movie...

...Are completely irrelevant. I dug it, I considered it money well spent, I'll watch it again soon. If you need more of an endorsement than that, either you're not that much of a fan of the franchise or perhaps you're one of those types that pay really close attention to minutiae, and you'll probably walk out of this unhappy, as you do for so many, many things. I'm going to shut up about TDKR now, before I piss off everybody, and focus on what I'd originally wanted to write about this week, and that was an attempt to give the original on-screen Batman his due.

No, I meant the original Batman, lets try this again...

Well, we're getting close, but not quite there yet. The original Batman serials came out in 1943, and the character of Bruce Wayne was played by a guy named Lewis Wilson, the unsung hero of the Batman Film Legacy.

Now, to be perfectly fair, while the cape and cowl get-up depicted in the original series could perhaps be best described as "slightly adorable," these early serials were relatively straightforward for their time.

In the original series, Batman was more government contractor than vigilante, and his primary task was to locate, close with, and destroy a nefarious mad scientist by the name of Dr Daka.

Not exactly as terror-inducing as Bane or The Joker, but remember who we were sending up against him

Yeah, so at least they were an even match on paper. As you can see, Robin was also in the earliest film version, as was Alfred. Interestingly enough, there was no Batmobile. Instead, Alfred usually chauffeured the dynamic duo to the scene of the crime in a black Cadillac. We can only hope he dropped them off a block or so away, quiet-like, so they could, you know, make like a dramatic entrance or something.

So, if you're interested in checking all this out, here's a link to the original Batman


It ain't bad, there's like mad scientists, mind-control rays, zombies, casual racism (the serials came out right after Pearl Harbor, so there were a couple of references to the "Yellow Peril" - nothing we wouldn't forgive Walt Kowalski for, and he didn't even have a costume), and a crocodile pit. Spoiler alert: somebody does fall into the crocodile pit, and is naturally therefore eaten by the aforementioned crocodiles.

Anyway, that's all for now. Happy Sunday, Will

Saturday, July 14, 2012

William Castle, Part II

Like a lot of people, I believe that the kid you started out in life as doesn’t ever really go away. He or she might have a greater or lesser degree of influence on the decisions that you make later in life, anywhere from trusted consultant to helpless spectator. I also believe that the happier people in life, and in many cases the most successful, are the ones with inner children holding the former position rather than the latter. I believe that the happiest people are the ones who keep their covenants with their inner children; they honor their bargains and live true to those dreams.

When William Castle was 13 years old, he went to see Bela Lugosi perform Dracula live on Broadway. He was transfixed by the performance and begged/borrowed/scrounged additional ticket monies to watch the play again, and again, and again for two straight weeks. After seeing the play a dozen or so times, somehow young Castle was able to bluff his way backstage and meet Lugosi. The two of them – bright eyed youngster and Master Thespian – talked for the better part of the afternoon well into evening about acting and directing and the creative process. Castle’s remarkable insight and charm enthralled Lugosi and the two of them struck an unlikely friendship that would lead to Castle’s first job in show business, as the assistant stage manager for the touring production of Dracula.

Filmography, Continued:

Mr Sardonicus (1961) – It’s perhaps somewhat telling that while this is perhaps one of Castle’s greatest films, as promotional gimmicks went, it was one of his more restrained efforts.

That’s perhaps because instead of humiliating the audience, dropping fake dead bodies on them or zapping them with government surplus joy-buzzers, Castle decided to torture his cast for a change. Case in point, one Guy Rolfe – he of the titular role – who was forced to sit through an agonizing series of facial prostheses so uncomfortable he was only able to wear them for up to an hour at a time.

The story is a good one, one of those 18th century period pieces made popular by Roger Corman, who cranked out lurid reimaginings of Edgar Allen Poe’s masterpieces starring Castle’s one-time go-to, Vincent Price. In fact, the role of Sardonicus may well have suited Price, if not for the terrible facial mauling that froze Rolfe’s face into such an excruciating state that he had trouble sleeping at night.

Sardonicus starts out the story as Marek Toleslawski, a humble farmer who finds out his father has won a local lottery and then dies in his sleep, just like that dumbass Alanis Morisette tune. Anyway, Marek decides to dig up his father’s grave to retrieve the winning ticket (because, you know, some people actually do try to take it with them), only the sight of his dead father’s face sends Marek into a fit of paroxysms that culminate with his face actually freezing into the horrible rictus pictured above. While he manages to retrieve the ticket, the ol’ missus can’t stand the sight of him anymore and throws herself off a cliff or something. Marek transforms into an Evil Baron, renaming himself Sardonicus, and then spends the rest of his life doing Evil Baron deeds like killing the doctors who fail to cure him and torturing people with leeches and stuff.

The hero of this tale is one Dr Cargrave, whose former lover Maude is now the Baron’s wife. He comes to the Castle Sardonicus to attempt to cure the Baron, and Mayhem ensues.

William Castle’s gimmick with this film involved something called a “Punishment Poll,” which occurred roughly 3 minutes before the film’s conclusion. The film actually stops, and cuts to William Castle in the director’s chair, smoking his trademark big-ass cigar and grinning like an alligator at the audience. He informs you, the viewer, that it’s up to you whether or not Sardonicus should die for his offenses, or be allowed to live out the rest of his life. Castle makes no bones about which way he thinks the film should end, and gleefully eggs anybody viewing the film to choose punishment. Several versions of this break were filmed, one for theaters in which glow in the dark cards with a picture of a hand sticking out its thumb (thumbs up: he lives, thumbs down: well, you’ve seen Gladiator), the other was shot for drive-ins, with the instructions for voting based on flashing the headlights once or twice.

Obviously, nobody wanted to see Sardonicus not die, and so in every instance the “Punishment” ending was chosen. The funny thing about the promotion is that to this day, no alternate ending to the movie has ever been located, and even the actors don’t remember ever shooting scenes in which Sardonicus lived.

(1962 – 1964)

Over the next couple of years, William Castle cooled off on the promotional gimmicks. He made several notable films, branching out into comedy with the lighthearted espionage spoofs Zots!

and 13 Frightened Girls!

His next foray into horror would be in 1963, when Castle shot a semi-comedic remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff vehicle The Old Dark House. But for all of these films, Castle chose to forgo his usual style of outrageous gimmickry, with the exception of issuing plastic replica coins to the Zotz! audiences.

Strait-Jacket (1964)

For his next film, Castle was able to snag none other than Academy Award winner Joan Crawford, fresh off of her stellar portrayal of Blanche Hudson in the chilling masterpiece, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? While Castle originally planned on eschewing once again any sort of promotional gimmicks for this more somber film, he found he could not restrain himself and at the last minute, ordered thousands of cardboard axes to be made up and distributed to audience members for opening night.

Strait-Jacket is a slightly more somber effort than Castle’s earlier films, a surprisingly effective psychological thriller (largely due to Crawford’s performance) about an older woman who is released to the custody of her family some 20 years after chopping her husband into hamburger meat with a large axe. Castle’s sense of playfulness is still evident in many instances, most notably in the closing frame of the film in which the Columbia Pictures Torchbearer is shown decapitated, with her flame snuffed out.

Overall the film was fairly successful and well-received, and led to William Castle collaborating with the Oscar-winning actress a second time, the following year.

I Saw What You Did (1965)

This is one of the final films in which Castle attempted one of his signature promotional efforts, in this case distributing fake plastic phones to the audience. For whatever reason the phone companies had a problem with the idea and threatened to sue if Castle went through with this. Another plan was for something called a "fright row", where viewers were strapped into their seats for the duration of the film, although this idea was soon abandoned as well. The film is about a couple of teenage girls who amuse themselves by prank calling random strangers and whispering “I saw what you did, I know who you are,” and then hanging up in a fit of giggles. As luck would have it, one night they run afoul of an actual psychotic killer, mere minutes after he’s quite brutally dispatched his loving wife in a violent stabbing which manages to pay homage to Psycho while at the same time doing something fairly fresh and original. I won’t actually give away how the scene plays out, because if you ever get a chance to see this movie the opening frames will give you quite a jump. Joan Crawford gives another solid performance although it seems her whole purpose in the film seems to simply be Joan Crawford.

(1966 – 1967) Over the next two years, William Castle completed a triptych of the most bizarre comedic offerings this side of Robert Rankin.

Let’s Kill Uncle (1966) is about a couple of annoying orphans, their scheming homicidal uncle, and a bunch of sharks.

The Spirit Is Willing (1967) is a haunted house comedy based on Nathaniel Benchley’s not-funny-at-all-and-actually-kinda-scary novel The Visitors.

The Busy Body (1967) is a… Well it’s got gangsters and a mix-up involving a dead body and some other stuff. Richard Pryor’s in it, so there’s that, but it’s just an odd film overall.

But while Castle worked on these films, he was sitting on a powder keg, and he knew it. That powder keg was the rights to a novel by an up and coming writer by the name of Ira Levin; a script that would go on to be one of the most influential horror movies ever made, and the subject of the third and final entry on William Castle…

…Coming Soon!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

8:30 on a Sunday Morning

Despite my predilection for fermented hops and barley and sour mash I'm one of those people who tend to bounce right out of bed most days and start doing stuff just as soon as ol' Mr Sun comes peeking up over the Eastern Horizon. I've been told by many people that this is one of my more irritating qualities. Occasionally they throw things.

Seeing as how the rest of my family is still out of town, this morning I was kinda bored. I therefore found it fortuitous, if not downright providential (no pun intended) when my doorbell rang. I sprang to the foyer like fucking Batman (the description is apt, I say, if for no other reason than I was still wearing my Batman underwear at the time, and little else) and opened the door to find two well-intentioned young folks blinking at me like moles.

The chick looked sorta like she crawled out of a Lane Bryant catalog from the mid-1970's and the guy was a dead ringer for Buster Bluth from Arrested Development - remember him?

Yup, that's the one.

Anyway, neither of them are saying anything for a full couple of seconds and the whole situation is starting to get weird, so I start in with a hale and hearty "Good Morrow!" and a courtly bow, which spills a little of the beer I was drinking on their shoes. They step back a bit.

"Really sorry about that," I say. "Hang on a second, let me get you guys a beer. Do you want to come in?"

"No thank you," says Buster. "Actually we're here to talk to you about the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

"Love that guy," I say. "So are you guys Mormons?"

"No, we're," he says, but I cut him off. It's not out of rudeness or anything, it's just that the house has been abnormally empty for a few days and I'm bored.

"My family's in Utah," I say. "I came back early for work but it was pretty awesome up there. The beer was a little watered down but if you drank like 8 or 10 of them it did the trick. Anyway, I thought the place was gonna be like, Mormon Central but I didn't hardly see anybody riding around on bikes or anything. Hey - where's your bikes? Did somebody steal your bikes - That's fucked up, man. This is usually a good neighborhood, and stealing bikes from Mormons is about as low as you can get."

Lane Bryant speaks up. "Sir, we're not Mormons."

"Well, that's a shame. The Mormons are always good for a couple of chores. Hell, last time they were here they went ahead and fixed my back gate - I was in the middle of screwing a new latch into the frame, on account of my dogs got a little rambunctious... Hey, you wanna see my dogs?"

Buster puts his hands up, a little defensively in my opinion and says "We don't do chores, sir."

I grunt and take a swig of my beer. "I guess that's alright. I'll go get you guys those beers anyhow." Ignoring their protests, on account of I'm always a good host and people will always tell you they don't want a drink or a snack or whatever the first time you offer them one, I turn from the front door. It's at this point that my dogs decide to burst from their upstairs perch and greet our visitors.

I have two pits that I adopted from rescue shelters. One of them is as deaf as a stone and the other one has severe emotional issues, but they're still totally fucking awesome. Their names are Spanky and Gizmo. Here's an actual picture of them playing around.

Now, while I agree they can look a little rough around the edges at times, there really was no need for all the high pitched screaming from Buster - I swear to God, they didn't do much more than circle him a couple of times and maybe try to give paw. In my opinion, if you're going to go knocking on stranger's doors all day you should be a dog person, too. Anyway, I shoo my dogs back inside and crack open two more beers for Buster and Lane Bryant, as I've come to think of them, and a third for myself.

"Sir," says Lane, "We don't drink."

"Oh right," I say. "Because of the whole Mormon thing."

"We're not Mormons!"

"Okay, whatever man. There's no need to get all peevish about your, like, nomenclature or whatever, I got it. But dig, these aren't even like normal beers. It's called a Summer Shandy - they're like half beer, half lemonade. So it's like, totally cool or whatever."

"That does sound good," says Buster. Lane shoots him a look that would have frosted the top layer of my blood if I was on the receiving end of it, and he adds quickly, "But I better not."

"That's alright, I can put them back in the fridge for later." As I run back into the kitchen I hear Lane Bryant calling out something about maybe I should put some pants on, but I don't catch the whole thing so maybe I didn't hear her right, and besides all of my pants are upstairs.

As I come back outside, still in my underwear, Lane Bryant has a copy of The Watchtower in her hand and she's trying to thrust it into my chest as if we're running a West Coast Offense fake pass. I grunt from the blow and unfold it.

"So you guys are Jehovah's Witnesses? Man, that's far out. Do you know Prince?"

"I'm sorry?" says Buster.

"Come on, man" I say "Prince! You know, of like, the Revolution and shit. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to curse in front of a lady or anything, it's just that Prince was like the greatest R&B funk artist of our generation. I mean I mostly listen to like, metal and stuff, but Prince is still the fucking coolest. Damn, I'm sorry - and Damn! I did it again. Have you guys ever seen him or anything? Wait!!! Can you get me his autograph?!! Maybe just the little symbol-doodle???!!!"

(How badass would it be to have one of these scrawled across a copy of the Watchtower, by the Man himself?)

At this point Lane is dragging Buster away from my door and snarling over her shoulder at me: "Just read the literature!" as Buster is doing that guy thing where you apologize with your eyes about your girl because you don't want to say anything because... Later, she'll have a thing or two to say to you about that shit.

Poor Buster. He looked like he would have stuck around for a bit, maybe had a beer or two. Maybe some other time.