Eons ago, I started a project at my old blog of writing about the five hit Western movies released in 1939 that led to the genre’s revitalizing in the 1940s and ’50s. I never finished the project, writing about only three of the movies, but I’m starting it up again—first by digging up and revising the three posts I did finish. So I’ll begin with, let’s see … Destry Rides Again.
Poor Thanksgiving! Not only is it jammed awkwardly between two larger, more ornate holidays, both of which are chewing away at it from top and bottom, but it doesn’t have much in the way of a horror movie tradition. Halloween, of course, is wall-to-wall with horror goodies—it’s the only movie genre that has its own holiday!—and the winter seasonal horror film has developed into its own subgenre, offering everything from family friendly thrills (Gremlins) to gruesome slasher flicks (all those Silent Night, Deadly Night films; please note this is not a recommendation).
Thanksgiving is the official holiday for The Twilight Zone and Mystery Science Theater 3000, so it has that going for it. In fact, I’d prefer to drop the whole “Thanksgiving” business and think of the fourth Thursday in November as MST3K Day. Discard the turkey and family and football and replace it with pizza and the Satellite of Love. I’m not excited about turkey, too much family gets stressful, and I hate football.
But I do have two horror film picks that are good matches to the season. Once the kids are in bed, the adults can release pent up tensions and guilt about the holiday with The Witch (2015) and Ravenous (1999).
Probably no single US Western had more influence on the Italian revision of the genre in the 1960s than Vera Cruz. You can imagine Sergio Leone watching this movie and saying, “Hot damn, this is how I wanna make ‘em!” (Sam Peckinpah was watching too; The Wild Bunch contains direct visual quotes from this earlier trip down south for trigger-happy gunslingers to shoot up Mexico.) It was also a technical development in film formats: not exactly a tremendous leap forward, but something that placed the wider screen in reach of studios with less cash.
Today, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which, if you don’t know, is one of my favorite things ever) finally revealed the six movies they’re gonna riff into pop-culture stardom for Season 12. Here’s the trailer announcement for “The Gauntlet,” as they’ve titled the season.
If you didn’t catch all the movies as they flashed by, they are: Mac & Me (1988), Atlantic Rim (2013), Lords of the Deep (1989), The Day Time Ended (1980), Killer Fish (1979), and Ator, The Fighting Eagle (1982). As a fan of schlock cinema, I’m proud to say I’m familiar with all these titles, although the only one I’ve seen all the way through is Ator.
The season’s theme is a parody of Netflix binge-watching: Jonah, Tom, and Crow have to endure all six films back-to-back, allowing for crossover comedy from episode to episode. Maybe Tom will be incomprehensible by the last film and continually forget which movie he’s supposed to be riffing. That’s completely in Tom’s character.
Edgar Rice Burroughs opened up the world of the pulps in the ‘teens, and the field of fantasy and science fiction (the latter of which didn’t even have that name yet) attracted new voices. One of the most successful to follow Burroughs was A. (Abraham) Merritt, a magazine editor and part-time speculative fiction author. Merritt specialized in the Los Civilization tale. He lavished an imaginative perspective onto this sub-genre unlike anything seen previously. In novels like The Moon Pool (1919), The Metal Monster (1920), and Dwellers in the Mirage (1932) he created science-fantasy vistas as astonishing as they were verbose. And of “coruscating” and “scintillating,” two words Merritt passionately loved.
It’s bizarre to me that the magazine Entertainment Weekly (“EW” so you know they’re still hip to the initials the kidz luv) is still around. The routine puff-piece weekly magazine is like the pathetic version of Empire, pumping out boring top ten lists run through market research grinders. And the covers are the absolute worst. The Worst.