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The Thrillville Beat

By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo


By Will "the Thrill" Viharo



A lot has happened since I wrote my last column. I turned 40 (but had fun doing it, skip down for that part if you're sick of war and politics.) SARS is now becoming a full-fledged epidemic, along with AIDS, reality TV and bigotry. Baghdad has pretty much fallen, and a lot of innocent people are dead, even though, so far, no "weapons of mass destruction" have been found to "justify" their slaughter (on both sides of the conflict), at least not as of this writing. Even if they do find a vial of nerve gas, which may be planted, I never considered Iraq a threat to our national security anyway, especially since we probably sold the stuff to Saddam in the first place. Sure, the war was dubbed "Operation Iraqi Freedom," just so we can say the aim all along was to liberate them, not us, just in case no WMDs are found. But if Iraq was a banana republic, it wouldn't matter how many people were tortured to death by their dictator leader - the U.S. wouldn't go forcibly rescue them if their chief national product was monkey food. Blood for oil seems to be a fair exchange for this administration, as long as it's not congressional blood, of course. You notice how they secured the oil fields first and foremost? Sure, "we" (I mean, the army of the country I was born in) steam-rolled over what was left of Saddam's Republican Guard - this was a fixed fight from the start. There's no glory here, no "patriotism." Not for me as a citizen on the sidelines, anyway. Even Peter Jennings compared the war to the Superbowl, wondering why the other team didn't show up for the Big Game. Hint: we picked on a team that was out of our league. Granted, I don't dig football, either. This "us" against "them" thing bores the hell out of me. It's so infantile, so primitive. And people think I'm "retro"!

Call me cynical, but the "liberation" of the Iraqi people is more a welcome but incidental by-product of America's seizure of Iraq's rich oil fields than the other way around. Otherwise, why aren't we "liberating" the people of North Korea? And remember, the same nation currently getting rah-rah kudos for toppling Saddam's regime is the same nation that supported it for years, until our interests clashed. The rebuilding of Iraq also means the rebuilding of America - and I don't know if I like what they're building. Let's try to maintain some healthy, objective perspective here, folks.

Some, even many now that the war is almost over and so far no domestic terrorism has occurred, may consider my remarks "un-patriotic." I truly don't care, because for one thing, questioning the government's agenda is as American as baseball. Yes, I'm relieved it's been relatively successful - if you think of it in the cold, inhuman, brutal terms of war (or football), meaning our side has suffered less casualties than the other side, and scored more "points." But mainly, being a humanist, believing we're all just lost, pathetic globs of flesh confused and terrified by our own mortality, I think we should make the most of our short time here together by reveling in each other's cultural and physical differences, not killing each other because of them. I'm not a nationalist, or even an internationalist, really, so "patriotism" - especially as it's being preached by right wingers exploiting the current climate of fear to secure their own power base - means nothing to me as a desired virtue. Calling me "un-patriotic" for opposing the war is on par with calling me an idiot because for opposing the remake of Ocean's 11. Say whatever you like, that's your right as a citizen (though it's also my right to respond, if I so choose - and more and more I'm learning what a waste of time that is anyway). My standards are my own, and I stick by 'em. You can have your bloodthirsty moron president, butt-ugly gas-guzzling SUVs, shitty Top 40 music, stupid remakes of classic movies, and embarrassing reality TV shows, America. I'm going my own way, in my own way.

Of course, people who were pro-war can now claim that no matter how we lefties couch it, "we've" liberated Iraq, and images of Hussein's statue being torn down amid gleeful celebration seem to vindicate their cause. But there also were (and are) worldwide scenes of Bush's images being burned in effigy (including in his own country) - does that justify the opposition's case? Many people around the world and as well as in America feel oppressed and abused by the Bush regime -where's our liberation? No matter what the ultimate outcome here is, this is a case of a big well-armed country forcibly opposing its will on a small, practically unarmed one - without any overt provocation on the victim's part. That strikes me as wrong. I just don't trust the Bush Administration's motives in this case (or any, really). No matter what face they put in charge over there, or what spin they put on the objectives of this war, I firmly believe the next Iraqi leader will be a U.S. puppet who ensures that our economic interests in the region are secured. This is nothing new, really, if you study history, even recent history, but that doesn't make it any more righteous. And even if a lot of Iraqis are happy to be rid of Hussein, I can't forget the U.S.'s egocentric bullying, their arrogant flouting of the United Nations, and most importantly: the hundreds or thousands of dead innocent civilians, dead journalists, dead peace activists, our own dead soldiers. Before any war-supporters break out the champagne, I hope they pause to reflect on these bitter results, too.

Amid all this jubilation, I feel truly sad that after all of civilization's strides over the centuries, violence is still the ultimate recourse for enforcing one's views and security. There's just something in the human gene that craves war, and as long as there is one power that can dominate another - it will. Until we achieve the Star Trek ideal of a global unification of the races, under one peaceful, compassionate, sensible and tolerant government, this mindless brutality will continue. Personally, I see nothing to celebrate in this bloody "victory." If we'd given peace a chance, let the UN monitor the situation, which is their job, the same result would've been eventually attained - without all that countless "collateral damage" to achieve the same objective via vicious, impatient force. But then if wed waited, Bush may've lost his one ace in winning the next election. He's virtually ensured to win if the war tide keeps going his way, no matter how bad the economy and our civil liberties are eroded, now that the right wing conservative agenda has awarded itself the prize of justification via force and fear. Look out, peace n freedom lovers - we're in for a bumpy ride.

Yea, go ahead and party, if ya feel like it, but me - I'm very sad right now. I could use a cocktail or two, though. Make that fifty.

I just read in the Chronicle (which means it may or may not be actually true) that a recent poll indicated 63% of people in the allegedly "liberal" Bay Area supports the war now - and Bush. That leaves me firmly in the minority, where I am most comfortable, since I've lived there for all my life. I mean, try taking a poll of people who think Greg Brady invented the tiki - I'd be squarely in the 2% who know tiki bars were practically extinct and Les Baxter practically retired by the time The Brady Bunch hit the air. Or try another poll of people who know the name of the tree monster in From Hell It Came (Tabanga) - I'd be in the .005 range. So obviously, I am out of the popular loop on most issues of interest. The mainstream and I do not mix. And I'm fine with it. I'm sure they are, too.

Most people on both sides of the debate forget this country was founded by spilling native blood on their own soil anyway. That's our legacy. I know everyone wants to believe we're the good guys, and in both world wars, we were, pretty much. But much of the blood on America's hands is innocent. Our hats are not entirely white, even if our leaders are.

Anyway, the so-called majority notwithstanding, this is my official reaction to current world affairs in this New American Century:


Pardon my "French," but I still think this war was a BIG mistake. Why? Because a lot of innocent people got killed, that's why, and American is no "safer" than it was before the war started - in fact, we're probably in more dire jeopardy now as a nation than ever, thanks to the international resentment this administration's arrogant aggression has enflamed. I'm fed up already! George W. Bush has gotta go NOW! He has committed far more severe and harmful acts of treason than Nixon or Clinton ever did (one got nailed for eavesdropping, the other for pants-dropping, then lying about it - big deal on both counts!), and yet we're supposed to "support our Commander in Chief" in this time of unjustifiable war!? Hey, who STARTED this mayhem - remember?! Who went ahead and attacked another country and got our national reputation and citizenry caught in the crossfire for his own selfish, arrogant aims? Plus he's CRAZY! I mean clinically nuts! Last week it was reported he firmly believes it wasn't the Supreme Court who got him his job, or even the voting public - it was God! Hey George, what about the Commandment that says "Thou Shall Not Kill" - if you really take the Bible literally, there is no further qualification there, as in "....unless they're brown people who have lots of oil wells." I guess you forgot that one. Or did God personally give you an amendment?

This sort of reliance on personal divine guidance when you're leading the world's biggest superpower is beyond egocentric, man, that is just plain cuckoo! And he has the authority to declare war?! Haven't we learned the hard way from al Queda that religious fanatics should not be allowed access to weapons? What will future generations think of us? One brilliant bubba who kept us in peace and prosperity for two terms gets impeached just for getting his rocks off on the clock! Then the next one, an illiterate frat boy, ignores all the cries for help from his own people for education, employment and equality because "God" told him to instead funnel all our resources into policing the planet - and is "popular"? A lot of this had to do with the fact that most people are more offended by sexuality than by violence. Somehow, enjoying the body's natural pleasures is immoral, but harming someone else's is not. Images of sex disturb most people more than images of destruction and death. This is a deep, deep mystery to me. Blowjobs are a good thing in my world, no matter who's giving and who's receiving. Ordering the deaths of complete strangers overseas is a bad thing in my world, especially when your own people are suffering in domestic depression and you act like you couldn't care less. I guess my priorities are different out of whack.

To me, the Bush administration's strategy was cold and calculated: after 9/11, the U.S. needed to demonstrate it's still the biggest cock on the block, so since we couldn't find bin Laden, we went after a more open, vulnerable target - and hit the bullseye easily. Larry slaps Moe, so Moe slaps Curly - and this is considered "justice." Welcome to the New American Century. Though in a way, it ain't too different from the Old American Century - just bolder and whiter.

Hey, I knew when I protested the remake of Oceans 11 I was in the minority, that Id be vilified for challenging the big guns, that it would still go on to become an international hit and it did. Now theyre even making a sequel, imaginatively called Oceans 12. I still stand by my original opposition, though. Stupidity speaks for itself, anyway, whether its Hollywood or Washington. Just because theyre in charge doesnt mean I have to take it and like it. I dont base my opinions on the mentality of the majority, either.

On that note, I spiritually vote to impeach this president before he inflicts any more damage, even though I know we're probably looking at two terms of Bush-shit. To me, given his domestic myopia and foreign belligerence, his presidency is nothing less than a historical, global tragedy. Yes, I'm echoing John Kerry: we need regime change here at home, too. But I'm afraid the country will rally behind our cowboy prez with the help of the media machine who will hail him a hero. Not me. I feel ashamed and even afraid to be American in the world today. I blame this on our current president. Clinton's marital infidelity had zero effect on me as a citizen, whereas Bush's policies negatively impact my quality of life and sense of well being. If that isn't an impeachable offense, I don't know what is. Of course, I'm probably in the minority - and no one in our government is adequately representing my needs, so:


Why aren't the Democrats calling for Impeachment instead of pandering to the polls and their own careers? Their boy Bill was publicly lambasted by the other side of the aisle for far lesser evils. At least the Republicans practice solidarity and are very well organized - which is why they now control the whole country and their right wing conservative agenda is being forced down our throats. If you really wanna be "patriotic", call for this idiot's immediate impeachment before he inflicts any more irreparable damage on our national conscience! STOP BEING SO GOD DAMN WEAK!! I'm seriously considering re-registering as an Independent now. The only problem is then I'll start getting Republican recruitment propaganda in the mail. Lincoln is long gone, so there's about as much chance of me going Republican in its present post-Reagan ultra-conservative fascist state as there is of me tuning into American Idol. I like Howard Dean, so far, but the rest of 'em are such losers. Still, even if I do go Indie, I'll have to vote against Bush to affect real change, and that will mean voting for the candidate most likely to replace him. Which brings me to:


Because none exist on any practical level, you're just not in the running, and instead of voting against Gore in 2000, if you'd just realized that we liberals all had a common enemy in W., we wouldn't be in this mess right now. I relate to your frustration, but get real: now is not the time for personal idealism - you gotta vote for the larger picture. I know you think you are, but look at what "voting your conscience" did for the rest of us - it tilted the balance of power rightward at the worst possible moment in history. Think about it. And no, I don't believe the right wing extremism of the Bush administration will result in Ralph Nader being president in 2004. C'mon already! Get with the program, people, before abortion becomes as illegal as pot.


Unless you're sending your own sons to war, shut up already, or at least keep your mindlessly macho troop-rallying out of my face. If you are sending your sons to war (which sadly means you're not even in a position to make this decision), I feel for you, because I believe they're being needlessly murdered for bullshit political causes, rather than relatively noble patriotic ones. Still, everyone in our armed forces signed up to defend this nation, and that's what they're being told they're doing, so I salute them - even the gung-ho Marines who actually long for combat. I don't understand why anyone would want to be a soldier - anymore than I understand why anyone would want to be a cop, doctor, lawyer, or plumber for that matter. Someone has to do it, though, that's just how our sad-ass society works. That said, from my perspective - and I don't live in Iraq, to be fair - this particular war is a crime against humanity, not a matter of national defense. It's shockingly shameful to send these poor kids into harm's way to satisfy Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumseld's imperialistic visions for white America. In case you haven't noticed yet, most Iraqis are greeting the troops as invaders, not liberators - you can't force feed an ancient culture democracy on your own terms. These sort of strong-arm tactic negates the whole purpose, no matter how pure you believe your motives to be.


The so called "liberal" press is not doing its job, namely questioning elected authority and challenging the status quo, unearthing corruption and reporting it to the people. Maybe I'm being too idealistic - maybe it never really served this function. But if it's just part of the big propaganda machine keeping the mainstream masses in check, what real use is it to people like me? Zilch. CNN looks like something out of RoboCop - casualty numbers run across the bottom of your screen like sports scores, in fact they often share the screen with sports scores, and the weather! If you want the truth, you have to seek it out yourself and it's out there, simply search the web for like-hearted souls. Most people are too lazy - they just believe what they're told because it makes life so much simpler that way. Even Eisenhower warned of the Military Industrial Complex's behind-the-scenes takeover. Looks like Ike was right in this respect - they even control the press now.


The VietNam war was also popular in the polls until three or four years worth of body bags changed the tide of public opinion. The time to voice your opposition to insanity is while it's happening, as soon as it starts - waiting until you're just worn down by the horror of it all is way too late for all the innocent people being senselessly slaughtered in our name. And I haven't read anything specific about Patriot Act 2, but I bet this very column would be a casualty if it had its way. Ironically, our collective freedom of speech is now being treated by the right as a threat to our national security- not the reward we're supposedly fighting for. Think about that for a second.


For apologizing after saying they were ashamed Bush was from Texas! Hell, my mother was Miss Houston 1960 and I still got a lot of relatives there (who, truth be told, are probably on Bush' side), and I'm simply ashamed he's from America, or planet Earth - and I don't care who knows it! So what they were banning your CDs from hick radio stations? You may've won a whole new audience by courageously speaking your hearts, people like me who think country music died along with Patsy Cline! But now, forget it! Next time, stick to your guns, gals!


Just kidding. He's a hero. A slob, style-wise, but a hero. But...


Who gave Moore a well-earned Oscar and standing ovation for Bowling for Columbine then turned around and booed him for vocalizing the same views to a worldwide audience. Just like politicians, they care more about their careers than expressing their convictions regarding issues that truly matter. And most of their movies suck, too. Though I gotta admit, with stuff like Frida, Auto Focus and Far From Heaven coming out of the dream factory lately, things are looking slightly up. Just saw The Hours, though, which was a tedious exercise in pointless depression, at least to me - lighten up already!! My mother is schizo and believe me, there is no glory or romanticism or redemption in tragic sadness. Even dark subjects need some levity, especially in entertainment - but that's just me. Art is meaningless without Truth, but Laughter is indeed the best therapy. A lot of the 50s B movies I love were allegories for the xenophobia of their era - guys like Roger Corman and Rod Serling were bargain basement poets in my book. And there's nothing funnier than a rubber monster movie. Makes me feel good, anyway. Okay...where was I? Oh yea, I was ranting about something, what was it?....


I never got the point of Critical Mass (Hypocritical Mess). Blocking traffic never solved anything. It's a monumental, and selfish, waste of time and energy that could be much more constructively directed. HOWEVER, I totally relate to and understand the frustration of the oppressed masses, so I'm all for passionate gatherings of peaceful war protestors teeming in front of war-sponsoring Bush-loving big businesses. Focus, people, focus. But the bottom line is: whatever gets us media attention and lets the world know not all of us in the U.S. are flag-waving homicidal cowboys is ultimately okay by me, no matter how cheapjack the tactics. Just don't break anyone's windows, that's not even anarchy, it's cruel, mindless criminality - leave that to the politicians.


On the off chance they're wasting their time tapping into my little rants. Just put this in my file, guys, with the rest of my harmless drivel. To be balanced, I did like the '60s TV show starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr., or whatever the hell his name was.


Because some Bush/Julia Roberts/Survivor fan out there who stumbles onto this site is bound to write in and add me to their own "fuck" list, so I thought I'd beat 'em to it and fuck myself first. If you still wanna fuck me, at least please send a photo.


With Robert "Dino" Ensler for Wills 40th Birthday Roast, Palm Springs, 4/2/03Speaking of "fuck me," I just turned 40, on Wednesday, April 2, and to celebrate this milestone amid the surreal nature of world events, Monica and I went to Palm Springs to stay in this ultra-cool modern oasis, the Orbit In - which, ironically, perpetually exists in the year I was born, 1963. We were in town so I could be "Man of the Hour" at a Dean Martin (Style) Celebrity Roast, which Monica did a typically masterful job of organizing and programming. We discovered the Orbit In when we were in Palm Springs last year for a tiki bash hosted by our pal Otto Von Stroheim. Monica and I fell instantly in love. This gorgeous, classy, intimate motel looks like the world inside our heads, a Shag painting come to life: ten cozy, comfy and impeccably decorated theme rooms around a pool next to a boomer-rang bar that serves free poolside cocktails at happy hour and plays lounge music all day long. There's the Martini Room, the Leopard Lounge, etc. We stayed in the Rat Pack Suite, natch. Next door to us in the other Rat Pack Room (the two are joined to form one suite) was our wedding minister, Robert Ensler and his gal Gloria. He drove in from Vegas to do his cool Dean Martin thing once again as host of the roast down the road at an ultra-swank art deco restaurant called Atlas. About a dozen of my closet pallies - including Parkway head honchos Kyle and Catherine Fischer along with their adorable baby daughter Nora; Dave Ortiz; Dave and Maureen Tomas; Elvis babe Julie Parrish; DJ and promoter the Cali Kid; Uncle Bill the Trailer King; and noir author Eddie Muller - came down to pay tribute to yours truly by strolling down memory lane, beating me in the knees with a baseball bat all the way. God, it was fun. We have it on tape - though of course, it ran out just as I began my rebuttal!

I actually turned 40 the night before (five minutes after midnight, just missed April Fool's!) while hanging out in a gay tiki bar called Toucan's with Uncle Bill, Dave Ortiz and Monica, Tiki Goddess. It's a great tiki bar but they play nothing but disco, which is kind of a drag - but I'm not their target clientele, either. I got really drunk on a mix of Mai Tais and martinis and went around asking the boys who they preferred as Batman - Adam West or Michael Keaton? It was nearly unanimous - the pot-bellied original was deemed the favorite. I felt at home.

Monica relaxes in the pool at the Orbit In, Palm Springs, 4/2/03I tell ya, floating in the pool at the Orbit, listening to their CD mix of Ultra Lounge, Sinatra, Herb Alpert, etc, sipping my "Orbitini," I was in space age heaven. It was like being on the Dick Van Dyke Show, Monica's favorite show - in fact, Monica sang the theme song at my roast (we found out it had words on the TV Land Awards recently). I totally indulged myself - I watched atomic monster cinema in the room like Day the World Ended, The Amazing Colossal Man, and This Island Earth, and I even had I Was a Teenage Werewolf playing in the background as I got a vigorous massage! (The poor masseuse said it was the first time in her five year career she gave a massage with people screaming in the background!) Next to our honeymoon in Hawaii, it was the most relaxing time of my entire life - Washington and Baghdad seemed like they were on another planet somewhere. Next to the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki, the Orbit In is our new favorite spot on Earth. I barely paid attention to the headlines while I was there. I just enjoyed and celebrated my life with family and friends, and steeped in all that luscious love and stylish serenity, I felt completely at peace for the first time in a long time. Vacations - I recommend 'em.

Then we were in L.A. for a couple of days visiting my best man Greg Vargas and my old man Robert Viharo. I hadn't been in L.A. for a while - I actually lived there from '79 to '85 - and it was good to go back and visit my old haunts, or what was left of them. L.A. is not what you'd call a sentimental town, but my favorite restaurants are still there - Dolores' in West L.A. and Musso & Frank's in Hollywood, and we hit 'em both. We caught the opening night of Eddie Muller's noir fest at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood - the original version of The Glass Key with George Raft , which was okay, and Stranger on the Third Floor, with Peter Lorre, which is a surreal, and hysterical, mini-masterpiece. I also finally made a pilgrimage to Bronsan CanyonAt "the Batcave," Bronsan Canyon, Hollywood (used for "Robot Monster" "Batman" and many other classics) in the Hollywood Hills, site of the famous "Robot Monster Cave," seen in countless '50s B sci-fi flicks and most famously on my favorite TV show, Batman - the Batmobile used to speed out of there on every episode, though actually, the cave is so small it was parked just inside and then rolled out slowly, but when the film was sped up, it looked like it was roaring out of the Batcave.

Then when we got back home, we hob-nobbed with some local pallies who couldn't make it down to Palm Springs in the middle of the week (due to day jobs) for an informal exotic cocktail party at Trader Vic's in Emeryville.

Holy Top Forty, Batman - Forty is Tops.

Now, back to the reel world:


Thrillville was initially inspired, somewhat, by the Saturday afternoon shows Mad Theater and Horror Theater, hosted by Doc Shock, that I grew up watching in New Jersey. After I started doing this, I realized I was also, in a way, carrying on the tradition of the midnight ghost shows of the 40s and 50s - scary movie programs with live performances by magicians with lovely assistants, prizes, all that jazz. Back in the day, showmanship was a big part of movie ballyhoo - and the greatest movie showman of all time was William Castle. He used to use ingenious gimmicks as a creative way of promoting his films. Joe Dante paid tribute to him in Matinee, a terrific flick starring John Goodman as a Castle-type director plugging his latest horror flick during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Reel horror often flourishes amid real horror - Universal's classic monster movies coincided with the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler, and the onset of World War 2; '50s sci-fi was largely inspired by fear of Communism and general atom age paranoia; the last great generation of horror directors (Romero, Cronenberg, etc) came of age during Viet Nam, multiple assassinations and the disillusionment of Watergate. Maybe we'll have another golden age of cinematic horror in this era of true horror - but I doubt it. Those tragic times also generated great music. So far, I haven't heard anything remotely inspiring or memorable, either in protest or support of the war. Jazz, big band, lounge, exotica, rock 'n' roll, soul, R&B, Motown - one classic musical genre after another helped carry this country through the hard times. Now it's all pansy pop, kiss-ass country and raging rap. Where's the life affirmation, the romance, the beauty, the creativity, the rebellion, the passion? It's all so depressingly conformist, just like the polls. Classic pop culture is dead. Maybe it'll come back someday. In the meantime, escape the present and unpleasant reality in Thrillville.

I've shown a couple of Castle masterpieces already: The Tingler, for which Castle rigged some theater seats with electrical charges, though I didn't want to try it at the Parkway for fear of setting a sofa on fire; and 13 Ghosts, in Illusion-O, meaning you could only see the ghosts with special glasses, which Bob Ekman provided for my screening. This month I'm continuing my salute to the Master with screenings of two of his rarer classics, both from 1961: HOMICIDAL (Parkway, May 8) and MR. SARDONICUS (Parkway, May 22.) The first one, about a nurse in a house of psychos, features a "Fright Break", just so you can catch your breath, and the second one, about a disfigured madman, allows you to choose his fate, though of course, only one ending was shot, but at least in Thrillville we offer the illusion of democracy. I'm also showing episodes of THE SHADOW serial from 1940, starring Victor Jory as Lamont Cranston. I began showing it a couple of years ago and then got tired of it, now I'm picking it up from where we left off. I don't remember exactly what was going on, but the good thing is, every episode begins with a recap leading up to the current peril, so we'll be brought up to speed. The reason I'm bringing this back? I like to finish what I start. Also, who the hell else shows serials on the big screen anymore? They're a long lost American art form.

I'm none too proud of my country in these dark days, except when we have the courage to stand up for our own convictions in the face of overwhelming adversity, which I'm sure Bush supporters are claiming he did - like Gary Cooper in High Noon. Just remember that High Noon is Bill Clinton's favorite movie - and it was made by liberals (Stanley Kramer was a serious leftie). And John Wayne hated it. I love irony.

Despite its faults and failings as a democracy, America produced some of the world's greatest movies and music, at least a long time ago, and that's what I celebrate here in Thrillville. Even the French would agree on that point.

See? There's always common ground for Peace.


Order a copy of
"Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me,"
a novel featuring Vic Valentine, Private Eye
by William Viharo from Wild Card Press: