By Will ("The Thrill") Viharo
Bigotry Exposed; Reel vs. Real Terror; RIP AIP; One Atom Brain, Thirteen Ghosts, Two Godzillas and the Last Dracula
(SEE SCHEDULE LINK AT LEFT FOR COMPLETE SHOWTIMES)
n times of widespread panic, epic mourning and unspeakable disaster - such as NOW, for instance - people often disregard the mundane pleasures of life as "trivial." On the contrary, I believe the simplest of moments take on even deeper resonance and more precious significance than ever, especially when it's painfully illustrated just how fleeting they are.
The day of the disaster - the distress call "9-11" has now replaced "Y2K" as the popular initials of apocalyptic doom - was of course deeply embedded in my memory, along with all the other historic tragedies in my lifetime, like when JFK was shot (I was six months old then, so that one got by me) or when Elvis disappeared in his bathroom (I was fourteen and remember the exact moment when I heard the news well). My mother-n-law, Mama Tiki Goddess, AKA Elizabeth Cortés, woke me at 7:30AM to ask how her daughter Monica, Tiki Goddess was. "Okay," I mumbled. Monica had just left to sub teach in Union City. "Why?"
Liz told me to turn on the TV because terrorists had crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. My muddled mind could not digest this information, much less focus on it right away. I said "Oh no" and wished her well, then hung up and tried to go back to sleep, to no avail. I flipped on the bedroom TV and the first image I saw was the first tower of the World Trade Center collapsing. My initial thought was, "So it's gone??" That was an incomprehensible concept to me, especially first thing in the morning. I was instantly wide awake, though, glued to the tube for two days straight. I was very relieved when Monica finally called me to tell me she was okay. For a while, it really did seem like the end of the world, and I needed my Tiki Goddess with me, or at least to know that she was safe. She was busy keeping her students calm. That's the kind of babe she is.
Everyone in the civilized world and beyond knows what happened by now. I'm not going to re-hash it here, since Thrillville is a refuge from reality. But from this relatively safe vantagepoint, I of course feel the need to comment not just on the tragedy itself, but the response.
First of all, let me state my view of our options: we do need to find the killers behind this catastrophe and punish them, no question. We can't just position ourselves as an open target to any fanatic with uncontrolled hostility. But if we go ahead and start randomly carpet-bombing Muslim nations in an attempt to "smoke out" the isolated "evil-doers," as our prez so astutely labels them, we might inadvertently launch a world war between the East and the West - which is exactly what the terrorists want, because they feel if the mobilize enough of the Islamic population against us, they'll win. What their ultimate objective is, even saying they would win such a conflict, and they wouldn't, eludes me. I mean, apparently suicide bombers from their side are promised copious material rewards, including an ample supply of virgins, in the hereafter. I really see nothing "spiritual" or even noble in that motivation. I do feel that the anger and resentment they harbor toward our wealthy, often arrogant side of the planet is in some ways understandable. However, the mass murder of thousands of innocents who have nothing to do with the source of that anger is not the solution, and there is absolutely no justification for it. They fucked up grandly and they deserve what's coming to them. But by the same token, our responding to this vicious, seemingly unprovoked assault on our people and peace of mind by simply killing X amount more of their people to even the score is similarly unjustified. That will also simply perpetuate the cycle of doom and gloom. This is not a chess game. It's not a game at all. Strike a match near a powder keg, and we'll all go up in smoke. The Mid and Far East are far too volatile a region to start tossing missiles around indiscriminately. If the true objectives in our response are 1) justice for the needlessly slaughtered as well as 2) insurance this won't ever happen again, the strategy should involve as much restraint as it does force. While not justifying or condoning this act of terror, we do need to understand its roots, if we really want to eliminate the cause. This will take some serious soul searching, along with some surgical military strikes and commando raids. (Like it or not, we need solders in this society just like we need cops and firemen - I wouldn't want to trade places with them, would you? They all deserve our respect and admiration and support for choosing to protect us.) The callous zealots who "knocked those buildings down," as our ever-inspiring and eloquent prez put it, want us to strike back with our arsenal alone, not our reason. I hope we prove to everyone that as a nation we've progressed beyond that cynical, insidious, inflammatory worldview. I'm not hoping too hard, though.
The two most terrifying images to me that day were of course the many angles of the planes crashing into the buildings, and secondly the sight of our broad-sided president blinking and stammering into the camera, trying to calmly reassure us when it was evident he needed his own diapers changed. Now, I'm not going to randomly Bush-bash at this point, because this situation calls for solidarity, not just as a U.S. citizen, but as member of the human race, yet I cringed whenever I saw this pampered weakling trying to rally support for his new cause, the eradication of terrorism. Not only is he accidentally our president, he is an accidental hero. As long as he doesn't blow the entire planet up in the process, he will be deemed by History and the current masses a symbol of freedom and justice in a time of chaos and calamity. To his credit, he has assembled a good team of militant Republicans hell-bent on kicking targeted smart but cowardly asses from here to eternity. I admit, it's reassuring to see Colin Powell up there, strong and resolute in his resolve. Certain asses do need to be kicked, and decisively. Powell seems calm and reasonable and most importantly, undaunted in the task that faces us. But the focus of the world is going to be on our Leader, George W. Bush. His mangled cowboy rhetoric is of no consolation to me, and embarrasses us on the world stage. And face it: before this happened, he was on the route to arrogant isolationism, making our country more hated than ever, by everybody outside our borders, not just wacko fanatics with an axe to grind into our skulls. I'm not just bashing Bush, I'm merely stating facts. Now the terrorists will not only have made martyrs of their fucked-up followers, but also a historical hero out of an idiot frat boy who has no business running the show in a time of serious crisis. But, he's the one we're stuck with now, and so I must offer him my support since he is inadvertently defending my freedom to express my opinion that he is a bonehead. But I can tell you right now: he could stick bin Laden's head on his wall like a set of elk antlers, and I am still not going to vote for him, EVER, because I strongly oppose his domestic policies and overall way of thinking. He is a social dinosaur. But now we're also threatened by babbling kamikaze cavemen with pilot's licenses. It's a strangely backward time, this 21st Century. So much for progress.
I call the terrorists cavemen because their ideology is primitive. They treat their women like shit, as Monica pointed out, and worship a God who discriminates against and orders the death of his own children. What God is this, you ask? Whose God is this? Just theirs, right? Wrong. Read this pitiably stupid yet frightening exchange from two good ol' boys who influence millions of minds right here in good ol' America, land of "the free":
JERRY FALWELL: And I agree totally with you that the Lord has protected us so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the first time that we've been attacked on our soil and by far the worst results. And I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters - the Husseins, the bin Ladens, the Arafats - what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact - if, in fact - God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.
My favorite bit in this little tragic farce is when Robertson referred to us as "a free society" in the context of dividing our diverse nation into two groups: people who see it their way and people who don't. What and whose freedom is he referring to here? I don't think he even knows, he's such a scared, stupid little twit.
Dig it: these two incredibly ignorant assholes influence millions of maladjusted malcontents, just like bin Laden and Hussein and Hitler and all the rest of the fascists who take advantage of the disenfranchised among us. If Robertson and Falwell wanted to mobilize an armed army against their sworn enemies - meaning anyone who doesn't share their beliefs and agenda - they could. Bombing an abortion clinic is morally, if not mathematically, no different than ramming a plane into the World Trade Center from the perspective of the victims - or from my own personal point of view, for that matter.
EARTH TO JERRY FALWELL: You all heard how a few brave men thwarted the fourth plane targeted for DC by apparently crashing it in rural Pennsylvania? One was a follower of an Indian spiritual path (SYDA, I knew many actors in LA who are also followers of this faith), and lived in an ashram, and another was GAY! A "heathen" and a "homo" saved America from further catastrophe! And both were from that liberal bastion known as the Bay Area! What does your God have to say about that! I guess he recruits from all stations in an emergency? Or did the "heathen" and the "homo" kick your God's vengeful ass by spoiling his ultimate goal: having foreign terrorists kill as many more "pagans" as possible!
The irony is that both groups, the Christian right-wing fanatics and the Islamic factions behind the terrorists, worship a God who would do something like crash planes of innocent people into buildings just to make a point. If that's the true God of all of us, not just the 700 Club and turbaned terrorists, I don't want him blessing America, because I live here. I don't want anything to do with such a bigoted murderer. So what's their Satan like? How bad can he be by these standards? I don't even want to know.
I must point out another comparison between Falwell and bin Laden: both are radical extremists, leaders of fanatical factions, crusading their own twisted causes, exploiting the fears of others like them in order to assemble a coalition. But they are NOT the true representatives of the religions they co-opt for their own political purposes. Anyone who reads the scriptures they selfishly interpret can plainly see their corruption of the original and obvious messages of peace and brotherhood for ALL humankind.
Fortunately, I don't believe in or worship their "God." I take my cues from the Holy Trinity of Frank, Dino and Sammy, whose simple creed is to drink and be merry. Blowing up innocent people or discriminating against others who are different doesn't even come up in the Rat Pack doctrine, because that would be very Un-cool, and the act of being Un-cool is the ultimate sin in their world view. Look at Sammy: black, Cuban, Jewish, one-eyed, and short. He represented over half the world's population in one little package of dynamite. Frank was a champion of civil rights going way back, and Dean Martin tolerated Jerry Lewis for years, a true test of open-mindedness. This is partly why they are my religion of choice, though I am not religious per se. I believe in a Higher Power, though, and I bow to Dean Martin, who was Higher than me most of the time. Dino's prime directive is: RELAX! Tension, enmity, bigotry and hatred are the enemies of the Good Life they professed for all.
The really scary thing about all this, beyond the obvious horrific violence, is the aimless anger and prejudice unleashed right here in our own society. Rednecks and bigots everywhere have been given a "legitimate" target now, a "patriotic" justification for their insecure, small minded disdain and violent tendencies. Pat Roberts and Jerry Falwell are as harmful to our Society as bin Laden, because they not only support the proliferation of prejudice in our world, they perpetuate it by preaching it themselves. They organize rallies for the cause of Hate, and their prime motivation is Fear. Worse, they pretend God is backing them up, and blame all their actions on him. Personally, I don't see much difference in their mentalities. Anyone dumbfounded by the epic evil that attacked this country need look no further than their own backyard for its source.
I am not a nationalist. I'm just a plain humanitarian. The sight of all these flag-wavers makes me very uneasy, because to me it is has become as much a symbol of divisiveness as it is of unity: U.S. VS. THEM. The kind of soaring patriotism that got us through World War 2 has been seriously corrupted since then by a fractured and prejudiced society. This isn't a World War, not yet, and the World Trade Center attack was not another Pearl Harbor - those comparisons are made by media politicians trying to stir public support for the inevitable military response. I'd prefer to see United Nations flags waving everywhere, since Americans were not the only victims of this wicked cowardice. This was not an act of war in the conventional sense, but an epic crime against humanity. These criminals are more like serial killers that strike and hide than warriors who pick a fight and then finish it out in the open. We're fighting a cause, not a country. You can't nuke a network. But I fear our country might be the first to throw down in that arena. Of course, the targets of choice, Afghanistan and Iraq, are already deserts of death, wastelands of starvation and drought, so the objective there is redundant, to say the least. Of course our government needs to retaliate against the actual perpetrators, and those who offer them asylum, in any way it sees fit. That's their chosen job, to defend the country. As Sean Connery observed in the otherwise terrible movie version of The Untouchables, you don't bring a knife to a gunfight. Pacifism won't work against terrorists. You pretty much gotta kill 'em if you want them to go away. I don't relish in this reality. But where peace and reason can and should reign is right here, in our own backyard. Terrorism is itself a symptom of what ails us as a society, and as a race: Bigotry is the true foe that should be abolished, torn out by the roots, but I don't see nearly enough troops marching to that drum.
Except right here in Thrillville. Our borders are open to all, without regard to color or creed, though I will ask you to check bad taste in music at the door. You can pick it back up on your way out, though.
As I stated way WAY the hell back at the top of this topical column, it's the simple things in life that we should cherish more than ever when surrounded by gloom and terror. Basically, enjoy who and what you love while you can. Don't let psychological terror paralyze you, because then the real bombs the terrorists set off that day will be proven effective. You can fight them not just by dying for your country, but by simply living your life.
The day of the disaster I watched the news almost non-stop, but took a break from the real life horror to check out some reel horror on Turner Classic Movies (yes, my digital cable has been working fine lately, knock knock): an obscure little B sci fi flick from 1959 called INVISIBLE INVADERS. It stars two stalwarts of the genre, John Agar and John Carradine (barely), plus it pre-dates Night of the Living Dead by featuring (well-dressed) armies of our own undead taking over the earth (this time inhabited by aliens, though). Atomic zombies in suits and ties battle a small band of scientists trying to find a cure for this deadly new plague threatening the world! Was it scary? No. Funny? Hell, yea. Therapeutic on a day of real life disaster and worldwide anxiety? Absolutely. The parallels were freaky: you saw an aerial view of the Pentagon, stock footage of planes crashing and buildings on fire, and lots of talk about the crumbling of world institutions and massive death amongst the general population. All on a budget of $2.50, on basically one set and some outside footage around the hills of LA, but in the context of reality, it was more chilling, and hilarious, than ever. I also reflected on the climate it was created in, under the specter of the H-bomb, amid the paranoia and xenophobia of the Cold War and the space race. Real fear lurked behind the lens of this little B movie, sublimated into a harmless kiddie's matinee. Whatever works, and it worked for me. Temporarily, at least. It put me to sleep, if nothing else.
Basically, in good times and bad: B MOVIES RULE! And so does the healing power of MUSIC.
Later in the week, I did what I also do when I'm down or confused: I listened to some Sinatra LPs. I wondered if the terrorists had ever even heard Sinatra, or any decent music, and if so, after hearing that life-affirming sound, how they could ever conceive of such evil. Sinatra (or whoever turns you on musically) soothes the soul, like sex soothes the body. I think we should bomb the enemy by flying over their cities and playing great music on loudspeakers, kind of like they did in Apocalypse Now, when they blared "Ride of the Valkyries" while attacking a Vietnamese village (though they wanted to scare them, not educate them). Well, I guess that tactic is too late now. They should've thought of it sooner.
Anyway, my own show must go on as well. Welcome to the safe haven of THRILLVILLE!
It being that time of year - Halloween, which is more than just a holiday now, but an excuse to dress up and celebrate weirdness for at least a month prior to October 31 - I am proud to announce the return of CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURES to the Parkway! And yes, this does include the return of JOHN STANLEY, author and TV celebrity, as well as the original legend himself, BOB WILKINS! (see SCHEDULE link for details on dates, prices and advance tickets, which go on sale Sunday September 30). I am also negotiating as of this writing for the presence of 2T2, the robot sidekick of CAPTAIN COSMIC, Wilkins' weekday afternoon alter ego. Last year's events were memorable, historic affairs, and this year's will be likewise mandatory, but we can only offer so many seats, so get there early the day tix go on sale.
This time, Wilkins won't actually be doing a stage show, he will just be in the lobby greeting and talking with fans, signing autographs, etc. He is getting a little tired now, but he thrives on the love of his people. John Stanley will be on stage along with some special guests, like master theremin musician ROBERT SILVERMAN at the first event on October 11. Also on the thrill-bill that night are the great zombies-and-gangsters B classic from 1955, CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, directed by schlockmeister Ed Cahn (INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, THE SHE CREATURE, the aforementioned Invisible Invaders, etc.); William Castle's original 1960 masterpiece 13 GHOSTS in ILLUSION-O, though you won't need no stinking glasses (and please ignore the upcoming remake, which promises to be very noisy but pointless); Chapter 5 of THE SHADOW serial from 1940, starring Victor Jory as Lamont Cranston; and of course UNCLE BILL'S TRAILERS, always the hit of any program I showcase. Do I spoil you or what?
John will also co-host the Wilkins night, on October 25 which will feature the Bay Area big screen premiere of Toho's GODZILLA VS SUPERMECHAGODZILLA, from 1993, co-starring Baby Godzilla and Rodan in his first film appearance since the '60s. This is a serious monster-fest, fans, far superior to GODZILLA 2000 in terms of sheer, explosive monsterability. Why it was released straight to video in this country is anybody's guess. You have Mike Schlesinger at Sony Pictures to thank for the acquisition of this rare, dubbed 35mm print (and me, for asking for it.) Also on the bill is Chapter 6 of THE SHADOW, more of UNCLE BILL'S TRAILERS, natch, and the Werepad's rare print of Hammer's THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in their final face-off as the Count vs. Van Helsing (made in 1973, released five years later!). This movie is uncomfortably timely as well, since in this one Drac tries to conquer the world with a deadly bacteria (i.e.bio-chemical warfare), but it's all in fantasy fun. And as far as Godzilla goes - the very film I'm showing was cancelled and replaced with the innocuous flick BEACH PARTY when Godzilla vs Mecha-Godzilla 2 (its video title) was scheduled to air on AMC the Saturday after the attacks. I suppose this was because Big G is synonymous with mass urban destruction, and in fact is a pop culture by-product of a wounded national psyche, in the wake of Hiroshima. But for many of us, not just the Japanese, Godzilla is a therapeutic response to the threat of senseless annihilation, and we need him now more than ever! Just as well AMC axed it, though, since too often movies I book show up on cable days before their screening in Thrillville - I know it's a conspiracy, this time inadvertently thwarted due to the larger picture.
I hate it when the media refers to the terrorists, or any "evil-doers", as "monsters" - to me and my kind, monsters are misunderstood mutants, and fundamentally more sympathetic creatures than humans. Monster movies are a very necessary cathartic reaction to the terrors of the real world, and as the sign behind Bob Wilkins every week on Creature Features used to proclaim: WATCH HORROR FILMS -KEEP AMERICA STRONG! Now that's a patriotic slogan I can get behind.
Talk about a bad week: a few days after the attacks, Sam Arkoff, 83, passed away on Sunday, September 16 (no, they're not apparently related). He co-founded American International Pictures in 1955 with James Nicholson. They produced many of the great B movies of all time, creating hybrid genres with ingenious titles, employing embryonic talents, and revolutionizing the drive-in experience. Their first big hit was 1957's I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, starring Michael Landon in his greatest role ever as the tormented lycanthropic teen, and it's my all time favorite, which I presented last month to a small, appreciative audience at the Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley. I am giving those who missed it - and there were WAY too many - a second shot this month at The Werepad in SF, on Saturday October 13. This distributor, Kit Parker, is going out of business, and especially now with the death of Arkoff, the fate of these theatrical prints is way up in the air. This could be your last chance to see ANY classic 50s AIP monster flick on the big screen for some time. Be there or be square, cats and kittens.
My other road show this month takes me for the first time to the campus of Cal State Hayward (which Mama Tiki Goddess used to attend). Their big events coordinator Chimal was intrigued after he saw a flyer for one of my shows at Movie Image in Berkeley, so he contacted me, and asked me to host their big Halloween shindig in their main theater on Saturday, October 27. Given this great opportunity to corrupt young, impressionable minds, I called upon psychotronic agents Scott Moon and Buzz Bob Ekman to supply me with trailers, scopitones, vintage commercials and cartoons from their (inter)stellar film collection. See Space Ghost, Ultra Man and other TV monster-fighters on the big screen, as well as loads of classic sci-fi drive-in trailers, plus a 3D short from 1940 (!) called "Murder in 3D," the first thing directed by George Sidney, who later went on to direct Elvis' Viva Las Vegas (a remake with Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez was recently announced - the evidence of our culture's sad decay is everywhere.) Also on the bill are a magician and a couple of bands I didn't book myself - I am only, as always, your humble host. But make no mistake - you will be in the safe, non-denominational dominion of the THRILLVILLE HALLOWEEN ROAD SHOW !
Monica, Tiki Goddess (AKA Monica Cortés Viharo) will be my lovely assistant for all these special shows this month, after a hiatus to perform in A COMEDY OF ERRORS at La Val's to widespread acclaim (she did Shakespeare as both Harpo Marx and Mae West! Beauty and brilliance, what a package!). After creatively and passionately acting the work of Will the Quill on stage, this month Monica's film debut takes place up at the Rafael Theater as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival, in Rob Nilsson's SCHEME C6. Rob is the maverick genius behind such films as CHALK and HEAT AND SUNLIGHT. This movie is part of his ambitious NINE AT NIGHT series, three of which star my Pop, Robert Viharo (one of them, STROKE, played at last year's film festival). Monica was part of Rob's Tenderloin Action Group for a while. She is positively on fire in this movie, and yes - she even gets nekkid!! All in the name of Art, though (right, Rob???). The film happens to show on her father's birthday, October 12, at 9:45PM ( see www.mvff.com for more info), but will he go see his daughter playing a bi-sexual biker babe, improvising her way through a sordid San Francisco? I don't even want to think about it - but YOU should definitely try to be there.
AND Monica will be the Awards Girl again at this year's WAMMIES at Bimbo's in SF on Thursday, October 18! Wow, what a gal!
IT'S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD! FUCK NOSTRADAMUS! FIGHT PSYCHOLOGIAL TERRORISM BY LIVING YOUR LIFE! And above all .
BOYCOTT THE REMAKES OF OCEAN'S 11, 13 GHOSTS, AND VIVA LAS VEGAS!
Make the world safe for originality, style, and all things that thrill you!
ROBOTS, RAY GUNS, AND THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS!
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