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I Fall to Pieces

Published February 22, 2023 by biggayhorrorfan

“I can’t say much about his performance, but that Kendall…wow!”

“Yeah?”

“What a cock!!!”

Thus, was Father Lou’s nuanced, all-encompassing assessment of Pieces, the Euro-trash epic I had, gleefully, discovered in the video section at the mini-mart in East Randolph, NY. This store had sprung up, seemingly overnight, at the corner of Main & Williams during my freshman year at college, a rumored tax write-off for a group of enterprising parents hoping to gather funds to pay for the college educations of their small town fleeing offspring. I definitely appreciated that notion of escape and the fact that the walls of the tiny rental area in the bodega sized pop-up were filled with such offerings as the Friday the 13th films, Dario Argento’s Creepers and Blood Sucking Freaks.

The lurid red of the Pieces’ VHS box had practically called out to me upon entering the space one evening, while the film itself had delighted me with its decidedly weird energy. The actors seemed unconnected not only to each other, but to the material as a whole. The violence was over-the-top, but ultra-unrealistic, as well. The unexpected supernatural twist at the film’s end also reminded me of the out-of-the-grave hand reach from Carrie and I was proud of myself for beginning to recognize influences and repeat behaviors from film to film.

Most importantly, as a collector of actresses, Lynda Day George’s name beneath the advertising artwork had definitely drawn me in, as well. I adored her from her performances in such environmental horror epics as Ants and Day of the Animals. Despite her almost artificially stunning Hollywood beauty, she always seemed ready to throw herself into the muddiness that the roles she played required.  In particular, the plotline of Ants required her to breathe through a tube, remaining perfectly still, while a quadruple baker’s dozen of insects crawled wildly over her impossibly porcelain skin. In Pieces, she almost one upped this dynamic in a sequence that found her paralyzed by a drug injection while enduring the threats of the recently revealed serial killer culprit of the film.

Savoring the multi-day rental period, I brought the tape over to Lou’s rectory on a heat strewn Wednesday evening. Occasionally, I would share my cinematic discoveries with the teen residents at the home for troubled kids, where I was employment-summering, but I felt this one may be too extreme even for their street savvy senses.  Thus, I was dying to get Lou’s reaction. The orgiastic energy of the film even seemed akin to the slaughter strewn graphics of Joyride, one of our favorite cheapie horror paperback novels. But unfortunately, Lou’s Vatican-Latin didn’t translate well to the subcontinental fare on (severed) hand…or, despite my assessment, Ian Sera’s member in those final celluloid driven moments really was of review-banning magnitude.

More than likely, though, it was just another case of those universal lessons that life metes out to you slowly- never meet your heroes and never ask the pervert local priest his true opinion of your latest, greatest horror film.


Note: (My first horror movie buddy was a priest named Lou Hendricks. Several years ago, Hendricks was named by the Western New York Catholic diocese as one of their most unrepentant predators in the ’70s and ’80s. Thus, I grew up watching monster movies with a monster – a man who was like an uncle to our family. Over the next few months, I will be sharing some of my stories from that period of time.)

Unsung Heroines of Horror: Margo

Published February 8, 2023 by biggayhorrorfan

I am forever diving into the cheap bins of LPs at my local record & thrift shops, searching for vinyl treasures to make their way into my ever-expanding collection. Try as I might to resist the lure of overwhelming my domicile with tuneful aluminum-based creations, I truthfully admit that I spend far too much time in these pursuits of rampant purchase. A couple of Sundays ago, with minutes to spare ‘til closing, I hit up the Brown Elephant in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago for some late afternoon perusing. There I found an old, old school Kapp recording of film & television star Eddie Albert & his singing companion, a glamorous creation named, singly, Margo. 

Low and behold, it turned out this was the very Margo who, starred with coquettish precision, in the moody Val Lewton produced horror The Leopard Man (1943). Further research revealed that Margo & Albert we’re married for decades. Albert’s continued fame, with projects ranging from comedy sensations like Green Acres and kiddie favorites like Escape to Witch Mountain, compared to Margo’s relative obscurity reveals an all to common tale of masculine privilege, though.  

Politically progressive, the couple both faced ostracism and backlash for their liberal viewpoints during the McCarthy era and often lost work because of it. A war record and his Caucasian background ultimately freed Albert from this witch-hunt, but the very feminine, very Mexican Margo never regained her momentum. She was relegated to sporadic television appearances, with a 1965 episode of Perry Mason marking her last acting credit. Albert’s career, meanwhile, continued for decades after that. 

Thankfully, we can still appreciate her magnetic presence in the well regarded Lewton film while gratefully acknowledging the sacrifices that this one of a kind woman made for truth & justice in society.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Hopelessly Devoted to: Jeanne Crain

Published February 1, 2023 by biggayhorrorfan

Jeanne Crain spent her primary Hollywood years portraying cinematic sweethearts. She was everyone’s faithful sister (Leave Her to Heaven) or the ingénue who bloomed when romance arrived, fully collared, at her door (The Model and the Marriage Broker). Nicely aging into roles in a series of mild noir films like Vicki and Dangerous Crossing, wherein she played elegant, frightened women facing deadly circumstances with trembling aplomb, she wound up her career, as many movie queens before her, in genre films.

She had to do little but look pretty in the midrange disaster epic Skyjacked. Her primary function there, in her final screen role, being to serve up devoted energy as a proud doctor’s spouse. Immediately before that less showy part, though, she proudly enacted a heavily utilized terror stereotype – the woman on the verge of emotional collapse. As the headliner of the cast of The Night God Screamed, playing a preacher’s wife stalked by a Manson-like cult, she fully committed to the disheveled, wide-eyed histrionics necessary for the undertaking.

Sure gold as the melodramatic heroine, a duo of guest shots on Burke’s Law in 1964 nicely confirmed her eclectic talents to the world. There she played against type as egocentric ladies of leisure and highly emotional murderesses. Despite these feats, she retired from the screen thirty years before her death. (She passed away in 2003 at the age of 76.) Thankfully, as night bleeds regularly into dusk, celluloid insomniacs can still discover her work on various media platforms, experiencing her never-ending magic as if anew.

Fun Fact:  Crain had the less-than enviable task of replacing Marilyn Monroe opposite Jane Russell in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, the cinematic quasi-sequel to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Even Russell was rumored to have felt that her very quiet, dignified costar was miscast. Still, Crain, whose vocals were mainly handled by the oft utilized Anita Ellis, proves that she was in on the fun via her enjoyable take on I Want To Be Loved By You on the film’s soundtrack LP.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Nik Kershaw

Published January 4, 2023 by biggayhorrorfan

Growing up in a small town, I often had to rely on acquaintances from bigger cities to introduce me to interesting music. One of the girls I met at a theater audition was from a nearby metropolis and, while I tried to emotionally navigate around the crush she had on me – compounded by my own mild confusion as to whether I was ever going to wake up one morning and discover that I liked both girls and boys, she filled me in on some of her favorite artists. Nik Kershaw was one of them – and within a year or two, I figured out that there was a reason why I would so often longingly gaze at his profile on his second LP, The Riddle. I wasn’t ever going to like any Becky…or, as in this particular case, any Camilla, as well. 

Cheekbones aside, I also really dug Wouldn’t It Be Good, perhaps Kershaw’s biggest hit. Driving that point home, it was included on both his first and second album, and has also been featured in many film & television projects. One of the more interesting uses was in a Body Snatchers style television film called The Annihilator. Featuring Catherine Mary Stewart as a flesh and blood reporter turned into a mindless, assassinating robot, Kershaw’s tune was definitely in good company in this project. The other featured song was David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes.

Nicely, Kershaw, who is now working some silver daddy magic, is still creating music and performing live. More information is able at https://www.nikkershaw.net.

Va-Va-Villainess: Janice Rule

Published December 26, 2022 by biggayhorrorfan

I once had a boss who I referred to, not so fondly, as The Dragon Lady. Dripping with privilege and obsessed with status, she was quick to cut down anyone who didn’t fit within her narrow definitions of societal importance. She reminded me, then and now, of a real-life Merle Kittridge. Kittridge, of course, was the well-to-do cold fish featured in 1958’s Bell, Book and Candle, the charmingly glossy look at the touching heartaches of a modern witch, perfectly played by the ever-enchanting Kim Novak.

Thankfully, the fictional Kittridge was eventually given some comic pathos by the film’s denouement via her majestic portrayer, Janice Rule. This turnabout is further emphasized by the subtle restraint this consummate performer gives to even her most cutting observations of Novak’s Gillian, ever an outsider due to her peculiar talents. That being said, as rivals for the affections of Jimmy Stewart’s quiet Shepard, the two actresses convincingly play up the polar opposites of their characters. Thus, Merle emerges as a classic example of a woman that you love to hate.

Nicely, in real life, Rule, who died in 2003 at the age of 72, seemed to be the exact opposite of her very popular creation. Earning her degree as a psychoanalyst, she spent the majority of her life helping others between her frequent acting gigs.

Fun Fact: Both Rule and Novak played the heroine in Picnic, William Inge’s classic look at the subtle torments and soft joys of smalltown life. Rule appeared in the original Broadway production while Novak took over in the popular film adaptation.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Review: Sweeney Todd

Published December 16, 2022 by biggayhorrorfan

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As a cinema buff, I traffic almost solely in divas. Thus, there is nothing like the joy I feel when speeding down the filmography-highway of some long forgotten jazz singer or hungry B-Movie starlet.

Chicago theater has their share of celluloid worthy powerhouses, as well. A majority of them are estimable, of course. But, in my humble opinion, there is only one Caitlin Jackson! Over the past several years, Jackson has majestically brought such ball busting deities as Bette Midler and Sally Bowles to life on various stages throughout our (rarely) fair Windy City. This fall she added Sweeney Todd’s iconic Mrs. Lovett to her repertoire, as well, and her incisive take on the role first made famous by Angela Lansbury has had audiences committing acts of rampant standing applause, willfully and en mass.

That she has brought out the romanticism and sexuality of Lovett so surgically is especially impressive as this version of the show, produced by Kokandy Productions, imaginatively forgoes props and relies heavily on symbolic objects to push the proceedings forward. Derek Van Barham’s direction, meanwhile, emphasizes both the dark comedy of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and the ghoulish Gothicism inherent within the play’s themes of slaughter for profit and deep madness.

That troubling midland is felt most keenly in the fine performances of Brittney Brown and Isabel Cecilia Garcia, whose roles are mirrored reflections of each other. On the other end of the spectrum, Ryan Stajmiger brings such sweet beauty to his take on the show’s premium ballad Johanna that he is likely to bring tears to your eyes. He did to mine.

Sweeney Todd runs at The Chopin Theatre until Sunday, December 18th. More information is available at http://www.kokandyproductions.com.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Shark Bait Retro Village: The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver

Published December 15, 2022 by biggayhorrorfan

Squarely belonging in the quirky, femme drenched filmic universe highlighted by cinematic historian Kier-La Janisse, The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver hits its magnitude of magnificence due to the wonderful complexities of Karen Black’s lead performance.

Without a doubt, Black will always be one of celluloid’s most unique performers. Universally brimming with intensity and a lush sensuality, she was at the height of her powers in 1977 when this television film was made. Relishing her many close-ups here, she, indulgently yet effectively, brings all of the title character’s confusion and discovery to life. Whether you are intrigued (as I am) or dismayed by her often-eccentric technique, there will never be another like her.

As scripted by I Am Legend’s prolific Richard Matheson, this 78-minute piece of Gothicism begins as the timid Mrs. Oliver tries, unsuccessfully, to break out from beneath her husband’s (George Hamilton) severe, limited expectations of her. Bristling beneath the demand that she revoke all her freedoms for motherhood, the mousy woman ultimately starts to transform into a liberated swinger after a shopping trip to a local mall. Encouraged by a sexy dress shop employee (Gloria LeRoy) to suggestively dress and enjoy the fantasy of masquerading in a blonde wig, she soon begins dreaming of fiery landscapes and a violent past. Catching the eye of a mysterious stranger (Robert F. Lyons) during one of her nocturnal romps, this transformative adventuress is soon facing death in the face. Thus begins a quick race against time to discover the truth about herself before that ghoulish threat catches up with her completely.

Directed with a languid smokiness by AIP horror emperor Gordon Hessler (Scream and Scream Again, Cry of the Banshee), this project belies the limitations of its running time by offering up a solid mystery and the excitement of watching its main performer work her singular magic.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Review: Shady Grove

Published December 7, 2022 by biggayhorrorfan

I never really gave being a parent much thought…except for the year or two directly following my father’s unexpected death in his mid-fifties. As with many males before me, I felt the need to carry on my dad’s lineage, to produce a bloodline namesake for our rapidly diminishing family tree. That notion, thankfully, quickly passed as my romantic status remained unchanged. (Who wants to raise a kid alone?!?) But that kind of patriarchal methodology, while never mentioned outright, definitely inspires the reactionary DNA of Shady Grove, a horror feature co-written by & starring the talented Niki McElroy. The societies represented here, for both better and for (far, far) worse, definitely seek the antithesis of that testosterone driven narrative. 

With both parties rattled by her recent affair with a woman, longtime couple Shauna (McElroy) and Mark (Todd Anthony) rent a quiet country cabin for the weekend in an isolated area. (First mistake, right?!?) Despite the over-the-top antics of their traveling companion, Eli (Juhahn Jones), the two try to tenderly navigate the newness of their rekindled relationship & the unexpected emotions brought on by Shauna’s surprise pregnancy. The mysterious smells emanating from a locked room in their vacation home soon take on a different meaning, though, when Eli disappears after a night of partying with two local women. The sheriff, authoritatively played by hearing impaired actress Becki Hayes, reads as concerned, but there appears to be little that she can do about the strange presences that are now seeming to stalk the very frightened couple. Thus, as the night wears on, it appears that one of them may not make it alive come morning while the other’s life may be irreversibly altered in a very deep seated way.

Ultimately emerging into something that resembles The Wicker Man mixed with more current fare like Vacancy & The Strangers, this well acted production is definitely a slow burn and a nice alternative to the neo-slasher route that many independent creators take. More importantly, the diversity displayed, onscreen and off, makes this a golden viewing experience and one that any woman living in this post #MeToo, nauseatingly right wing era can relate to on multiple levels. 

For more information, please check out https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100086453926442 and

https://instagram.com/shadygrovemovie?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Dawn Rollo & the Winter of My Discontent

Published December 2, 2022 by biggayhorrorfan

Soap operas saved my life this past winter. I lived and worked in a solitary tundra, often alone almost 24/7, as friends and co-workers fell prey to COVID and flu bugs or just kept their distance for safety’s sake. I was still in high school when the AIDS crisis began and was somewhat shielded from the devastating losses that era of gay men (and women) reeled from. Still, I felt a keening commonality with those spiritual brothers & sisters as I faced the disease devastated landscape of this past January & February. Thankfully, the people I knew were vaccinated and thus not lost to the world, but the impact felt somewhat similar.

Consistently facing the quiet at work, I would throw on YouTube to keep me company throughout the day. Gladly, I discovered numerous fans had downloaded months of episodes from various long cancelled daytime dramas to their channels. I soon got swept into the over-the-top circumstances their favored shows had presented and, as so often happens, the fictional people in those often-ridiculous circumstances soon became like old friends to me.

Ultimately, the plot line that I connected with the most was the more realistic late ‘80s saga of Another World’s Dawn Rollo (Barbara Tyson). Her plight rang in with a keening similarity as it seemed to have a significant parallel to the world I was then inhabiting. A quietly intense musical student, Rollo was the first long term soap character to be diagnosed with HIV and as her disease became full blown, the show dealt with her day-to-day struggles and sensitively chronicled her romance with Scott (Hank Cheyne), one of the show’s charming heroes. Most impact-fully, she also successfully sued her school for discrimination, an arc that tied in many of the shows heavy hitters, including (soap legend) Denise Alexander’s long suffering Mary, who was Scott’s mother. 

A bit more fantastically, Dawn’s brother, played by future soap hopper Richard Burgi, also ultimately of Days of our Lives, General Hospital & The Young and the Restless, had to be one of the youngest, handsomest ex-pimps ever. His arrival on the scene was precipitated by his desire to reconnect with M.J. McKinnon (Sally Spencer), a respected police officer who had once been an important part of his stable of workers. With that kind of background, it was unsurprising when it was revealed that the duo’s mother was a prostitute who had infected Dawn through a blood transfusion. (As if only criminals, gays & their innocent bystanders got the disease back then!) Still, the writers got the heart of the story down correctly and I shed many a work shift tear as Dawn eventually lost her battle with the illness. 

Months later, I still feel a heart filled connection with Tyson, who has gone onto appear as a guest on such horror themed shows as Poltergeist: The Legacy & Fear Itself, Cheyne, the macho gym-jack ass in Death Spa & Burgi, known as well for such projects as Hostel 2, Harper’s Island & Friday the 13th (2009). Of all our worldly cures, art is still the one, I find, that illuminates & heals the most.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Anne Murray

Published November 17, 2022 by biggayhorrorfan

I sometimes create imaginary cabaret shows in my head as I bike around the city of Chicago. Often, I will choose to wrap-up these dream acts with Anne Murray’s mellow classic I Just Fall in Love Again, utilizing it not as romantic ballad but as a peon of thanks to my nonexistent yet totally enthusiastic audience.  You see, I grew up in Murray country. ABBA, for example, means nothing to me. But Anne, the queen of soft rock and ultra-sophisticated country, was often crooning softly in the AM decorated background of my extremely formative years. 

Thus, the inclusion of her classic Could I Have This Dance in last fall’s Halloween Ends felt like a coming home moment for me. The fact that this song was used to emphatically capture the death scenes of the movie’s gay couple, Big John and Little John, made it even more impactive – the roots of my closeted youth and my loud ‘n proud adulthood finally shaking firm hands.

Bittersweetly for her long-term fans, Murray, who runs a charity outfit – https://annemurraycentre.com – has been retired from music for a while now. But her smokey tones & smooth delivery eternally live on – in Haddonfield and beyond!

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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