May 31, 2022

Life's a Fiction and the World's a Lie...

The Dark Tower II: The Drawing Of The Three
Stephen King (1987)
The second book in The Dark Tower saga was first published 35 years ago this month in May 1987.  It was published five years after The Dark Tower was introduced to readers in the first book in the series: The Gunslinger.  It's one of my favorite books in the series, and the story in which we're introduced to two of my favorite characters in the entire Stephen King universe: Eddie and Susannah Dean.

The Drawing Of The Three was announced to fans on the cover of the April/May 1987 issue of Castle Rock, the Stephen King newsletter.  Every source I could find, including this newsletter and the ISBN, list the publication date as "May 1987".  However, the book was not at all readily available to many of the people who wanted to read it at that time.

One of the few things about the modern world that I find to be an improvement over the world that existed in last two decades of the 20th century is the availability of artistic works.  We take it for granted today that if we want to read a book, or look at a painting or watch a movie or listen to some music, all we need to do is reach into our pocket and tap a few buttons on our smart phone.  Most things can be obtained instantly, but even for those few things that can't be streamed or downloaded, you have access to thousands of stores and independent sellers who will sell it to you and have it shipped to your front door within a few days.  It wasn't that long ago that if the stores in your area didn't have it or couldn't special order it, you just didn't get it.

left:  Morning News - Wilmington, Delaware (May 14, 1987)
right:  Hartford Courant - Hartford, Connecticut (August 8, 1987)

That was the case with The Drawing Of The Three in 1987.  There were only 30,000 copies in its initial print run, so even if you were lucky enough to find a copy for sale, you were going to pay through the nose for it.  The book had a retail price of $35 but its scarcity drove up the price to $100 at the low end, going as high as $500.  Keep in mind that this was what it was going for back in 1987.  With inflation, you're talking about an approximate cost of $250 to $1,270 in 2022 dollars.

Today, you can get it delivered instantly to the Kindle app for $8.99.  I ran that through the inflation calculator in reverse to get an estimate of what that would cost in 1987 dollars and came up with $3.53.  That's about 10% of the suggested retail price of $35 on the book jacket when it first came out, and a hell of a lot less than what it was actually selling for.  Even a hardcover copy with library binding sells for less than $35 today.  With all of the chaos going on in the world today, it's important to take a moment to appreciate things like that.  We live in a time when you can have just about any book, song, movie or television show that you can think of delivered to your pocket in a matter of seconds, and in most cases, it cost less than a meal at a fast food restaurant.

May 30, 2022

Solitude's Always Better With Somebody Else Around

Zombiefest VIII: Night Four
House / Return Of The Living Dead 3 / The Last Man On Earth
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Before I get into the last night of Zombiefest VIII, it must be said that the poster for this year's event was especially badass.  It was designed by Jason Cortez of Sons Of Thunder Studios, and it combines elements from many of the movies that were shown over the weekend.  Herbert West from Re-Animator is holding out a syringe of his reagent, which has images of a C.H.U.D., a zombieJulie Walker, and Big Ben.

There was no way that I was going to doze off for even a second of this triple feature.  I took a nap at around noon so that I could make it to 3:00 am, and I brought a few cans of Flamin' Hot Mountain Dew to enjoy with my popcorn and stay caffeinated throughout the night.  It has sugar, and I wish I could say that this is the only time I've broken my diet this year.

There was a new pin at Sandy's merch table.  This one is a glow-in-the-dark Mahoning marquee, so I had to pick one up to add to the drive-in backpack.

The snack bar had vintage posters for each of the films in Sunday night's triple feature, in addition to C.H.U.D. which was the first film on Friday night.

The C.H.U.D. photo op was still up from Friday night too, and I'm very glad that it was.  It was raining the first time I saw this, so the photos I took on Night Two didn't do justice to all of the work that Steve and JT put into this.  In addition to the lighting, there was a fog machine in the ground that made smoke come up out of the manhole cover, as well as two costumed C.H.U.D.s who were on the attack.

The first movie of Sunday night's triple feature was the 1985 horror comedy, House.  I probably saw the VHS box for this a hundred times when I was a kid before I ever saw the movie itself.  If you've ever been to the horror section of a video rental store in the late 80's or early 90's, you probably saw it too.  It's the one with the closeup on a ghoulish hand with one finger outstretched to press a doorbell with the caption "Ding Dong.  You're Dead" in big white letters at the bottom.

It's got an interesting plot that combines the concept of a war film, a haunted house, and revenge from beyond the grave, all of which are presented as a comedy.  It stars William Katt (Ralph from The Greatest American Hero) as Roger Cobb, a famous horror novelist whose aunt committed suicide in her house, which she believed to be haunted.  The next door neighbor to this house is George Wendt (Norm from Cheers), whose every line and facial expression throughout the movie is hysterical, and Richard Moll (Bull Shannon from Night Court) as Big Ben, who served in Vietnam with Roger and is back from the dead and out to take revenge on his former comrade.

During the first intermission, we got to meet the director of the second movie of Sunday night's triple feature, Mr. Brian Yuzna.  In addition to producing and directing Return Of The Living Dead 3, he's got a list of credits that is a mile long.  He made his directorial debut with Society (1989) and directed over a dozen horror flicks throughout the 90's and 2000's, including Bride Of Re-Animator (1990), Silent Night Deadly Night 4 (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003).  His credits as producer or executive produced are even longer, including From Beyond (1986), Dolls (1987), Warlock (1989), The Guyver (1991), and Silent Night Deadly Night 5 (1992).  He even has writing and production credits on Honey I Shrunk The Kids, which really is kind of a mad scientist sci-fi/horror flick disguised as a family film now that I think about it.

He was an incredibly nice man, and I'm very glad to have met him.  After we took this photo, he turned to me and said "choke me".  I guess he could see a look of confusion wash over my face while I figured out what he meant, so he said "go ahead... your friends will think the other photo is boring". 


I don't know what's scarier about this photo - the look on Mr. Yuzna's face, or the size of my torso in profile.  I haven't really gained any weight over the past few years, so I'm going to chalk this up in part to the fact that I was wearing multiple layers to stay warm outside after the sun went down.

Mr. Yuzna also signed a promo photo from Return Of The Living Dead 3 for us, and he gave us a signed card with original artwork from The Guyver which his production company mailed out for New Years Eve back in 1990.  The movie didn't come out until March 1991, so this card is from before anyone was able to see the movie.

Before the start of Return Of The Living Dead 3Mr. Yuzna gave an introduction to the zombie classic that he produced and directed almost 30 years ago.  He said that when he was chosen to direct the third movie in the Return Of The Living Dead series, the only requirements was that the story had to include Trioxin, and the zombies had to eat brains.  Everything else was wide open.  The end result is my favorite film in the Return Of The Living Dead series, with an incredible punk rock zombie, and one of the sweetest and most twisted love stories in horror history, featuring Kent McCord (Officer Jim Reed from Adam-12).  I highly recommend it, even if you haven't seen Night Of The Living Dead or Return Of The Living Dead 1 or 2 before.

The third and final movie of the night was the 1964 post-apocalyptic classic, The Last Man On Earth.  It was screened from a 35mm print that uses the film's alternate title, The Damned Walk At Midnight.  This is the first movie to be based on the 1954 Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend, and is truly one of the greatest films of all time.

Black and white movies look especially incredible on the Mahoning screen, and having the opportunity to see Vincent Price in one of the most impactful roles in his illustrious career is truly a privilege.  The fact that we got to see it from our lawn chairs sitting outside on such a beautiful, cloud-free night under a starry sky makes it all the better.

And that's a wrap on Zombiefest VIII.  I missed out on this last year, but as long as I'm able-bodied with a working car and a few dollars in my pocket, I won't miss out on this ever again.  I've said it before, but I truly treasure nights like these.  None of us know how many of them we're going to get.

May 29, 2022

C.H.U.D.s In The Rain

Zombiefest VIII: Night Two
C.H.U.D. / Lifeforce / The People Who Own The Dark
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
When I see the roman numeral behind the name of this event, I am reminded of all of the years that I could have been coming to this place.  Zombiefest VIII?  Is that VIII as in eight?!  I mean, better late than never I guess, but how did I live in Northeast PA and not realize how much awesomeness was taking place on a drive-in lot that's a half hour away from my house?

I would have gone to every night of Zombiefest if time and money weren't a factor, but they are so we picked two out of the four nights.  As much as I love the original Night Of The Living Dead and the Re-animator movies, I had to go with Friday and Sunday.

The themed food for this week was Chunky Hunks of Unknown Deliciousness, which is thankfully not really made from mystery meat.  It's ground beef mixed with sriracha in a tomato based sauce - sort of like a chunkier, spicier version of the topping of a Coney Island hot dog.  You could get it served on top of french fries or tater tots, or in a bun.

Speaking of concessions, this was the first show that I've been to in 2022 where the Rico's Nachos bump was shown before the movie.  If you're a frequent guest of the Mahoning Drive-In Theater, no explanation is needed, but if you've never been there before, click here for a bit of background on the unofficial mascot of the Mahoning.

There was a pretty awesome photo op set up outside of the concession building.  There was also a couple of folks dressed up as C.H.U.D.s to take photos with, but it was raining off and on throughout the night and it was pretty empty by the time I made my way over here for the first intermission.  So, this is me trying to look scared on the streets of New York City with a C.H.U.D. popping up from a manhole behind me.

The first movie of the night and the main reason that I was looking forward to Night Two of Zombiefest, was C.H.U.D.  It's a 1984 horror flick about mutants who live under the streets of New York City and rise up from the sewers.  The mutants are called C.H.U.D.s, which stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, but we later learn that the abbreviation also stands for the secret Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal project which led to toxic waste being stored under the city which caused these mutants to exist in the first place - picture if the Morlocks from The Time Machine had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles origin story.

C.H.U.D. stars John Heard as a photographer named George Cooper who has been working on a project to document the lives of the city's homeless, and Daniel Stern as "Reverend" AJ Shepherd, who runs a soup kitchen and has found that many of his regulars have gone missing.  These two actors would go on to work together six years later in Home Alone with Heard as homeowner Peter McCallister and Stern as the robber, Marv.  In a bit of accidental foreshadowing, there is a scene about 35 minutes into C.H.U.D. in which Reverend Shepherd breaks into George Cooper's home.  Fortunately for Stern, there are no boobytraps set up this time, so he and Captain Bosh (played by Christopher Curry) just borrow a few photos and leave.

This is a movie that tends to get saddled with the label of "so bad it's good".  I love films like that, but I think that this distinction gives this movie its due credit.  While it is definitely a low budget b-movie with more than a few cheesy lines that become unintentional comedy, it also has an entertaining plot, a few very good performances (particularly Stern) and special effects that are pretty decent for the mid 80's considering its budget.  C.H.U.D. certainly wasn't snubbed for any Oscars, but it's a pretty damn good movie.

The second movie of the night was a 1985 sci-fi horror flick called Lifeforce.  It's the seventh film from Tobe Hooper, who directed both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist.  I know that I watched this once before when I worked at Blowout Video when I was a teenager, but I didn't remember too much about it other than the fact that actress Mathilda May plays a space vampire who is naked for pretty much her entire role.

I wish I could say more about the film, but I'm embarrassed to say that I was in and out of consciousness from about a half hour into the film to the end credits.  It's not that I didn't find the movie interesting.  I woke up at 5:30 in the morning for work on Friday, and Lifeforce didn't start until about 11 pm.  If we were sitting outside, I probably would have made it all the way through the second movie without dozing off, but the rain started up about 20 minutes before the end of C.H.U.D. so we had to go back in the car.  The combination of being awake for 18 hours and sitting in a cozy, warm car with pillows and blankets was just too much to overcome.  Thankfully, I had some energy drinks in the car that helped me to power through and stay up for the third movie in Friday night's triple feature.

The People Who Own The Dark is a Spanish post-apocalyptic film from 1976 that was directed by León Klimovsky.  The film begins with a woman who is organizing a dinner party/orgy in a castle on the Spanish countryside with a number of female sex workers.  They are soon joined by their wealthy male clients, which includes the assistant to a Soviet ambassador who is unexpectedly called back to his country and who allows the assistant to attend the party in his place.  A nuclear war breaks out before the festivities can begin.  The bombing spares both the castle and the people inside, but the survivors in a nearby town have all gone blind as a result of the blast.  In a panic, one of the wealthy men from the castle fires a gun into a crowd of the blinded survivors, and the rest of the film sees them getting picked off one at a time as they try to survive in a radioactive environment and make their way past the townspeople to try to get to safety.

This isn't really a horror or a zombie movie, but it definitely fits the tone of both genres.  I had never seen it before Friday night.. well, technically Saturday morning since it didn't get started until about 1:00 am.  Prior to seeing it, I heard that it was compared to Night Of The Living Dead by quite a few people, and I can understand why, but it reminded me of The Day Of The Triffids, with elements of Rabid and The Day After, the latter two of which came in the years after The People Who Own The Dark.

Overall, I thought it was a good movie with a thought-provoking story, but it did leave a little something to be desired when it comes to character development.  It's the kind of film that is just begging to be remade in a way that dedicates more attention to the townspeople's side of the conflict, and that makes you care a bit more about some of characters, who were pretty much all treated like red shirts in an episode of Star Trek.  I'd still recommend it, but maybe not to everyone.

The rain stopped about halfway through the final film of the night, but it left behind an eerie fog.  It wasn't enough to obstruct the screen, but if you looked toward the projection booth, you could see the movie being reflected by the fog.  It looked awesome, like the movie as bleeding into the night sky.

So far, the forecast is saying that we're in for a warm night with clear skies for the final night of Zombiefest.  I'll be taking an afternoon nap and loading up on caffeine to stay up for the triple feature of House, Return Of The Living Dead 3 and The Last Man On Earth tonight.

May 28, 2022

The Picture's Changing Every Moment

Roxy Music (1982)
The final studio album by Roxy Music was released 40 years ago today.  It was the #1 album in the UK for three weeks, and while it didn't chart as high across the pond, it did go on to sell over a million copies in the United States.

Roxy Music went their separate ways in 1983.  Although Bryan Ferry has reunited the band on several occasions for tours in the years that followed, they never recorded another studio album after Avalon.
I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they're blowing?
As free as the wind
Hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning

More than this
You know there's nothing
More than this
Tell me one thing
More than this
There's nothing

It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like a dream in the night
Who can say where we're going?
No care in the world
Maybe I'm learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning

More than this
You know there's nothing
More than this
Tell me one thing
More than this
No, there's nothing 

I Pity The Fool Who Doesn't Have The Eye Of The Tiger

Rocky III

United Artists / MGM (1982)
The third movie in the Rocky franchise premiered in theaters 40 years ago today.  None of the Rocky movies live up to the first one, which is truly one of the greatest movies of all time, but Rocky III comes the closest.

This is the one that begins with Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as a beloved champion who has been running over all of his challengers like a steamroller in between appearances on television and at celebrity events.  Meanwhile, a hungry young boxer named Clubber Lang (Mr. T) has been rising up the ranks with an undefeated streak of matches won by knockout.  Lang grows angry that Balboa has fame and fortune by coasting with easy fights against opponents who are no threat to his championship, and Balboa is shocked to learn from his manager, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), that Lang was correct.  Rocky was being protected by his manager, who has set Rocky up with easy fights that put him in no physical danger and in very little danger of losing his title.

Upon learning this, Rocky accepted the challenge of Clubber Lang, and Lang defeated him for the championship in quick and convincing fashion.  The devastation of this loss pales in comparison to the loss that Rocky suffered minutes after the fight when Mickey suffered a heart attack and died.  The rest of the movie sees Rocky being lifted up by his old rival from the first two movies, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who trains Rocky in a different style of fighting, and helps him to regain the "Eye Of The Tiger" in his mission to once again become the world heavyweight champion.
The Morning Call - Allentown, PA (May 28, 1982)

Rocky III was a massive success at the box office. It earned over $16 million in its opening weekend, over $125 million during its theatrical run in North America, and approximately $270 million globally.  It's one of only 93 movies in the past 40 years to have earned an A+ from CinemaScore, and it is still held up to this day as one of the best movies in the Rocky franchise.

May 27, 2022

Elote Cheeseburgers

Mexican Street Corn Burger
Gimbel Farms - Tamaqua, PA
Dad and I stopped by the Stoker's Brewing Company for a few beers over the weekend and found the Gimbel Farms food truck parked out front.

Gimbel Farms is a cattle farm in Tamaqua that serves farm-to-food truck specialty burgers.  I had a lot of elote while I was in El Paso a few years ago, so the Mexican Street Corn Burger sounded very good to me.  It was topped with a mixture of American cheese, queso fresco, aioli and sweet corn and was served with chips and a pickle.  It was delicious, and perfect with a Jalapeno Lime Ale from Stoker's on a hot spring day.

May 26, 2022

We Hope You Have Enjoyed The Show

Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles (1967)
One of the most revolutionary albums in the history of rock music turns 55 years old today.  There is nothing that I could possibly say about this record that hasn't been said a million times before, so I'm going to close with a suggestion.  Whether you're like me and have listened to this record throughout your life, or if you've somehow made it to whatever age you are now without hearing Sgt. Pepper, go ahead and give it a listen.  The entire album is available on the official YouTube channel dedicated to The Beatles.  Gotta love modern technology.  Enjoy!

May 25, 2022

May The 25th Be With You

Star Wars - Opening Day Movie Times
New York Daily News (May 25, 1977)
The movie that changed Hollywood forever made its debuts in theaters across the United States 45 years ago today.

Boxing For Mental Health

My wife gave me this ticket stub as a Christmas present last year.  It was either sold or given away at Brehm's Restaurant on Broad Street in West Hazleton, which is the present location of Hell's Kitchen Pizza.

Georgie Brehm owned and operated Brehm's Restaurant, and a lot of other things in the area.  He was my grandfather's uncle, and the stories I have heard about him could make a pretty damn good movie.  I won't get into the details here, but feel free to do your own research on why Hazleton was once known as "Mob City".

The St. Joe's Gym where this boxing event was scheduled to take place is another local landmark for folks who have grown up in the Hazleton area.  Hundreds of professional boxing and wrestling events had taken place over the years, including appearances by the late, great Andre The Giant throughout the 1970's.  As soon as I saw this stub, I wanted to do some research to learn more about the show.

Standard Speaker (Hazleton, PA) - May 25, 1954

The show was promoted by Joe Barletta, who was the uncle of former Congressman Lou Barletta.  He was a pretty interesting guy who wore a lot of hats in his life before he passed away in 1984.  He was a Gold Gloves boxer who officiated in the Eastern Pro Basketball League, the American Professional Basketball League, and the Harlem Globetrotters, as well as spending several summers officiating professional basketball in Puerto Rico.  He also worked as a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Before his passing, Mr. Barletta was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.  In addition to all of this, he was also the manager of Angela Park for over a decade.  This was a family-owned amusement park in the area that I used to love going to when I was a kid.

Mr. Barletta promoted many basketball, boxing and pro wrestling events in Hazleton, including one event that brought Muhammad Ali to town for a public sparring match.  My dad got to see this from ringside when he was a kid, and Mr. Ali autographed my dad's library card, which was the only thing he had on him at the time.

So, what happened at the event that this ticket stub was for?

Standard Speaker (Hazleton, PA) - May 26, 1954

As it turns out, nothing happened, because only four of the 22 boxers who were scheduled to appear to the event showed up, with three other boxers from Harrisburg coming in late.  Because of all of the no-shows, the event was postponed and everybody's money was refunded.  I guess you can't win 'em all.

May 24, 2022

Another Brave Yar Flies Off To Fight The Qotile

Yars' Revenge
Atari 2600 (1982)
The iconic space battle, created by Howard Scott Warshaw, between a vulnerable Yar and the evil Qotile has turned 40 years old this month.  Yars' Revenge has been re-released in numerous forms over the past four decades and is still enjoyed to this day, both by retro gamers who grew up with the Atari 2600 and later generations of gamers who are discovering the classics for themselves.
The Morning Call (Allentown, PA) - May 14, 1982

It's difficult to pin down the exact release date of a game from the 70's or 80's because, in most cases, it didn't have one.  There was some promotion of future releases, but the first time I ever remember it being a specific date was when Midway announced that the home port of Mortal Kombat would be released simultaneously on the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Game Boy and Game Gear on September 13th, 1993 (also known as "Mortal Monday").  In contrast, the upcoming games for consoles of the 8-Bit Era were usually announced in a "coming soon" list.  If they really wanted to give us more information, we'd get a preview of the game with some screenshots and a vague release date such as "coming in may".

Exact sales figures are another thing that are difficult to pinpoint for games of that era, but there's no question that Yars' Revenge was a massive success.  It's considered to be the highest selling original game for the Atari 2600.  In the years that followed, it was ported to Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, and it was included on just about every compilation of Atari games, including Atari Greatest Hits: Volume 2 (Nintendo DS), Atari Anthology (Xbox, Playstation 2), Atari Vault (Steam), Atari Flashback Classics (Nintendo Switch, Playstation Vita), and on all of the Atari Flashback plug-and-play consoles.

Although there are exceptions like Adventure and Pitfall, most of the top selling games for the Atari 2600 were home ports of games that gamers enjoyed playing at the arcade.  Many others had licensed characters from existing properties that potential game buyers were familiar with, like Star Wars and Spider Man.

Imagine trying to tell a story with your game that connects to its audience without the internet, and without the kind of technology that will allow you to tell that story in the game itself.  How do you inspire gamers to connect with the characters and the world you created when those characters are just a couple of pixels, and without the ability to include words other than maybe "score" or "player 1"?  One way is to include a small comic book with the game, and it's one of the things that I believe truly helped Yars' Revenge to have the impact that it had.

The Yars' Revenge comic was written by Hope Shafer and drawn by Frank Cirocco, Ray Garst and Hiro Kimura.  It helped to explain the battle you were having on the screen with your joystick, and it spawned a number of additional ways in which the story was told.

Not long after the game was released, Kids Stuff Records released a record that told the story of Yars' Revenge, and even included some disco-sounding space tunes that fit the mood of the game.  Five years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Howard Scott Warshaw at the Timeline Arcade in Hanover, PA.  He signed my album cover with "Yars' Truly".  You can listen to the album above, which has been digitized and uploaded by boyjohn who has a channel where he archives children's albums on YouTube.