YOU CAN COME OUT FROM UNDER YOUR SEAT
When one thinks of offbeat film-making, directors Tim Burton and David Lynch come to mind. You’d be hard pressed, however, to find a more offbeat body of cinematic work than that of Tod Browning. Who?, most people would be asking. Tod Browning’s strange macabre films were a pulp-fiction parade of crooks, carnies, lowlifes, deadbeats, wretches, wastrels, scoundrels and, of course, vampires and freaks. And they helped to define the horror film genre.
Browning came to this career honestly. Born in Louisville, Kentrucky, he gave up his comfortable home life at 16 to immerse himself in the world of carnivals, sideshows and circuses. His resume included stints as S Ringling Brothers clown, a barker for the Wild Man of Borneo and the “Living Corpse” for which he was buried alive. He also worked as a magician, dancer and actor before finding his niche as a director of dozens of silent films, including a 10-film collaboration with Lon Chaney. When sound came to the movies, he made his mark with two of his most notable films: Dracula starring Bela Lugosi and Freaks, his master work and the film that destroyed his career. Freaks was so grotesque and unnerving that it was banned in the United Kingdom for three decades. In the U.S., MGM took the film away from Browning and chopped it by almost a third. It performed miserably.
His career on the skids, Browning made a handful of films during the 1930s before “retiring” at the end of the decade. He died on October 6, 1962.
Cheap Halloween Thrills
You were expecting this of course. Freaks is a love triangle set in a bizarre carnival world, featuring Hans, a wealthy dwarf, Cleopatra, a gold-digging trapeze artist, and Hercules, a strongman. Cleopatra and Hercules plan to trick Hans into marrying Cleopatra and then poison him. All the performers are real sideshow “freaks” — Koo Koo, the bird girl, Daisy and Violet, the Siamese twins, Johnny Eck, the Half Boy, Schlitzie, the Pinhead, to name a few, but the beauty of the film is Browning’s portraying them as the real human beings they are. The film remains frightening and grotesque, even after MGM’s “editing.” The deleted scenes were trashed, so it’s likely that no one still living today has seen the original version.
1 The Shining
2 The Exorcist
4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers
5 Ghost Story
As it progresses, you’ll see that it’s a highly subjective list, reflecting a few of my own biases. You won’t see Halloween Chainsaw Bloodbath on Elm Street or any movie featuring flesh-eating zombies. (I’ll forgo the soapbox.)
How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb
Cold war and nuclear fears had been ramping up for years, when President John F. Kennedy took to the tube on October 6, 1961, to suggest that American families build bomb shelters to protect them from atomic fallout when those pesky Communists of the Soviet Union attacked the Homeland with their nuclear missiles. Just a year later, the Cuban Missile Crisis raised the stakes even higher.
While folks like Nelson Rockefeller and Edward Teller were outlining grandiose plans for an enormous network of concrete lined underground fallout shelters to shelter millions of people, civil defense authorities were talking up concrete block basement shelters that could be constructed by home handifolk for a couple of hundred bucks. Exactly how much protection they might actually provide was an open question.
Most people calmed down during the mid-1960s, and fallout shelters pretty much went the way of duck and cover. They were converted into wine cellars, recreation rooms or mushroom gardens. For others, the fallout shelter notion has been kept alive by internet sites devoted to nuclear hysteria. You can survive a nuclear or dirty bomb attack, shouts one such site. It will not be the end of the world. But, you must be prepared!
Being prepared naturally involves purchasing a fallout shelter from one of the many firms that still market them — Acme Survival Shelters, Hardened Structures Inc., Safecastle. Taking it over the top is a company called Zombie Gear whose motto is Be prepared for anything.