Prepare to face the ultimate boredom...
an ongoing description of my life, loves, thoughts, fears, work and lustings.

Friday, May 15, 2020

My Favorite Bathroom in the World

This is not my photo, but is an image directly across from "my favorite bathroom in the world".
I've posted on my "Cheap Therapy" blog about my ongoing "poo anxiety".  That phobia (for which I actually saw a psychiatrist for a time) which gives me deep and overwhelming anxiety, in "no-escape" scenarios (in traffic, as an example) where I believe I might crap my pants, and must then deal with the fallout of potential panic attacks, related to said anxiety.

While it's never actually happened (knock on wood), it's something I continue to deal with.  Although, in the current pandemic/quarantine, it's become less of an issue, as I'm at home, going out only once every two weeks for supplies.  There's simply no place or necessity for this particular phobia at this time.  That being said, these infrequent trips to the grocery store in this "new normal", still sees some bits of "poo anxiety", and perhaps at a more heightened level.  I mean, with businesses closed, there are far fewer "pit stops" available, should the need arise to expel my bowels, right?  No winning, here.

I was reminded of my favorite public restroom in the world (the little that I've explored), when the announcements began to pour in that Vegas, and indeed, some of the Caesars properties were preparing to slowly/safely reopen.

Having dealt with my "poo anxiety" for so many years now, it's become clear that places like malls or amusement parks, and indeed casinos - are a safe haven for my ridiculous (but very real) poo anxieties.

And that clearly comes from the fact that bathrooms in such large public places are at a premium.  If I feel the need to go #2, there's a restroom every three steps.

I have honestly come to the conclusion that this is one of the main reasons why I so adore my time on the Las Vegas strip.  Yes, I love gambling, people-watching, the Vegas vibe.

But is it even more important that I don't have to focus on the needs of my bowels in a public place?

Anyway, I wanted to share these insights about my favorite bathroom in the world (per the entry's title).

One of the traditions my other half and I follow while in Vegas -- whether we're staying at Flamingo, Harrah's, Bally's, Planet Hollywood, Paris, Caesar's Palace, Cromwell or Linq (we're strictly Caesar's property folks, cuz that's where we get the freebies and the deals) -- almost every morning of our stay, we'll frequent the Denny's on the strip (w/in Casino Royale) for breakfast.  And yes, I do so love Denny's coffee, and it's a cheap meal.

Part of our tradition, following breakfast, is to walk across the strip to and past The Mirage and make our way to The Forum Shops for a little browsing/buying -- it's also a tradition that I'll stop at the Magnet Maximus and pick up three fun/goofy magnets (part of that shop's ongoing deals) to further expand that collection in my home.

As we work our way through The Forum Shops, it's inevitable that my morning Denny's coffee, will put my bowels into high alert.  It's a common reaction to coffee, yo.

So rather than take advantage of the many public restrooms stuck in among the high end shops, I'll try and hold it.  Because once we cross over from The Forum Shops into The Forum Casino of Caesar's Palace - I'm but a few steps away from my favorite bathroom in the world.

Directly across from The Colosseum, situated between several banks of slot machines and bill-changers, there's a sign proclaiming, "Restrooms".  But where?  Well, they're on the level below the casino.  An up escalator and a down escalator.  No stairs.  Once you reach that lower level, you'll pass by a shoe-shine stop.

And inside (the men's room, at least), the stalls are set apart from the urinals and sinks.  And generally, it's never terribly packed.

I find an immense sense of relief as I sit my butt down on the toilet.  And not just because I can "let go", but there's a glorious sense (I've experienced it countless times while using this particular restroom) of anticipation, relaxation and excitement.

Weird?  Sure, but here's why.

It's usually at this point, as I descend the escalator, that the other half and I will part ways for the day.  He likes to walk the strip, while I like to stay inside and wander the properties, gambling here and there, shopping, etc.  Knowing that we'll meet up later for an early dinner at The Laurel Lounge in Caesar's Palace.

But as I sit there on the head, I love the fact that the day will take me where it takes me.  It's a calm, non-busy restroom.  My wallet's full of cash (generally, dependent upon how I did at the slots the night before).  The entire day of gambling and wandering is ahead of me.

It must be noted that if we have obligations in the form of meeting someone else for dinner, or going to see a show (I HATE obligations in Vegas), that there is some anxiety.  I want to wander the strip, all day, every day.  Sure, I love the shows, but knowing that if I find a slot machine that pays and I wanna sit there for hours, that I can.

The relaxation I feel while sitting on the toilet of that bathroom on the lower level of The Forum Casino in Caesar's Palace - is just the best feeling.

Hard to explain, apparently.  But this is my favorite bathroom in the world, and my favorite moments of relaxation, in my anxiety (poo and otherwise) filled mind/brain/life.

And yes, in this quarantine, I'm ITCHING to go back to Vegas, to this oddly relaxing environment, and to my favorite bathroom in the world.

I won't be making a trip to Vegas anytime in the near future, but knowing that Vegas and indeed this bathroom, are ultimate relaxers -- sure makes it seem like bliss right now.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

2020 To-Do List Extravaganza!

It's that time again already?  Sheesh!

As is always the case, let's examine my entire 2019 list -- figure out the high successes and the lowly failures.  Obviously, with my patented tab board, I have a good idea on my progress throughout the year, but as 2019 comes to a close, all will be revealed.

So here are my last year's tasks, followed by a brief explanation as well as a stamp of "FAIL" or "DONE".  Let's do it!

1) "Sid's Apple Rewrite (s)" -- In anticipation of completion of my 10th feature spec script in 2019, I have been toying with the idea of marking that milestone, by returning to my very first screenwriting experiment, the feature spec "Sid's Apple".  It's near and dear to my heart, but I've not revisited it in a long time.  Which means, I've developed significantly as a writer since I first started on that project about 15 years ago.  So I've no doubt it's gonna be rough as hell!  But I do still believe in the story itself.  And I loved the characters.  I'm putting this on my list -- to include on the "tabs board", the usual.  But since it's already past the multiple drafts arena, I'll reckon it needs 3 drafts to bring it up to speed.  This includes one new rewrite, out to readers for notes, one adt'l rewrite (post notes) and then a reading (as well as the planning stages) and then a final rewrite before submissions to festivals.

How did it go?  Yeah.  No.  Nothing.  No need to discuss this one any further.  Stamp it with a big ol' FAIL.  With all of the other projects I see happening in 2020, I think Sid's Apple will remain safely in retirement.

2) "Sid's Apple" to Festivals -- I submitted the script way back when, to one lone festival (it got nowhere).  This will be a fun experiment.  Looking forward to it -- anticipating 5 festival entries for this property.

How did it go?  Well, based on #1's fail, I certainly would not be entering festivals with a script which received no attention, right?  FAIL.

3) Unnamed Project -- This was heavy on my list in 2018, and will hopefully continue to receive attention in the new year.  I've no confirmation on that, and certainly can't discuss details -- but I'm putting it on the "tabs board" for an adt'l 5 vague steps -- listed simply as "Unnamed Project Step 1" and so on, as I obviously don't know exactly how many incarnations (if any) may materialize.  Hopefully this exciting write-for-hire gig will come to full fruition in 2019.

How did it go?  This project saw no action, but not due to me.  The "biz" is a slow one, for sure.  While I am still in contact with the producers, this piece didn't move ahead in 2019.  So will let this one rest, until the time comes for it to explode in great successes!  However, FAIL

4) Passports Renewed -- As in previous years, this has been on the back burner.  This year, it must get done (hopefully because it has to -- see #3 on the to-do list).

How did it go?  Nope.  FAIL.

5) Produce "The Chair" -- This is a short story/monologue I wrote and performed in high school.  I've often looked back on it with great pride.  And I think, with some reworking, it could make a helluva short film.  So with multiple steps (including rewrites, pre-production, production and post -- as well as potential festival entries), this will be a big project in 2019.  I plan to produce and act in the one-man piece (I've a director in mind and have already reached out -- there is interest).  Fingers crossed.  This could be an interesting process.  And goodness knows I need the experience and the reel fodder.

How did it go?  While I chatted with two producer/director friends, even did some rewrites on the piece, it did not come to fruition.  Perhaps in 2020, it'll find its way to done, but for 2019, FAIL.

6) The Costume People -- As this was optioned in 2018, and 3 adt'l rewrites completed (as well as a second table read), I'm hoping this will come to fruition in 2019.  And since there will be dozens and dozens of steps involved, I'll have to figure a smart way to put it up on the "tabs board".  Perhaps several vague "Step 1", and so on.  We'll see.  But I have a feeling The Costume People will be a high priority in the new year!

How did it go?  Sadly, the piece was not re-optioned (that was a possibility) and remains un-produced.  But, if you are interested (my avid readers of 4), it's once again available to option/buy!  :)  FAIL.

7) New Feature Spec Completed -- As is my new smart way to tackle this, I'll not suggest any particular property to be done.  Whatever strikes my fancy... that's the way to go.  And so on the "tabs board", we'll have the usual multiple drafts, out to readers for notes, prep for reading, reading, etc

How did it go?  Rousing success on many fronts.  My 10th feature spec, Mom Died was completed (many drafts) and protected.  I held a reading and the script was done by mid-year.  DONE.

8) New Feature Spec Script to Festivals -- Whichever script this turns out to be, planning for 5 festival entries.

How did it go?  I submitted to several festivals, and am pleased to say that I placed in five separate festivals/competitions.  Official Selection at FilmQuest, Semi-Finalist at Screamfest, Semi-Finalist at Table Read My Screenplay: Austin, Top 13 Finalist at Nightmares Film Festival -- and I'm thrilled to say that I WON the Horror Genre competition at Creative Screenwriting.  While I've placed in several competitions over the years, I've never actually WON something, so this was another screenwriting milestone.

Also on the Mom Died front, it's out to several interested producers at the moment.  High hopes mixed with realistic expectations -- swirling about right now.  Fingers crossed that Mom Died will make some progress toward a sale and eventual production in 2020.  DONE.

9) 2nd New Feature Spec Completed -- Since I'm taking journalism and film criticism off of my plate, there's absolutely no reason that I can't complete 2 (that's TWO) feature scripts within the one year.  And so #9 here, is an exact replica of #7 above. 

How did it go?  While I worked on two adt'l features (both collaborations), and made some good headway, I did NOT complete a second feature script (see notes below on my progress on those two pieces).  But as far as "completed", that's a FAIL.

10) 2nd New Feature Spec Script to Festivals -- Whichever SECOND script this turns out to be, planning for 5 festival entries.

How did it go?  No completed script, no festivals.  FAIL.

11) Lose another 20 lbs. -- I've done quite well in 2018, including a steady stream of workouts beginning at the year's mid-point.  Of course, travel, sickness and schedules have not allowed me to be perfect all of this half year, but I've done quite well.  At press, I'm down to just below 190, and I think I could use a few more off of the old gut.  If I can get back to my semi-ingrained regiment, I would love to lose those last pounds, and then start building back up with some muscle.  I've so got this.

How did it go?  I didn't lose the pounds, but can't feel bad.  I've been working out practically everyday, since mid-2018.  I'm building muscle as well, which weighs more than flab, right?  So the fact that I didn't LOSE pounds -- well, I'm not gonna worry about it.  As is, I'm hovering right around 190 lbs. at the moment, so I'll take this as a win, although technically, it's a FAIL.

12) New Headshots -- Self-explanatory.  Old ones are now over 2 years old.  Make it so.

How did it go?  While I didn't get a complete session, I did get some lovely new shots from my buddy, Vanessa.  So, DONE.

13) Read 10 Books -- Shouldn't have to put this here, as it should be a given.  But I want to hold myself to it.  And with stress levels high this year (and my inability to handle it properly), I need some way to keep my blood pressure down.  And reading is an obvious escape.  So it finds its way onto this massive to-do list.

How did it go?  At press, I still have one book left to read, but will easily complete it before year's end.  Gonna repeat this one in 2020!  DONE.

14) 3 Acting Gigs -- While I only did one of the three acting gigs I wanted to -- in 2018, it was a feature film role and it was a blast.  So not gonna be too pissy about that.  :)  Three tabs on the board, three acting gigs in 2019 -- feature films, short films or stage plays.  It's all good.

How did it go?  One.  Only one.  And while I loved helping out my friend Katherine, with a small role in her new short, I literally was on set for probably half hour.  Still, it counts.  But, that is only one of three intended acting gigs.  Soooo... FAIL.

15) Watch All Best Picture Winners -- As I won't be reviewing films this year, I'd like to get back to watching movies for the simple pleasure of it.  I've going to attempt to watch every Best Picture Oscar winner (those I've not seen, of course) and fill in those gaps in my movie education.  Goodness knows HOW I'll work out these tasks on my patented tab board. 

How did it go?  All best intentions were laid.  I cut out tabs for each of the 48 films yet to be seen.  And when all was said and done, I watched FOUR of the 48 films.  While I'm thrilled to have seen classics and further educated myself cinematically, this is a giant FAIL.

16) 40k Words on "Scratcher" -- Putting this back on the list.  Would love to really push forward on this first novel.  Perhaps with no journalism on the to-do list, this might be more plausible.

How did it go?  Years past, this piece saw NO work of any kind.  While I ultimately didn't make this goal, I did put in a lot of work on this in 2019, writing almost 18,000 words over multiple chapters.  I filled out a lot of character histories and am getting a stronger idea of where the story is going, including working on an outline.  So happy to have done some work, but didn't reach 40k words.  So FAIL. But expect to see plenty of goals on this for 2020.

17) Book of Movie Reviews -- Depending on legalities/technicalities, I'd like to put together a physical book of my 400 or so reviews from the past 4 years.  It'd be relatively simple (he says now), since they're all written.  We'll see how this goes.  Not sure how I'd make my tabs for the board, as I don't have any idea of how many actual steps it might take.  And with my retirement from film criticism, this would be a good way to "bookend" this experience.  Ahem.

How did it go? 
Nothing.  Not sure this will ever see the light of day, based on potential legal questions.  No repeat on this for next year's list.  FAIL.

18) Apartment Updates -- We've been in our current apartment for close to a decade.  And there are things we can do to gussy it up a bit.  We're thinking about new tile in the kitchen and bathroom and perhaps some new carpet in the bedroom.  There are plenty of other things we want to do, so this task's presence on the "tabs board" might be wishy-washy.  We'll see how it develops.  Putting up 5 total tabs on my board -- for this arena.

How did it go?  Clocked in 4 of the 5 intended projects (took the tabs down), but missed the fifth and final.  But of course, plenty of other projects happened (one I wouldn't consider as "major").  But if I'm being technical, FAIL.

19) "House Up the Street" Update -- While there was some legit work done on this project in 2018, not near as much as I would have liked.  Putting this back on the list... will determine (down the road) how to handle the tabs.  It's all of my short stories and poetry, etc. from writings dating back to 1984.  I wanna put them all in one place!

How did it go?  Not even the slightest looky-loo at this massive project.  Remains to be seen if it'll find a spot on 2020's list.  FAIL.

20) Move Penelope's Site -- Didn't get to this in 2018, but must still work toward its completion.  I built and manage a website for actress Penelope Sudrow.  But I need to find a way to get it into her control, as I don't feel I have the time to give it the attention it requires.

How did it go?  Nope.  Didn't happen.  FAIL.  But expect to see this on 2020's list.

21) Home / House -- Still holding out hope that we'll be able to leave behind communal living and move into our own single family home.  Perhaps 2019 will be the year this happens.

How did it go?  Still in our same apartment, but the hope always remains that we'll find a more permanent and more separated living situation.  But, as seen above, we did do many improvements to our little corner of the world, so adt'l happiness there.  :)  FAIL.

22) International Travel -- Of course, I need to get the passport in order (see above).  I've never been anywhere, and my other half is a seasoned world traveler.  It's time to expand my world horizons.  Why not make it happen in 2019?

How did it go?  Plenty of travel in 2019, but nothing international.  Perhaps in 2020?  FAIL.

23) De-stress -- This is a bit enigmatic.  But it's become clear that I no longer handle stress well.  So I need to find a way to keep my blood pressure and neurotic worrying to a minimum.  Find a new way to meditate perhaps?  Or a new exercise regiment to include more calming yoga?  This remains to be seen, and certainly will be difficult to quantify come year's end -- whether success was reached or not -- but it's a necessary thing for me to take on in 2019.

How did it go?  I'm gonna mark this as DONE.  Reason being, I finally reached out to a mental health professional, to deal with my (sometimes) crippling anxiety.  While it was toward year's end when I finally began therapy, it's a beginning nonetheless.  While I'm not necessarily less-stressed (a big event happened toward year's end, which did a number on my already heightened anxieties), the fact that I'm trying to handle it and am receiving treatment -- it's a win.


But -- as is the norm for my To-Do List Extravaganzas, there are plenty of other projects (which I did not foresee at the year's start) which will need to be addressed and recognized.  Just because I didn't get some specifics done, doesn't mean I was lazing around (at least not all of the time!)  :)

In August, via a friend of a friend, I got a write-for-hire gig -- crafting a feature screenplay.  This entire process (contract negotiations, drafts, notes, etc.) took about three months.  Ultimately, I'm happy w/ how the script turned out, I was paid and completed three drafts.  Where it goes from here?  Well, we shall see.  Bottom line, I got paid to write an entire feature screenplay.  That's a career milestone for sure.

I spent a good deal of time on two feature screenplay collaborations (as mentioned above) -- throughout the year.  One with my friend Scott, and one with my friend Motown.  The script with Scott has seen a lot of action, but we're not yet close to a first draft.  The script with Motown, we've completed a first draft and are currently working draft two.  We're hoping for completion of this project, by the end of January 2020.  Expect to see BOTH of these projects on my 2020 task list!

Throughout the year, I reviewed a few films for Tom Holland's Terror Time (part of my "soft retirement" from film criticism) and was called back to Horror Freak News in October, to cover Screamfest for my 6th consecutive year.  I watched pretty much everything at the fest and wrote 9 articles to document it all.

I'm at the very bare beginnings of a new feature screenplay (currently titled "Bear") -- based on a story told to me by friend Liz.  This project will be on 2020's list.

I've also begun another feature screenplay called "Trip" (in the beginning of December).  This will also be on the task list for 2020.

I also had inspirations on several other writing projects, including an idea for another novel called Island Hunters (done a bit of writing and brainstorming) and the latest -- another feature script idea, pilfered from a detailed dream.

I was also contacted about another write-for-hire gig.  There have been discussions, but no contract as of yet.  I hope to see this come to fruition in 2020.

And finally, in 2019, I started a new business (creating the website, design, products, etc.) for Klugula Screenplay Consulting.  It's meant to offer feedback and script/story/editing services to writers, working on their feature or short screenplays.  While it's gotten good feedback, it's not exactly taken off.  But I plan to double down in 2020 and absolutely see it thrive.

End of 2019.  Empty pins = DONE.  
With all of this examination, I only came up with 5 "DONE" and the remainder of these tasks landed in the "FAIL" pile.  Wait, didn't I change "Fail" to "Undone" last year?  Hmmm... I'll be sure to make that the norm for 2021's list.  Sounds much nicer.

So with the 2019 recap, let's see what's in store for 2020.  (note: while I went over my usual 20 item quota in 2019, I plan to stick with the usual 20 items for this incarnation).

1) Finish Rope-A-Dope: the feature script I've been working on with my friend Motown.  With a plan to call it "done" by the end of January, 2020, I can anticipate tabs for 2nd, 3rd and 4th drafts.  Currently, there are no plans for a reading or to submit to festivals/competitions.  

2) Finish Trip Having begun another feature script of my own (Trip) late in 2019, I'll put this on 2020's list.  Tabs will include the usual multiple drafts, out to readers, reading/reading prep.

3) Trip to Festivals:  The usual tabs for these tasks.  And as is the norm, I'll plan to submit to at least 5 festivals/competitions.

4) Complete 1st draft of SCRATCHER:  Considering I didn't make my 2019 goal of 40k words on this (my first novel), this goal could prove to be quite a monumental undertaking.  But, I've got a whole damned year to make it happen.  So on the list it goes!  This will require ONE tab on my board.

5) Complete ESP:  This is the feature script collaboration with my buddy Scott.  While we don't yet have a first draft, I've proposed to him that we have the script out to readers by the end of the first quarter in 2020.  Even if that doesn't come to fruition (it's a bold goal), as long as this piece is "done" by year's end, I'll be ecstatic.  Tabs will include the usual multiple drafts, out to readers, reading/reading prep, etc.  Unsure of festival/competitions for this piece, so will not place that on the list or in the tabs.

6) Move Penelope's Site:  Putting this on the goal list again, as it needs to be completed.  Frankly, I believe this will end up being less work than anticipated... meaning, once it's done, I'll wonder why it took so long.  (see explanation from last year's list, above).  One tab needed for this.

7) Passports Renewed:  It seems this next item on the list -- is a recurring one for years.  And seemingly one of the more simple ones to actually complete.  I need to get my passport renewed.  What are the chances of some international travel in 2020?  Who knows, but for heavens' sake, I need to be prepared, right?  So back on the list it goes.  One tab needed for this.

8) 30k Words on ISLAND HUNTERS: Mentioned above, my second idea for a novel, tentatively titled "Island Hunters" saw an initial inspiration and some beginning work (a bit of writing and brainstorming) in 2019.  My hope is to have a completed first draft of the other novel idea in my head, so for Island Hunters, I'm going to shoot for 30k words written in 2020.  Do-able, but with so many other projects, we'll simply have to see how it goes.  One tab needed for this.

9) Read 12 Books:  Made my goal of 10 books read, in 2019.  So gonna up the ante and make it ONE book per MONTH.  How ever will I achieve this?  Tee hee.  Obviously 12 tabs on the board for this task.

10) Movie Franchise Screenings:  Since my "see every Oscar Best Picture winner, yet unseen" task failed so miserably in 2019, I figured I'd try something else, seemingly more prone to find completion by year's end.  I'm tasking myself to update my education in several well known movie franchises.  Many of these, I've seen a good chunk.  Some I've seen only one.  Bottom line, fill in the gaps on these series.  I'm going to put 10 different series on the board.  The goal is to revisit those I know or have seen, and move into all of the sequels/prequels, etc. which (til now) are foreign to me.  10 tabs, 10 franchises.  Franchises on the list:  The Terminator, The Matrix, Alien, Predator, James Bond (a frigging massive undertaking), Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Rocky.

11) First Draft of Screenwriter:  A brand new feature script idea, which came to me at the tail-end of the year.  I am hoping to get at least a first draft in on this baby.  One tab.

12) Three Acting Gigs:  While I've not been pursuing much in the acting world as of late, I'll put this back up there, in the hopes that some fun opportunities will arise.  Three tabs for this goal.

13) 5 Projects for KSC:  My script consulting business (Klugula Screenplay Consulting - as mentioned above), created in the first half of last year.  I'm going to get back into promoting it and will plan to complete at least 5 editing/consulting gigs within 2020.  Five tabs.

14) Physical/Mental Health:  While not easy to quantify success, I believe if I continue in my current therapy, continue my daily exercise, and potentially introduce some smarter eating habits in 2020, that'd be a success.  I'm not getting any younger, and with "the diabeetus" ever-present in my life and my body, continued steps toward healthier living, can only benefit me.  Let's do it!

15) Complete Bear:  Inspired by an in-person visit with an old friend and former co-worker, this supernatural thriller (a feature screenplay idea) should be a hoot to tackle.  The usual tabs here: multiple drafts, register with WGA, reading/reading prep, out to readers, etc.

16) Bear to Festivals:  As usual, plan for 5 festival/competition entries for Bear, so five tabs on the board.

17) South Dakota Trip:  It's been discussed, that we'll return to my homeland for my eldest niece's high school graduation in the summer of 2020.  Hoping for another epic road-trip to SD (36 days), as we did in 2017.  Lots of planning to be done here (if the stars align for it to come to fruition).  One tab.

18) Produce The Chair:  See notes above.  I don't think this will be such a massive undertaking, that it'll elude me for the second year in a row.  Many tabs for this one (pre-production, production, post, etc.), but putting it out into the universe to find completion.  And since I plan to act in this piece, that could be an adt'l tab off the board from the "Three Acting Gigs" task above!  Bonus!

19) Completed Unknown Screenplay: Since there were some write-for-hire screenwriting gigs in 2019, and since I always find other script ideas to pursue, I'll make this group of tasks as generic as possible.  I'm going to put in for five tabs -- for five drafts of ANY script (not already specifically listed above).  This could be one of my own, or one which I will (note "WILL") be hired to write in 2020. 

20) Mom Died Rewrites/Steps:  While there is no promise that this project will move ahead in 2020, by placing this here, I'm telling the universe that I'm ready, willing and able to do adt'l work on this piece.  So I'll put "Mom Died Project #1" and so on on the tabs.  This could include rewrites, but any potential steps for this script, will warrant taking a tab down.  I'll do five total, and hope against hope that Mom Died moves up the ladder in the new year.

And there you have it, folks.  My laundry list of tasks on my annual To-Do List Extravaganza!  Hold me to it, and we'll check things out in just over 52 weeks!  Let's tear some tabs!

Have a safe, productive and fun 2020!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Final Sign That Theatre Etiquette is Truly Dead. RIP.

Well.  I should be working on reviews, but I simply have to get this off of my chest.

As many folks know, I'm covering Screamfest for Horror Freak News - for the sixth consecutive year.  It's a tradition, and I'm thrilled to be part of the Screamfest family.

It's become an epidemic of sorts, for bad behavior by movie-goers.  Talking, texting, looking at their phones, etc.  My other half (it's now become its own tradition at Screamfest and other festivals we usually attend) calls out folks who bring out their phones to check messages, etc., thus lighting up the darkened theatre - IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FILM.

Generally, folks will quickly hide their phones, give a quick passive-aggressive look in our direction (we always sit in the back - another tradition) and we all go on our merry ways for the remainder of the screening.

But tonight - after 5 years of attending film festivals - I experienced something brand new, as far as bad theatre etiquette.

We sat down for one of the feature films this evening.  Not a packed theatre, but an okay house.  We were again in our usual seats (phones off) and ready to fall into the world of the film.  This particular piece was one I had on my schedule as "I will review this one."

I think it was a total of three times we had to tell a group of people (we now know was cast/crew for the film being screened) to turn off their phones.  One person was admonished twice by my other half, and then a third time by myself (and my other half chiming in).  The usual backwards glances of anger (or whatever).

Look.  I get it.  This is your film.  You're celebrating your showing at Screamfest.  And I congratulate you.  Screamfest is a big deal and you made it.

But here are a few things I think should be kept in mind.

Isn't the old saying/belief that once you make your film, complete it and release it -- that it's no longer yours?  Isn't that true of all art destined for an audience?

The last straw for both my other half and I (yes, we left the film with probably 20 minutes remaining on the run-time) was when we called out a DIFFERENT person in the SAME group, for taking photos/video of the film.  This particular person got out of his seat, came up to us and explained that he was the film's DP (Director of Photography).  My other half quickly replied that we were press, there to review his film.  This person then quickly returned to his seat, and we left shortly thereafter - the experience ruined via our complete removal from the film and its story (by that point, how could we not be?)

The thing is, the cinematography of the film was actually quite good (no doubt it would have been praised had I watched the entire piece and then penned a review).  Having a screening experience of lovely vistas and riversides upset by the creator of said loveliness (because he had to take pictures of his -- what I'm assuming is -- completed film).  That's irony, right?  Hammered home in a big way.

And I can sort of understand (certainly not forgive) the general public for less-than perfect behavior in the cinema these days.  But the filmmakers themselves - who should certainly know better, or strive for better etiquette?  Frankly, this whole experience is mind-boggling.

I won't call out the film we walked out on, nor the film's cinematographer by name.  That's just not nice.  But c'mon - wouldn't you want press to have the best and ultimate experience, thus allowing them to get lost in your film and then write a glowing review to hopefully further your film's success?

And if that sounds like I'm touting the power of the press as being TOO powerful, then how about this?  Even if I'm just a regular viewer, who came in off the street to check out a film festival screening, perhaps on a whim, or for my first time.  What about that?  Good old-fashioned word of mouth (and subsequent social media praise from the people) - that's not bad, right?

I've been going to the theatres less and less, because of entitled behavior from other patrons.  But getting this kind of nonsense from a filmmaker at an elite festival screening?

Well, the chances of me returning to the cinema more frequently - have fallen yet again.

And of course: DISCLAIMER.  I in no way blame Screamfest or its amazing organizers and staff for any of this.  They're salt of the earth and awesome.  And before EVERY block, they do remind folks to turn off - AND KEEP OFF - their cell phones during the screenings.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Jealousy & Surface

"Jealousy is an ugly thing.  And so are you, in anything backless."
Sophia Petrillo to her daughter, Dorothy Zbornak.

I've gotten used to a healthy mixture of jealousy and pride when I see the accomplishments of so many of my creative friends.  There's always the "I'm so damned happy for you", but then the little tingle of "I wish that had been me".  I've grown accustomed to it and accept it.  It's part of my life in "the biz".  Perhaps unhealthy, but acceptable in my eyes.

But where my jealousy starts to go off of the rails -- is when I see happy, normal, well-adjusted family lives.

I simply don't have that -- although I had glimpses of it throughout my childhood.

And yes, I am aware that the photos and posts and lovey-dovey stuff we see, sometimes hides the true pain and resentment underneath.  People put up their best faces. 

But I don't even have the surface peace so many might enjoy.

Yes.  I've come to consider my other half as family.  And I try not to take him and our 20-year relationship for granted.  But my immediate family is so damned disjointed now, it's hard to believe that it was ever an actual unit -- if indeed, it actually was.

So many folks are dead now, or were never present in my formative years -- or in some cases -- both.

(this is all coming to a head because of my biological father's recent death -- and our lack of a relationship for the past 35 years).

I see happiness between multiple generations, and I crave it.  Have I been conditioned to want this, or believe that this is "the tops" as far as familial bonds?  Whatever it is, I find myself longing for such bonds.

Large family gatherings -- where we play cards, eat hearty, homecooked meals and listen to old stories from the past.

It's not as if I never had this -- there were years of happiness, but over the past two decades (was the death of our matriarch and my beloved grandmother, the beginning of the end?) -- things have dwindled, until I'm at my current point.  So many of my elders (both close and far) are dead now.  My relationship with my mother is nothing more than surface talk about the weather.  I love my siblings, but only speak to one of them on the regular.  I have little to no contact with extended family -- cousins, aunts, uncles -- outside of the surface connection that is social media.

I've been toying with the notion of writing my autobiography -- for many years now.  And it seems, with the emotional tolls I've been struggling with over the past week (between my father's death and my aunt's death today) -- that now might be a good time to dig into this quagmire of memories, resentment, joy, pain and everything in between.  I've got a lot to get off of my chest, which is why my working title on the autobiography is "Cheap Therapy".

But the point of this discussion, is the feeling of jealousy -- as I see friends with deep and seemingly strong connections with their elders, their cousins and most notably, their parents.  Pictures of a happy family (and all that this encompasses -- at least in my goody two-shoes brain) make me feel bad that my family is so broken, so disconnected and so beyond repair.

I can't discount the love and connection I have with so many chosen family members (friends with whom I share a bond) and of course, my husband. 

But the human mind and the emotions which inhabit it -- are strange things.  I can't just shut off this need for a larger family unit.  I had it, and apparently, I want it back.

"Cheap Therapy".  That's the name of the game here.  And even if I never actually tackle the ol' autobiography, and throw all of my dirty laundry up for everyone to see, marvel at and judge -- there's always this blog to let off some steam.

I'm glad your family units are wide and vast and healthy.  And of course, I don't wish anyone ill-will -- but I would love some of that over here, to share with me and my hubby.

PS.  Writing this on a half bottle of wine...

Wednesday, August 07, 2019


Just a matter of hours ago, I was informed by one of my cousins, that my biological father, Leland Klug, had died.

I posted a blurb of sorts -- over on Facebook, suggesting that a longer blog on the subject (this one here) was forthcoming... as there are a lot of things for me to process, in light of this news.

My mother and father divorced when I was just finishing up with first grade.  My older brother and I were put in the custody of our mother, and she moved us back to our hometown.

A very brief time later, my mother remarried and we moved across the state -- where I lived until I moved away post-college and in the early stretches of adulthood.  While not an ideal childhood overall (plenty of tales for another time), my stepfather was a great guy -- supportive, in every meaning of that word.  He was a good father, no question.

My biological father, however -- basically vanished after the divorce.  Child support payments ended, as did mail correspondence, phone calls and visits.

My older brother and I have the same final memory of face-to-face contact with our dad -- when he came to our new home on the other side of the state, picked us up for a week of touristing around The Black Hills -- all of this when I was in about 4th grade.  He lovingly called my stepfather, "Dead-Head Fred" (perhaps a good indication of the inappropriate things my brother and I were exposed to as children -- Yes, badmouth our new stepfather -- I'm sure that's good for kids to hear).

And that was the last time I saw this man in person.  What age is an average 4th-grader?  8?  I'm 45 now.  Quite a stretch.

There was an additional greeting card (hidden in a card from my paternal grandparents -- also had little contact with this entire side of the family following the divorce) when I graduated high school.  I recall breaking down at the sight of his unique, tell-tale penmanship, and then opening the card to see these well wishes from the man who had deserted us.  My best friend was thankfully with me when this all went down (thank you, Eric).  Clearly some issues with my missing father at that point in my life -- were unresolved. 

He always signed any correspondence with, "Love, P.W.K."  When I was a kid, he was always known as "Pee Wee".  Thus, Pee Wee Klug (PWK).

I have a hard time recalling much correspondence/contact with him throughout college and into my post-college years.  I know that he had remarried (Nell later died.  I had never met her or some step-siblings who exist).  The last time I recall actually talking to him (on the phone) was around 2003.  I had already been with my other half for a few years, and I don't recall the impetus for us getting into contact.  I wanna say it was good old-fashioned curiosity.  And I think that was it.  Of course, about a decade ago, I reconnected with my Uncle Stan (out of Tucson -- and my dad's older brother).  He was a bitter old gay man (i.e. an absolute hoot) and a writer as well.  My other half and I hit it off with him, and once we moved to Los Angeles, visited him frequently.  And I was reunited with my two aunts and some cousins -- whom I'd not seen in probably 40 years!  Last year, Uncle Stan died.

And there were mentions to me (and to my other half -- whispers as not to upset me) that Pee Wee wasn't doing well.  Lots of health issues (including the diabetes I have the pleasure of dealing with -- from both sides of my lineage, thank you very much).  But honestly, I figured there'd be a call when he had died, and that I would acknowledge the information and move on with my day.

After all, what connection do I have to this man?  He was never there for me.  I have memories of him up until the age of 8.  And he had failed to do his job (in practically every way, aside from siring me) as a father.

While I had developed a good relationship with Uncle Stan, and had totally mourned his passing -- what would my reaction be when I got that call that Pee Wee was gone?

Well, today, I can answer that question.

There were tears.  There was also anger.  Resentment.  Pain.  Confusion.

I barely knew this man, and here I was -- in sort of a whirlwind of emotions (which continue at the present moment).  Why should I care?  Why should I grieve?  He clearly didn't give two shits about me or my brother.

Is it a deeper, primordial response to your immediate ancestor's expiration?  Something buried inside of my brain which "knows" that he's gone?  After all, I wouldn't be who I am (biologically and via his absence) without him, right?

I don't like this feeling of helplessness -- as far as properly (and finally) defining what I'm feeling.

Of course, I called my older brother with the news, and we had a long conversation.  Obviously, I won't discuss his thoughts, as that's not my place.  But I can begin a basic understanding that "I (we) was short-changed" -- for so many reasons.  No contact with the complete other side of my family, no relationship with the man (sperm-donor) who helped create me.  Growing up feeling (knowing) that my own father didn't want anything to do with me?  Who does that?  And what does that understanding (to a fucking 8 year old) do to a kid and his psyche and his sense of worth?

I know there are probably other factors which were at play while I was growing up.  And there are too many of those "what if's" to go through at this venue.  But the fact that there are still "what if's" at all -- is a problem.

I'll never have all of the answers.  But I hope (as my brother said) that there will be some sort of closure (albeit, never 100% complete -- there simply can't be now).

I guess I secretly wished that one day, there would have been an apology, a reconciliation -- CLOSURE.

But it's not meant to be.

I liken my feelings to the loss of a great celebrity.  Someone whom you've admired from afar -- and then they were suddenly gone.  "I just always thought they'd be around.  They were a constant in my life.  And now they're gone.  I didn't know them personally, but there was a connection of some kind."

Is it the same thing here?

I didn't know this guy (other than the first 6-8 years of my life) -- but there's a connection and a sense of loss.

Is it because he's now gone, and there is no possible forthcoming apology or much-needed closure -- and there never, ever will be, that I can now put the entire matter to bed -- to place him in the 100% memory box?

Sure, I didn't get the ultimate, death-bed apology (sorry I neglected, deserted, ignored you boys... and I apparently never loved you either) -- but the simple idea that I now KNOW THIS FOR CERTAIN -- is it's own form of closure?

I do believe this will be an ongoing process -- processing my anger, my resentment, my pain and those very real (although mostly hidden) feelings of desertion?

Fuck.  I mean really -- fuck.  It's not a grieving scenario.  It's an "all of this shit is coming up in my brain, my memories and my emotions".

As it is -- the only thing I can say is, "RIP, Pee Wee."  And that's the best thing I can say... 'cause he sure as hell wasn't a "Dad".

Thank you for your time.

And BTW, I had a passing thought, just a week ago -- that I'd be getting this call very soon...  And today, here it was.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

It's not that I'm unsupportive -- it's that I'm afraid...

I find it fascinating, that as I age, there are certain arenas of my life and personality, which continue to evolve and strengthen.  And then there are some things inside of me which deteriorate and dwindle, despite my best efforts to hold strong and say "no".

Being in Los Angeles, there is never a shortage of things to do.  It's never been a secret that I love to socialize, but after a humdinger of interaction with other human beings -- say a week long of various events and/or get-togethers -- that I'll need a good week to recover, hiding in my 10th story apartment, away from the chaos of the streets below and away from having to put up my "walls" when dealing with socializing.  Putting on that happy face, etc.  Of course, there are many social events where I'm able to let down my guard, but being in show business, it's certainly a matter of constant networking and of always being "on".

Honestly, I believe this was one of the reasons I burned out on film reviewing after 4 years.  Not only was I just plain tired (and tired of seeing sub-par films which I could not walk out on), but of attending events (screenings, festivals, etc.).  However, not being actually obligated by that gig, to go out and cover a film -- has brought me into my current state.

I wouldn't quite diagnose it as agoraphobia (I always think of Sigourney Weaver's character in the 1995 thriller, Copycat), but how far away am I from such a firm conclusion?

Per the Mayo Clinic, agoraphobia is, "a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed."

The problem in dealing with the flirtations of such a condition -- whether or not that's what it actually is -- is that I have so many friends who have film festival screenings, stage-plays, social events and life events -- every single week.  And the constant memes from friends of "I'm an introvert" are apt and enlightening, but I feel like my issues/neuroses are starting to go beyond that.

Of course, I want to support the projects of my friends and acquaintances, as they've done for me, but as each day passes (and as I pass right on by middle-aged), I find it more and more difficult to remove myself from the safety of that 10th story safe-house.  I'm proud of these people and want them to know that I love and back them and their projects, but how can I actually prove that if I don't ever make it to their special events?

The thing is, generally -- once I get to an event, anxiety is all but flushed away.  There's something about Los Angeles traffic and/or public transportation which will immediately fire up the "let's get crazy" receptors of my brain.  It's the getting there, not the being there (in general).  Not only is there an increased heart rate, honest-to-goodness sweats and increased body temperature, I also have an innate fear of crapping my pants.  Not a joke, completely serious.

The idea of "no escape" and all which that entails -- including no access to a bathroom should one be needed (I've never actually had an accident involving #2 -- knock on wood) -- is what will filter into my mind when stuck in traffic or when underground on the Red Line, jetting toward downtown.

Can I get out if I need to?

Yes, there are times where my bowels legit need to be relieved, but I've learned over the years, that any "rumblings" or "pinecones" (the term the other half and I have used for decades to describe an impending need to visit the restroom), are 95% of the time -- in my head.  And knowing that, doesn't always keep the panic attack from setting in.  Mentally, I know I'm panicking for ridiculous reasons and that all will probably be fine.

And I know this for a fact, because when the other half and I travel (we do road trips to Vegas and beyond all of the time) is that once we head east and reach the 15 (into a more "rural" area), that my body, my mind and my tummy will inevitably relax.  There's a psychological reason for this.  If indeed I needed to have an emergency stop -- a more "rural" side of the road would be less of an inconvenience or an embarrassment.

You're reading this, thinking, "That's fucking absurd."  And I agree with you.  Absolutely.  But it doesn't change things.

When events are forthcoming on my calendar, I begin to tense up and worry -- at least 2 days beforehand.  The day of an event, I'm on edge and crabby (whether it's the event of a friend, or an event involving me).  When someone flakes out on something and I am spared having to leave the house -- a literal wave of relief which will rush over me.  It's like an inner celebration for my anxieties.  In addition, an evening event will require me to mentally prepare -- all day long -- at the expense of writing projects and obligations.  And two events in one day -- forget about it.

These anxieties are absolutely real.  And so is my support for you and your life events and your artistic achievements.  But there are plenty of times where I let the anxiety win (too many) -- and will therefore flake on your event.  It makes me feel terrible.  It might make you feel terrible.  And for that, I apologize.

It's an ongoing journey and an ongoing struggle.  And for that, I ask your patience and understanding and forgiveness when I back out on an event or when I say "no".

I've had several legit panic attacks in the past several years, and I've learned to control them to a point.  But there's always the lingering spectre of an anxiety flare-up.

But of course -- how many times have I made my way on the train or onto the freeway to get out of the house and support folks and their celebrations?  Probably too many to count.  Which means, in my inconsistent life, my inconsistent emotions -- even my neuroses can't stay consistent.

I'm a mess.  Thank you for your time.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Day of the Dead (1985) Review

Why not get this out of the way – right off the bat?

Day of the Dead – the late George A. Romero’s 3rd installment in the on-going undead saga – is my #1, tip-top, absolute favorite film of all time. And that’s not just horror, folks – that’s tops when looking at dramas, comedies, action flicks, sci-fi and everything else in between.

High praise, indeed, right?

Day of the Dead takes us inside an underground bunker/storage facility in the wilds of Florida. A group of civilian scientists and a bunch of itchy trigger-finger military men share this vast (and yet somehow cramped) space. The scientists spend their days trying to figure out how to fix or how to end the zombie apocalypse up on the surface, while the military faction begrudgingly assists these scientific efforts. Among the group is the only female, scientist Sarah (Lori Cardille) and a semi-domesticated zombie named Bub (Howard Sherman). When tensions between the scientists and the military men comes to a violent head – paired with the looming danger of the walking corpses – all hell breaks loose. Who will survive?

I’ve always found this film to have three major things going for it.

One: Performances. While many believe Joe Pilato’s performance (as lead military man Captain Rhodes) is a little over-the-top, I’ve always found it to be a highly enjoyable bit of scenery-chewing. And beneath these loud line deliveries, there’s the nugget of real fear and desperation from the character as he realizes he is expected to lead this dwindling and fractured group. So I think the insecurities which Pilato brings to Rhodes are overlooked because of his surface anger. Either that, or Rhodes is just an a**hole.

Supporting turns from Howard Sherman as “Bub” and the late Richard Liberty as “Dr. Frankenstein/Logan” are easy highlights in a strong group of solid actors. Liberty perfectly captures Logan’s deteriorating mind and you’ll marvel at Liberty’s quirky character choices – when you’re not completely disgusted by Logan’s actions in the name of science.

As for Sherman – he gets but one line of dialogue and the rest of Bub’s emotions must be conveyed through pantomime and a series of grunts and growls. The fact that we deeply sympathize with this flesh-eating corpse – says a great deal about Sherman’s masterful acting work.

But, as has always been my belief – this film is Lori Cardille’s. She’s a remarkable actress – never hesitating to show the boiling uncertainty beneath the character’s strong facade – most notably in what I’ve termed her “Oscar” clip – when she is forced to do something downright grotesque to save a loved one. Even with so much going at this moment in the story and in the marvelous special make-up effects – you must still keep a watchful eye on all of the lovely detail in Cardille’s performance. She shakes, she sobs and she shows that Sarah’s strength is peeling away – as everything else is falling apart in the world of the film.

The second star of this film is the gnarly make-up work from maestro Tom Savini. You thought he did wonders in Dawn of the Dead – just wait until you see the zombie visages and the gut-crunching he provides here. Of note is the now legendary demise of one of the main characters (I’m sure you’ve seen it, but for the uninitiated, I’ll refrain from spoilers) at the film’s climax. Savini and his practical ingenuity at its absolute finest.

Finally, you’ve gotta love the overall atmosphere of dread and death and hopelessness this film so beautifully captures. Romero was a master at so much (may he RIP), including editing, making his characters’ poor communication mark their downfall and making his audiences unable to escape this horrible unease. Seriously, this film is uncomfortable – for sooo many reasons.

Day of the Dead took a long time to gain the “cult status” it now so richly enjoys. Not originally received with a lot of love – it’s time to finally notch it up as a true horror classic.

This film boasts great performances from a gifted acting ensemble, mind-blowing practical effects and enough zombie-filled, post-apocalyptic dread to fill up an entire underground storage facility (i.e, a lot).

Day of the Dead is available on DVD and Bluray – but my personal favorite version is the Anchor Bay souped-up Divimax edition with the “Bub” head fold-out cover. So many amazing extras and an that eye-catching neon yellow case.

The film was originally released in 1985. And there have been TWO quite inferior remakes of the film since then. Yeah, you can go ahead and avoid those completely.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review

We’ve all heard and/or read about how George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead is all about anti-consumerism.

And of course, who can argue? The man himself said as much. And, I mean – look at the film for an ultimate confirmation of this theory.

And as prominent as that theme is, it’s never been the big draw for me.

It’s been the dynamics between this semi-random grouping of four personalities – and how they do (and don’t) communicate in a crisis. The first time they’re all together – their differing personalities are on full display – and it’s magic.

Traffic helicopter pilot Steven (David Emge) and his broadcast producer girlfriend Fran (Gaylen Ross) plan to escape the sprawling (and failing) City of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia – when the zombie apocalypse comes knocking at their urban door. Following a violent shoot-out in one of the city’s low-income housing projects, SWAT members Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree) join the couple and escape via the aforementioned chopper – out of this overrun city… eventually finding an abandoned shopping mall. They’ll make this consumer paradise their temporary home, but will have to come to terms with their isolation and their own problems – not to mention the hungry (and ever-increasing) hordes of zombies pounding on the mall doors.

Of the four lead performances, there are some good moments and some not-so-good acting moments from all of them.

If I had to call out the best work, I’d say it’s a toss-up between “bruhs” Ken Foree (Peter) and Scott Reiniger (Roger). Reiniger certainly has a lot to play with, since Roger takes such a sudden downturn, following some unfortunate (and fool-hardy on his part) events. And Reiniger beautifully captures the character’s over-excitedness, obviously deep-seated fears (in spite of his bravado) and later – the very frightening realizations of what could be. (Did you enjoy how I just breezed past potential spoilers – for those who don’t know what happens?)

Foree truly gives Peter a no-nonsense and truly brave side. Other than a semi-strange misstep for a character choice during the film’s climax, Peter is gutsy. And with Foree’s 6’5” frame, he perfectly fits the character’s mental and physical power.

And with that, I don’t think Emge and Ross are quite as strong. They each have amazing moments: Emge’s physicality in the last portion of the film is crazy-good and Ross can deliver Fran’s sassy sarcasm like nobody’s business, but they don’t quite reach the deep emotions I feel characters in this situation might have. I’ve never hated these performances, I just don’t think they are at the same level as Reiniger and Foree.

While Savini will truly come into his own (zombie make-up-wise) in the third chapter of Romero’s original zombie trilogy – Day of the Dead – there are some pretty spectacular gore effects present in Dawn of the Dead – if you can get past the splotchy and mismatched blues and greens of the undead mall residents as a whole. Disembowelings, machetes to the head and plenty of effective (and devastating) bites – prove how good Savini is/was and would be.

The film has plenty of fun “boo” moments (a cat and mouse chase in the mall’s boiler room) and some good suspense (Roger’s overzealous truck hot-wiring fiasco) – but nothing will disturb you or remain in your memory longer than Peter’s haunting delivery of the line “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”. That is also the film’s advertising tag-line – and to this day, it sends shivers down my spine.

There is a 2004 remake of this film, but it takes the original film’s name, the story’s main location and a character’s pregnancy – but not much more. While quite enjoyable in its own right, I’ll have to give the original film a big leg up (obviously).

There are countless versions of this film available (new and used), but I will defer to the “Ultimate Edition” DVD from Anchor Bay. An embarrassment of riches – alternate versions of the film and special features to die for (ahem) can be found there.

On that note, I would recommend the film’s “Extended Version”. It runs a good 30 minutes longer than the better-paced “US Theatrical Version” (Romero’s personal choice), but includes some fascinating extra footage. Most notably, you’ll get an actual scene with one of the dock workers – who we now know is Day of the Dead’s Joe Pilato (he plays different characters).

And in this extended cut, there is a scene so telling and so wonderfully appropriate to make the character’s mindset extra clear – that I was almost speechless when I first encountered it. It’s late in the lease (so to speak) for the character’s mall-stay. And Stephen has discovered a camera. He jokingly takes a photograph of Fran – and her reaction/dialogue is absolutely priceless.

Honestly, you can take a lot of the extra and extended scenes in the “Extended Version” and do away with them – but this moment is one of my favorites out of the entire film – in any of its incarnations.

Romero's 1978 film is a true classic of the genre, and deserves your views, your screams and your respect (mall gift cards accepted).

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Review

Shot in black & white and released in 1968 during the height of The Civil Rights Movement, Night of the Living Dead became a classic.

This eensy-teensy, low budget film about flesh-eating zombies and bickering human beings, was selected by the Library of Congress for safe-keeping in the National Film Registry. It’s been remade, colorized, sequelized (coining that new term) and copied – but never, ever duplicated.

Not too shabby for a film which cost $114,000 to make.

For reasons unknown (with some speculation present), the recent dead are returning to life to attack and feed upon humanity. Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny (co-producer Russ Streiner) are visiting a family grave in the Pennsylvania countryside – when they’re attacked by one of the “ghouls” (the term zombie was never used in the film). Barbara flees on foot and finds “safety” in a seemingly abandoned farmhouse. Once a stranger named Ben (Duane Jones) also takes refuge in the home, they become surrounded by dozens (hundreds?) of flesh-eaters. When they discover other survivors in the building’s basement, the danger of the zombies becomes practically secondary to a barrage of bitter arguments, debilitatingly poor communication and flaring egos – culminating in one of the most ironic endings in film history.

The film was the first in a long series of “undead” films from the late George A. Romero (thus christened “The Zombie Godfather”). There have also been three remakes of the property (including a Tom Savini-directed 1990 version, with a screenplay by Romero himself).

Some of the performances present are a little underwhelming, while others are simply over-the-top (enjoyably chewing the scenery was the late Karl Hardman as Harry Cooper). The rest of the ensemble cast finds varying qualities somewhere in the middle. But my personal faves for performance here?

Duane Jones and Russ Streiner.

Jones brings us an engaging lead character. His Ben is no-nonsense, intelligent and feisty. It’s been the topic of conversation in the decades since the film’s release, that the fact that he is an African-American actor – was somehow groundbreaking. Romero has been quoted in numerous interviews, including this one from thewrap.com and an article by Joe Kane:

Duane Jones was the best actor we met to play Ben. If there was a film with a black actor in it, it usually had a racial theme, like The Defiant Ones. Consciously I resisted writing new dialogue ‘cause he happens to be black. We just shot the script.”

So even after all of the endless essays on the significance of casting a black man in the lead – that a black man’s presence was incidental. He was simply the best man for the job. And it’s a fantastic choice. Jones brings an immense amount of authenticity to Ben. He’s just a regular Joe in a dangerous and surreal situation. And even though he’s resourceful and smart, he’s also flappable. One of my favorite acting moments from Jones, is when he loses patience with Barbara’s catatonia and uselessness, snapping at her and then catching himself.

And to see Ben take control of the situation, even with the equally strong personality of Harry Cooper opposite him – makes you instantly like Ben. He’s easy to root for, and so much of that credit goes to Duane Jones’ acting abilities.

And then there’s Streiner as Barbara’s smart-ass brother Johnny. He doesn’t have a ton of screen-time, basically appearing in what is a prologue, but he leaves such an impression – perfectly natural in every line delivery, my favorite being his reminiscences of when he and Barbara visited this same cemetery when they were kids. And of course, he stunningly delivers the chilling and iconic line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”

Judith O’Dea does a fine job as the shell-shocked female lead. The thing is, it’s a poorly written character, so she has so very little to do. It’s a wasted opportunity to engage us with a strong female presence, but this would ultimately be remedied with the 1990 remake, and Patricia Tallman’s “Ripley-esque” version of Barbara.

There are plenty of memorable sequences in Night of the Living Dead – many of them creepy, frightening and grotesque.

But for me, nothing quite digs into the primal well of unease, like the moments involving young Karen (Kyra Schon) and her on-screen mother Helen (Marilyn Eastman). The idea of the scene and the way in which it’s carried out (soundtrack and cinematography) has made for an ever-lasting moment in horror – which one could conceivably rank in some sort of top-ten list: The Nastiest Moments of Horror, perhaps joining Hitchcock’s infamous shower scene in 1960’s Psycho and the “crucifix masturbation” sequence of Friedkin’s The Exorcist. These images stick with you.

Night of the Living Dead also contains some of the most unsettling images of flesh-eating – certainly for this time in cinema. Current audiences may find this grisly sequence tame – when compared to the gut-munching of something like The Walking Dead. Frankly, I would have loved to have grown up in that era – to experience these scenes of cannibalism first-hand and in a “simpler” time. As is, however, the entire “let’s go get the gasoline” scene is harrowing and disturbing.

With okay to great performances, a gritty, almost documentary aesthetic and our first introduction to Romero’s vision of a flesh-eating monster apocalypse, Night of the Living Dead holds up beautifully – even 50 years after its release.

A classic and a ground-breaker (from the depths of the very graves themselves) – it’s always a good time for a revisit with these bickering humans, their senseless in-fighting and the threat of ghouls just outside the window.

The film is available almost anywhere and in countless versions (plenty of credit goes to the now-legendary copyright snafu prior to the film’s release) with the elite Criterion Collection putting out its most recent incarnation. I’ve yet to pick up this latest version – but my collection will not be complete until I have it in my grubby, rotting little hands.

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I like zombies...A LOT.

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