Saturday, December 13, 2008

Recent Deaths

I was a bit disappointed to see that the death of beloved and influential horror/sci-fi/publishing icon Forrest Ackerman merited a whopping 18 words in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. That's too bad, since Forry (as he was known to many) helped popularize the horror and monster genres, teaming with publisher Jim Warren to produce the popular and influential Famous Monsters of Filmland, which influenced such genre trend-setters as Steve Spielberg, Joe Dante and Stephen King to name a few.

FM's heyday was a bit before my time and by the age I was diving into horror and monster magazines grittier stuff like Fangoria had come along. I was far more interested in the latest slasher flicks and gory gut-munchers from Italy than the quaint, pun-packed coverage Forry's mag provided.

I did encounter the man once, though, riding in a hotel elevator with him after some pals and I had downed a largely liquid dinner during a horror convention not far from where I now live. We drunkenly chatted with him and I think I may have even tried to give him a poster we'd removed from a newspaper box. I can't remember if he took it or not but he smiled graciously as he probably wondered if this was what horror fans had come to.

Jim Warren, the aforementioned Famous Monsters publisher, first tried to take on the growing Playboy empire with a cheesecake T&A mag called After Hours, which featured photos of such future stars as Tina Louise (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) and pin-up queen Bettie Page.

Page, who disappeared from the limelight after discovering religion and only surfaced in recent years, died this week as well. She had been hospitalized recently and suffered a heart attack while suffering from pneumonia.

I wasn't a huge Page fan by any stretch – there was something itchy skitchy about the fact she was basically the same age as my mom – but I found her story fascinating and it's hard to argue her status as one of the most influential of all pop culture icons, without even trying. Page was the queen of the photo mag pin-ups, disappeared, was celebrated by artists and illustrators who probably remember seeing her pics in skin mags stuffed in their dad's underwear drawer, was the subject of zines and books, finally re-emerged, capitalized (and rightly so) on some of the popularity of her image, and then slowly faded back out of the limelight.

You can check out reviews of the fictional BETTIE PAGE: DARK ANGEL as well as the compilations THE BETTIE PAGE COLLECTION and IRVING KLAW CLASSICS: VOL 1-4 over at the ER site. And be sure to read Bryan White's euology over at Cinema Suicide.

As if the passing of Page and Ackerman wasn't enough, I was surprised to learn that Manhattan socialite Sunny Von Bulow was still alive. Okay, well, I only learned she was still alive because of news of her death, but you get the idea.

When I was living with my pal Rik back in the early 90s we were obsessed with a few things, namely bowling, SAVED BY THE BELL reruns and the movie REVERSAL OF FORTUNE. If I were to sit down and really think about the films that I have seen all or part of the most times, REVERSAL would easily crack the Top 10 and might even battle the likes of RE-ANIMATOR, PSYCHO, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, DAWN OF THE DEAD, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN and BLOODSUCKING FREAKS for inclusion in the Top 5. The flick was constantly on cable at the time and it wasn't strange for a quiet weekend morning or late night of working on the print version of ER to be punctuated by shouts of "It's ON!!!" coming from the living room.

Highlighted by Jeremery Irons' brilliant, chilling portray of maybe-he-did-it-maybe-he-didn't villain Claus Von Bulow (he won the Best Actor Oscar for the role and rightly so), the flick is more than just a one-man-show. Ron Silver is great as Alan Dershowitz and the flick features a solid supporting cast featuring Annabella Sciorra, Felicity Huffman, Fisher Stevens and more. Director Barbet Schroeder – who had just done BARFLY and would follow this with SINGLE WHITE FEMALE – and screenwriter Nicholas Kazan deliver a beautifully paced and intriguing look at the case from several angles, never indicting Claus but never absolving him of blame, either.

It's one of those rare films that no matter how familiar I am with every twist, turn and nuance I could watch any day, any time.

Last but not least, Hollywood lost actor and – according to my wife – "movie star" Van Johnson yesterday. Like Sunny Von Bulow I'd have lost had you bet me whether Johnson was alive or dead. His impressive career stretched from the 40s to the early 90s and included everything from big Hollywood productions and TV shows to Eurotrash and a Woody Allen flick. But I'll remember him best as The Minstrel, a nefarious member of Batman's Rogues Gallery from the beloved 1960s TV show.

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