Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It Starts With Murder!

I've never really been a fan of sports. I directly attribute this to being beaten up by jocks through most of my formative years. Watching those same jocks get the academic glad-hand for possessing basic ball-handling abilities didn't help my attitude much, either. It's the classic high school story: musclebound boneheads get all of the privilege, while trod-upon weaklings become angst-ridden delinquents. Get John Hughes on the Ouija Board, please.

Anyhoo, as an adult my attitude hasn't changed much. Many of my former "punk rock" friends have grown into rabid sports buffs-- a side effect of living in one of the most successful college sports towns on the map, I guess. That situation tends to have the opposite effect on me. Whenever Game Day approaches our fair city, I find myself enveloped by a cloudlike misery that hovers over me for most of my waking hours. Everything in town grinds to a halt so that we may cater to this infestation of rage-addicted knuckleheads and their tailgating, half-witted followers. And what do we get in return? A sharp spike in date rapes, bar brawls, and hit-and-run accidents. Fratboys puking in our yards. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

Organized sports seem to encourage a specific kind of passive participation, one that is encouraged on a mass scale. I somehow doubt that the average sports fan would rush out and join an athletic team-- their swollen livers and hardened arteries would probably prohibit this, anyway-- and why should they, when the most active way to support your favorite team involves sitting around a keg with your buddies, stuffing hot wings in your face, and shrieking at a plasma screen TV?

"Now, Mr. Manilow," you may say, "For someone who spends much of their time sitting around and watching movies, you sure seem to sling a lot of mud at the televised sports industry." As true as that may be, there is a key flaw in your reasoning: televised sports encourage most people to sit on their asses. Watching movies encourages me to go out and be creative.

Which brings me to THIS (a point that has absolutely nothing to do with my previous rant):


Our first movie-- three years in the making!-- is going to screen locally at Liberty Hall!

Shot for the low, low price of 500 bucks (700 if you count the price of the camcorder), IT STARTS WITH MURDER is much less than low-budget-- it's ZERO BUDGET. The image and sound quality are a little rough-- we had no money for film or boom mic, so we shot on a handheld DV camera and beefed up the audio in post-- but I really think that's part of the charm. This is an UNDERGROUND movie, after all-- anyone who shows up expecting Michael Bay-style production is going to leave sorely disappointed.

Here's a trailer-- NSFW, by any stretch of the imagination:

Thanks for tuning in. You may now continue with the rest of your day-- enriched, I hope, by what you have just seen here.

It Starts With Murder!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sexy Sadie

Sexy Sadie
Susan Atkins


In years past, Curvacia and I would frequent a shabby Chinese restaurant known as The Plum Tree. Sandwiched between a vacant lot and a stack of crumbling meth labs, The Plum Tree was a floor-to-ceiling wonderland of wood paneling, glass curtains, and polished brass trim. A premium slice of untouched, 70's swinger chic.

But it wasn't just the stylish decor or expansive list of exotic cocktails that lured us back every week (although, to be fair, the cocktails were a HUGE bonus-- the Flaming Volcano Bowl was advertised as "for lovers only")... it was the velvet throat and nimble fingers of legendary pianosmith Mick Penny.


I had first encountered Mr. Penny nearly a decade earlier, when a surprise birthday dinner brought me to The Plum Tree for the first time ever. Our party was seated in one of the booths that bookended his piano, and he immediately launched into a woozy version of the Beatles' "Birthday," punctuated with casual winks towards our table and well placed, "Thanks for coming down here and sharing it with us." Everyone in the booth was hypnotized, rapturous. A naive Scary Manilow assumed his friends had hired the piano player specifically for his birthday. Little did I know that my chance encounter with Mr. Penny would blossom into a full fledged obsession many years down the line.

Fast forward nearly a decade. Curvacia and I were looking for somewhere to eat on a Friday night. She suggested The Plum Tree-- hooking me with a smile that said, "I'm letting you in on one of the best kept secrets in town." Turns out, they have this GREAT piano player who sits in once a week, and wouldn't it be great to dress up and get a table and act like his biggest fans? My face indicated shock and enthusiasm, I'm sure-- ten years later, and Mick Penny was still flying the flag. And here was someone else who not only knew about him, but wildly appreciated his existence! It was just this sort of shared Insider Knowledge that drew Curvacia and I together from the start, a love of hidden cultural artifacts that would go on to shape our secret personal mythology.

Week after week, we sat down with Mick Penny. The owners and wait staff knew exactly why we were there, and always placed us in booth directly across from him. While the other diners kept their faces planted firmly in their meals, we were sucking down drinks, applauding his talent, and hollering out loud for more, more, MORE. Mick would smile in our direction, give us a knowing wink, and let his golden voice croon us along "Moon River," carry us through "The Rainbow Connection."

We passed a few years of this, and then my Friday evening work schedule changed, and suddenly we dropped out of sight. Our next few opportunities to contact Mick were sporadic at best-- a recurring illness seemed to keep him away more and more often, and the restaurant itself was on wobbly financial legs... Sometimes, we'd show up, only to find the doors prematurely locked. It seemed our love affair with Mick Penny was drawing to its inevitable close.

We sat on it for a long while, then decided to pay him a surprise visit. We dusted off the old glad rags, packed a hearty appetite, and headed down to The Plum Tree for nostalgic trip down Penny lane. And that was when we got the horrible news: our waiter informed us that Mick was no longer performing there. The disgust on our faces must have been palpable-- an explanation was pouring from his lips before we even had a chance to ask for one. As he spoke, it became obvious to us that this particular waiter had some kind of personal beef with Mick Penny. His words were dismissive, even degrading, filled with the kind of dubious gossip and slanderous doublespeak normally reserved for dead in-laws or hated celebrities. Why we didn't stand up and leave right then is still a mystery. Perhaps it was shock that kept us glued to our seats, going through the motions of ordering and eating like fleshy automatons. We hardly spoke throughout the course of our meal, but something was acknowledged between us in silent, almost telepathic tones: Goodbye, Plum Tree. Your doors have closed to us forever.

The restaurant eventually shut down, and Mick Penny vanished into the ether. He once told us that he had a new gig playing for the residents of a retirement home near his apartment. Beyond that, superstardom, I have no doubt.

Just this week, I was flipping through the used bin at our local record store. An album cover caught my eye-- INTRODUCING NEITA AND THE DRIFTERS. It was one of those albums I typically melt for, a locally pressed, homespun vanity project, the kind of record that usually features a family jug band or a high school glee club performance. The band on the cover had on matching ruffle shirts and seemed to be posed in the basement of someone's ranch home. Members aged anywhere from the early twenties to mid fifties, and judging by their earnest smiles, I figured they came together through a church function or neighborhood potluck. The record was already destined for my shelf at home-- and then I got a look at the names.


I double-taked, read it again.


Followed my thumb from the name to the picture above it, and sure enough, THERE HE WAS, longer hair, a good thirty years younger, but dammit, it was him. Clutching a guitar and grinning for all he was worth. Mick Penny, piano superman.

The record burned my fingers all the way home, and when we finally dropped it onto the turntable for a spin it was as if time stood still. There was that same honey-dipped voice, coursing like a rush of opium from our speakers. His revved up cover of "All Shook Up" almost brought us to tears. I felt like we had somehow discovered the lost prologue to his life, like we had come into his song halfway through and never heard the opening notes until just now.


And so, Mick Penny: we hope you're playing your heart out somewhere tonight, and we will never forget our Friday nights with you. Thank you for sharing your music with us, and hopefully we can do it again sometime.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Crypt of Crematia!

I interviewed my favorite childhood horror host for the local paper a few years back. This is a good time of year to revisit it, methinks.

Once upon a time, I was a disturbed young kid with a crush on the local late night TV host. Her name was Crematia Mortem, and all week long she would tease me with promos for movies like "The Tingler" and "It Came From Outer Space!" The first time I begged my folks to tape an episode of Creature Feature was a defining moment in my life: the movie for the week was "Night of the Living Dead," and from that moment forward my life was changed forever.

Over the Halloween season, I had the chance to talk to Crematia-- aka Roberta Solomon-- about Creature Feature, her cult of adoring fans, and how she's kept herself busy since the golden years of late night television. This is what she had to say...

SM: Creature Feature ran from 1981-1988. Where did the idea for the show come from? Were you inspired by any other horror hosts of the day? What was initial reaction to the show like? What were the circumstances surrounding its cancellation?

CM: I started out at KSHB (in Kansas City) in 1981, hosting the Saturday edition of "All Night Live." That show had become the station's most popular program, and was hosted during the week by Ed Muscare. "Uncle Ed" had a huge following, and every night thousands of viewers would tune in to recite the "All Night Live Creed" with himand stay up late for an evening of silliness. This was a precious era in TV history, really. Before the growth of the big cable companies, individual stations owned the movies they aired. KSHB was not a network affiliate yet, had a lot of time to fill in the evenings, and a basement full of awful movies they ran at night and on weekends. "All Night Live" pulled weekday evenings together in one very silly package.

In '81, KSHB decided to expand "All Night Live" to include Saturday nights, and because Ed Muscare didn't want to do the show six days a week, the station held auditions for a weekend host. I had very little TV experience beyond a couple of classes at UMKC, but had been on the stage all my life. My audition was dreadful (I auditioned as a country-western singer who wandered into the studio by mistake) but the pickings must have been pretty slim because they hired me. Two weeks later, I went on the air, live, as "Sally Roberts." I had to change my name because the easy listening radio station I worked for at the time was worried I might get weird on TV, so they thought it best if I turned into someone else. It was a wonderful experience, hosting that show, and the response was very positive. On the weekends, however, KSHB played monster movies. My comic elements were tied to what Uncle Ed was doing during the week, but didn't have much to do with the movies we were showing. The station decided that it was easier to change me than to change the movies, so they approached me about creating a creepy new character to host the show. I came up with the name Crematia. My good friend Walt Bodine, who worked across the hall from me at the radio station, gave Crematia her last name, Mortem. I remember sitting in the studio with him and laughing like crazy over that name. It was perfect. So, on my last night as Sally Roberts on "All Night Live," I told the audience I'd been canned and that the following week they'd have a new host. I wasn't sure who they'd found to replace me or where she came from, I said, but I was sure she was a "character they dug up from somewhere." The following week, Crematia made her debut as the hostess of the "Creature Feature."

The response was amazing. Since KSHB was a superstation at the time, reaching several Midwestern states on cable, the audience was huge and we drew viewers from all over. The show was hugely popular, and was a big part of the growing-up-years of a lot of people. Even though we've been off the air now for over 15 years, I still get letters every month from people who want to know if the show's ever coming back.

Toward the end of the Creature Feature's run, KSHB became a Fox affiliate. As their committment to programming from the network grew, my show kept getting pushed back later and later and the audience started to change. The beauty of that show was that it was a family thing--moms, dads, kids, grandparents and babysitters would watch it together and groan at Crematia's bad jokes. But starting the show at midnight meant that I'd lose a good portion of my audience--what parent will let their kids stay up to watch a show that doesn't start until midnight? The Creature Feature was cancelled when I decided to leave.

SM: For those in the audience who haven't seen the show, could you please describe the basic premise? (Who was Crematia? Who were the side characters? etc...)

CM: I never really figured out where Crematia came from. "The other side," I guess. She was vaguely a vampire. (I remember lots of references to making a withdrawal from the blood bank.) She was several hundred years old. Mortem was her married name. (She was a hyphenate, actually. Crematia Post-Mortem.) She slept in a coffin (which was given to my ex-husband by an undertaker in Leavenworth) and lived with a couple of servants, Dweeb and Rasputin, who were never seen. Dweeb was referred to as the "man in the wall," because Crematia had walled him up in her house for some unnamed offense. Both characters were created by Paul Murphy, who was KSHB's "station voice" at the time.

Crematia had a very weird and wonderful family who showed up in episodes from time to time. Her sister Cremora was played by Katey McGuckin, who is the reigning queen of Kansas City morning radio, heard each day on Oldies 95. Their mother, Desiree, was brought to life by actor and comedian C. Wayne Owens, and was later played by Katey's husband, John Woolam. Both of those guys looked lovely in a dress. Along with Cremora and Mom, there was Weird Cousin Henry, a loopy but harmless lunatic played by Steve Bell. You hear Steve these days doing news on KCUR-FM.

SM: Do you have any favorite moments from the show? Behind the scenes memories?

CM: Oh, man. I had nine years of favorite moments so it's really hard to pick a favorite. One episode stands out, however. We had this kid on the show who'd made a giant paper mache monster costume that had stilts inside for the legs. He fitted himself into this get-up and when it was fully assembled, he was about 9 feet tall. We were playing some "giant monster from outer space" movie that night and the kid's creature was a perfect tie-in. We did these bits all night long where Crematia was looking for her "perfect man" through video dating services and the like, without having much luck. In the last few breaks, we were going to have this giant monster wander onstage and Crematia would announce she'd found her man! It was the monster, however, who actually wound up falling for Crematia. When the kid shuffled onstage in his 9-foot-tall costume, one of his paper mache boots got caught on the edge of the rug and he lost his balance. I looked up and saw him falling, in slow motion, like a tree. He landed with a thud on the floor, trapped inside the costume, and there was this horrible moment of silence. Then I heard him say, weakly..."Somebody get me out of here, please." He was fine, but couldn't be convinced to get back inside the costume again to finish the bit. We made do somehow, but I really felt bad for him. He was embarrassed more than anything.

A few months after the Creature Feature was cancelled, KSHB-TV became an NBC affiliate. To inaugurate the station, Tom Brokaw was brought into Kansas City to anchor the Nightly News from the network's newest station. I happened to be driving by the station during the 6:00 news and laughed out loud when I thought, "I wonder if Tom Brokaw knows that there's a coffin leaning against the wall behind him right now?"

SM: Did you pick out the movies each week? What were some of your favorites? (My personal favorite: The Brain That Wouldn't DIE!)

CM: I was NOT responsible for the movies!! They were chosen by the station, and The Brain that Wouldn't Die is definitely among my favorites. I also LOVED those wonderful Hammer Films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, the Japanese monster movies (Destroy All Monsters is one of the best), and in particular the Mexican monster movies with wrestlers in the leading roles.

SM: There is a large underground devoted to preserving the memory of Late Night Horror Hosts. What do you think the interest is, after all these years? Do you see this as a sign of some type of revivalism? Are Horror Hosts on the comeback? What advice do you have for any up-and-coming Horror Hosts?

CM: The kids who grew up with horror hosts are now in their 30's with kids of their own and they're eager to pass along the magic of their growing-up years. There's definitely a sense of nostalgia about the TV horror genre and I do consider it a unique American folk art. I think it's due in part to the fact that you couldn't find those movies anywhere else at the time. The show existed before every home had a VCR, before the advent of cable, and before everyone had access to everything. I get so many inquiries about Crematia, and I know that interest is surging. In the coming months, there's a documentary coming out about TV horror hosts called "American Scary." (www.americanscary.com) I was just one of at least 50 former hosts featured in the film. There are a number of people out there who'd like to become monster movie hosts, so I know the interest is still there. The major challenge these days is finding an outlet. Stations devote so much time to network and syndicated programming that there's not much local time available. A lot of the hosts who are still on the air are on local cable channels or internet sites.

SM: Obviously, there is still interest in Crematia Mortem... I punched her name into GOOGLE and got several pages worth of information. It was nice to see I wasn't the ONLY who was warped by you as a child! Does Crematia ever make public appearances? Are there any plans to resurrect her character?

CM: I haven't appeared as Crematia since the show went off the air. When I did make public appearances, it was always for a non-profit event. I never wanted the use Crematia to sell a product, and felt a real obligation to use that character to do good things in the community. I would love to bring her back for a Halloween special or a limited-run thing, but at this point wouldn't be able to do the show again on a weekly basis. Contrary to what you may have guessed, the Creature Feature was a lot of work!!

SM: Tell me a little about your voiceover work. It seems that your voice is all over the place these days. How did you initially become involved as a voiceover artist? Where can your voice be heard?

CM: I was in radio before I got into TV, and I've been doing voice work since I got started in the business. It's full time work now. I'm the voice of about 40 radio and television stations in the U.S. and U.K., including KCPT here in Kansas City, WGHB/Boston, KEZK-FM in St. Louis and WMGC-FM/Detroit. You can hear me now doing promos for Animal Planet's newest show "World Gone Wild," and I'm the voice of HBO/Asia.

SM: Finally, how can I get one of those sweet Crematia Mortem promo cards?

CM: Get down on your knees and beg!


Night of the Eighties

My favorite "Night of..." movies form the 80's, when cable TV was still somewhat psychotronic:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Terror in the Crypt of Haunted Fear!

Every year we eagerly anticipate the newest incarnation of SPIRIT: THE HALLOWEEN STORE! And every year, we are alternately delighted and repulsed by the latest and greatest in seasonal shenanigans.

I brought along a camera this year to document our annual pilgrimage. We managed to squeeze in fifteen minutes or so of photographs before one of the employees ordered us to stop taking pictures "for SECURITY reasons."

Luckily, we got everything we needed before they sicced the goon squad on us. Feel free to use these pictures to help sponsor an Al Quaeda-style takeover of Halloween, 2009:

Lair of the executioner
Need a hand
Aw, Rats
Chain of Heads
Toxic Friend
Crypt of Really Scary Shit
Which Witch
dead babies
Ma n Pa
Mr Grabby Hands
Baby Satan

I would like to make an IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT-- as of NOW, Halloween Season 2009, the following costumes are absolutely FORBIDDEN until the end of forever:

Insane Clown Posse-themed "Scary Carnival" bullshit...
bad clowns

Adult Baby Accessories...
Adult Baby 2
Adult baby 3

All forms of SEXY WITCHERY...
stripperwitch 2
stripperwitch 1

Frat-party-ready DRINKIN' AND SCREWIN'! costumes...
Lame Keg Costume
Lame Socket Costume

And, of course, ALL FORMS OF RACE-BASED CARICATURES. Seriously, what century is this? If places like this could get away with selling blackface, you know they would.
White Bear
MC Poser

Of course, I'm always happy to see some of the old classics sticking around. Two of my personal favorites being GORILLA MASKS and OVERSIZED CARTOON HANDS:

Cartoon hands

I'll report back with an update on our haul soon, but right now we gotta get our asses to Kansas City and play a goddamn rock show!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Whistle, A Wink, and a Smile....

Details from an old grindhouse poster book I picked up for a quarter at Lost Eras in Chicago:



Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gato Contra Perro!

While trying to dig up info on two of my favorite rock combos (Los Saicos and Los Rockets, respectively), I stumbled across these gems:

Looks like I've got some new favorites to add to the list!

Things I Love About My Home State

Every time I start to really sweat my Kansas existence, something comes along and reminds me why this is sometimes the most beautiful state in the nation.


, courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Skatetown, USA (1979)

If you like disco, skates, bare chests, and leather belt whipping, Swayze was your man.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Weekend With The Spook Lights

We played a show over the weekend with our newest friends, BAD BLOOD REVIVAL and STUPID PARTY.


BAD BLOOD REVIVAL play fashionably savage dirge rock distilled from equal parts Black Sabbath and Killdozer. The kind of stuff that soundtracked my juvenile delinquency, as it were. I'm more than happy to see it coming back into style.

STUPID PARTY, on the other hand, are more of a low-fi, snarling fuzz outfit, dirty punks with the occasional surprising pop edge. Think early Dinosaur Jr, but drunker and with less attitude. A thirty minute blast of sound that warmed my spirit from head to toe.

All said, it was some of the most fun I've had in a while. I got drunk on whiskey and Night Train, then whacked myself in the face with a microphone before our band had even finished setting up. Curvacia was both lovely and lethal (as always), Jet Boy showed the audience that HAIRDRESSERS DO IT BETTER, and Zeppelina and The Meld once again proved to be a rock-solid rhythm unit, which proved to be a big help when I fell over backwards in a booze-induced stupor. Thanks for backing me up, gang!

An extra special THUMBS DOWN goes out to the crusty kids who tried to lure our door guy into the alleyway for a group beatdown. Tsk tsk tsk, kids... Don't they teach manners in school anymore?

Next weekend, we're onstage with LABRETTA SUEDE AND THE MOTEL 6 at Kansas City's very own RECORD BAR. And if you can't hold out that long before seeing us again, I would advise grabbing a ROLLER DERBY WORKOUT DVD and grooving to "Curvacia's Theme" while you trim off this summer's beer gut. See you at the rink!

Kong Awaits!

I was jolted last year by THIS POST at Secret Fun Spot. As a child, Dinosaur World (or Land of Kong as it was then known) was the site of my fondest vacation memories. My parents took us there on a whim after visiting Silver Dollar City (a spectacle which deserves an entire blog of its own someday) and my child-brain was immediately melted by the SHEER AWESOME POWER of it all. Even as an adult, reflecting on that vacation, I always had trouble believing that something that incredible could ever exist in the world... So, of course, I convinced Curvacia to revisit the magic with me.

It took some searching, but we finally found it, buried deep in the hills of northern Arkansas. Little did I know our visit to Dinosaur World would be one of the last visits anyone would pay there, ever.

welcome to dinosaur world!
dino kiss
Land of Kong!
Jurassic Pork
Not a nice thing to do.
Kong Awaits!