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Review: A Stranger Among the Living

Published May 29, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

A Stranger Among the Living

I think the true social importance of horror films is how we often readily identify with the characters at the heart of a story’s bloody crisis. It would have been much more difficult me for to survive my rural, often un-fabulous childhood without Halloween’s Laurie and Friday the 13th Part 3’s Chris filling me with determination and hope. Similarly, the gateway into openly gay writer-director Chris Moore’s moody chiller A Stranger Among the Living is how much we sympathize and relate to Henry Lyle, the film’s sensitive lead who finds his life thrown off balance after a violent crime occurs at his place of work.

A struggling actor with an emotionally suffocating mother, Lyle finds himself shadowed here by mysterious figures after he switches assignments with a fellow teacher in order to attend an audition. When his coworker expires in a school shooting, he soon realizes, much like Carnival of Souls’ Mary Henry or Final Destination’s Alex Browning, that death isn’t quite through with him yet.

Played with quiet conviction by the talented Jake Milton, Lyle is already burdened by the time we meet him. Unfulfilled with his career path, he is seemingly afraid to commit too fully to any life choice less he be disappointed. He is uninterested in romance, making him perhaps the first asexual protagonist in a genre project. But even the virgin as final girl/guy trope may not save him as his friends and family soon begin to disappear or meet mysterious fates.

A Stranger Among the Living 2That Moore makes those supporting contemporaries an often sympathetic and aggregable bunch is another of this film’s strengths. Even as she tries to strangle the few tremulous ambitions that Henry retains, actress Victoria Posey brings a soft vulnerability to Patsy, Lyle’s needy, traumatized mother. Moore, himself, brings a ray of fun and energy into the film’s world with his take on the flamboyant Jarvis Coker, a zany addict who ingratiates himself into Henry’s life after they meet at a support group.

As with his previous films, including Blessed Are the Children and Triggered, Moore applies a bit of political consciousness here, as well. But, most importantly, with Henry he presents us with a character that reflects the insecurities and indecisions that we all so often face in a world that seems odder and more hostile with every passing moment.

More information on Stranger, including screening events and links, is available at https://www.facebook.com/astrangeramongtheliving/.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Music to Make Horror Movies By: Madelyn von Ritz/Lynn Castle

Published May 24, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Lynn Al

Without a doubt When I Close My Eyes I See Blood is one of the most memorable songs on the soundtrack of William Friedkin’s notorious Cruising. As the music wildly escalates, the ragged vocals seem to barely escape from the singer’s throat. In fact, one could imagine that this desperate sounding performer was picked out of the heroin-soaked chorus of some dimly lit drag revue and then discarded on the street the moment the track was set to tape. But Madelyn von Ritz, who perfectly matched the forbidden horror of the film’s milieu with the number, was actually a talented artist who went on to score a variety of ‘90s film projects, proving that old adage that sometimes talent and beauty are just not enough to make a permanent mark in show business.

Ritz’s story is actually more fascinating than many celluloid journeys, though. Growing up in less than ideal circumstances, she escaped through the magic of fairy tales and music. As Lynn Castle. she gained recognition in the ‘60s as a barber and when she wasn’t writing, she was catering to the longer hair of such notables as Sonny Bono and Lee Hazlewood. After making quick appearances on several television shows and films, her song Lady Barber caught the ears of Hazlewood. They eventually recorded that track and one other. Neither made an impact on the charts. Riding this mild momentum, Castle also put an album’s worth of demos to tape around the same time. Unfortunately, those unique numbers remained a mysterious trade secret for almost 40 years. Thankfully, intrepid music purveyors Light in the Attic released them on a special edition LP in 2017 and the world is finally discovering the rare, psychedelic beauty of this long-neglected songstress.

We have all been to the Castle…and our lives will never be the same!

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Lynn Castle

 

Va-Va-Villainess: Mara Corday

Published May 23, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Mara Corday (1954)

“A disgusting turn of events, Mr. Gunn. You’ve wasted everybody’s evening. It’s going to cost you!” – Emily (Mara Corday)

Keep Smiling, the 26th episode of Peter Gunn, the suave jazz flecked detective series created by Blake Edwards, has to be one of the hippest half hours of television ever produced. Directed by the legendary Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man), this episode accentuates its coolness most fully at the story’s midpoint. As acclaimed drummer Shelly Manne manipulates the skins on stage, Gunn (Craig Stevens) puts the hooks into Mara Corday’s sexy serial blackmailer while an eager whistleblower (played by The Addams Family’s Jackie Coogan) looks on.

Mara TarantulaCorday, of course, efficiently and naturally played a series of valiant heroines in such science fiction-horror pictures as The Giant Claw, The Black Scorpion and (the Arnold directed) Tarantula. Here, she obviously relishes being the bad girl, biting into her lines with acidic menace. It’s a tart performance that radiates with a calm evil, proving that Corday was a step above many of the other model-actresses who played similar roles in that same period of time.

The 90-year-old Corday, who parlayed her longtime friendship with Clint Eastwood into roles in several of his films, is still active at http://maracorday.com/. Those wishing to indulge in the full ecstasies of her presence can find Keep Smiling on Amazon Prime, as well.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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mara

Music to Make Horror Movies By: Ethel Ennis

Published May 17, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Ethel Ennis

Her take on The Star-Spangled Banner may have helped heal the nation during the Viet Nam War, but joyful terror tykes across the continents are probably most aware of the smooth tones of the divine Ethel Ennis due to her singing the theme song of the stop motion classic Mad Monster Party.

Credited as being a jazz icon, Ennis did not like to be sonically labeled, preferring to add her lilting personality and unique presence into whatever genre of music that she chose to sing.

But she was proud to be claimed by her native Baltimore as one of their prime attractions, dying at the age of 86 in 2019 after dedicating nearly 70 years of her life to the arts.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Ethel Ennis Mad Monster Party

Hopelessly Devoted To: Marilyn Maxwell

Published May 16, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Marilyn Maxwell

Whether mocking the heroics of action cinema in 1956’s Forever Darling or reacting perfectly to the antics of comic Red Skeleton as the two explored a haunted house on his long running variety show, Marilyn Maxwell was always on the mark. One of those eclectically zaftig blondes that never got the attention she deserved despite her multiple talents, Maxwell has probably been best known, and then only to aggressive cinephiles, as the agreeable accomplice to such legends as Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and Skeleton.

Marilyn Maxwell Swing FeverBeginning her career as a beautiful background artist, often cast as supple showgirls, in such MGM epics as Presenting Lily Mars and Du Barry Was a Lady (which featured both Ball and Skeleton), Maxwell eventually graduated to leading roles in such silly efforts as The Show Off (again with Skeleton) and The Lemon Drop Kid (with Hope). Her first major role as entertainer Ginger Gray in 1943’s Swing Fever even had a bit of a genre connotation as it revolved around the ridiculous exploits of a band leader cursed with an evil eye.

Skilled as a singer and dancer, Maxwell was also a hit in USO shows for the troops during WWII and the Korean War. Apparently, she was a hit with Rock Hudson as well and, thusly, has been sporadically entering the news again as Hudson’s public profile blossoms due to Ryan Murphy’s recently released Hollywood series. Apparently, after initially being set up as one of the gay actor’s beards, the two quickly grew close and even contemplated marriage. Some reports even claim that their relationship may have gone past the friendship stage. Marilyn Maxwell and Rock Hudson 2

But more than anything, Maxwell, who died at the very young age of 50 due to heart problems, deserves to be remembered for her magnetic performances and joyful spirit. She was definitely one of kind and one can imagine her spirit occasionally sprinkling out into the starlight, creating glittery energy and hopeful wanderlust for all those weary small-town kids living only for their future dreams.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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Marilyn Haunted Red

Maxwell haunted house hunting with Red

 

Va-Va-Villainess: Katharine Hepburn

Published May 2, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Katherine Suddenly 3

Coming on like a perfect precursor to the diva heavy Gothic horrors of the ‘60s and ‘70s (including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and many others), 1959’s Suddenly Last Summer gave the divine Katherine Hepburn a chance to bring a wickedly flawed character to the screen in the form of the matriarchal, incredibly wealthy Violet Venable.

As Venable uses all of her considerable influence to insure the lobotomization of her niece Catherine Holly, played with busty emotion by Elizabeth Taylor, Hepburn does add sympathetic touches to her portrayal (as any fine craftswoman would). Still, she doesn’t shy away from the uncontrollably evil nature of her character, ultimately creating a detailed look at a society matron compelled to carry out one of celluloid history’s more heinous acts.1959. Katharine HEPBURN during the filming of "Suddenly Last Summer."

Based on Tennessee Williams’ grotesque one act play, Hepburn’s own androgyny adds to the overriding gay mystique this piece offers up, as well. The screenplay here was not only adapted by queer literary icon Gore Vidal, but co-star Montgomery Clift, a performer whose sexual attraction to men has been well documented in various books on film history, gives it an inclusive vibe, as well.

 

Nicely, horror lovers on all sides of the spectrum can appreciate the visual background for the first meeting of the characters played by Clift and Hepburn. As Venable lays out her plans while walking through the mondo crazed garden of her estate, viewers can almost feel its macabre presence, entering them into a world akin to the twisted creations of Clive Barker and HR Giger.

 

LGBTQIA fans, though, will be glad that characters like Sebastian Venable, the unseen homosexual son of Venable who controls the plot from beyond his grave, are becoming rarer and rarer. A twisted individual who used both Hepburn’s grand dame and Taylor’s innocent minx, his is an example of the other at it’s most perverse, another artifact of how our community was considered to be akin to  chosen sickness and disease for decades.Katherine Suddenly

Hepburn, meanwhile, embraced the eccentricity of roles like Eleanor of Aquitaine (The Lion in Winter) and Countess Aurelia (The Madwoman of Chaillot) in the coming decades, but never again reached the divine fervor of her exquisite, unapproachable work here.

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Suddenly poster

Horror Mash-Up: Mae Clarke and Lon Chaney, Jr.

Published April 25, 2020 by biggayhorrorfan

Lon NAAS

Screen legend Robert Mitchum tussled with such bad asses as Lee Marvin, George Kennedy, Jean Simmons and Jane Russell onscreen throughout his career as Hollywood’s smoothest tough guy. In 1955’s melodramatic medical drama Not As A Stranger this maverick met his match, though, while appearing opposite two of Universal Horror’s shining lights.

Here the incomparable Lon Chaney Jr., who appeared most famously as the original Wolf Man, dominates his tiny bit of screen time opposite Mitchum’s emotionally remote medical student Lucas March. As March’s alcoholic father, Chaney brings his own experience with that insidious disease to the fore, creating a truly sorrowful, emotionally impactful presence. Of course, those who have appreciated Chaney’s latter-day work in such projects as Spider Baby know what an amazing dramatic performer that he was.

Mae NAAS

Once March graduates, he wanders into the orbit of Mae Clarke’s steely Odell, a nurse who questions his knowledge and authority. A far cry from Frankenstein’s victimized Elizabeth, Clarke resonates with a determined attitude and a sense of unique force. Nicely, her final moments opposite Mitchum do give her a chance to show a tart sympathy, allowing her to create a rounded portrait within the few quick scenes that she is given to perform in.

Mae Lon Classic

Masters of their craft. Chaney and Clarke deserve recognition for all their celluloid contributions. A quick online search of their credits should lead you into many fascinating cinematic journeys.

Happy hunting and…

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

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