Category Archives: childhood myths and obsessions

And it’s gone: 3490 Bluff Road

3490 tower

I’m startled that, after I finally made a pilgrimage to 3490 Bluff Road, it’s now gone.

A few weeks back in this spot, I talked about visiting 3490 Bluff Road this fall. The address, on Indianapolis’ south side, was for decades the studio of WTTV 4, the independent TV station that was the home of Dick the Bruiser and other wrestlers, kids’ show hosts Cowboy Bob and Janie and late-night horror host Sammy Terry.

I just got around to going to see the station building, which hadn’t been used in a decade and had been for sale for several years … and now it’s gone.

3490 addy sign

The Indianapolis Star reported recently that 3490 Bluff Road was demolished.

It’s no more.

I’m glad I got a chance to check it out before it was gone.

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Classic horror: Universal’s ‘Mummy’ movies

Mummy's_Hand_

It’s hard to imagine how a shambling, vengeance-seeking collection of bones and old cloth ever became a horror film sensation.

And yet: The Mummy.

One of the classic Universal monsters, the Mummy might not have the same level of recognition and shivery admiration as Dracula or Frankenstein or even the Wolf Man, but he’s nevertheless a favorite for some of us, inspiring reboots in recent years and cameoing in movies and cartoons for generations.

Universal’s first entry in the series, “The Mummy,” was released in 1932 and starred Boris Karloff. Made at a time that the world was still fascinated by ancient artifacts discovered – some might say stolen from – ancient Egyptian tombs, the movie was more atmospheric and creepy than monsteriffic.

For me, the best of the Mummy’ moments came with the sequels.

Beginning with the dawn of the 1940s, Universal released four sequels: “The Mummy’s Hand” (1940), “The Mummy’s Tomb” (1942) and “The Mummy’s Ghost’ and “The Mummy’s Curse” (both in 1944).

These movies portrayed the Mummy as a bandage-swathed, limping killer, sympathetic when he’s used by manipulative masters but an inexorable killer – granted, a slowly paced one – that stalks young women who are reincarnated versions of his lost love.

Tom Tyler, who had played Captain Marvel and was best known as a cowboy movie star, played the Mummy, Kharis, in the first sequel. This one was perhaps the creepiest for one of the Mummy’s features: Supernaturally dark eyes visible through gaps in his bandages.

The next three films betray the ever-cheaper budgets Universal was willing to allow for the movies. Each of the four sequels made use of footage from the earlier films, but the practice seemed more standard as the series wore on.

Mummys_Tomb

The three final films in the four-movie sequel series starred Lon Chaney – a star for Universal in “The Wolf Man” following in Tyler’s stuttering footsteps. It was a mark of how quickly Chaney’s star had fallen that he went from playing Universal’s most tortured and likable monster to being unrecognizable as the Mummy.

mummys curse

One of the oddest elements of the series was the passage of time, which meant that later installments took place in the 1970s – albeit a very 1940s-style 1970s.

The time jump was nearly equaled in “say what?” by the switch in locales from Egypt to the United States, finding the Mummy and his masters turning up in first Massachusetts then Cajun country.

As much as I love “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” there’s something to be said for the comedians’ meeting with the Mummy in 1955 that, for pure and simple thrills and laughs, very nearly beats the A&C classic monsterfest that was originally released in 1948.

jonny quest mummy curse of anubis

As for those cameos: One of my favorite episodes of “Jonny Quest,” the classic 1964 primetime animated adventure series, is “Curse of Anubis,” in which Jonny and the Quest gang go to Egypt when antiquities come up missing and murders are committed. There’s plenty of human villainy, of course, but striding through the mix is a mummy – maybe the Mummy. There’s no doubt the wonderfully atmospheric scenes of the Mummy stalking victims – sights familiar to anyone who had been watching the Universal films in their early TV showings – inspired plenty of goosebumps.

Not bad for a shambling bunch of bones.

‘Wrinkle in Time’ deserves another look

a wrinkle in time

I think I’m going to have to re-read “A Wrinkle in Time.” Seriously, this time.

Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 story, about young siblings and a friend who journey through space and time to rescue their scientist father, was a favorite of mine when I was a kid.

I was a little romantic, you see, and the book’s earnest tone and loving characters appealed to me.

I read one or two of L’Engle’s sequels but the first book really stuck with me.

And then I tried to read it again a year or two ago.

I couldn’t get through it. I couldn’t even get very far into it.

I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and I still love some Young Adult books, especially “The Hunger Games” trilogy.

But re-reading “A Wrinkle in Time” almost made me swoon from all the saccharine dialogue and heartfelt feelings.

I’ll try reading it again because I want to experience this favorite story again before the movie comes out.

Yes, apparently Jennifer Lee, who wrote and co-directed “Frozen,” wants to write a screenplay for a long-planned movie version of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

I haven’t seen “Frozen” but it seems like Lee is the right person to add some bite to “Wrinkle.”

So I’ll try it again and see if anything can re-ignite my love for this old story.

Classic TV: ‘Superman on Earth’

the adventures of superman

It’s hard to overstate just what an impact “The Adventures of Superman” had on America in the 1950s.

Kids were comic-book crazy back then and comics had sold millions of copies a year for more than a decade. Superman was one of the most popular and when the DC Comics superhero hit TV, a generations-long love affair with the Man of Steel became as solid as steel bars, breakable only by Superman himself.

A great deal of the credit for the impact of the series goes to “Superman on Earth,” a lean and sturdy telling of Superman’s origin directed by veteran helmer Tommy Carr. The series – which started in black and white, as befits a show that revolved around gangsters, hoods and other film noir staples more than science fiction – sparked millions of Superman toys, Halloween costumes and, eventually, more movies and TV shows over the course of six seasons beginning in the fall of 1952.

The debut episode hews surprisingly closely to the Superman mythos as they’d been created and fleshed out in the comics and radio show.

superman on earth jor-el rocket

The story opens on Krypton, as scientist Jor-El tries to tell the Kryptonian ruling council about the eminent destruction of the planet. They scoff at his forecast as well as his plan to build rocketships to transport the population to the planet Earth.

Before Jor-El can complete a rocket to take him, Lara and baby Kal-El to Earth, Krypton begins to tear itself apart. Jor-El and Lara wrap little Kal in a blanket and place him in the rocket.

in these first 10 minutes or so, the show plays like a “Flash Gordon”-style space opera – complete with, legend says, “Flash Gordon” leftover costumes.

After the rocket gets to Earth, it’s the heartfelt but hokey Smallville portion of the story, with Eben and Sarah Kent finding the rocket from Krypton and deciding to keep the baby. Flash forward to Clark at age 12, asking Ma why he’s different from the other boys. Then flash forward to Clark’s 25th “birthday” and Pa’s heart attack. As is familiar from so many iterations of the story, Clark decides to leave Smallville and go to Metropolis.

There’s a funny shot of George Reeves as Clark, “walking” down the sidewalks of Metropolis, putting on glasses as a disguise and deciding to become a reporter because newspapers were where the action is and Superman would know immediately when trouble broke out.

One of the strengths of the series was that Clark was a sharp guy who leveraged his powers as Superman in his everyday life. After gruff Daily Planet editor Perry White brushes him off – even after Clark shows initiative by entering his office through the window, 28 floors up – Clark hears Lois tell Perry about a man hanging from a dirigible out at the airport. Clark bargains with Perry: If he can get the man’s exclusive story, he’ll get a reporter job.

Superman shows up, rescues the man – played by Dabbs Greer, later memorable as the minister in “Little House on the Prairie,” and gets his story – frustrating Lois and winning the job.

The show wraps up with a customary joke by Clark – “Maybe I’m Superman” he taunts Lois – and bang, in less than a half hour, the show has introduced America to the the world’s greatest superhero.

Classic shlock: ‘Incredibly Strange Creatures’

incredibly strange creatures lobbycard

I’ve written about the 1964 low-budget classic, “The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies” before, notably my memories of seeing it at a drive-in with an older relative.

I didn’t touch on the movie all that much, though.

Ray Dennis Steckler directed and stars – under his pseudonym Cash Flagg – and I guess you could argue he’s a forerunner to the director/stars we’re familiar with from today. His performance isn’t horrible but he’s undercut by the low, low-budget of his own movie.

incredibly-strange-hypnotism

The movie follows a group of friends who visit a carnival and stumble upon bad guys who hypnotize, disfigure and enslave people, turning them into, in effect, zombie slaves.

The movie has the telltale leisurely pace of a low-budget flick. For what seems like forever, characters wander around, gazing at stuff, talking about nothing. There seem to be endless scenes of arty dance numbers, totally out of place at a nightclub. Watching one of these movies makes you appreciate how a well-written, well-edited movie … well, moves.

Considering the movie was touted as “the first monster musical,” I know what Steckler was going for. But sheesh. I lost track of how many musical numbers were included.

incredibly strange creatures dance number

A dancing girls sequence seems to have been shot in a community theater, and the producers were intent on getting their money’s worth because the scene goes on and on .. and then is followed by another musical sequence. Cue up “Let’s All Go to the Lobby!”

Likewise, scenes of a nightclub comic are so bad they almost seem like a modern-day parody.

Not to mention the interpretive dance/dream sequence.

After a quick break to hypnotize a victim … it’s another musical performance!

Endless shots of carnival rides.

The cheapness of the movie’s production really stands out when you see how many sets look cheaper than your standard 1960s sitcom living room – and that’s the most lavish sets here. The fortune-teller set, which consists of a few drapes and blackout curtains, isn’t as bad as the plywood airplane cockpit in “Plan Nine,” but it’s pretty bad.

Something has to be said about the hairstyles of the three leads. They are, respectively, a receding combover, a towering pompadour and a huge and baffling head of helmet hair.

When the “Incredibly Strange Creatures” finally break loose with about 15 minutes left in the movie … it’s time for another musical sequence. Steckler really knew how to build suspense!

For a real treat, seek out the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” version of the movie from 1997. It’s available through Hulu online and Mike Nelson and the robots’ version of “Incredibly Strange Creatures” is just as funny as you’d think it would be.