Thursday, October 22, 2009

Too Many Vampires?

MSNBC asks if there are too many vampire movies and TV shows. Their conclusion:

While their popularity may ebb and flow, vampires always will have a place in the audience's heart, said Nicolas Cage, who starred in 1989's "Vampire's Kiss" and was a producer on 2000's "Shadow of the Vampire."

"The vampire is always going to be fascinating," Cage said. "It's like the vigilante cop, or it's like the cowboy or the Western. It's part of the fabric of society."

I agree that vampires have a strong place in movies but there is a real possibility that they are overexposed. I remember a "what's coming" column (sorry, no link) that vampires are so 2008 and that werewolves are the new big thing. Since the next Twilight movie features werewolves, this may be hard to prove. Similarly, the Sookie Stackhouse books that Tru Blood is based on adds several other types of supernaturals into the mix.

Back in the early 1970s, Hammer Films thought that vampires were a bottomless well. Hammer released several Dracula movies (Dracula AD, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the Scars of Dracula) plus Captain Cronos Vampire Hunter, the Vampire Circus, and the Vampire Lovers. Other vampire movies and movies with vampires released around then included House of Dark Shadows, The House the Dripped Blood, Black Sabbath, and a really cheap Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

On TV, Dan Curtis followed Dark Shadows with Night Stalker, both a made for TV movie and a series, and a version of Dracula. PBS did their own adaptation of Dracula.

Inevitably, the supply exceeded demand. Most of these movies lost money and Hammer went out of business.

The vampires of today have more variety than the 1970s versions. Back then vampires were always monsters. Some, like Dark Shadow's Barnabas Collins, were sympathetic but they were still monstrous (Barnabas still drank women's blood then strangled them but he felt bad about it). Today's vampires have transcended the traditional image of the undead who thirsts for blood. Some of them are outright heroic. That gives today's vampire movies more variety but there is still a lot of them. Also, many of them are aimed at a narrow demographic that has a tendency to outgrow such things. When that happens, the next generation often establishes its own tastes.

Bottom line, there will always be vampire movies but don't bet the house on the current fad continuing much longer.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Raven

In the early 1960s, American International pumped out a series of movies loosely based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and staring Vincent Price. While The Raven was one of them, it was quite different - it was done for laughs.

I was watching the movie for the first time in years on the cable channel MyTV. It continues to be entertaining.

This is a movie that would not be made today. It is too obvious that everyone in it was having fun. Even today's comedies take themselves more seriously than the actors in the Raven.

It had an all star cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and a very young Jack Nicholson. Much of the movie is scenes with Price and Lorre and those feature a lot of ad-libbing. In one clever bit, the pair are about to open the coffin of Price's character's lost love, Lenore. Lorre's character finds nothing unusual with keeping a coffin in the house. The pair remove a velvet cover from the coffin and carefully fold it up, then Lorre tosses it over his shoulder.

The highlight of the film is the wizard's battle between Price and Karloff's characters. Unfortunately, MyTV cut the movie for time and cut out the entire battle. A shame since this made the movie a cult classic.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Coming IPhone App Crash

Newsweek has an article on how few IPhone developers actually make money. This is probably the first part of a market shakedown.

The math is pretty simple. It takes $20,000-$100,000 to develop an app. Most apps are priced low enough to be impulse purchases - around $1 and the developer only gets part of that amount. This means that you have to sell tens of thousands of apps before you break even. That might be possible except you are competing with 80,000 other apps. Unless you get very lucky and get a lot of word of mouth, no one will even find you app so you might have to spend additional money on publicity.

There is nothing mysterious about this. A new market opened up and started a gold rush. When this happens, only a very few get rich. Most people lose their shirts. Sometime soon, a lot of IPhone developers are going to move on to some other occupation.

This is a familiar pattern. When the IBM PC was first introduced there were a lot more programs available for it. A lot of those have fallen by the wayside over the years. A lot of web sites have come and gone in the last 15 years, also.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Monty Python at 40

40 years ago this month Monty Python started running on the BBC. A few years later it appeared in America on PBS. On the station I watched, it showed up at 10:00 pm on Sunday.

I started watching it fairly early. My father had been channel surfing (with only a dozen channels available you went through everything pretty fast) and left it on this for a while. I heard him laughing and turned it on in the basement. I got hooked pretty fast.

The show was unlike anything preceding it and very little after it. The general formula was to get it, tell your joke, then get out before the sketch turned stale. Often sketches would be ended by a BBC announcer, an army officer, an armored knight armed with a rubber chicken, or an animation. There were often running gags such as the Spanish Inquisition which turned up when someone said, "I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition."

Back when the show was new it was also pretty obscure. Almost no one I knew watched it. When I started college I found more people were fans. Regardless, it took it a long time to seep into the public consciousness. A movie that was nothing but clips from the tv show toured campuses but I don't think it was shown in theaters. Monty Python and the Holy Grail showed for one week in Columbus in one small theater.

The show appealed to comic book fans and there were occasional references to it in comic books. In a short-lived revival of the Metal Men, Walter Simonson slipped in a chapter title named "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition". Iron Fist's girl friend carried a Colt Python with "Monty" engraved on the barrel.

Things changed in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. The Life of Brian got a lot of notice, mainly because many people assumed that it was a parody of Christ and called for it to be banned. A lot of people went to see what the fuss was about. PBS syndicated it nightly in most markets which gave it a lot of exposure. Still, I was quite surprised that my daughter's friends could recite scenes from Holy Grail.

Modern shows like SNL could learn a lot from Monty Python. SNL in particular relies on the one-joke sketch too much. In this, there is one joke. It takes around 40 seconds for the audience to get it but they continue the sketch for five minutes or more - long past when it stopped being funny. They could really use a pompous official coming on every now and then and proclaiming that the sketch had become silly or boring and needs to stop.

Friday, October 02, 2009


50 years ago Peanuts started. It had a long run with the last new strip appearing the day of it's creator's death (Charles Shultz had actually retired a few weeks earlier). This was back in the days when every city had at least two papers and every family subscribed to at least one. Everyone read the comics.

Peanuts was special. Only children appeared but they lived in an adult world. Instead of cheap jokes, the kids worried about things like wearing away the planet by scuffing feet.

From the beginning Charlie Brown had a pet dog. In fact, Shultz's first published drawing was of a dog that looked a lot like Snoopy in Ripley's Believe It or Not. The real turning point in the strip came when Snoopy started thinking. After that he often took over the strip. He even got the last line in the last strip. 40 years ago he acquired a side-kick, a bird named Woodstock after the rock concert. Other characters were added over the years.

The strip looks dated now, especially the early ones that are currently being syndicated. The girls always wear dresses, the kids are all white and none of them come from broken families. This reflects how society saw itself at the time. Still, most of the humor still works.