Saturday afternoon creature feature? Sure!

Back when I was a kid, the local stations would have the creature features with the horror host on Friday and Saturday night, but they’d also show them on Saturday afternoons for the kids. It’s Saturday Afternoon. Are you ready for The Giant Spider Invasion? It stars, sorta, Alan Hale Jr. as the sheriff — he’s better known as the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.

The first lines of dialog:

Young man: “Sheriff!”
Alan Hale Jr: “Hi, little buddy!”

Because of course they are.

Other notable facts: it takes place in northern Wisconsin, but none of the residents seem at all perturbed at finding tarantulas all over the place. Just the usual house spiders, I guess.

The big bad monster is cheesy and fake, but by the standards of low budget horror/skiffy of the day, it’s actually not too bad. They do a good job of framing it with the camera so you can’t see the puppeteers wiggling the legs and moving it along. I want one.

Also by the standards of the genre, they did an OK job imitating the chelicerae of a mygalomorph.

The story ends with an abrupt deus ex machina, but it’s really an excuse to show buckets of multi-colored goo and slime oozing out to an excessive degree from the dead spider puppet. Young me would have appreciated it.

Sex and folk songs

Often, on a weekend I’d go to our local theater to see whatever was booked, no matter what it was. That was right out this weekend for two reasons. One, the movie playing was I Still Believe, “The true-life story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp and his journey of love and loss that looks to prove there is always hope.” Jesus. No. Just no. The theater does this every once in a while, booking some dreadful Christian dreck, usually at the request of local churches, to lure in the believers. They tend to come in droves. I wondered whether this was a cunning plan to bring in a mass of Christians to cross contaminate each other and terminate that ugly segment of the population, but no, the people who run the theater are nice and try to be accommodating to the community. Only I am wicked enough to imagine using cheesy evangelical Xian movies to seduce the faithful into embracing an epidemic.

Besides, the second reason I couldn’t go to the movies was that the theaters are all shut down. The plan was foiled.

But I still have Netflix! I started browsing, and perhaps it was my anti-Xian fuming that made it leap out at me, but The Wicker Man is available. No, not The Wicker Man, the 2006 abomination with Nicolas Cage, but the original 1973 movie with Edward Woodward. I remember seeing it when it first came out and enjoying it, but that was almost 50 years ago. It was memorable enough that I remember the plot. Spoilers ahead…but it is a 47 year old movie.

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Yep, that’s the New Jersey I know

Little known fact: in 1877, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was actually trying to paint the people from New York and Philadelphia visiting the Jersey Shore. This was before the American diet made people less sinuous and lithe.

I’m guessing the skinny long-legged boys are Iguanadons lining up to swim across Arthur Kill to Tottenham, while mosasaurs watch from the Raritan River and snakey plesiosaurs and a distinctly gargoyle-like pterosaur gawks at the vicious gang fight from the safety of South Amboy, as the the crook-necked clingy boys from Keasbey tear into the line? It’s interesting how old reconstructions seem to have just scaled up slender lizards to make dinosaurs.

Little Women was lovely!

I used the last day of my winter break to see Little Women. I hadn’t read the book, and if you’d asked me yesterday what it was about, I’d have waved my hands vaguely and mumbled “Period drama? About girls growing up?”, which wouldn’t have sounded interesting at all, but you know, I see all kinds of crap because we have one theater in town and the selection is limited, so I’d go see it anyway. Jeez, but I was clueless. It’s a fantastically thoughtful film about women who are all different and have different aspirations and have to navigate oppressive social structures and often compromise their goals…but can still sometimes find happiness. Or not. I honestly thought at the beginning that I was going to have trouble keeping track of all these women, who was who and who was trying to do what — I am infused with patriarchal bias myself — and figured it was going to be Sex and the City in rural Massachusetts in the 1860s. It is so much better than that, and the acting was phenomenal, and Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth all stood out as real and important people.

Go see it if you can.

I am now in the unusual situation of having seen three excellent movies in the last month. Little Women, obviously, and The Lighthouse (a story of a descent into madness that didn’t rely on jump scares and gore), and Parasite, about class warfare and artificial dichotomies and opportunities between the rich and the poor. There hasn’t been a single superhero in tights in the bunch, and I’ve been really, deeply enjoying my outings. Superheroes have an appropriate niche, of course, and I’ll almost certainly go see any that show up in my town, but it turns out that movies that illustrate real issues and don’t resolve everything with punching and explosions are much more satisfying. It seems I need more fiber in my cinematic diet, with only occasional bites of flamboyant desserts.

(Oh, wait, I just remembered — I also saw Jo Jo Rabbit, another terrific movie. I am overwhelmed with great films lately!)

Isolation, madness, death

The wind has begun to howl, and promises to rise. The temperatures are frigidly bitter. The first snowflakes are falling, and soon I’ll be trapped alone in my home. Alone…my wife is a thousand miles away, I’m the sole guardian of this lonely old wreck. She promises to return next week, but can you trust the airlines? I may be here forever, abandoned. Did I say alone? Not quite. There is a sullen black cat here, watching me. There is madness in her eyes. We shall be howling at each other before this is over.

Then I think, am I in a Robert Eggers film?

So I decided to watch The Lighthouse to find out. Yep, definitely. My situation could be the premise for Eggers’ next film. Fortunately, I loved it, so bring it on — one of the best films of the year.

It felt much like The Witch, moody and atmospheric, with a growing sense of dread. You know no one is getting out alive, and it’s going to be their own paranoia and fear that destroys them. Every character is flawed, and those flaws just expand in the vacuum of their isolation until they all crumble under the weight of madness. Everyone is saturated by their environment — in the case of The Lighthouse, everyone is wet and cold, and you can almost smell the sea salt coming off the screen. There is a hint of the supernatural, but you can never quite be sure whether it’s real, or if it’s insanity, the best kind of spooky.

Well, I’ve got to get back to staring down the cat, and the liquor is already running low. The movie also has great tips for dealing with that situation…turpentine & honey, hmmm? We’ll have to try that, just before one of us staggers off into the blizzard to meet…check back later to find out.

But I don’t want to go play in the snow!

Here in frigid Minnesota, there are only brief windows of time where the weather is suitable for making snowcreatures — most of the time, it’s so cold the snow doesn’t pack well, and it only takes a few minutes of exposure to get frostbite. Lately, though, the comics are all telling me the wonders of playing outside.

This has to be taking place in some warmer, neo-tropical place, like Iowa.