Okay it is not terribly original for a movie blogger to do horror movie reviews in October, but I’m doing it anyway. My Netflix queue, DVD rack, and download folder (for the out of print rarities) are clogged with horror films I’ve been told I must see, and favorites I haven’t watched in a good while. I’ll try to have a horror movie every day, but with the new car I may have less time for bloggery.

Horror movies are their own beast. It’s hard to be truly scared by a movie as an adult. Sometimes if you’re home alone with all the lights out at night, you can get so absorbed in a horror film that the scares still work, but it’s been difficult for me. And the theater experience is even harder nowadays with jackasses talking, texting, and getting calls during movies. Before I begin this horror movie marathon, let me name my favorite horror movies and why I enjoy them so much. Most branded my childhood brain and therefore sit on the pedestal of nostalgia. It is very difficult for new movies to compete with such memories, but some have managed.

1. Poltergeist is my all-time favorite scary movie. A normal family composed of little-known actors in your standard Haunted House movie, but with so many bizarre occurrences that you are drawn in to their terror. This is also what Richard Pryor used to call a “dumb white people” movie, because “black people would move the fuck out of the house!” And I suppose that’s true. If my walls bled and disembodied voices growled “GET OUT” I’d probably high-tail it out the window in my underwear. But we can suspend disbelief for a little while, and imagine being sucked into the static of the television, or having chairs rearrange themselves behind our backs, or that creepy tree out our window suddenly decide we look pretty tasty. Some of the effects are dated- the fake faces that get torn apart, mostly- but the rest are still terrifying. When Paula Prentiss turns around and her kitchen chairs are neatly stacked on the table, it’s one of the most subtle, creepiest scenes put to film. It merges creepy classics like The Uninvited and The Haunting (1963) with Tobe Hooper’s gory sensibilities for the perfect mix of the unknown and the unfathomable.

2. The Thing (Carpenter version). Probably the pinnacle of stop-motion and traditional effects, and taking place on the loneliest spot on Earth- McMurdo Station in Antarctica. A dozen men braving the coldest of winters, we are immediately thrust into an unlikely science fiction story where anyone can be not what they seem. The sense of paranoia and isolation is driven home by the amazing score, and the “things” are still some of the most bizarre creations on film. Kurt Russell went from being a Disney movie kid to an utter bad-ass with Carpenter, and as the unseen enemy winnows down the cast we have no idea what will happen next. We’re on the edge of our seats. It’s Hitchcock-level suspense in a horror context.

3. Alien. Sure, you could say it is science fiction, but it is just a monster movie moved to space, where no one can hear you scream. Still one of the best and most memorable taglines ever written. Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon put together a great cast and made them cozy and believable, and then subject them to visceral, instinctively repulsive situations with H.R. Giger’s primal monster designs. He took simple, primal forms like the spidery, handlike “face hugger,” which not only grabs your face but essentially fucks it and pumps a larva load into your chest cavity. When it bursts out of your chest, it now resembles a snake- another creature, like spiders, that people tend to fear and hate on a primal level. And the final design goes beyond Freud to resemble a sleek black creature both phallic and technological- while later movies make it clear that it is a natural beast, Giger’s own style has always been “bio mechanics,” making uneasy mergings of flesh, steel and silicon, not unlike Cronenberg’s horrific visions in Videodrome. The story is a simple slasher tale as the fodder is devoured and the virginal female remains, but damn if it doesn’t scare you on a visceral level.
4. Videodrome. I saw this last year and regret not getting into David Cronenberg earlier. Much like Alien, it plays on our fears of the great progresses in technology. Here a late-night TV channel is affecting us, and we are not sure what is reality and nightmare anymore. The stunning visuals are still creepy today, and while the “breathing videotape” is quite dated, James Woods and his poor “hand gun” are still cringe-inducingly horrific. It helps to remember when not every station was owned by a cable conglomerate, and you could see some strange shit just flipping the channels. The mood of the film is incredibly bleak and gripping, and the ending is unexpected, shocking, and a true classic. This may not have big scares, but creepiness and sense of dread throughout are impeccable, and must be experienced.

5. The Shining. This is one of Kubrick’s masterpieces, and Stephen King fans be damned, it is still one of the best horror movies ever made even if it strays far from the storyline. It takes several viewings to understand just how fucked up Jack and family are before they arrive at the Overlook Hotel, and what happens there is now among the greatest haunted house tales ever put to film. This film is an old friend to me now, and I watch it every year when the snow comes down. Like The Thing, it makes use of the isolation winter brings, and the cast is full of archetypal characters. Jack with the rage bubbling beneath the surface, fearful Shelley Duvall who is obviously an abused wife, though we never see it, and little Danny, the child of an enraged, unloving father who flees to an inner world and deals with powers he cannot comprehend. I’m not sure if Scatman Crothers is the first Magical Negro on film, but he’s definitely the best. The film also has a lot of dark humor, that it takes several viewings to realize in its richness. Check out Scatman’s art collection, for example. All these years later, I’m still on the edge of my seat when they try to escape the hotel and its hedge maze. It’s a tale by a master storyteller twisted to a master director’s ends, and while it may not be King’s vision, it is still an unforgettable one.

6. Jacob’s Ladder. Without this movie there’d be no “Silent Hill.” Tim Robbins is a Vietnam Vet dealing with what he thinks are flashbacks or effects of a chemical they used on the battlefield, and the entire film is one gigantic mindfuck beginning from there. He soon can’t tell what is real and what is not, as his visions get increasingly terrifying and bizarre, reminiscent of The Thing and Cronenberg’s body modification fetishes. Once again the director draws us into an unfamiliar world more disquieting than scary, and Robbins’ paranoia is quickly infectious. Playing on our familiar nightmares where we remember things that may not be real, this movie stays with you long after it ends.

7. The Descent. This is one of my favorite recent horror flicks and while it has its flaws- namely the interchangeable characters- it also works on a dream-level and pulls a great switcheroo in the middle. A group of athletic gals meet to go spelunking as they do once a year; this time in remote Appalachia. Playing on familiar fears of claustrophobia and darkness, of course they run into trouble and need to find a new way out of the cave; also, no one knows where they are, because it is a new-found system and one gal “wanted to be the first.” So we also get that lurking sense of dread that comes with being lost in the woods, another archetypal fear from fairy tales and childhood. By the time we find out they are not alone in the caves, we are already engrossed in a great survival horror tale, and this take on the Sawney Bean tale amps things up to 11. It is also unclear if this is reality or a dream, and the bleak ending is one of my favorites.

So that’s 7 for now. Why not 10? Well, I have a month to watch 30 horror films and see if I can find 3 more I consider great. There are plenty of modern, good horror movies, but the great ones have been elusive. Calvaire and High Tension out of France have come close, but have more style than substance. They are definitely worth seeing. I’m told that Them (remade in America as The Strangers) is worthy of the title, and both versions are on tap. [Rec] is supposed to be zombies meets The Blair Witch Project, and has many fans. That will be considered. Hell, I may revisit Blair Witch, since I missed it in theaters and only saw it on a small screen. A lot of people love it, and the “lost in the woods” vibe, with weird happenings that may or may not be supernatural is a great premise.

This month I will also be watching a few Paul Newman films I’ve missed, and if I see anything in the theater or with Firecracker (who doesn’t like horror much) I’ll try to squeeze them in here. It will tax my blogging skills to the max. So watch this space for the inevitable meltdown!

The Fury … how I feel about Brian De Palma

I’m going to admit up front that Brian De Palma kicked my puppy as a child, and that’s why I don’t like his movies. I think he makes good trash, but when people start comparing him to Hitchcock I get apoplectic. Hitchcock made good trash too, but he elevated it, De Palma wallows in it. Hitch also built his movies around dialogue– I just watched The Birds again and forgot how much of it has nothing to do with the story; yet, we are riveted to the screen. The entire first act is spent in getting Tippi Hedren to the little town that will be swarmed by angry peckers, and it’s still interesting. The whole premise is ridiculous, but Hitchcock manages to make us terrified of terns, toucans and ptarmigans.

Young Amy, and Jim Belushi’s first role in the back left.

The Fury, on the other hand, beats us over the head with action and manages to be pretty boring. Peter (Kirk Douglas) and his son Robin are on an Israeli beach when they are beset by terrorists; it turns out to be an elaborate plot by his buddy Childress (the always-evil John Cassavetes) to kidnap Robin. Later the story picks up in Chicago, where Peter is trying to track down his son, with Cassavetes still trying to kill the hardy bastard. We learn that the reason Robin was taken is that he has powerful psychic powers, and that leads to a college psychology experiment where Amy Irving’s brain is hooked up to a Lionel train set. She plays Gillian, who is psychic too, and Peter seeks her help in finding his boy. Amy was one of the nasty kids in Carrie, and now she gets her chance to throw telekinetics around; unfortunately when she looks scared, her face twists up like Gilda Radner’s, and it’s hard to take seriously.

Cassavetes once again exuding evil.

I heard it told recently that Brian De Palma’s oeuvre is best appreciated when you realize that they are all comedies, and as I looked back, I felt a sense of peace replace my apoplexy at his directing style. The Fury works great as a comedy. Take De Palma’s horror masterpiece Carrie, about a powerful psychic girl… and double it. Now there are two, a girl and boy, and they are being trained by the government as weapons by Charles Durning.

Robin has anger management issues.

There are things that make no sense until you realize it works as farce, or as a spoof of Hitchcock that Mel Brooks would envy. For example, after hijacking a cop’s car to escape, Kirk Douglas tells them to leave the car after the bad guys chasing them have been dispatched to the courtesy table in a fiery display. Then he inexplicably drives the car off the dock into Lake Michigan. Sure, he’s a government agent and has survived numerous attempts on his life by the skin of his teeth, but wouldn’t you at least drive to the train station?

Slow… mo…tion…

Then there’s an extended slow-motion sequence when one of the psychics escapes, and someone dies in the process. They never seem to learn that if you’re touching one of these kids as they undergo their dramatic episodes, blood will start pouring from your orifices like you’d chugged a six-pack of Ebola cola. At first, Amy Irving runs like she’s heading for her lover’s arms, and then Hester (Carrie Snodgrass) is chasing after her, and then the bad guys in their sedans, and finally Kirk Douglas shows up with a gun, all in gut-wrenching slow-motion emphasizing every grimace on their faces. As drama, or action, it’s torture… but as a comedy, I couldn’t stop laughing.

Now you’ll look up to me, Dad…

De Palma does manage some cute shots- he loves reaction shots in reflected glass- and I liked the scene with Mother Knuckles, an elderly woman Douglas befriends after busting into a tenement, but mostly this must be viewed as comedy. How else are we to take it when his psychic son Robin, who believes him dead at the hands of Arab terrorists, just happens to see a gaggle of sheiks at the Old Chicago amusement park, and plays havoc with them on the tilt-a-whirl? Better yet, when the kid finally cracks during his emotional reunion with Dad, as they dangle from the rooftops. There’s no way to take this seriously, and I don’t think De Palma wants us to. He’s riffing off the B movies of the past. De Palma had to know how ridiculous this all was, and that he got the job because of the material’s similarity to Carrie, so he just went nuts with it. It’s interminably long at two hours, but in the right mindset, The Fury can be very entertaining.

You won’t like her when she’s angry.
John Cassavetes’s explosive performance.

What everyone remembers is the tacked-on ending, where Amy unleashes her psychic angst on John Cassavetes. It would be topped a few years later with the head-exploding in David Cronenberg’s Scanners, but it’s hard to beat Cassavetes’s severed head floating out of frame in slow motion. The movie ends abruptly afterward, and we assume Gillian escapes. I have fonder memories of Firestarter, which was goofy but at least had a comprehensible story arc. That’s saying a lot. De Palma has a lot of style, but unlike say Michael Mann, who can use it to craft a gripping storyline, De Palma seems unable to balance them both very well. Sure, he’s made some good movies- Scarface worked because it updated a scenery-chewing gangsploitation film to the 80’s, The Untouchables likewise comes from an era where bombastic characters are expected. In Carrie, Sissy Spacek’s amazing performance, Stephen King’s archetypal story, and De Palma’s stylish direction converged perfectly. In Carlito’s Way he managed to tune things down a bit and let the good story do the talking, and material like Raising Cain lent itself to his excesses.

This is as terrifying as the prospect of efficient gas-powered vehicles!

If you watch De Palma’s movies as a fan of Hitchcock and old gangster films, and imagine John Waters is next to you helping heckle the screen, you can enjoy even his most indulgent films like Snake Eyes, which was a miserable failure. If only he’d gotten face-contorting performances out of Gary Sinise and used a lot of slow-motion and Hitchcockian Dutch angles, we could have had at least a comedy masterpiece.

Cloverfield vs. The Mist

Two monster movies that use a convenient device to hide the monsters most of the time, with very different tones. One lives up to the hype and the other doesn’t. One is too short and the other’s too long. Let’s have them duke it out. Fight!

1. The Hype

The nerd’s favorite King story come to life.

The Mist is based on an excellent Stephen King story that was made into an audio book and an interactive computer game (in the 80’s, text adventure). It has a lot to live up to. Everyone was excited to see another Stephen King adaptation from Frank Darabont, who made the beloved film The Shawshank Redemption. He also made the god-awful movie The Majestic, lest we forget.

Damn dirty apes attack Manhattan? What IS it?

Cloverfield had a year-long internet hype campaign that every nerd gasping orgasmic about whether it was Godzilla or Cthulhu. The Slusho website, and legions of Lost fans who loved the Dharma Initiative ARGs and web goofery hailed the genius of J.J. Abrams, conveniently forgetting that he also wrote Armageddon.

2. The Stories

Partly cloudy with a chance of pain

The Mist is about a storm that hits a small Maine town, and the mist that descends upon a grocery store full of people getting supplies. There are… things in the mist, the screams of a victim are heard. The fear of the unknown and how we react to it are the subject of the first act, and then a division emerges between David (Thomas Jane), a young artist with a son, and Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) a bitter fanatic who believes God wants sacrifice before the horrific events will end.

Cloverfield tour, $30

Cloverfield begins at a party full of young Manhattanites celebrating Rob’s new job in Japan. The camera is handed to Hud, to film testimonials from friends. Then the building shakes and the lights flicker, and everyone goes to look what happened. A tanker has exploded, and when everyone leaves the building, the Statue of Liberty’s head is hurled down the street. Something is attacking the city. A small group gathers to try to escape the island, but Rob wants to go to midtown, in the path of the creature, to rescue Beth, the girl he’s leaving.

3. The Monsters

Get off my water spout, bitch!

The Mist has a menagerie of bizarre creatures, thought to come from another dimension. The first we see is just the tentacle of a much larger creature, and the movie makes great use of the power of the unknown, by shrouding its scares with the fog. My personal favorite were the huge spiked spiders with what looked like human teeth. That was a nice, creepy touch. Giant flies, demon-like fliers with huge beaks, and hulking crab-like monsters are just some of the things we get. We get a huge pay-off at the end, with a good look at two of the things out there.

Clovie’s playpen

Cloverfield‘s monster is shrouded by the buildings of Manhattan. While it is an enormous sea creature of some sort, we only catch glimpses of it for much of the film. It’s also covered with lice of some sort, which look like giant fleas. Their snapping mouths were one of the scarier parts of the film. “Clover,” as the monster is called by fans (it is never named in the film) rampages throughout the city, as the military tries to drive it away. At the end we get several good views of it, and both times get a good scare out of it.

4. The Characters

I should have been the Punisher, Jane.

The Mist has problems with character development. For a movie this long, the neighbor Norton is wasted, and has plot device (and possibly “token”) written all over him. David’s son exists only as a motivator, and people like Jim (William Sadler, “Death” from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey!) make changes in character that make little sense. People panic way too early and become irrational seconds after the mist arrives. My favorites were Ollie (Toby Jones, Truman Capote from Infamous) of course, and the old folks- especially Irene (Frances Sternhagen), an acidic old schoolteacher who steals ever scene she’s in. Ollie is everyone’s favorite as the nerdy type who gets to kick some ass. He’s easily the best crafted character in the film, all thanks to Toby Jones’ underrated skills.

“Are you aware of Garfield?”

Cloverfield doesn’t have a lot of time for character, being only 85 minutes long. Everything is cut to the bone. Our main companions are Rob the jerky yuppie who gets a sudden change of heart about the girl he loves, Hud the goofy pal of his holding the camera and trying to mack on Marlena, who’s having none of it. She’s pretty witty and resourceful, as is Lily. We learn little about them except how they react to a crisis, and a lot of people had problems caring about what happened to them. To me, the movie was more like an amusement park ride, sort of like Aliens— we didn’t learn a lot about Vasquez or Hudson either.

5. The Endings (here be spoilers, duh)

Men too, can cry.

The Mist‘s ending turned a lot of people off. It is very bleak. The Stephen King story wasn’t quite as bleak, but ambiguous. Hollywood hates ambiguity, and Darabont’s ending leaves none. I knew what was coming, and I must say I liked what happened. It was handled really badly, though. Thomas Jane screaming over their bodies was almost comic, as the soldiers rolled up; and we see the one woman who fled the store, not letting fear keep her from getting to her kids. She’s been rescued. I like the statement that made about giving in to fear when you have a job to do. Open Water had a similar message; if they had just swam immediately, just maybe they’d survive. I would have liked David to run at the soldiers with his empty gun and be put out of his misery, but maybe that’s too bleak. He’s an artist after all, he’ll probably paint another Dark Tower masterpiece with his newfound pain.

Apparently Clover was pissed off at the long line at Nathan’s.

Cloverfield also has a bleak ending that people didn’t like. It’s hinted at in the opening credits, where the footage we’re watching is labeled as being found on a media card in the area designated “Cloverfield,” formerly known as Central Park. If you think about it, it’s inevitable. They get to the choppers and one is knocked down in an incredible sequence where we see it spin out of control, from the inside. Miraculously they survive, but the “Hammerdown Protocol,” a final measure against the creature by carpet-bombing midtown, is about to occur. They take shelter underneath one of the arches in the park and wait out the inevitable. Then we’re given a teasing hint of footage of Rob and Beth at Coney Island, and we see an object fall from the sky into the water. Terabytes of text have been typed on message boards all over the net about what it means, and I loved it. It gave me a sense of wonder I haven’t had since seeing Star Wars as a kid. I don’t want to know where the monster comes from, or why it attacked. Let me keep wondering about it. Don’t come up with some stupid “midichlorians” explanation.

6. The Awesome

“I do love the free samples at Whole Foods.”

The Mist creates a palpable sense of dread, with its characters surrounded by a supernatural mist full of murderous and strange creepy-crawlies. Ollie is a good sidekick and a lot of fun. There are some good gore effects as the population gets whittled down, and there are no superheroics here. Even the flies from Dimension X are dangerous, and no one uses gymnastics to beat up a dinosaur or the like. The monsters are huge and we get a great shot at the end of something so enormous that we can barely contemplate the world it came from. I also loved the scenes in the drug store, and with the rope.

“What, is there something in my teeth?”

Cloverfield is a nonstop runaway train to monster destruction once things start rolling. In the theater, I felt like I got off a rollercoaster when it was over. There’s no music, so the end credits theme, “Roar,” is especially effective. The monster is unique, gigantic, and damn scary. He resembles the Godzilla from the original 1955 Gojira, who showed up out of nowhere to wreak havoc, with no explanation and no safe haven from his wrath. The little critters who fly out of his armpits to feast upon the trust fund kiddies are freaky too, and there’s an awesome introduction to them. We get a somewhat realistic feeling of being there as a monster attacks New York, destroying the Brooklyn Bridge and other landmarks, and there’s no little girl who is mentally in tune with the beast so we can escape or placate it. What little dialogue there is, is actually pretty snappy. “That’s another thing… also terrible” is one of my favorite lines this year.

7. The Suck

CG is not Darabont’s strong point.

The Mist is over 2 hours long, has cardboard characters made for the plot, and a horrible ending. it also has some really bad CG at some points, like the tentacles. The script could have used some trimming here and there, or changes to make Jim’s change more believable, and give more depth to the boy and the neighbor. Also, Mrs. Carmody calls out for sacrifice pretty early on, when I think she should have amped up after she was spared, and felt protected by her vengeful God. The deaths of important characters aren’t chilling enough, either. And finally, the ending. They drive without being attacked until the gas runs out, and then decide to commit suicide. While they are surrounded by other cars. You’d think they might try running to another car. Or have them break down on a stretch of empty highway, which would have been scarier. The music in the third act sounds like Cher being raped by a billy goat, and completely ruins the tone of the film.

Hud can’t hold a camera for his life.

Cloverfield is only 85 minutes (with 10 minutes of credits) long. This gives us no time for character development, and others have rightly complained that they don’t care about them. There’s little time to tell us why Rob suddenly feels responsible for Beth, and it’s hard to swallow 4 people walking 70 blocks through a war zone instead of going for the Holland or Battery tunnels after a close call with a monstrosity. The shaky-cam turned a lot of people off, too. It’s a different gimmick than mist to hide your monster, but it works. It just makes 25% of the audience puke into their popcorn. I thought it was overdone when I first saw it, but it’s not that bad on a big-screen TV. I could have used a little more monster, too. The shots on the news would not have been so sparse and choppy. On 9/11, which the film references with every shot, we had to see the smoking towers nonstop until they went down.

8. The Decision

It’s gonna rain? Sacrifice the boy!

The Mist is a fine horror film with some flaws. It’s no Shawshank Redemption, though it approaches it in length. If you want to see some Lovecraftian critters munch on a bunch of New Englanders, and get reminded that fanatical religion is bad, it’s one of the better monster-horror flicks we’ve gotten in some time. It’s too long and needed another script revision for act one.

Not again, they just rebuild the PATH station.

Cloverfield is more of a disaster movie than horror, though it does have its scares. I just watched it, and I’d watch it again. I might get distracted during the party scene, but once Clovie shows up it’s a great ride. I’m eager for the sequel, and I hope that they don’t reveal too much about its origins. Some things are best left mysterious.

Decision: Cloverfield

Black History Month: Big Bald Black Men Whom I Admire

Let’s face it, there’s just something about big bald black actors. There are roles only they can play, shoes only they can fit. Can you imagine Marsellus Wallace being played by a big bald white guy, like Stone Cold Steve Austin, or Jason Statham, or even Vin Diesel? (Though apparently Vin is biracial, there’s some oil in the diesel). It would not work. Pulp Fiction would be doomed to failure. Forrest Gump would somehow be worthy of beating it for Best Picture, which is crazy talk.

So in honor of Black History Month, which ends in a few days- we gave them the shortest day of the year, that was mighty white of us- in no particular order, here is my completely opinionated list of My Favorite Big Black Bald Guys and how they have influenced my life, and yours.

Keith David is one of the most underutilized actors working today. You probably know him best as the Dad from There’s Something About Mary, with the immortal lines, “How’d you get the beans above the frank!?” But he wasn’t bald in that! For me, he will always be Childs from John Carpenter’s The Thing, with his cleanly shaven skull and ferocious smile. When he hacks down the steel door with a fireman’s axe, he looks like he could kick the Thing’s ass all by himself. And eat it.

If you forgot The Thing, here’s the whole movie in 6 minutes.
On the internet, he’s probably more well-loved for his role in another Carpenter film, They Live. You know, the one with the sunglasses, and the aliens, and Rowdy Roddy Piper… and one of the longest fight scenes in film. Probably to appease the wrestling fans who can to see their hero sans kilt, Mr. David and Roddy ad-libbed their fight scene for several hours, all of which are in the rare director’s cut of the film, which I sold on ebay to make my enormous fortune. Let’s view it here, in the shorter theatrical cut, which only lasts 36 minutes.

Just wear the damn glasses, Keith.

The other thing Keith David has going for him is a great voice. He narrates documentaries and commercials, and may be fondly remembered by people nerdier than I as a voice from the cartoon “Gargoyles.” He narrated Ken Burns’ documentary on Jazz, but wasn’t in the IMDb for it, so I just submitted it. You’re welcome, Mr. David! I’d be floored if you sent me an email or a signed photo.

To end his entry on a disturbing note, if you saw the soul-crushing Requiem for a Dream, he plays Big Tim, the pimp who tells Jennifer Connelly, “I know it’s pretty baby, but I didn’t take it out for air.” Chilling words you never want to hear his basso voice whisper from across a dark prison cell. On the other hand, how’d he let this photo be taken?

Irving Rhames. It takes a real bad-ass to be called “Ving” and not have anyone ask “what the hell is a Ving?” for 13 years until I finally saw it was short for Irving. Names definitely factor into the person we become, and I’m sure Mr. Rhames’ badassery is due in part to growing up in Harlem with the name Irving. I was even more shocked when his IMDb bio said that SUNY roommate Stanley Tucci gave him the nickname. Well, that sort of makes sense, since we Italian-Americans like to shorten nicknames down to one syllable, if not one letter. Thus the progression of being called, Anthony! Tony! Tone! T! Ving’s lucky he’s not Irv or V.
Everyone remembers his performance in Pulp Fiction, which is iconic and unforgettable, and endlessly over-quotable. I’m not going to make you relive his rape scene set to “Yakety Sax,” though that would be extremely funny. That song makes anything funny. Someone has set it to “My Sharona,” however.
I liked him a lot in Bringing Out the Dead, the Scorsese movie so few people seem to love. I think it’s a fantastic dark comedy, and has some of the best performances its leads have given in years. Nicholas Cage, for example, actually acts. John Goodman and Ving are both great in it, and Aida Turturro is incredible as the cold nurse. Go rent it now.
He was also the best part of the Dawn of the Dead remake, so here he is in all his bad-assery.

Fuck y’all.

#3. Scatman Crothers

Although Benjamin Sherman “Scatman” Crothers is most famous for getting killed by Jack Nicholson in The Shining, he was a badass and a very memorable part of the collective 80’s childhood. Not only was he Jazz in the Transformers, but he was also Hong Kong Phooey, one of the first African-Americans to break the barrier and play an Asian canine. His comforting voice, reading off the long list of the food in the Overlook Hotel from this scene in The Shining, would be perfect to lull yourself off to sleep with. Turkeys, hams, legs of lamb, beans, ice cream… everything a growing boy needs, right Doc?

There are three videos on youtube of Scatman Crothers singing, but they cannot be embedded, so click if you want to hear: Mean Dog Blues, Ain’t She Sweet, or End of the Road. Here he is in Black Belt Jones- The Prequel! kicking some ass in 70’s blaxploitation style.

Bet you’ve never seen him with hair.
Now, in The Shining he played a psychic, a character created by Stephen King. Our next Big Bald Black Dude also had supernatural powers in a Stephen King movie, The Green Mile. We’ll get to Stephen King and black people later, because he likes to write about magical negroes. Now before you get all up in my ass, Spike Lee created that term and I am quoting the diminutive director, whose movies I love and admire. Especially Bamboozled.

Mr. Duncan, whom I’ve accidentally called Michael Darke Cluncan, is one of my favorite tough guy actors. Who else could play a hulking behemoth with a gold ball for an eye, or make America smile by beating the crap out of Ben Affleck? No one, that’s who. I’m glad he’s popular enough now that people don’t mistake him for Ving Rhames, because Google Image Search sure is racist.

Back to Stephen King. As much as I enjoy his books, have you noticed that he’s not all that great at writing black characters? If you slogged through the Dark Tower series and met Detta Walker, it’s about as comfortable as sitting through those clips from Bamboozled I posted a few lines up. I have a theory, and let me put it forth to you.

Stephen King has never met a black person. In Maine, they are considered mythical creatures, like unicorns. He’s only seen them in books and perhaps on “What’s Happening?” and thought Rerun was leprechaun. That’s the only explanation for why they always have the “shining,” or the “whatever the things flying out his mouth in The Green Mile were.” Now you may say bring up the excellent movie The Shawshank Redemption, but I credit Morgan Freeman for reading the script (he was Easy Reader on Electric Company after all) and saying “What’s this shit about me having a unicorn’s horn?” Trust me, it’s on IMDb in the trivia section. Or will be soon.

Here’s Michael Clarke Duncan with my cousin, Lou Taylor Pucci. They met at the premiere of Lou’s first film. Thankfully now Lou has developed secondary sexual characteristics, and doesn’t look like a blonde Javier Badem from No Country for Old Men. If you follow the link to his website, you’ll see proof that he can grow a beard. I bet some of The Dunc’s manliness rubbed off on him.

Another one of the better actors of our time who doesn’t get enough work. Get Shorty, The Cider House Rules, Clockers, Domino. These are just a few. He can play the heavy or go subtle. He was also in one of my favorite trashy 80’s movies, The Blood of Heroes. I’ll review that for one of my 80’s Trash of the Week posts, just you wait. Mr. Lindo was in one of Congo’s funnier scenes, he’s the Captain who won’t let Tim Curry eat the sesame cake. Because there are no good scenes of him in Get Shorty up on the ‘tube, I’ll let you laugh at how bad Congo is. This is the Michael Crichton movie about ancient killer gorillas. The book was hilariously dated the day it came out, about blue diamonds used to make 128k microchips with humongous storage. The movie is not much better.


Wait, you’re saying. What about Samuel L. Jackson? Now I love Sam as much as the next guy and I know he’s bald underneath that Kangol hat, but his best roles have all included hair. Mace Windu? He got killed by emo brat Hayden Christiansen! Shaft? There’s only one Shaft, and I’m sorry, he doesn’t have the triforked beard of Poseidon. Richard Roundtree is the only Shaft in my book. He’s a badass and always will be, but like Laurence Fishburne, he looks much better with a head of hair or a hat on his head.

One more Honorable Mention:

#5a. Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. aka Deebo

Also known as the President from The Fifth Element, Tiny Lister has presence and certainly deserves better than the small roles he’s been landing lately. Who can forget Deebo from the Friday movies, on his little bike? I thought he did a damn fine job as President Lindberg, too. Maybe someday he’ll be as legendary as the others, but until then, honorable mentions to you, Tommy!