Sunday, February 28, 2010

Black History Month: What I've Learned

Well my friends we have come to the end. Throughout this month I have taken you on a magical journey, exploring the careers and histories of black actors and actresses who have appeared in horror/sci fi films at some point. Although I will admit sometimes I got a little saucy, and lenient with that criteria because some people I just had to talk about. But regardless, I have learned more in this entire month then I've learned about my entire four years in college.

What have I learned? The biggest thing that really stood out was the startling amount of talent that seemed to exist below the radar. People like Mantan Moreland, Maidie Norman, even horror legends like Duane Jones seemed to be horribly unknown in the realm of Hollywood. For some like Moreland, their careers were cut short due to the Civil Rights Movement while others like Norman had careers that were buried under endless amounts of supporting roles and stereotypical characters. As much as we would all like to believe that the idea of racism fizzled out a while ago, you can't deny the fact that any black actresses in films were almost always given the "best friend" role. As the wise Morgan Freeman once said- racism will finally be gone when we stop talking about it, when we stop pointing out that the female lead is black and start pointing out her sheer quality of acting ability. Granted this idea may be contradictory to my overall purpose this month, but for good reason. While Morgan Freeman despises Black History Month and while I do agree with him on some points---I do feel that right now Black History Month is one of the most important tools we have to move forward, if done correctly. I've found that a lot of people are afraid of talking about black history for fear they will offend others. To them I always ask this question, what kind of progress can be made by hiding something?

Black History Month to me, has always been about learning. In order for people to understand and to fully embrace the fact that black history really IS just history, we need to understand and absorb that knowledge. History is one of the most important things we can learn and take in--just ask Emmy Doomas, a full on History major. She'll debate till the end of time that learning about History is as equally important as learning about math. Learning about history is the key to understanding our future, so therefore learning about black history is the key to moving forward in history and hopefully one day ridding the world of racism. Do I sound too preachy? Probably. But sometimes I just can't help myself!

I hope you've all learned as much as I have, and have enjoyed reading about each of these great actors and actresses. It's probably the most work I've done in a while, and even though there were times where I wanted to just go to sleep and "forget" to do that day's posting, I stuck it out each and every time. And fortunately, each and every time I was proud of what I accomplished and so so glad that I did it. The best feeling I got was looking up a relatively unknown actor or actress and finding out that they lead one of the most interesting and inspiring lives and then being able to pass on what I learned to all of you was...the. best. Sure it's a little nerdy and a little lame--but I gotta tell you...I love learning! If I'm still in existence next year, and if our world hasn't been destroyed by Justin Bieber, you can surely count on next year being just as fulfilling and worthwhile.

So without further ado I bring you a master list of all the people I have talked about and highlighted. Please check out the ones you may have missed and enjoy!

Day 3: Tony Todd
Day 10: Keith David
Day 12: Kasi Lemmons
Day 13: Brock Peters
Day 14: Ving Rhames
Day 15: Yaphet Kotto
Day 16: CCH Pounder
Day 18: Ernie Hudson
Day 20: Texas Battle
Day 22: Stan Shaw
Day 24: Ken Foree

Black History Month Day Twenty-Eight: William Marshall, Blacula and the Ever Controversial Blaxploitation Films.

It's hard to believe that this is the very last Black History Month post! With no days left you've probably been asking yourself, "Where is William Marshall and Blacula?" And the truth is, I've grown more and more nervous as the days grow closer to when I'd have to talk or at least mention blaxploitation. The truth is, I've always found blaxploitation to be extremely disrespectful and I wasn't entirely sure that I wanted to mention it at all. The only problem is, I started to realize that I had no right to classify an entire genre without basing it in knowledge or fact. I knew next to nothing about the history, and the cinematic importance of blaxploitation and therefore my fears on approaching the subject became even bigger. I have never even seen the movie Blacula- so how on earth could I then write on the achievements and history of William Marshall without talking about his most famous work?
And then the other day something miraculous happened. I realized that the people around me, my "blogging buddies" as I sometimes to refer to them, knew plenty on the subject. So why then should I mislead my readers into thinking that I am an authority on the subject when I have hordes of experts at my command? So without further ado, I bring you some of the most wonderful bloggers to give your their take on blaxploitation, Blacula, William Marshall or all of the above.

Blacula is one of the most famous of all blaxploitation flicks, so it tends to galvanize a lot of the praise and/or criticism that blaxploitation in general seems to garner. But blaxploitation was really a product of the time out of which it came. At the time, it was part of a movement to further expose and legitimize African-American culture in the media. Of course, along the way, whether inadvertently or not, the largely white decision-makers behind it wound up highlighting some negative black stereotypes, and thus the stigma.

But to me, it's arrogant to judge movies like Blacula based on our own present-day ideology. You have to look at it in the context of its time. This is the same reason I have no trouble watching even the most politically incorrect cartoons of, say, the 1930s, '40 and '50s, which often contain racial or gender stereotypes.

It's wrong to believe that we in the present day have some kind of monopoly on the truth and know better than anyone who came before us. In the distant future, there will be people who look down on some of the movies we now love for reasons we may not yet be able to fathom. And they'd be just as wrong.

Demetrios, Horror Movie Empire on educating yourself on Blaxploitation.

Where is he and what has he had??' Do you know what movie that line is from? If you do, congrats to you! If you don't, start paying attention. I'd like to direct everyone to 2 websites. and While the point was for me to write about my own thoughts I think these 2 sites can convey the extremely underrated role that African-Americans have played both in the horror genre and movies in general MUCH better than I ever could. For those with short attention spans I'm just gonna list a few movies that you should see that fall under the 'blaxploitation' label or have major roles by African-Americans: Blacula/Blacula 2, the Dolemite Collection, Vampire in Brooklyn, the Candyman series, The Beast Must Die, Night/Dawn of the Dead, Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, Penitentiary, Blackenstein, Black Devil Doll From Hell, Deep Blue Sea and many, many more. This is only a fraction of the list and i suggest going to for an extensive list for those interested in just horror. For those looking to branch out, go to and click 'movies' and load up your netflix queue or shopping carts and give them a shot. I promise you won't be disappointed!

Matt House, Chuck Norris Ate My Baby on the unfortunate style decisions of Blacula

Count Dracula is a character known for his sex appeal and good looks. He has an ability to draw in his potential victims with nothing more than a coy look and the bat of an eyelash. Numerous actors have played the role, from Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, to Frank Langella and the sun kissed George Hamilton. These fine examples of Dracula were very sensual and attractive, and even when vamped out, they didn’t look all that frightening, instead, they were able to remain provocative. Now, when taking a look at Dracula’s soul brotha, Blacula, the good looks and sexual appeal seem to be somewhat lacking. This has nothing to do with Blacula’s skin color; rather, his problem has to do with his odd facial hair pattern and the placement of said facial hair.

He's no Taye Diggs, but when Blacula is in normal mode, he is not a bad looking dude, and his mustache and sideburns are tight and nicely kept. However, the second he goes into predator form, he suddenly looks like his barber might as well be Helen Keller, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles…take your pick. I can see looking a little feral when turning into a bloodsucker, but his facial hair pattern makes very little to no sense. His sudden widow’s peak, the wyld stallion eyebrows, and that hair all over his cheeks…the dude just looks disgusting. There is no way in hell that he doesn’t smell terrible with facial hair like that and for the sweet love of jambalaya, why does he have patch’s of hair on his cheeks?! It doesn’t even really connect to his sideburns! It's just there, looking all nasty and coarse. Dude needs a Mach 5 to be invented with the quickness. Seriously, Blacula, how the shit you gonna get some broads when you roll like that? Certainly explains the lack of vampire brides in his posse, as opposed to male ones. It really is a good thing this poor dude cannot see himself in the mirror, or is it maybe a bad thing?

It seems a little unfair that poor Blacula would get the shaft by being one of the ugliest vampires of all time. You finally get an African American vampire, put him in a pretty fun film, but you give him fucked up hair and make him look like one of the Ramos Gomez brothers?! I call foul! Blacula just really needs a massive makeover to bring him into modern times, as well as someone to teach him some positive grooming habits and skin care. This would sooo make for a great episode of What Not to Wear, but I’m not sure what clothing stores are open late night, so that could pose a bit of a problem.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Black History Month Day Twenty-Seven: Laurence Fishburne

There was no one more angered than me when I found out that "Laurence Fishburne Day" in Cambridge Massachusetts is the 24th of February! I was angry because A. no one told me and B. Laurence Fishburne Day at the Horror Digest is February 27th. What a load of crap! But I suppose I will just have to move on and pretend that everyday is Laurence Fisburne day--well actually, who's pretending? I've always loved the Laurence, and anyone who says differently has to be lying. The man is awesome.

Born in Augusta Georgia, and brought up in Brooklyn New York, Laurence began acting at the age of twelve when he landed a role on the soap opera, One Life to Live. When he was fourteen, Fishburne lied about his age in order to score a part in Franics Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Us horror fans may now him best as Dr. William Weir in Event Horizion
but this of course doesn't mean we can forget his role as an orderly in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
Laurence Fishburne's career has been decorated with a plethora of roles from good guys to bad guys, doctors and fathers and from Morpheus to the now head of the CSI unit in Las Vegas. No matter how small or big his roles may be, we always somehow manage to remember him and somehow connect him to being the best part about the entire movie....hmm....that may be just me though.

So to try things out a little differently here, I will be giving you some interesting excerpts from his official website on different topics surrounding his life and career.

His Favorite Actors:

SIDNEY POITIER showed what was possible for me. You must remember, when he arrived, it was the height of the Civil Rights Movement. He showed up as this sterling black man, with strength, courage, and grace. He was a black man who did not bow to anyone. Always eye-to-eye with the white people he shared the screen with. White actors had to come up to his level.

JAMES EARL JONES showed what was possible in terms of range for a black actor. He played a wide variety of roles. He was the first black president on screen, then he was a garbage man, then the prize fighter Jack Johnson, several Othellos on stage, Darth Vader, and this TV movie about alien abduction ("The UFO Incident", 1975). What a range of roles he played.

PETER O'TOOLE has a kind of intensity that I find absolutely thrilling. He expresses with an intensity that I can relate to. I have that kind of intensity inside me. He has this way with language, a way of speaking that's incredibly intelligent and witty at the same time. I just love the way he swings. They couldn't figure out how to give him a real Oscar for his work, so they gave him a lifetime award. It's great, but I wished they'd given him more than that.

ROBERT DENIRO AND AL PACINO came along in the 70s when I was seeing myself as an actor. They were ethnic guys. They didn't look like movie stars--a dark Sicilian? Woah! So the language they spoke, contemporary, and me coming out of Brooklyn where everybody talked like that. So I can really relate to them. I found their work captivating, riveting and deeply human.


IF IT DOESN'T FEEL RIGHT, it's not for me. For me it's never as simple as choosing. I don't sit down and think "How am I gonna get this?" It's what comes to me and if it feels right.

It's all intuition--every choice, every script, and every nuance. For instance, Quentin Tarrantino wrote "Pulp Fiction" with me in mind. But when I read it, I told him I couldn't do it. I had too many problems with it, just personally. It just didn't feel right for me. And I know it was a great role, but not for me.

I HAD THIS MOMENT when I was 10-years old: I realized that as an actor I could be anything; there wasn't anything that I couldn't be, and that felt right to me. It wasn't about "whether" I was going to do it. It just was. I was an actor. I didn't tell anybody. It was a private moment I had with myself. It was just very clear. I didn't have to set about doing anything. I fell into the flow of the universe, and that was it. It was just a knowing feeling, a simple fact. There was a tremendous feeling of "This is what I am, this is who I am." I didn't have to pursue it. It is just my life's calling. I'm not somebody who decided I wanted to be famous on TV or in the movies. I was introduced to the theater reluctantly. I didn't want to be involved. Then when I did want to be involved, my motivation was the money. But then, when I didn't get the money, there was something left there that matched my gifts and creative talents. "F--- the money" I said. "If I do this, there's nothing I can't be and nothing I can't do." As an actor, I get to express myself and my creativity in a way that's completely natural for me. It's been inside of me all of my life. Because of my mother's keen sense of observation, she was able to get me to a place where I could understand it and I could connect to it.

And Soon the Darkness: This Town is Just a Bunch of Panty Thieves.

On the advice of Chris Hallock I have watched And Soon the Darkness. He had warned me ahead of time that the music was at times a bit funky, and that the accents might be a little bothersome but I waved it off. I waved it off because I love funky music that seems out of place, the 70s, hot pants, AND most especially really awesome English accents. As someone who fell head over heels for the creepy undertones in Let's Scare Jessica to Death, I know that when all was said and done I would probably love And Soon the Darkness. Turns out- I was mostly usual.

The movie is about two nurses who decide to take a holiday, biking through the French countryside- seeing the "real" France as they call it. Somewhere along the serious wedgies they must have endured (Hot pants on bicycles? Yikes.) the two have a tiff and part ways. Cathy the semi-slut decides she needs to work on that pasty skin of hers, and tans in a secluded woodsy area, while Jane heads to a little road side cafe. After Cathy puts her under garments out to dry--don't ask me why because I have NO idea, she hears noises and grows increasingly nervous. Before long she finds that her bike is mysteriously destroyed and that's the last we see of her. Meanwhile, Jane's heart returns and she goes back to get Cathy only to find her missing. After being warned countless times that this is a bad area, and a detective tells her that the area is associated with brutal murders, Cathy's future only looks bleaker. As Jane and the "dishy" detective search for clues on her friends disappearance, Jane grows worried that the killer may be closer then she thinks.

If you're one of those people who gets bored easily and dislikes the "slow burn" type of horror, then stay far away from this. Not a lot happens until the very end- and you'll be forced to sit through shot after shot of amazingness. If you can appreciate that amazingness than settle down for an hour and 40 minutes of cool, choppy, suspense- piloted by a Hitchcock lover no doubt. The film builds up atmosphere and sticks to the standard idea that when done correctly, suspense and horror can be just as effective in the day time as it is at night. Even the film's title, speaks highly of this idea, suggesting that the darkness hasn't even come yet. What we see and what we are exposed to happens entirely in the supposed safety of daylight. And that my friends is one of the many reasons this film surprised me.

There is also the deep sense of mystery, and the idea that we have no idea who the killer is until that end reveal. There are so many shady figures in this town, I was starting to wonder if the whole town wasn't all a part of it in someway but of course I was probably just yearning for a Let's Scare Jessica to Death vibe. But honestly you get the sense pretty early on, that the people in this town are weird. The least of their problems is a murderer/rapist who kills tourists bicycling through town. What they should really be worried about is this guy:

Stealing panties and putting them on his head...the bastard. Which also reminds me--this movie is obsessed with undies! And why God why were Cathy's so dirty looking? Oh right because she's kind of a whore, but seriously, who has actual dirt stains on the outside of their underwear? You're a nurse I think you can at least make a decent enough living to invest in some new undies. Just sayin'. I suppose it could have something to do with the...ending but I thought those were the undies she had put out to dry on the tree- not the one she was wearing. Have I said too much? Whoops.

So overall, I did quite enjoy this little slice of homage to Hitchcock pie. The scenes towards the end where Jane is hiding and then the shocking and uber creepy reveal at the end was fabulous. I also really loved how the ending turned into darkness, just as the title suggested- and how the rain slowly beating down on that window thing was just so...perfect. There were a lot of great things going on, but like I said I won't recommend this to you all. In fact I'd wager a guess that only about 45% of you will keep watching till the end. Yes it is at times frustrating to realize that you're on a slow bicycle to nowhere--but once you get to the end you should realize that the journey was pretty great and you'll begin to appreciate it so much more.

And if you can't appreciate that, then maybe you will appreciate this little slip up.

Pssssst! Your camera's showing!

Also this movie is gearing up for a remake which to be honest I'm kind of excited about. We shall see!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Black History Month Day Twenty-Six: Marsha A. Hunt

I came across Marsha A. Hunt while watching Dracula AD 1972.
Once again race was brought into the equation when many people on forums for the movie voiced their surprise that the "black chick" didn't die first. Sure she ended up dying second, but her limited screen time still managed to catch my attention.
As is the usual case, a little research went a long way and I soon found out that Marsha Hunt has one of the longest descriptions in Wikipedia history. Her biography is longer than half the major actors and actresses on there and it divides her life into the following categories; Actress, Model, Singer, Writer (autobiographer, editor, novelist), Activist, Relationship With Mick Jagger, Battle with Cancer and Black/American identity. Yeah this woman is seriously interesting.

Originally from Philadelphia, Hunt moved to London in 1966 where "anything was possible". During this time, she "married" Mike Ratledge in order to get her visa extended. 18 Months after arriving in London, Marsha embarked on a bit of a musical career. According to her she had no great musical talent but it didn't stop her from singing back up vocals for different people, joining a band called Ferris Wheel, having an awesome solo career and appearing as Dionne in Hair.
Three months after Hair opened, Hunt became the first black woman to appear on the cover of the British high fashion magazine Queen. She also appeared nude on the cover of British Vogue, a picture that she would recreate almost 40 years later after having her mastectomy. The late 60s to early 70s brought forth her brief relationship with Mick Jagger- which resulted in a child. And the 80s was when Hunt's writing career began to take shape. She's written two autobiographies, a number of novels and a memoir detailing her battle with cancer, which began when she was diagnosed in 2004 with breast cancer.

I told you she was interesting. Here are some of my very favorite things about her...

She describes her skin color as "oak with a hint of maple" rather than black.

After her mastectomy she had a conversation with a young boy where she compared her surgery to the "Amazons of old", where the women would have one of their breasts removed before going into battle, so that they could use their bows without their breasts getting in the way.

When she found out she'd be having chemotherapy, Hunt threw a party where each of her friends took turns cutting off her hair.

She is currently at work on a biography of Jimi Hendrix that she considers her life work. She has said that no one else can understand her perspective on the matter because, "He and I shared something--Black Americans who came to London were transformed and re-packaged for the US- although I never became successful there and he did"

Her father was one of America's first black psychiatrists.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Crazies: There Was a Mouse in the Movie Theater and No One Believed Me.

Frowned did you, when you read that title? It'll make sense eventually. For now you will have to suffer through my experiences and maybe just maybe things will start making sense--although I make no guarantees. For starters, I have just battled through tsunami like rain and a really smelly person on the train, to return to the warmth of my apartment to write this. Thanks to my pal Chris of All Things Horror I was allowed to attend a free screening of the Crazies in Boston tonight. No it wasn't nearly as epic as that whole school bus/quarantine scenario cool people like Stacie Ponder got to go to- but it was interesting.

Since we were the first to arrive and the man who took our passes said we could go in- my movie going posse and I went into the theater. We apparently bypassed the invisible line and signs that said "line up here for the Crazies" or something of that nature. Sure we thought it odd- but secretly I was hoping it was all part of the plan. While sitting by our lonesome selves and trying to pretend like we didn't still have 2 hours to kill, I saw a white object out of the corner of my eye and realized upon closer inspection, that it was a mouse! No one else saw it, but I'm pretty positive it was a mouse. After failed attempts at luring it out with popcorn, and then being yelled at because we weren't suppose to be in the theater, it got me thinking; how many times have I "seen" something in a movie that others apparently missed? And how often have I felt ashamed and foolish that I might have been wrong all along? The Crazies in a way may be just like that mouse, do I dare say I saw the slightest bit of a good movie? Or do I dare say that although the original was greatly flawed--I still find it to be superior to this remake?

My biggest gripe with the previews and the press for this movie is that it was being spoon feed to the masses as just another "zombie infection" movie. Crazy townsfolk with veiny faces doing crazy things and killing people? That's not what the Crazies is about. On a discussion somewhere in this testy blogosphere, a person wrote something about how he wasn't too excited because it just looked like another "zombie" movie. Even the Greenpeace spokesman who before the film began, told us about the real dangers of....contamination via pollution from factories or something like that, mentioned that even though "the zombies were fake" the threat of poison is real. In both cases I wanted to rip out my hair and scream from the rafters THERE ARE NO ZOMBIES IN THE CRAZIES. I refrained from doing so but have unfortunately sprouted a pimple due to my frustration.

In any case, the biggest thing about the original is that there is an ambiguity to the infected. They are merely crazy- and not "sick" looking. They don't have spider veins pulsating from their hick faces and they aren't foaming at the mouth ready to stick a pitch fork into someone's head. I was honestly and truly terrified that the remake of The Crazies would fall into that pattern of mediocrity but fortunately for us all it managed to stay mostly unique.

The story we get is pretty much the same- a plane crashes, unleashing a biological weapon into the drinking water of Hickville USA (Hickville USA with it's very own mayor who has a swimming pool....pish posh). One by one the townspeople start acting a little funny- and before long the government is called in to handle the contamination and quarantine procedures accordingly. Of course with most cases they do this very poorly, causing anger and revolt- resulting in mass hysteria and a town that has no idea what they are up against.

The Good: The biggest positive I can say is that this will keep you entertained for the majority of the film. There are jump scares yes- but there are also some well developed characters happening-- something that Cortez the Killer over at Planet of Terror wisely pointed out was largely amiss in the original. We get people we care about, and we can laugh and wallow in their emotions while still fearing the unknown in the same way that they do. There were also some truly unique shots and scenes- refreshing scenarios and surprising results. Keep a close eye on the Car Wash scene, a really good representation of both the claustrophobic atmosphere of a car wash and the terrifying nature of those giant sponges- which by the way, I have ALWAYS found frightening. Expectations for the most part were exceeded by a sort of surprise twist that was added to the end of scenes, and I loved that.

The Strange: There was this odd "Michael Cera" type of awkward humor happening now and again that felt both oddly relieving and out of place at the same time. I can't really place this as a good or bad thing because it made me laugh but it also made me question whether or not it was intentional. I'm guessing for the most part it was, but still--really awkward humor that I was not expecting which resulted in some uncomfortable chuckles on my part. Also why did the Deputy wear jeans? And since when did I become attracted to Mickey from Scream 2?

The Bad: There is no alternative to the "crazy" stigma. There is no ambiguity of whether or not someone is actually crazy or if they are just angry at the way they are being treated. There were inklings perhaps but for the most part the movie concentrated on the "rage" aspect of the disease which bothered me. I knew it would go down this route, but I was just upset to realize that it was actually happening. I wanted there to be more wacky crazy people like the woman sweeping the grass in the original or the little old lady with the knitting needles. I also did not appreciate the fact that they used the same scare tactic more than once. The first time was great and truly creepy- the second time I was just expecting it. And then of course- the jump scares....way too many! And delayed ones at times. If you're going to get me with a jump scare at least do it right!

Basically the main thing I will tell you is that this movie moves quite far from the original which isn't a bad thing. Remakes are intended to re-make something- to do something over and change our original thoughts and ideas. This remake does achieve that, it provides us with better characters and with scarier crazy people. It doesn't of course show the real nitty grittiness of the government as well it could have nor does it embellish the fact that "the crazies" could just be a stigma rather than a disease. It could have used more moments of townspeople annihilating their families and crazy girls riding bicycles through town- it's not perfect but it still works.

I will never know whether there was really a mouse making it's way through the theater that night- and I will never know if I'm making the right decision when I say, see this remake- but keep in mind that the original and it's themes may still be superior. Mouse or no mouse, I left feeling less threatened by an eminent and tiring zombie apocalypse and more hopeful that the future of horror will start to diverge into a new and refreshing direction. So get out there and see The Crazies this weekend- and please tell me that you saw the mouse!!

Black History Month Day Twenty-Five: Raymond St. Jacques

Raymond St. Jacques may not look familiar upon first glance to many of you horror fans, but if you recall the wonderfully AWESOME movie They Live you will also recall the role of a certain blind street preacher. And if you are a fan of Morgan Freeman and Civil War movies then you may also recall the role of Frederick Douglass in Glory. Raymond St. Jacques or James Arthur Johnson is responsible for both. Oh and I forgot if you are a fan of TV Westerns, I know there are some of you out there, then you will almost certainly recognize him as Simon Blake in Rawhide. Raymond St. Jaques' peak may have hit sometime in the late 1960s and his later career may have been reduced to supporting roles and voice overs but that doesn't mean he isn't someone to be remembered for his stand out performances and really just for his life. Raymond grew up in Connecticut in the 1930s and started writing and performing his own plays in Elementary School. In his teens he spent his high school career washing dishes at Yale, where he would often find himself watching the Drama students rehearse. After a brief stint in jail for a planned robbery and a strict talking to by the judge, Raymond decided to turn his life around and went to New York to become an actor. After being cast in a few minor off Broadway shows and being a dancer and chorus singer in a Broadway musical, Raymond strove to enter the American Shakespeare Festival. He credited his opportunity into the festival by lying about his education and experience, "I lied and said I went to Yale. At that time in the 1940s and 50s to get into theater, I thought black people had to be overqualified and that's how I got into the American Shakespeare Festival--by making myself overqualified". For several years, St. Jacques worked with the San Diego, New York and American Shakespeare Festivals and also taught fencing with the American Festival group in Stratford, where he staged battle scenes. "Those were the days, when a black actor had to know how to do just about everything, had to tell a few lies here and there and even had to come up with a name that was sort of exotic. I was 'James West' for a while, then 'Roy Johnson'. Then I came up with this 'Raymond St. Jacques' and everybody thought I was from some island...The fact is, I just wanted a real long name--something that would look impressive on programs and fill up the screen".

After joining the Actors' Studio in New York and appearing in several off Broadway Productions, Raymond began to make appearances in several TV shows, and then finally landed his film debut role in the James Widmore feature Black Like Me. After his role on Rawhide, Raymond's career truly began to take off and he became a key figure in several blaxploitation films, often standing apart from the rest of the cast and revered for his tremendous acting ability, even when the films themselves were bombs. In fact that seemed to be a common pattern in Raymond's career, TV shows and movies that many refer to as hindrances to the black community are what actually established his reputation as a great actor, as every single critical review almost always raved about Raymond's ability to stand apart and offer up real human emotion and acting skills to an otherwise boring and predictable cast.

Unfortunately after the boom of his blaxploitation films in the 1970s roles started to become more and more scarce. He never stopped working however as he made a return to the stage, took supporting roles in television programs, and did commercial voice overs for products like 7-Up, Pacific Bell and Coca-Cola. Raymond also used his voice in other ways as he became quite a big speaker and promoter of civil rights. He was a prominent guest lecturer and speaker across the country and was even arrested in Washington D.C. on the steps of the South African Embassy after protesting against the government's apartheid policy.

Trends like this, where a promising and talented actor sees a serious decline in his acting roles has always bothered me, especially when I just learn about things like this for the first time. There isn't enough information on the subject to decipher where exactly that decline came from but consider yours truly extremely interested on the subject. Was it due to a preconceived notion like Mantan Moreland, where traditional roles for blacks were met with hostility and anger resulting in less and less roles or did it just happen naturally? A topic that I will surely be discussing in the near future- so keep a look out. In the meantime, I hope I've given you a nice look at an actor who is seldom talked about these days. Raymond St. Jacques passed away in 1990 after a brief battle with Cancer, but not before he established himself as a prominent and successful actor in a world that was undergoing a massive change.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Black History Month Day Twenty-Four: Ken Foree

How's this for a birth name--- Kentotis Alvin Foree. Good stuff? I thought so. We all know and love Ken Foree as the strong willed, survivalist Peter Washington in Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Once again as we saw with Night of the Living Dead, the race of our main character has absolutely nothing to do with film in the slightest. It is never brought up, and that in fact may be the true beauty of Romero's take on the zombie genre. Zombies are us, and no one is safe from becoming one. There can be no discrimination when zombies are involved and that's a fact jack. For me, Peter Washington's recalling of what his grandfather told him will always stay in my head as one of the greatest lines ever uttered, "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth", a line that would be uttered once more by Foree in his cameo for the 2004 remake. Sure others may love Foree for his role as Charlie Altamont in Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects or maybe even as Big Joe Grizzly in the mostly atrocious Halloween remake- but me? I'll always think of him fondly as the wonderful and ass kicking Peter Washington.

Ken was born in Indianapolis to a family mainly consisting of academic and political over achievers. Before acting Ken too was government oriented, working city politics in New York. By luck and a chance audition in 1974, Ken scored the lead role in the off Broadway production of Blues for Mr. Charlie. After that, he was hooked on acting and went on to train at the Performing Gallery in New York, soon landing a role in his first movie, The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars. As far as horror credentials go the list is pretty hearty, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, Devil's Rejects, The Dentist- but what is really hearty is Ken's role as Kenan Thompson's father on that short lived Nickelodeon show Kenan and Kel.
If I can be a real loser here for a minute I will just say that I used to LOVE that show when I was little- and I truly had no idea that Ken Foree was the Dad! It really only makes things 100 times better for me.
These days Ken is busy on the horror convention circuit as a man who loves to meet his fans. He's also responsible for the aptly named "Foree Fest" his very own horror festival held in the UK. Watch these videos down below and you too will realize he is one of the nicest, most down to earth guys in the business with a hunger for........laughter. That's right the man loves to laugh. Plus I totally dig his voice.

Interesting facts:

Ken Foree actually knew Duane Jones before they both starred in Romero's movies.

In his spare time Ken coaches little league basketball and football.

Before entering the acting world, Ken was an all state and all city basketball player.

Despite being an avid motorcyclist, Foree never got to ride a motorcycle in Knightriders.

"Great films always hold up. If you can't appreciate the great silent movie "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "Saving Private Ryan" in the same breadth, you are missing a whole lot. The same rules apply to horror films: the great ones will always have legs."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Digest Quickies: You Should Have Been Wearing Your Seat Belts! Devastating Car Crashes.

Yes the above picture is from The Chipmunk Adventure and yes I promptly watched the entire movie after capturing that screen shot. Ahem. Anyways I am about to go over some seriously EPIC car crashes in horror history- in most cases a seat belt would not have helped and in some cases seat belts may have been worn but nothing would have prevented me from talking about the Chipmunks so there you have it. Shall we get started?

The Descent

Talk about way to go moments. Was the Dad even trying to pay attention while driving or was he just a little too focused on his affair on the side? The sad thing about this car crash is that you don't see it coming- and you do not see the death of the little girl coming and it kind of makes you cry. Also maybe worse is when the crash happens in flashback form- still surprising and jump worthy. There is also a lovely shot of a pole growing straight through that douche bag's head! Huzzah.

The Changeling

The only thing worse than being in a tragic accident is watching a tragic accident that claims the lives of your wife and daughter. What makes this even harder to swallow is the fact that his wife and child weren't even in the car when the accident happened! So seat belts are irrelevant! But also...they totally would have had time to run away. Just sayin'.

The Dead Zone

If I had a nickle for every time a tractor trailer rolled over, and it was so rainy that I couldn't see out my windshield and crashed head on into it! Actually if it wasn't for this tragic accident which landed Christopher Walken in a coma, he would never have been able to save the world from the dastardly future deeds of Senator Stillson's. Good work tractor trailer!


Yeah so we don't actually get to see this happen, but the after math of the accident is enough to realize that this was some pretty serious stuff. Stinks on all accounts!

Final Destination 2

I once saw this whole scene on TV and was so flabbergasted as to what it could possibly be that I couldn't help but keep watching. I eventually figured it out, but it still survives in my head as one of the most ridiculous and craziest things I've ever seen.

Death Proof

Obviously the most epic of all car crashes- this scene is the end of all discussion on what is the best car crash in cinematic history. Never have I ever been so terrified of an impending crash and never have I desired more to yell at someone to put their leg back inside the car!

Other notable crashes:

Carnival of Souls
Wrong Turn
Jeepers Creepers
Scream 2

Pacific Heights: Actually No I DON'T Want Your Creepy Doll House Michael Keaton!

What is it with the 90s and the irrational fear of creepy roommates and/or tenants? How hard is it to do some actual fact checking? And why didn't that first guy just put his credit check application in the MAILBOX?! Unbeknowst to many of you, Pacific Heights has been the most sought after movie on Netflix for at least 5 months. I've been watching it for months on my queue and it never switched from "EXTREMLY LONG WAIT" to "Now Available". Was this movie really that popular? Or was some creepy Michael Keaton fan just hoarding them all? You decide. Well as luck would have it a few days ago it's status did change and I promptly moved it to the top before it became an extremely long wait again- because you better believe it- it WAS an extremely long wait. As it turns out, Pacific Heights features Michael Keaton at his creepiest and it's not the best movie so I'm guessing that a crazed Michael Keaton fan really was hoarding all the copies.

So here's the deal; Melanie Griffith and her boyfriend Drake decide to buy a fixer upper and rent out the apartments. Fun project I guess- until one of there tenants a certain Michael Keaton locks himself inside the first floor apartment before paying his rent. He changes the locks, lets cockroaches run amok, and does construction at odd hours of the night. When Drake tries to do anything about it, Michael Keaton is always one step ahead- and it soon becomes very clear that this sinister man has an agenda and he's not afraid to use it. Plus he's a psycho and somehow retains ownership of the house by craziness. It's just crazy man.

The movie is pretty frustrating because it's one of those....everything possible goes wrong movies and sometime those can really stress me out. Michael Keaton is with no question one of the creepiest men alive- and putting him in a role that demands this creepiness is just cruel. Honestly who decided to cast him as Batman? Too creepy! There are moments in this movie that just make you cringe because that's how vile and creepy he really is! I know I'm using the word creepy a lot, but it's all I can muster when I look into his eyes.

The best part hands down is when Melanie Griffiths exacts her revenge. She really hit all the spots there! Although I question her decision of at first giving the maid all that money and then taking back most of it except a few hundred...what a biotch. And then there is of course the final confrontation with Michael Keaton- holy jeesh! But the part that I found to be really really unsettling was when Melanie goes down into the basement to get the power back on- and Michael Keaton's just sitting in his car smoking and looking at her...!?

And then there is his fantastic notion that building someone a doll house is the best way to make up for past deeds. Yeah because everyone over the age of 30 wants their very own doll house. Ugh. Overall some pretty decent moments of fright, but mostly a "thriller" with a slow build up. I'm glad I waited 6 months to see this! Not. It's not a bad movie- I just don't get why it was always unavailable! Load of crap if you ask me.

Black History Month Day Twenty-Three: Charles S. Dutton

While I mainly recognize Charles Dutton from movies like Gothika, Aliens 3 and Mimic, I was once again shocked to find out about an actor's past I would have otherwise known nothing about. Of all the actors and actresses I have highlighted this month, Charles Dutton may have the most unique story of them all. While most actors tell stories of how they always wanted to be an actor ever since they could talk, Dutton credits his career in acting with his seven year stint in prison. While most future actors and actresses spent time playing make believe games in their backyard, Dutton was on street corners having "rock fights" with opposing gangs and yearning for a chance to go to prison- something that Dutton claims was "expected" of his generation.

Born in Baltimore and bred in a public housing project just south of the Maryland penitentiary, Dutton grew up in a neighborhood where more guys his age went to prison instead of school. Dutton himself dropped out of school in the 7th grade for a life that was filled with rockfights instead of school papers and pop quizzes. At the age of 17, Dutton was stabbed eight times and retaliated by beating his assailant to death. This action would send him to prison until he was released in less than two years on parole. He was then sent back in 1969 for possession of deadly weapons, a sentence that would have lasted three years if Dutton hadn't assaulted a prison guard, increasing his sentence to eleven years.

During those eleven years Dutton did his part to "raise hell" as he says. But it was his time in solitary confinement that actually awakened him to acting. Here, prisoners were locked in a 5 x7 cell, fed once every three days and allowed one piece of reading material although the only light to read by was from the light that shone under the door. On his way to solitary confinement, Dutton grabbed by chance a book of short plays by African American playwrights. After reading all of the plays, he was inspired to bring the inspiration he felt while reading the plays to his other inmates. Once Dutton was released from solitary, he formed a theater group and prepared a play for presentation at the talent show,

"Doing the play before a sea of very hard men, I felt this eerie kind of power. I could make them quiet, I could make them think. It was the only positive thing I had at that time in my life, the only immediate remedy for prison life. I suddenly knew what I was born to do" (quote taken from the San Francisco Examiner).

After a close call with death after a prison fight, Dutton told himself that he would end his life of violence and move on to better things. After his recovery he was moved to another penitentiary where he persuaded the warden to let him take courses at the nearest junior college where he eventually received an Associate of Arts degree. Then after finally being released from prison, Charles returned to Baltimore and finished his college education at Towson State University, majoring in theater. A professor here urged him to apply to Yale Drama School, and after some skepticism, Dutton applied and was accepted.

At Yale, Dutton met playwright August Wilson who began to create characters for him in works-in-progress. One of these works was the play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a role that would earn Dutton his very first Tony Award nomination. This role opened up more opportunities in other of Wilson's works for Dutton as well as gave him some more mainstream credibility on TV shows. These days Dutton is extremely successful, scoring roles in big movies and even created his very own TV show, Roc on the Fox network. The main character receiving Dutton's old street nickname and harboring some past references to his life as well. Although prison life is nothing to boast about, one can say that through his time in prison, Dutton was able to realize and grasp his true potential. His past like many actor's we have seen plays an important and vital role in how Dutton lives from day to day and how he continues to develop his character. Charles Dutton is truly a fascinating man, and now that I know about his past I look forward to seeing him in a completely different light.

I used to be a hardcore, hearted guy. Once you make the decision to change, all kinds of things happen.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Black History Month Day Twenty-Two: Stan Shaw

Stan Shaw may be best know to horror fans as Sean's father's partner in The Monster Squad. Yes the detective who gets blown up in his police car by that always pesky and evil Count Dracula. While he doesn't get a ton of screen time, the character of Detective Sapir has always stayed with me as the sarcastic wise cracking partner who uttered the famous Mummy line. Although it was short lived, his role has prompted me to dive deeper into the magical world of Stan Shaw and I found a few interesting tid bits to share with you all.

For starters, Stan is actually the son of saxophonist Eddie Shaw and the cousin of the late soul singers Sam Cooke and Tyrone Davis. Emmy Doomas would sure be excited to know that since she has recently flooded my Ipod with Sam Cooke songs! Shaw also has a history in martial arts as before he became an actor, he was a karate, judo and ju jitsu instructor in Chicago. It was due to this background that allowed Shaw to take on roles as professional fighters in movies like Tough Enough, Harlem Nights and Snake Eyes. He also had a role in Rocky, a scene that eventually became a deleted scene. In the scene, Shaw played another boxer named Dipper, who was infuriated with the attention that Rocky was getting and challenged him to a fight in front of a television reporter.

His real start however began as many career do, on Broadway. Shaw first appeared in the Chicago production of Hair as well as the Broadway production of The Me Nobody Knows. Sure there isn't tons to know about Stan Shaw, but once again I am content in knowing that he had such a successful martial arts career and just goes to show that you learn something new everyday!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Black History Month Day Twenty-One: Mantan Moreland

My first glimpse at Mantan Moreland was as the innocent and highly unsuspecting postman in Spider Baby. At the time I didn't think much of it- he was merely a mail man who needed to be there in order to showcase the first kill. But going back and doing some research I found that Moreland's life as an actor was actually quite complicated. What would appear to others as just a very minor role in a dark-comedic horror movie., stands as a major downgrade from the types of roles that Moreland was used to. Previous to this film, Mantan Moreland was a regular in comedy thrillers of Hollywood, the only problem is his roles began to be met with dissension amongst those campaigning for proper treatment of African Americans. What should have been a return to more featured roles for Moreland unfortunately resulted in a retrograde movement due to the change in attitudes towards black actors during the Civil Rights Movement. Due to this, Moreland's deep comedic center seemed to drift off into the unknown and in the case of me, many saw him as just another "mailman" as his later films and appearances did little to salvage what his history left behind.
Born in 1902, Mantan began running away from home at the age 12 in order to join circuses, a habit that would have him reluctantly being returned home time and time again. It was during these brief stints with the circus that Moreland began sharpening his comedic skills and he began to develop acts that would become popular on the Vaudeville stage. One of his more famous routines involved something referred to as "indefinite talk" or incomplete sentence routines- where he would team up with another comic and the two would continually finish and top one another mid-sentence. Someone along the line, Moreland's focus began to change to film where due to his great ability to make people laugh, he was cast in more featured roles. These roles usually placed Moreland in a manservant type of role, playing a character that was easily startled and ran from trouble at a moment's notice. It was these types of roles that gave Moreland both infamy and problems as the public began to take note that these roles were offensive and stereotypical.

Perhaps the role that helped Moreland truly breakthrough was his reoccurring role as Birmingham, Charlie Chan's skittish chauffeur who often warned his boss of the impending doom that was to come. By the 1950's however peoples attitudes began to change, and the rise of the Civil Rights Movement interpreted all of Moreland's past roles as racist. This resulted in Mantan and many others being ridiculed and ostracized for what they had achieved in their past. Unfortunately it would take decades before generations could forget these roles, and before Mantan Moreland could make his comeback into film doing what he loved to do.

By the time Moreland was able to make this comeback he was riddled with ill health and although he did manage to make a few appearances alongside comic greats like Bill Cosby and Carl Reiner, his life ended in 1973 when he died of cerebral hemorrhaging, just as he was "settling into his renewed popularity".

The research of Mantan Moreland has without a doubt surprised me. Although most articles I have read say that he is today remembered for his comedic genius and not his "black character acting" it still makes me angry that his career was put on hold for so long. While Mantan Moreland may have broken some barriers and opened doors for other black actor's to follow, it stills leaves me with a deep feeling of regret that Mantan Moreland wasn't able to showcase his talents as well as he should have. Instead of completely starting anew and turning stereotypes on their heads, it seems as though Moreland was shoved into the back of a cold and darkened room, until generations withered and people "forgot" the past. Thankfully for me, and now hopefully many of you, you will no longer see him as just the mail man in Spider Baby- but as a man and an actor who had a tremendous love for comedy and for making others laugh.