Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Scary" stuff plays for show (on DVD) and for real (on line)

With a new video-game propelled "Street Fighter" and tweeny-bobber inspired "Jonas Brothers in 3D" dominating big screen movie openings this week, it sounds like a good time to talk smaller releases with hometown Cleveland connections.

Now on DVD comes "American Scary," good and often funny moments in documentary form about the rise of TV horror hosts in the late '50s and early '60s. Naturally, one-too-many talking heads intrude on the proceedings, but it's still fun to see and hear the likes of Philadelphia's Zacherley, the Los Angeles-based Vampira (the late, great Maila Nurmi), and the local boy-turned ABC-TV golden voice who originally made a name for himself by interrupting really bad movies as the fabled Ghoulardi.

The latter, of course, would be masterful Ernie Anderson, who literally exploded ("hey, cool it with da boom-booms") on Cleveland's WJW-TV from 1962-1966 until dropping everything to join broadcast pal and local comic Tim Conway in Hollywood.

"Scary" clips of the dearly departed Anderson, whose son P.T. is one of our best directors (think "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," "There Will Be Blood"), are few and far between. However, there is a brief interview with him and thoughts about the man from Conway and a slew of late-night successors who carried on the city's penchant for laughing at themselves and all things crazy and weird. That means there's plenty from "Big Chuck" Schodowski (with Li'l John Rinaldi and Bob "Houlihan" Welles), Ron Sweed ("The Ghoul") and Kevin Scarpino ("Son of Ghoul").

One surprising moment even finds former Top 40 Cleveland DJ "Jerry G" Bishop hosting his own '70s late-night gig in Chicago as Svengoolie, obviously a schtick that borrowed heavily from Ghoulardi's beatnik self.

Much more serious stuff -- and a lesser Ohio connection -- arrives with "Must Read After My Death," a compellingly rich documentary about a very dysfunctional, if well-to-do family.

One quick line mentions that a woman named Allis, the grandmother of writer/director Morgan Dews, was born in Cleveland. Otherwise, this unique type of horror story takes place in Connecticut, where Allis comes back from the grave in Dictaphone recordings and family films she left behind for all to see and hear.
It's certainly not a fanciful tale she tells -- as brilliantly edited by Dews -- but one that's as often heartbreaking as it is engrossing as we witness lives and minds of family members, including four children, hanging on the edge.
Allis and husband Charley somehow found themselves on the cover of Life magazine before their marriage -- a second go-round for each -- started to crumble amidst
his lengthy business travels, some apparent open-ended philandering, and her own ideas about being an independent wife and mother.

Though Dews' film already is playing in New York and starts Friday in L.A., anyone can access it right now for digital viewing at Price is $2.99 for a three-day, unlimited ticket. Quality of screening, depending on the viewer's available bandwidth and hardware setup, may be as choice as HD. (The releasing company's player allows buyers to dial up or dial down the quality of the stream so that they receive the best possible quality for their particular setup.
Also worthy of note: Producer-Director Alan Poul ("Six Feet Under") and Producer-Writer Craig Wright (“Dirty Sexy Money”) just this week finalized a deal to option the family drama captured in the Dews doc. The two will co-produce the project as a feature film which Wright will pen and Poul will direct.

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