Monday, December 5, 2011

Monkey Hustle Part 1

The first time I heard of this film was while living in Old Louisville in 1993. I lived alone and was single, spending most of my spare time drinking and watching the best exploitation the Indian owned video store on the other side of the alley had to offer. 
The store had ratty water-stained carpet, and was shoved into what must have been an insurance office or apartment leasing agency in the 1970’s. There were 3 rooms. The counter was at the entrance. The owner was in his 50’s, and ran the place full time. He could usually be found watching a small TV, tuning into Phil Donahue or the WHAS news. The next room had a modest shelf of allegedly new releases. Comedies and children’s fare rounded out this room. They were priced so much higher than the catalog items, I never bothered to see what he had. 
The third room is where the action was. Horror, drama, action, mystery packaged in lurid boxes with sensational pictures of naked writhing Nazi hookers, loin-clothed cannibals feasting on witless anthropologists, shirtless black men who were done with whitey’s shit, and sweat drenched leering serial killers. This was where I spent most of my money. 
I discovered Ilsa- She Wolf of the SS, Jungle Holocaust, Story of O, Maniac, The Crazies, Martin, Cannibal Ferrox, Reanimator, Bloodsucking Freaks, X-Tro, and the perverse joy of Jess Franco here. 
I also discovered Dolomite, Shaft, and Super Fly. Rudy Ray Moore in particular brought me a lot of delight during this time. I quickly plowed through trilogy of Dolomite, The Human Tornado, and Avenging Disco Godfather. One day, on a whim, I was browsing the front of the store, going through the comedy section. There it was, Yaphet Kodo and Rudy Ray Moore teamed up in something called The Monkey Hustle. I put back Raging Bull and added this new mystery to my stack. I dropped the tapes off at home, and made it down the street to the liquor store for dinner. 
A few hours later, well after the video store closed, I put in the tape. I had a top-loading VHS with a bad rewind button that I bought off my old room mate for $25. Before I could return tapes, I had to let the tape play to the end and rewind automatically so as to avoid the very serious $1 rewind fees. We had some serious troubles in the first days of the Clinton era. 

Anyway, I pressed play. The screen flickered, then nothing. A clicking came from the tape machine. I ejected the tape which, by the way, took like 3 minutes. Life was tough. 
The tape was broken. I was an audio engineer at a radio station at the time, but didn’t feel qualified to fix the tape. Commercial VHS tapes cost anywhere from fifty to a couple of hundred dollars, and had all kinds of tamper proof tape on them to prevent theft. People would actually swap the tape inside the shell for a cheap consumer grade tape with something else on it entirely. Explaining to a store owner that the tape you rented was broken, taped over, swapped out, un-rewound, late, or lost was putting yourself at the mercy of a person who could make up any rule they wanted on the spot, and who could charge you any amount they felt like based on a totally unknowable formula. At worst, they could say you owed them $120 for a replacement tape, which was the same as them saying “sorry, you’ve lost your rental privileges. Forever.”
Apparently my five tape a week habit put me in the owner’s good graces. He may have even let me rent something else for free in its place. Maybe that’s when I got Raging Bull. I never made it to the end of that one, passing out around my 16th beer at 5 AM. 
A few months later, my apartment was broken into in the middle of thee day. My VCR, TV, CD player, and stereo were stolen.
I didn’t have a VCR again until 1998. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Dreams don't come to me like they used to. This could not be more of a relief. 

From 1989 through 2004 I drank as much alcohol as my body would tolerate. There were a number of complex and boring reasons for this. One of the more colorful justifications was sleep related. When I was sober, that is to say, before I first drank, sleep came reluctantly and always brought nightmares. 

There was the one about the woman with the winking eyeball embedded in her navel. The time I was Jesus in a flooded parking garage also remains vivid. Both of these dreams are old enough to drink their ownself. 

Some times nightmares of sex with family members would haunt me. Everyone has had that one, but it doesn't make it any less disturbing. Having to explain in the dream world to one's own Grandmother as to why you are having erectile issues is a hassle no one needs, asleep or awake. That one is actually a post-sobriety one, and happened about ten years after Grandma's death. 

My oldest dreams, the ones that have stuck with me since youth are numerous. Being chased by Frankenstein's monster around the apartment complex of my youth. The dream named "hair Full of Bees." Doing battle with a top-hatted villain called The Gas Master whose powers had to do with chemistry, not flatulence. 

The worst dreams of all are the ones in slow motion, where walking is a complex conscious event. Something sinister is right behind me, and my legs don't make sense, and the air is like Jello. It feels like dwarves are standing on your chest. The threat, imagined but unseen gets closer. The touch of a malicious hand flickers across your shoulder. Death is upon you and a forced scream that spills over into waking is the only escape. 

That's the one that makes me thirsty, parched for the acidic splash of gin on a hot Summer's night at 3AM. That's the dream that wakes the cat, the wife, and prods your brain with needles the next morning when you can barely remember waking the night before.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011


All I really want to write about is Steve Ditko.

Netflix has recently added the Spider-Man cartoon from the 60's. These cartoons were my gateway into comics in 1974. I first saw the episode about the Flying Dutchman with Mysterio in a hotel room in April of that year. I was with my Grandmother and Mama in a Travel Lodge in Louisville, Kentucky just days after the big tornado. We were waiting for our new apartment to be ready, having just moved across the state from Paducah. I was 3. Grandma was 53, and Mama was 26.

The tornado caused some damage on  the roof of the complex we were moving to. So, to keep me busy, I was given free reign of the hotel room TV. Channel 41, WDRB had all the cartoons Bugs Bunny, Spider-Man, Mickey Mouse Club reruns. They also had all the monster movies on weekends. Everything from Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein to Black Sabbath. I finally watched Black Sabbath a few weeks ago, after having built it up in my head for 35 years. The scene with Boris Karloff toting the devil's head proudly still freaked me out, even more so in color.

What does any of this have to do with Steve Ditko? Quite a bit, and we'll get to that later.