Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween! Here's the info on the horror film festival that will be playing locally at Entertainment Cinemas in Springfield...and yes the Other MM let's go!

October 25, 2007 (Los Angeles, CA) – Crazy Eights and Lake Dead are the final two films to be acquired by After Dark Films for After Dark Horrorfest ® 2007 it was announced today by After Dark Films’ CEO Courtney Solomon. Crazy Eights and Lake Dead join Borderland, The Deaths of Ian Stone, Mulberry Street, Nightmare Man, Tooth and Nail and Unearthed in the 2007 line-up of “8 Films To Die For ®” which plays November 9 – 18, 2007 on over 300 screens across the country.

Starring Traci Lords, Frank Whaley, Dina Meyer, Gabrielle Anwar, George Newbern and Dan DeLuca, Crazy Eights follows six childhood friends as they face their past and the secret they share. Crazy Eights was co-written and directed by James Koya Jones, co-written by Dan DeLuca and was produced by Jones, DeLuca and John Kaila.

Directed by George Bessudo and written by Daniel P. Coughlin, Lake Dead follows three sisters and a group of their friends as they take a trip to the home of the recently deceased grandfather to learn more about the promise of an inheritance, only to encounter a family of psychos who have taken up residence in the old man's cabin. Lake Dead stars Edwin Craig, Pat McNeely and James C. Burns and was produced by Todd Chamberlain, Hector Echavarria, Jason Hice and Mike Karkeh.

“We are very excited to be announcing our final slate for After Dark Horrorfest ® 2007,” said After Dark’s CEO Courtney Solomon. “Both Crazy Eights and Lake Dead are thrilling horror films made by gifted filmmakers. We are incredibly proud of all 8 films and look forward to sharing them with our audiences nationwide.”

Frontiers, which premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews will receive it's own separate theatrical release. The film, which in its original state did not meet the requirements for an R rating from the MPAA will bow at a later date to be announced by After Dark Films. Solomon stated that, "rather than sacrifice the artistic integrity of this beautiful film, we've chosen to allow audiences to view the film in its unedited form as a separate theatrical release. We'll be announcing details of this release on shortly."

Along with its partners AMC, Regal and Cinemark, After Dark Horrorfest ®2007 runs over the course of one week, including two weekends, on over 300 screens across the United States from November 9 – 18th, making it the largest commercial film festival in the world. This unique festival is the first of its kind, premiering “8 Films to Die For ®,” celebrating the horror genre by showcasing films that run the spectrum of horror from thrillers to gore to the supernatural. After achieving groundbreaking success in its inaugural year, now After Dark Films is back with an even bigger and better Horrorfest.

In 2006, After Dark Horrorfest ® became the first film festival in history to break into the top 10 at the national box office, grossing over 2.5 million dollars, on only a quarter of the screens of any other film in the top ten that weekend. The “8 Films to Die For ®” package, released on DVD by partner Lionsgate Films, has reached great success with over 1.8 million DVDs in circulation.

In conjunction with YouTube, After Dark Films has renewed its search for the next great queen of scream – Miss Horrorfest 2007, the official spokesperson of Horrorfest. Last year the Miss Horrorfest contest proved to be the most successful contest in YouTube history. This month, contestants have submitted 90-second videos on YouTube and participated in live auditions across the country in the hopes of winning $50,000 and the coveted title of Miss Horrorfest 2007. Log on to and watch the top contestants complete today.

For more information on After Dark Horrorfest ® 2007, including how to purchase tickets and all access passes to this hair-raising national event, please visit the official website at

2007 After Dark Horrorfest ® Lineup

BORDERLAND (based on true events)
WRITTEN BY: Zev Berman
CAST: Brian Presley, Rider Strong, Jake Muxworthy, Beto Cuevas, Sean Astin

SYNOPSIS: In BORDERLAND, three Texas University seniors, on the eve of their graduation, road-trip to a Mexican Border town for a final weekend of drinking and debauchery. Their vacation becomes a living nightmare as the trio runs afoul of an ancient blood cult looking for human sacrifice. Based on true events, Borderland blends the raw fear of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the gritty true crime realism of In Cold Blood, evoking a world of paranoia, death and terror.

DIRECTED BY: James Koya Jones
WRITTEN BY: James Koya Jones, Dan DeLuca
CAST: Traci Lords, Frank Whaley, Dina Meyer, Gabrielle Anwar, George Newbern, Dan DeLuca

SYNOPSIS: Six people are brought together at the funeral of a childhood friend. While settling the estate, they discover a map, which leads them on a search for a long forgotten time capsule, at the request of their dead friend. What they discover reawakens repressed childhood traumas and leads them on a journey through their long abandoned childhood home: a home with a terrible secret and a mysterious dead girl who will lead them to their strange fates.

DIRECTED BY: Dario Piana
WRITTEN BY: Brendan Hood
CAST: Mike Vogel, Jamie Murray, and Christina Cole

SYNOPSIS: On an otherwise ordinary night, the young Ian Stone encounters a mysterious creature and is forced him into the path of an oncoming train. Rather than facing certain death, Ian finds himself reborn into a new life that feels strangely familiar. After his second death, it becomes apparent that Ian is being hunted by an evil presence, and will be forced to die every day until he can solve the mystery of his own life.

DIRECTED BY: George Bessudo
WRITTEN BY: Daniel P. Coughlin
CAST: Edwin Craig, Pat McNeely, James C. Burns, Kelsey Crane, Jim Devoti

SYNOPSIS: Three beautiful sisters learn of a long lost grandfather, but only make this discovery upon the news of his grisly death. Enticed to visit grandpa’s old home after hearing of an inheritance, the sister’s head to the back country with some friends. We quickly follow the group of friends through the gates of a redneck infested hell. The psychotic family occupying the inherited property goes on a long awaited, and much enjoyed killing spree. As the family’s twisted motives unravel, the sisters discover a terror worse than death.

WRITTEN BY: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
CAST: Laurel Astri, Kim Blair, Ron Brice, Bo Corre, Nick Damici

SYNOPSIS: The city that never sleeps may shut its eyes for good when a deadly infection turns its residents to savage creatures. There is only hope for a small few, including six recently evicted tenants who must protect their crumbling apartment complex as the city around them is thrown into chaos.

CAST: Tiffany Shepis, Blythe Metz, Luciano Szafir, James Ferris, Hanna Putnam, Jack Sway, and Richard Moll.

SYNOPSIS: When a woman orders an ancient fertility mask to help her conceive, her quest for motherhood turns into a quest for survival as it becomes clear the mask is possessed by a demonic spirit. Will anyone survive the NIGHTMARE MAN?

CAST: Rachel Miner, Rider Strong, Nicole Dupont, Michael Kelly, Alexandra Barreto, Emily Young, Zack Robidas, Kevin E. Scott, with Robert Carradine, and Vinnie Jones and Michael Masden

SYNOPSIS: A small group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world take refuge in an empty hospital with plans on re-building society. They rescue a young girl who is the victim of a brutal attack, but soon discover that they were followed by a savage band of cannibals known as Rovers. The Rovers begin to kill them one by one, and the trapped survivors must find a way to outwit their stalkers.

CAST: Emmanuelle Vaugier, Luke Goss, Beau Garrett, Charles Q. Murphy, Tonantzin Carmelo,
Whitney Able, Tommy Dewey, M.C. Gainey, Russell Means, and Miranda Bailey

SYNOPSIS: After a sinister crash occurs off the highway of a small desert town, things take a horrific turn for its residents. As people vanish and nature dies, the local sheriff investigates, only to discover that the fate of her town rests just below the earth.
© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rose McGowan rules as the unlikely heroine in "Planet Terror."

It's getting closer to Halloween and a set of creaky but fun scary movies is in this week's DVD column.


Unlike members of my staff who grew up watching the original animated adventures of benevolent robots from another world who could change into looking like a truck, I held no sentiment for "The Transformers," and the characters' live-action feature film debut didn't really appeal to me much.

Intrigued, though, about the use of computer animation, I spent two and a half hours of my life to watch this mega-budget film directed by mega-budget hack Michael Bay. I was surprised to see just how much I enjoyed the film, despite my initial reservations.

The story of a race of evil robots coming to earth to try to find the artifact that would restore their race was told on several different levels with a fair amount of skill by Bay. He set up several on-going human storylines and effectively set up the good robot versus bad robot back-story.

The look of the film was impressive with the animation flawlessly executed.

Where I had some problems is with the shifting of the tone of the film from straightforward adventure to silly with the introduction of John Turturro's "X-File-ish" character. It was way over the top.

There were also problems with the length of the film of 144 minutes. There was at least 20 minutes to a half-hour of non-essential scenes that simply slowed down the film. A movie such as this one needs to keep going forward.

All in all, though, this film was a big surprise. The two-disc DVD set has a second disc full of extras on how the film was made. If you're a fan, you'd probably want to get that one.

Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive

Well, let's be truthful. None of these five films are "classics," and several of them aren't even horror films.

That didn't stop me from enjoying all of them, though, as I'm a sucker for the kind of horror movies Universal made in the 1930s and '40s.

It was a far more innocent time when a menacing hand coming from behind a curtain, a gorilla with an agenda and a mad scientist with a plan to create a race of electrically driven supermen were elements that could make up a fun time at the movies.

This new set features "The Black Cat," "Man Made Monster," "Horror Island," "Night Monster" and "Captive Wild Woman." The stars include Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Lionel Atwill, among others.

"The Black Cat" and "Horror Island" are both thrillers. "Cat" features a venal family waiting for the matriarch to die, while "Island" has a shifty entrepreneur finding out his once-worthless island is worth enough to kill over.

"Man Made Monster" has nutty Lionel Atwill turning everyday guy Lon Chaney, Jr. into a human battery. A traditional mad scientist film, this is actually an over-looked little gem in the Universal pantheon of horror films.

"Night Monster" is a curious little film that starts off as a mystery, but winds up as a horror film. While not totally successful, it's very engaging.

Lovely actress Acquanetta is the main attraction in "Captive Wild Woman," in which doctor John Carradine transplants human glands into a gorilla and the result is a stunning young woman! This film is a bit difficult to watch as it is set largely in a circus with tons of footage dedicated to a lion and tiger act. Watching people snap whips and shoot at animals that should be in a jungle somewhere is not my idea of fun.

For people who like their horror films involving lots of on-screen torture and brutality, these films will seem tamer than tame. However, some horror fans can still appreciate a sip of the old stuff, even though it may not be the best vintage.

Planet Terror: Extended and Unrated

Okay, so can a guy who sits through a hokey film like "Horror Island" actually liked the zombie-laden, blood-dripping action of Robert Rodriguez's half of "Grindhouse?"

Sure enough. What can I say; I'm a film fan of many tastes.

This two-disc DVD celebrates the best part of the collaboration between Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, an over-the-top homage to the wacky science fiction/horror films that used to be seen at drive-ins and urban theaters 30 years ago.

What has always attracted me to these films is their underground nature. While critics and historians looked at the standard Hollywood movies and foreign imports, there was a whole group of films and filmmakers flying under the radar.

They made outrageous films some just silly and some audacious. Out of that experience came directors such as Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush and Paul Bartel, among others.

What Rodriguez has effectively captured is that gonzo spirit of those films and amped it up to his style of filmmaking.

If exploding zombies and a heroine who has an automatic weapon as a prosthesis aren't your cup of tea, that's fine. But if your taste in film is a little broader and you can appreciate the tongue-in-cheek approach to this end-of-the-world scenario, then "Planet Terror" is someplace at which you'll want to spend some time.

The extras are great as they truly go behind the scenes to show how an independent filmmaker such as Rodriguez makes his films.

This one is highly recommended with some reservations.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, October 29, 2007

Hey, my post for Monday is out of chronological order...scroll down, please!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I couldn’t help myself this week. I actually made fun of the fact that I’m NOT a Red Sox fan despite living in Massachusetts. In fact, I don’t care for baseball period.

It didn’t go over too well at work.

We all want to be members of a tribe and we are all members of multiple tribes. I just don’t care about the Red Sox tribe.

Naturally many people don’t understand this.

A lot of folks at work wear their Red Sox shirts every time they play a World Series Game. And they analyze each game, each play. Their love of the game transcends just an appreciation of a sport. I understand a little of what it’s like being a different religion in a nation dominated by a single faith.

And if you admit your non-Red Sox status, people look at you as if you’re a freak. I willingly admit my freak status about my own stuff, but they view themselves as “normal.” I wouldn’t mind the Sox Nation attitude if folks just admitted how geeky it really is.

Ninety-nine percent of the people who come into my office never make a comment of the memorabilia on the shelves that symbolizes my tribes: the tribe of animation fan and historian; the tribe of Max Fleischer; the tribe of Tom Tyler; the tribe of Rudy Ray Moore (he signed the still “to Mike a bad m.f.” sigh!); the horror film tribe; the local history tribe, etc.

It’s one of the first things I do when meeting someone at their home or place of business. One way to get a conversation started is to see if there are common denominators.

Well, it’s Halloween, the one time of the year when being a horror fan is looked upon with some favor and I want to attend the “After Dark Eight Films to Die For” fest which is coming here to Springfield’s Entertainment Cinemas. I’m sure some of the eight films will suck, but I’m in the mood to fly my freak flag as the kids call it these days!

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, October 26, 2007

Marky Mark is concerned about my well-being because I've not blogged in such a long period. Well, I'm alive and bushed due to a heavy work schedule and will extrude some serious posts this weekend.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Those Crazy Babysitting Twins from "Planet Terror" at Rock and Shock in person...

and in character for their roles in the new movie "The Black Waters of Echos Pond...very nice kids to talk to!

I recently went to the fourth annual Rock and Shock show in nearby Worcester. It reminds me of Chiller Con years ago when it was a managable size with personality – unlike its current incarnation of the Big E of horror. I bought a couple of items, hung out with buddies and had an interesting reunion of sorts with a former friend.

I also bought a low-budget independent horror film titled "Icabod" by Andy Sawyer and was given by another filmmaker, Andrew Shanley, his film "Hangman."

I mention both guys in the piece, but didn't review the films in the papers. Both are shorts and Sawyer, adapting the famous story of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, actually succeeds in many ways to produce an effective period piece. For the most part the costumes, exteriors and hair styles look authentic. That's an accomplishment on a mega-low budget.

The trouble with the film is the climax. With a story that is so well known and even been the basis of a feature length film, one has to come up with something dramatically different. I think Sawyer was prevented by his budget to accomplish a visiual or dramatic difference.

"Hangman" is about a serial killer who hangs four young women. That's it. No character development. No resolution. I think Shanely was very proud of devising a hanging stunt rig, but under direct lights and prolonged takes it's clear to see how the stunt is accompished.

God bless both of these guys for trying.

WORCESTOR – For thousands of Bay State horror fans, the Halloween season doesn’t start until the annual “Rock & Shock” show staggers into the DCU center.

What appears to be at first glance a way for fans to get autographs from horror film celebrities and buy everything from DVDs, movie posters, t-shirts and even teddy bears with a horror theme is actually much more.

Scratch the surface though and there’s another theme: while today’s media technologies allow people to produce books, magazines and movies much easier than ever before, getting those products to their potential audiences is more difficult than before with a handful of corporations controlling the pipelines to consumers.

Shows such as “Rock & Shock allow creative people a direct market for their creations.

Andrew Shanley and Andy Sawyer are the men behind New Blood Productions (, a central Massachusetts operation making independent horror films. They sell their films on DVD at horror shows such as “Rock & Shock” and on eBay when they’re not at their day jobs in cable television and teaching, respectively.

Since 1993, the pair has used a group of actors and fellow filmmakers who’ve been willing to work for next to nothing just to practice their craft. They concentrate on making the films, rather than distribution.

Not so director Alex Pucci, ( who was at the show selling DVDs of his films and publicizing a new film “Frat House Massacre,” a slasher film that is reminiscent of those that were popular in the 1970s. Pucci said the hardest work in making a movie is getting it distributed. He proudly said his film “Camp Slaughter” was recently purchased by Universal Home Video and will be getting mainstream distribution. He’s hoping for a theatrical release for “Frat House Massacre,” a $200,000 feature shot on film rather than digital video.

One of Pucci’s stars in his new film, Nikki Notarile, said with a smile she couldn’t reveal if she was a survivor or a victim in the film and was quick to hand this reporter a postcard publicizing her husband’s movie “Methodic.” She said the Weinstein brothers – the founders of Miramax – were considering distributing the film.

Cadaver Girls is a reaction to corporate distribution problem. Lady D-Kay, the self-described “caretaker” of the company explained it’s a collective of independent horror artists a means to display their work and get it to fans. She said the sales of the group’s t-shirts, magazines and calendars are through appearances at shows such as this one and through their Web site (

So far, she said the response has been very receptive and the experience has been “very enriching.”

Frank Monahan stuck out at the show like a sore thumb, as he wasn’t wearing black, had no apparent tattoos or piercings and there wasn’t a single skull at his table. The Virginia-based publisher was at the show at the request of one of its sponsors, WAAF FM, with his book, “For the Boys; Pin-Ups for the Troops.” Monahan bought the rights to classic 1940s and ‘50s pin-up painting by Gil Elvgren, which originally appeared in calendars. He then had contemporary models and photographers collaborate on their own version of the classic cheesecake.

For every book, he sells he sends one to troops stationed overseas. So far since the book came out earlier this year he has shipped out 2,000 copies. The book is designed to fit into a back pocket and is printed on waterproof paper.

Part of the sales also goes to Fisher House, a Maryland-based charity that helps the families of injured military personnel.
Monahan said the response has been amazing since the book appeared four months ago. It can be obtained online at

There were many authors at the show, including Jenny Hula Curry, a Monson resident who is working on her Masters degree in Literature at Western New England College. Her horror novel, “Brothers Huxten” was self-published through Infinity Publishing Co. and is available through and

A native of upstate New York, Curry started her story in Chicopee and ended it in Jordanville, N.Y. She described it as “graphic” and “fast-paced.”

“It leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination, “she added. “The brothers have a dark secret that destroys all.”

Curry has loved horror since she was 11 years old and has several other book ideas stored on her laptop.

The direct marketing approach extends to the celebrity guests who come to meet fans and sell their autographs and other merchandise. This year’s show featured a number of cast members from “The Hills Have Eyes,” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” as well as horror vets such as Tony Todd (“Candyman”) and Kane Hodder (the “Friday the 13th” series).

One of the longer lines was for two of the cast members of “Grindhouse,” Electra and Elise Avellan, known in the film as “the crazy babysitting twins.”

Smiling and eager to chat with fans, the pair said they have been doing horror shows for about a year now “non-stop.”
“The fans have been amazing,” according to Electra.

Although they both appear in the new horror film, “The Black Waters of Echo's Pond,” audiences should expect to see a fright film version of the Olsen twins. Electra wants to purse acting, while Elise is a dancer.

And both revealed they aren’t “into horror so much,” but noted with a laugh there are no conventions for conventional dramas.

“Planet Terror,” the half of “Grindhouse” in which they appeared is out in stores this week in an extended version. They said their uncle told them they would be in more scenes with the new version.

Their uncle is the film’s creator Robert Rodriquez. Before one could think of nepotism, Electra said their uncle wouldn’t have put them in the film if he hadn’t thought they could handle the role.

“He’s very cautious,” Electra said. She added though “he could make anyone look good.”

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, October 12, 2007

The intersection of Federal and Worthington Streets used to be among the toughest neighborhoods in the city of Springfield. Just a block from Springfield Technical Community College, the group of apartment buildings at the corner and those along tiny Summit Street were classic examples of urban blight.

The fact that a developer would come in, buy most of the buildings and spend millions of dollars up-grading them should be a sign about the nature of Springfield there are plenty of signs of a turnaround.

Yes, there are very serious problems. No one is proud of the fact the city is ranked sixth in the nation for child poverty, for example.

This story, though, is one of hope, as are the new homes that are being built in the Old Hill and Maple-High Six Corners Neighborhood.

I'm not spreading the Chamber of Commerce line here. The simple truth is in the last few years, there has been much progress in implementing solutions for some of the city's problems.

I was happy to see a news crew from ABC40 covering the story of the Worthington Street apartments. I know that I'll get in trouble with some people, but basically it seems most of our local television news centers on the negative.

I sometimes wonder if crime diminishes locally, what would they cover?

I expect a beating from my electronic colleagues at any time now.


Here's something to ponder: the Associated Press distributed a story in which it revealed that 40 percent of today's Americans have never lived when there wasn't a Bush or Clinton in the White House.

Yikes! It's time to vote for someone else, unless you believe in dynasties. How would Hillary look in one of those funky headpieces pharaohs used to wear?

I received this press release recently: "Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles today announced a pilot project to introduce Plug-in Hybrid technology in the state vehicle fleet. Achieving up to 100 miles per gallon, plug-in hybrid cars advance the Patrick Administration's clean energy goals of saving energy costs, reducing emissions, and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. The announcement was made at the AltWheels festival on Boston City Hall Plaza.

'"Massachusetts-developed clean energy research and development can lead us to breakthrough vehicle technology and respond to consumer demand with cars that get 100 miles per gallon,"' said Secretary Bowles.

"Secretary Bowles will be trading in his current state car a 2003 Ford Taurus that gets 20 miles per gallon for a Toyota Prius already in the state fleet that will be modified to become a plug-in electric/gasoline hybrid. Plug-in hybrids use the power stored on a rechargeable battery to reduce the use of gasoline in the hybrid engine, giving a motorist who drives 40 miles a day mileage of up to 150 miles per gallon.

"As part of its Leading by Example Program, the Commonwealth will retrofit 10 gasoline hybrids ranging from sedans to SUVs currently owned by state agencies to plug-in operation, in order to test and demonstrate the new technology. The conversions are expected to cost $8,000 to $10,000 per vehicle."

How much would it cost to convert my 2001 Hyundai Accent? I'll start saving my money.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, October 08, 2007

Road trip with the Vermont boys

Boy howdy, I know how to spend a vacation week…scraping the dead paint off my house in preparation for painting, going to the doctor, taking the car to the mechanic… Wow!

I did do one cool thing, though. I got together with my friends Steve Bissette and Joe Citro for a manly, but magical mystery tour in Vermont. There were no cigars, drinks, or strippers, but plenty of satisfying oddness.

I would hate to be like many of the younger people I know whose smug, dismissive view of the world prevents amazement: “Talk to the hand” and “Whatever.”

My buddy Joe is one of the nation’s experts on the strange and unexplained and has been writing about New England ghosts, monsters, and legends for years. His latest book is “Weird New England” available at Barnes and Noble bookstores in New England or on the web at

Check out Joe’s blog. The link is included in my list.

After fortifying ourselves with a hearty lunch, we took off from Steve’s house in Windsor (home of the state’s longest covered bridge) for nearby White River Junction. If you read Steve’s blog at all, you’re aware that White River Junction is the home of the Center for Cartoon Studies, the school where he teaches.

Frankly, WRJ is one of those communities that is propped up by a key employers, a large Veteran’s Hospital. To be charitable, it’s a blank canvas ready for recreation. If you’re not charitable, it’s bordering on a ghost town.

David Fairbanks Ford is obviously someone who sees the town in the former light. His Main Street Museum is the kind of institution that could be part of a re-invention of the town into an artist’s area (along with the CCS).

The curator's car at the Main Street Museum is a rolling piece of conceptual art.

We went there as our first stop and I have to say I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. Ford is actually a serious curator whose own collection is featured in a museum designed to challenge how one views museums. He mixes “real” artifacts, such as an actual chunk of the Alamo – something which offended one Texan tourist while we were there – to a carefully framed umbrella without its cloth covering that is presented in the same way one would see a fossil skeleton of an animal.

The former shot is the "sea monster." This way to the egress!

Ford’s presentation of a “sea monster” is done in the way one might have expected from P.T. Barnum. We know it’s a fake but Ford won’t admit it.

Ford celebrates artifacts that would be tossed out by anyone else. Having worked in two museums (The Basketball Hall of Fame and Wistariahurst in Holyoke, MA) I understand that one makes an object relevant by the context in which it’s presented. Ford plays with the contexts and with our expectations of what should be in a “museum.”

The place is a lot of fun for those who are willing to take Ford’s ride. The Texans – especially the one who was wearing a “Bush Country” tee shirt – seemed just a little confused.

We then hit the road for South Royalton and one of the places Joe described in his book (written with Diane E. Foulds) “Curious New England.” Throughout our region there are stone structures that were not made by the colonists nor the native people who lived here. I’ve been to the best known of these structures, “America’s Stonehenge” in New Hampshire, and it was impressive.

Equally impressive was the stone chamber that Joe led us to that was on property adjacent to the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial. Smith is the man who founded the Mormon faith.

The structure is in a strip of woods that creates an informal border between two properties. When approaching it, it appears to be a knoll in the woods and would be easy to pass by.

Steve takes a look inside.

However, the chamber is clearly apparent from the side with its entrance.

Featuring incredible mortar-free workmanship, the chamber was absolutely clean. There were no signs of vandalism. No footprints could be seen. Animals had not made this place a regular den. There was no layer of leaves; just a few scattered ones. There were not even spider webs.

The only object in the chamber was a single crow feather centered on the floor.

outside and in

It was amazing, and Joe said there were seven more of these structures all within a mile or so.

Get a copy of Joe’s book for more details.

While we were at the site, we spoke of whether or not Smith knew of the chamber as a child. It was apparently on family property. Joe wondered if its existence colored Smith’s ideas of the world later in life when he believed there were civilizations in North America prior to and or along side native people.

We drove through the Smith memorial area and then took a Vermont highway through part of the state neither crusty Vermonter had visited before.

It was a great day.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A very mixed bag of DVDs is in this week's column.

Dog the Bounty Hunter: The Family Speaks

This new DVD is a collection of two episodes of the highly popular reality show, "Dog The Bounty Hunter." If you've missed this show, it depicts the life and careers of a flamboyant Hawaiian-based bail bondsman and his family. Duane "Dog" Chapman looks like a professional wrestler, clearly enjoys the challenges of hunting down those who've skipped their bail and yet acts like a big brother to many of the fugitives treating them with respect and offering advice.

Dog himself has had a rough life and had served a prison sentence for murder. He is a Christian, though, and wrote in his new autobiography that God led him to be a bounty hunter.

This DVD details the most famous episode in Dog's career when he and his brother and son were held in Mexico in 2003 when they successful captured Andre Luster, an American serial rapist who was convicted on 86 counts. Because bounty hunting is illegal in Mexico, Dog and his colleagues were briefly jailed.

In 2006, U.S. Marshals on order of the federal government apprehended Dog because Mexican officials were considering asking for extradition. Dog was released on $300,000 bail after a storm of public opinion.

The DVD was produced before this summer when a Mexican judge announced the statute of limitations had expired. Dog is still under the provisions of his bail agreement, however.

For Dog fans, this is probably something they'd like to see if they've not seen it already. At 47 minutes, though, the first program is a bit padded with people making the same statement over and over and the same news footage repeated as well.

For more information log onto

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea

Have you ever heard about the Salton Sea in southern California? I hadn't until I watched this entertaining and engaging documentary about a huge lake created by an accident at the turn of the 20th century.

No one intended to channel water from the Colorado River into a geographic natural bowl and no one thought the result would be a lake 35 miles long and 15 miles wide with water almost as salty as the ocean.

Real estate developers in the 1950s and '60s saw the area as the next Palm Springs: a resort and retirement community featuring a lake for fishing, swimming and boating.

A flood in the 1970s reversed those plans and the area looks more like a ghost town.

What has made it worse is the unique ecology of the lake. There are natural fish kills that range in the millions making the lake problematical for recreational uses. However, the lake must be preserved because it's an important wetlands area for birds.

The films starts out focusing on the largely odd population who insist that living in the desert next to a salty lake is a good thing, but it takes a more serious turn when depicting the ecological challenges the lake presents and why it must be saved.

Like all good documentaries this film captures your interest even though you knew nothing about the subject when you started watching.

For more information log onto

Weiss-o-Rama: Six-Hour Comedy Collection

Okay, film fans, here's a test for you who are the following people: Ben Turpin, Snub Pollard and Poodles Hanneford?

Poodles Hanneford?

Well, if you're student of silent comedy you might remember Ben Turpin, best known for his crossed eyes, and Australian comic Snub Pollard, who starred in his own comedies as well as supporting others.

Turpin, Pollard and circus clown Hanneford, renowned for his trick riding routines, are among the performers featured in this collection of admittedly obscure short comedies produced by the Weiss Brothers in the waning days of the silent era. The Weiss Brothers were low-budget producers whose company, Artclass Pictures, ground out short subjects, westerns and serials through the silent days and into the early talkies.

These are not on a par with the shorts made by comics such as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd or Charles Chaplin. The Weiss Brothers' shorts were considered a notch or two below those made by Mack Sennett and Hal Roach.

Still, there is plenty of goofy fun in this collection that was carefully compiled by Richard Roberts, who said in one of his audio commentaries that he saved us from the worse of the Weiss Brothers collection.

The pictorial quality of these shorts is dazzling, taken from archived original 35mm prints and the musical scores are great. The comedy itself is hit or miss and there is plenty of politically incorrect material that might offend some.

Besides star vehicles for Turpin and Pollard there are two shorts from the "Izzie and Lizzie" series depicting the romance of a Catholic girl and Jewish boy ripped off from the Broadway hit show "Abie's Irish Rose." There is also a series of shorts based on the comic strip "Hairbreadth Harry," a popular parody of melodrama.

For hardcore silent film and comedy fans, this collection will provide some very interesting, if not entertaining, viewing.

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Last of the Breed

Earlier this year three legends of country and western music, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price teamed up for a tour titled "Last of the Breed." They were accompanied by the western swing group Asleep at the Wheel, and one of the concerts was taped for this DVD.

The result is something very, very cool: three veteran musicians who are clearly at ease with one another and with their material just having fun on stage.

There are 35 classic songs in this concert, including standards for each artist such as "You Were Always on My Mind," "Okie from Muskogee," and "For the Good Times." The music of Bob Wills also looms very large. The man credited for creating western swing influenced all three performers who talk about Wills in a loose, but entertaining interview that is part of the disc's extras.

As I'm a sucker for western swing, I enjoyed this concert very much.

I can't really imagine which artists of the current generation of country performers will occupy the role these three have in another 25 years. They will have very big boots to fill.

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© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Note: I'm scraping my house this week which accounts for my lack of posting since last Friday. There is no greater joy than standing on a ladder scraping paint chips into your face for hours. I'm making progress, though!
Local stuff..The race for mayor is on in the city of Springfield and the first debate seemd to be the repeated use of talking points versus a list of accomplishment. Challenger Domenic Sarno is all about "cops and kids," and will have some of his thunder stolen by Governor Patrick who will announce today an economic devleopment package for Springfield that includes money for more police. Without his "Are you safer now than you were two years ago" arguement, Sarno doesn't have a whole lot to talk about. He is no longer speaking about eliminating the trash fee and his remarks on education are politically safe without getting to the point that Springfield needs a new superintendent and new members of the School Committee.

The 90-minute debate between incumbent Mayor Charles Ryan and City Councilor Domenic Sarno Thursday night may have set some of the general themes for the contest.

For Ryan, his experience and accomplishments of his two terms were cited more than once. For Sarno, his main talking points that he would repeat were that Springfield is at a crossroads and its budget priorities should be "cops and kids."

Ryan hammered several times at Sarno for his role in creating the fiscal crisis the city faced at the end of the Albano Administration. Sarno repeated a statement the city hasn't a plan to repay the $30 million it has been loaned by the state.

The city's first mayoral debate was conducted at the Rebecca Johnson School in Mason Square and was sponsored by the New England Black Chamber of Commerce. The format included a chance for each candidate to have opening and closing remarks, answer and rebut questions posed to them by a panel and by the audience.

Attorney Jamel Adkins Sherif moderated the event and the panel included Kamari Collins, Nathan Davis and Malcolm Ivy. Many of their questions concerned racial issues, economic development and solving the city's problems of poverty and violence.

There was an audience of about 100 people in the school auditorium. Before the debate started several candidates for City Council and School Committee campaigned among the crowd and there was a large group of police supervisors protesting the lack of a new contract. Out of the 29 municipal unions, the police supervisors union is the only one left working without a contract. Once the debate started the picketers brought their signs into the auditorium and stood in a single line in the back holding them.

Both Police Commissioner Edward Flynn and Deputy Chief William Fitchet attended the debate.

Although both men were polite and affable to one another, neither was afraid to attempt to make a point at their opponent's expense.

In his opening statement, Ryan spoke of the mismanagement of the Albano Administration that resulted in the city's fiscal crisis. He noted that 253 municipal employees were laid off with the approval of the City Council in 2003, which included Sarno.

Sarno said that people often asked him why he is running for mayor. He said it's because the city is losing young families and the middle class and because citizens don't feel safe. He posed the question "Do you feel safer now than two years ago?" several times to the audience throughout the debate.

Sarno thanked Ryan for his "stewardship of the city." He said, though, "It's time to pass the torch."

Issues of race were brought up by several of the panel. When asked if the two candidates believe the city is racially divided and how they would address it, Ryan noted that many of the racial situations in the center of the city are reported on by people who have left Springfield.

"We have a long ways to go," Ryan said. "Racial division on the basis of race is the curse of America."

Sarno recounted that he went to the racially integrated High School of Commerce and played sports with students of other races. He said that people need to be treated with respect and that we have to have a better understanding of one another.

When asked about the perceptions of racial inequality in the city and what he can do about it, Ryan said, "All I can do is be myself. I live my life in a simple way and I conduct myself in that way."

He asked the audience to look at the people he has hired or appointed and said the city needs the "cream of the crop."

Sarno said that, as the executive director of the South End Community Center, he "leads by example" and has a staff of nearly all African American and Latinos. He said there has been a pattern in the Ryan Administration with the controversy over remarks made by Ryan's former Chief of Staff Michelle Webber and the complaints of eight employees who charge that racism exists in City Hall.

Sarno recently called for a Department of Justice investigation into the Ryan Administration over the complaints of the eight employees. He did not allude to this statement during the debate.

As mayor, Sarno said he would bring his reputation for inclusion to the office.

When asked how he would address crime in the city, Sarno said he would add 50 police officers to the department and create a "flex squad" to attack the root causes of gang and youth violence.

In his rebuttal, Ryan said the city needs leadership capacity to better address the issue, but more importantly needs additional funding.

"It's all about generating money," he said. "We don't have the resources."

With the recent news story that Springfield is sixth in the nation in child poverty rates, the candidates were asked what they would do about the level of child poverty.

Sarno said that education is the key and the city must make an "investment in cops and kids."

Addressing his role in the events that plunged the city into a financial abyss, Sarno spoke about his responsibility as a City Councilor. He said under the Plan A form of government with a strong mayor the government created in part by Ryan in 1961 the council can only approve the budget proposed by the mayor and certified by the state's Department of Revenue.

Ryan fired back with one of sharpest exchanges of the night. "Domenic, you were asleep at the wheel," he said.

Saying, "this city hasn't had a penny in the bank since 1989," Ryan charged that Sarno "just sat there."

Ryan added that when former Gov. Mitt Romney made cuts in the city's budget during the middle of a fiscal year by $4 million the city had no reserves to cover that loss.

"We collapsed. No other city in Massachusetts collapsed," Ryan said.

When asked about why Worcester and not Springfield has seen millions of dollars in biotech industry investment, Ryan said the city had been out of the economic development business for at least 10 years when he took office. He said that with the incompetence in City Hall, "anyone serious with serious money gave Springfield a wide, wide berth."

Ryan then ticked off a list of business projects including the new Performance Food Group facility, the $14 million development of the former Basketball Hall of Fame, the plan to convert the former Chestnut Middle School into market rate housing and an expansion of Baystate Medical Center as some of the projects that make up almost $400 million in new investment in the city in the last year and a half.

In his rebuttal, Sarno said that he condemns the people in past administration that did wrong and that he would "dangle some carrots" to entice new businesses whether high tech or "green" to the city.

The next question also addressed an economic development issue and that was the "brain drain" from the city and the lack of high end and technical jobs.

Sarno said that "clean and safe streets and quality public school" were important to the city's economic well-being. He said he would be inclusive and was about change.

"I'm looking for new initiatives," he said.

Ryan noted there are 500 jobs at Baystate Health and several thousand jobs in the area "begging the people." He announced Gov. Deval Patrick would be in Springfield next week to discuss a new partnership between the city and state for workforce development.

Both men agreed on the need for more after school programs for young people, although Ryan reminded the audience that new funding was the key to making that happen. And both candidates noted the progress the Old Hill Housing Initiative has in building 100 new homes in the neighborhood for first-time low-income homebuyers.

They clashed on the question of casinos. Sarno doesn't want one in the city, but as mayor he wants to be at the negotiating table to ensure Springfield gets its share of the local hosting fee.

Ryan's anti-casino stance is well known and noted that Sarno didn't address part of the question on what his plan would be to manage the social ills that might come with a casino.

When asked how either man would prevent Springfield from a similar kind of fiscal emergency in the future Ryan said, "The only way to prevent it is to get the right leadership."

"We're not going to get a second chance," he added.

Ryan then suggested the city needs a deputy mayor whose job would be to monitor the city's financial situation in the same way Phillip Puccia did in his time as executive director of the Finance Control Board.

Sarno said the city is living on "borrowed time and a credit card" and claimed with all of the cuts and efficiencies, the city has made very little financial progress. He said the city has no plan to pay back the $30 million it has used from the $52 million loan fund set up by the Legislature.

He said he would manage the city with a "tight financial team" and help from the Department of Revenue.

The next debate will be Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Classical Condominiums at 235 State St.