My Top Recommendations from 2016 for When It Was Cool Readers
When It Was Cool takes fond looks back at things that we loved growing up, as well as some new favorites from the present, on occasion. For this list of my personal favorite recommendations from 2016 for When It Was Cool readers, I have one main criterion: Each item must have some connection to the past, either in actuality or in spirit. I hope you find one or more items here that bring back warm, nostalgic feelings about some of your long-time favorites as they simultaneously show that some of today’s creators have as much reverence and respect for past pop culture as we fans do.
The Similars --- Writer/director Isaac Ezban’s Mexican science-fiction/horror thriller is a valentine to The Twilight Zone and other 1950s and 1960s genre movies and television series, with some other nostalgic touches that I’ll leave as surprises. Take my word for it --- learn nothing more about this film than what I write here, and check it out on VOD as soon as possible. This gorgeously lensed black-and-white tale of paranoia set in a rural Mexican bus station on a terrifically stormy night blends suspense, chills, and absurdity. Ezban’s sometimes surreal, sometimes humorous, always jaw-dropping and fun sophomore motion picture is a work of art that deserves the widest audience possible. It's one of my absolute favorite films of the year.
The Barn --- Definitely not one for the kiddies, writer/director Justin M. Seaman’s eighties homage to slasher and monster movies hits the right tones much more so than most attempts at recreating that halcyon era when drive-in theater fare was being eclipsed by direct-to-VHS (not to forget about Betamax) titles that would later become legendary for either their strengths, ineptitude, corniness, or other charms. High school senior Sam (Mitchell Musolino) is a big fan of Halloween, with his own set of rules for the holiday. He and his buddy Josh (Will Stout) talk a group of friends into going to a Halloween concert. On the way, however, they accidentally run afoul of a local curse and unleash three monsters: The Boogeyman, Hollow Jack, and the Candy Corn Scarecrow. This mistake results in bucket-loads of grue and gore.
If you are a fan of 1980s horror movies, The Barn should hit all the right nostalgia buttons for you while standing on its own as the beginning of a new horror mythology. This independent film is available on DVD or VHS(!) at http://thebarnmerch.com/, along with video and board games, action figures and Wrestling Buddies-style pillow fighters, the original soundtrack on vinyl or CD, and more.
The Love Witch --- The most unique new motion picture that fans of retro cinema had a chance to see in 2016 was writer/director Anna Biller’s outstanding horror thriller with a touch of wry humor. It’s my favorite film of the year, regardless of genre. This sumptuous labor of love was shot in 35mm, and Biller also made costumes and props, wrote music, and attended to other details. The story is about a beautiful young witch named Elaine (Samantha Robinson in a mesmerizing performance), who leaves a wake of dead men in her path as she tries to find her ideal love. Adult readers of When It Was Cool should find much to be enthralled with in The Love Witch, especially those who enjoy 1960s European horror and cult films, and classic American melodramas from that era.
Stranger Things --- Speaking of genre fare set in the 1980s, this Netflix original web television series created, written, and directed by The Duffer Brothers captured the hearts of science fiction and horror movie fans of that decade with its tale of a group of young boys, their mysterious new similarly aged girl acquaintance, and their search for a friend who goes missing. Engaging characters, top-notch acting, a gripping story, and a very cool monster are only part of the package; a wonderful soundtrack with many new wave classics helps round out the authenticity.
The Man with 10,000 Eyes --- Louisiana artist Joe Badon’s latest independent comic book boasts a wholly unique style of artwork and a spellbinding science fiction tale of a man who suddenly sees more than any human ever should. Fans of The Twilight Zone, David Lynch, the fiction of Richard Matheson, and offbeat comics and movies will find much to love in this genre-blending one-shot title. You can order it directly at https://www.etsy.com/listing/454576070/comic-book-the-man-with-ten-thousand?ref=shop_home_active_10
Afterlife with Archie --- After a long absence, this astounding horror take on the citizens of Riverdale returned for two issues in 2016. Focusing on Reggie’s role in the zombie apocalypse and then a twisted take on Josie and the Pussycats, this series is a must-read for horror fans. Growing up reading Archie comics since the 1960s, I never thought readers would get something like Afterlife with Archie. The creators’ love for the Riverdale characters and world is apparent in every issue.
Ace Frehley, Origins Vol. 1 --- Several good to great hard rock albums from famous veterans were released in 2016, including former Angel guitarist Punky Meadows’ first solo album, Fallen Angel; Primal Fear’s Rulebreaker; the Last in Line --- former members of Ronnie James Dio’s band lineups, including Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell and former Black Sabbath and Dio drumming legend Vinny Appice --- debut Heavy Crown; and the eponymous debut album from Resurrection Kings, featuring Vinny Appice again, along with former Dio guitarist Craig Goldy. My pick for favorite of the year, though, is former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley’s covers album, Origins Vol. 1. Ace sounds like he’s having a blast. He’s never been accused of being one of the greatest singers around, but he’s giving it a heck of a go here, and his playing feels inspired. Not everything works, but when it does --- on songs such as Free’s “Fire and Water” in a reunion with former Kiss stablemate Paul Stanley, the driving Thin Lizzy tune “Emerald,” and his own Kiss classic “Cold Gin” --- it’s fun stuff.
Part of the enjoyment of being a When It Was Cool fan is knowing that there is a treasure trove of “it’s still cool” pop culture stuff out there. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year brings in that department!
Besides contributing to When It Was Cool, Joseph Perry also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazine horror movie website (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique magazines.