More Than A Montage: Rocky IV Delivers Powerful Messages 35 Years Later

I don’t exactly remember the first time I experienced Rocky IV in my youth, or any film in the franchise for that matter. What I do know is that the entire series was a normalized staple in the VCR rotation in my VERY ITALIAN household and for all I know with my family, I was probably born during Rocky III‘s Eye of the Tiger montage playing in the background- I mean, that would be a pretty sweet way to enter this world. What I do remember however, is how this movie made me feel watching it not only as a kid, but as a grown adult as well that has faced underdog challenges throughout my thirty-something odd years on this planet. And hey, who hasn’t gone through some type of their own personal hell these days, eh?

Up until my later teenage years when you know, I could get a job, buy things on my own and all that wonderful jazz, the only copy I had had of Rocky IV was on a recorded VHS that held three films in this order: Back to the Future, Rocky IV, and A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge; of which we dubbed “the Glorious 1985 Film Saga”. Even better was knowing these filmed were taped over some sort of aerobics rock exercise videos that would glitch in-between each movie; which gave that Scotch homemade VHS some real 80s’ feel-goodness. It was pretty sweet.

Anyways, before I ramble on too much and get off-topic about my weird fetish for VHS recordings, lets steer into the magnificent yesterworld of Vince DiCola /John Cafferty montages , a rare bearded-Sly, and slave robots.

Oh and this really phenomenal James Brown number that is about as American as it gets that basically tell the Russian guests to lick their assholes. ‘MURICA.

The Rocky franchise is one of the very few series of films that holds a consistent theme of love and triumph that holds the attention of a variety of audiences; not specifying gender, age, or sexuality as all can easily relate to feeling like an underdog in all areas of life. However, Rocky IV keeps these themes WHILE adding another life lesson: CHANGE.

1985 begat a very tense period of years between America and the Soviet Union, and Sly had no bones about making his own statement using his beloved character Balboa and his feelings on the situation. The film is riddled with symbolism, metaphors, and well yes montages but hey those testosterone-filled songs help drive those points home. Take an example the exhibition match between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago that starts this whole damn mess. Creed represents the stubborn nature and sometimes ignorantly arrogant nature of America while Drago shadows the very cold and uncertainty ways about the Soviet Union. The two are destined to clash and so they do. With America coming out like a pufferfish so very sure of himself, only to get pummeled as you should never underestimate what your opponent could and will do to you. The boxing in this films no longer serves as a metaphor for “going the distance”. The athletic aspect in the film now rears into the horrifying world of a war between two powerhouse nations.

Drago is younger, stronger, and the most intimating opponent Rocky has faced yet. To beat him, Rocky is gonna have to change his approach. He has to work harder. Train harder. Give it every goddamn thing he has if he is to literally come out of this mess alive. The Soviet Union was formed in 1922 and while this film is set 63 years later, in territory terms that is fairly young. So what does the Rock do? He sends himself into the lion’s den (the heart of Moscow) to train in the most barbaric and simplistic of ways possible. All while growing a most excellent machismo man beard scruff. Facing harsh criticism, unwelcoming neighbors and being babysat by Russian nationals all along the way, Rocky devotes every second of the day and night to strengthen not only his physique, but his mind as well to focus on one thing and one thing only- sheer victory.

In regards to the final fight, the immanent theme of change begins as our American hero is booed all the way to the ring. The entrance is dark, dank, and smells of uncertainty. Whereas Drago’s entrance tells the same tale only with favorable crowd and a WAY more sinister feeling- we will definitely attribute Dicola’s Drago Suite to the anxiety in the room as we prepare for war.

As the fight progresses and the pair of soldiers are beating the ever-loving shit out of each other, the change begins. As Rocky our series underdog keeps taking the licks and getting back up, the communist crowd begins to favor the Italian Stallion and his perseverance. This of course, doesn’t sit well with the Russian officials overseeing the fight and one of Drago’s main drug-dealers, erm, I mean overseers runs down to the ring to give him a good what-for. Drago ain’t having this shit and basically tells him to fuck off while throwing his little ass to the ground. Throughout the film, Drago is seen sort of like an object. A Russian robot slave with no authority over himself. This, is the turning of the tides in the film where he is no longer fighting for anyone but himself. However, too little too late as Rocky has the upper-hand with his unforgettable determination and gives him a good knock to the jaw, putting him out for good.

And then… the speech. The speech of change. A speech just as relevant now as it was then and will forever be so in this insane world that we live in under constant threat and fears of the unknown. That if we can band together to come to a consensus, regardless of our background, we can live peacefully and without regret.

As of writing this, Stallone is currently working on a grand director’s cut of this phenomenal piece of cinematic goodness. Of which, you bet your ass I’m keeping a close eye on for updates. In the meantime, happy anniversary to the greatest metaphorical montage films in American history!

Cavity Colors! Art For ‘Friday the 13th’ Never Looked Better!

I ran into the fine folks at Cavity Colors while attending Monsterpalooza down in L.A. and have been a fan ever since. Their use of colors against violent and vivid images from the horror franchises we grew up loving are impossible to ignore and are the standard they stand by.

image via Attack on Planet B, art by Cavity Colors

High quality and searing imagination go into each new project they work on, and as result, give the horror community some of the best-looking posters and shirts you’ll find this side of Hell.

For this Friday the 13th I wanted to showcase what amazing things they’ve done with Jason, my absolute favorite slasher killer.

They have so much more to offer fans and you can check them out here.

Happy Friday the 13th!

FRANKENSTEIN! The Imperial Legacy of Mary Shelley’s Immortal Monster

“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” – Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

The limping Phantasm of a new horror bristled across the dreamscape of a young woman’s darkest imagination. The misshapen Thing beckoned to her, demanding concession for its own hideous sentience; demanding to be recognized, the Creature rapped its corded fist of scars and confused tissues against the smoky glass that separates our waking world from the shadow realm of sleep, shattering the delicate veil, and roaring to be brought through to us. From nightmares, the Thing of death called out to to be brought to life and she granted it entrance. 

image via TriStar, ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’

Much like her obsessed titular character, Mary Shelley was on her own quest to bring life to things wrought from fretful dreams. She admits to having seen a terrible shadow pass along her room one night, a thing shown but only briefly by a searing flash of blistering light. Her Monster, her own very personal demon, was brought to life before her eyes by the lightning. 

That nightmare left an imprint on her soul.

A fitting origin to what would become her horrific masterpiece! 

Bernie Wrightson, ‘Frankenstein’

How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea? – Mary Shelley

A marvelous question, but asked by a writer of titanic skill. Be warned, dear reader, when a writer has a marvelous question many dark little horrors can be given shape from it. 

Example: a young father had moved his small family to a new home, a home just a little too (precariously) close to a busy road. This father just barely caught hold of his young boy who, as little boys do, run very quickly and take little heed to the dangerous world around them. The toddler’s quest to cross the road was stopped and the father held the lad to his chest as a truck, all eighteen wheels roaring, flashed down the road before his eyes. A truck that surely would have made quick and gruesome work of a tiny boy such as his son. 

The father thought, “What would have happened if I hadn’t been quick enough?” Oh, did I mention there was a pet cemetery out in the woods behind their house? 

You see, those are the questions that keep us writers up at night. The only way to expel them is to share them, and I believe that’s exactly why gods and devils disturb our thoughts and rest. We are unwilling ambassadors of the dark world. What scares us shall surely frighten you too. 

It takes a marvelous question and then, with time, a whole lot of obsession. 

The Art of Obsession 

Perhaps it’s the curse of our times but few truly understand the need for wild obsessions. I mean the pang of desperation. I want writers to have a deep-rooted passion for their craft, not to make money (though who can bitch about monetary gain?) but to release demons, horrors beyond time and space, and to break taboos without ever feeling the need to apologize for the black miracles they’ve unleashed upon the world. 

image via dmdave

That’s the kind of obsessions I mean. The kind we’d all be locked up for if we should ever dare explore them in real life, but, vicariously lived through the monsters and madmen we unlock while writing. 

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.” Frankenstein, Mary Shelley 

image via frankensteiniablogspot

Each word is poetry begotten of the macabre, stitched together in such eloquence that we cannot turn our eyes away. Imagine not knowing the story! Imagine the sickening thrill of the slightest twitch of the creation’s finger. Readers howled and screamed upon first reading Shelley’s gothic horror masterpiece. 

A masterpiece about death but brimming with, although nefarious as it may be, life! It’s been told and retold across the generations as new horror fans come to know the name of Frankenstein, a man who dared to play as God. 

Inspirational Evil

Mary Shelley was not ignorant of the questionable practices, or shall we say, abominations committed all in the name of science of her day. It was a well-known secret that educated men blatantly combined alchemy with the practice of medicine, and, most importantly, the Occult was often employed to further their maddening pursuits. Doctors were driven by the devil himself to unravel the mysteries of life by invading the taboo of death. 

Graves were robbed. Cadavers were stolen. Experiments to envy the lectures of Hell were practiced. Such things were not unheard of and became haunted gossip among social gatherings. It all boiled down to this: Could a man create after his own image?

art by Bernie Wrightson, ‘Frankenstein’

Reality and fiction are very thinly divided and sometimes the two cross over. 

So what if it could really be accomplished? Among these bodily pieces of dead men’s tissues, organs, limbs, and bones, what if, out of a thousand efforts, one single man proved more driven than his peers? What if one manic student reached into the shadow of death and pulled something out? 

“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!” Frankenstein, Marry Shelley

Shelley dared explore this phantasmal taboo and wisely included her own personal trauma to weave together an immortal tale that will outlive us all.

There’s a reason the story stands the test of time.

Shelley’s Grim Philosophy

Another inspiration for Frankenstein came from one of Mary Shelley’s favorite tales, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic depiction of the Genesis account and Fall of Lucifer. Hints to the poem’s immediate influence over her thoughts can be spotted across her own epic tale.

art by Gustove Dore, John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’

God made Man in His image and that image turned to Sin, brother murdered brother, and, in time, wars left corpses outside the guarded gates of Paradise. 

That was the result of a created being made after the image of God. So, what tremendous malevolence can be expected from a thing made after the image of (fallen) Man? 

“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

art by Bernie Wrightson, ‘Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein stood to lose everything for the sake of his creation. The story is a tragic narrative of a weary man whose wick has not long for this sad world. His youth was eaten up by the sorrow gleaned by his own hands. He dared to play God and so finds himself utterly God-forsaken and damned at the story’s end. He is pursued by his Creation to the very end of the world where nothing but ice and barren landscapes are found. 

Frankenstein’s story is a brutal cautionary tale for the ages. Grave robber, thief of death, madman, scientist, and creator of monsters. But who is the true monster in the story? The Creation did not beg to be a new Lazarus. The Creation was given life unwillingly and then abandoned by his own father. 

gettys images, ‘Frankenstein’ by Universal

True, it was the Monster’s hands that ripped, tore, strangled, and left a trail of carnage and tears. But it’s to be argued that such an abomination would never had the chance to lay a single finger against anyone had Frankenstein not created him. 

“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

The Creation does go on a glorious rampage to punish Victor Frankenstein for the unwanted curse of life. The Monster, as we call it, kills everyone Victor loves until only the graying husk of a man is left of the bright student from Geneva. 

image via McFarlane Toys, ‘Frankenstein’

So it is a story of Ouroboros, the snake ever eating its own tail. And in like manner, Frankenstein is an eternal story that will outlive us all. Even as the worms devour this flesh the Creation of the madman will continue to haunt the world. 

Creating Monsters!

Dear reader, let’s talk about now. If Shelley teaches us anything from her personal life it is to never ignore the germ of an idea. Oh but especially a hideous idea; a creeping, howling, malignant idea birthed out of nightmares! 

How many horror stories are being ignored right now? How many good scares are we being robbed of just because you haven’t written it? Mary Shelley didn’t set out to make a world-wide phenomenon. She just wanted to scare her friends. So that’s a really good starting place. Scare the people closest to you. And never, ever give up.

image via Universal, ‘Frankenstein’

Your idea could happen while you’re on a walk. It could make itself known while you look out the window, or pick up a coffee. You might have to put aside the internet a little bit because writing demands time and attention just like Frankenstein’s Creation. 

Hunchbacks in bell towers, Ghosts haunting Opera Houses, Vampires in Transylvania, men who go invisible, a masked horror that rises from Crystal Lake, a dream demon who haunts nightmares, a puzzle box that opens Hell, a psychopath who invents torture traps and leaves his victims to make the ultimate choice to live or die. 

Monsters are out there, and there are so many of them, but guess what? There’s even more not yet discovered. Are you willing to be possessed by a need to tell a story? I for one would love to read it.

What are your fears and nightmares? What monstrosity might you end up stitching together? Piece by piece, stitch by stitch, nightmares tied to social anxieties, and powered by the engine of your own dark influences what great terror might we expect from you?