Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Open Water

Film: Open Water
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It takes a certain kind of balls to make a shark movie these days. I get it, but it’s a massive risk. The minute you put people in the water and have sharks in the area, you’re going to be compared with Jaws on some level. Let’s be honest: most movies are not going to compare well with Jaws in general, and even a good shark movie is going to pale in comparison. When it comes to the sharks, Open Water is a bit of a bait and switch. There are sharks here, but they’re just a small part of the total story.

Prepare for a bit of a slow open. Susan Watkins (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel Kintner (Daniel Travis) have busy lives and demanding jobs, which means they don’t get to spend a great deal of time together. Hoping to improve their relationship, the pair takes a vacation to the Caribbean to go scuba diving. Thanks to the magic of movies, the two are quickly on an island and then on a dive boat heading out to deep water. Rather than staying with the group, the two go off on their own. Thanks to a mix-up involving another passenger, the count of divers gets mixed up and Daniel and Susan are left behind in the open ocean.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Girl Week 2017: Frida

Film: Frida
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

Dell over at Dell on Movies is hosting his third annual Girl Week, featuring only movies that have female protagonists. I don’t do a lot of blogathons. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t generally have a way to fit them into my normal posting schedule. In this case, though, all I needed was a film with a female protagonist. That’s not hard, and it just so happened that Frida was sitting on my desk.

Frida is the biopic of surrealist artist Frida Kahlo, most famous for endless self-portraits and her unibrow. As is often the case, I went into this knowing very little. I knew that Salma Hayek was nominated for Best Actress for the role. I knew Kahlo was a painter, and pretty much that’s where my knowledge stopped.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Transplants

Film: Dirty Pretty Things
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I go into a lot of movies pretty cold. As I get closer and closer to finishing my Oscar lists, I set moderate goals for myself each month. One of those goals right now is to close out a few films from years where I still have too many films remaining. I don’t want to end this with a bunch of films from the same year, so at least some of my decisions are based on filling in gaps on years that I have neglected. That’s literally the only reason that Dirty Pretty Things showed up in the mail. Thus it was a bit depressing but hardly shocking when, about halfway through, there’s a clear instance of sexual misconduct. I promise, we’ll get there eventually.

Once I got the film, though, I was pleased and looked forward to watching it. It has two actors I love (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou) in the leads and two more (Sophie Okonedo and Benedict Wong) in supporting roles. It’s directed by Stephen Frears, whose work I have generally liked very much and loved at times. So, off the bat, I was prepared for this to be a film that had a great deal going for it.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Not Another War Movie

Film: Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Settebellezze)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

With the movies that are on my Oscar list that are harder to find, I sometimes have to make some sacrifices. Watching a YouTube version of the film is one of those sacrifices. Another is finding a clearly foreign movie only available dubbed rather than subtitled. There’s not much to be done about that, though. Seven Beauties (or Pasqualino Settebellezze) is a true piece of cinematic history, and you don’t really get those that often. Director Lina Wertmuller was the first woman nominated for a Best Director Oscar.

The film is told in a series of flashbacks from the point of view of our main character, Pasqualino Frafuso (Ginacarlo Giannini), better known as Pasqualino Settebellezze, or Pasqualino Seven Beauties. The name comes from the fact that he has been forced to take charge of his mother and seven sisters, all of whom are fairly homely to downright unattractive. Thus his name is sarcastic at best. What he wants more than anything is to marry his sisters off, something that is nearly impossible because of their looks.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Off Script: Saw

Film: Saw
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’m probably one of the last horror fans to watch Saw. Out of respect to those reading this, I’ll get all of the puns out of the way. Before this, I hadn’t seen Saw, but now I have seen Saw. Yes, I saw Saw. The next time I see Saw it will be the second time I’ve seen Saw. If someone asks me if I’d like to see Saw I can say that I saw Saw. Sorry for that.

The chances are very good that you’ve already seen this, which means I don’t need a great deal of plot breakdown. I’ll make this quick, something aided greatly by the fact that Saw doesn’t have a huge plot. Two men, photographer Adam (Leigh Whannell) and surgeon Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) wake up in a large, filthy bathroom. They are each chained by an ankle to a pipe on opposite sides of the room. Between them is a corpse holding a microcassette recorder and a pistol.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Crazies (2010)

Film: The Crazies (2010)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

There are a lot of things you can say about George Romero. His ideas are often better than his films, for instance. That’s probably why a lot of his movies end up getting remade. Even some of his less well-known films get that treatment, hence the 2010 remake of The Crazies. In truth, while this is a remake of Romero’s original, The Crazies could just as easily be its own movie. This is not a film that breaks a great deal of new ground.

So let’s take a look at the tropes that we’re dealing with here. A plane crashes in the middle of nowhere (the middle of nowhere, Iowa, in this case) carrying some deadly biological weapon. That deadly biological weapon seeps into the local town’s water supply, and suddenly the residents are becoming infected. A part of the infection is insane, murderous behavior. I’m guess that based on the few sentences above you have thought of at least a dozen movies that follow the same basic idea. That said, it’s important to realize that Romero’s original 1973 version of this story might well be the first that has all of these elements in it, although he certainly borrowed heavily from The Andromeda Strain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Comment

I didn’t really feel like watching a movie today. That’s not something I say that often.

Over the last several days/weeks/feels like forever, allegations of sexual misconduct/abuse have come out against people in the entertainment industry. Virtually all of these have been verified or admitted. More are almost certainly going to come. Beloved figures are being toppled with likely more pillars of the entertainment industry set to fall as well. As painful as all of this is, it’s necessary. This is something that needed to happen and has been needed, clearly, for a long time.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Family Drama

Film: Little Women (1994)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ll be blunt: Little Women was not made with me in mind. I went into this dreading it for one specific reason. It wasn’t the name and it wasn’t the plot. It was specifically because of my experience with the 1933 version, which I disliked a lot. Much of that was due to an unrestrained and unhinged performance from Katherine Hepburn, who was still early in her career and hadn’t yet learned how to be subtle. The word was that this version of the story was much less flighty than the earlier one, so I had some hope. It also has a good cast front to back, so that was a bonus as well.

But still, this is not a movie made for me. It’s a movie that I fully expected to (and, in fact, do) recognize as good and well-made, but made for an audience very different from yours truly. It is beautifully made and sumptuously costumed, and looks at least in some respects like a Merchant-Ivory production. This is all to its credit. Because of this, a great deal of what follows in this review is almost certainly just me complaining about watching a movie that isn’t the sort of movie that I enjoy watching. Please, take that to heart. Little Women is almost certainly better than I think it is.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fade

Film: Still Alice
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I’ve avoided Still Alice until now for a variety of reasons. The essential plot of Still Alice is the story of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and quite frankly Alzheimer’s terrifies me. There are a few things in the world that truly scare me beyond comprehension. The idea of having my mind slip away is absolutely one of them. If my mind is more or less the essential core of who I am, having that slowly deteriorate bit by bit, like waves lapping at a sand castle is almost incomprehensibly terrifying. Worse, our main character Alice (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed in the film at exactly the age I am right now. That she is also a linguist and a professor hits home, too.

The type of Alzheimer’s Alice has is genetic, and that hits home, too, although not mentally. We discovered a number of years ago that my father carries a genetic blood disorder called factor V Leiden that vastly increases the chances for blood clots. We discovered this when my dad had hip replacement surgery. The surgery went fine; the blood clot that followed almost killed him. He’s subsequently had blood clots in his lungs, although he’s still fine and surprisingly healthy for a man in his 80s. Finding out that there’s something in your body that you can’t do anything about and might kill you is a sobering moment. I’ve been checked—I don’t have it, although one of my brothers and one of my sisters does.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sounds Like a Typical Couple

Film: A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme)
Format: DVD from Rock Island Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I had mixed feelings going into A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme in the original French) based on the almost nothing I knew about it. This is a film straight out of the heart of the French New Wave, and while I like some films that fit that profile, there are a lot that leave me pretty cold. On the other hand, the film stars Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, both of whom I tend to like very much. Still, I can’t say that I was gung-ho to watch this. I got a copy through interlibrary loan and literally waited the three weeks until the film was due to watch it.

Having watched A Man and a Woman, I have to wonder why I waited so long. It’s probably that it’s pretty clear from the name of the film and from the cover of the DVD case that this is going to be a romance. I honestly have nothing against romances in general, except that I find that need to be in the right mood for them. That and there are a lot of very bad romances out there, films that are dead predictable or sappy, and I’m rarely in the mood for that. Still, since this movie is not available from NetFlix, and thus getting a copy of it is more difficult than just putting it at the top of the queue, I figured I’d better watch it to avoid the fine.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday Horror: From Beyond

Film: From Beyond
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Some actors have a particular milieu in which he or she is either particularly known or particularly effective. For Jeffrey Combs, that appears to be movies based on H.P. Lovecraft stories. I should be fair here, because that also seems to be the case for Barbara Crampton, who is in at least three Lovecraft-inspired films with Combs. From Beyond is yet another of these, directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna. It’s like old home week for the Elder Gods.

From Beyond is based loosely on the Lovecraft story of the same name. The movie alters the story in significant ways, particularly with the addition of a new villainous character to allow Combs to play something like the hero. Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) is the classic mad scientist. He has created a new, massive device that is designed to stimulate the pineal gland of anyone who stands in its field of influence. His assistant, Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), turns on the machine one night and discovers that it works, at least in one sense. While the machine is active, spectral beings appear and attack him. Crawford turns off the machine and talks to his boss/mentor.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Noir-ish

Film: Angels Over Broadway
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I went into Angels Over Broadway completely cold. Based on the title alone, I guessed that this would be a bog-standard Hollywood musical from the 1940s with a few upbeat songs, a romance that goes haywire until it ends up the way we expect, and a couple of dance numbers. That could not be more wrong. Angels Over Broadway is a film that desperately wants to be a film noir. It has almost all of the elements of a classic noir, but it also desperately wants to be a film that has the sort of ending we expect in a classic Hollywood film. It’s so close, though, it’s almost a little sad that it can’t quite get there.

What’s interesting about Angels Over Broadway is that it seems like a very early version of a more modern concept in film. We have four individual stories, or at least four very different characters, who come together by chance to give us the story. Aside from its length (it runs a mere 79 minutes), it feels a little Robert Altman-esque in that regard.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Culture Shock

Film: Captain Fantastic
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

A few years ago, the documentary Surfwise showed up on the 1001 Movies list. If memory serves, it vanished the next year. The movie was about an unusual family in the sense of how the children were raised. They were almost feral, destitute, uneducated, and evidently fabulous surfers. Their parents had adopted a strange, communal lifestyle that emphasized the family over attaching themselves to society at large. It was my most common thought while watching Captain Fantastic, a film that concerns a family very similar in a lot of ways.

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) lives in the forest in the Pacific Northwest with his six children. When I say they live in the forest, I mean that in a literal sense. They have shelters, but they hunt and scavenge food and Ben instructs them in both forestcraft and educates them on virtually every topic. It’s soon clear that the person missing is their mother. Ben and oldest son Bodevan (George MacKay) head to the closest point of civilization to more or less check in. It turns out that Ben’s wife Leslie (Trin Miller) has been hospitalized for bipolar disorder and has, the night before Ben calls in to family, killed herself.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Off Script: Isle of the Dead

Film: Isle of the Dead
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are a few things you know you’re going to get with a Val Lewton-produced movie. You’re going to get not much in the way of budgets, a film that is really atmospheric, and a film that verges on horror without really being that scary. Such is the case with Isle of the Dead, a film that has clear horror elements without really getting that far into horror territory. The films that Lewton worked on were much more concerned with mood and potentially creating a sense of dread than they were with making something genuinely scary. While Isle of the Dead is an interesting film, it doesn’t manage to do much with scares here, except in a single case.

During the Balkan Wars in 1912, General Nikolas Pherides (Boris Karloff with a curly wig) is known as a strict disciplinarian, essentially forcing one of his officers to commit suicide because some of his troops were late to the latest battle. While the men are over-tired, Pherides forces them to deal with the dead because of the threat of typhus and other diseases that have been spreading on the battlefield. Realizing where he is, Pherides takes American reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) to a nearby island where the general’s wife is entombed. Once on the island, he discovers that her grave has been desecrated. He also discovers that there are inhabitants on the island.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Ocean is Pretty Mean, Too

Film: The Cruel Sea
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

While my current genres of choice are science fiction and horror, I grew up on war movies. When I was a kid, I’d watch just about any movie based on a World War II plot that came across the television. I still like a good war movie, and I’d heard some about The Cruel Sea but couldn’t find it. I finally bit the bullet and bought a copy off eBay. I’ve tried to spend as little as possible on this blog, but after this many years, I figured I could spare a few bucks for a movie I really wanted to see.

The Cruel Sea is, as the name would suggest, a naval film. In this case, we’re focused on the battle for the Atlantic in World War II, and specifically the war against the German U-boat fleet. Interestingly, we’re not going to be spending time on battleships or destroyers, but on convoy escorts. Lieutenant-Commander George Ericson (Jack Hawkins), who has had a career in the Merchant Navy has been commandeered into the Royal Navy and placed in charge of a new Flower-class corvette named HMS Compass Rose. He’s given a green crew who have worked their way through training but have no combat experience. Soon on board are his officers Lockhart (Donald Sinden), Ferraby (John Stratton), and Bennett (Stanley Baker). It’s soon evident that Bennett is a martinet who demands respect that he doesn’t particularly deserve. Eventually, the crew is joined by Morell (Denholm Elliott), and their work escorting ships begins.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Night of the Creeps

Film: Night of the Creeps
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When a genre gets to a certain point, a lot of tropes develop for it. There are clichés that are going to work their way into genre films that are hard to avoid. There’s a reason, for instance, that movie funerals so often happen in the rain, or that the minute a guy in a war movie shows the rest of the platoon a picture of his sweetheart, he’s pretty much got a target on himself. Eventually, someone is going to create a film in that genre that attempts to use all of the clichés. Horror is no different in this respect, and Night of the Creeps is that movie.

We start in the 1950s, and oddly, we start on an alien spacecraft. One creature holding a canister is running away from others. Our first alien eventually blasts the canister out an airlock and it eventually comes to rest on Earth. Meanwhile, down on Earth, a lunatic has escaped an asylum after hacking apart four guards with a fire axe. A pair of young lovers from a local college finds both the canister and the lunatic at around the same time. The lunatic kills the girl, while the young man is attacked by something that emerges from the container.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Army of Darkness

Film: Army of Darkness
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

The Evil Dead trilogy is much beloved by horror fans. There are plenty who would put Army of Darkness at the top of their list of the three. That’s not the case for me. While it is absolutely the easiest of the three to watch, it’s also my least favorite of the three. Now, before you go storming off into the comments to tell me how wrong I am (and yes, you’re still welcome to do that), rest assured that I love all three. On Letterboxd, my reviews for the three films are Evil Dead, 4.5 stars; Evil Dead 2, 4.5 stars; and Army of Darkness, 4 stars. When I say I think it’s the least of the three, we’re not talking a massive drop off.

Honestly, having just rewatched the film, it’s kind of odd that my rating for it is that high. Army of Darkness has serious problems of a technical nature. There’s some truly terrible rear projection work in a lot of places and while the stop-motion and puppet work is impressive, it’s also really obvious in many cases. It’s sort of the curse of having a bigger budget. Army of Darkness had a budget about three times larger than Raimi had for Evil Dead 2, which meant he attempted a lot more, and not all of it worked as well as it could have.

Ten Days of Terror!: Alien3

Film: Alien3
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

The common wisdom when it comes to trilogies is that the third movie in the trilogy shits the bed. That’s not always true, of course, but it’s certainly true often enough that we come to expect that a third movie in a given series is going to be a letdown. With the possible exception of The Godfather Trilogy, there may not be a bigger drop off in quality than Alien3. I’m sure there are a lot of other possibilities. You can fight it out in the comments below; that’s what a comments section is for, after all.

It’s actually not too surprising in this case, though. Alien is one of the best science fiction action movies of the last 40 years and Aliens is one of the best science fiction movies ever made. Alien3 would have to be nearly perfect to even play in the same ballpark. Sadly, it’s filled with a number of problems. Also, just to save myself the pain in the backside of having to type the superscript for this movie, I’m going to stop doing it until the end of this. Finally, you can assume that the rest of this review is going to be filled with spoilers. I’m not putting it under a spoiler tag because I don’t really care that much about spoiling this movie.

Ten Days of Terror!: Horror Hotel (The City of the Dead)

Film: Horror Hotel (The City of the Dead)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are going to be some spoilers here, so you’re warned. Keep in mind that I’m spoiling movies that are well over half a century old, at least one of which has almost certainly been seen by everyone who reads this blog, and the other was spoiled in its intro from TCM, so I’m not terribly worried. Anyway, one of the most transgressive moments of Psycho is that the film’s main character gets killed off about half way through. We’re left with no one else to sympathize with but Norman Bates. It’s a great moment. The City of the Dead (known in the States as Horror Hotel) does a similar thing. It was accused of copying Hitchcock, although there are two significant points in its favor. First, it was released just four days after Psycho, which means at worst the filmmakers had the same idea at roughly the same time. Second, it actually went into production first.

The City of the Dead is much more clearly a traditional horror movie, though. We start off in the past with a witch trial, as a woman named Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) is dragged out an burned at the stake. This scene was actually cut from the original American release, because as the flames start to lick around her, Elizabeth hollers out a prayer to Lucifer, one that is echoed by her co-conspirator Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall). Evidently, a blatant prayer to Lucifer couldn’t make it past the censors. The prayer is to essentially survive the flames and give her eternal life to do the devil’s work.

Ten Days of Terror!: A Bucket of Blood

Film: A Bucket of Blood
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the influence of Roger Corman on the film industry before and almost certainly will again. For a month on TCM in 2016, Corman did a guest spot talking about American International Pictures movies, many of which he directed or produced on minimal budgets and filmed in less than a week. I like Corman. Sure, a lot of his movies are shit, but I like Corman as a person, or at least I think I would if I ever got a chance to meet him. He seems like a really cool guy, someone who doesn’t take himself that seriously but just wants to make a few movies and have a good time doing it. He also seems to realize that a lot of his movies are crap, but he actually has something to say with some of them. A Bucket of Blood has one of his better titles, so I was interested in seeing it.

According to Corman in the interview preceding the film, he got the idea for a horror comedy when he noticed an audience watching one of his films. He’d arranged a particular series of shots to get a scare and got it, and then after the initial shock, the audience laughed. So, the idea for a horror comedy seemed natural—get a scare, then get a laugh after the scare. Truthfully, A Bucket of Blood isn’t remotely scary. It’s also not laugh-out-loud funny, but the whole thing does work pretty well.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Christine

Film: Christine
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

An adaptation of a Stephen King novel is always going to be a crapshoot. You might get something exceptional like The Shawshank Redemption, something controversial like The Shining, or pure shit like Maximum Overdrive. The mention of that last film is important here, because much like Maximum Overdrive, Christine is a film about a vehicle that quite literally has a mind of its own. This is one of those rare instances where I know the source material well enough to comment on the adaptation, which is true of a surprising number of the more classic King stories.

Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) is a stereotypical high school nerd. His only real friend is Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell), a relatively popular student and star of the football team. Arnie has a difficult relationship with his parents despite his being what most would consider a model student. His parents, primarily his mother (Christine Belford), are dominating and controlling, in many ways preventing Arnie from having any real adult responsibilities. At the start of the film, the current conflict between Arnie and his parents is that he has opted to take shop, a class his mother feels is beneath him.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2004

The Contenders:

The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Million Dollar Baby (winner)
Ray
Sideways

Ten Days of Terror!: The Mummy (1932)

Film: The Mummy (1932)
Format: TCM on rockin’ flatscreen.

I do love the Universal monsters; it’s hard to pick a favorite. Frankenstein’s Monster is probably the most sympathetic while the Wolf Man is certainly the most tragic. The Gill Man is in many ways the coolest. But I have a soft spot for The Mummy and Imhotep. Why? Because of his motivation. Of all the Universal monsters, he’s motivated by love. Sure, what he does could well be considered as something evil, but this is a guy who threw away his life for love and then pined for his missing girlfriend for a few millennia. I can respect that.

If you’ve ever seen the much more recent version with Brendan Fraser, you might be surprised at just how much the remake takes from the original. In fact, what it does is create the whole excavation dig at the start and add a crap-ton of special effects to make it an action movie instead of straight horror. I’m not complaining, by the way. I like that version just fine. In fact, my biggest issue with the original is that at 72 minutes, it’s too damn short.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Ghost of Frankenstein

Film: The Ghost of Frankenstein
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

In the early days of the Universal monster films, few of those monsters seemed to have as much traction as Frankenstein’s Monster. The Ghost of Frankenstein was the fourth movie in the series. The first two featured the original Doctor Frankenstein. The third movie, Son of Frankenstein featured the doctor’s eldest son Wolf. This time, we’re down to the doctor’s second son, Ludwig (Cedric Hardwicke). It does force the question that as we continue to go through various Frankensteins for additional sequels how far into the family tree we might eventually find ourselves. One considers the possibility that eventually we’ll be dealing with Dave Frankenstein, the original doctor’s second cousin twice removed.

The previous movie saw Wolf Frankenstein killed and the monster entombed in a sulfur pit. But the people of the village believe that they are still cursed by the past events. It is their belief that the curse has stayed with them because of the presence of Frankenstein’s castle. There are even rumors that Frankenstein’s assistant Ygor (Bela Lugosi) is still alive despite having gone through enough to kill several men. The townspeople decide that the only thing to do is blow up the castle, and so they do. And hey! Ygor really is still alive! The peasants charge in and blow things up, not realizing that in so doing they have dislodged chunks of the sulfur pit, revealing the monster (now played by Lon Chaney Jr.). An overjoyed Ygor helps free his friend, and the two toddle off in search of Ludwig Frankenstein in the hopes of repairing the damaged body of the monster.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Film: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Format: TCM on rockin’ flatscreen.

A few years ago, I spent my Friday posts by going through the relevant Oscar categories for 1939. Several times, the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was brought up by people who recommended it for various awards. So when it showed up on TCM, I figured it was time to watch it. I know the basic story, of course, despite this being the first version of the story I’d ever seen. I know; I’m as shocked as you are.

Anyway, I’m sure that most of my readers are familiar with the basics of the story. There’s a misshapen hunchback named Quasimodo (Charles Laughton) who is deaf and who rings the bells at Notre Dame Cathedral. One day a group of gypsies shows up. Jean Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke) wants to rid Paris of everything he considers evil. This includes the recent invention of the printing press and, naturally, the gypsies, which is why the gypsies are prohibited from entering the city. Things are made more problematic for Frollo when he catches sight of Esmerelda (Maureen O’Hara), a beautiful dancing gypsy. For him, the sudden carnal stirrings are yet another reason why the gypsies need to go.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Stand

Film: The Stand
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

I remember when The Stand showed up on television. I remember it well enough, in fact, that I could recall specific scenes from it despite not having seen it for a couple of decades. What I remembered was that it started strong and stayed mainly true to the book. There were a few shortcuts taken here and there, but that’s by necessity. Even a six-hour miniseries can’t include every single thing, but since this was turned into a screenplay by author Stephen King himself, at least it would stay true to the story. I also remember that I was disappointed in the conclusion of the book and was doubly disappointed that the ending here was everything I hated about the book’s conclusion made literal.

That’s really the tale of The Stand. It starts strong—in fact the first two parts of the four-part miniseries are tremendously good. Things start to go a little south in the third episode and it nosedives hard at the end. Ah well, you can’t win them all, right?

Ten Days of Terror!: Def by Temptation

Film: Def by Temptation
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When the opening credits of a movie contain the name Lloyd Kaufman, it suggests a few things. It means we’re probably going to have low production values and that the movie is probably going to contain a lot of really stupid humor. Kaufman is the man in charge of Troma, home of films like The Toxic Avenger and Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD. It’s unusual, then, to find a film like Def by Temptation with Kaufman’s name on it. While certainly not a great horror film, it’s one that plays it a lot closer to straight than the typical Troma film.

It’s worth noting that this is very much a Blaxploitation film. There isn’t a single white face anywhere on screen that I can recall, and if there is one, it’s on a television or doesn’t have a speaking role. This is very much a horror movie designed with a black audience in mind. There’s a real effort to give this an urban flair as much as it possibly can based on its very low budget.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Invisible Man

Film: The Invisible Man
Format: TCM on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you think of the classic Universal monsters, the one that tends to be forgotten is The Invisible Man. I think that might be because he’s the most human of those monsters. Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and Imhotep the mummy have all died in some respect and have come back to life. The Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon are significantly non-human in some way. But Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) is just a guy who became invisible.

Still, he ranks. He’s got solid bona fides for being one of the classic monsters, in fact. First, he’s one of the earliest, coming fourth, and coming in the 1930s, nearly a decade before The Wolf Man and more than 20 years before The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Second, the film was directed by James Whale, one of the classic Universal monsters directors. Third, the story is based on a piece of classic literature; in this case, the H.G. Wells story of the same name.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Film: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Format: DVD from Schmaling Memorial Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you talk about great comedy teams, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are mentioned in the first sentence. They had an up and down film career, and were never more up than their 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (sometimes under the title Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein). This is more than just the pair running into Frankenstein’s monster; the film also pits them against Dracula and the Wolf Man, playing all of this for comic possibilities.

Bud and Lou, named Chick and Wilbur respectively, work as baggage handlers when they receive a call from Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) not to deliver a pair of crates to the McDougal House of Horrors. However, just as Talbot is getting to the point, the full moon rises and Talbot changes into a werewolf, causing Wilbur to think that it’s a prank call. McDougal (Frank Ferguson) then shows up and takes charge of his crates, asking the pair to deliver them to his museum.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Last House on the Left (1972)

Films: The Last House on the Left (1972)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The horror lists that I decided to pursue had a number of movies that I hadn’t already seen on them and a couple that I was genuinely not looking forward to watching. One of those was The Last House on the Left from 1972. This is one of those movies from this era in horror that I had heard about from the time my brother started getting into horror movies. It was a movie that I knew existed and knew was on the harder edge of horror, much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Faces of Death. I knew enough about it that it wasn’t something I particularly wanted to watch despite it being a massive hole in my viewing.

This is despite being a fan of Wes Craven. Craven, if nothing else, did a hell of a lot for horror as a genre. If he had done only the Nightmare films or just Scream, he would have still carved himself a place in horror history, but he did both, as well as The Hills Have Eyes and The Serpent and the Rainbow, a film I still think is terribly underrated. I still find it amazing that Craven earned a degree from evangelical Wheaton College, an institution residing about a mile from where I grew up.

Ten Days of Terror!: I am Legend; The Omega Man

Films: I am Legend; The Omega Man
Format: DVDs from Lasalle Public Library through interlibrary loan (Legend) and Sycamore Public Library (Omega) on laptop.

I don’t go to the theater that often, but I saw I am Legend when it was first released. I was hopeful, having seen the first two versions of Richard Matheson’s story, The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man respectively. I had hopes because this looked like a version that was going to really have the look of a truly apocalyptic situation. The other films had this in part, but not to the extent that this did in the trailers, and that’s something that was instantly appealing to me.

Unfortunately, this is my least favorite of the three versions of the story. It’s got the biggest budget by far and it would seem to have the most going for it on the surface, but like the other two versions, it punks the ending completely. None of the three versions have managed to get the ending to Matheson’s story correct, opting instead for something much simpler and much less interesting because of it. My disappointment here may simply be that I had much higher hopes for this one than I did the other two versions, so the failure is that much bigger.

Ten Days of Terror!: Dead Calm

Films: Dead Calm
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Say what you will about Sam Neill, but this is a guy who doesn’t shy away from some screwed up movies. Between Possesssion, Event Horizon, and Sleeping Dogs, this is a guy not afraid of going to some dark places when the movie calls for it. Dead Calm isn’t as dark or as weird as some of his other movies, but it’s a pretty dark tale. This is also fairly early in Nicole Kidman’s career, years before her face was Botoxed taut. It also features Billy Zane as a bad guy on a boat nearly a decade before he was a bad guy on a boat in Titanic.

The premise is simple, and comes with the pedigree of having been based on the same story that Orson Welles started filming in the late 1960s. Like many a good thriller, it’ also decidedly simple. We start in the cruelest way possible. Australian Naval officer John Ingram (Sam Neill) returns to port to see his wife Rae (Nicole Kidman) who has just been in a terrible car accident that has killed their toddler son. Thanks, movie!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Vampire Circus

Films: Vampire Circus
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

There was a time when Hammer made the best Gothic horror movies. Actually, when they were making this style of film, they were probably always the best because they were the only ones doing it. By 1972 and the release of Vampire Circus, their star had definitely faded, though. Seemingly unable to attract people with classic tales, they resorted to a lot more gore and nudity to bring in the audiences. Vampire Circus is that breed of film, unfortunately. As much as it’s a little painful to say this, the best part of this movie is the title.

Think of all of the possibilities with a title like Vampire Circus! So many great options, and Hammer went with the lamest one. Rather than modernizing the concept of the vampire and bringing it into the current century, they stayed with a film taking place in the 18th or early 19th century with all of the frilly costumes that implies. The circus is little more than a few animals, an evil clown, and a few acrobats. What a waste of a great name.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1958

The Contenders:

The Defiant Ones (winner)
The Goddess
Houseboat
The Sheepman
Teacher’s Pet

Ten Days of Terror!: Urban Ghost Story

Films: Urban Ghost Story
Format: Internet video on laptop.

The Fangoria list that I’m following (and getting closer and closer to finishing) is filled with obscurities, some of which deserve to be there. I’m always a little leery jumping into one of these movies because I never really know what I’m going to get. Some of them have turned out to be pretty interesting, while others have been absolutely terrible. With Urban Ghost Story, it’s a little of both. This is a film that has ambitions far greater than its budget and cast, and some of it works. That which doesn’t work doesn’t because of a screenplay that delves far too heavily into the clichés of the genre.

Urban Ghost Story takes place in Scotland. It is, in fact, a Scottish production. Most of the cast, with the exception of Billy Boyd, haven’t had massive careers. The film is very clearly made on a low budget. There’s not a great deal here in terms of special effects or even makeup and costuming, but that’s par for the course with a movie like this one. We’re given a very gritty, urban environment, with most of the film taking place in a crumbling block of flats where it seems that everyone is on the public dole and nobody has any money. A good way to keep the expense down is to make everyone poor and thus not having much in the way of wardrobe or personal items.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Cat and the Canary (1939)

Films: The Cat and the Canary (1939)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Like any genre of film, horror has a number of subgenres. Many films hit on one of these while others, like The Cat and the Canary attempt to blend multiple subgenres. This is a film that is one part standard horror movie, one part comedy, and two parts creepy old house mystery. There’s a great deal of films like The Old Dark House or The Black Cat here, where the location is a large part of what happens and the creation of the scares. And, like many a haunted house mystery for a modern audience, The Cat and the Canary plays like a long episode of Scooby-Doo.

As the film opens, it’s ten years to the day after the passing of Cyrus Norman. Cyrus was an eccentric millionaire who lived in a giant corroding house in the Louisiana bayou. Now that he’s been dead for ten years, it’s time to read his will in the library of his old house. The lawyer Crosby (George Zucco) has arrived and met the caretaker, Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard), who has been the sole occupant of the house for the past ten years. Over the next few minutes, our other guests arrive. These are Cyrus Norman’s surviving relatives. They are Fred (John Beal), Charles (Douglass Montgomery), Aunt Susan (Elizabeth Patterson), and Cicily (Nydia Westman). The final two, and the two for whom we’re going to be mainly concerned, are Joyce Norman (Paulette Goddard), the only person to still carry the family name and Wally Campbell (Bob Hope), a radio actor who is distantly related and knew Joyce in high school.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Creature from the Black Lagoon

Film: Creature from the Black Lagoon
Format: DVD from Morris Area Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

Of the classic Universal monster movies, Creature from the Black Lagoon is in many ways the strangest. Most of the monsters—Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Mummy—have precedents in literature or folklore. I’m not sure that’s the case with the Gill Man. He seems to be something made from whole, scaly cloth. The creature is presented as something like an evolutionary dead end, sort of a prehistoric progenitor of the link between our ancient aquatic past and our land-based current form. In that respect, it’s kind of silly. However, I kind of love the Gill Man because he is so freakin’ weird.

Creature from the Black Lagoon is something of a high concept film. What would happen if a group of scientists discovered a half-fish/half-man monster in the Amazon? Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno) discovers a massive fossilized claw dating back to the Devonian while on a geology expedition in the Amazon. He shows it to Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), an ichthyologist currently guesting at Maia’s institute. Reed and his scientist girlfriend Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) propose mounting an expedition, which is immediately agreed to by their boss Mark Williams (Richard Denning) in an effort to find the rest of the skeleton.

Ten Days of Terror!: Santa Sangre

Films: Santa Sangre
Format: DVD from Rock Island Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

So how the hell do I explain Santa Sangre? I’ve only seen one Jodorowsky film before this one, but I know enough about him and his various cinematic visions that I knew at least a little of what to expect going in. Jodorowsky is all symbolism, and because of this, the actual film is, to quote Nolahn, one of the only podcasters I listen to, “crazy town.”

And yeah, this is straight up crazy town. Tons of symbolism, tons of hallucinations, and since much of it takes place in a traveling carnival/circus, there’s a lot of that shit going on, too. It’s also almost entirely Oedipal. I get that there are people who actually buy that is a legitimate way to discuss human psychology, but I don’t. Whenever a film takes a Freudian approach to anything, there’s a part of my brain that simply rebels. No matter how pretty or weird or symbolic this film gets, some of me things that the Freudian stuff downgrades it.

Ten Days of Terror!: Ghost Story

Film: Ghost Story
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I vaguely remember when Ghost Story was released in theaters. I remember it only because at the time one of my sisters was reading a good amount of horror novels and had read Peter Straub’s book. It was maybe half a year before I became a real horror fan, so Ghost Story is one from just before the days when I learned to love the genre. While it’s relatively well thought of, it’s not considered a classic, which explains why I’m just getting to it now.

Before I get into my typical plot rundown, I want to specifically look at the four men whose names top the cast list. Probably the biggest sell of Ghost Story isn’t the fact that it comes from a Peter Straub novel, but that it stars one man whose film career began in the silent (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), two whose careers started in the early talkies (Melvyn Douglas and Fred Astaire), and one whose career in front of the camera started late, but who became a legendary supporting player almost immediately (John Houseman). If nothing else, it’s a real treat to see these four men on camera at the same time. It’s also the final cinematic screen credit of all of them except Houseman.

Ten Days of Terror!: The House that Dripped Blood

Film: The House that Dripped Blood
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Anthology films don’t always work. The biggest problem with them is that they often tend to be uneven. Many a horror anthology (and let’s be honest here—most anthologies are horror anthologies) has an excellent example or two and a few others that are simply marking time. Even in a case where most of the stories are good (like Creepshow), there’s still a definite hierarchy, meaning that a rewatch is going to be filled with different moments of excitement for the good parts and dealing with the weaker parts. The House that Dripped Blood is an anthology film that manages to avoid a lot of the problems of the style. There are only four stories, allowing each of them some space to play out without any of them overstaying their welcome.

The framing story here helps as well. A police detective named Holloway (John Bennett) is investigating the disappearance of an actor who has rented an old house. When the inspector starts investigating, he discovers that the three occupants of the house before the actor have also had unique, tragic, and deadly occurrences in the house. The film, then, is a trip through these four stories in chronological order. We meet, from start to finish, a writer (Denholm Elliott) obsessed with a murderer he has created for a new book; A retired man (Peter Cushing) entranced by an image of an old love found in a wax museum; a man (Christopher Lee) who seems abusive toward his young daughter but may have reasons to fear her; and finally a horror movie actor (Jon Pertwee) who gets a little more than he bargained for with the purchase of an old cloak.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Godzilla (Gojira)

Film: Godzilla (Gojira)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It’s easy to make fun of a film like Godzilla (or Gojira if you’re a purist), but that humor is frequently placed in the wrong direction. Godzilla movies did eventually get plenty silly, silly enough that some of them were eventually shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, that’s something that could certainly be said of many horror franchises. Lots of them get silly. With Godzilla, it’s important to look at the first film. After, no horror fan would want to have A Nightmare on Elm Street judged by Freddy vs. Jason.

And, let’s be honest here, there’s plenty of things in Godzilla that are laughable. For starters, the science is ridiculous here. We’re told, for instance, that brontosaurus bones are about two million years old. Now, I’ll forgive the reference to brontosaurus, which was accepted in 1954 over the current designation of Apatosaurus, but two million years? And the trilobite fossils, which date in the multiple hundreds of millions of years old are also two million years old? A scientist creates a device that destroys oxygen? C’mon.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Stepford Wives

Film: The Stepford Wives
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I haven’t seen the remake of The Stepford Wives, but my guess is that it softens the ending and by doing so, it probably changes the entire meaning of the film. That seems to be the way things work often enough with remakes. The original, while it certainly has a few issues and had some arguments in the production, is surprisingly dark. I mean this in the best way possible, and because of this, it approaches something much closer to actual horror. The Stepford Wives, at least the original, doesn’t go for the gross out, but attempts to get at something a lot more existential.

The truth is that I’m probably going to spoil this movie with the review. I’m saying this now and here so that I don’t have to use spoiler tags. In truth “Stepford wife” is a phrase that I’ve heard enough outside of the context of this movie, meaning that while the ending is certainly in doubt for someone who hasn’t seen it, the basic plot really isn’t. Kind of like Psycho or The Sixth Sense, at this point, you almost certainly know the basic story, so if I reveal it to you, you should probably move out from under that rock you’ve been living under.

Ten Days of Terror!: Daughters of Darkness (Les Levres Rouges)

Films: Daughters of Darkness (Les Levres Rouges)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

If you’re going to do an even slightly erotic thriller using one of the classic monsters, your best choice is a vampire. Even before vampires became sparkly assholes in teen novels, there was a sense of the romantic about them. So when Daughters of Darkness (or Les Levres Rouges in the original French) showed up, there was at least the potential for something both interesting and sexy. I expected something like an earlier version of The Hunger, which is probably the most sexually charged vampire movie I’ve seen. And then I came to a terrible realization: Daughters of Darkness stars Delphine Seyrig.

I have a history with Delphine Seyrig’s films. I genuinely like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. I’ve seen three of her other films: India Song, Jeanne Dielmann, and Last Year at Marienbad and I hate them. I don’t mean that I didn’t like them much. I mean I actively hate them. I’m very much in the minority on all three films, incidentally. All three are critical darlings with high ratings from both professional critics and viewers alike. But I hate them almost as much as I can hate an inanimate object. Seyrig, since the first moment I put one of her films in the spinner, she has been a muse of profanity and anger for me. With the best will in the world to be as fair as possible, Daughters of Darkness started with a massive strike against it.

Ten Days of Terror!: Demon Seed

Film: Demon Seed
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

A lot of science fiction seems to overlap a great deal with horror, which is why I think a lot of science fiction fans are closet horror fans, and vice versa. In the case of Demon Seed, we’ve got a melding of a film like Rosemary’s Baby with a lot of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It hits on one of those basic fears of humanity—children. That sounds strange, I realize, but there is a great deal of potential horror with children. They’re impenetrable little mysteries, born covered in blood, and have minds that seem so strangely warpable. There’s a reason that there are so many horror movies that deal with childbirth and children. Perhaps it’s the perversion of innocence. Anyway, Demon Seed attaches that basic fear with technology, at least as modern of technology as we could get in 1977.

Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) is a high-powered computer engineer who has created a new supercomputer he calls Proteus (voiced by an uncredited Robert Vaughn). Proteus is essentially a massive neural network that has been fed, in movie fashion, pretty much the entirety of human knowledge. Within four days of going online, Proteus develops a cure for leukemia. Dr. Harris has also created an early version of a smart house. His obsession with this has caused a problem between him and his wife Susan (Julie Christie). Now that his Proteus project is winding down, he’s planning on separating from his wife, leaving her in the smart house.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Play Misty for Me

Films: Play Misty for Me
Format: DVD from Moline Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

When the topics comes around to great directorial debuts, there are a lot of obvious places to go: Orson Welles and Citizen Kane, the Coens and Blood Simple, even Sam Raimi and Evil Dead. For whatever reason, Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me, seems to be regularly forgotten. This is a film that for whatever reason doesn’t get a great deal of love when it comes to discussions of genre films, films from the 1970s, or any other specifics. It’s a damn shame, though, because it’s got a great deal going for it. Any director would be proud to claim this as his or her own.

The truth may well be that in 1971, Clint Eastwood was, well, Clint Eastwood. No one could have predicted that a couple of years later he’d be winning Oscars as a director and that people would be legitimately talking about him as one of the great working directors not merely in the States, but in the world. It’s possible that the world can be forgiven for that lack of foresight. Up to this point, Eastwood had starred in a variety of tough guy roles and would continue to do so. But the evidence is here that Eastwood took a lot of lessons while he was in front of the camera.

Ten Days of Terror!: High Tension (Haute Tension)

Films: High Tension (Haute Tension; Switchblade Romance)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

One of the classes I teach is English composition. I’ve found over the last dozen or so years that two of the places many students struggle is in writing good introductions and good conclusions, so I spend a great deal of time on them. What I tell them is that a great paper with a weak conclusion is remembered as a weak paper. The same is true with movies. A good, intelligent, and exciting movie that ends on a sour note is remembered more for the sour note than it is everything else. And thus we have High Tension (Haute Tension in the original French, and for some reason Switchblade Romance in the U.K.).

I’m not going to spoil the film by revealing the twist ending that creates plot holes that, as Roger Ebert said in his review, “[are] not only large enough to drive a truck through, but in fact [do] have a truck driven right through [them].” Chances are good that you’ve already seen High Tension and know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen High Tension, you’ve almost certainly heard other people complain about this very thing, and while you might not know the details of the ending that mar the film, you’re aware that they exist.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Spiral Staircase

Films: The Spiral Staircase
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

In my mind, I think there’s something a little innocent about some of the classic horror/thriller movies from the 1940s. I mean, we’re pretty much guaranteed something akin to a happy ending, and we’re not going to see anything in terms of blood or gore. What this means is that the filmmakers had to rely on other things to get the scares and the tension, and I think it often makes for a better movie. It’s easy to gross out an audience. It’s a lot harder to get them to think and be nervous because of atmosphere and genuine tension. Gross outs are fun, but cheap. I like it when the director works for it. And so we have The Spiral Staircase from the mid-1940s, a thriller that will give us a couple of deaths and a serial killer and, admittedly, some psychobabble to explain it all away.

Helen (Dorothy McGuire) is watching a movie in a town near Boston. Since we’re around 1916, it’s a silent picture. Meanwhile, upstairs in the same building, a murder of a lame woman occurs. The police are called, as are the two doctors in the town, who confirm that the woman is definitely deceased. The doctors spar a bit, and the younger of the two, Dr. Parry (Kent Smith) offers to give Helen a ride home. Helen silently agrees, silently because we learn that Helen is mute and has been for years.

Ten Days of Terror!: Bloody Birthday

Films: Bloody Birthday
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you get to the bottom of a giant ranked list like the They Shoot Zombies, Don’t They? list, you get one of three things. The Zombies list essentially ranks films by their appearance on other compiled lists of horror films. So, at the bottom, one possibility is a newer movie that simply hasn’t been added to a lot of other “best of” lists. True to form, the bottom few hundred positions are home to most of the listed films from the last few years. Another possibility is a film that is only tangentially related to horror, meaning it won’t show up on a lot of “purer” lists. The third possibility is a film that isn’t that good, and so a lot of people don’t include it. Sadly, Bloody Birthday falls into the third type. The real question is why the hell this thing showed up on TCM.

Here’s the pitch—a trio of children are born virtually simultaneously during a solar eclipse. Now, according to the movie, this means that their astrological readings are off the charts weird, and in Bloody Birthday, astrology is a real thing. Something about Saturn, apparently. Anyway, for no other explained reason, a few days before they all turn 10, all three children become homicidal maniacs and start killing off people around their town.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Rabid

Films: Rabid
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

David Cronenberg is best known for body horror films. Even much of the last decade’s examples of his filmography that haven’t been overtly horror--Eastern Promises, A History of Violence--have had elements of body horror in them. Cronenberg’s classic period of films contain some truly disturbing imagery and horrific sights. Rabid is an early film in his career, and while it has all of the hallmarks of a new filmmaker working without much of a budget, it’s also one that is indicative of the style that would make him a favorite of horror movie fans.

Rabid starts with Rose (Marilyn Chambers) and her boyfriend Hart (Frank Moore) go off for a motorcycle ride. Thanks to a van that has decided to attempt to turn around on a narrow road, Rose and Hart wipe out and Rose is pinned under the bike as it catches fire. With no hospital nearby, they are taken instead to a nearby plastic surgery clinic where Rose’s injuries are treated by Dr. Keloid (Howard Ryshpan). To assist in her healing, Keloid uses an experimental technique in skin grafting that will hopefully allow the grafts to adapt to their new location on her chest and abdomen.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 1932-1933

The Contenders:

Lady for a Day
Little Women (winner)
State Fair

Ten Days of Terror!: Land of the Dead

Films: Land of the Dead
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

When George Romero created Night of the Living Dead he essentially invented a new subgenre of horror films, mainly by not having the original film copyrighted. Sad for him, happy for horror fans everywhere. Romero revisited his undead zombie world five times. Sadly, each of these movies has ended up with declining reviews; the highest point is Dawn of the Dead and the lowest is the most recent, Survival of the Dead. Of the five after the original film, Land of the Dead falls in the middle—the fourth in the series and the midpoint of the five sequels in terms of critical reception.

Each of Romero’s zombie films explores a different aspect of the world using the zombies as metaphor. In the case of Land of the Dead, Romero is going to a different aspect of what he looked at with Dawn of the Dead. Where that film explored mindless consumerism, there is a strong undercurrent of wealth inequality in Land of the Dead. It’s a theme worth exploring, and frankly, it’s worth exploring more than Romero does it here. This is undoubtedly one of the ideas that is at play in the film, but it’s really only seen in the margins except for in a few places.

Ten Days of Terror!: Lake Placid

Films: Lake Placid
Format: Syfy on rockin’ flatscreen.

Oh, I really wanted to like Lake Placid. I wanted to like it when I saw it in the theater in 1999 and I wanted to like it when I rewatched it. It’s rare that an exploitative horror movie sports a cast as impressive as this one—Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Betty White, Brendan Gleeson, and Oliver Platt. Plenty of horror movies attempt comedy with physical gags and don’t pay as much attention to a solidly funny script. Lake Placid is so close to being everything a good horror/action/comedy film can be and it comes up short over and over. It’s disappointing because it could have been a classic instead of a disappointment.

Lake Placid is a high concept film in the sense that the entire plot can be related in a single sentence: a 30-foot crocodile turns up in a lake in Maine and terrorizes the area. If you prefer, “crocodile Jaws in Maine.” That’s seriously it.