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)

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
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.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Pitch Black

Films: Pitch Black
Format: Syfy Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are only a few basic science fiction stories. I read somewhere that the classic science fiction story involves a ship in the middle of space and a distress signal from somewhere. Pitch Black is kind of like that if you remove the distress signal and replace it with a meteor storm and a crash. This is an interesting movie for a few reasons. In a lot of ways, this follows a pretty standard science fiction/monster movie plot. There are some real differences from expectations, though, and those differences raise this above the level of the standard film of this sort.

The closest parallel film to Pitch Black in a lot of ways is Alien 3. This isn’t much of a surprise, since it evidently started life as an unused idea for that movie. The connection with the Alien franchise is evident in the design of the creatures that dominate the second half of the film as well. The connections go deeper, though. Both movies are about a group of people trapped on a planet that is inhabited (or infected) by alien creatures that are top-tier predators.

Ten Days of Terror!: Zombie (Zombi 2)

Film: Zombie (Zombi 2)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

How a film gets made and marketed is often almost as interesting as the film itself. In the case of Zombie, Lucio Fulci’s answer to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, there’s a lot to consider. Is it a sequel? Well, Romero’s film was released in Italy reedited by Dario Argento and with a new score by Argento’s frequent collaborators Goblin under the name Zombi. Fulci’s film was fast-tracked for release the following year and released in Italy as Zombi 2. However, Fulci himself seemed to think it was its own thing. While the idea of reanimated ghouls devouring the living is a common element, Fulci’s zombies are much closer to the Caribbean voodoo zombies of folktales. Sure, these ones eat the living, but they are otherwise similar in manner to those raised by a houngan.

Zombie, like a lot of Italian horror movies, has both the strengths and weaknesses of its genre and that genre specifically in its country of origin. My own experience with a lot of Italian horror movies is that they tend to have some tremendous set pieces and moments that are truly memorable, but often lack in having a coherent plot. Things often seem to happen because they happen and there aren’t always solid connections from one moment in the story to the next.

Ten Days of Terror!: Tremors

Films: Tremors
Format: Syfy Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

I like Kevin Bacon as an actor, and I’m not alone in that. There’s a reason that “Six Degrees of Bacon” became a thing—Kevin Bacon is not only in a lot of movies, but he’s easily identifiable and he’s also been in a lot of movies with ensemble casts. Bacon has been in a lot of movies I really like--A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, Mystic River--but there may not be one that I enjoy more just for pure viewing pleasure than Tremors. This is a textbook example of how you do a monster horror/comedy.

Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) work as “handymen” in Perfection, Nevada, a tiny little town in the ass-end of nowhere. Both of them want nothing more than to get out of the life they’re living. Unfortunately for the two of them, the day they happen to leave is the same day that the monsters make their appearance known to the town. A few mysterious deaths and disappearances, and suddenly Val and Earl are in the middle of monster movie.

Ten Days of Terror!: It (1990)

Films: It (1990) (Stephen King’s It)
Format: DVD from Morris Area Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

There was a time in my life when I read a lot of Stephen King. There were plenty of his books that I didn’t read, but I read probably 80% of his books at one point. There are still some of his books that I think are good, a few that are genuinely great. It (sometimes called Stephen King’s It) is one of his best stories. It’s not a terrible shock that within a few years of its publication that it was optioned for a movie. However, since the book is something like 1200 pages long, “movie” doesn’t quite cut it. Instead, it was created as a television mini-series. That’s good because it means that the huge story is given a little more space. It’s bad, because that means that at best it will be rated PG-13 (1990 television, after all), and a lot of the really nasty stuff from the book will be left out.

Actually, that’s exactly the case here. It keeps the basic story of the book and keeps the really important parts of it, but loses a large amount of the detail that makes the book so good. Fortunately, the story is strong enough that a lot of what needs to be kept here is still here. Some of the more interesting episodes of the book have been left out, but mainly what we lose is a great deal of the detail in the various characters. There are a few changes as well—surface changes that aren’t really that upsetting.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Next Ten Days

For the last few years, I've reviewed a bunch of horror movies in October. I like horror movies; war movies, science fiction, and horror movies are very much my comfort zone, although I've moved away from the war movies I grew up on over the last couple of decades. A lot of the reason for this blog initially was to move me out of my comfort zone with what I watch and know. But horror movies are a love of mine. Since this blog initially was based on the 1001 Movies list, there wasn't a lot of room specifically for horror in the first few years.

The same was true when I switched to Oscar movies. It's not a genre that generates a lot of Oscar buzz in general. Since the focus of this blog was never on horror movies, they've been something that I've been touching on in the margins. But I still do love them and still watch a lot of them.

Anyway, in 2014, I ended October with a bunch of horror movies. In 2015 and 2016, I doubled the amount, posting twice a day to put up more and more horror movies while still keeping the main focus of the blog on Oscar films. But I still watch horror movies, and more and more, I've been reviewing (but not posting) those that I watch. This means I have a large backstock of reviews that I've never posted.

So, starting tomorrow, I will be posting a great deal of that back catalog of mine. Over the next ten days, I will be posting four times per day. There will still be an Oscar post on the two Mondays and the Friday in the next week and a half, but the other posts will all be horror movies, showing up at regular intervals through Halloween. While some of these will be movies I've watched this month, most will be movies I watched last year or early this year.

Anyway, expect new posts from me starting tomorrow at 1:00 and 7:00, both AM and PM CST until the month ends. Oscar posts will go up at 1:00 PM on the appropriate days.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Growing Old Ungracefully

Films: Kotch
Format: DVD from Somonauk Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

There are plenty of screen pairings that become legendary. Fred and Ginger, or Doris Day and Rock Hudson. One of the great screen pairings is Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who made at least 10 movies together in one of the best comedy pairings in film history. It’s rather fitting, then, that when Jack Lemmon directed his first and only film, Kotch, that he got Walter Matthau to star in it. In that respect, Kotch is something of a collaboration between the two. It plays much like one of their comedies, with Lemmon’s typical role being taken by Deborah Winters.

Kotch is a clear example of a character study. There’s not a great deal of plot here, and there doesn’t have to be. Matthau carries the bulk of the film, and what he doesn’t carry, Winters handles surprisingly well. The entire point of the film is to get the audience to have warm, fuzzy feelings for our title character, get us to know and like him, and then get us through to an uplifting ending through joy and sadness. It’s a simple formula, and Kotch follows it carefully.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Salem's Lot

Film: Salem’s Lot
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the reasons I enjoy horror movies is that I find them to be similar to roller coasters. They’re a huge adrenaline rushes. I am occasionally scared in the moment, but rarely for long, partly because I don’t have a belief in the supernatural. It’s rare that I find something truly scary, but the (surprise surprise) made-for-TV version of Salem’s Lot from 1979 qualifies. The truth is that I probably saw this when I was too young, so it’s one of those things that hits me on a more visceral level. It’s honestly probably not as frightening as I’m saying it is, but it’s something that always strikes me as being genuinely scary.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know why it works as well as it does. Certainly there are parts of it that I can say work really well for specific reasons. There are a couple of great jump scares and a few moments of building tension that work nearly perfectly, but as far as why the whole three-hour experience works as well as it does, I’m not sure. In a lot of ways, it shouldn’t. It almost seems like a joke to have this staring David Soul, most famous for playing Hutch on “Starsky and Hutch.” And yet it works. When I went through the They Shoot Zombies list, I was incredibly pleased to not just see this on the list, but to see it in the top-200 where it belongs.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kiss My Grits

Films: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you think of Martin Scorsese, chances are good that you think of his more mob-related movies (Casino, Goodfellas) or his more violent films (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull). I would have never pegged him as the director of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, a film that was eventually turned into a long-running television sit-com. I remember the show; my mom loved it. Naturally, I went into the movie thinking that it was going to be a clear inspiration for a good-natured show that took place in a diner. Well, I was wrong, and in this case, that’s not a bad thing.

What I didn’t know was that Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore was a project that was controlled almost from the start by Ellen Burstyn, who was still riding high from success in The Exorcist. Burstyn hand-picked Scorsese to direct, and Scorsese then surrounding himself with women to act in many important crew roles. The entire point behind the film was to make a film about a realistic woman with realistic problems.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Films: Toni Erdmann
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I finished the 1001 Movies list, I thought that I was done with really long foreign language movies. In the four years since finishing, there have been a few pretty long movies added, but only Leviathan approached the 150-minute mark and wasn’t in English. That’s until Toni Erdmann showed up. At 162 minutes, Toni Erdmann was a daunting undertaking. I won’t say I didn’t want to watch it, but I did have to check it out of the library twice. When I’m particularly busy with work, non-English movies are harder for me. I generally have to wait for a day off (I don’t get many as a teacher) or the end of a term. Since I want to complete the current 1001 additions before the end of the year, I bit the bullet.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

You'll Want to Escape, Though

Films: Escape Me Never
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When I drop back into the earliest years of Oscar, I generally know a couple of things. One thing I know, at least with a movie like Escape Me Never is that I’m watching a movie that probably no one reading this blog has seen. There is a version of this from the 1940s starring Errol Flynn and Ida Lupino that is much better known, but the version that was nominated for an Oscar for 1935, so that’s the one I watched. I think it’s safe to say there’s a reason that not a lot of people have seen this.

Oh, Escape Me Never isn’t terrible. One of the real problems is that it desperately needs to be restored based on the version that I was able to find online. At one point early in the film, we’re shown a letter that I’m sure is important to the plot, but there was no way in hell I could read it because of the blurry nature of this print. It’s a shame, and as I say whenever this happens, I do my best not to let something like technical difficulties do anything to affect my overall opinion of the film itself.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Films: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Format: DVD from Mt. Morris Library on various players.

I remember when Kenneth Branagh’s version of Frankenstein, sometimes called Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released. I was interested in it because I like Branagh as a director and liked him in 1994 as a director. This was the guy who appeared on the directorial scene with Henry V, the most bad-ass version of Shakespeare’s most bad-ass history. I liked Dead Again probably more than it deserves. And here he was directing a classic horror tale with Robert De Niro as the monster. How could it be anything but awesome?

And then the reviews came in, and most of them were disappointing to say the least. So I never got around to it. I was married, had a wife who didn’t (and still doesn’t) care much for horror movies, and a job that took up a ton of time, so I essentially forgot about it. And then, boom, here it is, several decades later and Frankenstein falls into my lap. I remembered seeing the previews. I remembered the poor critical reception. But this blog is all about figuring these things out for myself at some point, so why not check it out?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Films: The Seven Little Foys
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I’ve checked out The Seven Little Foys from the local university library a couple of times and never pulled the trigger on it. I’m not sure why that is aside from the fact that it was a movie I didn’t desperately want to watch. But, I knew I had to get to it eventually, so it made sense to finally knock it out today. I mean, how terrible could it be, right?

The truth is that it’s not that terrible, but it’s also not that great. It’s a semi-biography of stage comedian/vaudevillian Eddie Foy (Bob Hope) and his, well, seven children and how all of those children wound up in his act. What I find interesting here is that, while this was made in 1955 and is thus a part of that Hollywood era that whitewashed a lot of bad behavior from the focus of its biographies, The Seven Little Foys isn’t really that flattering to Eddie Foy.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Show Me the Money

Films: Jerry Maguire
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

For whatever reason, I’ve avoided watching Jerry Maguire for more than two decades. I seem to prefer Tom Cruise in science fiction and action more than I do drama. And yet I think two of his best performances, Born on the Fourth of July and Rain Man are straight dramas. I don’t know what the hang up was, but I just couldn’t come around to pulling the trigger on it. It might also have something to do with Patton Oswalt’s epic stand up routine (seriously, google “Patton Oswalt Jerry Maguire”).

Since I’m probably the last person in the world to see this (even my wife has seen it), I won’t go too deeply into the story. Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is a sports agent, and a very successful one. One day, while dealing with yet another concussion for one of his hockey clients, Jerry is confronted by the man’s son, who more or less tells Jerry that he’s full of shit. Jerry has an epiphany and spends the night writing a 26-page manifesto of everything that is wrong with the business. This earns him accolades in the moment and costs him his job and all of his clients but one a week later. The engineer of his career demise is Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr), Jerry’s protégé. When he leaves the company, he takes with him one person, Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), a widowed mother with a young son named Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki) who has some health issues.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Reservoir Hunde

Films: Victoria
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been ignoring the latest version of the 1001 Movies list for too long; the last movie I removed from those remaining was Moonlight, and that was almost three weeks ago. I figured I should get to the ones I could get to while they were still easily available on NetFlix streaming. Of the two currently streaming that I need to see, Victoria, which is longer and at least marginally in German, seemed the bigger commitment. Since work is going to get a little harrier in coming weeks, I figured now was the time.

The draw of Victoria is that it was done in a single long take that runs over two hours across a number of different locations across Berlin. The single take film has been done before, of course. Hitchcock faked it with Rope; Russian Ark is a single take shot through the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and involves massive costuming, sets, and orchestras, and Mike Figgis did it four times over with Timecode. Victoria Is perhaps less technically impressive than Timecode, but uses real locations and uses a lot of them.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

I'm Okay with My Decay

Films: Leaving Las Vegas
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

There was once a time when Nicolas Cage was not a parody of an actor. There were flashes of what he’d become during this period, but for years, Cage was a bankable actor in the sorts of movies that you didn’t watch just to see how insane his performance was. In the middle of that period was 1995 and Leaving Las Vegas, the film for which Cage won an Oscar.

Leaving Las Vegas is perhaps best described as a completely nihilistic romance. Ben Sanderson (Cage) is a screenwriter who has fallen on hard times. He’s not sure if his wife left him because of his alcoholism or if he became an alcoholic because his wife left him, but he’s gone far past the stage of being a functional drunk. Shortly after the movie starts, Ben loses his job, and with a sizable severance check, he decides to move to Las Vegas. He burns most of his belongings and leaves with the intent of drinking himself to death.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Reptile

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

When you talk about classic horror movies, you have to spend at least a little bit of time talking about Hammer films. Hammer horror films are kind of what made horror films stay around for a few decades. They were fun, had a touch of class to them, and some of them were genuinely good. There was a sense of wanting to keep the gothic feel of the classic horror movies, but also move them a little bit more into the modern world. Hammer remade all of the classics, of course, but also created their own monsters and scares, as they did with The Reptile. Instead of banking on the name recognition of the monster, this film tries to blaze a new path by giving us a creature that certainly has ties to the classics but is different in significant ways.

As fitting with the ties to the gothic, The Reptile takes place at the turn of the previous century. We see a man exploring an old house when he is suddenly attacked. He runs from the house and dies, the skin on his face turned black and a white foam coming out of his mouth. Nice way to set the scene, huh? Anyway, flash forward a day or two and we’re sitting with the dead man’s brother, Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) and his new wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel), who have learned that Harry’s brother has willed them his little cabin. They are warned off staying there, but since they are newly married, they decide that it’s as good a place as any to start their life together, and off they go.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Lone Wolf(verine) and Cub

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

Let’s talk for a minute about what movies based on comics are and what they can be. What they are when they are at their best is fun action movies with great special effects and big action set pieces. We get villains who are purely evil set on world domination or world destruction and acts of great heroism. We get some thrills and some laughs and have something that serves as a vehicle for popcorn and Sour Patch Kids. What they can be is Logan.

Logan is set in the future of the X-Men universe, and it’s a future that hasn’t gone well for the mutants. It has been 25 years since a mutant has been born and in this world, most of the X-Men are dead. Logan (Hugh Jackman), known to the wider world as Wolverine, now lives in secret as a limo driver in El Paso. His former mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) has lost control of his mental abilities and lives in an abandoned smelting plant just over the border in Mexico where Logan keeps him heavily medicated to prevent his mental attacks that inadvertently wiped out the X-Men the previous year. With them is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant with the ability to track down other mutants. Logan’s mutant powers are starting to slow down. While he still heals injuries, he doesn’t always heal as quickly or completely, and he now has scars covering his body from previous battles. He’s in constant pain, which he medicates with pain killers and alcohol.