Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Ten Days of Terror!: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Film: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

One of the problems of a lot of Code-era horror films is that they aren’t really that scary. There are a few that genuinely try to get there, but especially the Gothic stuff is more fun than it is frightening. Some really do go for at least disturbing implications. That’s absolutely the case with The Picture of Dorian Gray, a film based on the classic Oscar Wilde novel. There’s nothing here that would cause most modern horror fans to consider this much of a horror movie because there’s nothing here that is really overtly horrific. All of the horror is much more internal and much more subtle, which makes it so much better.

It’s likely that you already know the basic story. Just in case you don’t the elevator pitch is pretty simple. A young man named Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) has a portrait painted of himself. Due to the influence of the morally bankrupt Lord Henry Watton (George Sanders), Gray makes a wish that he remain young while the portrait ages. This wish more or less comes true. Dorian Gray remains a young man while the portrait ages. However, the portrait doesn’t merely get older; it also essentially reflects the quality of Gray’s soul. As his physical being no longer reflects any consequence of his actions, Dorian Gray becomes more and more morally bankrupt and his portrait becomes more and more terrible as the years progress.

Ten Days of Terror!: World War Z

Film: World War Z
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I didn’t really want to watch World War Z for a number of reasons. The primary one is that I’ve read the book, and Max Brooks’s episodic novel is absolutely the best piece of zombie literature that has been produced, at least to my knowledge. It’s smart, it covers the zombie plague from several dozen perspectives, it offers real, human heroes and villains, and manages to be politically incisive as well as entertaining. The minute I realized that the movie was going to be an action movie with zombies, I threw my hands up in disgust. That’s not what Max Brooks wrote.

What Brooks wrote—and I can’t recommend the book enough—is a survivors’ oral history. The book posits that the zombie war is over and has been more or less won, humanity having started pushing back against the undead and reclaiming territory. The book is a series of interviews with survivors at all levels: government officials, children, doctors, soldiers. Each person has a particular perspective on what happened and survived in his or her own way. The story goes from the opening moments of the plague, one of the first victims in rural China to the clearing of the American continent, the rescue of pockets of survivors, and the continued cleansing of the planet from the undead menace.

Ten Days of Terror!: Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Film: Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I should say at the outset here that I went into this with my eyes open. With a movie called Killer Klowns from Outer Space we’re talking less Citizen Kane and more The Terror of Tiny Town; less The Lost Weekend, more Weekend at Bernie’s. There aren’t going to be a lot of surprises with this film given its name. It’s clearly going to be at least partly comedy, and it’s not going to be the highbrow sort.

So, what’s the story? A town gets invaded by clown-themed aliens. These aren’t aliens that have something vaguely clown-like about them; these are full-on clown themed. They have clown hair, red bulbous noses, wear clown outfits, and attack with clown-themed weapons. These include a gun that wraps up its victims in a cotton candy-like substance, a gun that shoots popcorn, and thrown pies that are apparently made out of some sort of acid.

Ten Days of Terror!: 13 Ghosts (1960)

Film: 13 Ghosts
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I do have a warm, squishy soft spot for William Castle. None of his movies were ever really that great, but they were pretty much all a lot of fun. Castle was the master of the gimmick, creating electrified seats, floating skeletons, selling life insurance to the audience in case they died of fright, and more. With 13 Ghosts, the gimmick was something Castle called “Illusion-o.” It was more or less a play on 3D glasses. At certain times in the film, the audience could put on the glasses and see the ghosts on the screen. I’ve seen the film both with the optional ghosts (note the text on the picture above) and where the ghosts simply appear. Honestly, it’s pretty much the same film either way.

Like most of Castle’s pictures, 13 Ghosts much more about the staging than it is about the actual scares. The ghosts here are pretty laughable, my favorite being the ghost of a French chef who is adorned with the most ridiculous comic mustache seen outside of a pantomime melodrama. I honestly don’t see how much of this could have been frightening even in 1960. No, like most of Castle’s films, this is the veneer of horror. It’s a carnival spook house ride dressed up with the supernatural.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Ten Days of Terror!: 28 Weeks Later

Film: 28 Weeks Later
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’m always prepared, at least a little, to be disappointed in a sequel. I first saw 28 Weeks Later in the theater the weekend of its release. I had very high hopes for it, even knowing that there was little chance it could match the first film, which remains one of my favorite films ever. But, as I say, I had hopes. Ten minutes in, and I was fully prepared for this to be the template for how to make a sequel. Thirty minutes later, and I was ready to throw up my hands in frustration and disappointment.

It’s strange, because this film has generally received positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and Letterboxd all rate the film relatively favorably, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why. 28 Weeks Later is a film that requires everyone in it to be collectively stupid all the time. The film wants particular things to happen and the screenwriters, rather than giving us legitimate, character-driven reasons for things to happen instead make the characters follow the plot arc that they want. This means that frequently our characters are going to act in very stupid ways, often in ways that defy logic and protocol, so that we can have a new wave of rage-infected people.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Craft

Film: The Craft
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’m not sure why I like The Craft as much as I do. Some of it is that it seems like the greatest culmination of the 1990s in a single film. It also has a surprisingly entertaining soundtrack that is also the most ‘90s soundtrack imaginable. I like the effects that are used, and I like the way the story builds. I also really like Fairuza Balk and I wonder why her career didn’t build off both this movie and American History X. For whatever reason, I like The Craft a lot more than it deserves to be liked.

I’m going to make the plot rundown quick here because I really want to try to figure out why I like this movie as much as I do. Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) and her family move from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Enrolled in a Catholic high school, Sarah soon befriends a trio of girls who she soon discovers are the school’s weird triad. Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True), and Nancy (Fairuza Balk) are into the occult, sometimes popping down to a local store run by Lirio (Assumpta Serna) and shoplifting a few items to play around with magic. When Sarah, who appears to have some natural gift at witchcraft arrives, the can complete something like a coven.

Ten Days of Terror!: Taste the Blood of Dracula

Film: Taste the Blood of Dracula
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

Evidently, Christopher Lee played Dracula more than anyone else in film history. I think that makes sense. He also apparently ended each film by claiming that he’d not play the role again until Hammer Studios convinced him to take it up just one more time. Taste the Blood of Dracula is clearly a film in that vein, since Lee, the titular character, is barely in it and has only a couple of lines. There are times when this works—in Horror of Dracula, Lee is absent from much of the film, but he casts a huge shadow over everything that happens. Here, he simply doesn’t. He’s there, but in most cases, he’s almost a non-factor in everything that happens.

We start by watching Dracula (Lee) die. The witness to his demise is a merchant named Weller (Roy Kinnear), who goes to the remains of Count Dracula and takes his cape, ring, and brooch that has essentially powdered blood on it. This will all be important eventually, even though the scene is going to shift radically after this.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Ghost of Yotsuya

Film: The Ghost of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

One of the things I find interesting about horror movies is that horror is often cultural specific and yet there are some universals. Ghost stories seem to be universal in the general if different from culture to culture in the specific. The Ghost of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan for those who prefer the original Japanese) is a good case in point.

Like many a Japanese film, The Ghost of Yotsuya is a tale of samurai, sort of. It’s worth noting that “Yotsuya” is an area of Japan and not the name of the character, so this is about a ghost that more or less haunts a place, not a ghost of that name. Anyway, we have ronin Iemon (that’s EE-eh-mon) Tamiya (Shigeru Amachi), who desperately wants to marry Iwa (Katsuko Wakasugi) despite the wishes of her father. Enraged by being rebuffed again, Iemon kills Iwa’s father and his manservant, leaving his own manservant Naosuke (Shuntaro Emi) to clean up the mess. In fact, he claims that her father was killed by another samurai.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Ten Days of Terror!: Altered States

Film: Altered States
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I know I’ve seen Altered States at some point in the past, although it’s been years. I remember the vague outlines of the story and a few of the details, but I’d lost quite a bit of it. I didn’t realize that Altered States was based on a Paddy Chayefsky novel; I did remember that it was directed by Ken Russell. It’s the sort of movie that is obviously directed by Russell, or possibly David Cronenberg. It’s perhaps closer to suggest that it’s clearly Russell possibly influenced by Croenenberg’s stylish body horror.

Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) is an abnormal psychologist studying schizophrenia. This leads him to the belief that schizophrenics are not necessarily insane, but somehow experiencing a different form of consciousness. In his work with his patients, he uses a sensory deprivation tank, finding the experience to be very much like entering a hallucinatory state from which he has only vague memories. Around the same time, he meets Emily (Blair Brown), a PhD candidate in anthropology. Eventually, the two get married.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1969

The Contenders:

Richard Burton: Anne of the Thousand Days
Peter O’Toole: Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Dustin Hoffman: Midnight Cowboy
Jon Voight: Midnight Cowboy
John Wayne: True Grit (winner)

Ten Days of Terror!: Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Film: Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I started this blog, I didn’t really consider myself a fan of Bette Davis, mainly because I didn’t know a great deal of her work. Now, having seen a ton of her films, I fully understand why she had the reputation she did. Davis was capable of playing just about anything, but she was at her best and her most Bette Davis-y when she had a good, bitchy role to sink her teeth into. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte gives her the chance to bitch things up and also deal with some potential insanity. It’s a great combination for her.

We start in 1927, when young Charlotte Hollis (Bette Davis) is being romanced by a married man named John Mayhew (Bruce Dern). Charlotte’s father Sam (Victor Buono) understands precisely what this sort of scandal could mean to his societal standing in 1920s Louisiana, and demands that John call off his plans to run away with Charlotte. John agrees, and at a party at the Hollis house, he does so. Shortly thereafter, John is attacked by an unseen assailant, who chops off his hand and head with a meat cleaver.

Ten Days of Terror!: eXistenZ

Film: eXistenZ
Format: On Demand video on big ol’ television.

I don’t remember when eXistenZ first came out, but I remember hearing about it. I worked in the video game industry, after all, and eXistenZ exists more or less in a video game world. It also exists in David Cronenberg’s movie world of body horror, so there’s that, too. I remember being interested in it but then not really having anything to do with it as it didn’t seem to be that well received. I’ve seen it before now, but I figured it was time to get back to it. The truth is that I liked it less on the rewatch than I did on my initial viewing, which is always a little disappointing.

I’m not going to get too involved in the plot here and am instead going to just give the basics. eXistenZ involves the first public test of a new virtual reality game system called eXistenZ, created by a legendary designer named Allegra Gellar (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The game is played with flesh-colored controllers that pulse and seem to be alive and literally connect into the user’s nervous system, which is right in line with Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Shortly into the demo, a man in the crowd stands up and fires biological weapon at Geller, wounding her. She is suddenly on the run with new-to-the-industry PR flack Ted Pikul (Jude Law), who has never played any of the new games and has not been fitted with a biological port to use the controllers. Now, Geller needs to make sure that her game has not been compromised and the two are forced to explore the game world of her creation to discover what is really happening and who is after her.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Ten Days of Terror!: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Films: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Banpaia Hanta Di: Buraddorasuto)
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

Before I get into the details of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (called by the closest equivalent to that possible in Japanese: Banpaia Hanta Di: Buraddorasuto), I need to talk a little bit about the Japanese language. There’s a stereotype that Japanese and Mandarin speakers can’t get r’s and l’s correct. The truth is that Japanese doesn’t have an English r or l; it has a sound that is essentially the dead middle between them. What this means is that every time someone calls our title character a “dunpeal,” the actual word being referenced is “dhampir,” an Albanian word for a half-human, half-vampire.

The story takes place thousands of years in the future (roughly 12,090 CE) after some sort of cataclysm has great changed the planet. There was a time in the past when vampires were much more common, and the child of a human mother and vampire father, the dunpeal/dhampir D (voiced by Andrew Philpot) of the title were a lot more common. These hybrids have many of the traits of their vampire sire, including a weakness for sunlight (although not a complete weakness to it) and effective immortality. Think Blade, but anime. Our title character (again, think Blade) is a vampire hunter who wants to wipe out the remaining vampires, and does so as a mercenary, hired by people who have dealings with the bloodsuckers.

Ten Days of Terror!: White Zombie

Film: White Zombie
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m mildly fascinated by depictions of Voodoo in film. There are a couple of ways that it tends to be shown in film. The standard view is that Voodoo is practiced by people entirely captured by evil and completely corrupted. The Voodoo priest is shown as wicked and cavorting with dark forces beyond the control of humanity. Rarely, you get a film like I Walked with a Zombie that treats Voodoo as something to be respected as another equal worldview. A movie like The Serpent and the Rainbow does a little of both, showing it that Voodoo is a legitimate belief system that, like any other, can be used for evil. Sadly, White Zombie is much more of the first stripe than the others.

Like many an early horror movie, White Zombie runs just a touch over an hour and doesn’t have a great deal of real story. This is legitimately it: Madeline Short Parker (Madge Bellamy) comes to Haiti to be with her fianc√© Neil Parker (John Harron). On the trip she meets Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), who falls madly in love with her. Unable to get her to reciprocate his affections, he takes his problem to local Voodoo guy, zombie controller, and sugar mill operator “Murder” Legendre (Bela Lugosi) who convinces him to turn Madeline into a zombie. He does, and she “dies” soon after, only to be revived and ensconced in Beaumont’s house. But he’s not happy with her as a zombie, and soon he learns that Legendre wants him as a zombie servant, too.

Ten Days of Terror!: Venus in Furs

Film: Venus in Furs (Paroxismus—Puo Una Morta Rivivere per Amore?)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I always find it interesting when a specific movie has a bunch of different names. Consider Venus in Furs. I get that it will have a different name in Italian (Paroxismus—Puo Una Morta Rivivere per Amore?), but it’s evidently also known as Paroxismus and Black Angel. In the case of this film, evidently the common name for the film and the names of the main characters are what they are because the story bears some superficial resemblance to the book of the same name by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from whose name we derive the word “masochism.” If you think that means that this is a film that would likely be billed as an “erotic thriller,” you’d be right.

Enter jazz trumpet player Jimmy Logan (James Darren). One early morning after a wild party in Istanbul, Jimmy finds the body of a mutilated young woman washed up on the beach. It occurs to him that she looks a great deal like a woman that he saw at the party the previous night. More telling, the woman (Maria Rohm), named Wanda Reed, was seen in the company of three specific people. What Jimmy sees is Percival Kapp (Dennis Price), Olga (Margaret Lee), and Ahmed Kortobawi (Klaus Kinski) stripping Wanda, whipping her, and possibly killing her. Worried, Jimmy flees Istanbul and winds up in Rio de Janeiro in the company of singer Rita (Barbara McNair).

Ten Days of Terror!: The Mummy (1959)

Film: The Mummy (1959)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

When Hammer Studios started to remake the classic Universal monster movies, it may have ben a risk, but they did them right. One of the big benefits was that they got Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to act in them. That cures a lot of ills. They also seemed to go all out on presenting something that looked appropriately Victorian in terms of the sets and costumes. It’s no surprise that they eventually got around to The Mummy. It is, after all, a classic love story in its own way.

We start at a dig in Egypt where John Banning (Peter Cushing) has broken his leg, but has refused to return to the base camp to get treatment. He, his father Stephen (Felix Aylmer) and his uncle Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley), are just about to break into the tomb of Princess Ananka. Ananka was dedicated to the priesthood of Karnak, and there are naturally some significant warnings against breaking into her tomb. In fact, those warnings are delivered to Stephen and Joseph by Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), a warning that is ignored.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Ten Days of Terror!: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Films: My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Ever since Halloween, there has been a standard model for the slasher film. Someone in the past did something terrible, and now it’s years afterwards and something bad connected to that original event is about to happen again. The bad thing that’s about to happen is going to be a series of murders, often with a distinctive weapon and often conducted by someone wearing a mask. That’s very much the basic story behind the 1981 version of My Bloody Valentine. The fact that this is a Canadian slasher isn’t going to make it any more polite.

Twenty years ago, in the town of Valentine Bluffs, there was an annual Valentine’s Day dance. That year, a couple of the mine foremen were so focused on going to the dance that they left with five men still in the mine below. A methane explosion trapped the five men, and when they were dug out, only a man named Harry Warden had survived. The length of Warden’s captivity forced him to resort to cannibalism, and this and the length of time he was trapped drove him insane. The next year on Valentine’s Day, Warden escaped captivity and murdered the two foremen, placing their hearts in candy boxes and leaving them at the dance hall.

Ten Days of Terror!: Quarantine

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

I don’t like the insta-remake trend that seems to be everywhere. In understand the desire to make a remake of a film, but when someone remakes a movie immediately after the original version, I wonder what the point is. It’s not like the technology or conventions of films have changed, and it’s unlikely that anything new is going to be brought to the story. Most of the time, the biggest change is the language; a movie in something other than English gets essentially remade in English. While the most egregious case of this is probably the American remake of the British Death at a Funeral, it’s hardly the only time when a film has been redone a year after the original with just a new crop of actors in a new language. That’s certainly the case with Quarantine, an American remake of [●REC] one year later.

If you’ve seen [●REC], there’s nothing new here except that you’ll no longer need to read subtitles and it’s about 10 minutes longer. Otherwise, if you’ve seen the one, you’ve seen them both, and [●REC] is the better movie. Still, if you can’t get enough of biological zombie-like monsters, found footage, and nausea-inducing shaky-cam, Quarantine is here for you.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Witches

Film: The Witches
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

There are a lot of things to talk about with a film like The Witches. It’s such a strange combination of things I really enjoyed and things I genuinely hate in movies. In the plus column, it’s based on a story by Roald Dahl and it stars Anjelica Huston. On the other hand, it has some clear problems for anyone in the audience older than about nine. We’ll get to that, I assure you.

Because this is a Roald Dahl story, there are a few things you can guess going in. The first is that our main character will be a child. The second is that it’s likely that he’ll lose his parents pretty quickly. The third is that most of the adults are going to be evil, stupid, or both. All of this is exactly correct. While many of the adults in this film will be the witches of the title, aside from our main character’s parents (who will be killed off in the first few minutes) and his grandmother, the adults are going to be uniformly awful.

Ten Days of Terror!: House of Usher (1960)

Films: House of Usher
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations by Roger Corman before and I probably will again. Corman, of course, was the master of the low budget film, and his Poe adaptations rank among his best. In fact, the Corman-directed films tended to be better than the ones he just produced, and he poured a lot of himself into the Poe films. Adapting a classic like “The Fall of the House of Usher” seems like a natural, particularly when he also went to far less canonical stories like “The Tomb of Ligeia.”

The classic Poe story involves our unnamed narrator arriving at the house of his friend Roderick Usher, who has fallen into dissolution. Usher complains that virtually everything causes him pain. Bright lights, anything beyond the blandest food, loud noises, all of these send him into paroxysms of pain. We also learn that Roderick’s sister Madeline is ill and frequently falls into that favorite malady of the era, a cataleptic trance that is virtually indistinguishable from death. Madeline dies and is entombed, but of course she wasn’t really dead. She “rises” from her tomb, seeks out her brother and the two of them perish. The narrator flees, and when he turns around, he discovers that the entire house has split apart and sunk into the swamp that surrounds it. Cheery stuff, and par for the course for good ol’ Edgar.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Ten Days of Terror!: The Woman in Black (2012)

Films: The Woman in Black (2012)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

When you’re going to be known for your entire life as Harry Potter, it kind of frees you up. Elijah Wood has had the same experience as Daniel Radcliffe in that respect, I think. Wood, who will be Frodo Baggins to millions of people no matter what he does, has focused on weird little horror movies and odd television shows. In a way, it must be a freeing up. Financially secure and more or less typecast, you can do what you want. That had to be at least a part of the reason for Radcliffe signing up for The Woman in Black.

It would be hard to say it was a bad choice. It’s an interesting connection to film history in a couple of ways. First, this is a remake of a 1989 film of the same name with many of the details staying the same. Second, and in terms of film history, more importantly, The Woman in Black is a part of the Hammer horror revival. There is a connection here to the great Hammer films of previous decades, at least in terms of having a period feel, although this one takes place around the start of the last century.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1995

The Contenders:

Chris Noonan: Babe
Mel Gibson: Braveheart (winner)
Tim Robbins: Dead Man Walking
Mike Figgis: Leaving Las Vegas
Michael Radford: Il Postino

Ten Days of Terror!: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Film: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Format: DVD from Plano Community Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

When it comes to horror movies, I don’t typically think of Disney. I’m guessing most people don’t. Oh, certainly there are some horrific elements in plenty of Disney films; the transformation sequence in Pinocchio, for instance, is pretty traumatizing for young children. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow isn’t really that scary, but it certainly has a clear connection to the horror genre. In truth, this is only half a film. It’s the back half of a feature called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The first half is a truncated version of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows,” while the second half is a musical version of Washington Irving’s story.

The two stories are very different, not just in that one is British and the other American or that one is based on a children’s book and the other a classic folktale. No, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has virtually no dialogue. Instead, the story is more or less entirely narrated by Bing Crosby. The closest we get to dialogue throughout are some songs, and in this respect, Bing is going to play both our hapless main character Ichabod Crane and his rival, Brom Bones.

Ten Days of Terror!: Mystery of the Wax Museum

Film: Mystery of the Wax Museum
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Early movies from great directors can be really fun. I’d love to say that’s the case with Michael Curtiz and Mystery of the Wax Museum, but Curtiz had dozens of credits before this film. He started directing more than two decades before this film. The man was a directing machine in the early years of talkies; Mystery of the Wax Museum was the first of seven credited films from him for 1933. It’s also an early color film, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to see an early two-strip Technicolor movie.

The truth is that there’s a good chance that you’ve seen a movie a hell of a lot like this one already. If you’ve seen the version of House of Wax starring Vincent Price, you’ve seen a good percentage of this film, or at least the main plot. While the character names are different, many of the beats in the plot are virtually identical and a lot of the details are essentially the same as well.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ten Days of Terror!: I Bury the Living

Film: I Bury the Living
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

With a name like I Bury the Living, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It’s a great, lurid title from 1958, the sort of thing that feels like a cheap horror movie that will feature cheap thrills of a dubious nature designed to shock audiences of Eisenhower’s America. Even if the film turned out to be nothing special, the title alone would make it noteworthy.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, honestly. On the one hand, it’s not a film that really lives up to what is implied by its title. Based on those four words, this seems like it should be a movie where a crazed maniac captures people and inters them until he (it’s always a he) is finally captured by the police and his final victim, probably the love interest of the stalwart detective, is rescued at the last minute. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that the film is far better than what that lurid title would suggest. It has the feel of one of the hour-long Twilight Zone episodes, and with its running time of 77 minutes, even the length feels right for that comparison.

Ten Days of Terror!: Bad Taste

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

It can be fun to see an actor’s early films, especially for actors who eventually become very prominent and start out in low/no-budget films. It’s even more fun when those movies are cheap horror movies. The same can be said of directors. A director’s early films often show interesting promise. Sometimes you get something shockingly good, like Blood Simple from the Coens or Play Misty for Me from Clint Eastwood. And sometimes, you get something completely crazy, like John Carpenter’s Dark Star or Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, the subject of today’s review.

Bad Taste was written by Jackson and filmed on weekends over a four year period while Jackson was working on a newspaper. The budget appears to be “whatever Jackson found in the couch cushions.” The cast consists of Jackson himself and some friends, who also doubled as the crew. Had Jackson gone on to do nothing, Bad Taste would be a weird little footnote that no one ever saw. However, since Jackson went on to do the Lord of the Rings movies, this early curiosity has become something of a cult favorite.

Ten Days of Terror!: Splice

Films: Splice
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I really don’t like Splice. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, back when Nick Jobe and I did a podcast together and I didn’t like it this time when I watched it. While I think it gets the creature effects done pretty well, it gets everything else wrong. Splice only works as a story if we have a bunch of very, very smart people acting in very, very stupid ways and making the absolutely wrong decision every time a decision needs to be made. People make mistakes; I get that. But these people make literally every mistake they can, including a few that are so ridiculous they almost defy coherence.

Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) are both a couple and a couple of genetic engineers who are attempting to create new life by, well, splicing DNA from a bunch of different species to make a new species. The hope is that all of the splicing and genetic synthesizing will create new critters that will be little biological factories for new medical marvels (think Alzheimer’s and diabetes cures). The movie starts with the “birth” of Fred, a male blob critter, to match up with their previous blob critter, Ginger. Fred and Ginger meet, imprint on each other, and everything seems to be good.

Ten Days of Terror!: Mimic

Films: Mimic
Format: HBO Go on big ol’ television.

How do you deal with the worst film of an acclaimed director? That’s exactly what I’m faced with when approaching Mimic. I love the work of Guillermo del Toro pretty much out of hand. Even his flawed movies are interesting and worth seeing. It’s my opinion that Mimic is the most flawed of his movies, so flawed in fact that he disowned the film after it was released since he felt that his own work was so constantly changed and affected by the demands of the producers.

Mimic starts with a fatal plague that has struck New York killing hundreds of children. Because this is a movie, deputy director of the CDC, Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) recruits Dr, Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino), an entomologist to help. Dr. Tyler, using the magic of genetic manipulation, creates a new species of large insect she dubs the Judas. This new breed secretes an enzyme that accelerates the metabolism of cockroaches, which are the carriers of the plague. With their metabolism ramped up, the roaches starve to death no matter how fast they ingest food. Soon, the roach population of New York is virtually non-existent, the plague is gone, and everyone is happy. Since the roaches were bred essentially sterile, no one is concerned about what might happen to them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Ten Days of Terror!: The Ghost Breakers

Films: The Ghost Breakers
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Bob Hope had a persona when it came to his film career. Typically, Hope played cowards who got thrown into dangerous situations and got out of them becomes of someone else’s work or dumb luck. In The Ghost Breakers, Hope plays someone who spends a lot of the movie scared, but manages to act bravely despite this. It’s a bit of a change. Unfortunately, not much else changes from Hope’s basic persona of cracking one-liners that frequently fall flat.

The Ghost Breakers is only marginally a horror movie, and the part that would be considered horror fare for its time doesn’t happen until the third act of the film. Up to that point, it’s a bit of a screwball comedy with some mob stuff thrown in. We start with two different stories. The first involves Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard), who has just inherited an allegedly haunted castle on a small island just off the coast of Cuba. Several people, including Parada (Paul Lukas) and Francisco Mederos (Anthony Quinn) attempt to warn her away from the castle, and Parada even offers to buy it for $50,000 (close to $900,000) while she’s still in New York.

Ten Days of Terror!: Images

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

I often have issue with the films of Robert Altman. My biggest issue with him is that his movies are so sprawling that they involve massive casts of characters. It’s hard to keep track of everyone when Altman’s typical film looks like it should be a miniseries. At his best, you get a film like M*A*S*H. At his worst (and yes, this is just my opinion), you get long, drawn-out boring films like Gosford Park that I literally never remember is actually a murder mystery until I see the poster. Images is very much a different thing, since the cast has literally only seven people in it; one of those seven is a voice on the phone and another is barely in the film. That, more than anything, got my interested in seeing the film.

Images is, for lack of a better way to explain it, an experience in schizophrenia through the eyes of the character having that psychotic break with reality. While there are a lot of films and stories to which this can be connected, the most obvious connection is Repulsion, to which this bears a great deal of similarity. It’s also worth noting that there is an odd correlation between the names of the actors and the characters in the film. Each of the five main people in the film has a character name that is the actual name of another member of the cast. That had to be planned, didn’t it?

Ten Days of Terror!: Devil

Films: Devil
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Long, deep, lingering sigh. I’d love to go off on a long rant about the films of M. Night Shyamalan here, and there’s certainly plenty of material. I can’t forgive the guy for absolutely ruining The Last Airbender, producing one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen from some of the best source material ever created. No, no, the temptation is strong here, but I will resist. Instead, I went into Devil with as much of an open mind as I could, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t end up once again dubbing its director “M. Night Shame-about-your-last-film” (and thank you Mark Kermode for that name). To be fair, though, he didn’t actually direct this or even write the screenplay. He did, however, write the story on which the movie is based.

Devil is a high concept film. Five people are trapped in an elevator, and we soon figure out that all five of them are actually terrible people who clearly deserve some form of divine punishment. Fortunately for us, one of those five people in the elevator also happens to be the literal devil incarnate (hence the title of the film), who stops the elevator, causes all sorts of technical problems, and starts killing off the elevator occupants one by one.

Ten Days of Terror!: The War of the Words (1953)

Films: The War of the Worlds (1953)
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

There’s a few things you need to know going into the 1953 The War of the Worlds and my relationship with it. The first is that I know and love the Wells story it’s based on, and I think the Orson Welles radio version is one of the greatest pranks of the last 100 years. Second, it’s important to note that one of the main characters is named Dr. Clayton Forrester. If you understand why that is important, you understand why it’s kind of hard to watch this without a smile every time he says something all science-y.

If you don’t already know, the basic story here is that Earth gets invaded by creatures from Mars that show up initially in ships disguised as meteors. After the ships cool down, three smaller ships emerge from each one and start laying waste to everything with heat rays that can only be described as being the height of 1950s special effects. The intrepid humans do their best to fight back as best they can, learning that the alien machines are impervious to everything, and leaving the humans with no recourse but to find another way to battle the menace.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Ten Days of Terror: The Cell

Films: The Cell
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

To accept The Cell, you need to make a few giant leaps to have it make even a little sense. First, you have to go with the idea that inside everyone’s head is a literal surreal landscape where there are versions of us that walk around through rooms. Actually, that’s not a huge leap, since it’s an idea that has been presented in movies dealing with the subconscious before this one. A bigger leap is accepting Jennifer Lopez as an experienced child psychologist working on a high-tech experimental program. The biggest leap is accepting Vince Vaughn as a serious actor.

What we have is an experimental facility being funded by a very wealthy couple for the benefit of their son, who is comatose with a rare virus. Essentially, a psychologist named Catherine Deane (our very own Jenny from the block) puts on a weird contraption, and the kid is put into the same thing, and she enters into the kid’s subconscious mind. His mind is a weird Arabian dreamscape thing, and the kid sometimes turns into a monster.

Ten Days of Terror!: Spider Baby

Films: Spider Baby (The Maddest Story Ever Told)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Spider Baby, also known as both The Maddest Story Ever Told or Spider Baby or, the Maddest Story Ever Told is a movie that is just a couple of months younger than I am in terms of its release date. In truth, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of names for this thing. It was also billed as The Liver Eaters, Attack of the Liver Eaters, and Cannibal Orgy. Based on those names, you can pretty much gauge where we’re going here, right?

What’s most interesting to me about Spider Baby isn’t what happens on the screen, the presence of Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his last appearances, or the presence of a very young (and beardless) Sid Haig, but the obvious influence this weird little film had on horror that followed. You can draw a straight line between this and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre within the first couple of minutes of the start. You can also connect it to The Hills Have Eyes, and not just because the young Sid Haig looks a little bit like Michael Berryman.

Ten Days of Terror!: House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Film: House on Haunted Hill (1999)
Format: DVD from Manteno Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I tend to be leery of remakes. There are plenty of remakes that are good, of course. The John Carpenter version of The Thing, for instance, or The Fly. Even The Maltese Falcon is the third version of that story brought to the screen. However, more often than not, remakes are worse than the original version. I was doubly nervous when it came to the remake of House on Haunted Hill. That trepidation can be summed up in two words: Chris Kattan. I stand by my opinion that no movie featuring Chris Kattan or Rob Schneider can be any good. That this is actually Kattan’s best performance doesn’t say much, but actually does work slightly in the film’s favor.

The basic set up here is kind of the same. We have a rich couple, in this case Steven (Geoffrey Rush) and Evelyn Price (Famke Janssen). As in the original film, these two are married, but just barely in the sense that they actively hate each other, but for some reason are not divorced. It’s a running gag between them that they’d like to kill each other. As an added bonus this time, Steven Price, rather than being randomly rich, runs a group of fear-based amusement parks.

Ten Days of Terror!: Phantasm II

Films: Phantasm II
Format: HBO Go on rockin’ flatscreen.

What’s the big sell of the movie Phantasm? It’s the flying orbs that kill people. Sure, you get the Tall Man, too, and the Tall Man is pretty damn awesome as a bad guy, but we wait for the flying orbs, especially because they aren’t really used that much. Phantasm II has the chance to correct that and it kind of doesn’t. The other thing that the sequel gets to correct is the fact that the first movie has a ton of ideas that aren’t really presented in a way that makes a great deal of sense. There’s the Tall Man digging up corpses, the flying orbs, and weird little dwarves that are apparently made by squeezing the corpses somehow into these new critters. It’s kind of a narrative mess.

Phantasm II picks up immediately at the end of the first movie, with our hero Mike (A. Michael Baldwin in this footage, which was clearly made at the same time as the original) be attacked by the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and a couple of dwarves. Pedophile-looking former ice cream man and Mike’s friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) coming to his rescue. Fast forward eight years and now Mike is played by James Le Gros and he’s just getting released from an institution since no one believed his weird story.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Ten Days of Terror!: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Films: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a Tyden Divu)
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

I’m at a loss for describing Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (or Valerie a Tyden Divu in the Czech). I suppose at least a partial explanation is that it’s a part of the Czech New Wave. There are elements of surrealism here, which reminded me a great deal of Daisies. It’s also very sexually charged, and since the main character is a 13-year-old girl, there’s a high creep factor. A lot of it doesn’t make a great deal of sense without a lot of thought, which reminded me of Hausu. And some of it, not favorably, reminded me of the pure insanity of The Color of Pomegranates.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a non-linear film, sort of. Actually, it’s a lot closer to a dream. Our title character, Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerova) is 13 and has just experience menarche (look it up), which is really what I think this entire film is about. A thief steals her prized earrings and then returns them. Valerie lives with her grandmother (Helena Anyzova) because her parents have died. Valerie is also seeing visions of vampire-like monsters, specifically one called the Constable (Jiri Prymek).

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2010

The Contenders:

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids are All Right
The King’s Speech (winner)
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Ten Days of Terror!: Oculus

Films: Oculus
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

It’s been a pretty constant mantra on this blog that I tend to like horror more when it doesn’t go for gore but goes for genuinely scary instead. Sure, there are exceptions to that, but it’s a lot harder to genuinely scare an audience and it’s easy to gross them out. Gore is fine when it makes sense or, in those rare cases when it’s clearly the point of the movie. Oculus is a movie that eschews gore and goes for creating an atmosphere of dread and terror. It does this by never really letting the audience know what is going on at any time, or just giving us glimpses here and there. It’s all about the atmosphere here, and all about using that atmosphere to keep the characters (and the audience) off balance.

Oculus takes place in two different timelines that are of roughly equal importance. There is a current timeline that takes place in roughly the film’s present of 2013. The earlier timeline takes place in 2002, focused on much younger versions of our two main characters. Rather than jumping back and forth here, it’s probably easier to handle the stories in a more linear fashion. The truth is that the early timeline story exists mainly to give us context for the present-day story, so it’s actually pretty quick to understand.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Tomb of Ligeia

Film: The Tomb of Ligeia
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

Every now and then, something wonderful happens in the film world. One of those wonderful happenings was when Roger Corman, king of the B-movies, was given the go-ahead to start adapting stories from the Edgar Allen Poe canon. Corman has made a lot of crappy movies in his career, but his best work in general is centered on his Poe movies. With The Tomb of Ligeia, we’re moving away from the main canon of Poe’s stories; “Ligeia” isn’t one that most people would consider essential Poe.

I feel like I should cover the story itself before getting to the actual film. In Poe’s original tale, the narrator tells us of his wife Ligeia, who like most of the ill-fated women in Poe’s stories, is resplendently gorgeous and of supreme intelligence in all things philosophical, linguistic, and scientific. Of course Ligeia isn’t going to live that long, and our narrator eventually enters into a second marriage with a woman named Rowena. It’s a loveless affair, but when she takes ill as well, our nameless narrator is still upset. Eventually, the Lady Rowena dies, and during the vigil for her death, he tries to revive her multiple times. Each time, she seems closer to coming back to life. When, at the end of the story she finally does, she has transformed into Ligeia.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Finishing October

For the last several years, really since I’ve managed to finish the 1001 Movies list the first time, I’ve ended October with horror movies. If you’ve been a regular reader, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been slowly upping the horror content of this blog, especially this year as the Oscar project winds down to a spot where it’s yearly maintenance and the continued Oscar Got It Wrong posts.

Last year, I posted about three dozen horror movie reviews over the last ten days of October. Part of the reason for that is that I had a huge backstock of horror reviews written and unposted. I’d love to tell you that I caught up on that, but the opposite is true. My unpublished backlog is far larger now than it was last year. I have more than 100 unposted reviews of horror and horror-related movies sitting in a folder.

So, I’ll be doing something similar this year. New reviews will go up daily (starting tomorrow) at 1:00 and 7:00, both AM and PM, Central time. On Mondays and Friday, the 1:00 review will instead be the traditional Oscar post.

I'll be creating the list of upcoming reviews and posting them here--if there's one you'd really like to read, this will allow you to find it more easily.

Brace yourself. Horror is coming.

Monday, October 22
1:00 AM--The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
7:00 AM--Oculus (2013)
1:00 PM--Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2010
7:00 PM--Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Tuesday, October 23
1:00 AM--Phantasm II (1988)
7:00 AM--House on Haunted Hill (1999)
1:00 PM--Spider Baby (1967)
7:00 PM--The Cell (2000)

Wednesday, October 24
1:00 AM--The War of the Worlds (1953)
7:00 AM--Devil (2010)
1:00 PM--Images (1972)
7:00 PM--The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Thursday, October 25
1:00 AM--Mimic (1997)
7:00 AM--Splice (2009)
1:00 PM--Bad Taste (1987)
7:00 PM--I Bury the Living (1958)

Friday, October 26
1:00 AM--Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
7:00 AM--The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949)
1:00 PM--Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1995
7:00 PM--The Woman in Black (2012)

Saturday, October 27
1:00 AM--House of Usher (1960)
7:00 AM--The Witches (1990)
1:00 PM--Quarantine (2008)
7:00 PM--My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Sunday, October 28
1:00 AM--The Mummy (1959)
7:00 AM--Venus in Furs (1970)
1:00 PM--White Zombie (1932)
7:00 PM--Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

Monday, October 29
1:00 AM--eXistenZ (1999)
7:00 AM--Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
1:00 PM--Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1969
7:00 PM--Altered States (1980)

Tuesday, October 30
1:00 AM--The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959)
7:00 AM--Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
1:00 PM--The Craft (1996)
7:00 PM--28 Weeks Later (2007)

Wednesday, October 31
1:00 AM--13 Ghosts (1960)
7:00 AM--Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
1:00 PM--World War Z (2013)
7:00 PM--The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

High-Functioning

Films: Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

I’ve said a number of times on this blog how much I enjoy it when an established actor plays significantly against type. That’s at least a big part of the appeal of Roman J. Israel, Esq. for me, even if this isn’t that big of a difference for many of the acclaimed roles of Denzel Washington of the past few years. He’s a straight bastard in Fences and a drunk and an addict in Flight, so in that respect, where this character goes runs at least in part in the same circles in this film. It is different in a lot of ways, though, and it’s different in that way that Oscar tends to like a great deal.

Denzel Washington plays our title character here, an aging lawyer who works for a firm that consists of himself, another lawyer, and a receptionist. Roman, who makes about $500 per week, spends his days essentially writing briefs and doing a great deal of the legwork for cases, frequently dealing with their defendants’ civil rights. The other lawyer is William Jackson, and it is he who takes the cases to trial. In moments of his spare time, Roman works on a massive brief that has occupied him for years. This brief is in regard to a class action suit about the complete overhaul of the plea bargaining system.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday Horror: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Films: The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

Possession movies are nothing new. The Exorcist is the granddaddy of the subgenre and most of the other movies that have followed it have been a reaction to it in one way or another. Some (Beyond the Door comes to mind) are a direct knock-off while others (Possession) are reactions to the original film in that they attempt to be something completely different. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a little of both. The story and the scenes of the actual exorcism are reminiscent of William Peter Blatty’s story, but the film itself is a courtroom drama more than it is anything else.

This is also the second day in a row where I am completely gobsmacked by at least a part of our cast list. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is clearly a horror film. Two of the starring roles are handled by renowned actors. Laura Linney plays our defense attorney; when this film was released, she had collected an Oscar nomination, netted a second one from this same year and has pulled a third since. The priest she is defending is played by Tom Wilkinson in the year in the middle of his two Oscar nominations. The film also features Shohreh Aghdashloo, who also has an Oscar nomination. For an exorcism film, that’s pretty exceptional.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Off Script: Deep Rising

Films: Deep Rising
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Every now and then, you come across a movie that you simply can’t explain in any logical way. The year before he made The Mummy, director Stephen Sommers made a movie that for the life of me I cannot fully fathom. I have no idea how he collected this group of actors nor how he made this film a reality. This is one of those films where the main cast is well-known and even most of the bit players are completely recognizable. Even more than wondering how he got this movie made, I wonder how the hell I didn’t know about it.

I don’t even really know how to begin with this. John Finnegan (Treat Williams, the poor man’s Tom Berenger) and his crew Joey (Kevin J. O’Connor) and Leila (Una Damon) have a boat that they hire out to anyone willing to pay. In this case, they are being paid by a group of mercenaries for an unknown project. Joey, who is Finnegan’s mechanic, goes snooping through the mercs’ items and discovers almost a dozen torpedoes. This snooping gets him beaten and creates some tension between the boat crew and the mercenaries.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

...If You Want It

Films: La Guerre est Finie (The War is Over)
Format: DVD from Elmhurst Public Library through OCLC WorldCat on The New Portable.

The experiment with OCLC WorldCat continues to turn up movies that I haven’t otherwise been able to get. At this point, my list of unwatched Oscar films falls into three categories: films from last year, films I haven’t wanted to watch yet, and films I can’t find. Until about a week ago, La Guerre est Finie fit into that third category. Now that I have it, it might be more at home in the second box. This isn’t an easy film for a number of reasons. It’s very slow. It’s also directed by Alain Resnais. Resnais made Night and Fog, one of the most brutal and ugly films about the Holocaust in existence. It’s a one-and-done film, the sort of thing that everyone should see once. He also made Last Year at Marienbad, a film so loathsomely moronic that it turned this blog from being rated PG-13 to being rated R.

Diego Mora (Yves Montand) has dedicated much of his life to fighting against Francoist Spain. Now, years after the original revolution, he is still acting as a communist revolutionary despite the implicit death sentence these activities carry with them. Diego actually lives in Paris, but makes his way back into Spain regularly using the passport of another man. After this many years, though, he is no longer as convinced of his position as he was. He is tired of always fighting and tired of always being on the run. More seriously, he is concerned that the new underground is more extremist and is using unfavorable tactics.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday Horror: It (2017)

Films: It (2017)
Format: Blu-Ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Earlier, Dell over at Dell on Movies posted a review of It from last year. Like a lot of people, he is pretty effusive in his praise, an opinion I fully understand. I felt like I needed to respond, after a fashion.

I’m old enough to remember when Stephen King’s It was the book that everyone was reading. Hell, I was reading it. The book is something like 1200 pages in hardcover and I read the thing in a week. While there are some moments in it that are completely cringeworthy, it’s a hell of a good story with some of the best moments of King’s writing that I’ve come across—and since I’ve read probably 1/3 to 1/2 of his output, that’s saying something. I have seen the television miniseries from a few decades ago a couple of times. So naturally, when the first half of It came out in 2017, I was interested.

I was well aware that despite this being essentially half of the story that it would probably have many of the problems that the miniseries did. It does. In fact, it has those problems to a significantly higher degree. One of the serious issues with King’s novel as an adaptation is that the damn thing is huge. It’s a good 400 pages longer than The Stand, and when that was adapted for television it had to be cut significantly. It is significantly chopped down into a running time of just over two hours. This has serious repercussions on the story that is told as compared with the original source material.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

I'm so Glad We Had this Time Together

Films: Pete ‘n’ Tillie
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

If you were a kid in the 1970s in the U.S., you probably watched The Carol Burnett Show. If you didn’t, you should have; Burnett was a genius comedienne and her show had some of the greatest comedy moments in television history. Google “Carol Burnett elephant” or “Went with the Wind” and enjoy. Seriously, there’s a moment in the elephant sketch where no one can speak for almost a minute because of what’s going on on the stage. The show had a top-notch cast and so much of it holds up today. Burnett is mostly known for her television work, so it was interesting to see Pete ‘n’ Tillie, a movie that is more than a comedy and in which she plays a romantic lead.

Pete ‘n’ Tillie, as you might well expect, is a story about a romantic couple named, well, Pete (Walter Matthau) and Tillie (Burnett). When the film starts, Tillie is a mid-30s virgin on the verge of becoming a spinster. She’s set up on a blind date with Pete by her friend Gertrude (Geraldine Page, who was nominated in a supporting role). The two clearly don’t hit it off, and despite this, they keep seeing each other. This is despite the fact that Pete is something of a misogynist and also a womanizer, evidenced by the fact that Tillie finds hairpins that she doesn’t use in his bed. Despite all of this and despite the fact that he’s very much a slimy creep, when he gets a promotion, the two of them are married.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1968

The Contenders:

Cliff Robertson: Charly (winner)
Alan Bates: The Fixer
Alan Arkin: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Peter O’Toole: The Lion in Winter
Ron Moody: Oliver!

Bully

Films: Ferdinand
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I don’t know why it seems like it’s taking me longer than usual to get through the 2017 Oscar winners than it has for other years in the past. That’s especially true for the animated feature nominees. I can’t say that I had a great deal of interest in Ferdinand going in. I’m familiar enough with the basic story, and I expected it would be tuned up for a modern audience with some modern jokes. And really, that’s what I got.

Ferdinand is based on “The Story of Ferdinand,” a tale of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight a matador. Honestly, Ferdinand is a pretty easy character with whom to identify; I’d rather smell flowers than fight, too. What we’re going to get in the film that we don’t get in the movie is something much more clearly attacking what bullfighting is.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

And They're Off

Films: Salty O’Rourke
Format: DVD from St. Joseph Township Library through OCLC WorldCat on rockin’ flatscreen.

Before I get into the full discussion of Salty O’Rourke, I want to talk for a minute about libraries. I use a ton of them for this blog, and so I’m not going to speak ill of them, although I am frequently frustrated with them. My local library doesn’t have much of a DVD collection, but is happy to get DVDs from other libraries on their network, which means that they won’t get anything from WorldCat for me. One town to the north will get WorldCat items, but only if you are a resident of that town. The local major university will get WorldCat items from anywhere in the country, but only if you’re a student. A few weeks ago, I discovered another local library in a tiny little town to the east of me. And they will get WorldCat DVDs from any Illinois library. That fact is why I have Salty O’Rourke in my grubby mitts today.

In a real sense, I’ve been looking for Salty O’Rourke for about five years, and I’m lucky to have it now. On WorldCat, there are three libraries that have Salty O’Rourke as a lendable film; remember that I can only get movies from this one library and only from Illinois libraries. Two of the three listed libraries with this film are in Illinois. When it showed up, I knew this was one I’d be watching and reviewing immediately.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Puppetmaster

Films: Puppetmaster
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library on The New Portable.

There’s certainly no lack of examples of the idea that dolls and children’s toys can be decidedly creepy when shown that way. Child’s Play cemented that idea, but there are certainly plenty of other examples. Puppetmaster (also called Puppet Master depending on where you find it) is perhaps a bit tangential to that concept. I mean, the killers in this film are puppets (without strings), but none of them would be mistaken as toys.

So let’s dive right in. Alchemist Andre Toulon (William Hickey) has discovered a way to bring his puppet creations to life. Despite his being in Bodega Bay, California, he is about to be accosted by Nazis. He decides to hide his living puppets in a case behind a false wall in his hotel room, and before the Nazis show up to confront him, he kills himself.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Exit, Stage Left

Films: Being Julia
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library on The New Portable.

A little known fact about me is that for a brief one-semester period in college, I was a minor in theater. I did a little acting, took a class in playwriting. And I learned something important: I hate actors. Oh, there are actors I like, but as a general rule, I hate actors. Whiny, self-important, arrogant, and convinced that their shit doesn’t stink. I gave up acting pretty much the day the play I was in wrapped, and when the semester was over, I switched my minor to psychology. For what it’s worth, being an English major wasn’t an improvement. There are only so many times you can watch the poet in your group angrily break up with his girlfriend at a party and then consciously count on his fingers until he got to the right dramatic moment to chase after her barefoot in the snow before you essentially want to burn everything to the ground (and yes—that’s a true story). All of this is to say that Being Julia is about actors, which is why it’s taken me this long to get to it.

It’s also a movie that stars Annette Bening, an actor I have never really warmed to for some reason. I don’t know why that is, because she is certainly capable of being very good. I like her in The Grifters and American Beauty, but for some reason, she doesn’t really work for me that often. She’s like coffee or Jell-O in that respect. I understand that most people like coffee and like Jell-O. I’m fine with that; I just don’t like them myself.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2008

The Contenders:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire (winner)

For Sale

Films: The Pawnbroker
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

One of the reasons that I discuss Oscar categories here the way I do is because of the way that Oscar functions. The Pawnbroker is a good example of this. I haven’t yet looked at the Best Actor race for 1965 because I didn’t have this review up, but it’s a consensus that Rod Steiger should have won this Oscar. Instead, it went to Lee Marvin because the Academy (rightfully) wanted him to have an Oscar, but in this case, he got it for Cat Ballou. Steiger didn’t win here, so he won in 1967, preventing Paul Newman from winning for Cool Hand Luke, which eventually led to Newman winning for The Color of Money. This is why I do what I do.

The Pawnbroker is the story of Sol Nazerman (Steiger), who runs a pawnshop in New York. As the film progresses, we learn that Nazerman is a Holocaust survivor and that he lost his entire family in the concentration camps including both of his children and his wife. Now, he has done everything he can to shut himself off from all emotion. Sol Nazerman has learned that emotions are a weakness and cause pain, and now he cares only about money. This is despite the fact that the pawnshop tends to put more money out than it takes in, something Nazerman’s owner Rodriguez (for lack of a better word, played by the butter-voiced Brock Peters) appreciates, since it makes the pawnshop a tax write-off.