Thursday, December 30, 2010

Genre Film on TCM (12.30.10/12.31.10)

Only one film of note playing on Turner Classic Movies LATE tonight/EARLY tomorrow morning, but it sounds pretty damned intriguing.  I may just be brewing up a pot of coffee for this one!

3:00am Pulp (1972)
A pulp fiction novelist fights to survive an assignment to ghost write a controversial star's memoirs.
Cast: Michael Caine, Mickey Rooney, Lionel Stander, Lizabeth Scott Dir: Mike Hodges C-95 mins, TV-PG

Horror Explorer (Sneak Peek): 1933

Island of Lost Souls, an adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, was released to theaters on January 12, 1933.  Scripted by Waldemar Young (a frequent collaborator of Tod Browning) and Philip Wylie, and directed by Erle C. Kenton (who would later direct two Abbott and Costello films, Pardon My Sarong and Who Done It?, both from 1942, and a short time later 1944's House of Frankenstein and 1945's House of Dracula) definitely had some star power behind it.  Charles Laughton portrayed Dr. Moreau, while Richard Arlen played lost sailor Edward Parker, and even Bela Lugosi cropped up as the Sayer of the Law, an animal-man hybrid.

Wells was reportedly disappointed with the final result, feeling that the overt horror elements in the film overshadowed the more philosophical moments that he had included in the novel.  Most critics of the day were not so pleased themselves, panning the film for its disturbing imagery.  In fact, it was banned in England when it first appeared, and did not pass the censor boards until 1958, and even then it did so with an X Certificate!

Another version of the famous W.W. Jacob's short story The Monkey's Paw hit theaters on January 13, 1933.  It followed the construct of the original tale quite faithfully--a family finds themselves in possession of a mystical monkey's paw that grants three wishes; wish one accidentally sends the son to the grave; wish two returns him to life; wish three banishes him again out of sheer fear--although, unfortunately, the entire ordeal turned out to be just a dream.  This version was directed by Wesley Ruggles and starred C. Aubrey Smith, Ivan Simpson and Louise Carter.

January 21, 1933 saw the release of The Vampire Bat, with a story by Edward T. Lowe, Jr. as directed by Frank R. Strayer (later of the Blondie series of films).  In the European village of Kleinschloss, six mysterious deaths cause the locals to fear that a vampire is stalking the streets.  An oddball who has a certain affinity for bats (Dwight Frye)  is the logical culprit, but the murders continue even after he is disposed of with a little lynch mob justice.  Lionel Atwill plays the doctor with an encyclopedic knowledge of the supernatural bloodsuckers, and Fay Wray plays his beautiful secretary.  The two had previously appeared together in 1932's Doctor X, and would be seen again shortly in Mystery of the Wax Museum, which had already completed filming before production of The Vampire Bat begun, but had not yet been released to theaters.

Warner Brothers' Mystery of the Wax Museum debuted on February 18, 1933.  Directed by Michael Curtiz and written by Don Mullaly and Carl Erickson (who also collaborated on the comedy-mystery Girl Missing the same year), and based on a play by Charles Belden, this iconic film depicts Igor, the curator of a famous wax museum (Lionel Atwill), who murders innocent people, coats them in wax, and displays them as works of his own creation.  Charlotte (Fay Wray) is his latest intended victim, and Florence Dempsey (Glenda Farrell) is the street smart reporter determined to get the story.  This film was famously remade in 1953 with genre icon Vincent Price, and infamously remade again in 2005 with internet sex-tape icon Paris Hilton, both times under the title of House of Wax.

Murders in the Zoo was released on March 31, 1933, written by Philip Wylie (1932's Island of Lost Souls, 1939's Charlie Chan in Reno) and Seton I. Miller (1932's Scarface), and directed by A. Edward Sutherland (1940's The Invisible Woman).  This Paramount production revolves around the murderous misadventures of a wealthy zoologist (Lionel Atwill) who seeks revenge against his cheating wife and her lover.  It features death by tiger, death by snake, death by alligator, and a whole menagerie big game cats being released from their cages--offering exactly what the title promises.

The Big Daddy of Big Gorilla Movies, King Kong was released on April 7, 1933.  Pompous film-maker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) leads his cast and crew (leading lady Fay Wray and tough guy hero Robert Armstrong) to the uncharted Skull Island to film his latest project.  There, they are greeted by natives and exposed to enormous ape Kong.  Seeing an opportunity to make a mint, Denham plots to capture the beast and take him back to the States, where he can exploit it as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".  The plan seems to be a smashing success...until Kong escapes.

The film was produced and directed by Merian C. Cooper, based on a story of his own devise.  It was co-directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, who would direct the sequel Son of Kong later the same year, and the 1949 rip-off feature Mighty Joe Young.  The script was written by James Ashmore Creelman (1932's The Most Dangerous Game) and Ruth Rose (wife of director Schoedsack), but the real behind-the-scenes star was Willis O'Brien, the chief special effects technician who utilized ahead-of-its time techniques and was most famous for his role in 1925's The Lost World.  

The less-than-creatively named Supernatural was released on May 12, 1933, the work of director Victor Halperin (1932's White Zombie, 1936's Revolt of the Zombies) and scriptwriters Harvey Thew (1928's Uncle Tom's Cabin) and Brian Marlow.  Black widow Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne of 1933's The Phantom Broadcast) is sent to the electric chair before she can murder her current husband, psychic Paul Bavian (Allan Dinehart from 1935's Dante's Inferno).  Her corpse is experimented on by psychologist Carl Houston (H.B. Warner, who would go on to appear as Mr. Gower in 1947's It's A Wonderful Life), loosening her evil soul to possess the bodies of the living to continue her killing spree.

The Ghoul opened in London in August 1933. Directed by T. Hayes Hunter, this is an underrated vehicle starring Boris Karloff as Professor Morlant, an obsessed Egyptologist who purchases a powerful gem stolen from an ancient tomb. Upon his death, Morlant is entombed with the jewel, only to have someone else steal it from him in a karmic sort of twist. He returns from the grave, seeking vengeance against those who dared such desecration.

The Ghoul was thought lost for quite some time, until a partial and degraded print of the film surfaced in the Czech Republic, and was later released on home video. Those who have seen this version claim that the narrative is so fractured that it makes little to no sense. Luckily a complete print was later discovered and was released in a nearly pristine DVD transfer by MGM.

After Frankenstein but before Bride of Frankenstein, director James Whale cemented his name in the horror history books with the November 13, 1933 release of Universal's The Invisible Man.  Scientist Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) consumes a drug of his own invention called Monocane, which renders the body completely invisible to the human eye, but also has the unintended side-effect of driving Griffin insane.  He vows to demonstrate his superiority over the rest of the human race by raising as much hell as possible.  Respectable source material (H.G. Wells' 1897 novel of the same name), great casting and cameos (look for Dwight Frye and John Carradine in small roles), outstanding special effects, and Whale's patented dark humor all added up to make this film a great success.

Sequels, official or otherwise, were released in 1940 (The Invisible Man Returns and the farce The Invisible Woman), 1942 (The Invisible Agent) and 1944 (The Invisible Man's Revenge).  The Invisible Man also appeared in the out-of-cannon films Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951).  There were numerous attempts to turn the franchise into a successful television series, and the general theme has been liberally borrowed dozens of times in films ranging from horror (2000's Hollow Man) to humor (1992's Memoirs of an Invisible Man), comic books (Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), video games (Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin), and even a 1991 stage play written by Ken Hill.

Son of Kong, directed be Ernest B. Schoedsack, released December 22, 1933.  Robert Armstrong returns as filmmaker Carl Denham, now in deep legal trouble for his role in the King Kong fiasco.  Running from his woes, Denham and his friend Captain Englehorn set sail once again for Skull Island in search of riches, picking up a few extra crew members along the way.  On the island, they find an infant Kong and strike up an unlikely friendship with the giant gorilla.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Horror Explorer (Sneak Peak): 1932

The Monster Walks premiered on February 7, 1932, the work of writer Robert Ellis (later the screenwriter of many Charlie Chan films) and director Frank R. Strayer (who would go on to direct twelve of the comic strip-inspired Blondie films between the years of 1938 and 1942).  It's another Old Dark House film, in which a family visits the estate of a deceased relative for the reading of the will, the house full of strange and eccentric characters, secret passages, and in this case, a possibly-murderous monkey. 

Freaks released on February 20, 1932, to immediate controversy.  Based on "Spurs", a short story by Tod Robbins, director Tod Browning cast genuine sideshow performers in this story of a love triangle amidst circus folk that turns murderous.  Often viewed as sheer exploitation, in actuality, Browning portrays the so-called "freaks" in a sympathetic light for the vast majority of the film, only casting them as beings of vengeance at the finale.  Browning himself had spent a deal of time with the circus prior becoming a director, and this experience obviously influenced his oeuvre.  Whether or not these performers were being exploited probably depends more on how they were treated by Browning and his crew rather than how the audience perceived them, and I suspect that the director's own circus career had brought him a sympathy that most outsiders could not, at the time, understand.  Regardless of the filmmakers intents, Freaks is full of unforgettable moments and some of the most chilling scenes ever captured on film--the sideshow assault during the rainstorm being one that viewers will forever be hard pressed to forget.

Universal released their Murders in the Rue Morgue on February 21, 1932, apparently as a sort of goodwill offering to Bela Lugosi and director Robert Flory, both of whom are said were initially slated to take part in the studio's 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein.  Based loosely on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, Lugosi stars as the mad Dr. Mirakle who performs bizarre and outlandish experiments revolving around the mixing of human and ape blood.

German director Carl Theodore Dreyer released his Vampyr - Der Traum des Allan Grey (Vampyr) on May 6, 1932 to mostly negative reviews, although many have come to respect it in more recent years.  The movie follows traveler Allan Grey who is lead to a mysterious old house where he witnesses a number of strange sights and discovers that the place is populated by demons known as Vampyrs.  The film stands out in its sheer strangeness, full of surrealistic touches, nightmare invoking imagery, and a non-linear narrative.  Beyond that, although it was a sound film (Dreyer's first), there is not a lot of spoken dialogue and much of the narration is delivered through silent-style intertitles.  It was based loosely on Sheridan Le Fanu's lesbian vampire short story "Carmilla".

The Bela Lugosi vehicle White Zombie released on August 4, 1932, possibly the earliest example of zombies onscreen.  Written by Garnett Weston and directed by Victor Halperin (the two would next collaborate in 1933's Supernatural), this United Artists Corp. release follows a young American couple visiting Haiti.  The beautiful Madeline (Madge Bellamy) strikes the fancy of a wealthy local who hires sugar cane plantation owner and supernatural practitioner Murder Legendre (Lugosi) to steal her away from her fiance Neil (John Harron).

According to Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide, this film was based on a stage play entitled Zombie, although the author of that book, Glenn Kay, readily admits that very little is known about this supposed source material, beyond the fact that it opened and closed in only 21 days.  Halperin crafted a sequel of sorts four years later entitled Revolt of the Zombies, that unfortunately did not feature the talents of Mr. Lugosi.

First National/Warner Brothers' Doctor X  was released on August 27, 1932, another example of a stage play (this time by Howard Warren Comstock and Allen C. Miller) being brought to the screen.  Scripted by Robert Tasker and Earl Baldwin, and directed by Michael Curtiz, this was a pre-code production and so carried a number of risque themes that would have been cut were it made a few short years later.  A reporter (Lee Tracy) investigates a string of murders committed under the light of a full moon in which the victim's bodies have been sliced up with a scalpel and cannibalized!  Suspects include the titular Dr. X (Lionel Atwill, soon to appear in a number of genre films), an amputee named Dr. Wells (Preston Foster), the voyeuristic Dr. Haines (John Wray), the crippled Dr. Duke (Harry Beresford) and Dr. Rowitz (Arthur Edmund Carewe) who has been conducting research into the power of the full moon.  Rounding out the cast is Fay Wray as Dr. X's beautiful daughter, still a year away from her most famous role in King Kong.  Interestingly, the film features a 'synthetic flesh' construct, an idea would be used many years later in the Darkman series.

Doctor X was filmed in both a black and white version and a version using the Two-Strip Technicolor process, meaning that it was colorized using various tones of green and orange.  According to some sources, there are differences between the two versions, but are so subtle as to be generally unnoticeable.  Very few Technicolor prints were made, and they were thought lost for many years, until an original print was located and restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

In 1939, Warner Brothers released a "sequel" to this film entitled The Return of Doctor X, which in an unlikely casting choice starred Humphrey Bogart in the title role.  Despite the title, and the name of the lead character, the two films had nothing in common. 

September 7, 1932 marked the release of Unheimliche Geschichten, a German horror-comedy film directed by Richard Oswald.  It follows a mad doctor (Paul Wegener) who murders his wife, entombs her alive in a wall, and the flees the scene of the crime.  Pursued by the police and a dogged reporter (Harald Paulsen), he is eventually caught and institutionalized, but later takes over the asylum.  It was inspired by short stories written by Robert Louis Stephenson ("The Suicide Club") and Edgar Allan Poe ("The Black Cat" and "The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether"), seemingly all blended together into one coherent narrative.  Footage from this film was later edited into another feature, 1943's Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

Interestingly, Oswald had released a film of the same name in 1919.  The original version was an anthology film, featuring tales based on the aforementioned stories along with two others.

An adaptation of the 1924 short story by Richard Connell, RKO's The Most Dangerous Game was released on September 16, 1932.  It was the first of many film adaptations of the story and seemingly the only one to utilize the original characters.  In an inversion of the big game hunting safaris that were in vogue among the wealthy at the time, one such hunter Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) finds himself stranded on a desert island following a shipwreck, and becomes the guest of the strange Russian Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks, of 1934's The Man Who Knew Too Much and 1939's Jamaica Inn, both by Alfred Hitchcock).  Zaroff makes mention that he, too, is something of a hunter, but he had grown bored with it until discovering 'the most dangerous game'.  Said game is, of course, human and Bob finds himself hunted like a wild animal by the Russian Count.

Released just six months before RKO's biggest hit King Kong, these two films have more in common that one would at first expect.  Beyond being produced by the same studio, both films feature Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong in strong roles, and Noble Johnson and Steve Clemente in smaller ones; both were, at least partially, scripted by James Ashmore Creelman and directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack.  And finally, although Dutch Henrian didn't appear in King Kong, he did appear in 1933's Son of Kong.

Kongo (no relation to King Kong) was released on October 1, 1932.  This remake of 1928's West of Zanzibar replaces Lon Chaney with Walter Huston, and seems to follow much of the same plot, although ratcheting up the sleaze to massive proportions: drug addiction, rape, incest, prostitution, nudity and violent revenge all figure into the storyline--even more so than in the original. 

October 20, 1932 was the release date of the James Whale-directed The Old Dark House.  The generic-sounding title is actually rather fitting for this film, as it features all the staples of the Old Dark House thriller: a spooky gothic-styled household, stormy weather, kooky and eccentric characters, etc.  Here, a number of travelers are forced to spend the night in the titular old dark house to escape a terrible storm, and the expected antics occur.  The highlight is Boris Karloff as the mute butler Morgan, but even the notion of Karloff and Whale reuniting after the box office hit of Frankenstein wasn't enough to draw Americans to the theater.  It was, however, a big hit in Whale's homeland of England, where the audience perhaps better understood his sarcastic sense of humor and directorial style.

The Old Dark House was based on the novel Benighted by J.B. Priestly.  Although the novel was a sly take on class warfare, little of that subtext translated to the silver screen.  Whale may have enjoyed the source material, but couldn't bring himself to take his work so seriously.

Closing out the year was Universal's The Mummy, which released on December 22.  Archaeologists accidentally revives the mummy of ancient Egyptian priest Imhotep (Boris Karloff), who then wanders through Cairo in search of the reincarnated form of his past love.  He finds it in Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), who has no memory of her former life, and intends to mummify her so that they can spend eternity together.  The rotting, bandage-wrapped mummy is what most people remember from this film, but he takes that form only briefly here (although later sequels and remakes make more use of the image).  The third in the cycle of classic Universal monster movies (following Dracula and Frankenstein), The Mummy was written by John L. Balderston and directed by Karl Freund.  Freund was the cinematographer of over 100 films, including The Golem (1920) and Metropolis (1927) (not to mention the television series I Love Lucy), but this was one of only ten films that he would direct.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Horror Explorer (Sneak Peek): 1930-1931

A remake of the 1926 film The Bat (which was based on a stage play), The Bat Whispers was released on November 13, 1930.  Once again directed by Roland West, this Old Dark House thriller follows a group of people exploring an old mansion in search of treasure while a caped madman called The Bat kills them off one by one.  West would only direct one more feature, 1931's piracy adventure tale Corsair, before retiring from the industry and opening a Santa Monica restaurant with his actress girlfriend Thelma Todd (the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), called Thelma Todd's Roadside Cafe.  When she was found dead in 1935, West was questioned although never officially labeled a suspect.  Her death was eventually labeled a suicide, but the mysterious nature of her death has caused many to question that finding.

February 12, 1931 was the release date for Tod Browning's Dracula.  As everyone knows, it was based on the 1897 Bram Stoker novel of the same name (or, perhaps more accurately, based on the Hamilton Deane stage play that was based on the novel), and featured Bela Lugosi in the immortal lead and Dwight Frye as Renfield.  The Spanish-speaking version was released the same year, and was shot concurrently with this version, with a completely different cast and crew using the same sets when the original crew had gone home for the night.  Although almost universally considered a classic, and with good reason, there are still plenty of faults to be found here, including some languid pacing and static, stationary camerawork.  The latter has often been blamed on the difficult transition from the stage to the camera, but that's a cop-out answer.  Motion pictures had been around for decades at this point, and Browning was no stranger to the medium, even if he was still warming to the notion of the talkie.  Truthfully, a younger modern audience may have difficulty getting through this one.

The RKO exploitation film Ingagi released on March 15, 1931.  The movie follows Sir Herbert Winstead and Captain Daniel Swayne on an African expedition.  The two explorers study a local tribe that worships gorillas (called ingagi by the natives), annually sacrificing one of their women to the beasts, and the movie seems to suggest interspecies sexual activity.  The sensational poster does more than just suggest it, as a massive gorilla fondles the bare breasts of a bald native woman.

Upon its initial run, Ingagi purported to be a genuine documentary, but it was discovered to be a hoax a short time later, setting the stage for the many mockumentary and "found footage" films to come, including Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity.  Ingagi was followed a decade later by Son of Ingagi, an in-name-only sequel.

Fritz Lang's classic M (his first talkie) hit German screens on May 11, 1931 and arrived in the United States nearly two years later. Scripted by the director in conjunction with Thea von Harbou (previously of Metropolis), this film starred Peter Lorre as the child-killer who is being hunted by both the police and the mob. All of the murders are implied, rather than shown, but the end result is still disturbing and jarring. Some have claimed that M is the last breath of German Expressionism, and the first breath of both the Film Noir and the Psychological Thriller. It is also notable for being one of the earliest films to utilize a leitmotif--a trick cribbed from the opera in which a specific character is identified with his own musical cue--which has become common place in modern cinema.

The Archie Mayo-directed Svengali was released on May 22, 1931, written by J. Grubb Alexander and based on the novel Trilby by George L. Du Maurier. It is a strange plot, to be sure: Svengali (John Barrymore) is a music maestro and a skilled hypnotist, who falls in love with the beautiful Trilby (Marian Marsh). He mesmerizes her, convinces her to fake her own death, and turns her into a beautiful singer. Under her new moniker of Madame Svengali, the two tour Europe together, garnering great fame until Trilby's former lover Billee (Bramwell Fletcher) comes looking for her. [Previously adapted as 1896's Trilby and Little Billee, 1898's Ella Lola, a la Trilby, 1914's Trilby, 1915's Trilby, 1922's Tense Moments with Great Authors, 1923's Trilby, and 1927's Svengali]

Only ten months after releasing Dracula, Universal Studios made history again with the November 21, 1931 release of James Whale's adaptation of Frankenstein.  This film brought us Boris Karloff in his most famous role as the creature, Dwight Frye as Fritz, and Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein.  Not only does this movie give us the now-standard look of the creature created by makeup man Jack P. Pierce (which is copyrighted by Universal), but it also gives us the accepted methodology of creation: lightning.  The method in which the creature was given life was never outlined in the novel, but it has nevertheless become an actual part of the mythology.  Karloff would reprise the role in 1935's Bride of Frankenstein and 1939's Son of Frankenstein.

After a short break between adaptations, a new version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was released on December 31, 1931.  This time around, it was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, written by Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein, and starred Fredric March in the lead.  Here, Hyde is depicted as a hard drinking, misogynistic skirt-chaser, and there was such overt sexuality on display here that when re-released in 1936, the then-fairly new Production Code forced the studio to remove eight minutes of footage.  Luckily, those eight minutes were salvaged and restored for the home video market.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Genre Films on TCM (12.27.10)

There's a number of classic sci-fi flicks playing on Turner Classic Movies tonight.  Geek out with your beaks out, hipsters!

8:00pm Thing From Another World, The (1951)
The crew of a remote Arctic base fights off a murderous monster from outer space.
Cast: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer Dir: Christian Nyby BW-87 mins, TV-PG

9:30pm Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956)
Space invaders attack the nation's capital.
Cast: Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, Donald Curtis, Morris Ankrum Dir: Fred F. Sears BW-84 mins, TV-G

11:00pm 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Classic sci-fi epic about a mysterious monolith that seems to play a key role in human evolution.
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter Dir: Stanley Kubrick C-149 mins, TV-G

1:45am Solaris (1972)
An alien intelligence infiltrates a space mission.
Cast: Donatas Banionis, N. Grinko, Natalia Bondarchuk, Youri Yarvet Dir: Andrey Tarkovskiy BW-167 mins, TV-14

4:45am Coma (1978)
A lady doctor investigates a series of strange deaths and disappearing bodies at her hospital.
Cast: Geneviève Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Rip Torn Dir: Michael Crichton C-113 mins, TV-MA

American Crime (2004)

American Crime

Written by Jack Moore & Jeff Ritchie
Directed by Dan Mintz

Jesse St. Clair...Rachael Leigh Cook
Albert Bodine...Cary Elwes
Rob...Kip Pardue
Jane...Annabella Sciorra

Beautiful up-and-coming television journalist Jesse St. Clair stumbles into the story of a lifetime while covering the disappearance of a local stripper.  Amongst the stripper's possessions, she finds an unlabeled video tape which shows someone stalking--and then murdering--another woman.  More corpses and more video tapes, and Jesse discovers that a serial killer is getting his kicks by murdering women on tape, then sending that tape to the next victim.  Seems like one hell of a scoop...until Jessie receives a video tape herself.

An understandably freaked-out Jesse takes a leave of absence, mails her resignation to the station, and then never returns.  Fearful of what may have happened to her, Jesse's producer Jane and cameraman Rob continue the intrepid investigation, forming an uneasy alliance with Albert Bodine, the arrogant host of the sensationalistic television show American Crime.

Technically speaking, it wasn't a bad film.  The acting, the music, the script--they were all decent, if nothing special.  However, the characters were flimsy, the action mundane, and the murders restrained and uninspired.Told in a rather strange combination of straight cinematography and mock-documentary/news story style, this thriller could have been a dark and fascinating glimpse into the mind of a psychotic--or, alternately, the mind of a psychotic's knowing next victim. Unfortunately, it fails to get inside anyone's head, opting instead for a by-the-book procedural with only a novel concept to separate itself from the pack.

Add to all of this an unsatisfying conclusion, and you've got yourself another movie whose MSRP should be "Netflix Instant Watch."

Rated R
92 Minutes
United States

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Genre Films on TCM (12.26.10)

A couple of flicks are playing tonight on Turner Classic Movies that you may be interested in, despite their G ratings. 

8:00pm Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
An unscrupulous millionaire tries to catch two mysterious children with super powers.
Cast: Eddie Albert, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence, Kim Richards Dir: John Hough C-97 mins, TV-G

10:00pm Return From Witch Mountain (1978)
A mad scientist kidnaps an alien teen with amazing powers.
Cast: Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann Dir: John Hough C-94 mins, TV-G

And while not exactly a genre film, this original silent version of the classic Oz story may be of interest to cinephiles.

12:00am Wizard of Oz, The (1925)
In this silent film, a farm girl learns she is a princess and is swept away by a tornado to the land of Oz.
Cast: Larry Semon, Bryant Washburn, Dorothy Dwan, Virginia Pearson Dir: Larry Semon BW-72 mins

Again, not a genre film, but this movie sure creeped the shit out of me when I was a child.  There's just something inherently frightening about balloons that stalk children.  Call me crazy.

1:15am Red Balloon,The (1956)
A boy discovers his new balloon has a mind of its own.
Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Sabine Lamorisse Dir: Albert Lamorisse C-34 mins, TV-G

Saturday, December 25, 2010

12 Days of Christmas: A Pictorial Examination

12)  Drummers Drumming
11) Piper's Piping
10) Lords A-Leaping
9) Ladies Dancing
8) Maids A-Milking
7) Swans A-Swimming
6) Geese A-Laying
5)  Golden Rings
4) Calling Birds
3) French Hens
2) Turtle Doves
1) Partridge In A Pear Tree
Happy Holidays, hipsters!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Evil (1980)

Christmas Evil 

Written & Directed by Lewis Jackson

Harry...Brandon Maggart

As a child, Harry witnessed something that changed his life forever.  Forget Jimmy Boyd, that bastard had it all wrong.  Poor Harry saw mommy doing a lot more than just kissing Santa Claus.

Apparantly that fucked him up real nice, because fast forward to the present day and Harry is a full-grown man obsessed with Christmas.  Not only does he work at a toy factory, sleep in Christmas pajamas (presumably year round), and watch the Thanksgiving parade religiously just to catch that first, breathless glimpse of good ol' St. Nick, but he also seems to think that it is his solemn duty to keep the spirit of Christmas alive.

This year, he tumbles over the edge of eccentricity and into full-blown madness.  Crafting a Santa Suit all his own, Harry strikes out against those in he deems to be on the naughty list, leaving a mess of bloody toys and dead bodies in his wake.

Granted, turning a sadist in a Santa suit into a slasher had been done before (most notably by Tales from the Crypt in 1972, and later its television offspring in 1989), but it must gain points for pre-dating the better-known Silent Night, Deadly Night.  What's on display here, which is genuinely rare for a slasher flick, is that it doubles as a somewhat subtle exploration of a disturbed mind.  I mean, Harry's not truly evil, and the filmmakers are determined to let us know that.  He just loves the season so much, and he's so...less-than-sane that he doesn't know what else to do anymore.  He's a sick man, who just so happens to off people every now and then by stabbing them in the eye with a toy soldier.

It should be noted that there are times where this film is creepy in a completely different, and probably unintended, level.  Witness Harry watching unknowing children through his binoculars, muttering things to himself about how beautiful they are and calling them his "little darlings".  He's about one bad-touch away from being a guest-star on Criminal Minds.

Admittedly, if we're supposed to believe that there isn't more to Harry's psychological break than what is shown onscreen, the whole thing comes off as ridiculous.  A perfectly healthy child raised by a perfectly normal mother turns into a lunatic just because...


...she made the naughty list?
...she got her stocking stuffed?
...Santa decked her halls?
...Santa ate her milk and cookies?
...Santa made her sugar plums dance?
...she jingled Santa's bells?
...something was stirring, and it wasn't a mouse?
...she met Santa's little helper?
...Santa slid down her chimney?
...she sucked on a candy cane?
...she tossed around his snow balls?
...she was dreaming of a milky white Christmas?
Stockings weren't the ONLY things hung by the chimney...
 Despite its occasional lapses in logic, and the inherrent cheesiness found within, I still have a special place for this film in the cockles of my heart.  My wife can sit down to watch Miracle on 34th Street all she wants.  I'll be in the other room, celebrating the holiday my way.

And, just for the record, I walked in on my aunt being tag-teamed by the Easter Bunny and a leprechaun when I was eight.  And I never killed anybody.

ALSO KNOWN AS: You Better Watch Out

Rated R
100 Minutes
United States

"You want it all.  But you're no longer a child."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Run! Bitch Run! (2009)

Run!  Bitch Run!

Written by Joseph Guzman and Robert James Hayes II
Directed by Joseph Guzman

Rebecca...Christina DeRosa
Catherine...Cheryl Lyone
Lobo...Peter Tahoe
Clint...Johnny Winscher
Marla...Ivet Corvea

Two Catholic school girls out on the road selling Bibles stumble into the wrong part of the backwoods and accidentally witness the murder of bottom bitch Carla by her crazed pimp Lobo.  When they're spotted, the girls are hauled into Lobo's den of iniquity, and find themselves the devil's playthings. 

Only one makes it out alive, and after switching out her school girl uniform for a nurse's uniform (one male fantasy for another), she ventures back to the burg where her innocence was stolen for a little good ol' fashion vengeance.

The rape-revenge genre is a controversial one, whether we're talking about Last House on the Left, Ms. 45, or I Spit on Your Grave.  There are many out there who concentrate on the rape portion of the equation, and justifiably believe that they are a disgrace to not only the genre--turning rape into entertainment--but to women as well.  There are others, also justifiably, who concentrate on the revenge, and view these movies as, if not empowering to women, at the very least, a fringe alternative to the Final Girl scenario found in nearly every slasher flick on the shelves.

Because honestly, if you look at the basic synopses, what's the difference between grindhouse staple I Spit on Your Grave and the big screen success of Thelma and Louise?  Budget.  And Brad Pitt.

As in all cases of opinion, there is no right or wrong answer.  It's all merely a matter of taste.

Suffice it to say that a large number of people will be turned off by this movie, but a smaller sub-segment will find it quite entertaining--myself among them.  I'm not normally much for the rape-revenge film, to be honest.  I don't have anything against them, they just don't typically bring much to the table for me.  So what made this one different?

I am a fan the seedy 'Seventies, and the films the throwback to that decade.  The filmmakers seem to have a keen eye for capturing the explosive exploitation elements that were born from those days.  Run!  Bitch Run! (perhaps one of the greatest of titles EVER, by the way) may not bring anything new to the table, but it does manage to squeeze in an impressive laundry list of sleaze.

Nun pornography
School girls naughty and school girls nice
Sex & blowjobs
Nipples a-plenty
Strippers and hookers
Drug and alcohol use
Lesbian fetishistic toe sucking
Toilet plunger masturbation
Forced Russian roulette
A great fuzzy rock soundtrack

A special guest appearance by a young Michael Myers!

Intigued?  Disgusted?  Good.

Then my work here is done.

The End!

90 Minutes
United States


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Genre Film on TCM (12.19.10/12.20.10)

Only one film of note on Turner Classic Movies, beginning LATE tonight/EARLY tomorrow morning.  Give it a look-see if you're suffering from insomnia.

3:00am Orpheus (1949)
A poet follows his dead wife into the underworld, only to fall in love with Death.
Cast: Jean Marais, Marie Déa, Edouard Dermit, Francois Perier Dir: Jean Cocteau BW-95 mins, TV-PG

From Within (2008)

From Within

Written by Brad Keene
Directed by Phedon Papamichael

Lindsay...Elizabeth Rice
Aiden...Thomas Dekker
Dylan...Kelly Blatz
Sadie...Margo Harshman

First it was a Hot Topic-shopping goth boy.  Then it was his Crow-worshipping girlfriend. Next it was her distraught father.  These three citizens of a small town all kill themselves in rapid succession, and it doesn't stop there.  These suicides seem to be spreading like a virus from one person to another, and the local Wal-Greens isn't offering up any vaccine.

The town is rampant with speculations, first of a suicide pact and then later of witch craft.  Being a highly-religious community, neither of these possibilities sits well with the locals, and with a little "divine" assistance, they trace the source of the problem to the Spindle family.

Mr. and Mrs. Spindle are long gone.  Sean Spindle was the suicide that started it all.  This leaves only Aiden Spindle (and, to a lesser degree, his visiting cousin Sadie) to bear the brunt of the blame.  Panic and paranoia sends these zealots into such a tizzy that they seem only a hair's-breadth away from a Universal Studio-style pitchfork-and-torch lynch mob.  Only the pretty Lindsey is free from the mob mentality and attempts to help protect Aiden--despite the fact that her own boyfriend is practically leading the charge against him.

The suicide "chain letter" (for lack of a better term) seems ripped straight from a Japanese horror film, as do some of the ghostly elements that crop up from time to time.  Meaning that although this is an original film, it still seems like a desperate American remake.  And I suppose in a way it is, albeit a desperate American remake of a theme rather than a specific film.  This hurts its credibility a bit, as it seems like we've seen this all before.

Honestly, the suicide-as-virus idea is an intriguing one, and I think the film could have been much better if it hadn't tried to turn it into something more.  When, at the beginning of the film, the goth girl claims that she's being chased by a girl that nobody else can see, we know right away that there are supernatural elements at play here.  A suicide meme sounds like something that would have been dreamed up by the great (but mad) William S. Burroughs.  This just sounds like something dreamed up by Hideo Nakata.

From Within is a well-made film, and the acting and special effects are good but subdued.  Technically, there was nothing wrong with the movie whatsoever.  It just feels like it could have been so much more than what it was if a little extra thought and a little extra originality had gone into it.  Worth a watch, but I don't think it will be making it into anyone's regular rotation.

Rated R
89 Minutes
United States

"If you're pants are open, can I go in?"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

...In the Woods (Trailer)

Has anyone else heard about this movie?  I stumbled across the trailer on Hulu, but still have no idea what its about--which I think is their marketing ploy.  It's got a bevy of celebrities in it, appearing as themselves (it seems), and is a documentary according to some sources.  But it definitely appears to have some horror overtones.  Good or bad, my curiosity is piqued, and I'll be seeking this one when it comes out on DVD.

Check it out:


Friday, December 17, 2010

Genre Films on TCM (12.17.10/12.18.10)

One holiday horror flick and one horrible holiday flick on Turner Classic Movies late tonight/early tomorrow morning.  Set your VCRs, hipsters!

2:00am Black Christmas (1974)
A deranged killer terrorizes the women staying in a sorority house over Christmas.
Cast: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin Dir: Bob Clark C-98 mins

3:45am Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Martians kidnap Santa Claus to cheer up their children.
Cast: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Victor Stiles Dir: Nicholas Webster C-81 mins, TV-PG

June 9 (2008)

June 9

Written & Directed by T. Michael Conway

Robert...Jon Ray
Boggs...Trevor Williams
Jennifer...Maggie Blazunas

Five teenage Junior Jackasses spend their summer vacation playing "pranks" on innocent people around their small Ohio town.  Looking to defeat the boredom of being young, dumb, and full of that indefinable quality that guidance counselors refer to as "potential", they also decide to visit a number of strange locales detailed on the Haunted Ohio website--a haunted school bus, an old church, and a lake among them.

After a series of encounters with locals, and a few "eerie" happenings, the kids decide they have had enough of their videotaped explorations.  But a missing purse draws them back out for one more adventure.  Probably one last adventure.

A good share of the world has grown tired of the whole "found footage" angle, as the genre has seemingly been overrun with low-budget renditions of this tried-and-true formula.  I, however, am not among this share of the population.  I have been hooked ever since the Blair Witch Project scared the man-panties right off of me, giving me second thoughts about camping for all eternity.  So when I saw this puppy available to Instant Watch on Netflix, I plopped ass on the couch and kicked up my feet.

The concept was a good one:  youngsters in search of urban legends.  I've said this before, but urban legends are so rich in history and power--even those legends that are merely regional--that it shocks me how few horror films have actually taken advantage of them.  So this movie had the potential (there's that word again) to be something good.  It's just too bad that it couldn't quite surpass its mediocre beginnings.

The main problem here is that although we're told that these places they are visiting are the locations of various urban legends, we're never actually privvy to just what those urban legends are.  Okay, this school bus is supposed to be haunted--but haunted by who, and why?  We're given the impression that these legends are all tied together in some way, due to their proximity within a single town nicknamed Hell Town.  But, again, it's never explained how they tie together.  There is not even an attempted explaination for any of the strange occurences caught on tape, either.  One of the characters suffers an inexplicable head wound, another develops sudden nosebleeds and nausea.  But once again, we're left asking the question, Why?

Had any of this been wrapped up at the finale, the ambiguity throughout the film would have been acceptable.  But don't hold your breath.  The ending is brutal and violent, but equally unexplained.

Remember the first time you watched Lost, and you had no idea what was going on, but you knew you were going to come back to find out?  Well June 9 is a lot like that.  Except that even if there was more footage, you would have no desire to tune back in.

What a waste.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

DVD2Blu @ Warner Brothers

Not sure if any of you have heard about this or not, but Warner Brothers is giving customers the ability to purchase an "upgrade" on select movie titles.  That is to say, you mail them your DVD, pay a small fee ($4.95-$6.95 per movie, or $14.95-$19.95 per TV season), and they upgrade you to a Blu-Ray.  I thought it was a pretty clever way for them to convince holdouts to give the new format a try.  Click HERE to give it a look-see.  There's over a hundred titles to choose from.

Some titles of interest
2001: A Space Odyssey
American History X
The Brave One
Chuck (Seasons 1 and 2)
Clockwork Orange
Dark City
Freddy Vs. Jason
Fringe (Season 1)
History of Violence
L.A. Confidential
Lost Boys
Pan's Labyrinth
The Shining
Supernatural (Seasons 1, 3 & 4)
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
True Romance
V For Vendetta


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Genre Films on TCM (12.15.10)

A couple of noteworthy films are playing on Turner Classic Movies tonight.  Check 'em out!

5:00pm Blob, The (1958)
A misunderstood teen fights to save his town from a gelatinous monster from outer space.
Cast: Steven McQueen, Aneta Corseaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howlin Dir: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. C-82 mins, TV-PG

6:30pm Watch the Skies! (2005)
This TCM original documentary explores the history of the science fiction genre beginning in the 1950s. Features interviews with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Ridley Scott.
Dir: Richard Schickel. BW-56 mins, TV-PG

8:00pm Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A space probe unleashes microbes that turn the dead into flesh-eating zombies.
Cast: Judith O'Dea, Russell Streiner, Duane Jones, Karl Hardman Dir: George A. Romero BW-96 mins, TV-MA

Monday, December 13, 2010

Killjoy 3 (2010)

Killjoy 3

Written & Directed by John Lechago

Killjoy...Trent Haaga
Batty Boop...Victoria De Mare
Roger...Michael Rupnow
Zilla...Spiral Jackson
Sandy...Jessica Whitaker
Roger...Michael Rupnow

Four college students on spring break find their party ending prematurely when a mysterious package arrives on the porch of the house they have been sitting.  Upon opening said package, and discovering an antique mirror inside, they find themselves trapped in the house, just as the murderous clown Killjoy is trapped in the mirror.

Only this time, he's not alone.  Killjoy is joined by a veritable pack of harlequin horrors, comprised of a mutant mime, a pudgy hobo clown, and a psycho-sexy circus slut.  Together, they will terrorize and tear apart the students, as well as their professor who is somehow connected to the whole ordeal.

As of this writing, I have not yet seen the second entry in the series, so all that I can compare this to is the original.  I have to say that Killjoy 3 is endlessly better than the first outing, reminding me at times of the Wishmaster series, itself another guilty pleasure of mine.

Not only is the title character less irritating this time around, but he is far more frightening.  He still has a dark and demented sense of humor--killer clowns pretty much have to--but it's less punny, and no longer punctuated with irritating urban phraseology.  I mean, I use slang as much as the next guy, but it's next to impossible to be frightened by a grown man in make-up who's threatening to "pop a cap" in my "bitch ass", etc.  And thankfully Killjoy's dialogue is no longer delivered in that manic, helium-huffing cadence that made my skin crawl.

The inclusion of more clowns helps here, too, as each of them are granted their own personalities (save for the mime fellow, who didn't really seem to have that much to do).  And that green-haired hottie has made me think things about clowns that I have never thought before.  Plus it's got Tromaville's former horror-hipster-in-residence Trent Haaga in the title role, which is definitely a plus.

Not quite a modern-day classic, but still a hell of a lot of fun.  Kind of reminds me of the good ol' days of Full Moon, when everything was still fresh and fun.  Killer clown fantatics and Full Moon devotees, be sure to check this out.

(Visit Full Moon Direct or the official Killjoy 3 webpage)

"Power to the puppies."


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