Friday, October 31, 2014

Revisiting the Horrors of Youth

When Halloween approaches, I love to figure out which horror movies I’ll want to watch, usually one I’ve never seen or haven’t seen in a long time. When I was a kid, it seemed like my hometown theater screened just about every horror movie that came along. I saw a lot of them, but also missed a fair number. Here’s a list of ten movies I’d like to see again or for the first time.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) Terence Fisher

I used to devour my older brother’s copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland, always regretting that the Christopher Lee era of Frankenstein movies had already passed. I hope to see this one soon. (Hey, what’s a 40-year wait?)

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) Roman Polanski

I absolutely loved this film when I was a kid, going to the theater at least twice to see it. I’m sure one of the reasons I loved it was Sharon Tate, but it was also probably the first time I’d seen horror and comedy combined effectively. Give me a break - I was probably only seven or eight at the time. We didn’t get many first-run movies at our theater, so I probably saw this in 1970 or 1971.

Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) Bob Kelljan

I don’t remember much about this one, other than all the girls in the theater screamed a lot. 


The House that Dripped Blood (1971) Peter Duffell

This may have been my first “What’s on the poster isn’t necessarily in the movie” experience. I’m pretty sure we never see Peter Cushing’s head on a platter, but I could be wrong. I hope to see it again to find out. Great title, though. 

The Legend of Hell House (1973) John Hough

I remember being creeped out by this one when I was a kid. I also remember liking just about anything that starred Roddy McDowell, so there was also that. 

The Horror at 37,000 Feet (TV 1973) David Lowell Rich

I was eleven when I saw this TV movie starring William Shatner as a former priest called upon to exorcise a demon-possessed jet on a transatlantic flight. Yes, you read that correctly. I’d still like to see it again. 

Trilogy of Terror (TV 1975) Dan Curtis

Ah, Karen Black will always be remembered for this film. All the kids in the eighth grade were talking about this one for days after it aired. I don’t think any of us had ever seen anything that scary on TV. 

Suspiria (1977) Dario Argento

Unbelievably, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the entire film. 

The Changeling (1980) Peter Medak

I think I missed out on this one as well. 

The Keep (1983) Michael Mann

Although I read and enjoyed F. Paul Wilson’s novel of the same name, I’ve never seen the film version. At one time it was very difficult to find. I’m not sure if that’s still the case...

So what horror movies would you like to revisit or experience for the first time?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Halloween Suggestion

This weekend, countless people will no doubt find themselves gathered in darkened rooms, sitting on couches and chairs, watching a movie (or two) designed to put them in the Halloween spirit (no pun intended). Some of the more obvious viewing choices might be any of the Halloween movies (especially the 1978 original), The Shining, The Silence of the Lambs, or even more recent films such as the Paranormal Activity movies or The Conjuring. Regardless of the quality of any of these or other films, the possibilities are endless. (I went to a party this weekend and watched The Exorcist in the host’s backyard, the chilly night air creating an appropriately spooky atmosphere. You might not be able to recreate that atmosphere, but atmosphere certainly helps.)

My suggestion for your Halloween movie (or at least one of them) is an often neglected masterpiece that has, for most people, several things working against it:

It’s in black-and-white

It’s from a director most people have forgotten (or never heard of to begin with)

There’s no gore (and possibly not even any blood, if I’m remembering correctly)


So why in the world would you want to watch The Innocents?

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's Almost Here...

No, not Halloween, but the next Barnes & Noble Criterion 50% off sale, which is just around the corner, starting November 11, 2014. I know of at least three films that are on my “must have” radar:

La Dolce Vita (1960) 

My Darling Clementine (1946) 

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) 

Several others I plan to check out streaming on Hulu Plus before considering a purchase:

Beauty and the Beast (1946) 

City Lights (1931)

The Earrings of Madame de ... (1953)

The Freshman (1925) 

The Hidden Fortress (1958) 

Pickpocket (1959) 

Marketa Lazarov√° (1967) 

Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954) (This one’s not on Hulu Plus, but it’s Don Siegel, so that’s practically a “must have” even though I haven’t seen it.)

Let me know what's on your radar... 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Get Your Scary Movies Cheap

There's some great deals to be had this week if you're still looking for some horror films for your Halloween viewing. Amazon has several scary Criterions on sale, but DVD Planet has some of the same titles even cheaper than Amazon. Enjoy and please let me know what you pick up! 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Movies and Books About Them

I've discovered many blogs about movies, especially classic movies, but few that cover the topic of books about movies. I'm pleased to report that Out of the Past does just that. Here are just a few... and more on the way!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Must for Your Halloween Viewing


It took awhile, but I finally completed the Universal Classic Monsters Blu-ray box set, just in time for your Halloween consideration. Some of the films I discussed in greater detail than others, so I’m including links to those films and brief comments on the others, followed by some final thoughts on the set as a whole. Know that you can purchase American and British versions of the set, the pros and cons of which are discussed here

Monday, October 20, 2014

Doctor X (1932) and Warner Archive Instant

Several months ago I was somewhat interested in Warner Archive Instant, the streaming service for several classic and hard-to-find Warner Brothers films, but felt the selection was too limited. I recently decided to check back - mainly due to some folks I follow on Twitter who sing its praises - and found a pretty impressive list of films. However, once I read a review of Doctor X from The Nitrate Diva, I went ahead and signed up for a one-month trial. 

I'm glad I did. I decided to make Doctor X (1932) my first film to watch, viewing half the film on my TV through my Roku and the other half on the iPad. (Both devices were easy to navigate, which is always appreciated.) I certainly can't improve on The Nitrate Diva's excellent review, but will note a few things of interest:  

First, Doctor X is a pre-code mystery/horror film that really has a great creep-out factor over 80 years after its release. Even though it contains several comedic elements, I found the atmosphere and the tension quite impressive. 

The early Technicolor process adds an additional element of the German Expressionism that's clearly already there in the film. (I would love to see a Blu-ray edition of this film!) 

Doctor X is the first of three movies that featured both Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray (the others being The Mystery of the Wax Museum and The Vampire Bat, both from 1933). 

One of the waterfront policemen is played by Harry Holman, who would years later play the high school principal in It's a Wonderful Life

Now... what to watch next? 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Black Sabbath (1963)

Black Sabbath (1963) Mario Bava

Black Sabbath is one of those horror anthology movies that were all the rage at one time and tend to make a comeback now and again. Unlike many of those movies, all three of these short films were directed by the same director, Italian stylist Mario Bava, a master of atmosphere and mood. 

Your enjoyment of Black Sabbath may depend largely on which version you watch. On Amazon Instant Video, you’ll see the American (English dubbed) version. If you watch the Kino Classics Blu-ray, you’ll see it in the original Italian (with English subtitles) with the original order, which is “The Telephone” followed by “The Wurdulak” and ending with “The Drop of Water.” 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beat the Devil (1953)

John Huston’s Beat the Devil (1953) is either a 90-minute joke or a work of pure genius, and just maybe both. When I finished watching it on DVD, I wasn’t sure whether I should place it in a safe deposit box or fling it out over some vast abyss. I’m still not sure. 

Although Roger Ebert boldly places Beat the Devil in his Great Movies collection, I’m not convinced it’s worthy to do more than hang out in the lobby of Ebert’s film pantheon for a few minutes before a more worthy film approaches it and asks “What do you think you’re doing here?” 

The film is loosely based on a novel by British journalist Claud Cockburn (writing under the name James Helvick), but the script was written by Huston and Truman Capote, by all accounts literally making it up as they went along. The plot (if you want to call it that) is largely immaterial, but involves a group of oddballs attempting to weasel their way into acquiring a plot of land in Kenya which promises to yield rich deposits of uranium. 

On the surface, the cast seems nothing short of spectacular: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre and Edward Underdown. Yet most of them play against type: Bogart, normally carrying himself with a confident swagger, plays Billy Dannreuther, who seems to mainly react to all the madness around him with a plan that’s half-baked at best. Dannreuther’s wife Maria (Lollobrigida) saunters around (yet looking spectacular in doing so) speaking English as if she’d learned it on the set. Brit Harry Chelm (Underdown) and his wife Gwendolen (Jennifer Jones, with blonde hair) meet the Dannreuthers and all sorts of shenanigans ensue. Enter a crook named Peterson (Morley) and his tag-along associates, including a German named O’Hara (Lorre), and it’s like combining a train wreck with a circus act - simply delightful. 

Most of the film takes place in an Italian seaport hotel as the characters are waiting for a boat to take them to Africa. (Actually, they’re waiting for the boat’s captain to sober up long enough to pull up anchor, which may take awhile.) Once aboard the ship, the film’s hijinks reach Marx Brothers proportions. 

Is the film simply a parody of Huston’s own classic The Maltese Falcon? You could certainly look at it that way. Everyone (Well, most everyone...) in The Maltese Falcon is smart, calculating and, of course, self-serving. You can’t say that for the characters in Beat the Devil; self-serving, yes, but miscalculating is probably more accurate. And smart? Well... not so much.

Yet Beat the Devil is full of charm, wit and often side-splitting laughs. If you enjoy somewhat absurdist satirical films such as the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading or even the Ocean’s Eleven movies, you’ll probably enjoy Beat the Devil


Monday, October 13, 2014

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein is the fifth film in the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection box set and is probably the best of the bunch. That's saying quite a bit, especially considering you've got some really heavy-hitters here such as the original Dracula, Frankenstein, and more. 

Yet it was quite unusual - even in 1935 Hollywood - for a sequel to best the original. Whale had to be lured into making the sequel and he insisted on several things: a bigger budget, Karloff, and Elsa Lanchester, to name just a few. The sets on The Bride of Frankenstein are absolutely spectacular in every way from the nighttime scenes of the monster romping through the graveyard to the creepy castle interiors. In many ways, Bride set the standard for black-and-white horror cinematography. The way Whale uses light and shadow, contasts - it's simply amazing. Also amazing is the score by Franz Waxman, who really knew how to shape each scene with just the right touch, especially as the tension mounts in the film's last 10 minutes. 

Bride marks the first time a woman was used effectively in horror films as a monster. Make-up artist Jack Pierce decided to retain Elsa Lanchester's natural beauty (and she was a beautiful woman - 32 years old when this was filmed, but looking much younger) placing the scars just below her face and accentuating those wide, dark eyes. The first three establishing shots of the Frankenstein monster in the original 1931 film remain iconic (and rightfully so), but Lanchester's quirky movements, combined with expert lighting and Waxman's score take iconic to a whole other level. (And that scream could shatter crystal.)

In the extras, Karloff's daughter commented that her father was against having the monster speak in the sequel, although Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's monster in the novel was practically verbose in comparison. Against his better judgment, Karloff delivered the lines and added a depth and sadness to the performance that could not have been achieved through silence. 

The entire cast is nothing short of stellar. Ernest Thesiger (above) as Doctor Pretorius is one of the strangest scientists in all of horror films; Colin Clive (who would die two short years after the release of the film) as Doctor Frankenstein; Una O'Connor as the meddlesome publican's wife; and 17-year-old Valerie Hobson (replacing Mae Clarke from the original film) as Baroness Frankenstein. 

The extras on this disc specific to the film include "She's Alive! Creating The Bride of Frankenstein" (39 min.), an audio commentary with film historian Scott MacQueen, and "The Bride of Frankenstein Archive," 13 minutes of stills, promotional materials, etc. 


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Film Noir 101: The 101 Best Film Noir Posters from the 1940s-1950s

Fantagraphics has expanded its comics/graphic novel offerings to deliver an exceptional volume of film noir original theatrical posters. The question is are these the best films noir or the best film noir posters, or both? The question is largely moot; many will quibble over the inclusion of one film over another, one ranking higher or lower than another, but the thing that matters is Film Noir 101 is a celebration of both the art and the style of film noir. 

The poster reproductions are absolutely gorgeous, printed on high quality paper (which is what we've come to expect from Fantagraphics) but the size of the volume - 10.75" x 14.25" - makes the book itself a work of art. It's hard for us to imagine what it was like to promote movies in the 1940s and 1950s without the Internet, Pinterest, Facebook, etc., but Film Noir 101 shows us that the poster had to carry the weight in those days and many of those represented here are impossible to ignore.  

The artwork alone makes this book a must-have, but Fertig's brief essays on each film are superb. Read them not only to find out more about the films, but the stories behind the films, the actors and the culture of the times. Now that I've finished reading the book, I'm tracking down all the films I haven't yet seen. (You'll probably want to do the same.)

If you're a fan of film noir or classic films in general, you won't want to miss this volume. Let's hope we'll see future volumes from Fantagraphics.