Saturday, October 29, 2016

Halloween Watch: Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Despite endorsements from multiple trusted sources, somehow I'd never gotten around to watching Sam Raimi's post-Evil Dead horror film, Drag Me to Hell (2009).  Which is too bad.  I wish I'd gotten to it sooner.

If you're a fan of Raimi's other horror work, this is more or less in line (and possibly in continuity) with the world of Ash and the deadites.  I was surprised how much it shared both aesthetically and in spirit with the Evil Dead franchise - mixing the horrific with the grotesque with slapstick.

I don't want to oversell the movie - it's not a life-changing experience, but it was perfect for a bit of Halloween spookiness and mayhem and everything it was trying to do worked for me.  And, coincidentally or otherwise, the movie feels a bit like an old school Universal horror film in some ways, which is all right as the movie was at least released through the studio.

Halloween Watch: The Wolf Man (1941)

TCM was on a Universal Monsters sprint last night, and after the frighteningly monstrous loss by the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series, I needed to chillax for a bit with some creepy mayhem.  I watched the last twenty minutes of The Invisible Man (a movie I always give short shrift.  It's really good.), and then moved into The Wolf Man (1941).

The Wolf Man is a movie of highs and lows.  It sets up a great mythology from whole cloth and the modern-age denial of werewolfism as the result of some psychic shock suffered by our tortured protagonist.  Of course all of these things are beats every werewolf movie since has imitated.  It contains Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi - even a young Ralph Bellamy.  I'm in the camp that likes the monster make-up, but the Wolf Man scenes are better in concept than execution, never really feeling like much more than a large guy manhandling people instead of a monster rending them apart.

It's kind of strange that Universal's 2010 go at rebooting this franchise was such a mess, because - this is a very simple movie.  Seems like it should have gone better than it did (I only really liked the bits in the medical college and then in the streets of London - and that felt more like a Landis-homage than anything to do with this movie).

It's certainly a crucial movie for getting monster movie history, and I still think it's very well realized.
But there's an elephant in the room by name of Lon Chaney Jr.  And that elephant isn't much of an actor.  I really want to like Chaney Jr., but he's playing on the same screen as Claude Rains.  There's just no comparison here, and his character spends most of the movie hitting on an engaged woman (I think I found your real wolf here).  I wish the scenes with the Wolf Man felt more full of menace, but no matter how well shot and well-lit those scenes are... man.  It looks like a hirsute lumberjack on a bender.

Monster Mash by Alex Ross

Alex Ross working on a Universal Monsters print set.

Friday, October 28, 2016

This is why I shouldn't try to have fun

Cap Wolf

Today did not work out at all.

Several months ago, when I assumed UT Football would be great and I'd want to be home on a Saturday to watch the game, and back then when I assumed the Cubs would not be in the World Series, I purchased a ticket to the Alamo City Comic Con.  Just for one day - today.  So, I took the day off and drove to San Antonio for comics shenanigans.

Straight up, I don't know why I do these things.  Mostly, I find them depressing, but I show up every three years to a Comic-Con as some sort of mildly expensive reminder that this thing is not my bag.

I had to make it a short day of it if I wanted to go to SA and back AND watch the World Series, but I've yet to be at a Con in Texas where 3 hours wasn't way more than enough (what people do with a 3-day pass, I will never know.  Stand around looking a little peaked in your Ranma 1/2 cosplay by day 3, I'd guess).

What got me off my butt and to The Alamo City in the first place was the fact that Margot Kidder was scheduled as a guest, to appear all three days and, really, she's one of the very few people I'd be pretty excited to meet at this point in my life.

So, you will notice there are no pictures of Margot Kidder in this post, and that's because she never showed up while I was there and before I realized I didn't want to spend any more money, and so I gave up - the entire enterprise leaving me, once again, wondering what it is, exactly, I am doing with my life.

Other thoughts:

Happy Birthday, Elsa Lanchester

Born this day in 1902.

Happy birthday, Elsa Lanchester.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Happy Birthday to President Theodore Roosevelt

Happy Birthday to President Theodore Roosevelt, born October 27th, 1858.

On The Colonel's birthday, I highly recommend - before forwarding any social media with images of TR tied to a quote - try Googling that quote first.  I've been seeing a lot of false quotes attributed to the man of late.

He was a profilic writer and speaker, he was imminently quotable, but he didn't really speak in modern soundbites.  So, anyway, be careful out there.

Also, read a TR biography some time.  It'll be worth it.

Halloween Watch: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Watching a Frankenstein/ Bride of Frankenstein (1935) double-bill has become my personal Halloween tradition.  I'd already watched Frankenstein this year, and so needed to work in Bride of, which has been tough with the Cubs actually making it into the World Series.  I mean, usually by early October, I'm kinda done with baseball and my football watching is contained to Saturdays.

But, what would Halloween even be (for me) without The Bride of Frankenstein?  I don't even want to know.

The movie remains horrific, beautiful, eerie, hilarious.  Everything I'd want in a single movie, and everything I like about the holiday.

Here's to Mr. Whale and company, and everything that makes this one of my favorite films.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson, 1962 - audiobook)

After reading The Haunting of Hill House, one or two of you (I know Max was one) suggested I check out more of Shirley Jackson's work.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) was the lead recommendation, and as I'd really liked the other novel, when October rolled in, I selected it as my Halloween read.

That may or may not have been the best selection specifically for Halloween as it's not necessarily the stuff of the monsters and pumpkins and ghosts I usually associate with the holiday, but everyone does it differently.  Rather, the closest comparison I could draw would be along the lines of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.   But even those are a far cry from this book.

Still, depending on how one were to read it - this book is horror.  Not the creeping uncanny spirits of a ghost tale, or even the realization that the normal is face-to-face with the supernatural.  It's the reader wrestling with an untrustworthy narrator and a creeping descent into something not necessarily sinister but tragic and mad.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Non-Essential Viewing: Rocky Horror Picture Show (2016)

I don't know how to categorize this.  It was a two-hour television "event" on Thursday night, in prime time.  It's a sort of "TV movie", but it's in the manner of one of the live musicals the networks have been doing.  Only, it wasn't live.

It also wasn't... very good.

Look, no one has remade this movie to date because the original is lightning in a bottle.  It was a movie that's still relevant, but a lot of what was taboo or edgy in that film has lost it's subversion as elements have become or are becoming more mainstreamed.  Putting a play/ movie about themes that were still considered unmentionable in the 1970's and turning it into fodder for channel flippers on a Thursday night was going to be difficult - but I almost felt like, Laverne Cox aside, most of the cast didn't really know how this was supposed to work.  And, frankly, it didn't feel like the director or producers knew how to do this, either.

To maybe throw some context on this:  the show/ movie was directed by Kenny Ortega, a name that's not exactly household for me, but he was the brains behind High School Musical.  And, boy howdy, does that explain a lot when you're watching the thing.

Really what struck me while watching this was:  Hot Topic.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Doc Watch: Tower (2016)

About thirty minutes into Tower (2016), I realized that the soundtrack to the film included the ever-present sound of cicadas, a tree-dwelling insect which emits a steady humming that all Central Texans know as the droning background noise of the hottest days of summer.  I'd tuned the sound out the same way we all do, and I began to realize part of why the film felt so immediate - and why the film is so effective.  What the film captures is very real, from glimpses of the University of Texas campus to the sound to the casual chatter about campus life, torn apart on August 1, 1966.

I'd wanted to see this film from when the producers first released footage maybe a year ago.  Then friends saw it as SXSW and had positive things to say, and I was encouraged that the documentary would do the event whatever justice could be done.