Showing posts with label Halloween. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Halloween. Show all posts

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Hammer Watch: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

A few apologies to my brother and Jamie who watched this movie with me.  While technically a horror movie, this one moves along more like a 19th century novel reflecting upon injustices until the last third.  I'm not sure that last third is actually scary - it's more interesting from a science-fiction/ fantasy point of view.

I selected the movie in part because I've been trying to get my head around what Hammer was doing with it's Dracula and Frankenstein films back in the day, and in part because it's the closest to a Bride of Frankenstein film I've noted the studio producing.  It is, of course, absolutely nothing like Bride of Frankenstein, so that was a wash.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Halloween Watch: The Old Dark House (1932)

For years I'd heard of the James Whale movie The Old Dark House (1932), and seen a few seconds here and there in documentaries and whatnot, but I'd never come across a copy of the film itself.  So, anyway, as captain of my own destiny, this October, I finally bought my own DVD of the film.

If you're a fan of what James Whale brought to the screen in Frankenstein and, in particular, Bride of Frankenstein, this is a pretty darn good supplement to those movies.  Not exactly a haunted house movie so much as a "maybe we shouldn't have stopped here" movie, like Frankenstein in particular, it feels almost more like a filmed stage play than a modern film from the blocking to the set design.  It's got some great talent in the movie from Karloff to Ernest Thesiger to a very young Charles Laughton.

This movie is batshit.  Batshit in the best way possible, but batshit.

In short, I'm a fan.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Frankenstein Watch: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

The third Frankenstein movie in the Universal Monsters line of films is not terribly well known among the normals but it's a staple for monster kids.  People who don't know the movie often ask "why is Frankenstein wearing that furry shirt?" when they see pictures from the movie, and - honestly, it's a legit question.*  Son of Frankenstein (1939) picks up a generation after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, when the literal child of Henry and Elizabeth Frankenstein returns to Frankenstein castle to reclaim the family homestead, and, as it turns out, help restore The Monster to fighting form after finding him in a catatonic state.

The movie is not directed by James Whale, and of the original cast, only Karloff returns.  It lacks some of vision of the prior installments, but picks up on and expands some elements, visual and otherwise.  It also softens the story a bit more, providing us with a more sympathetic Dr. Frankenstein in the son of the good doctor.

Overall, it's fairly watchable with some pretty great bits, and at least tries to maintain some level of A-list distinction before the Frankenstein movies would descend down the slope to matinee material.  It's not exactly the world's best movie, but it's still a Halloween-worthy treat.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Halloween Watch: Critters (1986)

Back in the 1980's, I remember seeing a lot of movies like Critters (1986) on the shelf at the local home video rental shoppe.  The boxes would show you a goblin sort of creature, and promised a certain level of horror that wasn't necessarily going to go in for splatter and gore of a Chainsaw variety or even a Freddy Kreuger level of scare.  Maybe some broad humor in there, plots as basic as a Dukes of Hazzard episode.  It was always maybe a little gorier than a modern PG-13 film, but, in retrospect, there's no question that these movies were basically aimed at kids with VCR's.

There's nothing wrong with it, but I wasn't a fan of the sub-sub-genre.

I don't think I was exactly aware the movie was aimed at me as a 12 year-old-or-so as I was when I saw this movie the first time at someone else's house.  My recollection is that the kid was very excited about the movie Critters, and his dad showed up with the movie in hand "hey, I rented CRITTERS!" and I was like "y'okay..." whereas my pal couldn't have been more jazzed had we just been given a stack of fireworks to shoot off all night.  He loved the movie, and I just settled in, because... what are you gonna do?  So, I've seen it once before.

Point of fact - Jamie and I have been together 21 years this month, and I can't tell you how many times she's mentioned liking Critters as a kid.  Or, I guess, watching Critters as a kid.

And so it came to pass that when I said "well, we need to watch something Halloween-ish", she tossed out Critters, and as she has never, ever previously stated a desire to watch any Halloween movie but Young Frankenstein, I just said "y'okay..."

So, we watched Critters.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Halloween Watch: Night of the Demon (1957)

Back when I was a little kid, Jason and I had a few books on movie monsters, and among them was the book Super-Monsters by Daniel Cohen.

On the cover of the book was a really pissed-off looking monster that I kind of assumed was an off-brand Godzilla-type thing (I didn't know the word "Kaiju" until college), and didn't think much about it except that I wasn't sure what movie this monster was actually associated with.   Also, I don't know why my folks were like "hey, look, a snarling hell beast!  The kids'll love it!", but this was the 1970's and back then we were still raising our kids to be ready for anything.

The book had short entries about the plots of various monster movies, and I can trace my interest in those strange creatures to this book.  Even if this same book led me to believe Young Frankenstein was a very odd, badly made Frankenstein movie until I finally  saw it and clued into the Mel Brooks canon.

But I had no idea who the monster was on the cover of this book until about 5-10 years ago when I stumbled across some information about the British horror film, alternately titled Curse of the Demon and Night of the Demon (1957).    Last year I tried to watch this movie on or around Halloween, but realized I was exhausted and didn't pull it off.  And then my DVR went crazy and I lost the recording.

But this year, SimonUK brought it over, and with Steanso in tow, we all gave the movie a whirl.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween from The Signal Watch!

As we now conclude every Halloween, let's wrap it up with the Queen of Halloween! Ladies and Germs... Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!

And now... Thriller

Happy Halloween, EveryBuddy!

Franken-Watch: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

This year on the 80th anniversary of the release of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), I wrote a post celebrating the film.   You're welcome to check out what I said there about the movie.

Each Halloween I now make it a habit to watch a string of horror films from across the past hundred years, and while the rest of what I'll watch I might change up, I always include the first two Frankenstein films from Universal Studios, Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.  Of course I just watched Frankenstein (and I really do recommend catching these movies in the theater, when possible), but I found no listings for the movie here in Austin, so I busted out my BluRay copy.

Let's Get Set for Spookiness

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Watch: Elvira - Mistress of the Dark (1988)

I'm a firm believer that the 1988 film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is both underrated and was ahead of its time.  Fortunately, in the ensuing 20-something years, the movie found its audience on VHS, cable and DVD.

While certainly there were female-centric comedies in the 1980's (see: the career of Goldie Hawn), Elvira's persona was considered something more to gawk at during her first wave of popularity when seen through the filter of media like The Tonight Show than it was seen for its own merits or as something folks were bothering to pay attention to.  Sure, she had genuine fans out there, and the oddly specific nature of Elvira translated surprisingly well to beer ads, etc...

Franken-Watch: Frankenstein (1931) with the Univ. of Texas Wind Ensemble

I don't think it's a secret that Frankenstein (1931) is one of my favorite movies.  For the past 15 years or so, I've watched the movie about annually, and definitely for the last decade that's been true.

For a long time, The University of Texas music department has found Halloween-related activities to put on, and for years one of the faculty would play the organ along with the Chaney-starring Phantom of the Opera, but I never managed to see it.  About a month ago, I figured out that this year, Frankenstein was showing at the Bass Concert Hall, the big theater where travelling Broadway shows often set up camp in Austin.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Watch: The Haunting (1963)

I watched The Haunting (1963) for the first time back around 1999.  I recall that the first two Octobers after I graduated from college, free from homework and other school stuff to do at the time (and with a job that really, genuinely ended at 6:00 most days and had a ten minute commute), I was free to binge-watch scary movies.  And, so, Jamie and I kept heading back to Austin's I Luv Video until she told me to knock it off, she was tired of black and white movies.  I'm still nowhere as caught up as I should be.

It was during those first two Octobers that we rented The Haunting, likely because I'd seen it mentioned somewhere in an article on "must see scary movies", but I've forgotten what got me to reach for the tape in the first place.

I recall we watched it during the day, the blinds closed, and, still, we were both utterly petrified by the movie.   Or, at least as petrified as I ever get from a movie.

Monster movies generally aren't really all that scary - just weird and uncanny.  For scary, I like atmosphere and breaching the unknowable, I guess.  It's probably why stuff like The Shining sticks with me, but I see Friday the 13th as a sort of comedy.  Of course it's suspenseful to wait to see who will get stabbed next, but it's an inevitability.  It's just waiting for a shoe to drop like a punchline.  And gore is gorey and hard to look at, but that doesn't make it necessarily scary.  I don't like looking at rotting hamburger meat and I don't want to touch it, but I'm not scared.  I'm repulsed.

I'll take a good "what the hell is going on?" to qualify as scary in my book.  The unexplainable and inexplicable, add in a dash of madness, and I'll qualify something as scary.  And The Haunting has that in spades.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Monster Watch: The Monster Squad (1987)

When I was about twelve, one of the signs that The Admiral was secretly listening to me, and not just thinking up new and interesting fatherly pearls of wisdom to dole out, was when he took the afternoon off from work to take me to see The Monster Squad (1987).  I'd wanted to see the movie, no one else did (except for him, I guess), and so one day he took the afternoon off in the middle of the week - I guess it was summertime - and we hit the Showplace 6, ate some popcorn and watched Wolfman take one in the crotch.

I recall we both liked it, it was darker than I expected, maybe even a little grittier, and Dracula was straight up frightening in my twelve year old eyes.  And, as anything you consider to be not-dinner-table-conversation occurred, I sort of cringed at having to let my dad know I knew what a virgin was outside of the Christmas story.

The prior year, he'd also taken me to see Little Shop of Horrors when no one else wanted to go, so apparently The Admiral was into taking me to see movies that would bomb at the theater, but gain a following on home video.  But he also got really jazzed at the opportunity to watch old sci-fi movies like War of the Worlds with me, and was always up for a trip to see something like The Last Starfighter or The Untouchables.  Way to go, man.

But, man, it really seemed like nobody else but The Old Man and myself had seen this movie until the last fifteen years.  Although, eventually friends did see it on VHS or cable, as did I.

At some point, maybe in 2008, pal JackBart and I caught a screening at The Alamo Drafthouse with a good chunk of the cast, director Fred Dekker and screenwriter Shane Black in attendance.  The place was packed, the Q&A was great, and the cast and crew pretty forthcoming with details.  I was one of five people who let out a loud whoop when Black mentioned he was working on Doc Savage.

One thing that really stuck with me from that screening was the honest recollection of studio compromise, of what was originally envisioned, and a script that the director felt had been very watered down to serve studio hopes for a Goonies-type film leading to franchise dreams, rather than a movie about adolescents growing up when you know, Dracula shows up.  I'd love to read that original script some day.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (audiobook)

I can't remember the last time I actually read Washington Irving's story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but it remains a fun, spirited read, perfect for a quick fix of harmless Halloween fun as we head to the holiday.

I was quite pleased to realize the audiobook I'd downloaded was read by actor Thomas Mison, who plays Ichabod Crane on television's Sleepy Hollow, and an actor that is just begging for a part somewhere in the Marvel U, but I'm not sure as who, exactly.

If you saw the Disney cartoon or a hundred other adaptations, you know the story - though, ironically, the one place you absolutely will not get the story of Sleepy Hollow is from the television program of the same name, which went off the tracks and into a ditch immediately with its second season and is struggling to make a comeback with the third.

The book, itself, is relayed not so much in a spirit of spookiness, but in good humor that still translates - and, frankly, translates the long gone world in which the novel was written for the modern reader.  The book serves a vastly different purpose than The Haunting of Hill House.  It's a spooky tale meant to reassure the reader and comment upon the Americans of the era and geographic region in folksy ways, and it's practically a cartoon waiting to be adapted, as Mr. Disney did in good fashion.

Because it's of interest, I'll mention the inclusion of black characters in the story in both a caricaturist fashion and as observing faces who clearly find Ichabod Crane absurd so the narrator doesn't have to spell it out.  I don't expect too much in the way of progressive writing in popular fiction of 1820, but it certainly isn't exactly as offensive as one might find elsewhere.

Really, all the characters of the book are broad caricatures in a way, simple impressions to get the general idea across, and when Irving does get specific about Crane, in particular, the idea is to politely understate the absurdity of a self-important buffoon.

The description of the Horseman and ride are vivid, Irving painting a tremendous picture of the Crane's confrontation.  I have to imagine all of this would be a lot of fun to read to a kid at some point.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (audiobook)

I took some suggestions via Facebook for an October read.  Every year I try to read a "scary" book during the month leading up to Halloween, and while I got a number of suggestions (many of which confused "thrilling" with "Halloween scary"), I had to pick one or two and get on with it.  I almost read The Turn of the Screw again, I went for the source material to one of my favorite scary movies, instead.  In the end, I read Shirley Jackson's 1959 book, The Haunting of Hill House.

The book has been adapted into two movies, The Haunting (1963) and The Haunting (1999).  One of these movies is directed by Robert Wise, who never made a bad movie, and the other was done by the guy who made Twister and Speed 2: Cruise Control.  If you liked those movies, your mileage will vary.

The good news is that the book diverges from both movies, and, really, after the introduction of the characters, has very, very little to do with the 1999 big budget CGI-FX driven snoozefest.  In the case of the 1963 adaptation, the movie and book match and diverge in similarity, enough so that I really wasn't sure what to expect from chapter to chapter.  Really, though, it's the perspective of the book that provides the greatest difference for the reader, and provides an experience the movie simply cannot as the camera must always show something going on, and cannot rely on the reflections of the characters in the same way.  The characters simply are on the screen, perhaps with hints of something otherwise, but the frame has to capture an interpretation one way or another.

Eleanor is a 32 year old woman who has spent her entire adult life caring for her sickly mother.  She has no profession, no friends, no home of her own as she is now in limbo, living with a sister who has inherited her mother's prickly nature and the sister's boorish husband and young daughter.  At some point in the distant past, she experienced a supernatural event as stones rained down upon her house, an act she grew up believing was the work of unkind neighbors, and perhaps it was.  We can't know for certain.

A parapsychologist, Dr. Montague, has scoured the country for those who have experienced legitimate psychic events, and has invited them to the mysterious Hill House, a 19th Century mansion built to house the family of an industrialist with what seems to have been an unhealthy parenting style for his two young girls.  The house was believed "born bad", already evil before the many deaths that occurred in the house even began.

The house itself is built with doors that hang at an angle to shut, walls that are not exactly at the right angle, and various optical illusions meant to make the house a showplace of the era in which it was built.  The effect, however, seems to unsettle and confuse visitors, not create any sense of wonder.

Of the many invitations sent, only two visitors arrive, Eleanor - who may have once had stones hurled at her by unseen forces, and Theodora, a beatnik who may be able to catch glimpses of the thoughts of others.  Also, the young man who stands to inherit the house, an idler and wanna-be playboy, Luke.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lagoon Watch: The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

I quite like the original Creature From the Black Lagoon.  It's just really well shot, has a compelling story, and it is nigh-impossible to beat the creature design.  I just love the way that fella looks.

I'd love to see an updated remake, but when I consider what it'd be like without Julie Adams, well, I have a moment of pause.  And it's that moment of pause that's kept me from ever watching the sequels, two of which I own on a DVD set I purchased at least a decade ago.  But I told myself I was going to watch both sequels this October, because, hey... why not?  I mean, aside from the glaring mistake of not including Julie Adams.

This one image is more or less that whole movie in a nutshell

Alas, we're not here to ponder Julie Adams.  We're here to talk about the inevitable Universal sequel, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).  Actually, it's the sequel to the sequel, but I watched the damn things out of order, so, there you go.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Full Review of Kino Lorber's "Phantom of the Opera" 2-disc BluRay collection

Lon Chaney, man of 1,000 faces, as The Phantom of the Opera.
Credit Kino Lorber

Preamble:  This review was originally released at Texas Public Radio.  As I'm a bit obsessive about losing columns at other sites, I'm archiving it here.  But, if you haven't read this one yet, I recommend clicking the link back to TPR and giving them a hit rather than reading here.

Full disclosure - The disc was a review copy provided by Kino Lorber to Texas Public Radio, and this column was edited with the generous help of NathanC of TPR.  

2015 marks the 90th anniversary of the release of seminal American horror/thriller, The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney. The film stands as a hallmark of both horror film and silent cinema, and as a survivor of the many mishaps and hardships that befell many other films of the era. Today, it continues to thrill audiences.

This fall, Kino Lorber delivers a terrific two-disc Blu-ray set which fans of the film will enjoy as they dig in to the treasure trove of special features, and those newly arrived to the film can enjoy for the magnificent presentation and contextualizing available in the special features.

Lon Chaney, in both his make-up and performance as Erik, remains such a recognizable concept that The Phantom of the Opera has endured in the popular imagination while the film’s contemporaries have faded, surviving mostly in the domain of serious film buffs and historians. The film stamped itself onto the zeitgeist thanks not just to the film’s perennial Halloween showings, but because it brought audiences something both novel and universal in its shadowy tale of outsiders and the chilling wonder of the unknown.