Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror. Show all posts

Monday, August 29, 2016

Super Krime Double Bill: The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

The Alamo is an interesting place because they do show exploitation films, they do show controversial material, and at those special screenings, they usually have a host put a frame around what you're about to see.  This movie was shown as part of the "Super Krime" series which also contained last week's Danger: Diabolik, but was the riskier showing, certainly.  For pop-cultural anthropologists, there's a lot to chew on here from the casting to the racial issues to the pre-code genre-ambiguity and content and - for modern pop-culture which so often includes super-villains in the mix, Fu Manchu lays out the blueprint for so much of what would come afterwards.

By today's standards, your grandparents were racist as hell.  Even if they were hip, bohemian folks - by the rules of what non-awful people consider decency and mannered public discourse, what you'd hear come out of Grandma and Grandpa's mouths was likely to get them the side-eye at Thanksgiving - but we're all a reflection of a time and a place.  Attitudes change.  Society, hopefully, advances.  Insert your own election-related joke here.

I am not a paid or professional film historian or scholar, but I have an interest in the history of pop culture and the film industry as well as genre film and whatnot.  A few years ago, I came across a picture of Myrna Loy playing the daughter of Boris Karloff in a film I'd never seen.  The catch: they're both in yellowface as the nefarious Fu Manchu and his daughter.

A bit more digging told me that this movie was once a favorite, included in some circles as a premier classic horror film of sorts.

But you can't get access to a Fu Manchu film all that easily (and there are many), and it's something that doesn't screen all that often - a bit like the President's Day sequence in Holiday Inn (which they simply excise when they show it as it doesn't advance the plot, but it does feature a whole lotta your beloved Hollywood favorites in black face*).  And, yeah, I saw the movie featured yellowface, and cast most of the Eastern hemisphere in a nasty light, so it made a bit of sense to me that the studio was in no big hurry to remind the world they had the film in the collection.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mad Watch: Mad Love (1935)

We all grew up liking Peter Lorre thanks to the many imitations Mel Blanc performed of his voice in a sea of WB cartoons, and if that worked for you, I can't really recommend enough catching him in roles from his younger days, such as this film - Mad Love (1935) - or in something like The Maltese Falcon.

I'd recorded Mad Love during TCM's October horror movie sprint, but, a bit like The Black Cat, its a tough one to pin down exactly as a horror film, but it's a label that works better than, say "rom-com" in this instance.  Not only does the film partake in acts of horror and madness, it actually begins within a theater clearly meant to be the original Grand Guignol (a topic worth reading up on if you've got a minute).

Not only does the film star Lorre, we also get Colin Clive, an actor I've enjoyed in Frankenstein films but who pops up all too infrequently in other roles.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Evil Dead Watch: Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 1, Episode 1

It was with absolutely zero trepidation that I plunked down my subscription for the otherwise seemingly useless Starz channels that I could watch the new TV series, Ash vs. Evil Dead.  I'm not a grade-A screwhead, but I am a fan of the Evil Dead movies, star Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi.

We also get Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago as the new generation to ride shotgun with Ash.

It certainly didn't hurt my decision to get onboard that the show would co-star Lucy Lawless, who - spoilers - does not actually appear in the pilot aside from her credit.  So, sorry about that.

What the pilot does have is a remarkable mix of comedy and horror in the Evil Dead 2 tradition, a supporting cast that seems to fit well into the Evil Dead spirit, and a parallel storyline with actress Jill Marie Jones, who looks vaguely familiar because she was briefly on Sleepy Hollow.

I don't really know what you people want to hear.  It's a first episode, and much like Supergirl, it's working itself out as a show, but it's one that will rely perhaps on less of a single tone for the characters.  Because if Bruce Campbell has figured anything out in this life, it's how to be Ash and what will make his fans cheer.  The show is a hard-MA or R rating, and the gore factor is tuned up to Evil Dead 2 levels with improbable amounts of blood in the human body, and Raimi clearly happy to exploit CGI to get more creative exploding heads and whatnot.  While the non-practical FX take a beat to adjust to, of course it makes sense that the show would exploit the potential there.

Ash seems to have accidentally unleashed hell on Earth once again, but rather than doing so in a secluded cabin, he's let it out in suburban Michigan in a way that, frankly, it seems surprising he hasn't done in the previous 30 years since the events of Evil Dead 2 and his return to the world, which we can pin to 1985, meaning his return from Army of Darkness occurred during the correct timeframe.

Anyway, I'm pretty much in the bag for this one, so don't expect a lot of critical viewing of this show.  My biggest fear was it would be neither funny nor scary, and before we ever even get the title up, bother were more than taken care of.

Oh, the show must have drawn in a massive flood of Starz subscribers, because it was renewed before it ever even aired.  So, look forward to two seasons of Evil Dead mayhem.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween Watch: Revenge of The Creature (1955)

Firstly, yes, this movie absolutely features a very young Clint Eastwood as a scientist in a walk-on part.  My jaw was on the floor.

Secondly, there is no Julie Adams in this movie.  Lori Nelson is fine, but... yeah.

Thirdly, apparently you can see this movie as an episode of MST3K, so you know what I'm doing with my Thanksgiving break.

I literally have no idea why (a) it seems like Universal really struggled with making a good Creature of the Black Lagoon movie after the first movie, and (b) why someone hasn't remade a Creature movie in recent years when, frankly, the formula shouldn't be complicated.  He's a super strong lake-monster with claws and a penchant for destruction.  Get on it, Universal.

I promised myself I'd watch the two remaining Universal Creature sequels this Halloween season as I'd owned them for about 10 years and never watched them, always totally happy to watch the first film.  The first sequel screening went a little poorly.  For me.  But I'd watched the movies out of order, jumping from the stellar first to the third film which killed the franchise.

Tuesday evening I took in Revenge of the Creature (1955), a sequel released just a year after the 1954 original.

The logic of the set-up isn't that crazy.  We had survivors in the prior film, and the stories they told spawned interest in the Gill Man.  Thus, someone finances a hunting expedition of sorts to the Black Lagoon to capture or kill the creature and bring him back to civilization.  It was the middle of the 20th Century.  We could shoot or kill or displace whatever we wanted to for science.

Whereas the first film took place on the creature's home turf, we've duped ol' Gill Man into our trap and within 20 minutes we're somewhere in Florida in this movie, placing Gil in a tank at a proto-Sea World.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Watch: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

As An American Werewolf in London (1981) concludes, the screen goes dark, and then the following appears on screen:
Lycanthrope films limited wishes to extend its heartfelt congratulations to Lady Diana Spencer and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the occasion of their marriage - July 29th 1981
It's one of the oddest moments in an incredibly odd horror film, one that was part of the 1980's deconstruction of media tropes as the generation of film and media students got jobs in the world and Marshall McLuhan's ideas trickled into the zeitgeist.

The internet suggests that the tag regarding the marriage of Prince Charles is there as a sort of pre-emptive apology to Charles for hurling a homophobic slur at him in the course of a scene where our lead character is trying to get arrested, but it's also part of the undercurrent of the alien nature of an American in England, werewolf or not, that's part of the movie.  With England's somewhat stricter censorship rules of the time, perhaps that bit might have required an edit for a UK release.  I don't know.  But it's just one more bit of an American trying to behave himself in England and making a mess of it, as something that can't possibly be taken as anything less than an eye-rolling apology to propriety.  Frankly, I don't know how any American would meet such a congratulatory message with anything but a groan or chuckle at the end of a brutal werewolf rampage and Creedence blasting from the Dolby sound system.

You know, this is the same filmmaker who brought us Animal House just a few years before.

We didn't necessarily need to meet any particular criteria for what a horror movie was, anymore, Landis was saying.  We can be genuinely funny.  We can be snarky and a but subversive.  And we can be absurd.  But none of that, he seemed to be saying, really makes a good werewolf rampage any less horrific.  Just, you know, bizarre.

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 18, 2015

Halloween Watch: The Black Cat (1934)

I know I rented this movie once before (on VHS, to put a date on it) but I realized in watching it that I had no recollection of the movie, which means I didn't really watch it the first time.

The Black Cat (1934) marks the most famous pairing of Lugosi and Karloff,  and while it is most certainly a horror film of a type, it's in no way a creature-feature or monster film.  It's a movie that would predate a lot of later horror films from Karloff and Lugosi as they adapted Poe, and, of course, later films with Vincent Price.

American honey-mooners Joan and Peter Allison are seeing post-WWI and pre-WWII Eastern Europe by train when they meet Lugosi, who plays a doctor who is en route to see an old friend.  From the station, they travel together to head to the next town in a bus which slides off the road near the friend's house, killing the driver and injuring Joan.  All of them head to the house, a fantastic bauhaus-style mansion.

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.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Ed Watch: Ed Wood (1994)

Really, Ed Wood (1994) could not have come out at a better time for me, personally.  I was 19ish and headed into the production track for Film at Univ. of Texas.  The movie landed with a thud in theaters (less than $6 million at the box office on an $18 million budget), but I think found its audience on home video.  Maybe not a huge audience, but I'm not really sure what anyone expected from a biopic about an unknown figure of questionable contribution to humanity, shot in black and white, that involved staunch support of cross-dressing, and, arguably, it's biggest star circa 1994 was Bill Murray who was in a smaller part.

The movie meant a lot to me at the time as a wanna-be filmmaker - especially as I realized I would always be one of questionable talent and choice-making, and even today I rank it pretty highly not just among my favorite Tim Burton movies, but among movies in general.  And, as we went through film school, it basically gave us a script to quote from, not the least being "Let's shoot this @#$%er!"

If you haven't seen it, and don't know what I'm talking about, Ed Wood tells the story of Writer/ Actor/ Director/ Producer of B-pictures, Edward D. Wood, Jr., who was considered, for many years, the worst director to ever make movies.  And if you've seen his most popular offerings, Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space, they make a pretty strong case for that supposition.*

Ed (Johnny Depp) is a man of big Hollywood dreams, who wants to create the same movies that inspired him, like Dracula and Citizen Kane, but his stabs at creative work via live theater aren't really panning out, and he can't get funding until he hears about a small studio thinking of making a biopic of Christine Jorgensen, one of the first Americans to undergo gender re-assignment surgery.  Ed lands the job by revealing he understands Christine as he, himself, likes to dress in women's clothing.  Of course, Ed's actually a cross-dresser, not transgendered in the same way, and so he delivers a completely different movie with Glen or Glenda?, which is basically his own story.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Halloween Watch: The Mummy (1932)

Hot on the heels of the success of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), Universal wanted to catch lightning in a bottle for third time, so they threw in the Egyptology craze that was still echoing a bit after the King Tut discoveries of 1923.*

if the poster makes you think this movie is about a dead guy and a gal in slinky dresses, you are correct

The Mummy (1932) isn't my favorite Universal horror film, but every time I watch it, I like it a bit more.  It's part Dracula, part Jack Pierce make-up genius, has loads of Karloff, a mythology that's been ripped off so many times it feels almost bland in 2015, and Zita Johann, who is busily trying to compete with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford for most memorable eyes in a Hollywood film, 1932.

Weirdly, it's only really book-ended by thrills at the beginning and end of the film, and the rest of the movie is sort of a slow, mystical boil.  For my dollar, one of the creepiest things in a Universal Horror film is the opening of The Mummy's eyes in the first few minutes of the movie.  It's everything you absolutely do not want to see happen around a guy who has been dead for 3 millennia.  And all of that works thanks to the astounding conception of the scene in lighting, make-up, direction and Karloff.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Halloween Watch: Trick 'r Treat (2007)

Well, this was a nice surprise.  I think a few of you had suggested this one to me over the years, but I'd always look at the poster and think "eh, this is one of those movies with a 'scary' antagonist that's more visually interesting than actually all that scary".

I watched the movie with pal SimonUK, and as the WB logo went up, he said "You know, I think this is going to be one of those movies people wind up watching every Halloween."   Which, about 2/3rds of the way into the movie, I paused the movie and said "yes, I can see why you'd say that, and I think you're right on the money."

That's So Craven! We watch "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "The Hills Have Eyes"

When Wes Craven died, I realized I'd only seen a portion of his filmography.  Sure, I'd seen Scream and a few Freddy movies, but I'd never seen his two earliest hits, The Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left.

It had been 20 years or more since I'd last seen A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and I am pretty sure the last time I watched it all the way through was in high school.  There's no question there is genuine horror and a great bit at work in this movie, but there are also some clunky moments, and we're far from thinking of Freddy as the wise-ass franchise character he'd become in subsequent movies.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Dead Watch: Evil Dead 2

What to even say about Evil Dead 2?

I assume a good chunk of the folks who come to this page routinely will have already seen it, and the folks strolling by looking for Evil Dead II info are already in.  It's not like we're talking about either a new or particularly obscure movie.  If you haven't seen it and you can tolerate some gore, it's a worthy entry for your Halloween watching.

For all of the rest of us - it holds up now as well as it ever did.  So, you know, depending on what you already think, your mileage is just going to vary.

This is the Evil Dead Sam Raimi and Co. made after the success of The Evil Dead and the failure of Crimewave (I've never the latter film, but I know it tanked at the box office).

It's a movie that's ridiculously simple, and, given a second go at the idea, the crew improves on the original by abandoning the horror tropes that made the first entry just one more movie where something happens to high schoolers in a cabin in the woods and, instead, throws strangers together against the evil that's been unleashed.  It's an odd mish-mash of genre, from horror to action to slapstick, but I'd argue that it works pretty well.

It's no secret this isn't a direct sequel to The Evil Dead so much as a replacement for that movie.  Evil Dead 2 cannibalizes portions of the first movie to establish Ash, but makes way for everything else the movie wants to do, creating an all new cast of victims characters.

I'll never say anything bad about the movie because I don't think there's anything wrong with the movie.  I've never really gotten over the first time I saw it, in a good way.  I won't say it inspired me to go to film school or any of that, but it's a reminder that in the middle of splatter-fest horror movie, you should be enjoying yourself, or else I don't even know what you're doing watching the movie.

The only downside to the movie is that it's absolutely at it's best when it's just Bruce Campbell fighting the Evil Dead on his lonesome.  You can't really do that for a whole movie, but while it lasts, it's maybe one of my top 20 favorite scenes in any movie.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dead Watch: The Evil Dead (1981)

As I recently read the Bruce Campbell memoir, If Chins Could Kill, it seemed fitting to revisit the 1981 film that got Campbell in front of audiences, The Evil Dead (1981).

Firstly, for the many of you who have seen the movie before, I picked this up in a restored HD BluRay transfer, and this is by far the best presentation of the movie I've ever seen.  The disc actually had two aspect ratio options for viewing, and I selected the original 1:33/ 1 ratio, because, why would I not?  The 1:88/1 ratio option is weird.

The sound elements and picture elements have been cleaned up enough that the muddiness I've associated with the movie for years have been sharpened up to the point you'd never know this was shot on 16mm.  The colors look great and the dialog has lost that "in a well" quality I felt it had last time I saw the flick, which, honestly was either on cable or VHS.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: If Chins Could Kill, by Bruce Campbell

I'd almost picked this book up at Borders during its hardback, first-release era, and didn't, and was pretty aware if I did buy it, I'd never sit down to read it.  So Bruce never got any of my money from this project, but I was chatting with PaulT about Bruce Campbell, and I think he recommended the book.  Anyway, I thought "well, if he reads it himself, this could be all right."

And, sure enough, in 2010 or so he did record an audiobook version.  It seems the digital version led to a new edition as there are essentially three endings in the audiobook, and I suspect that since the initial book came out in 2002 and we didn't get an audiobook til 2010, and there was a surprisingly lengthy section after I initially thought the book was over with about the book tour, something got added somewhere.

If you don't know Bruce Campbell, he's most famous for his role as Ash in Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.  If none of those movies ring a bell, we have nothing to say to one another.  I don't love horror, but its fair to say the Evil Dead trilogy transcends genre and is its own, hard-to-pin-down thing.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Wes Craven Merges With The Infinite

The thing about being my age is that so many of the names we grew up with, who were just doing amazing work during my youth, are beginning to pass.

My social media is flooded with the news that writer/ director/ producer Wes Craven has passed at the age of 76.

If you grew up in the era I did, you saw Wes Craven movies one way or another.  Most famous of his movies, likely, is A Nightmare on Elm Street, something I was already planning to re-watch this Halloween and now have a moral obligation to take in.

He also brought us The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing, The People Under the Stairs and Scream.

Here's my film-school story about Scream.

JAL managed a theater when we were in college.  They were showing Scream after they wrapped the rest of the movies in that theater.  It was all the way across town, and I don't really like horror movies, and I was just feeling cranky, and, etc....

JAL:  Do you want to see Scream tonight at the tech screening?
Me:  Man, I don't want to see that movie.  It's just some slasher shit, and it's going to be a total hassle.
JAL:  Wes Craven directed it.
Me:  What time does it start?

We'll miss you, Wes.  You were one of the good ones.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sci-Fi Watch: The Thing From Another World (1951)

I'm a big fan of the 1982 John Carpenter sci-fi horror flick, The Thing, but I'd never seen Howard Hawks produced The Thing From Another World (1951) - the movie upon which the Carpenter film was based.

I recorded it off TCM at some point and finally got around to watching it, which was well timed as I'd been having a twitter-convo with some of y'all about whether remakes and sequels were really out of control.*

Friday, May 1, 2015

Horror Watch: House of Wax (1953)

I have to get up and go on vacation at a super weird early hour, but I re-watched House of Wax (1953), and it's still a great movie.  Maybe not as great as when you watch it the first time when you're 14 because 26 years later you already know how the creeping horror of the movie winds up - but I think Price is just great in this movie.

And one day I'll see it in 3D and see the thrilling PADDLE-BALL scene the way it was INTENDED.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

80's Watch: The Hunger (1983)

I don't think I've watched The Hunger (1983) since I was living with pal CarlaBeth back in college, so - wow, almost 20 years ago.  Which means that Jamie, who I started dating at the time, has been saying "The Hunger of David Bowie!" then "I sure do fancy a cheeseburger!" at me in an iffy British accent for almost two decades.

My, how time passes.

Which is exactly what this movie is about, by the way.

I was a bit surprised to see the movie show up on Turner Classic.  I mean, yeah, it's more than 3 decades old, but I have no recollection of TCM previously throwing caution to the wind and going ahead and showing partial nudity or that much blood.  And, this being a vampire movie, boy howdy is there a lot of blood.  And Bauhaus!  Those Andy Hardy movies are way low on their offering of Bauhaus.