Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trivia Time Part Eight : The Answers.

Another good week at the old trivia contest.

Good work Rick(see I can admit it) ShariLee, and Gilby. Here are the answers to those you missed.

#3. The station was KABC Channel 7 in LA.
#4. Soupy's Network show was on Friday night on ABC.
#7. Brain Buster #3 Composers who have had their work "removed" a short list includes: Elmer Bernstein, Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, John Barry, George Delerue , Hanns Zimmer, Maurice Jarre, James Horner, and Jerry Goldsmith

Rick just remember your free pass is NOW OVER. Good Luck this month.

31 Days of Halloween: The Good Doctors Get Their Just Desserts in The Abominable Dr. Phibes

For the majority of his career, Vincent Price was not taken seriously as an actor and was most often associated with the horror genre. But just watch him in a small role like Laura (1944), which he plays straight, and you’ll witness a fine actor at work. Or have a look at Champagne for Caesar (1950), a rare comedic opportunity for the man, which he pulls off with the greatest of ease.
The lanky gent always brought a touch of class to his pictures. Many of the horror films in which he starred had an otherworldly quality (e.g., 1958's The Fly or 1953's House of Wax), and his acting style grounded these stories. Some critics considered his acting too theatrical, but his particular method made it easy to embrace his characters, men who could rise above the viciously fanatical odds -– like being the only one left to battle a world ripe with vampires in The Last Man on Earth (1964).
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) is Vincent Price at his absolute best. Dr. Anton Phibes is presumed dead from a car crash, but the doctor has survived and is hideously disfigured. He had been speeding to the hospital to see to his sickly wife, Virginia. Unfortunately, Virginia dies, and Phibes blames the doctors and nurse present during the failed operation. He consequently unleashes his vengeance in the form of murders inspired by the Biblical Plagues, such as frogs, locusts, blood, etc. This leads to a number of highly creative death sequences, particularly the one to signify "frogs" (hint: don't accept masks from strangers, even if you've forgotten to wear one to a costume ball).
Price is smashingly good as the determined and crazed titular character. His plan is absurd and unbelievable, but he executes it with such gusto that you cannot help but to completely sympathize with him. One such example of the audience's empathy for Dr. Phibes is a humorous bit when the doctor is leaving a room and returns to offer Dr. Longstreet a look of aversion concerning a relatively brazen painting hanging on the wall. It is difficult as a viewer to not concur with the doctor's apparent distaste for the painting. It is likewise easy to forget that sitting directly under the picture are eight bottles filled with Longstreet's blood, which has been meticulously drained by Dr. Phibes.
Virginia North plays Dr. Phibes' seemingly emotionless and never-speaking assistant, and despite the fact that she has not a single line of dialogue, she is remarkable. Director Robert Fuest offers a stylish interpretation of Dr. Phibes' bloodthirsty setpieces. The only notable shortcoming for the film is a rather bland performance from Joseph Cotton, playing one of the doctor's potential victims. The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a film that can turn a Vincent Price novice into a fan.
A sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, followed the next year and was just as good as the first. Although not an additional sequel, Theatre of Blood (1973) was very similar in terms of plot and style, the story of a former Shakespearean actor targeting his critics with murders based on Shakespeare’s plays. The two Phibes movies and Theatre of Blood would make a first-rate triple feature!

Friday, October 30, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: What Lies in the Shadows in The 7th Victim?

Mary Gibson, attending a Catholic school, is informed that her sister, Jacqueline, has not paid her tuition in six months. Concerned for her sister, who is apparently missing, Mary travels to New York and discovers that Jacqueline has sold her business to a partner. Additionally, she rented a room above an Italian restaurant, changed the lock on the door and left, returning a few times only to dine and pay a monthly rent. Mary pleads with the restaurant owners to open Jacqueline's apartment, Room 7, where they see a single chair sitting underneath a hanging noose. Irving August, a private investigator, wants to help Mary find her sister (mostly because he was told to stay off the case), but things take a turn for the worse when someone is murdered.

Well known producer Val Lewton was hired by RKO Pictures to produce low budget horror films with titles provided by the studio. When the first film,
Cat People (1942), proved a hit, Lewton was allowed much control over the pictures. He insisted that the directors cover many scenes in shadows and imply the impending horror, like the attacks in Jacques Tourneur's Leopard Man (1943). But whether or not there was a monster or a physical evil, Lewton's movies all contained a somber ambience and a sense of doom lurking in the dark.

In The 7th Victim (1943), there is a feeling of dread throughout the movie. In the opening scene, Mary learns that her sister, her only living relative, is missing. Jacqueline's room represents the way in which she wants to live, as if she could control her life by knowing when and how she would die. She does not want to be unaware of her time of death, but would rather decide for herself. In a terrific sequence, Mary and the P.I. break into the building housing Jacqueline's company. A long hallway leads to a door (which is the only locked room in the building, according to August), and the hallway is hidden mostly in shadow. Without having a clear reason for being frightened, the two debate on who should be the one to continue down the dark corridor. Another great scene is when Mary is threatened while taking a shower. Predating Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), a silhouette of the character appears on the shower curtain as Mary is harshly told to stop looking for Jacqueline.

Mary does learn about what has happened to her sister, but it is best to watch the film knowing as little as possible. It is a movie which thrives on fear of the unknown, and Mark Robson handles the directing reins wonderfully. With Lewton as producer, he also directed
The Ghost Ship (1943), Isle of the Dead (1945) and Bedlam (1946), the latter two starring Boris Karloff. Kim Hunter, in her film debut, gives a strong showing as Mary. Hunter would later earn an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: Gargoyles Take Flight in an Offbeat 1972 Made-for-TV Film

A rare network TV-movie excursion into visual horror, Gargoyles opens with a prologue that explains the ancient creatures are the devil's offspring and are reborn every 600 years. They exist to “battle against man to gain dominion of the earth.” This theme closely parallels horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, in which creatures known as The Old Ones lurk in a parallel world, waiting to regain control of this world from mankind.

Set in Mexico, Gargoyles gets off to a slow start, with anthropologist Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt from Sisters) visiting an isolated, rundown tourist trap called Uncle Willie's Desert Museum. The skeptical Boley thinks it's a trick when Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss) shows him the skeleton of a gargoyle, but he's intrigued enough to listen to the old man. Willie tells Boley and Diana about the folklore surrounding Devil's Crossing, an area of mountain caves where strange creatures were believed to live. As night falls and the winds howl, the three humans hear the sound of flapping wings. Something lands on the roof of Willie's shack and a claw tears through the thin aluminum. The shack suddenly caves in on Willie and catches fire. Boley and Diana abandon the old-timer and escape with a gargoyle skull.
Jennifer Salt as Diana.

After another winged creature attacks them on the road, the father and daughter seek safety in a nearby town where they check into the Cactus Motel. The following night, the gargoyles steal the skull, but during their escape, one of the them is struck by a speeding truck. Boley takes the gargoyle corpse back to his motel room and makes immediate plans to transport it to Los Angeles. However, a short time later, the gargoyles return with reinforcements. They knock Boley unconscious, recover the dead gargoyle—and kidnap Diana. Boley’s attempt to rescue his daughter results in an offbeat ending for broadcast television of that era (but I'll leave it at that).

Bernie Casey gives an intelligent performance as the head gargoyle. He exudes menace and generates a surprising amount of sexual tension, especially in a scene in which he kneels over an unconscious Diana and fondles her face and hair. The Emmy-winning Stan Winston make-up is marvelous, complete with wings, horns, a pointy chin, white eyes, and vampiric fangs. Sadly, the supporting gargoyles don't look as good as their leader, undoubtedly the result of a low budget.

Cornel Wilde and Jennifer Salt.
The scenes inside the gargoyles’ lair add some depth to the film. The gargoyles look very human-like as they cuddle their newly-hatched babies. Except for their leader, they don't look or act evil. For a brief part of the film, these lizard-like creatures come across as misunderstood victims. It's only when the head gargoyle threatens Boley that we realize these creatures are mankind's enemies.

I first saw Gargoyles on the CBS Tuesday Night Movie in 1972. It struck me as refreshingly different from the majority of made-for-TV movies. That distinction has only increased over the years—and so has my affection for the film (despite its obvious flaws). I fear, though, that I may be in the minority. That said, I am lucky enough to have family members (especially my wife) who willingly watch it with me because they know I enjoy it. A Gargoyles fan couldn't ask for more!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: Rosemary's Baby

A landmark film of the horror genre, Rosemary's Baby (1968) also marked Roman Polanski's U.S directorial debut. The film, a runaway hit on release, was the prototype that inspired the onslaught of big-budget "A" horror films that followed: The Exorcist, The Omen, etc.

In the tradition of Hitchcock, Polanski achieves his effects with little overt violence and gore but much finesse. Like Hitchcock, Polanski masterfully commandeers the emotions of his audience. Drawn into Rosemary's point of view and her growing alarm, the viewer becomes increasingly aware that something is very wrong but, like Rosemary, doesn't grasp exactly what has happened until the final scenes.

This suspense is propelled by a deliberate ambiguity that implies Rosemary's fright may have a rational explanation (women do have difficult pregnancies), that her fears may be paranoia-based (though related to an infamous Satanist, her neighbors could just be a pair of elderly oddballs). On the other hand, the storyline and action are such that the viewer has difficulty simply writing off Rosemary's anguish to imagination and coincidence. Equally ambiguous throughout much of the film are the majority of the characters. While Rosemary remains constant as the naive young wife, those around her are more enigmatic - from her ambitious actor husband and her intrusive neighbors to her wise and kindly old doctor. Cleverly, several of the most villainous characters are also the most comically eccentric.

The subtle intermingling of suspense with irony and humor is one of the film's distinctive qualities. A few unforgettable scenes: Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) are having dinner with her friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) who describes the Bramford building's ghoulish history (including a pair of sisters who devoured children) as he carves lamb at the dinner table...a graphic and shocking suicide scene in front of the Bramford simultaneously introduces the Castevets: Minnie (Ruth Gordon), dressed and made up in the manner of an over-the-top Christmas tree, and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), clad as though vaudeville was still alive and well...and finally, when Rosemary sees her baby for the first time she, uncomprehending, shrieks, "What have you done to its eyes?" Roman Castevet adroitly responds, "He has his father's eyes"...

Another of the film's delights is its painstaking recreation of the time in which it was set, late 1965 to mid-1966. Costume designer Anthea Sylbert precisely captured that timeframe's contemporary look with Rosemary's short shift dresses (some with peter pan collars), a long and luxurious plaid skirt, red chiffon lounging pajamas. Rosemary has her blunt-cut pageboy snipped short by Vidal Sassoon, she relaxes at home reading Sammy Davis, Jr.'s book Yes, I Can, the Pope's visit to New York is glimpsed on TV, and Time Magazine's famous "Is God Dead?" cover is shown on a waiting room table.

The hand-picked supporting cast includes especially solid performances by Patsy Kelly and Ralph Bellamy. Uncredited but in an acknowledged key role is The Dakota, a famed gothic confection at 72nd and Central Park West. The Dakota starred as the Bramford, and exteriors were shot there. Because filming was not allowed inside, its interiors were recreated at Paramount. Significantly, the film begins and ends with aerial views of the building.

Roman Polanski deftly combined the trademark elements of his style (atmospheric location, psychological distress, irony, dark humor, an endangered and isolated protagonist), his penchant for meticulous craftsmanship and the high gloss afforded by Hollywood to create a masterpiece that has developed a legend all its own over the years...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cafe du Cinema Society Discusses Carol Reed's The Third Man

Welcome to our second Cafe du Cinema discussion group. Each month, we're selecting a film that's showing on TCM, giving everyone about a week to watch it, and then sharing our views on the movie in this forum. This month, we picked The Third Man, starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, which TCM broadcast last Wednesday, 21 October. I'm going to omit a plot synopsis because I assume all discussion participants have seen the movie. My goal is just to get the discussion started.
Rather than lead off the discussion with my views of the film (which might surprise you), I wanted to kick it off with this quote from Danny Peary in his book Guide for the Film Fanatic: "Reed conveys a world out of order, where good men do evil deeds, where the British and the Russians work side by side, where betrayal is more moral than loyalty (which I believe the film's major theme)."

Do you agree with Peary on the film's major theme? What was your assessment of The Third Man?

A Different Kind of Super Man in "The Power"

The poster makes it look
like a horror film.
Absent-minded Professor Henry Hallson (Arthur O'Connell) sets the The Power into motion when he reveals that one of his colleagues at a research center for human endurance has “an intelligence quotient beyond the known limits of measurability.” The catch is that Hallson does not know the identity of the superbrain, because he made his discovery while administering an anonymous questionnaire. Hallson presents his results to his skeptical peers at a committee meeting. They scoff at him, but one of them suggests that such a superbrain should be able to move a piece of paper telekinetically. When the committee members try individually, the paper doesn't budge. But when they concentrate as a group, it spins around and rises off the table. That evening, Hallson is murdered in a centrifuge.

The most obvious suspects are the committee members: chairman Jim Tanner (George Hamilton); geneticist Margery Lansing (Suzanne Pleshette), who has a romantic relationship with Tanner; physicist Carl Melniker (Nehemiah Persoff); biologist Talbot “Scotty” Scott (Earl Holliman); N. E. Van Zandt (Richard Carlson); and Arthur Nordlund (Michael Rennie), a government V.I.P. who attended the fateful meeting.

After Tanner survives a “telekinetic attack,” he sets out to determine the identity of the superbrain who killed Hallson and threatens the existence of mankind. His investigation uncovers a mysterious man in Hallson's past named Adam Hart. Tanner becomes convinced that Hart is the man with the power—a power so great that he can alter how he physically appears to people. Hallson's father describes Hart as a gypsy with “cold black shifty eyes,” while a waitress in a diner remembers him as a blue-eyed blonde who “gave her goose pimples all over.” But which one of the committee members is Hart?

As a mystery, The Power seems to draw its inspiration from Agatha Christie's classic mystery novel And Then There None. In Christie's book, potential murder suspects are eliminated when they are killed one by one. The murderer hides his identity through a simple, but ingenious, trick. Both plot devices are employed in The Power, though to reveal precisely how would spoil the fun for first-time viewers. Suffice to say that John Gay's script plays fair with the audience and the outcome should come as no surprise to the discerning viewer.

Hamilton with Suzanne Pleshette.
From a science-fiction perspective, the most interesting aspect of the film lies in its treatment of the power. At first, we are led to believe that it can move objects (e.g., the paper) or make them disappear altogether (e.g., Tanner's transcripts). However, as the movie progresses, a different view of the power emerges—it appears that the Adam Hart can alter people's perceptions of reality. In other words, it's unlikely that the transcripts physically disappeared. Instead, the Hart made the police detective think that the papers never existed, just as he makes another character think his heart is stopping. This intriguing constructivist approach to viewing the world lies below the surface of the mystery plot, but nevertheless holds strong appeal to sci-fi fans.

Film critic Pauline Kael found The Power “lacklustre,” while sci fi reference book writer John Baxter hailed it as “one of the finest of all science fiction films.” Can they be talking about the same movie? They are, of course. While most critics tend to agree with Kael’s assessment, there are also those of us who admire The Power for its fascinating premise and unusual plot (which mixes mystery with science fiction).

This Week's Poll: What's your favorite Jerry Goldsmith score?

This week's poll is about Jerry Goldsmith, one of the best on the "modern" Hollywood composers. Jerry has a large body of work in both TV and film, so this will be the best of the best. The scores are:

#1.  "The Invaders" episode from The Twilight Zone.
#2.  The Blue Max.
#3.  The Omen (Jerry's only Oscar winning score).
#4.  In Harm's Way.
#5.  The Wind And The Lion.
#6.  Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
#7.  Chinatown.
#8.  Planet of the Apes.
#9.  The Sand Pebbles (Steve McQueen's only Best Actor nomination).
#10. Alien.
#11. Patton.

31 Days of Halloween: We are the Martians in "Quatermass and the Pit"

Nigel Kneale introduced intrepid Professor Bernard Quatermass to British TV audiences in the 1950s with three immensely popular sci fi limited-run series. Hammer Films acquired the movie rights and produced big-screen adaptations of The Quatermass Experiment in 1955 and Quatermass II two years later. Believing an American lead was essential for statewide success, Hammer cast Brian Donlevy as Quatermass. It was a bad decision—Donlevy’s miscasting mars two otherwise intriguing science fiction films. Fortunately, Hammer corrected that mistake when it adapted Quatermass and the Pit in 1967 and cast Scottish actor Andrew Keir as the professor. But Keir isn’t the only thing that distinguishes the third film in the series; simply put, Quatermass and the Pit is one of the finest of all science fiction films, melding an incredibly original premise with a strong cast and effective setting.

Kneale’s screenplay has construction workers uncovering the ancient skulls of “ape men” while working in a deserted underground subway station in the Hobbs End area of London. Dr. Mathew Roney (James Donald) dates the ape men’s remains as five million years old, making them the earliest known ancestors of humans. Roney’s work comes to a sharp halt, though, when his excavations unearth a large metallic-like object in the rock. Is it a bomb? A spacecraft? And what does it have to do with stories of former Hobbs End residents claiming to have heard odd noises and experienced visions of “hideous dwarfs”?

To divulge more of the plot wouldn’t be fair to first-time viewers. I will say that, having watched Quatermass and the Pit again recently, I found myself marveling at the ingenuity of Kneale’s premise. To not give away too much, he finds a way to explain magic through the use of science…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The cast is top-notch and Keir is easily the big screen’s best Quatermass (though John Mills is very good in The Quatermass Conclusion, a truncated version of the final TV series). Keir gets excellent support, though, from James Donald, Barbara Shelley, and Julian Glover (as an Army officer who must rationalize what his mind cannot grasp). It’s refreshing to see Shelley’s scientist avoid the usual sci fi female stereotype (i.e., not have an active role in the plot). Indeed, it is Shelley’s character that gets the best—and most quotable—line in the film.

Rarely shown today, Quatermass and the Pit (also known as Five Million Years to Earth) may have few fans, but they are staunch ones. If you count yourself among them, please leave a comment. And, for the record, Kneale picked the name Quatermass by opening the London phone book and randomly placing his finger on a page!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Trivia Time - Part 8

Rick, this is your last free pass. You are going to need it (evil laugh).

#1. Name in order all the ladies that played "Mom"' on Lassie.

#2. The Late Soupy Sales had first first local show in what city?

#3. When he moved the show to LA what local station was it on?

#4. His "network "show from LA was on what night? Name the network.

#5. Brain Buster #1. Jerry Goldsmith had one of his favorite scores removed from this film. Name the film and the director.

#6. Brain Buster # 2 The late composer Vic Muzzy wrote the themes for "Green Acres" and The Adams Family". Because the productors of " The Adams Family" were so cheap, it forced Vic to have to do what with the theme?

#7. Brain Buster #3.Name as many as you can other composers who had their "scores removed".

31 Days of Halloween: 'Tis the Season to be Frightened in Bob Clark's Black Christmas

‘Twas the night before the holiday break, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for the weirdo scaling the wall, crawling into the attic, murdering a sorority sister, and taking the body back up into the attic to rock in a rocking chair. Yeah, aside from that, everything is fine.

Bob Clark’s classic 1974 slasher, Black Christmas, follows a sorority house preparing for the upcoming holiday season. Jess (Olivia Hussey) has recently learned that she is pregnant with her boyfriend’s child. Her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), is clearly upset over her decision to have an abortion. But her shady and possibly unstable boyfriend is only the beginning of her problems. One of the sorority sisters has gone missing, and the girls are continually receiving strange phone calls from someone with an eerie voice. And guess from where the calls are originating?

Canadian filmmaker Clark, who also helmed the popular teen comedy, Porky’s (1982), and the yuletide favorite, A Christmas Story (1983), directs a film with style and wickedly dark humor. He keeps the murderous stranger hidden throughout most of the film, and it’s even difficult to decipher the character’s gender, especially when the voice on the phone is so vague (on at least one occasion sounding almost like two people). As the phone calls continue, the caller becomes increasingly more agitated and threatening. Clark heightens the terror by simply having the phone ring. The director's bits of comic relief -- including a goofy cop working the front desk at the police station -- are welcome within an otherwise intense movie.

One way in which Clark retains suspense is presenting the killer’s point-of-view (POV). In French filmmaker Françoise Truffaut's book on Alfred Hitchcock, the British auteur essentially defined "suspense" by contrasting it with "surprise." His example was a bomb suddenly exploding (surprise) vs. the audience fully aware of a ticking bomb during an entire scene before the explosion (suspense). In Black Christmas, Clark uses Hitch's approach to suspense, by showing the audience the killer entering the sorority house almost as soon as the film begins. Throughout the movie, the viewers are repeatedly provided with the killer's POV. Not only does the audience now see the irony in the sisters locking the doors for safety, but it has an exceptionally good reason to be frightened.

Clark even takes the killer's POV one step further. He doesn't just visualize the killer's perspective, but literally has the camera become the eyes of the killer. The audience can even see the killer's hands while ascending toward the attic and pushing open the window. The majority of the stranger's transgressions are presented in this manner. This almost forces the audience to identify with the killer, but also makes viewers feel helpless, having no control over the actions. Four years after Black Christmas, John Carpenter incorporated a similar technique in Halloween, making it immensely popular in horror films.

Hussey is sensational in the lead role with a strong, mature performance, and Dullea is appropriately disturbing as Peter. Margot Kidder (pre-Lois Lane) is surprisingly charming as the rather obnoxious, bad-mouthed Barb, and Andrea Martin (who would become a member of the Canadian sketch comedy show, SCTV, two years later) is equally good as one of the sorority sisters, Phyl. John Saxon rounds out the cast as a local detective. Edmond O’Brien, who starred in a number of films, including D.O.A. (1950) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), was originally cast in the role that Saxon eventually played but had to drop out due to deteriorating health. He died the same year.

Black Christmas also played in theatres under the title, Silent Night, Evil Night, and was broadcast on television as Stranger in the House.

Glen Morgan and James Wong of The X-Files fame directed a remake in 2006. Interestingly, their version provided a back story for the killer in the attic. Clark’s characterization of the mysterious slasher (and ultimately his film) proved much creepier and more memorable, but Morgan and Wong still managed to churn out some frights with an enjoyable flick. Original cast member Martin appeared in the remake as the housemother.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This Week's Poll: Who is your favorite character in the original Star Wars trilogy?

Jedi Knights, this week’s poll requires you to make a tough decision: Who is your favorite character in the original Star Wars trilogy? Your choices are justly famous, but here are some refresher introductions anyway:

Han Solo (Harrison Ford) – Cynical pilot of the Millennium Falcon. Known to do a little smuggling. Not brainy, but has space smarts and never backs down from a fight.

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) – Feisty princess with the most famous hair-do of the late 70s. Can trade wisecracks with the best (e.g., Han Solo). Doesn’t like to be told what to do.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) – Spunky lad who appears to possess gifts he doesn’t understand, such as dueling with a light saber and navigating fighter spacecrafts.

Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) – Bigfoot-like co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon and crony of Han Solo’s. Prone to uttering growls of frustration during chases and battles.

Darth Vader (Dave Prowse & James Earl Jones) – Imposing villain and former Jedi Knight. Has embraced the dark side of the Force. Wields a mean light saber.

R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) – The little droid who can do it all; communicates with techno noises; handy for storing holographs with valuable information.

C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) – A human-size droid that looks sharp in gold; can speak in English; R2-D2’s de facto partner.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) –Master of the Force, a Jedi general during the Clone Wars who can perform the “Jedi mind trick.” Still pretty good with the light saber. Can make ghostly appearances when needed.

Yoda (Frank Oz) – Little Jedi master; species unknown. Quicker than he looks. Often speaks with nouns before the verbs (e.g., “Stopped they must be”).

Those are your choices. I said it’d be a difficult decision, so may the Force be with you!

31 Days of Halloween: It Is Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus

It isn't Halloween at my house until I watch Disney's family friendly, witch hanging film Hocus Pocus (1993), directed by Kenny Ortega.

The story starts back in 1693 Salem, Massachusetts, when three witch sisters--Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy)--are hanged after killing Emily to prolong their own lives and turning her brother into Binx, a talking black cat doomed to life of eternity. But just before they die, Winifred's spell book casts a spell to bring the three of them back from the dead (when a virgin lights the Black Flamed Candle).

The story shifts three hundred years later to 1993. Teenager Max (Omri Katz) is having trouble adjusting after recently moving with his family from LA. He gets put down in class and flirted with and then ignored by girl of his dreams Allison (Vinessa Shaw). His wrongdoing in class was not believing the tale of the three legendary witches.

On Halloween, Max, his sister Dani and new friend Allison decide to visit the old dusty cottage of the witches which now has become an broken down museum. Unsuspecting Max, being a virgin, lights the Black Flamed Candle, which rasises the three evil witches from the dead. Max, Allison, and Dani go on a wild and hilarious chase to destroy the Sanderson sisters before it is too late and before the Sanderson sisters can suck the lives out of all the children.

One of my favorite scenes is when Winifred jumps on stage and and performs her song "I Put A Spell On You" which puts a spell on all of the adults ''to dance until they die.'''Another favorite scene is when Sarah flies across Salem, singing a charming but haunting song, putting a spell on the children and luring them towards the cottage. Bette Midler (named after Bette Davis) is wonderful in this fun film with her red hair done up into a scary hairdo, and two little buck teeth.

Sarah Jessica Parker's first important acting role was the 1977-81 Broadway musical Annie— first in a small role and then taking over the lead role of the depression-era orphan, beginning on March 6, 1979. Parker held the role for a year.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

One Good "Thing" Leads to Another

When I first saw this movie in 1982, I left convinced that John Carpenter had produced a complete misfire (especially in comparison to the classic 1951 version). But I’ve come to learn over the years that some movies age well, or perhaps they grow better because we’ve aged and our tastes have changed. John Carpenter’s The Thing is definitely one of those films for me. It's now required viewing on the first snowy day of winter and has become my favorite among the director’s work.

The Thing opens in intriguing fashion with a helicopter chasing—and trying to kill—a lone Husky in the desolate Antarctica snow. The dog runs to the U.S. National Science Institute No. 4, a remote research station. In a bizarre series of events, the helicopter crew is killed and the dog is taken in by the research station’s residents. But this is no ordinary dog. It prowls the station’s corridors stealthily as if stalking its prey. It spies silently on the residents. It’s afraid to join the other dogs, which snarl at the newcomer viciously.
Seeking an explanation for the helicopter crew’s unusual behavior, McCready (Kurt Russell) and Doc (Richard Dysart) trace its origin to a Norwegian research facility. They discover frozen corpses and a strange, partially buried “thing” that could be human. Back at the U.S. station, an alien creature reveals itself for the first time by mutating out from inside the Husky (a fairly gory scene). With the creature’s ability to imitate other life forms established, the film’s premise is finally set into motion.

If the alien can be anyone of the research station’s crew, how can it be stopped? The seriousness of the situation worsens when one of the scientists models the alien’s ability to infect humans. He determines that if the “intruder organism” reaches the general population, it could take over the planet in 27,000 hours from first contact.

The plot is supposed to be closer to John Campbell’s short story "Who Goes There?" than 1951’s The Thing (see Aki's nifty review from earlier this month). But, truth to be told, this is a mystery masquerading as science fiction. A murderer is among a group of people at a remote location—isn’t that the plot of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians? The twist here is that the killer can reveal itself and then hide again by assuming another identity. The film’s best scene is when McCready devises a test for revealing the alien’s identity. This tense setup also recalls the classic mystery climax where the detective calls together all the suspects and unveils the murderer.

Subsequent viewings of The Thing allow one to appreciate its smaller pleasures: Ennio Morricone’s suspenseful electronic score (which has a definite Carpenter sound to it); an open ending that actually works (usually I loathe them); and Kurt Russell’s solid performance (less cartoonish than in Carpenter’s Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China).

Still, it’s the remote locale and the “who is it” premise that makes The Thing so entertaining for me. Other films have featured aliens who could take human form (most notably, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and cult classic The Hidden)—but this one remains my favorite.

Friday, October 23, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: Yes, It's Murder... But Is It Art? Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood

Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is a busboy at The Yellow Door, a cafe frequented by self-proclaimed artists, pompous poets and the like. Walter is usually mocked by the arrogant crowd as he serves them their espressos. He would like to be an artist himself, telling whoever will listen that he's "working on something." One evening, he heads to his lowly apartment and tries to mold clay into a piece of art. Uninspired and unable to create a sculpture, the disheartened man gives up. When his landlady's lost cat begins to meow, somehow stuck inside the wall, Walter drives a knife through the drywall, inadvertently killing the feline. He removes the cat's body and suddenly has an idea.

The next day, Walter presents to the people at The Yellow Door his first sculpted piece, called
Dead Cat. Not surprisingly, the cafe patrons love it, and the busboy is finally given respect. One woman, enamored by Walter and his work, hands him a tiny bottle to take with him. Unfortunately, an undercover cop witnesses what he believes is a drug deal, and he arrives at Walter's place, demanding to know the name of his supplier. Walter's resistance leads the officer to pull his gun, and Walter reacts by swinging a pan at the man's head. The budding artist works this in his favor, creating Murdered Man, which he proudly displays for Lou, the cafe owner, and Carla, the object of Walter's affection. No longer a busboy, Walter is enjoying admiration from others and his flourishing popularity. But it isn't long before people are demanding a new masterpiece from the artist, leaving Walter with few options.

Director Roger Corman is well known for his low-budget B-movies, having helmed such classics as
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) and, perhaps his most famous, The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which enjoyed future success as a Broadway musical and a film adaptation in 1986. A Bucket of Blood (1959) is one of his earlier features, and in spite of the budget and time restraints, Corman made a witty and memorable horror movie. Some may categorize A Bucket of Blood as a black comedy, but Corman presents the humor in a gleefully subtle fashion. When one particular woman scoffs at the idea of the busboy sitting at their table and claiming to be an artist, she then offers her services as a model, asking if Walter would like "to do" her. "I just might," he replies. When Lou begins to suspect what Walter is doing, he hears the news vendor calling out the day's headline of a vicious murder, right before Walter produces his latest sculpture. Corman even incorporates a literal interpretation of the title!

Corman specialized in films of low budgets as a director and producer -- he wrote a book entitled
How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. Many directors who worked with Corman moved on to successful films careers, such as Martin Scorsese, who directed Boxcar Bertha (1972), and Francis Ford Coppola, who made Dementia 13 (1963). Other filmmakers who began by working with Roger Corman include James Cameron, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Peter Bogdanovich and Joe Dante. Jack Nicholson's film debut was the Corman-produced The Cry Baby Killer in 1958. In addition to The Little Shop of Horrors, Nicholson also acted in two other films directed by Corman, The Terror and The Raven (both 1963).

Roger Corman could make films fast and efficiently (hence, the reason he was able to boast about "never losing a dime"). But his movies, whether he directed or produced, do not typically feel like products off an assembly line. There are gifted crew members behind the camera. Corman has proven himself numerous times as a director, but one cannot deny his aptness in the producer's chair as well, with so many of his proteges attaining future success. His films may not be embraced by the mainstream, but the world of cinema would most certainly not be the same without Roger Corman.

A Bucket of Blood
was remade in 1995 for the Showtime network, starring Anthony Michael Hall as Walter and Justine Bateman as Carla. It was also co-written and directed by Michael McDonald -- who would later achieve fame on the Fox sketch comedy series, MADtv -- and was subsequently released on video as The Death Artist.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: "Demon With a Glass Hand" on The Outer Limits

Trent is a man “born ten days ago” who has no previous memory and is being pursued throughout a huge deserted office building by alien beings that want to kill him. His actions are guided solely by his hand, which is made of glass with a tiny computer inside. The hand has two digits—the thumb and pinky—and talks to Trent. It tells Trent how to destroy the aliens, but says it can’t answer additional questions until Trent restores the three middle fingers…which are in the possession of the aliens.

This fascinating episode, penned by science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, was the highlight of season 2 of The Outer Limits (with “The Inheritors” coming in a close second). The story unfolds like a riddle, with Trent’s hand providing clues along the way. Robert Culp is perfect as the puzzled Trent, who plays a puppet to his own hand, acting and reacting without ever knowing the complete goal.

The episode benefits considerably from its setting and photography. The Bradbury Building in Los Angeles (where parts of Blade Runner were also filmed) provides a vast interior, where shadows lurk down every corridor and one never knows what lies behind an office door. The expressionistic photography (always an Outer Limits trademark) enhances the setting with unusual angles and deeply textured lighting.

The only flaw is an unexpected relationship that sets the stage for an effective ending, but otherwise comes across as forced and unlikely. Still, that’s a minor complaint against an otherwise original, well-crafted tale.

You may note some similarities between this story and a famous film series. I won’t divulge the famous film here (because it gives away a plot twist), but Ellison did sue the film’s producers and settled out of court.

In Memoriam: Joseph Wiseman - Dr. No said "yes" to Televison

I just learned a few minutes ago that the esteemed character actor, Joseph Wiseman, had passed away on Monday October 19th. Although best-known for his role in the first James Bond film as the titular villain, Dr. No, Wiseman's television appearances comprise the major portion of his career. His television credits include the live drama anthology series of the Golden Age, Kraft Television Theatre and Armstrong Circle Theater; popular favorites of the 60's and 70's, The Untouchables, Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone, McCloud, The FBI, The Streets of San Francisco; and megahits of the 80's and 90's, The A-Team, Magnum, PI, MacGyver, L.A. Law and Law and Order. He was also the guest star on TV series featured on this blog, Letter to Loretta, T.H.E. Cat, Coronet Blue and Night Gallery. In addition to Dr. No, he created memorable characters in Detective Story (1951), Viva Zapata (1952) and The Unforgiven (1960).

Wiseman also had an impressive Broadway career, originating roles in such dramas as Detective Story, Incident at Vichy, and In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, portraying the controversial member of the scientific team responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb.

Joseph Wiseman's career spanned five decades with appearances in films, television and stage, with an admirable list of credits as guest star in some of the most popular TV series of the last 50 years. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving villain of the Sean Connery era of James Bond films.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

31 Days of Halloween (Bonus 2nd Feature!): The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas

In October of 1957, the British Board of Film Censors stated: “This is to certify that The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas has been passed as more suitable for exhibition to adult audiences.” The maturity required for this film, however, has nothing to do with sex or violence. Known in later releases simply as The Abominable Snowman, this British Hammer film production is nothing like its name implies – no monsters here, nor cheesy sci-fi effect. This film requires the maturity to appreciate the poetry of a haunting story of great depth.

The always wonderful Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Rollasan, a British botanist sent to Tibet to study rare plants. Cushing’s mere presence lends dignity to the story of a creature with which his interests really lie, what the Tibetans call the Yeti. Neither beast nor man, the legend of the Yeti says that they live in the high frozen Himalayan mountains. Huge footsteps are the only evidence ever seen by man. Dr. Rollasan believes that the Yeti may be a third branch of the great evolutionary split between ape and man. He wants to find the Yeti for his own knowledge and for the sake of science.

The great Himalayans are like a living entity in this film. The film makers used the Pyrenees mountains in France during winter to double for the long shots of the mountain range. The overwhelming vastness of the Himalayans is captured cleverly by cinematographer Arthur Grant, as well as the art and set directors, smoothly blending the real location shots with some of the most realistic studio sets I’ve ever seen. We are inexorably drawn into the feeling of howling winds, cold, exhaustion and fear of the climbing group led by Dr. Rollasan.
The other members of the expedition have their own unique reasons for searching for the Yeti. Forrest Tucker is excellent as Tom Friend, a domineering carnival barker-type of man whose interest in the Yeti is far from scientific. We watch Friend evolve during the film from bullying greed to fear to an acceptance of destiny. Tucker’s performance stands strongly beside Cushing’s always outstanding acting. Ed Shelley, played by Robert Brown, is Tom Friend’s companion, whose talents are specific to Friend’s intentions. Scottish actor Michael Brill is McNee, whose fearful search for the Yeti is a personal quest. In the course of the expedition, each man finds himself faced with the deepest, sometimes primitive, parts of his psyche.

The supporting case complements the story beautifully, with special mention for Arnold Marle as the High Lama of the Buddhist lamasery from which the expedition commences. He is mysterious, cunning, other-worldly, possessed with strange powers of knowledge.

Director Val Guest makes the most of a small budget and delivers a movie that is poetic in nature and haunting in style. When you meet the Yeti, it will not be in a way you might expect. I have never forgotten it, and I suspect you won’t either.

31 Days of Halloween: The Tall Man - Just Another Working Stiff in Don Coscarelli's Phantasm

There are many iconic characters of the horror genre, some that have become household names. A person may never have seen any entry in a famous film series, but still know Norman Bates of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Leatherface of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Michael Myers of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) or Jason Voorhees of Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980). Another such character who may not be as popular, but is just as noteworthy, is the star of Don Coscarelli's 1979 Phantasm. He's an imposing figure with a deep, raspy voice, known simply as The Tall Man.

Jody Pearson (Bill Thornbury) has been caring for his little brother, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), since their parents have died. Mike has an overwhelming fear that his brother will leave him, and he follows Jody wherever he goes, even to the funeral of Jody's friend, Tommy. Watching with binoculars, Mike is soon skeptical of the strange, lanky man (Angus Scrimm) who runs the Morningside Funera
l Parlor. His distrust is based on observing the man lifting the casket -- by himself -- and placing it back inside the hearse after the funeral.

When Jody picks up a young lady at a bar, Mike trails the both of them to the Morningside Cemetery. Hiding in the nearby trees, Mike hears curious noises and is suddenly chased by what appears to be a dwarf adorned in a brown cloak (he describes it as being "little and brown and low to the ground"). Jody has trouble believing his little brother, even when Mike claims that he is attacked a second time while in the garage working on J
ody's car (an achingly beautiful 1971 Plymouth 'Cuda). Determined to uncover the mystery at the funeral home, Mike sneaks in at night and has chilling encounters with The Tall Man, the pint-sized henchmen, and a floating silver sphere that... well, let's just say that it's best to run from it. It isn't long before Jody and his pal, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), join Mike to put a stop to The Tall Man's evil doings.

Coscarelli's film is a creepy and often terrifying horror gem. The sequences inside the funeral home and a mausoleum will make viewers never want to set foot inside such places again. Scrimm is perfectly cast as The Tall Man, with a performance that thrives on his staggering presence. He says very little in the film, but hearing his voice boom, "Boy!" (when he sees Mike) is more than enough to scare an audience. The other performances are satisfactory, particularly from Bannister, and the score is suitably eerie.

The director followed this successful movie with
The Beastmaster (1982), which, like Phantasm, has gradually become a cult film. Coscarelli also wrote and directed three sequels, Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) and Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998). In 2002, Coscarelli released Bubba Ho-tep, yet another of his movies to achieve a cult following -- and with Bruce Campbell of The Evil Dead (1981) fame starring as a still-living Elvis Presley in a retirement home and battling a mummy alongside Ossie Davis, who claims to be JFK, a cult status is not surprising.

Cafe du Cinema Society Film of the Month: The Third Man (1949)

TCM will broadcast The Third Man on Wednesday, 21 October, at 10:00 P.M. EDT. For those Cafe patrons who need to record to the movie, we'll wait until Tuesday, 27 October, to start our online discussion. That gives you six days to watch The Third Man and collect your thoughts!

In the meantime, if you've just got to hear some zither music right now, click on The Third Man trailer in the green sidebar.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: Peter Cushing at His Very Best in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed

Victor Frankenstein is conducting his experiments when a random break-in causes him to flee and leave everything behind. He hides at a boarding house, calling himself Mr. Fenner. When he learns that a young doctor, Karl, is selling hospital drugs to help the ailing mother of his fiancee, Anna, he blackmails Karl into assisting him. They plan to release Dr. Brandt from an asylum. Brandt has been deemed "incurable" by a doctor at the institution, but Frankenstein needs Brandt's research. His goal is to successfully perform a brain transplant to cure Brandt's insanity and use the man's knowledge to further his nefarious experiments.

When struggling movie studio Hammer Film Productions released The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, it was rewarded with huge success and, not surprisingly, decided to focus on vibrant, gothic horror films. Equally as expected, Hammer began reviving other Universal classics, releasing Horror of Dracula (titled Dracula in the U.K.) the following year and The Mummy in 1959. Sequels to The Curse of Frankenstein were inevitable, and the evolution of the Frankenstein character, admirably portrayed by Peter Cushing, is fascinating. In Mary Shelley's original novel, Victor Frankenstein was a misunderstood genius, while his creation was a sympathetic being. Many adaptations, including James Whale's 1931 classic, have defined the characters similarly. In the Hammer series, Frankenstein begins as a determined, heartless man (Curse), then becomes more of a compassionate man in The Revenge of Frankenstein (1959), a romantic hero in The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), and something of a father figure in Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). By The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), he was a sexy leading man (this time played by Ralph Bates in lieu of Cushing), and in the final film of the series, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), he was a shadow of a man, devoid of any emotion.

Terence Fisher's Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969) presents the audience with the most vicious titular character of all the Hammer movies. He does whatever he can to complete his life's work. Once the operation is finished, Frankenstein's "creature" is not a creature at all. He is a man, forced to be an unwitting patient of Frankenstein. Consequently he generates a great deal of sympathy almost immediately, much more so than the other films of the Hammer series. It's abundantly clear that Frankenstein, with all of his malevolent deeds, is the monster of the movie. Viewers can therefore take the title quite literally. Frankenstein may be the "mad scientist" of the story, but it is not his product that audiences should fear, but rather the man himself.

Cushing was an outstanding and versatile actor, and
Frankenstein Must be Destroyed is undeniably one of his very finest performances. His natural delivery and astonishing presence add charm to his villain. In one excellent sequence, Frankenstein convinces a woman that her missing husband is perfectly fine and that Frankenstein will do all he can to help her. Viewers have no discernible reason to trust in what the man is saying, but it is difficult not to believe Frankenstein, as Cushing plays the scene in such a wonderfully soothing manner. The actor is aided by terrific dialogue, including this small exchange between Karl and Frankenstein:

"I thought the world had seen the last of you."

"So did a lot of other people."

Freddie Jones, as the "creature," is likewise strong. There is no question that he is a victim, and as a result, his performance is emotional and poignant. Veronica Carlson is very good as Anna, but the rest of the cast almost fades into the background, as the man who "must be destroyed" steals the spotlight.

The only flaw in an otherwise distinguished film is a rape scene, Frankenstein committing the horrible act upon Anna. Hammer exec James Carreras reportedly stopped by the set during filming and insisted the scene be added, against the objections of the director and the two actors involved. The sequence is not only vulgar, but it also makes little sense, that a man fully dedicated to his wicked craft would suddenly have a compulsion so contradictory in character. Although the scene was reputedly meant to appeal to American audiences, it was excised from the original U.S. version and most video releases.

Hammer Film Productions released many extraordinary and memorable films. The
Frankenstein movies formed a particularly strong series, and Frankenstein Must be Destroyed is not only one of the best, it's also indicative of Hammer's strongest work. A splendid director and actors within a sophisticated period piece. Throw in some blood in glorious color, and you've got prime choice Hammer!

Monday, October 19, 2009

31 Days of Halloween: The Twilight Zone's "The Invaders"

Originally shown on January 27, 1961, episode #51 "The Invaders" was a very different Twilight Zone. Written by Richard Matheson and directed by Douglas Hayes, it starred Agnes Moorehead. Her co-star was Jerry Goldsmith's music. Richard Matheson did a total of sixteen Twilight Zone episodes and "The Invaders" is my favorite. This is Matheson's version of the classic "things that go bump in the night" but with a twist.

Rod Serling's Twilight Zone has some of the finest music ever composed for TV. The reason for this was due, in part, to the nature of the show, and also to the judgment of the head of the CBS music department, Lud Gluskin. Gluskin chose composers who could work in a pressure cooker of tight budgets, limited time, and small orchestral ensembles, which ranged from four to thirteen. Look at who he had to chose from; Jerry Goldsmith, Franz Waxman, Nathan Van Cleave, Bernard Herrmann, Leith Stevens, Fred Steiner, and Lynn Murray. For "The Invaders," he chose Jerry Goldsmith .

Along with the black & white camera work work of George T. Clemens and the fine acting of Agnes Moorehead , Jerry Goldsmith's music had to carry much of the dramatic action, because this show had no dialogue until the very last moments. A bold and daring move for a half hour TV show at the time.

Goldsmith's music for "The Invaders" tells the story of a woman who lives alone on the prairie in primitive conditions and her confrontation with some otherworldly aliens who have landed their ship in her attic, and move around her house.

Like the Bernard Herrmann score for Psycho, much use is made of somewhat daring (for the time) effects of the strings. Goldsmith expands it by using piano, harp, organ, and celeste to describe the battles between the woman and the invaders.

How does it end? I won't tell you. Does it work? I think so. You can see for yourself at classic TV shows, Twilight Zone season 2.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Week's Poll: Who would you choose as your partner if you were John Steed?

This week's Cafe poll was created by natsumi13.

This week, we ask who would be your ultimate partner if you were John Steed?

Cathy Gale
: A strong and highly independent woman. She is well equipped to take care of herself in a fight, whether using judo or firearms. She also has a Ph.D in anthropology.

Emma Peel: Quick witted and highly talented genius. She is knowledgeable in everything from chemistry and most sciences to math and the arts. An accomplished fencer and master at martial arts, she is highly adept at undercover work.

Tara King: While young and inexperienced, she is level headed and resourceful. Having just finished training as an operative, she is lacking in field experience, but is quite spunky and clever with disguises and undercover work.

Purdey: Former ballerina with the Royal Ballet, she can go from high kicks to roaring off on her motorcycle. She is a smart and highly resourceful martial arts expert. Seeing as she is named after the British gunsmiths Purdey & Sons, she is also an expert at firearms. She is a fully trained and highly capable operative with British Intelligence.

Mike Gambit:
highly trained operative with British Intelligence, this former military man is always armed for combat. He is also an expert at hand to hand fighting and can nearly dodge a bullet using his hands. Suave and something of a ladies man, but cares deeply for Purdey.