Monthly ArchiveOctober 2007



Movies 31 Oct 2007 04:41 am

31 Days of Halloween: Day 31

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#1 — Halloween (1977)      It doesn’t exactly take a Mensa member to figure out this film would top my 31 Days of Halloween list. After all, it’s called “Halloween.”

As a rule, I generally don’t like slasher films. Friday the 13th Part XXXIII and its ilk leave me cold. But I make an exception for “Halloween.” First of all, it’s the template those lesser films ripped off. Secondly, it’s one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. Most of the violence is implied or happens off-camera, but ask somebody who’s seen it and they’ll describe loads of blood and carnage. That’s good film making, and John Carpenter demonstrates it in spades here. Plus, he wrote the chilling piano score that today is played inside virtually every haunted house from California to NYC.

Shock rocker Rob Zombie remade this movie earlier this year. It was OK, but by now you know my advice — stick with the original.

And there you have it. Thirty-one days, 31 movies. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t. Just kidding. Actually, I wish I had a few more days to add reflections on some of my other favorite scary films, including “Poltergeist,” “The Dead Zone,” “Misery,” the original “Mummy” with Boris Karloff, “The Last Man on Earth” (based on Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” and slated for a big-budget remake to be released this Christmas) and others …

So many monsters, so little time. Happy Halloween! May all your scares be pleasant! I’ll be back in a few days to blog about something other than horror films, I promise.

Movies 30 Oct 2007 04:37 am

31 Days of Halloween: Day 30

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#2 — Suspiria (1977)       The Oct. 12 Entertainment Weekly calls director Dario Argento “the Italian Hitchcock” and looks back at some of his biggest hits, listing “Suspiria” as one.

I disagree with the Hitchcock comparison, at least based on “Suspiria,” which is the only Argento film I have seen. Hitchcock was always more about suspense, sleight of hand, and artful misdirection. ”Suspiria” is beautifully filmed, but it is definitely more about the gross-out, with eye-popping violence to boot. Maybe that’s the difference a couple of decades makes.

The plot of “Suspiria” is pretty thin. Basically, Jessica Harper plays an American dancer studying abroad in a school run by witches. Pretty soon, people start dying.

The film had a great marketing campaign, as shown by the poster above: “The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92.”

Movies 29 Oct 2007 04:45 am

31 Days of Halloween: Day 29

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#3 — The Exorcist       As I come down the homestretch in my 31 Days of Halloween movie countdown, I have a confession to make (appropriate as Roman Catholicism plays such a big part in today’s movie): I’m a little OCD where “The Exorcist” is concerned.

I probably own about a dozen copies of William Peter Blatty’s original novel. For a while, every time I saw one in a used bookstore or at a yard sale, I picked it up, especially the paperback version with the ugly purple cover and the fuzzy photo of the demon-possessed little girl. I don’t know why I did it. It was like I was … possessed.

The book is riveting because it offers a well-researched, if fictionalized, version of an exorcism, complete with a look inside the red tape and bureaucracy of the church circa 1970. Blatty lets the reader decide if little Regan, the candidate for the ceremony to drive out demons, is truly possessed by the devil or the victim of psychosis.

The movie jettisons the ambiguity and goes for the gross-out. The exorcism scenes (the one pictured above is one of the tamer) are powerful, but maybe have lost their edge somewhat today because they have been parodied so frequently and become — like the Bates Motel and the shower scene from “Psycho” — common pop culture touchstones.

Max von Sydow is excellent as the elderly priest who has faced this particular demon before, and Jason Miller is great as a younger priest experiencing a crisis of faith. Linda Blair, of course, was forever typecast as young Regan Macneil, even appearing years later in an Exorcist parody called “Repossessed” with Leslie Nielsen.

Enough about “The Exorcist.” I have to rearrange all my copies by publication date, again and again and again …

 

 

Movies 28 Oct 2007 05:21 pm

31 Days of Halloween: Day 28

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# 4 — I Married a Monster from Outer Space   Okay, my entire print review of this movie was three words long: “Hey, me too!”

Did I list the movie only as an excuse to fire off a good one-liner? Well, partially, but there is still a lot to recommend this little number, which to me is a heckuva lot more fun than “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (which is, itself, a pretty fun little movie — in an alien-as-Communist-allegory sort of way).

Yep, our pretty young brides are marrying — you guessed it — monsters from outer space. Unbeknownest to them (the pretty young girls, not the monsters), of course. Whenever lightning flashes — and in this movie, it flashes a lot — the creature’s human disguises are pierced and the audience sees the horrible creatures (above) they truly are.

You won’t lose any sleep over this unless you’re really a light-weight, but it still kind of sticks with you, like bad Taco Bell that wakes you up at night with the stomach rumbles.

 

Movies 27 Oct 2007 06:46 am

31 Days of Halloween: Day 27

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#5 — Creature from the Black Lagoon   I said in an earlier post that I thought this movie and “War of the Worlds” typified sci-fi and horror films of the 1950s, and I stand by my claim.

“Creature from the Black Lagoon” is such a fun flick. The monster isn’t as lovable as, say, King Kong, as sympathetic as Frankenstein’s monster, or as athletic as Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man, but he (it?) still more than fits the bill as a marquee-worthy star. Maybe it’s the ruby-red lips on the poster above, or the lecherous way he eyes up poor Julia Adams, whose assets in a white one-piece surely contributed more than their share to ticket sales among pubescent boys in the movie’s heyday.

And probably no Universal Monster received such shoddy treatment at the Creature did in one of his sequels. In “The Creature Walks Among Us,” the poor gill-man is operated on and made human, which only adds to his woes. Stick with the original.

 

Movies 26 Oct 2007 04:36 am

31 Days of Halloween: Day 26

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#5 — Alien (1979)     I have a great deal of nostalgia for this movie. Because it was rated R and came out in 1979, I wasn’t allowed to see it when it was first released; the one kid in my class who was allowed was the lunchroom hero for the next few weeks. Another kid I knew had the comic book adaptation by Walt Simonson. That and the book by Alan Dean Foster, the dean of sci-fi movie novelizations, were my two primary sources of info about the plot in those long-ago days (daze) of my youth.

Years later, as a college freshman, I was part of a group that reviewed “Alien” for a film criticism class. This was in 1986, when access to VHS players was not guaranteed, so we passed around bootlegged copies, as I recall. I was in charge of writing a paper and presenting information on the special effects , a project I carried off by watching the (in)famous chest-bursting sequence over and over and reading a few articles in Fangoria and Starlog magazines. Such squandering of my undergraduate opportunities may explain why I’m not more successful today.

Anyway, this is a fun movie. Like two of my other choices, “The Thing (From Another World)” and “The War of the Worlds,” this bridges the gap between horror and science-fiction. It’s claustrophobic and has a great monster design.

See the full list of 31 Days of Halloween horrors by clicking here.

Movies 25 Oct 2007 04:58 am

31 Days of Hallween: Day 25

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#7 — “The Silence of the Lambs”   When I first read Thomas Harris’s book of the same name, I knew I was in the hands of a first-rate novelist. Any movie made from the book would have to be top-notch to compete. This one is. Jodie Foster is great as the young FBI agent is search of a serial killer, forced to collaborate with captured psychopath Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter, played to steely perfection by the great Anthony Hopkins. Subsequent films in the series have been enjoyable, but nowhere near as good as this.

Movies 24 Oct 2007 04:38 am

31 Days of Halloween: Day 24

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#8 — Mad Love (1935)    If I had planned my 31 Days of Halloween a little better, I would have written about this movie on Saturday, which was Sweetest Day. Hope you got your sweetie something nice!

Anyway, “Mad Love” is a twisted love triangle involving a talented but loony surgeon (Peter Lorre), a concert pianist (Colin Clive of “Frankenstein” fame) and the girl they both love, Frances Drake. When Clive’s hands are injured, Lorre gives him a transplant, replacing his sensitive digits with the hands of a knife-throwing killer. And then things start getting really weird …

I first saw this film only a year ago, and it has quickly become a favorite. It was included on a nifty set called “Hollywood Legends of Horror” that also included Bela Lugosi in “Mark of the Vampire” and Boris Karloff in “The Mask of Fu Manchu.”

Movies 23 Oct 2007 08:13 am

31 Days of Halloween: Day 23

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#9 — Dracula (1931) The movie that launched the Universal Studios era of monster movies, “Dracula” holds a special place in the hearts of monster lovers everywhere. Bela Lugosi, who became so typecast as the lead character that he was actually buried in his Dracula cape, was carried over from stage to screen, and he is still the actor most closely identified with the role.

Tell the truth, though, once you get through the exciting opening scenes in Drac’s Transylavian castle, the rest of the movie is slow going, indeed, and Bela’s performance is hammy by today’s standards. Heck, it might have been hammy by 1930s standards, too.

One highlight is the performance by Dwight Frye as the fly-eating Renfield. Frye also appeared as the hunchbacked assistant Fritz in the original “Frankenstein.” Shock-rockers Alice Cooper (the band, before the name came to refer only to the solo singer) released “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” — missing the “e” in Frye for either legal reasons or because they couldn’t spell — in the 1970s as a tribute to this actor’s creepy roles.

Beware versions of “Dracula” with a new score by Philip Glass, who allows his music to totally overpower the movie.

Movies 22 Oct 2007 04:36 am

31 Days of Halloween: Day 22

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#10 — War of the Worlds  (1953)   Alien invasion stories are another favorite of mine, and H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” published first in 1898, is the granddaddy of them all.

The book has been well-served by adaptations into other media. Probably the best known is the Mercury Theatre on the Air radio version from 1938, directed by Orson Welles, where true-to-life news bulletins led some listeners to believe that Martians had really landed!

The 1953 film by George Pal is spectacular all the way around. Like the radio play, it changes the setting to the United States in contemporary times. To me, this film and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” define cinema scariness in the 1950s, from Gene Barry and Ann Robinson’s square dancing to the Martian war machines razing cities with their heat rays (pictured above). The ending stays true to Wells’ original.

I really liked the 2005 remake by Steven Spielberg, too, but not as much as the George Pal version, probably because Spielberg wasn’t gutsy enough to include a scene with square dancing. A newer DVD release of the 1953 WOTW has the original radio play and some nifty documentary extras.

See my complete list of 31 Days of Halloween movies by clicking here.

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