Category Archives: Movies

Halloween Euro-Trash

It’s Halloween season and it’s movie night!

I’m immediately hooked solid when a flick’s philosophical underpinnings are spelled out in the opening dialogue and are obviously words to live by.

In tonight’s film, a casual chitchat suggests;

“Dealing with a murderer is not only repugnant, but it can lead to…complications.”

While I accept the probable veracity of the statement, I have yet to have this sentiment pop up in any conversation. That’s most likely for the best. I suspect a life too-filled with “murderer”, “repugnant”, and “complications” in its language is directly linked to a reduced life expectancy.

But in a horror flick? We’re off and running!

Now that line sounds like something Charlie Chan might have said. But no, it’s one of the many pearls of wisdom included in the Euro-trash classic; THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE. This is another inexplicably overlooked candidate for adaptation to a Broadway musical.

Check out this snappy exchange;

“Sulphuric acid!”

“Yes. We’ll be using it to dispose of the anatomical parts and other organic things.”

Let’s ponder that for a moment, shall we? …”other organic things”… what could “other organic things” possibly be? And do we really want to know?

This film has many of the basic elements of great bad film-making;

  • A secret cave with shiny, jagged rock walls but a perfectly flat floor (only in the movies can such a geologic miracle exist).
  • A fully functional mad doctor laboratory (with much gurgling and bubbling equipment) in said secret cave.
  • Sporadic electricity (besides most of the acting). This state-of-the-art laboratory is lit by torches, but the electrical equipment works – go figure.
  • Whispering. Everyone in the film whispers. Everyone, everywhere, all the time. I’m guessin’ the actors are actually moonlighting golf commentators.
  • A hunchback with a foot fetish and the ability to climb tile-roofs like Cary Grant in TO CATCH A THIEF.
  • A student nurse whose apartment has dead animals and a Modigliani hanging on her walls. Clearly student nurses make damn good money in Europe and have a remarkable range in taste.
  • Grave-robbing, decapitation, artificial life (besides most of the acting).

The only thing missing in this epic is Godzilla!

Great bad Halloween fare

I loved it.

Vipers vs. Verdi

Vipers vs Verdi

After my weekend immersion in Verdi with LA TRAVIATA, it might be good to “cleanse my palate” with some pure cultural junk.

I’m thinkin’ the 1976 made-for-TV-when-made-for-TV-was-NOT-a-recommendation “piéce de reptilian”; RATTLERS might be just the ticket.

Whatta film!

We’re talkin’ ludicrously poor child acting getting killed by the critics and the chemically-altered snakes in the first scene. This flick’s got nowhere to go but up from here. I can’t wait.

But first, a last few thoughts about LA TRAVIATA…

It was a beautiful production – beautiful to look at and beautiful to hear. It featured evenings of high C’s, crashing curtains (intentional), flying cutlery (intentional), and sexy flamenco dancing (damned intentional).

BUT…

I have a serious quibble with the second scene.

Yer tellin’ me, Mr. Verdi, that Violetta is gonna give up her bucolic “piéd a terrific” with her lover (with servants, no less) and return to the city to be exploited sexually and subsequently die because her lover’s daddy TELLS her to? This old hippie (look it up if you don’t know the term) is thinkin’ “that dog will NEVER hunt.”

Maybe…

…just maybe…

…if there were chemically-altered snakes in the country…

…but even then, I don’t know.

Shriek of the Mutilated Musings

Movie night! Because…Tropical Storm Cindy?

What’s up with that?

SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED is tonight’s delicacy. It’s so very bad and so very strange. In the extensive catalogue of “Yeti” movies, has any film been good? This critter seriously needs a better agent.

The best thing about the film is the title.

Which sets me to thinkin’.

I can think of about a dozen or more movies that totally waste intriguing titles on totally less-than-intriguing flicks. Here’s a few;

  • THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN immediately comes to mind (ouch!). This beauty actually had two titles, the other being; MADMEN OF MANDRAGORAS……I jes’ don’t know. Frankly, they coulda given it twenty titles and it wouldn’t have improved things a jot.
  • CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. This is a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD wanna-be. Unfortunately, it’s not as interesting as NOTLD, though it does have the advantage of being shot in Miami instead of Pittsburgh.
  • THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE is a brutal giallo that actually is pretty interesting and features a brief but fascinating performance by Valentina Cortese.
  • KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE. Clowns, aliens, circus tent rocket ships, demonic ice cream trucks…what’s not to like……or……what’s to like?

Mind you, I’m not suggesting you rush out to see these films, but aren’t those great titles? Besides, you don’t have to watch ‘em. I already have. Ew-w-w-w.

I Got Yer Frogs

Frogs.

I got yer frogs.

I’m sittin’ in our library. The windows in front of me overlook a decorative pool with a quiet fountain and four frogs, one of which is not quiet. He/she/it serenades with a repeated unsweet burp that lies somewhere between a croak and a rasp. It is scarily reminiscent of the prophetic sounds my 1963 Mercury Comet used to make in 1969 on I-64 just before it lapsed into a defeated silence that prompted some serious pavement pounding on my part.

Tonight, my feet flinch with each chirp of the frog.

Still, I like the sound.

It reminds me of other favorite frog moments…

  • The great frog hunt scene, deliciously narrated by John Huston in the film CANNERY ROW.
  • Mr. Toad in Kenneth Graham’s THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.
  • In the ridiculous film FROGS, Sam Elliott (long before he reassured us at the bowling alley bar that “The Dude abides”) rescuing Joan Van Ark from the thousands of frogs angrily erupting from the muck to run amok and deal out some vague, ill-explained environmental vengeance.
  • And of course…those Budweiser frogs. Ah, Louie.

I think I’ll open the window.

R-r-r-ibbittt.

Annoying “Reflections”

I just watched an annoying movie; REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE.

I had such high hopes.

It’s based on a novel by Carson McCullers. Ms. McCullers is one of my favorite writers. Her characters are quite “of the South”, even when she writes of New York City. Her characters are literate in their self-selected, tightly-bordered turfs. They are flawed, usually fatally (if not to them, then the other people in their lives). The lands and times outside their intellectual stomping-ground plumb evade them. Ms. McCullers’ southern tales range from warm to hot in any way you’d like to take that. If you have not read THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, THE BALLAD OF SAD CAFÉ, or REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, I would suggest you mosey with dispatch (no need to run, we’re in the South here) and do so.

The film is directed by John Huston. Depending on what day you ask me, THE MALTESE FALCON might be my favorite movie. As far as establishing Mr. Huston’s greatness as a director, he could have stopped right there…but I’m glad he didn’t. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, KEY LARGO, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, and THE AFRICAN QUEEN all bring my channel-surfing to a complete and completely happy halt.

The cast of REFLECTIONS features Julie Harris, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brian Keith.

Holy moly!

So, with all this going for it, what’s annoying?

Well…

Each scene in the film is shot in a golden haze except for one element of color in each scene. Essentially, that makes it a black and white film. I don’t mind black and white, but dark gold and light gold? Annoying.

Every shot seemed stretched beyond its value. At first, I thought the director was going for “languid”. S’okay, we’re in the South and it’s a McCullers tale. But soon the pacing became rhythmic and predictable to no redeeming benefit I could discern.

I had steeled myself for the horse-beating scene, but not adequately. It was more and longer than I was comfortable with (my problem perhaps, not the director’s).

Marlon Brando mumbled and whined incoherently. To be incoherent with words of Carson McCullers is a mighty waste in my world. I found this rivaling Brando’s worst performances and, fan that I am, Lord knows that’s a well-stocked swamp.

The story is set in the 1940’s. Ms. Taylor caught the intent of her character with buxom gusto, but she looked as though she had just stepped over from a TV taping of “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” (now there’s a cogent geezer reference).

So…what did I like about the film?

Brian Keith is really interesting and complex. He loudly and drunkenly man-splains to his fellow officers that polo produces better military men than the fields of Eton. He sits his horse well and rides with the wife (Taylor) of his fellow officer and friend (Brando)  each afternoon through the woods to the blackberry bushes where he then is ridden by said wife. He is exasperated by the nervous frailty of his own wife (Harris) and is brought to blue lethargy by her death. It’s a load for an actor to bear and Mr. Keith handles it with aplomb.

Ditto for Julie Harris. Ms. Harris has an advantage here. She was born to speak Carson McCullers’ words. We want to root for her character, but given more visual evidence of the shenanigans of this military community than anyone else, Ms. Harris’ character draws one egregiously wrong conclusion after another and is as much to blame for the final debacle as anyone.

Elizabeth Taylor has a scene in which she describes the food she’s providing for her garden party. She does so with a childish relish Martha Stewart only wishes she could generate. It was delicious.

But I expected so much of the flick and it was overall…not so much.

Annoying.

Day for Night Musings

Movie Night!

I watched one of my favorite films, DAY FOR NIGHT, with a small group of folks who are devoted to cinema. I have a special fondness for films about films. CINEMA PARADISO, THE STUNTMAN, SUNSET BOULEVARD, SINGING IN THE RAIN, and their ilk always bring my remote to a delighted halt when I happen upon them.

DAY FOR NIGHT holds other charms for me as well. The film crew in the movie is a tight-knit one. They’ve worked together before and are familiar with and tolerant of their teammates’ peccadillos. Their chosen location for shooting is a sunny and warm one (even when they make it snow). The film has a summer camp feel about it. I’m from the Spin & Marty generation – summer camp usually works for me unless there’s a slasher wandering about.

The film features a tour de force performance by Valentina Cortese and a “tour de WOW” appearance by Jacqueline Bisset.

When the film concluded for tonight’s viewing, one of the group commented; “I can see why people love this film, but it’s not a great work of art.”

After we mopped up the blood and I pleaded justifiable homicide and made bail, I got to thinkin’…

He’s right. It’s not a “great” work of art, but if you generally cherish the films of Francois Truffault (and I do) it is a “great” work of Truffault. Now…what does that mean? This is one of our most-revered directors! How can his films not be great?

Well.

They’re not.

“Greatness” is not the story Truffault cares to tell.

For me, the charm and the wonder of Truffault resides in the tight slice of humanity in which he chooses to tell his stories. His are not the stories of saints or demons. His characters do wicked things and heartbreakingly kind things to each other and are not dependable in their choice between the two. They do good things, but not great, and they do them when it’s convenient, and when it happens to occur to them. Ditto for the not-so-good things they do. Truffault’s characters tell the truth when they know what the truth is or when it’s not inconvenient to do so.

Truffault’s stories tell us about cats that can’t follow instructions, persistent human creativity in the face of American insurance companies, fidelity unless Jacqueline Bisset or Delphine Seyrig or Catherine Deneuve or Jeanne Moreau is involved…and of course, when fidelity is convenient. He tells us of dalliances that turn into life-destroying obsessions or deserted island fantasies or small-scale, but convoluted revenge/murder schemes (that may or may not work) – no great tragedies, merely intriguing human ones.

I find that precious, and usually convenient.

Lively Bergman — Who Knew?

It’s Movie Night with Ingmar Bergman. Let the dancing begin!

I watched Ingmar Bergman’s film; SUMMER WITH MONICA. The rest of you probably watched it in 1956 or 66 or 76 or 86 or… What can I say? I’m in a different time zone and moving with my usual glacier-like speed.

This is a lovely film!

The film mashes several little boy fantasies;

  • stealing a boat and sailing away,
  • the stolen boat belonging to an iconic “older dark man in the castle” – his father in this case – even better,
  • and escaping to summer islands with a willing female companion,

against the inevitable realization of what it means to be a rent-paying, child-rearing adult. The resulting sparks in this case are difficult and discouraging, but not unhopeful.

Whoa. Not unhopeful! This is Bergman, right?

I am ambivalent about Bergman. The craftsmanship is evident. The tricks with light and dark are mesmerizing. I am always impressed…and usually bored. The films are tedious. I don’t require a car crash every thirty seconds but I appreciate an occasional pulse.

I know Mr. Bergman was famously influenced by the films of Carl Theodore Dreyer (whom I admire) and you can see this when his camera dwells on the faces of his actors, most especially in WINTER LIGHT. But in Dreyer’s films, JOAN OF ARC as an excellent example, while the actors’ faces are the main tool for telling the story, those faces don’t feel static or tedious. Bergman misses this distinction.

However, SUMMER WITH MONICA seems to never become stationary. Most of the scenes in this film leave you wanting more. How often can you say that about a Bergman film?

I really liked the film and will be thinking about it for a while yet.

Oh yeah, Harriet Andersson was pretty cute too!

The Devil Rides Out

Movie night!

THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1973) aka THE DEVIL’S BRIDE.

My favorite Hammer horror film; period.

There are so many points of interest.

  • The script is an adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley adventure/supernatural novel that features the Duc de Richleau, a modern warrior in opposition to the evil occult. Richleau is every bit as fascinating and urgent as Nayland Smith battling Fu Manchu or Professor Van Helsing pursuing Dracula. Christopher Lee is at his very best in this portrayal.
  • Richard Matheson adapted the novel into the screenplay. Mr. Matheson authored the novels; I AM LEGEND, THE SHRINKING MAN, HELL HOUSE, and SOMEWHERE IN TIME. He also wrote the terrifying short story “Born of Man and Woman” and many of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone”.
  • The sets are up to the usual Hammer standards for detail and utter lack of clutter and shadows – how do they make that much light come from every direction?
  • Niké Arrighi delivers a pathetic (in the best sense of that word) performance as the damsel assailed by satanic forces. It’s quite a change from her portrayal of the free-spirited costume assistant Odile in Truffault’s DAY FOR NIGHT.
  • A wonderfully sinister Charles Gray (Blofeld in several James Bond flicks) dominates (sans cat, however).
  • The conjuring of “The Goat of Mendes” (Satan himself) in the sabbat, the giant tarantula attacking the little girl, the angel of death attacking the protective circle; all scarily impressive moments.
  • Drop dead cool cars.
  • Three-piece suits to die for.

Of course the ending is incoherent…but there’s a nice purging inferno.

And the cars are so very cool…I may have mentioned that.

I love it.

Cinema Scarcity – Ack!

A geezer thought.

We rarely watched movies on TV in Lexington in the 60’s. There were few channels and thus, few movies to watch.

I remember there were two channels; Channel 27 (CBS) and Channel 18 (NBC). When Channel 62 (ABC) finally began broadcasting, it was overwhelming. How would you find time to watch it all? That turned out to be a non-problem since no household owned more than one TV and dad controlled it. Lawrence Welk, Walt Disney, and Jackie Gleason’s domination of my home’s screen (singular, please notice) was assured no matter what channel the Beatles were on.

The only time movies were offered was in the mornings (I was at school) or after the 11pm local news (I was in bed on school nights). The late flick (singular, please notice) would be followed by a recitation of the poem “High Flight” over images of jet planes (“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth…”), the Star-Spangled Banner over a static image of the flag, and a sign-off announcement from the station until tomorrow morning over a geometric image that looked like the title of a musical piece by Anthony Braxton who none of us had ever heard of much less heard. None of this late programming could remotely be called inspiring.

Things improved when ABC took a chance one Saturday night and screened THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL under the TV banner; “Saturday Night at the Movies”. It was a surprise ratings hit and within a couple of years almost every night had a “… Night at the Movies” broadcast.

Still, there were only three channels, and no such thing as video tapes, DVD’s, DVR, NetFlix, YouTube, or Roku. It was tough for movie lovers. The Student Center at UK would screen foreign films once a week, but it always snowed on those evenings or rained frogs and it was a three-mile walk (uphill both ways) to the theater. I’m tellin’ ya, it was tough!

If Channel 27 scheduled FRANKENSTEIN at midnight on Saturday, you sucked it up, stayed awake and open-eyed, and prayed your antenna was aimed in the proper direction coz there was no recording capability and the chance might not come around again in your lifetime to experience Colin Clive screaming “It’s alive!!!”

Desperate times for movie addicts, indeed.

I remember in 1971, my friend Chuck Pogue and I would climb to the top floor of the UK residential towers on Saturday nights at midnight to commandeer the communal TV set and tune in Channel  9’s broadcast (out of Cincinnati) of Uncle Bob Shreve’s blurry presentation of awful all-night flicks sponsored by Schoenling Little Kings Malt Liquor.

It doesn’t get more desperate than that.

Awful films.

I loved ‘em.

When I hear today of the “good ol’ days” and let’s “make America great again”, one of my many trepidations concerning that thinking is the fear of returning to those movie-watching options of my youth. Call me shallow, but I’ve seen all the Lawrence Welk I need to in this lifetime. Bobby and Cissy, the Lennon Sisters, and Myron Florenz on the accordion…just kill me now.

Cold-Weather Corman

Movie night!

If you are a devotee of cheesy horror, Edgar Allen Poe movies, women-in-cages flicks, and films about vegetables that aren’t vegetarians, Roger Corman is your guy.

Where would you like to begin?

There’s his contemplative “beast” series (THE BEAST WITH 1,000,000 EYES, THE BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE, and THE BEAST OF YELLOW MOUNTAIN)?

Then there’s his Machen-like exploration of nature run amok (ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (featuring Yvette Vickers in her best slutty Daisy Mae rendition), IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, and THE CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA).

Or his taboo-shattering exposures of the sexual politics of beings that don’t even exist (SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER, THE WASP WOMAN, THE VELVET VAMPIRE, and NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN).

Corman’s canon is a treasure trove of cultural delights; comfort food for the easily entertained. I shop there willingly and often.

Tonight’s film fare however, is a bit off the beaten Corman trail. It’s his 1960 WWII epic; SKI TROOP ATTACK. Imagine THE LONGEST DAY. Now, imagine everything as much the opposite of THE LONGEST DAY as possible.

Cast of thousands? Try six – not six thousand – six.

English Channel? German mountains.

Thousands of ships? Skis.

Years in the making? Two weeks.

You get the idea.

I will give the nod for acting to SKI TROOP ATTACK but that’s by default as any discernible acting that happens in THE LONGEST DAY is accidental and laughable. Who can ever un-watch Richard Burton’s interpretation of the deathless line; “Ack-Ack.” Or Roddy McDowall crooning the word; “June”. Heady stuff.

Given all that, SKI TROOP is OK in my book. It tells a straight-forward, stripped-down GUNS OF NAVARONE, THE DIRTY DOZEN, etc. war adventure story pretty well. However, I didn’t care for all the snow. Frankly, I got cold. I think I would have preferred SURF TROOP ATTACK with Lieutenant Moondoggy leading the squad. Ah well, I just put on a jacket and finished watching the film.