61 Days of Halloween: House of Long Shadows

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

House of Long Shadows

The House of Long Shadows does something that’s incredibly hard to do for a film in any genre, much less a horror film, and that is to feature four very prominent, iconic actors and give them each a substantial and worthy part to play. In a way, this is the antithesis of All-Star Cast Syndrome, as I like to call it. When you have a cast of thousands crammed with actors you like it’s very hard for the film to strike a necessary balance for it and one that pleases you, the fan, as well.

In this film you see the names of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine and you think “Wow, that’s amazing!” I know I did, and then dread set in because in combinations these actors worked together many times, some more successful than others. Here they are all together and I got worried that one appearance would be cursory or insignificant, but none of it was.

Now, none of these legendary gentleman is the lead. That honor goes to Des Arnaz, Jr. whose character is designed to be a bit of a twerp and a spectator but he gives a bit too much of the former. Regardless, it works wonderfully each of the characters adds weight and intrigue to the film and they are all on point.

As for the narrative, there are many twists in the tale each seemingly more surprising than the last that totally make the slow burn of the film payoff. I will give you no details except to tall you that the set up is that a cocky young writer makes a substantial bet with his publisher that he can turn out an old style Gothic novel in 24 hours given the right atmosphere and solitude. He gets his locale and what unfolds is wild in its implications and it a really enjoyable film that is highly recommended.

If you’ve seen and enjoy this film, Warner Archive has just released a three-film Seven Keys to Baldpate set, which are films that pre-date this one based upon the same novel.

Review- Little Fockers

Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller in Little Fockers (Paramount)

What is the saving grace of Little Fockers? It is that eventually the story ends up being more about Jack’s (Robert De Niro) psychotic persecution of Greg (Ben Stiller) than it does about the misunderstandings and unnecessary comeuppance that he got in the first installment of this series and set the tone for the characters.

The worse thing that a comedy can do is make you feel sorry for a character who has gotten himself in a difficult situation. That’s what the first film did in my estimation and what this installment narrowly avoids. How it manages to do that is by giving Greg just enough culpability such that we can comfortably chuckle at the mess he’s gotten himself into and not really sweat the outcome too much.

While it is rarely, if ever, highbrow humor Little Fockers does manage to be quite funny through most of it. However, it is never really about the aforementioned Fockers. There are two subplots about them: One is that Samantha (Daisy Tahan) isn’t speaking to Greg, which is resolved easily enough and another is that Greg and Pam want to enroll her and Henry (Colin Baiocchi) in a high-priced private school, however, that one never really resolves itself. Kevin (Owen Wilson) says he’ll talk to the head of the school and get them another interview after a little fiasco and that’s the end of that.

When Jack and Greg’s argument finally comes to a head and in the midst of the physical confrontation Greg is trying to explain himself, as he has put himself in the situation of making Jack think he is sleeping with Andi (Jessica Alba), a work associate, the apology/explanation is quickly accepted which is both somewhat of a relief and also a bit facile.

It does manage to be a funny film because of its cast but it is getting a little crowded even though everyone is talented they are starting to run up against All-Star Cast Syndrome, which is when there are too many recognizable actors that you want to see involved in the same project. For example, Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman are both very funny but their time is fleeting; Laura Dern is also hysterical but she likely gets more time than they do. Jessica Alba is quite good, albeit this isn’t a very involved character and she gets more time than those just mentioned.

The laughs stay pretty consistent throughout with one glaring exception and that is the ending. Now most of this is due to the Set-Up Factor where it’s a very cloying and obvious set-up for yet another film. They might either take it or leave it I personally hope they leave it because it’s too obvious a set-up (hint: Everybody Loves Raymond meets Meet the Fockers).

Despite all these peccadilloes sticking in my craw it was consistently funny throughout even if unoriginal and for whatever it may be worth I had very low expectations coming in and they were exceeded.

It’s a funny little film if you just don’t think about it too much as clearly I have.