Free Movie Friday: The Terror (1963)

I wanted to start this series back in January. Basically, there are a lot of good movies out there that you can watch free and clear. Meaning you don’t have to pay for them and by streaming it free you’re not stealing it because they are in the public domain. Also, in some cases, these films are not all as ancient as copyright laws usually call for.

To be honest if The Terror wasn’t one of Jack Nicholson’s first screen appearances it wouldn’t very memorable. However, he is in it and it is a middling film worthy of a look if only for the curiosity if nothing else. Enjoy!

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Free Movie Friday: A Bucket of Blood

You need never fear that this site is running a theme that may not be your cup of tea for the plan this year is to always have content that runs a little bit counter to that. The current theme is March to Disney, but the Free Movies on Firday continue to be horror films.

Here is another AIP film. This another in the vein that Corman came out with after Psycho changed the game in the horror and thriller genres.

61 Days of Halloween: Dementia 13 (1963)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween and a list of previous films covered go here.

Dementia 13 (1963)

This post is an exciting one for me in a few respects. First, I’ve known of this film for a very long time and I’ve always been a bit hesitant to watch it. The reasons that is likely have to do with the fact that the synopsis doesn’t sell it very well, and the early work aspect scared and intrigued me in equal respects. The second reason is that seeing something and then shortly thereafter writing these posts was the initial foundation of the 61 Days of Halloween idea. I wanted to see 61 new horror films in the season. Maybe I still will but I haven’t even met the bogey yet, so I will be featuring some titles I know already to try and do that.

Dementia 13 was probably more destined than ever to be seen since I not only recently saw Twixt, but Coppola stands as one of my most viewed filmmakers of the year as can be seen both in what I’ve watched and liked.

In very traditional AIP fashion the title is virtually meaningless. However, while Corman’s AIP productions are a very mixed bag this does end up being on the favorable end. It doesn’t all click along perfectly, and there’s a very murky section you have to trudge through, but if you’re patient (which should be easy with a running time of 76 minutes) the payoff is pretty good.

It can sound odd to say you’re a fan of knock-offs of a particular film, as well as the film itself, but I’ve come to find that many films that are riffing on, borrowing from, or borderline plagiarizing Psycho have mostly worked for me as well. This one does play some of its tropes and weaves them in quite a different pattern.

If you’re into programming double-features this would actually pair well with Coppola’s most recent foray into the genre. As there he weaves a far more elaborate tale but they both definitely feel born of the same mind, this one more youthfully creating an homage and the latter showing a vibrant maturity.

Considerations for the 2013 Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

Originally I didn’t want to list considerations for either Entertainer of the Year Award or Neutron Star Award and the same goes for the Lifetime Achievement Award. The reasoning behind this was that these awards being for a body of work should’ve had their winners be rather apparent. However, owing to previous memory lapses, I reconsidered this philosophy.

Therefore, any and all eligible, worthy candidates for either award will be kept on this list. It will be one of the running lists that I update on a biweekly basis.

In essence, this will give those who stand out in these categories their due. For example, last year I felt remiss in not mentioning Matthew McConaughey in my explication for the Entertainer of the Year Award for 2013. In my reasoning behind Samuel L. Jackson’s win I had to talk about his year and how great it was and why Jackson’s superseded it. With this list, at year’s end I will be able to discuss each of the prospective candidates works.

Please note that unlike the Entertainer of the Year Award there are few if any set-in-stone pre-requisites. Having said that notable filmmakers or actors with works due out this year that I have not yet seen are eligible here.

Without further ado, the candidates…

Candidates

Michael Apted (Need to see the latest installment of the Up series.)
Alain Resnais (His latest is a must-see that should be added to My Radar.)
Max Von Sydow
Martin Scorsese*
Francis Ford Coppola*
Bernardo Bertolucci*
John Carpenter
Roger Corman
Terence Malick*
Oliver Stone*
Ken Burns
Woody Allen
Ridley Scott

*Would need retrospectives

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Genremeld (Part 10 of 17)

This is a recapitulation of a paper I did in college. This is part eight in the series to read other parts go here.

Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Creepshow, Weird Science, Time Bandits, Splash, Big, Back to the Future, The Witches of Eastwick and My Stepmother is an Alien all of these films crossed genres to try and make something new and unique, and this was a staple of 80s filmmaking.


It has been said that nothing really original has been said after 1800. In film much the same conundrum exists in that there really are no new stories, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t crave films. More so than any other decade prior the 80s were expert at recombining genres and on occasion creating something new or at least different enough that everyone flocked towards it.

One of the great hits of the genremeld was Gremlins. Never before or since has there been such a perfect balance of the horrific and comedic. There’s no tongue-in-cheek here it wants you to laugh and gasp in the same breath.


Gremlins (1984, Warner Bros.)

In the film Gremlins we have two important things occurring: first, this is one of the first films of the Spielberg School. It was written by Chris Columbus while he was attending NYU he later went on to work with Spielberg on The Goonies. It was directed by Joe Dante a former Corman protégé who later in the decade directed Innerspace and Matinee. Plot-wise this film is very important in that it’s a great example of the ’80s habit of fusing genres. Many ’80s many horror films were unintentionally funny this one is attempting to be purposely funny and succeeding. It was also quite frightening mostly to young kids because the cute, little furry things mutate into nasty, putrid beasts.


Structurally, this film is very tight. In the opening scene where the father (Hoyt Axton) buys a mogwai we are given rules, a trait common to many fantasy films, they are ‘don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight and they hate bright light.’ The breaking of these rules end up being our act breaks and/or plot points. The first act ends in one of the most clear-cut fashions I’ve ever seen. Gizmo, the mogwai, gets water spilled on him in the 25th minute of the film and we see his progeny pop right out of him.


What a lot of people fail to notice is that there was actually a new creature invented for this film under the guise of an old myth. Gremlins were supposedly little monsters placed in machinery during World War II by the Germans. This creature comes from China according to this tale. It also allows for slight social commentary when Mr. Futterman complains about foreign cars and also while drunk he professes to believe in Gremlins in the classic sense. In the 1980s foreign cars truly bothered people enough such that the phrase ‘Buy American,’ was coined. 


Gremlins (1984, Warner Bros.)

The Spielberg School was always very big on ‘in-jokes,’ which can be readily apparent to the audience but are often missed (i.e. Rockin’ Ricky Rialto has the same billboard lettering as, and similar artwork to, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Gizmo hiding behind an E.T. doll). There is also a cameo by animation director Chuck Jones. 


The characters in this film are quickly established. We see Rand Peltzer, the father, haplessly trying to pedal his invention, Billy (Zach Galligan) signing a petition, Kate (Phoebe Cates) works at a bar for free and Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday) refuses to give a family more time to pay their loan. This film is funny and fun-filled and allusions to classic cinema are also play an important part in this story there is a clip from It’s a Wonderful Life and the Gremlins watch Snow White and in a hysterical turn they love it. There’s also mimicry of a popular film at the time Flashdance, and it’s great. The whole second half of this film is a wonderful mix of the hysterical and the creepy and sometimes both. Mrs. Deagle is thrown from her Stairmaster out the window to die in the snow. This shouldn’t be funny but it is. Then on the gross-out side we see a Gremlin melting in the sunlight. We also have the music of Jerry Goldsmith in this film who is wonderful composer who will turn out tunes just as hummable as Williams’s, but he specializes more in these fun types of films.

Gremlins was a big hit grossing $148 million on an $11 million dollar budget, and it’s easy to see why. It turns from a horror/comedy and there’s a lot of action thrown in. We laugh at what we shouldn’t. This is also one of the more tastefully done ‘horrors-on-Christmas’ films with a Gremlin getting chopped to bits while Burl Ives’s ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ is playing. I used to be deathly afraid of this film and it took me many years to gather up the courage to see it again. I’m very glad I did see it again though because, as strange as it sounds, this film is even whimsical in the way it handles its subject matter. As an adult, I don’t know who would be truly afraid of it but it does offer its fair share of the horror currency known as the “gross-out.” It’s so well handled in that regard I think we may be in suspense for a bit waiting for something else like it.

Favorite Older Films First Seen in 2012, Part 2

This is an idea I first saw on @bobfreelander‘s blog. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Wait Until Dark (1967)

Wait Until Dark (1967, Warner Bros.)

Part of what I really like about 31 Days of Oscar is that despite how high up the you-shoulda-seen-this-by-now ladder a film is the slate typically makes it quite easy to catch up on many of those titles. I always figured that the closing half of this film must be great, but what good is that without an effective build-up? Not much, but this film has both.

Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

Wild Boys of the Road (1933, Warner Bros.)

Yes, I learned it an always vaguely knew what Pre-Code was, but this year was the first time I really studied up on it and started to watch it more. This film, in part, was the catalyst. What really strikes you is how this film epitomizes the working class, stoic tackling of Depression themes head on that was a Warner signature of the era.

The Window (1949)

The Window (1949, RKO)

If I wanted to try and completely drive myself insane and place these films in order, this would likely come out atop the fray. This is a film based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, the same man who gave us Rear Window, and is essentially that tale crossed with “The Boy who Cried Wolf.” It’s short and as suspenseful as you could possibly stand, with real danger and a tremendous performance by Bobby Driscoll that earned him the Juvenile Award from the Academy.

Mrs. Parkington (1944)

Mrs. Parkington (1944, MGM)

This is a another 31 Days of Oscar selection that allowed me to redeem missing one of Greer Garson’s nominations as Best Actress. A few years back TCM aired each of her five successive nominations in order and I should’ve seen the whole block. This is a duplicitous family portrait that spans lifetimes and does so very entertainingly.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The Masque Red Death (1964, AIP)

In my previous post I discussed the dichotomy between Roger Corman and Charles Band. Where Corman sets himself apart is in the careers he helped kickstart, but also with his Poe adaptations. I saw a lot of these films in the past year and this was likely the most artistically daring and complete of the lot.

Faces of Children (1925)

Visages d'Enfants (1925, Pathé)

I have a lot of silents and older films sitting on my DVR that I must get to. This is a case of my catching a piece of this film on TCM late one night then being determined to watch it whole again one day. This film stuck with me not just because I discovered the work of Jacques Feyder through it, but also due to the wonderful tinting work involved in it.

Spectre (2006)

Spectre (2006, LionsGate)

I embrace any and all horror series like Six Films to Keep You Awake that round up genre directors from certain countries to tell quick effective tales. It’s not dissimilar to Door into Darkness or Masters of Horror, this edition highlights the uniquely opaque, intricate and dramatic flair that Spain has for the genre. There will be another tale from the series on this list. This is the one that separates the die hards from the casual admirers.

A Child Called Jesus (1987)

A Child Called Jesus (1987, Silvio Burlusconi Communications)

Any film willing to fill in some Biblical gaps, or at the very least cover ground rarely trod, will get my attention. Similarly any film that can hold my attention in spite of terrible dubbing is also worth noting.

The Christmas Tale (2005)

A Christmas Tale (2006, Lionsgate)

As mentioned above in Spectre, this is a Six Films to Keep You Awake tale, but this is the more accessible of the two I chose. It deals with a group of kids who find a woman trapped in a hole, as they learn about what got her there each faces moral dilemmas about how to deal with the situation. It not only sets up good horror but great character study.


Death and Cremation (2010)

Death and Cremation (2010, Green Apple Entertainment)

Prior to Jeremy Sumpter being the not-so-obscure object of desire in Excision he starred in this film which features a very overt and twisted mentor-protegé relationship. Bringing horror icons into the fold of a new project can be a double-edged sword but Brad Dourif is very effective in this role. Conversely, Sumpter utilizes his seeming vulnerability to channel a disconnected attitude and anger. The undertaker/death obsession mixed with suburban malaise can be seen as an obvious connection, but it’s not an overwrought one and works well with the performances.

VHS Gems

Here’s another great list idea courtesy of @bobfreelander. Whenever contributing to a popular list I believe that once must always include their slant on it so you understand the selector’s criteria, perspective and so forth.

I do have a horror story of foolishly trusting a VHS-DVD dubber and then tossing the back-ups only to find the DVDs incompatible with any other players, save the one that broke from overuse; despite that VHS is not my favorite format. I’m fine with progress in that regard.

What I’m not fond of is losing access to titles and that’s what format changes have done. Granted, with streaming, DVD, Blu-Ray and movie on demand distribution we’re getting closer, eventually to having most of what is still extant available, completism is all that will satisfy me. Therefore, here are some of my top choices of films I saw on VHS but have not had an official region 1 DVD version (BTW, going multi-region will change your life, and blow your face off your head).

I did pick some titles to try and make them representative of a niche that is likely replete with missing titles and you may see some of these titles pop-up on another similar list soon.

Ghost Town (1988)

This is a film I actually heard of thanks to Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Then, as luck would have it, I found it on sale at the library where all VHS tapes that get donated cost $0.50. Quite a bargain. If you see enough Charles Band movies, and get a taste for them, you’ll find that as a director/producer he’s somewhat in the Roger Corman mold inasmuch as if you sift through enough of his refuse, there’s some good movies to be found, and this is one of them! Western-horror and ghost towns in general have always interested me, and while what’s delivered is not something quite like the box promises it is strong enough to withstand a late second act bout of sloth.

Song of the South (1946)

I’ll save my Song of the South rant for another post. In fact, this selection isn’t really about Song of the South but Disney in general. There are rumors abound that Disney will create its own streaming service. They’ve already put their toes in the water on an international line, and recently into an MOD line. Both of those are very small and release titles infrequently. It’s bad enough the animated classics get vaulted, but for certifiable Disney nuts like myself (and I’m more tame than most) Disney’s squatting on its titles is terribly bothersome and this is at the top of the list.

The Son of the Shark (1993) and Jacqout de Nantes (1991)

I combine these two selections to further illustrate a point, and that’s about foreign-language films in the US. Far too often when formats change, some new home video distributors emerge, others fall by the wayside; and to capitalize on new technology some older titles get overlooked. These two French films couldn’t be more different: the first is a hard, gritty, disturbing look look at juvenile deliquency the second is a delightful, charming warm-hearted portrait of Jacques Demy by his wife Agnes Varda. It is a film she made in memory of him, that features many clips of his films, as well as ho his childhood shaped them and his life.

These films have not made it to DVD or blu-ray in the US.

American Gothic (1988)

I have to be honest and confess that I really can’t recall that much about American Gothic, other than I can differentiate it from the excellent short-lived TV show of the same name. However, I do recall seeing it as a Blockbuster rental and enjoying it a great deal – it’d be perfect to revisit but I cannot.

The Cellar (1989)

The Cellar represents another interesting aspect of distribution inasmuch I first saw it on cable, I believe at some point during the DVD era, but it has not moved past VHS into further means of being viewed.

Blake of Scotland Yard (1937)


I needed an older film here but I also needed one representative of serials, which I do like but don’t get to see enough of. As for Blake of Scotland Yard it’s as good a choice as any. In fact, one of my first posts on this new blog was my consumer outrage at discovering that such a thing as a composite serial, or as I like to call it “Studio Sanctioned Nonsense,” exists. I’ve probably seen it three times through in one for or other and it should be in print.

So those are just 7 films that are on VHS alone as of this writing. If I sat down I could find many more I am sure, but these were the ones that came quickest to my mind and also highlight gaps in distribution patterns that hopefully get picked up.

61 Days of Halloween- Die, Monster, Die!

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 so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Die, Monster, Die!

Boris Karloff in Die, Monster, Die! (AIP/MGM)

There is plenty to talk about when it comes to Die, Monster, Die! Firstly, it is an adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story “The Colour from Outer Space.” This is quite a different take on the tale than offered up by The Curse, not only is the story transplanted to an upper crust English family but it is done with American International Pictures’ usual flair. The flexibility of the tale proves it is one of the best the horror genre has to offer.

It’s a film, which like Psycho, believes that an opening title sets the tone for the film and is not a throw away. It is also a rare late-career appearance by Boris Karloff in which his talents aren’t wasted but in fact utilized.

The cinematography is spectacular not only in is atmospheric use of fog to start but in terms of framing, contrast and use of color. The framing being particularly aided by the decision to shoot 2.35:1. However, the art direction, as is often the case, is a co-conspirator in making this film look fantastic. The sets both interior and exterior are precise and meticulous, dilapidated where needed as well as ornate where necessary.

The effects for the era are quite impressive and artistically rendered both with the melting face and also at the end with the glowing head, if you see it you’ll know what I mean.

This film is available both on DVD and to stream over Netflix. It is a film whose title, like many of those in the halcyon days of cinema, belie the quality of the feature contained. Make no mistake that despite its B-movie moniker that Die, Monster, Die! is a quality piece of cinema and a valuable addition to the horror genre.

10/10