Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hammering Away With Vampire Kisses And Careful With That Ax Oliver Reed

Paranoiac, Hammer adapted to the post Psycho change in horror tastes with an adroitness that would utterly fail them 10 years later. Paranoiac is a condensed bite of Hitch's camera angles and characters harboring secrets and possibly a psychosis or seven. Already a drunken force of nature, Oliver Reed plays a ne'er do well scion terrorizing his family, in particular his his high strung sister. Still grieving over her parents' death and her brother's attendant suicide from 10 years ago, so it can't be good when she starts seeing her departed brother popping up in odd places....

If that seems like the film is going to be a standard Gaslight-tale, whoo boy. In a plot that redefines "byzantine" it changes directions and tones with whiplash speed leaving the viewer hooked if only to find out just what the hell is going on. The cast is solid, but naturally Reed's Gorgon in a suit walks off with the whole thing.

Nightmare, It's that familiar manor house again, full of odd relatives and gamine nurses. The high strung lady in question this time is plagued by nightmares of her childhood witness of her mad mother stabbing her father to death, and the lurking fear insanity will be her birthright too. She returns home, but no sooner does she tuck herself into bed before she spots a ghostly woman in white motioning her to follow...

Once the Mini-Hitchcocks are seen in aggregate it's natural to start mentally combing them into one perfect whole. Paranoiac has Reed's balls out performance, but this is an altogether better film with real sucker punches in reversing who the audience thought they could trust. And some particularly good psychology, and performances, in the disintegrating relationship between the two villains.

Kiss of the Vampire, Neato slightly out of the box vampire tale with the Count in question keeling a rather Romney-ish coterie of vampires in his family cult. The hapless hero's newly wedded wife gets the ball rolling when the Count decides to make her the latest acquisition to his magic bathrobe vampire Amway meetings.

The Van Helsing analogue is something else, Cushing's dapper mannerisms replaced by Clifford Evans'  hard drinking, brash pragmatism.

The Horror of Dracula, I am not, nor will I ever be, comfortable with how attracted I am to Sir Christopher Lee in this movie. That is all.

Brides of Dracula, Lee said Hell No for the first of many times and Hammer went ahead pretty successfully with a Dracula free Dracula sequel. I seem to be more fond of this entry than most. But I rather like its Drac substitute being  an elderly Dowager and her "corrupted" son. Whom, in a vain attempt to control, she's kept locked up at the family castle. Throwing him the occasional unfortunate village girl to sate his thirst. The female Reinfeld is a hoot and Peter Cushing is on hand to be awesome and clean the whole mess up.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Curse of the Bookish Werewolves of the Black Museum: The Musical!

Book rec, Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. Speaking the secret language of bibliophiles with a warm funny voice this is one of the best essay collections I've read in ages. I'm jittery as an addict to read the rest of her oeuvre.

The Werewolf, the fifties had a cycle of classic monster movies that presented them in modern terms with "scientific" causes for their monstrosities instead of the old gothics' curses and legends. A quite good and unjustly forgotten spin on lycanthropy with what has to be the most sympathetic protagonist in fifties horror. As the hapless werewolf in question happens to be a devoted husband and father with the misfortune to have crashed his car outside the local mad scientist's place.

The scientist is looking to help humanity by regressing us to a more primitive state, as you do, resulting in this very nice gentlemen spending the rest of the picture stumbling around the woods and village of a charming ski country town getting shot at. In a rather neat casting touch the heroic sheriff is played by Don Megowan, who played The Gill Man in The Creature Walks Among Us.

Curse of the Fly, The second sequel to The Fly and much more interested in being a variation on Gaslight and Rebecca than a straight mad science picture. Also important for revealing that Cronenberg studied this one particularly carefully, from the surprisingly grotesque teleport accidents to the doomed romance between the two leads.

The Mad Executioners, Krimi and I definitely need to become better friends. During the fifties and sixties a hooded killer rush happened in West German movies with dozens and dozens of delightfully oddball crime thrillers, usually based on the words of British author Edgar Wallace, tumbling out.

Featuring Byzantine plots, no really, I'm not kidding, think the red herring turns out not be the killer but only because he was committing another murder at the time at the instigation of such and such who is actually the world famous criminal mastermind so and so currently in hiding in a mansion that has a secret passageway a gang of smugglers.... well, you get the idea.

This time around a cabal of self appointed judges are holding trials for killers who escaped justice in the legal system and carrying out the sentence via a rope that is stolen every time from London's Black Museum (you think after a while they'd just stop putting it on display). That is only the very tip of the iceberg of what happens and the rest is a very fun, very convoluted road to figuring out who done it and just what in the blazes the secret trials have in connection with a rash of beheadings (don't ask.)

"Smash" season finale, Couldn't resist one last hatewatch for the road. The touch of having the title card be fully lit up with the strains of the overture starting was a really nice, just imagine if the show had actually earned it. The finale made clear that to its credit, the show is aware of it's problems. But also that it has no intention, or ability to fix them. I will be looking forward to the articles writing up just how abysmal the promised pregnancy subplot is going to turn out to be.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

"That's *what* I've got.": The Hawksian pleasures of The Avengers

An online comment solidified why I liked The Avengers as much as I did; in tone and performances it felt nothing so much as what would happen if Howard Hawks had decided to helm a superhero movie. The film seems to revolve around critic David Thomson's great observation that Hawks seemed to understand like few directors that "[People] are more expressive rolling a cigarette than saving the world." While definitely a corporate created attempt to make a great deal of money the director and co-writer Joss Whedon approaches the material without the slightest bit of condescension, and neither does his cast.

Where too many of the characters' stand alone movies felt like warm up acts, here they are relaxed and droll in their roles, and given room to shape and shade their performances with an embarrassment of one liners that feel organic instead of too precious as can happen with Whedon's dialogue. These are superheroes, literal gods in some cases, but for once they feel like people.

It's a genuine ensemble piece. But perhaps the most Hawks touch is the revitalization of Scarlet Johansson as Black Widow. Little more than leather clad eye candy in her first appearance, here's she's tough, wounded, and warily tender. Revealing a monologue's worth of information in closeups of her thinking and carefully watching the others. She's a complex woman who's rediscovered her humanity and isn't entirely comfortable with that.

Mark Ruffalo gets a screen treatment of The Hulk that's finally more interested in Dr. Banner and rewards it with a performance that is much more interesting than his rampaging alter ego. Rather mordantly funny than drowning in self pity, his performance suggests his continued survival has hinged at his observing that his intolerable circumstances are also kinda hilarious.

They are believably a team and a wobbly first act gels to something wonderful, watching these people talk to and tease each other and come to trust and work together. With a core group that strong the villain could be an afterthought, but Tom Hiddleston is a lethal, bitchy delight at Loki. His barbs and seething resentment as his own ridiculousness making him no less dangerous.

Finally going back to the comment that started it all filmmaker Brandon David Wilson said, "If Avengers fails in visual style I imagine we have to take the oeuvre of Howard Hawks and toss it on the ash heap as well." But the look of the film has that key Hawks ingredient of making the effort not show. The film's colors are bright and beautiful, the action sequences clear and expertly edited.

So it may not be the visual feast of Del Toro's Hellboy movies, but it rewards the viewer's attention with one of the warmest, funniest adventure movies in ages.