Wednesday, October 31, 2012

31 Weird Tales: The Legend of Hell House

The film is often dismissed as a classless key party gloss on The Haunting, but there's quite a bit going on here. For one thing it's one of the saddest films I've ever seen. Sad at how inescapable the past is, sad at how we often hurt the worst the ones who love us the most, and sad at how we would not be quite so helpless in the face of evil if we would actually work together on occasion. The melancholy gives the pulp a strange dignity, and the whole affair is of a kind with that breed of seventies horror. The kind that feels cheap or forgettable on first pass, but somehow settles into your skin, like dust from an old house, leaving you troubled well into the night... Happy Halloween everybody.

Monday, October 29, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Portrait of Jennie

A ghostly love story that climaxes with a fateful hurricane this is a beautiful forties studio film. In superb black and white, capturing the chilly beauty of winter and Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones giving marvelous performances as the star crossed pair. Perfect to curl up to with a hot drink as the winds rage outside.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

31 Weird Tales: The Horrors of Spider Island

It made for a grand episode of MST3K but the movie on its own is a hoot and a half too. A raft full of showgirls wash ashore a seemingly deserted island after a plane crash, only to discover strange webs and the unfortunate effect a spider bite has on their manager. The grainy black and white and European cast ad a strange air of surrealistic wonder, as if Ingmar Bergman had decided to shoot a nudie cutie.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

31 Weird Tales: The Dark Crystal

Jim Henson's splendid children's film that doesn't flinch from the terrors adventure can bring. An amazing production design and character work create something truly enchanting.

Friday, October 26, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Exorcist II: The Heretic

One of the most horrifying films of all time births one of the unsung comedy classics of the 70s. John Boorman is a wonderful director but he absolutely hated The Exorcist, and it shows. Gone is the stark simplicity and Roman Catholicism of the premise, instead papered over with strobe lights, steel dove cotes, New Age consciousness and earth toned Protestant mysticism all wrapped up in one ridiculous tap dancing bag. Call me by my dream name and recommend it to your friends.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Kwaidan

Beautiful anthology of Japanese ghost stories. Ones which for all their supernatural trappings turn on very keen understandings of human nature. "The Woman of the Snow" is a particular highlight.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Phantom of the Paradise

It has a cult, but De Palma's glam forked tongue at the music industry deserves a much larger one. Instantly dated in amber with the songs and the fashions and timeless in the age of American Idol and a dozen other watch how the sausage is made shows. Standing room only, and watch out for that plunger. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Night Creatures

Marvelous semi-swashbuckling business from Hammer. Peter Cushing plays the lovable village parson who is in no way a notorious pirate who escaped the hangman's noose and has settled into a comfortable retirement of teaching the village how to smuggle contraband across the marshes that surround them. An indecently young and good looking Oliver Reed is on hand to be the romantic lead and the antagonists are suitably boorish. What a pity this didn't spawn a series, I must check out the Disney versions soon...

Monday, October 22, 2012

31 Weird Tales: The Thing With Two Heads

A wickedly fun bit of nonsense from the fine folks at AIP. A rapidly decaying Ray Milland plays a diabolical doctor determined  to cheat death. He attaches his noggin to wrongly convicted death row inmate Grier, who escapes and the chase is on! Milland and Grier have a wonderful, bickering chemistry, it's a shame they didn't make another film together. Funny, and briskly makes sure to not wear out its welcome.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Plague of the Zombies

The last major zombie film of note before Romero completely redefined the game. And yet of great interest because it carries a social commentary that's become all the more piercing in the age of 1 percent versus the 47 percent. In a charming Cornish village the local Squire has found a most unorthodox, but undoubtedly Bain approved, way to staff his tin mines. Some very fine work from Hammer second stringers, and memorably creepy zombie designs. Occupy the mines and be reminded yet again that the more things change the more the rich find hideous new definitions for "human resources".

Friday, October 19, 2012

31 Weird Tales: The Brain That Wouldn't Die

There are those films for the b movie fan that were your gateway drug, this is definitely one of mine. A fateful encounter with the Rhino VHS MST3K episode that featured it drew me along to the bent and forsaken path I tread this very day seeking out the best of the worst and the entertainingly bizarre the film world has to over. This one is a priceless rhinestone, mad science, closet monsters, femme fatale burlesque dancers, bikini models, and a surprising amount of blood for the time. Make it a night at the drive-in with this one.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Hatchet For the Honeymoon

A neato late period effort from Mario Bava that prefigures American Psycho by decades as it centers on a suave, charming man who has the unfortunate habit of hacking new brides to pieces on their wedding night. It's Bava's usual beguiling, disturbingly gorgeous touch, shifting moods and motivations with just a tint of light and color. Marvelously cold, save it for Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

31 Weird Tales: The Mummy (1959)

Hammer's take on the undying one is a treat, taking all the good parts from the various Universal entries and leaving the tedium and odious comic relief behind. Anchored by two strong performances, Cushing, and Lee in a nearly wordless role.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

31 Weird Tales: The Company of Wolves

Neil Jordan's wonderfully moody and beautiful version of Angela Carter's novel is a delightfully thorny twist on the werewolf and the Little Red Riding Hood story. In a strange village tucked inside an even stranger forest the wolves howl while stories are told around the fire. Stories that seem to be telling of events long ago that strangely seem to be unfolding right then and there. A canny, and sympathetic, female coming of age tale too.

Monday, October 15, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Starcrash

Disreputable Star Wars cash-ins are my anti-drug, and they don't get much more disreputable than this. Made for approximately ten dollars and apparently written by that guy from Memento as things seem to happen at random and no scene, or line, seems to follow logically from or build on the last. Christoper Plummer manages the most special effect of not bursting into flames from the red hot shame radiating out of him in palpable waves. Set a course for it today.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Into the Woods

My favorite Stephen Sondheim show, rich and warm and spiky tempered, melancholy, and very funny. The American Playhouse recording of the original Broadway run is one of the best movies of the eighties, certainly its finest musical. Using the stories we grew up on to dive in and wander among the nettles and groves of the human mind and heart it is never treacly or smug. A show to grow with, and careful before you say listen to me...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

31 Weird Tales: 5 Million Years to Earth

Splendid sci-fi from Hammer films. Digging out a new subway stop uncovers something that shouldn't be there, an alien ship, and more precisely an alien ship that has been buried there for millions of years. Professor Quatermass is there to investigate and he soon uncovers a very ancient and very horrifying secret about human origins, and that the ship and it's occupants are not resting so soundly anymore. All of it building to a enervating apocalyptic finale. The marvelous Barbara Shelley is on hand as the professor's assistant. In short, Prometheus done much better, much smarter, and for much less coin some forty plus years ago.

Friday, October 12, 2012

31 Weird Tales: La Belle et La Bete

Cocteau's masterpiece is one of those films that can make one fall in love for good with movies, it certainly did for me. In ravishing black and white with sumptuous production design, its lasting power stems from understanding a film for children does not have to mean a childish film in the least. Lose your way in the woods tonight.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Demons

A junk food treat from Lamberto Bava. In classic Eurocult fashion it makes little sense but the ingredients are so tasty and juicy the viewer doesn't much mind. A group of fresh meat unwisely accept a golden ticket for a special screening at a very special theater, one that's art directed to an inch of it's life and there might be oozing zombies hiding around the next corner (there definitely are). Enjoy the show, and remember, no screaming.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

A very neat Pre Code horror entry from Paramount. Gleaming in black and white, with the beautiful decadence that was the studio's specialty. Of special notice is Miriam Hopkins as the doomed Ivy, playing her bad girl to the hilt.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Suspiria

A blood red, royal blue, emerald green, and canary yellow fairy tale with a glass heart. Jessica Harper plays a ballet dancer who makes the fated decision to hone her craft at an academy nestled deep in the Black Forest. And it's not too long before things are doing much more than going bump in the night. Horrific violence has never looked so goregous, and the score from Goblin is practically a living entity of its own. Join this Dance Macabre tonight.

Monday, October 08, 2012

31 Weird Tales: The Shining

Kubrick's magnificently chilly version of Stephen King's novel is unsurpassed in suggesting the isolation and incipient madness of winter. A not really recovering alcoholic takes his family to a Gilded Age hotel to serve as keeper for the off season. The Overlook Hotel is one of cinema's best monsters, not a falling down rattrap it's big, so big, and gold and rich brown, and beautiful. But the lights always seem to glow a bit too brightly in the hallways, the rooms don't quite seem to match, and the hallways seem to end up wherever they please. It's a hungry place, and Wendy Carlos' score underlines its primeval appetites. A winter's tale, for those long nights when the ice seems to have teeth.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Cronos

Guillermo Del Toro's first full length directorial effort is a masterful spin on the vampire tale. An antiques dealer comes into possession of a strange, beautiful device, it appears to restore youth and health, but at a terrible cost. It's neat to see Del Toro's signature flourishes already in evidence, from things in jars to brave little dark haired girls. With a nifty supporting performance from Ron Perlman as a dying millionaire's no good nephew. Ask for directions to the shop and watch your neck.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

31 Weird Tales: John Carter

Hollywood and critics inexplicably went out for blood with this very fun, suitably pulpy take on Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. Granted the first act is wobbly, Taylor Kitsch as Carter is good but not great, but the movie as a whole is a treat and clearly was director Andrew Stanton's dream project. Well no matter, Lynn Collins makes a wonderful Dejah Thoris and the Martian cities are splendid Art Nouveau inspired creations. Give it a shot for something off model spaceships and metal corridors sci-fi.

Friday, October 05, 2012

31 Weird Tales: They Live

"It hasn't dated at all," is itself a phrase as stale and meaningless now as a squashed half loaf of bread forgotten behind the microwave. But damn, this savage throat punch of the Reagan decade really hasn't dated at all. (Watch the alien/human fundraiser scene and see if you don't impose Romney's 47% video remarks over it.) A wickedly funny tale of aliens slowly siphoning off Earth's resources and keeping the public cowed with subliminal messages ordering them to do such things as "OBEY" and "MARRY AND REPRODUCE" is kept from preachiness by some great, spiky performances by Keith David and Rowdy Roddy Piper.  Chew some bubblegum and get your ass over to this movie.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Spook Warfare

From Japan comes an absolutely delightful marvel about some local spirits taking on an unwelcome visitor. Yokai are creatures from Japanese folklore that can take the can take the form of anything from a fire breathing turtle man to a pretty girl with a hideous second face on the back of her head. Usually benign, they realize their reputation is at stake when Pazuzu washes ashore to show them what's what and they decide a counter attack is their only hope. A mere synopsis can't do justice to just how wonderfully strange and genuinely other worldly this is. Listen for what goes bump in the night and check it out.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

31 Weird Tales: The Night Walker

William Castle returns to the rich well of legendary actresses in peril with this unjustly ignored entry. It doesn't live up to it's marvelously dreamy opening, with Paul Frees narrating in his best Orson Welles impresson. But it's a solid thriller in the Gaslight tradition with Stanwyck carrying the whole thing to safety. Pleasant dreaming.

(Of note is this Spanish poster, which Del Toro mentioned having an influence on Pan's Labyrinth after being fascinated with it as a child.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Body Double

Brian De Palma ripped the lid off his Id after the massive public finger wagging he got for Dressed to Kill and came back with a radioactive valentine pulsing with love for the movies and an equal disdain for humanity. Rear Window and Vertigo get a tropical colored acid bath and sneer at the camera in De Palma's cheekiest since Phantom of the Paradise. Not content to use the finger in the return, the director's weapon of choice is a large pair of breasts glistening in stage blood. No wonder lead Craig Wasson turned to Jesus after this.

Monday, October 01, 2012

31 Weird Tales: Twins of Evil

31 Weird Tales raises from the grave this year with one of Hammer's most enjoyable late period efforts. Less a tired walk through of vampire gothic-land than a full -throated, beautifully nasty twist of the rack on such witch burners as The Conqueror Worm and Mark of the Devil. Jam full of furious puritans, lead by Peter Cushing in top magnificent bastard form, decadent aristocrats dropping their souls like housecoats for fangs, and bosomy maidens as much as the Pinewood back lot will hold.  It's amazing that something this bleak can be this much rollicking fun, so go ahead and sink your teeth into this with gusto. 

(Many thanks to the fine folks at Riverside Drive-In's Super Monster-Rama for introducing me to this one.)