Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On the Big Screen :: The Great Halloween Double-Feature that Wasn't.

Well, once again, turns out I am a complete idiot. But in my defense, this time, I had help, and so, this cinematic catastrophe was not entirely my fault. To preface this tale of woe, you'll need to know that the 20 Grand Multiplex in Lincoln, NE, had been showing old school Fright Flicks all October. The first week they had multiple screenings of Carpenter's remake of The Thing, which I'd already made the 200 mile round trip to see; the second, The Shining; and the third week, Friday the 13th, which is where I came in again.

Wanting to see this on the big screen, a check of the theater's online schedule showed the last time Friday would play would be on Thursday, 10/24. And while sussing that out, this same website also claimed there would be a 12:01am showing of the original Halloween on Friday, 10/25, to celebrate its 35th Anniversary. And when an online schedule says there's a 12:01am show on Friday, you'll forgive a guy if he assumes you mean there'll be a show at 12:01am on Friday, meaning two minutes after 11:59pm on Thursday. Because, hooray, by sheer coincidence, that last Friday the 13th show was slated to start just before 10pm on Thursday, with Halloween to follow two hours and one minute later -- again, according to the online schedule. Pfffft. Yeah. Right. 

Anyways, I'm sure you all see where this is going, but, at the time, I did not. And so ... Excited by the opportunity to take in this amazing double-feature, I quickly ordered tickets online despite some heavy reservations. See, I've only done that once before, for another anniversary screening of Elvis on Tour, which was an unmitigated disaster of 'We can't find your order, sir. Sorry, but you'll have to purchase another ticket if you'd like to get in, sir. So sorry for the inconvenience, sir, please check the website, and, that'll be another $20. Enjoy the show.' Still, I didn't want to run the risk of driving that far and getting skunked out on a sold out show. The tickets were much, much cheaper, so, eh, what the hell?

When the fateful day arrived, off to Lincoln I went, with a quick stop at the delightful King Kong Burger for a Double-Kong Burger with cheese and bacon before heading to the theater, where, thankfully, I retrieved the tickets for both shows with nary a hiccup or peep from the staff. Hooray! Checking the ticket for the Friday the 13th showing, I quickly found the right theater and grabbed a seat. It was a small but game crowd. Surveying the audience, I was the only one there over thirty. Most appeared to be under twenty, and, judging by the reactions, most had never seen it before, which made it twice as fun watching the movie and watching them react to all the jump scares. 

The movie itself is no work of art, yes; the acting is uniformly terrible, the plot mere contrivance, and Kevin Bacon definitely stuffs his speedo, but the F/X hold up remarkably well and I just love the infernal thing to itty-bitty pieces. And, oh, the chorus of screams at that final surprise cameo. And what I found extremely amusing is how everybody was jumping and shrieking through the whole thing except for Betsy Palmer's climactic decapitation, which brought a roar of laughter, that got louder during the cut back to the wriggling hands and the blood-spurting stump. A strange release, really. And then blammo a few minutes later with the soggy shocker. The screening also kinda brought me full circle on the film itself, for I had now seen Friday the 13th via word of mouth from my older sister, on Betamax, on VHS, on old school Laser Disc, on broadcast TV, on basic cable, on premium cable, on Monstervision, digital streaming, on DVD, on BluRay, expanded through the novelization, three separate 'making of' texts, and countless behind the scenes documentaries, and then I saw it this spring at a Drive-In, and now, finally, under a hardtop. How cool is that? And I look forward to seeing it again whatever the next platform may be.

Speaking of late twists everyone saw coming but me, when the first screening got out and I filed back into the lobby proper, something just didn't feel right. Off. I had about twenty minutes to kill before the second feature started so I went to the snack bar for some Junior Mints but was promptly told they were closed. Odd, I thought, with another movie yet to start tonight. A quick glance at  the ticket showed it to be playing in Theater #1, which was just disgorging the audience for Bad Grampa. And once they cleared out, the large theater lobby seemed strangely deserted. And then it was quiet. Too quiet, he typed ominously. Surely I wasn't the only one going to attend this screening, right? With that, I checked the ticket again to make sure I had the right theater, and here, I finally noticed the fine print, saying the ticket was good for Friday evening, and dated the 26th, which, of course was Saturday. 

Screen-cap of the Friday, October 25, schedule.
Click to enlarge and please note the time.

E'yup, the online schedule was lying, or just confused. Like me right now. Mea culpa for not checking into things a little closer, but, dammit, I was just going by what the schedule was saying. A quick recheck of the website showed a 12:01am show on Friday AND Saturday only. Here, see for yourselves. 

Screen-cap of the Saturday, October 26, schedule.
Click to enlarge and please note the time. Again.

I can only assume that what the website was really trying to say was there would be a midnight showing of Halloween on Friday and Saturday night but assumptions is what led me here in the first place. And why the hell they couldn't just say that instead of the slightly confusing 12:01am horseshit is beyond me. I mean, I'm not crazy for reading the schedule that way, right? (I had also wrongly assumed Halloween was the last weekly holiday feature, turns out ParaNorman had that honor.) Feh. 

Judging by the crowd of one lingering in the lobby, apparently, I was the only dupe who fell into this hero trap. I was going to ask someone about this snafu but everyone had disappeared. I lingered for another five minutes but when no one else arrived I knew I had made a mistake; an honest mistake, sure, cultivated by some terribly confusing and misleading info, but a mistake nonetheless. I grumped and grumbled the whole long drive back home. It didn't help that I had rearranged my entire vacation schedule to make this work. Once I got home, I checked into a refund on the soon to be unused tickets but I scotched it, figuring it would be easier to just eat the whole $11 and chalk it up to experience. The double-feature was too good to be true for a film freak like me. Turns out it was.

Well, long story short, I did wind up going back to Lincoln the next night. The movie was totally worth it and simply could not be passed up; but the sheen was definitely off the whole adventure by then. (Especially when you consider that second tank of gas.) The second night it had become less about the movie and more about gaining a modicum of a satisfactory conclusion for this errant quest. I do not regret the opportunity to see these films on the big screen, which is why there are no angry e-mails on the way to Marcus Theaters' corporate office because I do appreciate the venue. I just regret that something that could've been perfect, and awesome, perfectly awesome, wasn't. *sigh*

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monstrous Recommendations :: What I've Been Watching to Get Into the Holiday Spirit, and So Should You! Or not.

Last House on Dead End Street (1978) is another one of those movies that was always spoken of in hushed tones in my little glut of horror and grue fanatics while growing up. Of course, this was all based on what we'd read and rumor as none of us had actually seen it. And now, with that hurdle finally cleared, I can say the film's notorious reputation is fairly well-earned but might also be a tad counter-productive in the 'expectations be a bitch' department. The plot itself of a Manson-esque clan of filmmakers taking revenge on those trying to exploit their product by making them the victims of their latest production (a snuff movie) is very thin and, well, kinda dumb; but the lurid execution and the resulting sleazy verisimilitude trample these concerns resulting in something rather queasy and disquieting. (And I only watched the 78 minute theatrical cut. I can only imagine what I missed in the 90 minute version and boggle as to what the original 175 minute epic looked like.) Rumor has it that writer, producer and director Roger Watkins was high on speed through the whole thing. And from what I saw, yeah, he probably was. (Watkins kinda looks like Bill Hader and dresses like a Ramone, ergo, I shall always refer to him as Hader Ramone.) Glad to have finally crossed it off the list. Probably won't be revisiting it anytime soon, but definitely worth a look for those others similarly afflicted with affection for these kind of gonzoid genre films.

Note to the makers of Evil Dead (2013). I know your heart was in the right place. I do not doubt that for one second. But! You are probably in trouble when the opening prologue seems like a lot more interesting movie than your movie proper. The grue is there, definitely, but the whole climax was dumber than a bag of deadites. Never connected with any character. In fact, kinda lost track of most of them, resulting in a lot of "oh, yeah, that guy/gal." Sorely missing the empathy and humor fusion of its originator. By no means terrible, but not very good either.

Whether you believe the validity of the 'based on actual events' disclaimer or not, The Conjuring (2013) is an extremely well executed fright flick, which follows a pair of infamous ghost-hunters, Ed and Lorraine Warren, on their second most famous case involving a family trapped in an apparently evil house hell bent on destroying them all. The director, the production design, and the actors were all on the same 'less is more' page, meaning what you think you see and hear sometimes can be more frightening. And this slow-burn approach also allows those moments when the film shows its F/X hand to have much more punch. (I especially felt good for Lili Taylor as the possessed mom, who recovers nicely from her other disastrous trip into the paranormal. This time, it really WAS all about the family.) It's easy to see why the film struck such a chord at the box-office as those of us who grew up in the 1970s can easily see this is just The Amityville Horror, which was The Blair Witch Project of its day, all over again.

Speaking of The Amityville Horror, I followed up The Conjuring with the fascinating documentary, My Amityville Horror (2012), which centers around Daniel Lutz, the eldest son of the family who allegedly lived through a month of sheer terror after moving into what was to become one of cinema's most infamous anthropomorphic abodes, trying to come to terms with what happened back in 1975. Again, whether you believe in the supernatural or not, as it unfolds, this sadly pathetic (-- not disgustingly pathetic, mind you,) tale of a man still clinging to something so hard, and so fiercely, whose story has been told again and again, and reinforced again and again, a story that changes ever so slightly to appease any question to its validity or contradiction, becomes less about something paranormally evil and more about the psychological denial over a mother's betrayal and failure to protect her children from their abusive stepfather. Yeah, the seething hatred Daniel has for George Lutz is palpable in this thing, and the doc really paints an awful (and downright sinister) picture of him, and Kathy, too, who, to be fair, are no longer around to defend themselves. There is a moment in the doc where Daniel betrays his whole story, too, with a visit to a now doddering Lorraine Warren, one of the paranormal investigators who tried to help back '76, who comes off as bit of a Cuckoo bird, and Daniel clandestinely looks into the camera with a smirk and comments on how 'f@ckin nuts' she is. There are other slip-ups, too, which only confirms that something horrible probably did happen in that house in Amityville, but sadly, something all too real and grounded in reality.

From the Depths of YouTube, I also stumbled upon a series of slashers movies ripped right off their old VHS tapes. Up first, with Freeway Maniac (1989), I probably should have known better by now than to be suckered in by a blurb that promises a psycho-killer stalking the production of a Z-grade sci-fi epic, but, eh? The second warning came when I saw The Cannon Group in the credits. (Sure, the Go-Go Boys made some great crap, but they're slasher knock-offs are a whole 'nother level of excruciating. And by 1989, the company was merely a shell of its former self, evidenced by this fine piece of cinema. Also noted during the credits, The Doors Robby Krieger did the music.) And so, bracing for the worst, my precautions soon proved completely justified. Terrible, and stupid, and stupidly terrible, the film's biggest problem is with the way it's clumsily set up, with the killer way over here, while the film, starring the object of his homicidal obsession, is being made way, way, way over there. And then, the movie takes its own sweet time bringing them together with a series of fairly risible found-object murder vignettes on the road in-between. Sadly, the throwaway bits on the production of the Larry Blamire-esque Star Trek knock-off is actually kinda funny and interesting; too bad they had to ruin it by focusing on that other idiot with the chainsaw.

And then there's Spine (1986), a direct to video, and shot on video, feature that can't quite decide if it wants to be serial slasher movie, a police procedural, or a fairly skeevy fetish video as some lunatic with a mother fixation takes out his homicidal rages on a rapid succession of trussed up nurses, leaving the audience to sift through the resulting stool sample, looking for something, anything, to latch onto. Appears to have been made by some broadcast studio technicians with delusions of grandeur. (The credits were done with the built in chyron of the video camera.) The cast is uniformly awful (it trumpets one of its starlets who played a cannibal in the original The Hills Have Eyes), there's some yuks to be had at the inept gang of police investigators, and then prepare to chuck something at the screen when the precognitive ending rolls around. The only thing worth recommending is the killer's signature look, meaning his large, mirrored, aviator glasses, which gives the viewer plenty of reflected glimpses of the cameraman and most of the crew. Beyond that, move along. Nothing to see here.

Escaping the YouTube rabbit hole, I also managed to catch You're Next (2011). Not all that terrible a retread as far as these body count/spam in a cabin things go, where a family gathering is interrupted by masked intruders and are bumped off most gruesomely. Basically Agatha Christie for the SAW generation, I did like how even though when facing imminent death, familial axes and pissing contests are still grinding and drizzling away. Props also for showing how a clear head and sound thinking can totally derail one of these otherwise all too 'neat' attacks. (It also helps immensely when one of the potential victims and designated Final Girl knows the SAS Survival Handbook both backwards and forwards. And is there like a certain sect of surfers who hire out for this kinda stuff?) Double extra points (I honestly openly cheered) over how our heroine made triple-doople damn sure each attacker was well and truly and lethally out of the game. (Lots of head-pulping in this thing.) And triple-extra points for letting those who are most assuredly dead stay that way. I didn't even mind them trotting out the tired old "whoops" twist on top of the other three car twist pile-up at the end. Nothing all that new, but I dug it.  

And then, from serial slashers and vengeful ghosts we move onto some bona fide monster movies. And you know you're in for something truly special when the filmmakers go out of their way to tell you their film is 'A true story based on actual events' on three -- THREE -- separate occasions during the opening credits. (No. Really. It's true.) Somewhere in South America, a factory has been polluting a nearby lake, breeding some hideous beast with a healthy apetite for premarital smoochers. (No. Really. It's true.) Some locals and hippies do their best to close the beaches but fail. You all know this drill by now. And Monstroid (1980) is amazing, folks. SEE! Barbie Dolls munched in half! SEE! John Carradine cashing a paycheck! SEE! One of the most adorable sea monsters ever! Just SEE! Monstroid as soon as possible. (No. Really. It's true.)  

So, apparently, somebody in Connecticut saw Trilogy of Terror and thought, 'Hey, if one killer doll was terrifying, imagine a whole island full of midget, barely articulate Cabbage Patch Zuni warriors', who then conned several friends into giving up a weekend to have those dolls thrown at them, borrowed a relative's camera, all baked on med-low for about 80 minutes, and created quite the cheeze casserole of ever-escalating YOU HAVE GOTTA BE KIDDING ME?!? Recommendation: Cut yourself off a piece of Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985) and enjoy as soon as possible. 

As a self-proclaimed Sasquatch Cinema aficionado I kinda walked blindly into Night of the Demon (1980) and, as the saying goes, I never knew what hit me -- make that stomped on me. What boils down to Bigfoot the 13th, the movie kinda plays out like an incoherent retelling of what would happen if Shriek of the Mutilated and The Legend of Boggy Creek had a baby, cinematically speaking, which is kind of amazing and terrifying at the exact same time in a nulling and voiding the Universe sense. Here, a college professor leads a pack of students into the wilderness to find the elusive creature, which turns out to be vengeful forest spirit who buzzsaws through several folks via flashbacks inside of flashbacks, flash-sideways and flash-whatevers (-- the scene with the biker getting his nuts ripped off is when I officially surrendered on all coherency fronts). Seriously. And deliriously, you'd just randomly cut from one scene to people we've never met, they'd bump into Bigfoot, die horribly, and then crash-cut back to the campsite and someone verbally finishing the horrid tale until it all comes to a screeching halt with one of the nastiest cast massacres of recent memory. Quite possibly one of the most baffling movie watching experiences I've ever endured, Night of the Demon is truly magnificent. 

Now, I didn't think anything could possibly top Night of the Demon for sheer 'What the @#%* was thatitude.' And then I watched Winterbeast (1991), where, somewhat improbably, we breach a whole 'nother level of eyegittyeyegittyeyegitty. The plot: When several people die rather ridiculously, a park ranger, his staff, and a storekeeper learn that ancient Indian spirits are manifesting through several totems (I think) to seek revenge on anyone who treads upon or generally defiles their holy mountain (by, say, stripping in a cabin), and so, they must convince the local lodge owner to shut down, who refuses. More deaths and mayhem ensue. I honestly have no idea on this film's history but it feels like at least four different student films (shot in three different decades on six different brands of film-stock) spliced together with a dozen or so F/X test loops for a grand total of an hour and half of sheer mounting absurdity executed with a colossally staggering scale of incompetence. This two-punch combo may grate or grow tiresome for some, and this thing really shits itself in the last ten minutes when what little cohesive plot there was was finally beaten senseless and left for dead altogether; and yet, with each misstep, with each inexplicable stop-motion monster attack, with every bad edit, with every botched sound-effect, and with every quantum leap in plot logic, there's just something about Winterbeast that is absolutely mesmerizing. There's even a few glimmers of ... not talent, by any means, but some fairly effective F/X moments, make-up effects, and camerawork. Truly amazing. And how I missed this one for so long is beyond me. But found it I have, and to you, my fellow B-Movie Brethren, I say, forget The Room, forget Birdemic, and to hell with Sharknado. Get your hands on a copy of this as soon as possible. Don't believe me? Just ask Amazon:

Told ya!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hammer Halloween Blogathon :: Supernatural or Super-Murderous?! :: A 16 Vid-Cap Look at Freddie Francis' Nightmare (1964)

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

"Where does the dream finish and reality begin?"
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

Our film today wakes up with a scream; a scream that appears to happen on a nightly basis for teen-aged Janet (Linden), who has been plagued nearly her whole life by some pretty vicious nightmares. Now, the fact that she witnessed both her mother's psychotic break and the end result of which, being the brutal murder of her father as a fourth birthday present, would probably give all of us a bad case of the night-drizzles, too. And worst of all, things seem to be intensifying, exponentially, lately; and now, poor Janet's greatest fear, the fear that she is destined to crack-up and kill somebody and wind up in the loony-bin, just like dear old mom, appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy fully realized as these nightmares are now seemingly continuing when she's wide awake! 

Make no mistake, Janet was teetering on the brink of mental instability already; but is she really cracking up for good due to this childhood trauma? Or is someone (rather than some thing) using it to push her over the edge for some other nefarious purpose? -- he typed ominously...

While Hammer Studios made their rep in the late 1950s and early '60s with a string of technicolor Gothic romps, lost in all that blood and tensile-cleavage were a string of psychological thrillers, shot in glorious black 'n' white, with the likes of The Snorkel, Scream of Fear, Paranoaic, Maniac and Nightmare. They were shot with an eye for Hitchcockian shocks and suspense and an ear for the left-turn revelations of Henri-Georges Clouzot. And though this was technically achieved, as the films are fundamentally sound and look gorgeous, but, they all hew much closer to the completely mental mentality of William Castle as one salacious and convoluted plot twist after another keeps piling up with each finished reel. Still, they're all well worth a look and all are readily available in some form or another in those Hammer box sets from Columbia. The crisp and clean prints they have just pop off the screen and I can't recommend these discs highly enough.

One of the biggest beefs against Nightmare is that its first half just doesn't jive properly with the second. See, when we first meet Janet and watch as she's put through the wringer, Nightmare is just that: a straight up horror movie. And a darn good one, too. It's all very creepy, that builds and builds its maledicted momentum with each ghostly and ghastly encounter; but then the plug is abruptly pulled when we breach the twist as Janet's mental tether finally snaps and she lashes out and murders someone mistaken for the ghost that's been tormenting her. From there, after Janet is carted off to the nuthouse, we then quickly find out what's been really going on, which, sadly, puts a damper on all that hard won and accumulated tension, leaving the movie with nothing to do but kinda start over again with another character, where things become less suspenseful, no matter how hard it tries to recapture that momentum, and more convoluted.

It's almost impossible to throw a rock at Hammer's output from this period and not hit one that had Jimmy Sangster's fingerprints on it, including the script for Nightmare. Here, his plot of a demented perfect-murder (an unwanted fiance) and money-grab (Janet's estate) by a couple of unscrupulous lovers asks you to swallow a lot but never really falls apart until the final denouement, another twist on the twist, which kinda clunks, badly, when the bad guys get their comeuppance, making one wonder when exactly did the good guys sniff out the original conspiracy and maybe, just maybe, prevented the murder in the first place and saved both the victim's life and Janet a whole lot of grief.

Despite these plot hiccups, Nightmare is an absolute feast for the eyes. Not since The Spiral Staircase have I seen black this BLACK onscreen and used so well in frame to enhance the mood. Noted cinematographer Freddie Francis, who had just controlled the lens for Jack Clayton's The Innocents, definitely brought his cameraman's eye to the director's chair and his efforts, along with actual cinematographer John Wilcox, using the sets, lighting and framing to impend the dread and show the isolation and the crescendo-ing mental disintegration of first Janet and then co-conspirator Grace (Redmond) definitely and defiantly helps push Nightmare out of the hackneyed mess morass and into the serviceable thriller column for me, at least.

Other Points of Interest:

Alright, Boils and Ghouls, this post is part of the Classic Film and TV Cafe's Hammer Halloween Blogathon, running October 21st thru the 25th. Thank you most gracious hosts for throwing out such a wide net for participants. And now, if you dare, follow the linkage and tear into all those other great reviews, won't you? Thank you.

Nightmare (1964) Hammer Film Productions :: Universal Pictures / P: Jimmy Sangster / D: Freddie Francis / W: Jimmy Sangster / C: John Wilcox / E: James Needs / M: Don Banks / S: Moira Redmond, Jennie Linden, David Knight, Brenda Bruce, George A. Cooper, Irene Richmond, Clytie Jessop

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sounds of the Season :: Howlin' at the Moon with The Wolf Man and the Maddest Story Ever Told!

Video courtesy of sublogento.

And that, Boils and Ghouls, is awesome and then some.

Beverly Washburn, Sid Haig, Quinn Redeker, 
and Mr. Lon Chaney Jr. as our balladeer. 

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