Archive for October 2015

House on Haunted Hill (1959)   7 comments

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Vincent Price invites you to a party.  Are there balloons and noisemakers and a clown?  Gee, I hope not.  No, but Price does invite a bunch of total strangers, a creepy housemaid, and a scaaaaary skeleton.  Ahhhhh!!

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Avon lady!

Millionaire, Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) holds a birthday party for his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in a spooky mansion.  For those of you playing at home, that mansion is Ennis House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  If his guests can stomach a night in the spooky house, Loren will pay each of them $10,000.  That’s about $81K in 2015 dollars.  A nice payday.  It sounds simple enough until we learn that several people, including Watson Pritchard’s (Elisha Cook, Jr.) brother were murdered in the house.  Funny thing though, they never found his head.

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A building from Wright’s pueblo pyramid period.

Just when we think we’re watching a straight haunted house film, Loren and his wife go at it.  The couple do their version of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF and it’s clear this party might end badly.  Loren, you see, has had three wives before Annabelle and each has expired under mysterious circumstances.  Hmmm.  Annabelle confides in guest, Lance Schroeder (Richard Long) that she fears for her life.  Her husband, she says, wants to kill her and he’ll stop at nothing.  When the servants leave prematurely, locking the party-goers in for the night, they’ll have to contend with ghosts and spirits and a possible murderer among them.

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Vincent has the coolest party favors.

Robb White, frequent William Castle collaborator, wrote the screenplays for HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, MACABRE, THE TINGLER, and others for the great showman.  Castle directed this movie and filled it with piercing screams, an active skeleton, and a rolling old lady.  Supposedly, Alfred Hitchcock saw Castle’s big box office returns and decided to make PSYCHO.  Then, Castle saw PSYCHO and decided to make HOMICIDAL.  I hope that’s true.  Anyway, we win.  All three films are horror classics.

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“There’s no food at this party.”

Oozing charm and menace, Vincent Price does his best Vincent Price.  The rest of the cast hold their own, but are nothing to write home about with the exception of Elisha Cook, Jr.  His crazed, drunken ramblings about ghosts and unseen forces are appropriately over the top.  Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, who might win an Una for screaming artistry, and Robert Mitchum’s big sister, Julie round out the players.  Julie Mitchum’s claim to fame in this film is that when offered a drink, she always asks for a scotch and…  A scotch and what?  Motor oil?  Drain cleaner?  Mare sweat?  It’s an odd thing, but it always strikes me as funny.

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“Aaahoooo Werewolves of London!”

Ever the marketing genius, William Castle used this tagline for HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.  First film with the amazing new wonder EMERGO: The thrills fly right into the audience!  I wish I had been around to see a Castle film in the theatre.  Flying skeletons, fright insurance, cowards’ corner…such fun.  By the way, does anyone know a good acid vat installer?

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Teehee!

haunty

 

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)   2 comments

 

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Laura Mars might need a new eyeglass prescription.  Every so often, and without notice, she sees the world through the eyes of a serial killer.  Laura (Faye Dunaway) earns her living with her eyes.  She’s a high fashion photographer who specializes in photographing models wearing beautiful clothes in violent situations.

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The film uses Helmut Newton’s photographs as Laura’s.

She lives in a huge, penthouse apartment, wears expensive clothes, and goes to all the best parties.  Laura’s photographs and coffee table books sell like hotcakes.  She’s on top of the world.  When someone starts killing her friends, Laura’s life changes just a bit.

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Great lips.

At first, the police, led by Detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) suspect that Laura is killing her associates to gain publicity for her artwork, especially when she tells them that she sees the murders…from three blocks away.  She claims to witness each crime as the murderer would.  Both authorities and her friends think she’s a loon.

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“What you talkin’ ’bout, Laura?”

I should point out that all this time, Faye Dunaway sports some happening duds.  It’s autumn in New York City and Faye’s got the tweed thing going on.  She wears a lot of cool mid-calf wool skirts with double front slits and high boots.  She also has the plaid shawl thing down.  Theoni V. Aldredge designed the costumes.  Well done, Theoni!  Clad in tight, bell-bottoms, boots, and wool blazers, Tommy Lee Jones cuts a dashing figure.  Even his mullet is impressed.

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The sheep are nervous.

The seventies lives through the music in the film as well.  Tunes by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Heatwave, Michael Zager Band, and Odyssey give the modeling sessions a Studio 54 vibe.

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After a few more bodies pile up, Laura convinces John that she’s not crazy so they fall in love after a funeral.  Sigh.  Now that the pair are a completely committed couple destined to spend their lives together, we can all relax, right?  Wrong.  Hey guys!  There’s still a killer out there playing ice pick tag.

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“I just remembered.  All my friends are dead.”

I like EYES OF LAURA MARS.  I hadn’t seen it in 432 years and seeing it again was a trip.  Did you know it was written by John Carpenter?  I didn’t.  The cool set-pieces and shots of gritty, 1970s New York give the film texture and the cast is wonderful.  Raul Julia gets to play Laura’s alcoholic gigolo of an ex-husband and he’s perfect.  Rene Auberjonois, as Laura’s handler/manager does his usual terrific job.  I like Brad Dourif in this too.  As Laura’s mumbling, semi-sketchy driver, Dourif is convincing as a guy who’s polite on the surface, but might have a head in his fridge.

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“You looked in my fridge?”

Tommy Lee Jones is pretty hunky in this role.  My daughter said, “He’s so ugly, he’s cute.”

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“I’m not ugly.”

He’s likable, intelligent, and deeper than he seems.  Dunaway plays her part well.  She’s a bit over the top, but it works.  What doesn’t exactly work is her character.  Laura Mars, a wealthy, powerful, career woman who takes sexually charged and violent pictures seems sort of shy and virginal.  A few times in the film, people remark that she’s not at all what they expected when they saw her photographs.  It’s like they have to say she’s not really like that  as a way of making the audience like her.  Oh well.

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“The game is afoot!”

All in all, EYES OF LAURA MARS is a satisfying watch.  Carpenter’s story has a fun central idea and the performances are fun.  Oh right.  The song.  Jon Peters made his bones producing the Kristofferson/Streisand film A STAR IS BORN and this film.  A former hairdresser, Peters dated Barbra Streisand during this period and the two made a few successful films together.  Back to the song.  “Prisoner”, sung by Streisand at the beginning and end of the film is a perfect showcase for that voice.  She hits every note bang on.  I know what you’re thinking, but you have to admit, the woman can sing.

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“You shoulda seen it!”

EYES OF LAURA MARS stands out because of its creative concept and solid performances.  It has no castles or bats, but it does have the main character’s friends getting stabbed in the eye, so huzzah!

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More plaid.

haunty

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)   2 comments

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I first watched this film with my daughter in 2001.  She was four and I couldn’t watch THE WIZARD OF OZ one more time. My cousin, who’s a horror film fan and art school guy, had recommended the film to me years before, but I just never got to it.  What a revelation!  It’s such a joyous film.  Everyone in the film is trying his hardest all the time.  It’s honest and sweet and it even has a love story and a dog.  Wonderful.  I can remember watching my daughter’s face as she looked at the Halloween Town residents. “They scare for fun.  They’re not mean.”  Exactly.

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“This won’t hurt a bit.”

No one creates a spookier Halloween than the Pumpkin King.  All the goblins love him.  Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) is at the top of his game. After a particularly successful haunting one Halloween, Jack returns to his home in Halloween Town and mopes.  The ghosts and vampires and creepy-crawlies have lost their charm.  Jack is bored.  Something’s missing.

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“What’s missing?  Is it an eye?  Oh, I hope it’s an eye!”

On a long, doleful walk in the woods, Jack comes upon a circle of trees.  On each tree is a door and a picture which represents a different major holiday.  Intrigued, Jack opens the door marked with a Christmas tree and is sucked into Christmas Town. Clean, white snow, music, and smiling faces greet him as he ambles through the jolly village.  Charmed, Jack decides Christmas sounds like a capital idea.

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“You…light up my eyes.”

He sprints back to Halloween Town and regales his ghoulish friends with tales of the mysterious Sandy Claws, who rules over Christmas Town.  This year, he promises, the denizens of Halloween Town will run Christmas and give Sandy a break.

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“I have a headache.”

 Jack assigns tasks to each spooky group.  Dr. Finkelstein (William Hickey) will bring to life some skeletal reindeer to drive Jack’s sleigh.  The creatures of Halloween Town will make ghastly toys.  Sally (Catherine O’Hara), Jack’s friend and a talented seamstress, will make Jack’s Sandy Claws costume.  Devilish juvenile delinquents, Lock, Shock, and Barrel will kidnap Mr. Claws so Jack can take over.  

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Lock, Barrel, and Shock have something to hide.

While the industrious townsfolk make hats out of dead turtles and stuff killer snakes into gift boxes, Sally tries to remind Jack he’s making a mistake.  Halloween is his true calling.  Ignoring Sally’s warnings, Jack takes off to deliver his weird toys to the unsuspecting boys and girls.  It doesn’t go well.  

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“But I already have one!”

Danny Elfman, former Oingo Boingo front man and composer, wrote some killer tunes for this Halloween-y/Christmas-y story. They’re creative, sweet, dramatic, and thoroughly singable.  They’re also complex as hell.  Elfman threw himself into this soundtrack. Elfman also sings the part of Jack Skellington and Barrel.  The multi-talented Catherine O’Hara sings and acts the Sally part along with that of Shock.  Ken Page plays the infamous Oogie Boogie and Ed Ivory is Santa/Sandy.  Glenn Shadix plays the typically wishy-washy mayor of Halloween Town.  Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) is Lock.  Tim Burton, Michael McDowell, and Caroline Thompson wrote the story and screenplay and Henry Selick directed.

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Tonight on 50 Shades of Christmas

It’s hard to know where to begin with this film.  I love it so much.  The music, animation, story, and talents of a wonderfully talented cast gang up and whack you.  It’s impressive.  There’s no wasted space.  In every scene, you see something fascinating. It looks so cool.  The creatures of Halloween Town look so different from the goblins of other films.  They’re spunky and fun and they clearly have relationships.  I’m still waiting for a behind-the-scenes documentary showing the vampires smoking between scenes and Zero, Jack’s ghostly dog, in a robe, signing autographs.  They have so much personality, you want to meet them.  A combination of the sophisticated stop-motion animation, the original story, and the fantastic soundtrack sung by a great cast make THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS the awesome film it is.  Happiness.  

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“Mom!  You might want to come down here.”

haunty

             

The Village (2004)   1 comment

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In an isolated colonial village, people live, work, play, and love harmoniously.  They’re civilized and rational.  The citizens work hard and the village prospers.  For some reason, the people never leave.  No one goes out to explore or hunt or just find out what’s beyond the city limits.  Why?  Well, it seems the village is under constant siege by large, carnivorous creatures.  As long as they stay within the confines of their little town, the villagers are safe from their ravenous attacks.  Oh that.  Sure, that sounds reasonable.  When jealousy and violence rear their ugly heads, the townsfolk finally have an excuse to cross the border into Monsterville where those we don’t speak of dwell.

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Not this guy.

Hi.  *raises hand*  I have a few questions.  No one ever tries to go over the wall?  What’s wrong with the teenagers in this town? They never have to go outside to get more livestock or wood for a new building?

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“All out of lobster bisque.”

General implausibility aside, I like this film.  I like seeing a happy, reasonable, positive society.  I understand the desire to grab my kid and my dog and live on top of a mountain.  Some days are like that.  That said, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do it.

The cast in THE VILLAGE has some serious acting chops.  Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix (who I usually dislike), Cherry Jones, ❤ Brendan Gleeson <3, Judy Greer, and in small parts, Michael Pitt and Jesse Eisenberg all made me believe.  Adrien Brody’s Noah, a man-child with a sweet soul, steals a few scenes, but Bryce Dallas Howard shines.  She and Phoenix share great chemistry.

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It’s a terrific part.  Howard’s Ivy Walker shows compassion and love along with wisdom.  She’s a blind girl who can take care of herself.  She does the right thing, but is kind when others don’t.  She’s brave.

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James Newton Howard wrote a fantastic score for THE VILLAGE.  M. Night Shyamalan wrote, produced, and directed the film. He took some slack for the film, but it made a profit.  He even has a small cameo.  Star cinematographer Roger Deakins worked on THE VILLAGE.  It took 300 craftsmen to build the town modeled after Andrew Wyeth’s paintings.

THE VILLAGE, Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, 2004, (c) Buena Vista

I know there are some plot holes, but I don’t care.  THE VILLAGE tells an entertaining story and I love seeing such a strong, sympathetic, female character.

ivytear

haunty

Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985)   7 comments

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In 1920, a group of people we care nothing about abandon their sinking ocean liner in the North Atlantic and hit the lifeboats.  They end up on a thickly forested, warm island.  Lifeboats drift, after all.  They have to find water and food to survive, but spend most of their time standing around complaining about Morgan, the grumpy, rich guy you love to hate.  Morgan is obnoxious, but at least he has a personality.

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“Morgan, are you drooling again?!”

A guy who looks like George Peppard’s son, finds a creek and boy is he thrilled.  Unfortunately, it turns out to be filled with acid.  The corrosive brook melts his face and he’s toast.

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“I love it when a plan comes toaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!”

After the Peppard-melting incident, the group begin to feel a bit homesick and we learn that one of the women comes from an Iowa farm and she digs sailors.  Mrs. Gordon, the only character we might have even mild feelings for, says dreamy, yet practical things that boost the troops’ morale.

As the gang sleep peacefully around the fire, crazed, toothy, 16-inch natives jump them and begin to snack on the castaways.  Instead of running full speed to the shore to build a huge fire and survivalist junk like that, the crew do a kind of Bataan Death March through a forest in Connecticut…I mean, some foreign land.

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Not Connecticut or anything.

Their pokey speed means they’re constantly at the mercy of these nasty little dolls.  Many don’t make it.  It would be tragic if you cared about any of these people, but the wooden acting, prosaic dialogue, and just lack of suspension of belief make that impossible.  Will they make it?  Who cares?

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“I sure wish we weren’t on this island.”
“Yeah.”
“Do you like crullers?”

The horrendous earworm theme killed any possible drama and the director, Michael Stanley, was out of his element.

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“Shut up, Michael.”

Then came the moonlit beast creature attacks.  Ferocious, ankle-biting crazies with glow-in-the-dark eyes launch themselves toward our heroes with reckless abandon.  People scream, wrestle dolls, and flail about helplessly as the little buggers screech and bite.

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“Let’s do the beast creature tonight!”

It’s fun to watch.  In fact, it’s odd that there’s no beast creature wrangler credit because the people who chuck the little beasties onto the victims are talented.  The diminutive critters have voracious appetites and grip like pitbulls.  There’s even an homage. Really?  Yes, it’s a tribute, of sorts, to Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS.  At one point, Mrs. Gordon, lost in thought, turns around to see dozens of the little bloodsuckers staring at her from the trees.  A moment later, they’re hurling themselves at her and there’s no escape.

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“Ready…set…hurl!”

Amazingly low production values and a sound crew who phoned it in knock the wind out of ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES and it was winded to start with.  During a night scene, I swear they miked the fire.  I could see mouths moving, but all I heard was crackle crackle.  I recommend watching this with a group of like-minded friends as I did.  If you can slog through the dull conversations, you’ll enjoy the Olympic beast creature toss.

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“I’m coming to get you, Barbara.”

I watched ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES with the #Riffotronic crew on Twitter.  Thanks, @adw1661 and @DmathchesLive who allow me and other weirdos to watch strange and wonderful films with them every Saturday night.  I may never forgive you.

haunty

 

Ghost Adventures: Clown Motel and Goldfield High School (2015)   3 comments

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Acrophobia, fear of heights, affects 3-5% of the population.  Claustrophobia, fear of tight spaces, affects anywhere from 15-37%.  Coulrophobia, fear of clowns, affects everyone with sense.  Clowns are evil.  It’s a well-documented fact.  The Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada exists.  It’s an actual thing.  People pay money to register in a room filled with clown figurines of all shapes and sizes.  They stay in rooms decorated with clown artwork and clown dolls.  Those who stay at a place like this are obviously freaks and we’ll probably read about them someday in connection with a large shoe fetish cult.

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If you see this sign, you have gone too far.

Anyway, the television show Ghost Adventures went to this weird inn to check on reports that odd things happen there.  Well, duh.  Located next to a creepy graveyard, the motel has clowns inside and dead guys outside.  TripAdvisor needs to come up with a new rating system for this place.

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“I give this motel 3/5 tiny cars.”

The paranormal experts brought their entire arsenal of spook detection gear to check out the motel, the graveyard, and an abandoned school in a ghost town about 25 miles away.  They also spoke to few locals who claim to have seen shadowy figures appear out of graves and in clowncentric motel rooms.  The motel owner recounts that, “A guy woke up in the middle of the night and experienced a clown in his room.”  Clowns.  One woman, who leads the guys through the old school, says she sees and feels the spirits of dead children along with something ominous; waves of dark energy and an evil force she can’t explain.  During a burst EVP session (?), her right leg tingles, so…ghosts.

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View from the motel…which is full of clowns.

The intrepid and highly impressionable spectral detectives split up to cover more ground.  A couple of them take a young motel resident to the graveyard where they use an SB7 Spirit Box and see a spirit that’s really a large bug.  Then, they hook a magneto up to some wire and, just like in elementary school, they make a potato radio,  No wait.  They make a communicator and the ghost tells them a light turned on.  Thanks, Ghost Captain Obvious.  Two other guys on the team go to the school where they use a pocket ghost translator and get a message that a little murdered girl is buried under the school.  One of the men climbs down into a crawlspace that would make John Wayne Gacy cringe.  There, he’s sure a presence tells him to shove off, so to speak.  Back at the Clown Motel, coulrophobic host, Zak Bagans walks around in a darkened room full of clown memorabilia.  The hand of a large clown doll moves off its lap and Zak breaks the land speed record to get out of there.

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Too. Many. Clowns.

All this, according to Zak, PROVES that there are ill-at-ease spirits haunting the school, the graveyard, and the bizarre motel.  Sure, guys.  What it proves is the power of suggestion is kind of a big deal and that people don’t want to think that the dead are gone.  Oh, clowns are still evil.

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Proof.

haunty

Dead of Night (1945)   2 comments

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Five stories connected by a linking narrative make up the anthology horror film, DEAD OF NIGHT.  Though it wasn’t the first portmanteau film ever made, it has influenced many filmmakers.  Martin Scorsese lists DEAD OF NIGHT as one of the scariest films ever made.  It was also one of the few horror films made in Britain during the era.  Horror movies were banned in Britain during the war.  Produced by Michael Balcon for Ealing Studios, DEAD OF NIGHT boasts an A-list cast of British actors, directors, and writers.

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Spurred on by the dreams of Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), an architect who’s come to design an addition, a group of people in an English country house discuss their dreams and what they mean.  At first skeptical, the people, with the exception of Dr. van Straaten (Frederick Valk) begin to believe their dreams are telling them something.

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“Doctor, I dreamed I was on a train passing through a tunnel.”
“I’ll need to see you three times a week.”

Basil Dearden (VICTIM) directed the first story, Hearse Driver along with the tale that links all the others.  Dearden is one of my favorite British directors.  If you haven’t seen VICTIM, SAPPHIRE or ALL NIGHT LONG, run out and do so right now.  Anyway, in HEARSE DRIVER, Hugh Grainger (ANTHONY BAIRD), a race car driver, wrecks his car in a race and goes to the hospital.  As he recovers, he dreams he sees a hearse driver in a horse drawn carriage beckoning him.  After his release, he sees the same driver, now a bus conductor, say the same words from his dream, “Just room for one inside, sir.”  Grainger doesn’t take the bus.  Was that a good decision?  That would be telling.

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“Just room for one inside, sir.”

Christmas Party stars the endlessly appealing Sally Ann Howes as Sally O’Hara.  Sally attends a party full of children, but meets a little boy who wasn’t invited, because he’d been dead a hundred years.  Alberto Cavalcanti directed the second segment.  It’s chilling and also sweet.

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“You’re dead?  How about a nice cup of tea?”

Googie Withers and Ralph Michael star in the next piece, Haunted Mirror, as Joan and Peter Cortland, a newly married couple.  Joan tells the group that shortly before their wedding, she bought her intended an ornate mirror at an antiques shop.  Soon after hanging the mirror, Peter sees things when he looks into it that aren’t actually there.  He seems to be getting a bit cranky, too.  Jane does a bit of research and finds that the original owner of the mirror was not a wonderful guy and he, well, sort of killed his wife.  Is Peter seeing things through the eyes of a killer?

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Do you hear or fear or do I smash the mirror?

In the comedy, Golfing Story, Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne play best friends who love golf.  At their favorite golf club, they meet a woman, played by Peggy Bryan.  Both men fall for Peggy and decide to play eighteen holes for her.  It’s not as nasty as it sounds.  The vignette is played as a very British comedy and Peggy has a say.  Basil’s character wins and Naunton decides to end it all.  Later, he returns as a ghost.  Radford and Wayne gained fame as cricket fans in THE LADY VANISHES and acted together in several films after that.  This segment acts as the comic relief.  It’s light and silly.

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“I say!”

The fifth part of the film, Ventriloquist’s Dummy,  is the one most people remember.  Michael Redgrave plays Maxwell Frere, a ventriloquist with an unruly dummy.  The twosome are successful and perform at the swankiest clubs, but something is amiss.  Hugo begins to miss cues and refuses to sing songs in the script.  Who’s Hugo?  Oh, he’s the dummy. Yup.  DEAD OF NIGHT is the original dummy-is-taking-over-and-no-one’s-sure-who’s-in-charge film and it’s a good one.  Michael Redgrave looks like he’s really ventriloquizing.  Redgrave is good anyway, but in this he’s mesmerizing.  He appears for a short time, but makes a big impact.

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“What have you done to Mortimer?”

DEAD OF NIGHT is an entertaining and well made film.  This is a film Criterion needs to add to its arsenal.

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Great party, kids!

haunty

 

 

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