Author Archive

Camp Crystal Lake at Rocky Woods Reservation   2 comments


A poster for Camp Crystal Lake at Rocky Woods by Mister Reusch

 

Recently, I had a wonderful horror film experience. I got to watch a couple horror films in the woods with a whole bunch of other reprobates and it was a gas.

Friday night, close to a hundred people gathered at Rocky Woods in Medfield, Massachusetts (my home town) to watch a double-feature of Jason Voorhees’ best efforts. The Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Coolidge After Midnite, in conjunction with the Trustees of Reservations presented a walk-in. Technically, it wasn’t a drive-in since we parked our cars a few hundred yards away and walked to Camp Crystal Lake, unfolded our lawn chairs, and planted our butts in front of a large, outdoor screen to watch art house favorites, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. The weather was pleasant and spring-like; the trustees cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and served craft beer; and Jason lumbered through the crowd wielding a machete. Ah…summer.


“Sure. Take my popcorn.”

The Coolidge has been showing horror films at Rocky Woods on various Fridays the 13th for a couple years now and I’ve only missed one. That night, it rained so hard, the animals would have refused to walk outside to get on the ark. When you live in the suburbs and crave cult, indie, horror, or just plain weird films, you either buy them (which I do—too often), or trek into the city, struggle to park, and creep back out toward home far too late on a school night. Whenever someone ventures out my way, I’m in.

I’ve enjoyed every showing. I go alone, but I usually go to movies alone. Oddly, my friends and even my daughter, who’s game sometimes, aren’t keen to hike down a dark path, sit in the woods, and commune with a guy dressed as a mute, psychopathic, but resilient murderer. The people I work with are convinced I have a screw loose. Maybe I do, but I have a good time.

On this Friday the 13th, we watched Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. It wouldn’t matter which of the Jasons played, I have a soft spot for each one of them.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Tommy (John Shepherd) has seen some shit. He’s done some shit, too. As a child, when he was Corey Feldman, he watched Jason Voorhees kill some of his family and friends, so he killed Jason back. Since then, he’s been a bit…off. To help him recover from his post-Jason trauma, the state sends Tommy to a facility for troubled youth out in the sticks. With the help of Matt (Richard Young) and Pam (Melanie Kinnaman), who run the camp, Tommy will be back to his old self in no time, right? Not so much. Unfortunately, someone (Is it Jason?) starts killing the kids at the halfway house. Can Tommy make it out alive? Reggie (Shavar Ross) does a nice job and the main characters seem less stupid, and more, unlucky. I cared when some of them came to a sticky end.


Pam and Reggie made a good team.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

A class cruise to New York City goes pear-shaped when Jason (Kane Hodder) stows away and begins culling the graduating class. Rennie Wickham (Jensen Daggett), our star, has a problem. She’s afraid of the water. Naturally, she climbs aboard a boatload of jerks, including her class principal/uncle, Charles (Peter Mark Richman), who’s off-the-rails obnoxious. Will the boat dock in NYC? Will Rennie figure out why she hates the water? Will Uncle Charles get tossed out a window and drowned in raw sewage? Well, yes.


Ya think?

There are a few inventive deaths in this film and some characters no one will miss. I love when Jason stands up to the gang of toughs. The dog, Toby, played by Ace, was my favorite character.


Ace, as Toby

At the screening, Mark Anastasio, program manager of the Coolidge, announced their upcoming October feature, It. I’m excited! As long as the Coolidge keeps putting on these woodsy film festivals, I’ll be there.

Advertisements

Freddie Francis: Reluctant Horror Icon   3 comments

Freddie Francis once said, “Horror films have liked me more than I have liked horror films.”

The director of more than forty films and television episodes, including twenty-five horrors and the cinematographer of nearly forty more, Freddie Francis may have been typecast as a horror director for good reason. He was good at it.

He started his film career as a camera operator. A friend and protégé of Oscar-winning cinematographer, Oswald Morris, Francis worked for and with Morris and Ronald Neame at Pinewood Studios until World War II broke out in 1939. Francis joined the Army Kinematographic Society, based at Wembley Studios, and spent the next seven years making training films. After leaving the military in 1946, Francis found work as a camera operator at Shepperton Studios, where he worked with Powell & Pressburger, John Huston, Tony Richardson, and a bunch of other incredibly talented directors. On the set of Huston’s Moby Dick, Francis asked if he could head up the second unit. Oswald Morris gave an enthusiastic yes, and Francis acted as director of photography for the first time.


“Call me irresponsible.”

From 1956 to 1964, Francis was director of photography on over a dozen films before beginning his directing career with the film, Two and Two Make Six in 1962. It didn’t fare well. After winning the Oscar for cinematography with Sons and Lovers in 1960, and acclaim with The Innocents, (Francis’ favorite film), his friends were surprised he made the leap to directing.


Don’t turn around.

His background in cinematography may explain why Francis directed some of the most visually stunning of the Hammer and Amicus films. In the early 1960s, Francis directed Paranoiac, Nightmare, Hysteria, and The Evil of Frankenstein for Hammer before making Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, and The Torture Garden for Amicus. In 1968, another terrific Hammer director, Terence Fisher was hit by a motorbike and broke his leg during post-production work on The Devil Rides Out. Fisher was set to direct Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, starring Christopher Lee, but Hammer replaced him with Freddie Francis. Throughout the 1970s, Francis worked for both Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, and other, smaller companies, making The Creeping Flesh, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and an odd little nugget made by Apple films and starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr, called Son of Dracula. He also directed some episodic TV shows before returning to cinematography.


Ringo Starr is Merlin and Harry Nilsson is Count Downe. Yup.

In 1980, David Lynch hired Francis as director of photography on his disturbing and poignant film, The Elephant Man, and later his ill-fated, but gorgeously-photographed, Dune. Francis also served as DP on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Executioner’s Song, Glory, for which he won his second Oscar, The Man in the Moon, Cape Fear, School Ties, and the beautiful and simply shot film, The Straight Story, again, for David Lynch.


Mr. Bytes thinks up his next good deed.

One of the reasons I chose to write about Francis for this blogathon was my love for Amicus anthology films and Freddie Francis directed three of them. In Amicus’ first anthology, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), six men meet on a train. Peter Cushing (Dr. Terror) pulls out a deck of tarot cards, claiming he can see what’s to come for each man in the car. Oddly, their futures don’t look bright. Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Donald Sutherland, and Bernard Lee also star in the five segments.


“Got anyyyy eights?”

In Francis’ next anthology film, The Torture Garden (1967), Burgess Meredith stars as Dr. Diabolo, a carnival barker who lures four unsuspecting victims into his cave-like back room where they learn about their less than rosy fates. Peter Cushing, Michael Ripper, Niall MacGinnis, and Jack Palance join in the fun. Robert Bloch, of Psycho fame, wrote the stories in The Torture Garden and many of the other Amicus anthologies. They’re literate, full of black humor and twisty endings, and a lot of fun.


“Lemme tell ya about the rabbits, Jack.”

Francis ended his anthology run with a bang. Tales from the Crypt (1972) stars Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper, who leads five people through their terrifying stories. Peter Cushing, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Nigel Patrick, and the spectacular Joan Collins star in these dark tales, based on William Gaines’ EC Comics.


“Want to hear a story?”

Francis dug Peter Cushing, by the way. He said of the actor, “I think Peter is absolutely wonderful. There is not an actor in the world who can speak rubbish like Peter and make it sound real.”


“I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Amicus producers, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg borrowed the template of individual tales connected by a linking story, from the portmanteau horror film, Dead of Night (1945). Dead of Night was not the first anthology film or even the first horror anthology, but it aligned well with Amicus’ association with Robert Bloch and suited the repertory company of actors working in horror films at the time. It also made money for Amicus, who made seven of these films.


“Once, I picked up a squirrel and squeezed it until it stopped moving.”

While I love the portmanteau horrors Freddie Francis directed, I love two of his films more. In 1965, Francis took the Robert Bloch story, “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” and an all-star cast, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, and Patrick Magee, and made The Skull. The Skull is awesome on so many levels, it’s hard for me to contain myself to write this. Cushing and Lee collect demonic art. They also play billiards holding brandy snifters and wearing smoking jackets while discussing pure evil. The oft-sniveling Patrick Wymark is a scuzzy seller of stolen devil memorabilia, who offers to sell Cushing the skull of the Marquis de Sade. He happens to have it lying around. Since Wymark already sold Cushing a book made of human skin, he figures it’s a cinch. Amazingly, the skull of the Marquis de Sade is no ray of sunshine. Let’s just say anyone associated with the skull in question better have his beneficiaries updated. Story aside, the effects in this film are killer. The evil skull floats all over Cushing’s well-appointed gentleman’s lair of evil stuff and the skull POV shots are fantastic. The Skull is so much fun.


“Have I mentioned I sell Amway?”

The second film worth highlighting is The Deadly Bees (1966). If you know me at all, you know I love skulls and movies with bees in them. The Deadly Bees is a movie with bees in it. Suzanna Leigh is a frazzled pop star recuperating from a nervous breakdown. Her doctor recommends that she rest on friendly, Seagull Island, where no one is getting killed by bees or anything. While Leigh relaxes, her hosts, who might have watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf too many times, fight about just about everything, including bees. Will bees attack Suzannah? What about Michael Ripper? The Deadly Bees also has a cool cameo. Ron Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, appears on a Hullabaloo-like show, early in the film, as a member of The Birds. The bee effects lack sophistication, but it was the first killer bee film, after all, so back off.


Suzannah Leigh wears a bear before meeting the bees.

Freddie Francis may not have relished his career in horror, but I do and if you’re reading this, you probably do, too. Francis directed and filmed the biggest stars in Britain over a career spanning sixty years. He worked with Hammer, Peter Cushing, the Archers, Christopher Lee, Amicus, John Huston, and Captain Ahab. Not a bad record for this vicinity.

I wrote this article for The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon, hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeedgieMidget Reviews. They’re swell movie types and @Barry_Cinematic and @realweedgiemidge on Twitter.

 

Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (2010)   2 comments

Harry Nilsson was “a big bunny with sharp teeth.”
-Paul Williams

Recently, the good folks at the See Hear Podcast (Maurice Bursztynski, Bernard Stickwell, and Tim Merrill) invited me as a guest on their show. We talked about the 2010 biopic, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)

Not gonna lie here. I love Nilsson’s voice and it chokes me up just thinking about “Without You”, but other than that and a few stray bits of information, I didn’t know much about him. Basically, Nilsson was a smart kid from a poor family in Brooklyn, who traveled west to make his way in show biz. Unlike many others who have done the same thing. Nilsson had some actual talent, and someone noticed.


Early Nilsson albums had a decent amount of studio backing, it seems.

When he first arrived in California, Nilsson and a friend made a few bucks singing Everly Brothers tunes. They amended the songs to fit their vocal ranges and lyrical choices and realized they were writing songs. That was it. Harry worked at the Paramount Theatre in LA as a manager until he began working in a bank to keep him in writing paper and beer. He would work work the swing shift at the bank, go to a bar and drink write all night, get up in the morning and flog his songs to recording studios, then go back to work at the bank. Rinse, repeat—for 7 years.

When one of his songs, “Cuddly Toy”, caught the attention of Monkees singer, Davey Jones, and Jones recorded it, Nilsson quit the bank and became a full-time musician.

This is when the film goes the typical ‘innocent young man makes good and is corrupted by the vile, capitalist music industry’ route, but since it seems to be at least partly true, it’s hard to complain.


Ringo, Harry, and Keith Moon (teetotalers)

Nilsson made a gang of studio albums that seemed to have little to do with musical trends and much to do with his clever way with words, his melodic talent, and his angelic voice. I listened to Nilsson Schmilsson, A Little Touch of Schmillson in the Night, and Nilsson Sings Newman for the podcast, but, spurred on by host, Maurice Bursztynski’s recommendations during the podcast, I also listened to earlier albums, Harry and Pandemonium Shadow Show, which are full of all the witty, musical touches Nilsson was famous for. They’re both also fighting neck and neck to be my favorite Nilsson album. Nilsson got the name for the album from the carnival sideshow in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. That’s the name, Pandemonium Shadow Show, not Harry. Harry was his name. I figured I’d clear that up.


Pandemonium Shadow Show album cover

Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) does the talking head thing pretty well. Musicians like Van Dyke Parks, Jimmy Webb, Paul Williams, Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, and Mickey Dolenz all weigh in on their admiration of, love for, and frustration with Nilsson. A prolific songwriter and arranger, Nilsson recorded albums, made TV specials, and contributed or wrote entirely, the soundtracks for films including Midnight Cowboy, The Point, Son of Dracula, and Goodfellas. He wrote and recorded his own songs, covered others’, and wrote songs for other bands to record. Literate, quirky, and romantic, Nilsson’s songs are about love, childhood, heartbreak, dogs, and everything in between.

Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) is a survey course in Harry Nilsson. It doesn’t dig too deeply, but uncovers enough to pique the interest if, like me, you admired the songs and knew little of the man. If you’re a Nilsson aficionado, you might not get a lot from this film. I did get a lot from it. I didn’t know John Lennon and Paul McCartney both listed Harry Nilsson as their favorite musician. I didn’t know he was Ringo Starr’s best friend and the two served as best man for each other. Unfortunately, Starr does not appear in this film. Apparently, he was still saddened by Nilsson’s tragic death in 1994, at the age of 52, and found it too difficult to talk about.


Fanboys

Harry Nilsson burst on the scene in the late 60s, made some lovely albums, and partied way too hard with the usual suspects. Robin Williams is on this bio too. I feel like he hung out at the Chateau Marmont for about 26 years waiting for someone to pull out some coke. Anyway, Nilsson made pretty music, did too many drugs, smoked and drank too much, and redeemed himself later in life. He met a pretty, Irish woman, made lots of babies, and relished his family.


Harry with third wife, Una

It’s too bad that once he had his shit together, he had to die. It’s like his life was subject to Hayes office motion picture rules and after his early carrying-on, they just couldn’t let him live happily ever after.


John Lennon, Anne Murray, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, and Mickey Dolenz

I recommend this film if you want to learn more about the 70s music scene, fashion for people who don’t have day jobs, or about Harry Nilsson’s sweet, melodic music.

Here’s the link to the See Hear Podcast: Harry Nilsson episode. Thank you, Maurice Bursztynski, Bernard Stickwell, and Tim Merrill for inviting me on your show and for the lovely, literate, and friendly conversation.

Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Io: Outland (1981)   8 comments

On a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, workers are acting strangely. They go outside the space station without spacesuits and cut their own air hoses and generally explode, spilling their guts all over. Is this a strange new space hobby? Why are they doing this?

Enter Marshall William T. O’Niel (Sean Connery), the new sheriff in town. O’Niel has just arrived at his new duty station with his wife and son. None of them is overjoyed with this new assignment, but O’Niel sucks it up and begins to learn about his new job. As soon as he heads off to work, O’Niel’s wife and kid hot foot it off planet and head back to Earth. So much for family.


“Yeah, dad can’t make it.”

Right off the bat, O’Niel gets the message from the mine’s general manager, Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle) that since the miners work so hard, they also play hard in the bar and the company brothel and it’d be best if O’Niel looked the other way. O’Niel is not amused.


“I am not amused.”

When a miner (Steven Berkoff) goes on a tear and holes up in one of the leisure (read brothel) cells, threatening a prostitute with a knife, O’Niel and his men, including Sergeant Montone (the underrated James B. Sikking) arrive on the scene. The hostage situation goes a bit pear-shaped, but the ensuing autopsy shows the miner was on a powerful synthetic narcotic, polydichloric ethylene (PDE). Since Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen), who performed the analysis, assures O’Niel the colony lacks the facilities to manufacture PDE, it’s clear someone is smuggling it in. A bit of research leads O’Niel to the two men who must be in cahoots with the smugglers.


“Avoid spikes. This is my favorite part.”

Now the fun really begins. Since the whole compound is wired for camera and sound, O’Niel surveils the two suspected drug runners and catches them in the act. He wants to question them to find out who’s behind the operation, but things go poorly for the pushers. He confronts Sheppard with the news that he’s seized and destroyed the contraband, knowing Sheppard will have to call his superiors and retaliate. Now O’Niel is the target.

Peter Hyams wrote and directed Outland as a futuristic western. It’s High Noon in space. In Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 film. High Noon, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) tries in vain to get the townspeople to help him defend against an outlaw with a grudge who will arrive on the noon train. In Outland, Connery’s O’Niel fails to get any of the locals to help him fight off two hired killers, expected on the regularly-scheduled space shuttle. In both films, the directors ramp up the tension by showing shots of clocks to highlight the approach of the bad guys. The only difference is in Outland, the clocks are digital. Both directors also offer their heroes help from the women in their lives. In High Noon, Katy Jurado and Grace Kelly come to Cooper’s aid. In Outland, Frances Sternhagen’s wreck of a doctor (her words), serves as Connery’s only ally.


“Think it over.”

The sets in Outland are like the air-lock connected hallways in the 1979 film, Alien. They also have that same industrial look. The bar is a bit wilder, with it’s neon lights and nude performance artists. The club does nod to the western with its swinging saloon doors though and it works. Hyams is an artist and he dabs the dark sets with pops of color to accentuate certain features, like the huge digital clock counting down the arrival of the hit men. There are also stunning shots of Connery walking outside the structure in his space suit.


“One small step for—ah you know the rest.”

Peter Hyams directed a number of films, including The Presidio (1988), Narrow Margin (1990), and the space-centric films 2010 (1984) and Capricorn One (1977). He was also a painter and a jazz drummer, performing with Maynard Ferguson and Bill Evans at Birdland, the Newport Jazz Festival, and other prestigious venues.

Hyams adds a dose of paranoia and a mistrust of authority to many of his films, including Outland. The mining company, Con-Amalgamate, wants to boost production, so they dose the workers with powerful uppers that fry their brains, making them psychotic. They cover the deaths by jettisoning the bodies into space. Con-Amalgamate is also the company in Capricorn One that makes the faulty life support systems leading Hal Holbrook to devise his cunning plan.


“Is Kubrick here yet?”

I’m a big fan of Outland. I saw it in the theatre with my dad when it came out and it’s one of my favorite films from that era. We also saw The Long Riders the year before, so offbeat westerns must have been our thing at the time. I like the main characters a lot, too. Connery is terrific as O’Niel, a worn, but professional law enforcement officer who ticked off one too many superiors and wound up on Jupiter. He’s smart and resourceful. When he knows the hired killers are on their way, he prepares. He formulates a plan to compensate for his lack of help by closing airlocks, stashing weapons, and generally out thinking the criminals. He’s also lucky to have Sternhagen’s Dr. Lazarus on his side. She’s a joy in this. Sarcastic, self-deprecating, and smart as a whip, Lazarus makes a great partner. I wish she had more screen time.


“I’m unpleasant; I’m not stupid.”

There are a few oddities in this film. Sean Connery has a Scottish accent. Kika Markham, who plays his wife, is British. Nicholas Barnes, another British actor, plays their son, but speaks with an American accent. Why? Also, why does Connery have a shotgun in space? A shotgun blast might not be my first choice in a pressurized space cabin. That said, any film with Sean Connery busting baddies on an Io space station gets my vote.


“O’Niel. William T. O’Niel.”

I wrote this piece for the Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini. She’s @debbievee on Twitter. Thanks for having me!

Blood Feast (1963)   5 comments

“This looks like one of those long hard ones.”
-Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin) commenting on a series of violent murders

Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) runs a grocery store and deli that caters to the rich and bored. He specializes in authentic ancient Egyptian cuisine and brutal mutilation. Ramses murders beautiful young women and takes a different body part from each of them to make a sort of sacrificial mulligan stew.


“Bake at 450° for 45 minutes until medium rare.”

Soon, Florida’s beautiful sunshine-riddled lifestyle is all bloody. The headlines are filled with stories of murder victims and people are starting to notice. Well, some of the people are. The murders pale in comparison to the important issues in this film. Namely, will Suzette be surprised at her party? The whole time the killer is butchering helpless victims, society matron, Mrs. Fremont (Lyn Bolton) is planning a big party for her daughter, Suzette (Connie Mason). It should be a gas, since they’ve hired Fuad Ramses to cater.


“Authentic Egyptian cuisine!”

Blood Feast broke new ground for violence in 1963. Made in four days for $24,000, the film angered or disgusted a lot of people. It also sold a lot of tickets. Director, Herschell Gordon Lewis generated buzz around the film by issuing vomit bags to filmgoers. He even served an injunction against theatres in Sarasota, Florida to prevent the showing of Blood Feast, which, of course, drummed up business considerably. According to imdb, Blood Feast made $4 million in the US. It’s no Hitchcock thriller, but at least Lewis accompanies the unrealistic gore with wooden acting and unnatural dialogue. At one point, Mrs. Fremont reads her lines off a sheet of paper sitting on the sofa beside her. Classic.

Ramses continues his violent spree, taking pleasure in eviscerating his victims and caressing, then stealing their innards. The only hint to his motive comes from an Egyptology class Suzette and her boyfriend, Detective Thornton, both take. Ramses may be following a recipe from his own book, Ancient Weird Religious Rites. Isn’t that a great title?

Crazy must make you strong, because, despite his small stature and a severe limp, Ramses pushes a strong healthy woman onto a bed and pulls out her tongue. Apparently, she didn’t fight back because she didn’t need it anyway. Later, in the hospital, she manages to describe her assailant articulately to Detective Thornton using her auxiliary tongue.


“Tell me who cut out your tongue.”

Lewis directed mostly nudie films before Blood Feast, but jumped into the slasher genre with both feet. The first film in the Blood Trilogy, Blood Feast preceded Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965). Blood Feast is a gory film, even when weighed against today’s slashers. Ramses holds a severed leg and a tongue and manhandles assorted internal organs. He also whips a young girl ecstatically.


This pretty much say it all.

Blood Feast entertains accidentally. It’s fun to guess which organ Ramses will collect from each murdered woman and the acting is stiff and stilted. Mrs. Fremont and Suzette are attractive, but no competition for Meryl Streep, or her gardener. Then there’s the soundtrack. Cool organ music from couples’ skate night at the roller rink plays while Ramses stalks and kills women for parts.


“I have issues.”

I enjoyed Blood Feast. It’s goofily unreal and full of scenes like this. After rescuing Suzette, clad in her best pink party dress and white gloves, Detective Thornton and his partner, Frank (Scott Hall) go after Ramses. Mrs. Fremont fires off the best line. When it’s obvious Ramses is the killer and he’s abandoned his catering duties, she says, “Oh dear. I guess we’ll have to eat hamburgers tonight.”


“I wanted granite.”

After the dramatic rescue, the police chase Ramses to the landfill, where he jumps in the back of a trash truck and gets squashed.

“He died a fitting death for the garbage he was.”
-Frank (policeman poet)


Frank

It’s only 67 minutes.

Grave Encounters (2011)   Leave a comment

“It’s hard to beat a derelict mental institution used in Dr. Mengele-like medical experiments for pure heart-warming joy.”
-Some guy in a straitjacket

The crew of a Ghost Hunters-esque TV show led by Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) lock themselves into an abandoned mental hospital in Maryland to look for spooks. Will they find any? Three guesses.


He seems overly cheery about this.

Lance and his team, Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), Matt (Juan Riedinger), and T.C. (Merwin Mondesir) investigate paranormal activity. They look for legends and local rumors about long-abandoned abattoirs, orphanages, and schools and, armed with their Scooby-Doo starter kit—Geiger counter, ectoplasm detector, special hand-held tape recorder that picks up ghost chat, a metric shit-ton of cameras, and crappy walkie-talkies, our valiant ghost spotters, hunt for things that go bump in the night.


Pose away, Matt.

The foursome and their resident mystic, Houston (Mackenzie Gray), who looks like the middle-aged love child of Eric Roberts, Robert Davi, and Willem Dafoe, get a tour of the facility from the caretaker, Ken (Bob Rathie) complete with descriptions of the horrific treatment of the former inmates, the experimental surgeries performed, and the ghastly suicides of the poor tortured souls. Every new horror has the crew licking their lips and seeing ratings nirvana.


“Eat your heart out, Zak Bagans.”

To add to the general eeriness, Lance has Ken lock them into the asylum all night and promise to return in the morning. Great plan, Lance. Matt sets up the stationary cameras and they head out with a hand-held one to prowl the long hallways in search of spirits. At first, their trip is uneventful, but they persevere, consulting with Houston and checking the readings on their ghost gizmos. When the team are manhandled by invisible forces, they decide to pack it in and wait for Ken. Unfortunately, Ken doesn’t show and they’re stuck in a creepy insane asylum with a bunch of spooks.


Cozy

Directors, Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz (The Vicious Brothers), establish the appropriately sinister atmosphere early on. The dark hallways are full of doors, each leading to another filthy room bedecked in peeling paint, graffiti, and disused wheelchairs. Through subtle exposition we learn the team know little more than the terminology used in paranormal, um, science and that Houston is merely playing a part. There are quite a few jump scares and the found footage aspect comes off naturally.


“A little paint, a few throw pillows…it can work.”

I liked Grave Encounters. I’m not usually a huge fan of shaky-cam cinematography, but they pulled it off here. The cast of actors were new to me and did an effective job of making me like them and not want them to die horribly. They were also not soul-crushingly stupid. As the film progressed and emotions took over, they made some less-than-stellar decisions, but they were running away from disembodied asylum inmates with grudges, so they sort of have an excuse.


“Take your stinkin’ paws off me, you damn dirty inmates!”

I do wish these nutty ‘let’s stay overnight in the labyrinthine haunted house where police found 68 bodies skewered to the fenced-in part of the back garden’ folks would change it up just a bit. First, DRAW A FUCKING MAP! You’re in a place you’ve never seen before with a vast system of identical halls, empty rooms, staircases that go nowhere, and ghosts and it’s as dark as a coal mine at midnight. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs or something. Mark up the walls. Come on, guys, think! Second, bring a weapon. Carry a bat, a Maglite, a pointed stick, or some damn thing, and don’t, DO NOT drop the knife, bottle, or curtain rod the second after you use it to poke the evil spectral presence in the eye. You might need it again later.


Correct.

The main issue I have with Grave Encounters is the prologue. In the beginning of the film, a TV executive sitting in a production booth gives us a completely unnecessary introduction to the crew’s adventure. We don’t need it. The conversation among the protagonists explains it all without the tacked-on looking start, but the segment would make sense if it were bookended by an epilogue at the end. The abrupt ending with no explanation was unsatisfying. I get that some filmmakers want to withhold closure to amp up the sense of unease, or leave room for the sequel, but it left me with the same feeling I get when I get distracted and all the water drains out of the tub. Either do a scene at both ends or, if you must choose, do one at the end explaining how you got the film. Did kids, using the hospital as a place to party, find the equipment, watch the tapes, and turn them over to the police? Did criminals run across the pricey-looking stuff while dividing their loot after a hold-up, pawn it, get busted, and lead authorities back to the asylum? Did an apparition drop it off in the TV station mail slot? Enquiring minds want to know.


“It was not delivered by the US Postal Service. I can tell you that.”

Grave Encounters was entertaining and scary. It did its job.

The Great Lie (1941): I Ain’t Gonna Lie on Maggie’s Farm No More   2 comments

 

Rich country girl, Maggie (Bette Davis) loves Peter (George Brent). Peter loves Maggie, but he can’t commit. In a weak and drunken moment, he marries Sandra (Mary Astor), a globe-trotting concert pianist. She’s sort of awful though so when a paperwork glitch nullifies their marriage, Peter marries Maggie.


“You’ll do.”

All is happiness and light until Sandra drops a bombshell—she’s pregnant. When Peter’s plane is lost during a mapping expedition to the Amazon, Maggie has an idea. She’ll take Sandra to a secluded cabin where she’ll have her baby privately, then Maggie will claim the child as her own so the kid has a dad, at least on paper. The two women travel to Arizona, where Maggie takes care of the difficult Sandra during her pregnancy. When Maggie returns, she has a new baby with Peter’s name.


“No, I don’t have any eights!”

Despite her heartbreak at the loss of her husband, Maggie soldiers on and focuses on raising her son, who she names Peter, after his father. Maggie is a wonderful mother and young Pete thrives with the help of Maggie and maid superwoman, Violet (Hattie McDaniel). Things proceed swimmingly until Peter returns from the dead and eats the rest of the cast. I’m kidding, but that would be an interesting plot twist, wouldn’t it?


“This is a human child, right?”

Peter comes back to Maggie and is overjoyed to see her and to meet his son. He’s a loving and dedicated husband and father and he, Maggie, Young Pete, and Violet live happily ever after. Not so fast, bub. Sandra finds out Peter is back from the jungle and she wants him AND her baby. During a tense visit to Maggie’s farm, Maggie has a head full of ideas that are drivin’ her insane. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


“Don’t trust her, Pete.”

Anyway, Sandra threatens to tell Peter that Young Pete is hers, claiming Peter will leave Maggie since the baby is the only thing holding their marriage together. This is a film made in 1941 in which a boozy career woman has a child out of wedlock, so you can guess who wins.


“Dammit.”

The Great Lie is a terrific melodrama with great performances by all the leads. Bette Davis is lovely as the good girl with confidence issues. In the beginning of the film, Maggie’s idea of domestic bliss is a little too dull for Peter. He’s not ready to settle down. Brent plays Peter as a bit of a playboy, but overall, he’s a decent guy. When he finds out his marriage to Sandra isn’t legal, he offers to remarry her. Of course, he wants her to give up a gig to do it. You could call that dirty pool, but she wants him to give up his job to follow her around while she plays concerts too. It’s more like the two alpha personalities just don’t mesh. I like how he handles the news about Young Pete, too.


“I double dog dare ya!”

Davis and Brent are good together. She always said Brent was her favorite leading man and the two were close on and off the set. They had a passionate affair, but stayed friends even after it ended, making eleven films together.


“Race ya!”

Brent is more talented than he gets credit for because he makes it look easy. He excels at playing the cad with a heart of gold. Clark Gable does that too, but I’ve always preferred Brent. He’s smoother and doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. Keeping his thoughts and feelings closer to the vest makes him more mysterious and more appealing.


“It’s sweet of you to wait four years for me to commit, then watch me marry and impregnate someone else. Is supper ready?”

Mary Astor, as Sandra, is fantastic! She’s a demanding prima donna with genuine talent who wants everything done yesterday. She’s accustomed to getting her own way and is put out when anyone challenges her. She’s not evil though. Astor could easily have played this as a one note character, but she gives Sandra depth. Maybe the marriage wouldn’t have lasted, but not because Sandra doesn’t love Peter. When Sandra sees Maggie, Peter, and Young Pete living so happily together, she wonders if she’s made the right choice. The forties were not exactly the ‘have it all’ decade. Sandra has chosen a career and perhaps she has moments in hotel rooms in Sydney or Budapest when she regrets not having a family. The audience sees flashes of these thoughts as Sandra holds her baby.


“TA DA!”

The Great Lie is fleshed out by a cadre of veteran character actors. Lucile Watson, Jerome Cowen, Grant Mitchell, Russell Hicks, and the charismatic, Hattie McDaniel lend their enormous talents to the film. Warner Brother had an impressive well of talent to draw from and that’s obvious when watching any film they made, especially in the 1940s.


“You’re paying me scale?”

Edmund Goulding directed The Great Lie and two other Davis/Brent vehicles, Dark Victory and The Old Maid, along with a gang of other films, including the amazing, and completely different, Nightmare Alley and The Razor’s Edge. This is a low-key melodrama with sympathetic characters who act like normal, flawed human beings. There are some noble moments, but overall, the story, written by Lenore Coffee from Polan Banks’ novel, is realistic. Sure, everyone is rich and no one has to go to the bathroom, but it’s a movie. The film also looks and sounds great thanks to Orry-Kelly’s gowns and Max Steiner’s music.

I was thinking this plot could have taken an entirely different path. What if Maggie brought Sandra out to Arizona to steal her baby, kill her, and bury her under a cactus? Then, Peter comes back to Maggie after fighting off piranha and anacondas and junk and finds out he has a baby. He’s thrilled until detectives come calling at the farm asking where Maggie was for nine months a while back. Oh, and why were she and Sandra going to Arizona anyway? When a thirsty man, stranded in the desert, cuts open a saguaro to survive, he notices a woman’s shoe poking out of the dry ground. After he makes it back to civilization, he tells the story to a doctor with ties to law enforcement. His friend, a local deputy with political aspirations, digs up he body, connects the dots, and bingo! Maggie’s doin’ hard time and Peter’s looking for wife #3.


“These new taffeta jail duds are stunning.”

I digress. The Great Lie is an entertaining story made by a talented director, a veteran cast of lead and character actors, and produced at the height of Warner Brothers’ powers.

This is a good one.

Realweegiemidget Reviews Films TV Books and more

You Can Take The Girl Out of Glasgow. Tales from an Expat Wife and Stepmum Living in Finland

CrazyDiscoStu - A nerd blog

Reviews, film/tv, tech, music, opinions, observations, nerd culture, musings, general fan-boy geekery.

ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

How many assholes does it take to review a movie?

Fade To Black

Movie & TV Reviews - Because everyone is entitled to my opinion.

Monstrous Industry

Whirr. Clank. Grr.

Dance Dance Party Party Akron

Maniacs on the dance floor