Sunday, October 31, 2010

24 Frames: Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Well, here we are, the end of another October and here's wishing you the best tonight no matter if you are going to a party, staying in and watching some scary movies, trick or treating or catching Game 4 of the World Series. It's been fun doing another month long horror celebration and thanks to everyone who stopped by to read and/or comment.

We conclude with 24 frames from my beloved Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. Cinematography by Dean Cundey. While capturing the images it occurred to me I could have made this post entirely 24 frames of television footage or people watching TV.

Are you ready boys and girls? Put on your Silver Shamrock masks, the show is about to begin!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Death Ship (1980, Alvin Rakoff)

Part of the 1980's Project

A cruise liner mysteriously collides in the Atlantic ocean (all scenes of the crash are comprised of stock footage) leaving only a handful of survivors including a crew member (Richard Crenna), his wife and two young children, the ship’s lounge singer (Saul Rubinek) and the cranky captain (George Kennedy—because by law he had to be in every film involving some sort of accident or disaster that was made between the years 1970 and 1983). Luckily for the survivors, they find an abandoned ship in the middle of the ocean. Unluckily, it’s an old Nazi naval vessel that was used for torturing purposes that is haunted and begins possessing the soul of the captain. One by one the survivors start being picked off by strange circumstances, beginning with the lounge singer who is plunged into the ocean and drowned by various ropes and pulleys immediately. A death that is pretty much greeted by a collective shrug by the others; that’s what you get for not playing “Love Will Keep us Together”, buddy!

Death Ship is a film with large ambition, but limited resources. It appears as if the producers were able to procure the locations (meaning the ships) and some names for the cast, but their reach more often than not far exceeds their grasp. As I mentioned, the crucial collision scene is confusing and relies solely on previously existing footage from other films, giving us no real sense of what the survivors experienced, a real detriment considering the compounding horror that will follow. Director Rakoff relies way too heavily on shots of the mechanisms of the ship scored to creepy music for suspense, but the film does actually pick up a bit and become a lot more effective when the impact of the haunted ship begin occurring. A creepy atmosphere is finally attained and the film makes good use of the dark hallways of the haunted ship and there’s a few really disturbing effects including a film projector showing Nazi propaganda footage that won’t cease even after the project is destroyed, some good make-up work that shows the dangers of eating thirty-five plus year old mints (thirty-five year old Nazi mints, mind you) will have on your face, a bloody shower, and the most shocking scene, a room full of hung corpses. Kennedy nicely hams it up as the captain who becomes obsessed with and possessed by the spirit of a Nazi commander.

The concept of a haunted ship is a powerful one. Not only do you have the aspect of the spirit infestation but you have the isolation of no escape except the uncertain watery depths of the ocean. While never directly named a remake, the 2002 film Ghost Ship seems to work with the same general idea (I’ve never seen it, if you have, I’d be interested in your opinion) and even stole (or homaged) the poster art. Death Ship is hampered too much by its limitations, but only because it tries to be something grander than it is. If it had just opened with the survivors on the lifeboat, the film would not be bogged down by a dull first act.

Death Ship, a UK production shot in Canada, was released on VHS via Embassy in the 1980’s, but has been out of print in America ever since. It does have a Spanish DVD release and I found a copy via Cinema de Bizarre, which seem to be a transfer from a Japanese source. The print is a bit faded, but is oddly enough, presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Top 10ish Underrated-ish Horror-ish Films-ish

Rupert Pupkin Speaks is one of the best cinema related blogs out there and all this month it’s been dedicated to under-rated film lists from some great guest blog writers and other cinema luminaries including one from director Joe Dante!

While I am not on the level of most of the contributors, inspired by these lists, I decided to post my own 10 underrated lists here.

The thing about the term “underrated” is that it’s in the eye of the beholder, some on my list might seem obvious to the horror connoisseur, but may have never been heard of by more modest fans. They are ten effective horror films that may not be completely obscure, but also never make the horror cannon.

Son of Frankenstein (1939, Rowland V. Lee)

While not up to par or as thematically intriguing as the first two Frankenstein films directed by James Whale (and featuring Colin Clive), the third entry in the legendary Universal Horror series, and the last to feature Boris Karloff as the monster, is a worthy film. It explores issues that arise from family legacies and even self referentially addresses viewers confusing the family name for the monster’s name. Basil Rathbone is the titular character, and Bela Lugosi is great as the true villain of the piece, the scheming Ygor. (my review)

Tales from the Crypt (1972, Freddie Francis)

Anthology horror has fallen out of favor in this modern age (see Trick R Treat’s non release for evidence) which is strange with the proliferation of short form videos on YouTube. To the many of the blogger age that grew up loving the Robert Zemeckis produced HBO series or Romero’s Creepshow, I recommend you seek out the colorful palette and dark sensibility from director (and noted cinematographer) Freddie Francis. Featuring perhaps the best incarnation of the Monkey’s Paw legend.

Lisa and the Devil (1974, Mario Bava)

After premiering at the Cannes film festival, Bava’s most lyrical, surreal and visually sumptuous film was re-shot and edited by its distributors who turned it into an Exorcist cash-in named House of Exorcism. Bava’s intended vision finally saw the light of day in the 1990s and is included (with the House of Exorcism cut) on the wonderful Anchor Bay Bava DVD set.

(aka Dead of Night) (1974, Bob Clark)

Thankfully, my beloved Black Christmas (also directed by Clark) no longer seems to qualify as underrated as it’s become a holiday DVD/Blu-Ray mainstay. Most zombie films are parables that reflect current issues; Dawn of the Dead reflects our consumerist society and 28 Days Later shows the perils of a military state. Deathdream's subtext is simple yet effective, a family receives news that their son had died in battle in Vietnam, but are visited by him the next night, only he’s not quite himself. The effects of war are nicely alluded to within the zombie genre.

Shivers aka They Came From Within (1975, David Cronenberg)

Not his first film technically, but definitely the first “David Cronenberg” film in sense of where his career would go, Shivers is crudely shot and acted at times, but is still effectively creepy as a virus spreads through a modern Montreal sky rise condominium that brings out extreme sexual peccadilloes in all of the residents. Witness an orgy featuring Grandparents! Gasp at the sight of children in S & M paraphernalia! Amaze at a singular horror visionary beginnings!

Night Train Murders (1975, Aldo Lado)

This Italian rip-off of Wes Craven’s nasty cult horror sleaze fest Last House on the Left (the film was released in America under the title The New House on the Left) is amazingly even nastier than its originator. It’s also a better film with stronger acting, better crafted technical aspects including a keen sense of color and use of darkness, and rife with an interesting class system subtext. I wouldn’t recommend this to just anybody, but if Thriller: A Cruel Story, I Spit on Your Grave and the original Last House are up your proverbial alley, then check out Lado’s film, which trumps them all!

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976, Nicolas Gessner)

I just caught this for the first time about a month ago, but it left quite the impression. It’s more of a psychological thriller than pure horror, but hey people die, so why pick nits? Jodie Foster plays a girl who will go to any lengths to preserve her current life with her (apparently missing) father, and Martin Sheen is at his smarmiest as the pedophiliac son of Foster’s landlord. Lane is rich in snowy atmosphere (shot in Canada but supposedly set in a small New England town), a dynamic acting battle royal between Sheen and Foster (has there ever been a better child actor?) and a seething sense of tension throughout, eww… just thinking of Sheen gives me the creeps!

Road Games
(1981, Richard Franklin)

Alfred Hitchcock worshipping Australian director Franklin is generally underrated, he’s crafted such quality endeavors as Patrick, Psycho II and Cloak and Dagger, all films that are still effective today, but his triumph is this thriller set in his home country which can be summarized as Rear Window in a big rig. Road Games stars Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis as Americans in the Outback, and there are two set pieces—the opening murder and a slaughterhouse set scene—that would make ol’ style loving Hitch proud.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace)

I feel the tide is turning and people recognize that this is the second best film with the word “Halloween” in the title, but for the Mike Myers worshippers out there, this is more brutal, funnier and better written or directed than any film outside of Carpenter’s original. I want to live in the parallel universe where Carpenter was able to produce one Halloween set film every October for the rest of the 1980’s. (an appreciation)

May (2003, Lucky McKee)

Angela Bettis gives a fragile yet disturbed performance that recalls Sissy Spacek’s work in Carrie in this disturbing yet funny and oddly humane debut film from writer-director Lucky McKee. Always awkward in her own skin and around others, May (Bettis) decides to create her own perfect companion, featuring her favorite body parts of people in her life!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When Bad DVD (and Blu-Ray) Covers Happen to Good Films: The Fred Dekker Edition

Poor Fred Dekker. In 1986 and 1987 he crafted two films that paid homage to his beloved horror genre while bringing a new unique sensibility and humor that was undeniably singular to the writer-director. Both films: Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad were distributed through Columbia Pictures secondary studio Tri-Star Pictures, and both were box office disappointments upon theatrical release. However, they began gaining a steady cult thanks to video stores and numerous HBO airings. Able to parlay that into what at the time should have been a major coup, directing the third Robocop film, that too ended in frustration as Peter Weller did not return, the film which was originally going to be R rated like the other two Robocops changed gears to attempt to appeal to children who watched the Saturday morning cartoon incarnation, and most drastically, Orion, the company produces the film went bankrupt before Robocop 3 opened.

His directing career apparently cut off at the knees before it got far, Dekker suffered further indignities when the DVD market exploded in the early 2000s, and the copyright holders of his first two cult films showed no interest in providing a release on the then thriving format. This despite well attended repertory screenings of both Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps, most notably in Austin and Los Angeles, and bootleg transfers becoming more and more commonplace at conventions.

The Monster Squad finally made it to the digital market place via Lions Gate on July 24th, 2007, and just over two years later, on October 27th, 2009, Night of the Creeps was graced with a dual DVD and Blu-Ray edition from Sony. Both DVDs do right by the films: great transfers rife with hours of extras including commentary for both with Dekker himself. However, he was provided one last kick to the groin with the lackluster covers that graced these long awaited cult classics.

Here are the original Night of the Creeps posters

Domestic Theatrical Poster:

I like this one and would have been fine with it being replicated for the digital release, but it's my least favorite of the three original designs. This is also the only poster to feature both of the film's two tag lines.

International Theatrical Poster:

I prefer this simpler design because like the 50s-60s genre film that it pays tribute to, it doesn't really tell you too much about the film itself.

Video Release Poster:

This is the art I most associate with Creeps as I discovered the film on VHS which featured this as the cover. I still prefer it. The tag line clues you into the film's sense of humor, while the central image is memorable and intriguing for first timers.

When it came to the digital release, not only did they screw up once, but twice, since the Blu-Ray and DVD each have separate covers (technically it's three times since there was a voting process for fans to choose their preferred design, the third is actually the worst, but you know, whichever wins, we lose and what have you).

Here's the Blu-Ray Cover:

Besides suffering a bad case of the BIG HEAD cover syndrome of the late aughts, it also contains a pretty major spoiler on the left hand side, as well as an emphasis on the alien, who are only featured in the film's pre-credit prologue.

...and here's the DVD cover--
I guess this is the best of the three original options, the colors are a weird choice, but the film is a bit off kilter, so that's appropriate. However, my main issue is that it seems there was a debate whether to stick with the aforementioned big head route or to go for something more interesting, like the 50's couple in the bottom half, another reference to the opening prologue (did the cover designers just watch the first and last ten minutes of the film?), and decided instead of making a choice to go with both. Unfortunately, this is not a Reese's Peanut Butter cup situation, as the two tastes don't blend well and the owner of the DVD is stuck with a schizophrenic case.

Here is the original Monster Squad poster

For a generation who grew up with this film, this poster is iconic. This was the VHS cover and I cannot count the number of people I've seen sporting the "squad" portion of this image on t-shirts. Sure the tag line is unnecessary, but perhaps just the squad ready for action in front of the car would've made for a fan pleasing cover.

Instead we get this DVD cover:

Again, not awful, but it seems to be an attempt to confuse consumers into thinking that this was one of Harry Potter's side adventures. And while the Dracula resembles Duncan Regehr in costume, neither the Wolfman or Frankenstein's monster look anything like their Stan Winston created film incarnation.

But if mangling the DVD and Blu-Ray cover is what it takes for Dekker to finally get his work out there, I guess in the long run, it's a minor annoyance for a greater good. And I would gladly endure an awful movie poster if it means Dekker gets an opportunity to direct again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Icons of Cool: Vincent Price

A new feature here at the ol' CMWHHR (the new generation digs those acronyms!) celebrating the life of a person who to my sensibility symbolizes "cool". My loose definition is someone who lived a singular and unique life and contributed something to the world that left an indelible impact on myself. This person could be an athlete, film director, actor, musician, politician, author or what have you. Consider this Colonel Mortimer's Personal Hall of Fame.

These posts will consist of some of my favorite photos, stills or artist renderings of the subject that I found on the interwebs that probably would be more at home on a tumblr site, but hey, I am not starting another website.

Today's inaugural inductee is the seasonally appropriate horror icon and "Thriller" guest rapper Vincent Price. Born May 25th, 1911, Price was a Yale graduate who began acting in theatre in the 1930s and made his acting debut in the romantic comedy Service de Luxe (1938), his first lead role in a horror film was in the 1940 sequel The Invisible Man Returns, his final role would be as the inventor father of the titular character in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990). Between that he would work with such influential filmmakers as Samuel Fuller, Andre de Toth, Otto Preminger, Michael Reeves, Mario Bava, William Castle, and of course, Roger Corman. Price is notorious for his tongue in cheek performances, but I implore you to catch The Witchfinder General which features his most straight forward villainous role and displays the depths of his talents. Price would leave this mortal coil on October 25th, 1991. Just six days too early!

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