Monday, November 4, 2013

The Masque of the Red Death 1964

As it is one of the later films in Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allen Poe adaptions, this film suffers from the cumulative excesses of those before it. The story is kind of confusing mess with no real central character at the centre for the audience to follow and it’s really hard to identify with anyone on this movie. 

This is not to say it doesn’t have it’s moments. Vincent Price sleeps walks through his performance, but even so, he’s pretty fun to watch as the cruel Prospero who is one big jaded mess of a man. No matter how horrible an event is, he seems to have a quip ready at hand to say about it and delivers them all in a bored, matter of fact tone. 

The romantic couple, who have very little chemistry to start with, are the typical stereotyped «common people» we are supposed to root for but really don’t care much about. they are simply to underdeveloped and overwhelmed by set pieces and Price. 

The plot is fairly simple on the surface, the evil ruler of the province, after seeing the red death has arrived in town decides to protect the upper class members of society in his huge castle and wait out the disease as it ravages the outside world. The price for his protection is to be subjected to his every cruel whim, suffer torture and humiliation and eventually dress in funny costumes to amuse him. 

Juliana is Prospero’s mistress and like him wants to gain favour of Satan to save them for the plague and give them places of power in hell, or immortality... it’s not really clear. While Prospero tries to gain favour by being a complete self righteous douche bag, she goes another route and take a potion, burns a cross into her boobs and has some sort of fever dream where stereotypes throughout the ages do dance numbers and then stab her. When she awakens from her trance she is convinced Satan is now her husband and gets immediately attacked, for no good reason, by a falcon who pecks her to death. 

There is a quick sub plot involving the dwarf jester and a little girl who later on we discover is also supposed to be a dwarf (they dub an adult women’s voice over hers). One of the guests, having slapped the little girl dancer earlier, is humiliated and horribly burned alive in front of the guests in revenge by the jester (easily the best actor in this production). No one is as horrified as they should be and Mr. Price, as his custom by now, makes a quip and orders the mess cleaned up. 

The story also has scenes of the captured lovers and the girl’s father escaping the dungeon only to be caught in the act by Prospero himself. It should be noted that he seems to be everywhere at once. He just appears places, in completely different outfits whenever it suits the storyline. It very hard to tell how long the the events presented takes place over... a night? a week? 

Throughout this mess,  a red cloaked figure sits by trees, gives nebulous predictions and eventually comes to the party where he is revealed to be the red death itself and, true to form, kills everyone by spraying them with blood and making them do modern dance. He spares the two young lovers (who he reunited, but we never see that - or them- again), a girl that for some reason Prospero decided to let live, the jester and the dancer and some random guy in the village who we’ve never heard of before. The film ends with him having some sort of telly-tubby inspired meeting of deathly diseases who all moan about how many people they’ve had to kill recently and then march off in their red, blue, green etc robes. 

Poe, who’s work is referenced during the film, but as with all Corman’s Poe inspired movies, not very faithfully and the titles run. 

I can't say I’d recommend this production very highly, even as camp. It’s slow and tedious and Price does seem to be phoning in his lines. The set design is pretty amazing and the size of the castle is well represented with minimal sets which sometimes shake a bit it you hit a wall too hard. This is one film that would greatly improve with a Mystery Science Theatre 300 treatment. I now some people really love this film and I can’t say I hate it but it doesn’t come close to the more inspired Corman adaptions like «Fall of the House of Usher».

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Man From Earth (2007)

directed by: Richard Schenkman
written by: Jerome Bixby
David Lee Smith as John Oldman
Tony Todd as Dan
Ellen Crawford as Edith
Annika Peterson as Sandy
William Katt as Art Jenkins
Alexis Thorpe as Linda Murphy
Richard Riehle as Dr. Will Gruber

It’s rare to find a new film worthy of being a cult film but I think this film with it’s simple premise, intimate feel and interesting cast and history is one of them.

The writer, Jerome Bixby had been working on this idea for decades and completed it on his death bed. His son worked tirelessly to make the production happen. The story about a man who reveals to a group of close friends that he is possibly 14 000 years old is not the first time the author visited this material. In the 60s he wrote the Star Trek episode «Requiem for Methusleh» which covers some of the same themes. Some of the actors are from various later Star Trek incarnations, in fact, and the show evens gets a mention during the film. 

The filmmaking is really well done, the low budget helps rather than hurts the production. The entire drama takes place either in or in front of a cabin in the woods. It never falls into a «filmed play» mode, but really squeezes out solid cinematography in a limited space. The lead actor, David Lee Smith gives a great underplayed performance. He has an emotional distance and quietness that sells the idea he might really be as old as he claims and there is a real honesty to the character. As he unfolds his story, at first framed as a science fiction he may be writing, it becomes more and more clear he believes it and more to the point, those hearing start to believe it as well. 

The problems with the story are more things that bother me personally than maybe actually faults in the movie's structure. 

«spoilers coming»

While the telling of story is fascinating, some of it’s details bothered me. The concept that he was «one man telling a story from one point of view, from the perspective of a single person only in one place at a time», is brilliant but somewhat sullied by a revelation that he may have been the inspiration for the Jesus Christ mythology. This is told in a compelling way and the objections of the obligatory biblical literalist friend don't feel forced. In the same sort of vein, the guests leave for the most part either believing or disbelieving what they have heard and even at this point, there is cause for us the audience to feel ambiguous as well. A compelling story is not proof of such an amazing claim. I liked that. Sadly, not everyone has left the party and while John is telling his soon to be ex girlfriend before he moves on (he leaves every decade or so for a new life as people start to notice he isn’t aging) and mentions one name too many. The psychologist who has been called in to assess John’s sanity recognizes the name as that of his father, a Harvard professor who left he and his mother almost 60 years ago. This is not thrown in willy nilly in fact it explains why in his questions, he seems to be stuck on John’s impressions of fatherhood. Also, Dr. Gruber has lost his wife the day before and has brought a gun to the cabin. At first it seems like a test for John, then maybe a means to commit suicide and finally a possible reason might be he suspected John was his father all along and wanted to kill him. In a very well done shot, we are shown the gun actually has no bullets in it. This mystery is thankfully never solved as, upon having it confirmed that his father is an immortal from caveman times, he has a heart attack and dies (He was complaining of pains and tiredness throughout the film). Smith's characters is very affected by his death, but in a quiet, in character, understated way. He had to have known for years this man was his son and for some reason, chosen to be near him and risk exposure. 

This revelation, though well done, is not an asset to the story, in my opinion. I would have preferred everyone (including us) leaving with their own ideas as to what has just happened and him deciding to give a little more time to the woman who loves him but he can never love the same way after losing so many people over possibly 14 000 years of life on earth. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Deep End

Deep End
Jerzy Skolimowski, director

As I try to see a series of cult films I’ve missed over the years, Deep End kept coming up in conversations and in searches online. I finally got to see it and while it’s a film definitely of it’s time, I’m not as enamoured of it as others have been. 

Warning: contains spoilers

A sometimes funny, certainly tragic story, this film follows the life of 15 year old Mike and his obsession with his older co-worker Susan in a sleazy bath house in swinging London. We never do see a swinging side of London, just the underside of it which in this case is a plus for the story telling. Another high point of the production is the actor who plays Mike looks 15 years old and not like in most films, a 20 years old playing a teenager. 

No one in this film is very likeable... including Mike who we are supposed to identify with.  Sure he’s a typical kid with a crush but he’s as creepy as the gym teacher his love interest (who is engaged) is having an affair with. The clients of the bath house are not the most normal of people as you might imagine either but they do provide comic relief and a little pity depending on your point of view. 

The performances are appropriately awkward and all the minor characters pull in solid performances. I didn’t find anything special with the photography. I should say i saw an old copy of the film and not a restored version. I’ve seen stills form a cleaner, better print and they looks 100 times better than the print I viewed. 

I did the find the ending... odd. To say the least. The very least. In a nutshell, the two principals have sex in the empty pool which means everything to Mike but nothing to Susan. In his rage and as the pool fills with water after a custodian starts to fill it not realizing people are in the pool, Mike swings a heavy light into Susan... cracking open her head. She slides into the water unconscious and he fucks her dead or dying body. So the character we are meant to sympathize with is a killer necrophiliac. He makes no effort to save her life at all. 

Not a bad film by any means and has it’s interesting points but I found the whole thing very hard to relate to on any level. Maybe that was the point.. this characters can’t really even relate to themselves, but the end seen was more confusing than anything in my view. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Slammer Podcast Recommendations

I can’t live without my iPod (I don’t have a cell phone however) but not because I listen to tons of music. I listen to podcasts, free radio broadcast like shows you can find for free on iTunes. There a re video and audio podcasts on every subject imaginable and while I listen to many science and skeptical podcasts, I’ve find a couple really great ones for film freaks.

This is an amazing recourse. I many ways it is like a continuation of the Danny Peary Cult Movie books in how the information is presented. The presenters give you an overview of the film, usually a cult film that not even I have heard of along with interviews, history, production stories and discussions on why this film has a following... or should. 

The print magazine has quite the nice accompanying podcast and while the quality isn’t always the best the reporting is lively and interesting. They cover all genre films (sci-fi, horror etc) and also broadcast interviews along with critiques and discussions. They also do what all slammers love to do... watch terrible movies and then talk about then for hours. 

Podcasts are great to listen to at the gym, working on something visual where audio won’t distract you, driving on trips... anywhere you need a slight distraction form tedious or long task. 

Any other recommendations? 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Devil Doll - 1936

Directed by Tod Browning and starring Lionel Barrymore as with Maureen O'Sullivan this film could be summed up as: A banker wrongly convicted of robbery and murder by his three partners escapes prison to get revenge, clear his name and win back the respect of his estranged daughter. Of course, that description is accurate but ignores all the WTF going on in this bizarre movie. 

Barrymore as Paul Lavond escapes with a mad scientist who is determined to help extend the world's resources by shrinking every living thing to the size of a Barbie doll with the help of his somewhat crippled, huge eyed, black haired with a big white streaked wife who is named Malita, of all things. The scientist dies in the escape and Malita decide to clear the banker's name so she and he can forward her husband's somewhat poorly thought out agenda. 

Lavond decides the best way to proceed is spend most of the film dressed as an old woman and use the devilish dolls, who are real people shrunk down, to kill his betrayers and force them to confess. These little assassins have no will of their own and can be controlled....somehow... to do his bidding. How the scientist thought mindless zombie dolls were humanities future is never explained. Nor is it explained how they feed them or stop them from peeing and pooping themselves when given to his enemies children as a toy. Maybe they come with diapers. 

M. Lavond manages to befriend his daughter who is living in poverty with his mother for the purpose of hearing how much she hates him and the spot he has put his family in with his incarceration. His daughter is fooled by drag easily enough and confides in him that she also can't marry the boy she loves because of the shame that has been associated by the family name. 

Malita goes bat shit crazy(er?) when Barrymore's character finally succeeds in clearing his name and wants out of the shrinking scheme and kills herself and the mini people in a fire. You'd think he would be happy and free and clear. But no! For some really inexplicable reason he tells the daughter's boyfriend everything and then tells her he is the dead the scientist and her father (who she does not recognize out of drag either even though his photo has been posted all over town during his escape) is dead. So she gets the business and the money and her name cleared so she can marry while he heavily hints he will kill himself, apparently for her... happiness ? 

I just don't get it, she would be much happier getting to know her father again while he retakes his business. Plus her boyfriend will have to live with this secret being kept from her forever. I'm sure she would kill him on the spot if she knew he knew that old man was really her missing dad! 

In any case , the film is brilliant and somehow Browning manages to make all this insane storyline seem perfectly natural. The visuals are great, the living dolls are better than in Bride of Frankenstein, which I believe we're also created to save the planet. 

Sadly, the earth had 2 billion people when this was made and  7 billion now and we still aren't a race of devil dolls! 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013

The innovative puppet animator Ray harryhausen dies this week, it's a huge loss to classic film effects fans and marks the end of an era of physical effects artists that started with Willis O'Brien in the silent film era. 

On personal level, Mr. Harryhausen was a hero of my childhood. While other kids wanted to be fireman and later astronauts... I wanted to work in a small room alone animating puppets to life for films. Films like "The beast from 20 000 Fathoms" are still in my list of top ten films to watch over and over for not just entertainment, but inspiration. 

Right up until his death, this pioneer was still working on new projects. These varied from new puppet animations based on Poe's works to colourizing his earlier films for a new audience.. something I normally would abject to but after meeting him a couple years ago and hearing his reasons for doing, I was convinced he was doing the right thing. They were, after his films to decide what was best for their continued enjoyment by fans. 

Ray never wanted to go the computer route with animation, he liked the physical models and the not so real quality of mixing them with real actors and sets. He did develop techniques used by others, including a way to move the models while clicking the shutter each frame to give them a motion blur.. making them look hyper real. He never used this in any of his films, however, thinking it would take away from the fantasy look. 

No one ever made films like him... and likely never will. he was a genre of film making unto himself. Luckily his monster films, Sinbad series and others are still around to remind us of his greatness and still give that spark of creativity to future artists. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Wolfman

I recently got the time to see the film that was "going to bring the classic monsters back to the big screen", the new version the the Wolfman. As is evident by now, the revival never happened and this movie could easily be the reason. 

The good:
The retro Universal studios logo
The sets and locations
The cinematography 
The werewolf makeup

So far it looks like like a classic reborn, the look feel and colour palette are great and the werewolf makeup which the film should live or die by is a great updating of the Lon Chaney jr version. 

The bad:
The acting - totally phoned in by everyone
The violence is over the top and unnecessary
The cgi isn't terrible but it's obvious 
The story

With so much going right the stuff that went wrong is more a shame. The story is basically the same as the failed first Incredible Hulk movie (seriously) and wasted the chance for us to be watching and Creature from the Black Lagoon etc by now and it can't be stated enough how violently repulsive the gore is in this flick. No chance to show dismemberment and intestines on the ground is wasted. This is not classic horror, but it is horrible. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Fairy Official Trailer #1 - La fée Movie (2012) HD

I've been watching the films of the trio of Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, and Bruno Romy. Trippy, Funny. Cartoonish. Kind-Hearted. and Goofy. I wish I knew more about them - they seem to come from dance.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

June Wilkinson Comic Book Ad

...strange that My Little Margie Comics would be featuring an ad with a a star (June Wilkinson)who, at this point, would be famous for being professionally naked. She mentions being in the Continental Twist with Louis Prima, and in the clip below one can see that the Wate-on that kept her going seems to have worked. Then again it was Charlton comics who were the cheapo brand.

Monday, February 4, 2013


The film "Koch" has been released.. Coincidentally on the day he died. I worked on the restoration and retouching of photos throughout the film. It's been a tough couple years, I only hope I get more good work like this soon!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Whisperer in the Darkness

This is the latest film from the people who brought back the silent film to bring us "The Call of Cthulu". Unlike the earlier film this one is more modern in look and feel... but not by much. It recalls the style of the Universal horror classics and does a damn good job of it. 

This is company that knows it has limited resources and makes the most of them. While some of the film is slow (there is a good 15 minutes that could easily had been cut out and no one would have noticed) the intention and spirit of Lovecraft is respected and certainly present. There is one scene in particular that is fairly gruesome and disturbing. Other scenes use animation maybe not possible with the 30's tech this film imitates faithfully in most places, but even those effects seem in place for this project. 

Trying to explain a Lovecraft story is difficult at best and filming one, even harder. Changes must be made and visual choices to show what is indescribable can go either way with viewers but these guys get 100 points for effort and for actually getting it done when much more monied studios can't even get past the planning stages for putting Lovecraftian chills on the screen. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The "New" tech of the Hobbit

If you want a review of the film, not the tech, check out the excellent review on "The Movie Wrench". 

With the release of the Hobbit came a slew of new, not so new and fairly old technology that's all been heralded at some time or another as the "future of cinema". While the future is not easy to predict, it's not too early to pass some judgement on these advances... if in fact they are. 

This has been the future since the 50's and I have to say that watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon in three dimensions is much more entertaining than any of the films released recently. It is headache producing, eyes straining and lends itself to excessively obvious shots of things pointed directly at your face with no reason to do so. 

IMAX screen
Again, not so new an idea as bigger and bigger screens were quite the thing on and off in movie theatres since they began. On the positive side, these new screens are not just bigger but clearer, have much more depth and the sound is amazing. This really does give you the larger than life feeling we want from a night at at the movies. The set back to this is the price... paying a lot more for what should maybe be standard if you want to compete with 80 inch TVs which let you watch for free and in your own home. 

High Frame Rate
While still not totally new (Douglas Trumbull - a god of cinema effects and tech) has been trying to get up to 70 frames per second (FPS) in our local movie houses for decades. Unfortunately in the Hobbit, this aspect of the film is hard to separate from the 3D. The images are 48FPS not 70 but even that might look either "hyper real" or "fake and video like" depending on each person's tolerance for the technique. The colour and sharpness is beautiful however when the images are up to the technology. People's faces can look odd at first and some action sequences look like they have been animated with puppets one frame at a time since there is almost zero blur. It makes any kind of special effect that much harder to pull off realistically, at least for now. 

The future could easily be comprised of IMAX and high frame rates but 3D is still something that time has never arrived and likely never will come to pass as something many people will want to see beyond the gimmick.