Monday, October 29, 2012

Horror of Dracula

Horror of Dracula
Director: Terence Fisher
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough

Vampire myth and legend has been squarely in the public consciousness for more than a century. While Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was hardly the first incidence of vampires in fiction, it was perhaps the most successful, and with such recent additions as *shudder* Twilight and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, vampires still continue to fascinate, whether they sparkle or no. In the 1950s, possibly the most iconic vampire film comes from the fabled Hammer studio of England, Horror of Dracula.

Inspired by but hardly faithful to Bram Stoker’s original novel, the movie tells the story of first Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) and then Van Helsing (Cushing) as they track and stalk the vampire Count Dracula (Lee). Harker tries his hand at destroying Dracula by going out to the Count’s castle on his own, but he is quickly overcome by the Count and his female underling. We then cut back to Harker’s fiancée Lucy, who is sickly because she too is being haunted by the Count. Van Helsing explains to Lucy’s brother Arthur (Gough) that she must be protected from the vampire as well.

Hammer Horror is one of the most famous horror studios of all time, putting out a tremendous number of films for decades. Horror of Dracula was hardly their first film, the studio having been making films since the 1930s, but the studio underwent a rebirth in the fifties, one that was helped along greatly by the tremendous box office success of this movie. This rebirth helped to define what has now become recognizable as the trademarks of Hammer Horror.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Shining

The Shining
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers

The Shining and I have a bit of a history. I haven’t seen it a billion and one times, but the few times I have committed to watching it all the way through have been memorable in one way or the other. The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s take on what a horror movie is, and, because he’s Kubrick, he can’t help but put his own stamp all over the film. What results is an incredibly atmospheric and FUCKING SCARY movie.

But why? Because this is Kubrick playing with horror, interpreting horror in his own way, we get something that is relatively unique in its horror. We don’t have the typical trappings of terror in The Shining. Consider the very opening of the film, for instance. We open on gorgeous helicopter shots of the Rockies, gradually zooming in on a car driving through winding roads, and Wendy Carlos’ score starts playing, those plodding, synthetic tones, and holy shit, it’s already scary. Scary, with nothing but gorgeous helicopter shots of the wilderness and minimalistic music. This is not typical horror.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man
Director: George Waggner
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy

When you think “classic horror,” you think Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy. Rounding out the list would undoubtedly be the Wolf Man. Unlike the other monsters on this list, though, the Wolf Man is unique in several ways. Instead of being based on centuries-old mythos or classic literature, the Wolf Man came mostly from the mind of screenwriter Curt Siodmak. Similarly, because he was a relatively new invention, the Wolf Man is treated far less as a monster and far more as a very real human tragedy. For these reasons, The Wolf Man is easily my favorite of the early classic monster films.

Larry Talbot (Chaney) is the prodigal son returning home to his scientist father’s (Rains) estate in Wales. He meets and woos shop girl Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), which takes him out into the fog-filled forest in search of a gypsy fortune teller on their date (Bela Lugosi, in a rather fitting cameo). Unfortunately, Bela’s a bit crazy, and he turns into a wolf and attacks. Larry kills the wolf, but when he realizes he also killed the gypsy, he is wracked with guilt. Bitten by the wolf, Larry starts to realize that he himself is turning into the Wolf Man.

On the most literal level, I respond incredibly well to the tragedy found in The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr. proves he’s got chops as he holds nothing back from poor Larry’s story. Larry is just a regular guy, the younger brother, good with tools but not science, who has to take on the mantle of elder brother due to a family tragedy. Larry wants to do right by his dad and his family and his birthright, but when he starts to realize that he is the one causing the violence, he is horror-struck. His remorse at killing the gypsy is all-consuming, and he becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming a werewolf himself. He closes himself off from his friends and family, even insisting that he be locked up and bound at night to prevent his wolf form from escaping and killing his loved ones. Larry is sad and sympathetic all the way. He never feels like a traditional movie monster.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Farley Granger, John Dall  

Rope is alternately absolute classic Hitchcock, and very novel Hitchcock. Famous (or, perhaps, infamous) as being shot in only ten takes, this is a fact that sometimes seems to overwhelm the story itself. While being an exercise in a novel technique for presenting the story, Hitchcock plays with his classic themes of suspense and psychological battles, all while peppering black humor throughout.

The film opens with the murder by strangulation (using rope, of course) of David (Dick Hogan) by Phillip (Granger) and Brandon (Dall), David’s school friends. Phillip is horrified by what he’s done, but Brandon is pleased. It appears they committed the murder in order to see if they could, and David was deemed disposable. After hiding David’s body in a large chest, they begin to prepare for a dinner party attended by David’s friends and family. Brandon is so smug, he even serves the food off of the chest in question. But when Rupert Cadell (Stewart), an old teacher of theirs, shows up at the party as well, he shrewdly starts to deduce what Phillip and Brandon have done.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Director: Tod Browning
Starring: Harry Earles, Olga Baclanova, Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Henry Victor

Chip from Tips from Chip recently reviewed this film, and he spoke well as to the issue of exploitation in it. That point sums up this movie rather perfectly. Tod Browning’s Freaks is a disturbing film. While not a pure horror film, the final act puts us squarely in fear and dread territory, making this film a worthy part of any Halloween marathon.

Freaks tells the story of a group of travelling circus performers. While there is the obviously the strong man, Hercules (Victor), the trapeze artist Cleopatra (Baclanova), and the bearded lady, most of the troupe is comprised of the “freaks” of the title, people with physical deformities, played by actual circus performers. The story focuses on Hans (Earles), a little person who is in love with Cleopatra. She mocks him and makes eyes at Hercules, but when she finds out Hans is wealthy, she marries him then plots with Hercules to kill Hans for his fortune. When the other “freaks” find out about this, they exact their revenge on the dastardly Cleopatra and Hercules.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Bénichou

I don’t like to know everything about a film before I see it, but I like to know the basics: stars, genre, director, at the most a vague outline of the story. All I knew of Caché was that it starred Juliette Binoche (who rocks) and, in the first sentence of the DVD jacket, it was a “psychological thriller.” That was good enough for me, I like psychological thrillers, but that was all I knew.

Then the "directed by Haneke" message hit me, and I realized that, uh, yeah, I really had no idea what I gotten myself into.

Even knowing it was a “psychological thriller,” therefore meant to be, well, thrilling, left me feeling completely blindsided.

This movie freaked me the eff out.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot (even Roger Ebert, who spoils films fully and freely, managed to write one of his Great Movie essays on this without giving anything of significance away). The main characters are Georges Laurent (Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Binoche). He is the host of a television book discussion program running on public television in Paris, she is a publisher. They have an adolescent son, Pierrot. The film opens with the discovery that someone has been filming them. They know this because videocassettes have been dropped at their front door showing the surveillance of the Laurents. Georges starts to suspect someone he used to know, someone from his past, Majid (Bénichou). The cassettes keep coming, egging Georges and Anne on, keeping them uncomfortably and aggressively aware that they are being watched.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy
Director: Martin Scorsese  
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard

I don’t know what’s more frightening about this movie – De Niro’s completely nutso Rupert Pupkin, Scorsese’s all-too-accurate illustration of American society as dangerously celebrity-obsessed, or Scorsese’s prediction of our current culture of reality television and the fulfillment of Andy Warhol’s decree that everyone will indeed be famous for fifteen minutes.

We first meet Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) at the stage door of Jerry Langford (Lewis), a late night talk show host. It soon becomes abundantly clear that Pupkin, while claiming to be an aspiring comic and performer, is really a delusional who manufactures a relationship with Langford in his head and the basement of his mother’s house. After being turned down by Langford’s show, Pupkin and a like-minded obsessive friend Masha (Bernhard) resort to kidnapping Langford himself in order to make it in the biz.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck

Hitchcock was an incredibly prolific director. Dude made a lot films. He was interested in certain genres, certain themes, and he produced some tremendous films on these themes. Having said that, if we’re playing a sheer numbers game here, he also made some stinkers. This film falls squarely in the mediocre section of his work, with just a few unique tricks that make its inclusion in the 1001 Movies list somewhat understandable.

Dr. Constance Peterson (Bergman) is a devoted psychologist, living at her hospital while working with her patients. When a new department head arrives (Peck), Peterson is smitten immediately, both from a physical, professional, and emotional standpoint. Problem is, the newly arrived doctor is soon revealed to be an impostor. He is no psychologist; instead, he is an amnesiac who reacts badly to certain things but cannot remember why. Will her love affair with this strange man end with her murder at his hands?

This movie has a lot of flaws. How flawed is it? About halfway through my rewatch, bored and annoyed, I reached for my copy of 1001 Movies to remind myself exactly why such a tedious film should make the ranks. So let me address both sides of this: what are its problems, and why it’s in the book.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Exorcist

The Exorcist
Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Jason Miller

About a year ago, my husband and my sister accompanied me to a screening of The Exorcist. Neither of them had seen it before, and I hadn’t seen it in over 10 years, and even then, it was under less than ideal circumstances. Essentially, all three of us were seeing it for the first time, knowing little about it other than the classic sequences of Linda Blair’s head turning all the way around and the spewing of the pea soup. After the film ended, the three of us stood in the lobby and just looked at one another blankly.

After a few minutes, we finally got up the nerve to speak.

“That was… um… intense.”
“Uh, YEAH.”
“Oh my god, that was so good.”

All right, so our critiques weren’t exactly eloquent, but The Exorcist had temporarily removed our ability to link thoughts with words. It’s that good a film.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Director: James Whale  
Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke  

Frankenstein is not a film I’m totally in love with. It’s a little slow in parts, underdeveloped, and downright laughable in others. However, I think it’s worthwhile revisiting some of the true granddaddies of the horror genre, and that’s where Frankenstein is a very very special film. Many of the iconic traditions of horror are established in this movie, and the Monster… oh, the Monster is just amazing.

Essentially throwing out Mary Shelley’s original novel and only using cherry-picked parts, the somewhat stodgy plot focuses on mad scientist Henry Frankenstein (Clive) who creates Monster (Karloff) despite vapid and uninteresting fiancée’s objections (Clarke). Clocking in at a brisk 71 minutes, the film reminds you that it was still made during the nascent Sound Era; there were quite a few kinks yet to be worked out. The plot jumps in with absolutely no explanation, which, while I’ll agree that exposition is not always necessary, feels a bit shallow here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Happy October! I've decided to focus my reviews this month on horror/thriller films, with a particular emphasis on Hitchcock (mostly because I have access to a lot of Hitchcock). Unfortunately, though, my first Hitch review of the scary season is, um, not a favorite.
Yeah, this poster pretty much sums up the movie.

Marnie 1964  
Director: Alfred Hitchcock  
Starring: Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren

Everyone makes a such a big to-do about Hitchcock’s glory period, late fifties to mid sixties, when he produced a string of unquestionable masterpieces. However, no artist, especially not one as prolific as Hitchcock, can produce such great films without having a stinker every now and then. Enter Marnie, a great reminder that not everything made in that period belongs in a “Best Of” list.

Marnie tells the story of a beautiful thief and con artist, the eponymous Marnie (Hedren), who both loves and hates her mother and appears to have nervous breakdowns when she sees the color red. On her latest job, she gets caught, or should I say cornered, by wealthy zoology enthusiast Mark Rutland (Connery). Inexplicably fascinated with her, he gives her an option: get turned in to the cops with the evidence he’s been collecting on her, or marry him. She decides to make her prison with Mark instead of the cops, and we are then treated, or rather mistreated, to one of the vilest relationships ever and some nonsensical psycho-babble. Fantastic.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Director: Martin Scorsese  
Starring: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino

I’ve seen my fair share of movies, but no matter how many I’ve seen, I’m always deluged with “OMG, you mean you haven’t seen X, Y, or Z yet? What the hell?” when making conversation. Well, one of the biggest X, Y, or Zs that I hadn’t seen was Goodfellas. I am happy to report that I can now cross it off my list, that behemoth of Scorsese’s, that titan of American filmmaking, that huge film. I must say, I feel a sense of accomplishment simply having watched this one.

Henry Hill (Liotta) is growing up in Brooklyn across the street from a gangster-run taxi stand, and he envies their lives. Desperate to join, he is accepted by Pauly (Sorvino) and taken under his wing. He learns the ins and outs of the business, hooks up with a tough chick turned on by the violence inherent in his career (Bracco), and falls in closely with fellow gangsters Tommy (Pesci) and Jimmy (De Niro).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

New Edition - 2011 additions to The List

So my small circle of like-minded bloggers is abuzz today as the additions and removals for the latest edition of 1001 Movies (published yesterday) have finally made their way to us. 

What a lovely surprise, then, that after a rather mundane day of teaching the history of the development of the atomic theory (woooooo), I come home to several blog posts and a few emails filling me in with this novel information.

Thanks so much, fellow bloggers.  I really appreciate the posts and the updates - it was like a belated birthday present from you.

Because several people have now collated said list, I will refer you over to Jay's blog entry where he and Chip pull together the information.

For my money, I'm jazzed to see the expected The Artist, but also The Descendants, which I very much enjoyed.  After that, I have a lot of catching up to do.  Most looking forward to watching Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because Fincher equals awesomesauce.  Least looking forward to War Horse because animal films and I have an abusive relationship, in that they torture and abuse my psyche, and sitting through one leaves me the emotional equivalent of a puddle on the floor, completely incapable of pulling myself together.

Thanks again, all!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Strictly Ballroom and Happy Birthday to ME!

In honor of my birthday today *yay me for continuing to live* I am posting a review of a film that I downright love, adore, and cherish.  I would review it even if it WEREN'T in the 1001 Movies book, but it just so happens to grace the pages.

Strictly Ballroom
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice

You have seen this movie before. If you’re a stereotypical dude, you’ve seen Strictly Ballroom as any and all sports “plucky player/team rises the ranks and defeats the odds” film. If you’re a stereotypical chick, you’ve probably seen Dirty Dancing. And Strictly Ballroom, when you boil it down, IS Dirty Dancing.

But but but… there is so much more to Strictly Ballroom than generalizing the plot structure.

Which makes me say NOW that unless you’ve seen Strictly Ballroom, you have no idea what this movie is all about.

In terms of story, you’ve probably figured out the pattern by now. Scott Hastings (Mercurio) is a young ballroom dancer destined for greatness in the Australian Dance Federation, but an insistence on branching out and dancing HIS ORIGINAL MOVES *shock, horror!* find him constantly disqualified and in want of a partner. Enter frumpy, frizzy, bespectacled Fran (Morice), a beginner who agrees to dance original moves with Scott. CAN HE EVER TRAIN HER IN TIME TO COMPETE AT THE BIG CHAMPIONSHIP THREE WEEKS FROM NOW?!?!?