Sunday, October 26, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 2

Tim, a Vietnam vet, and Seminole, is also a hermit and something of an environmentalist terrorist. He lives far from any human neighbors out in the middle of the Florida Everglades, where he shares his shack with a bunch of snakes including his two favorites, a pair of rattlesnakes named Stanley and Hazel. Tim uses his snakes to attack those whose outlooks are in opposition to his own views. This includes a businessman who gets rich off of selling animal skins, that man's lackeys, and a burlesque performer who uses snakes in her act. Eventually, Tim starts to just plain lash out and his beloved snakes turn against him.

Stanley (1972) is essentially Willard (1971) with snakes. It's an odd movie. It's incredibly earnest, yet if someone told me this movie was intended as a parody, I wouldn't be surprised. It certainly has plenty of campy moments. Either way, it's entertaining, and I kept having deja vu moments that have convinced me that I must have seen this movie on tv as a kid. I give actor, Chris Robinson extra credit for keeping a straight face throughout the movie. My only real negative criticism is that snakes were not only harmed in the making of this movie, but horribly killed as well. I've even seen an anecdote that the director had Stanley made into a wallet once filming was completed, which goes against everything that Tim, and this movie, stands for.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 1

A bunch of non-characters wind up at a lake near a closed camp and are slaughtered by an even less interesting non-character wearing a mask.

I was never really a fan of the Friday the 13th franchise, so I'm not sure what compelled me to watch the Friday the 13th (2009) reboot. Reboots in general have been a pretty sorry lot, but this turd takes the trophy. This is easily the worst movie I've watched this countdown, and possibly the worst movie I've seen in some time. It makes the originals look like masterpieces in comparison. At least those movies seemed to have been having some fun, and even though the kills were increasingly ridiculous, there was some sense of "let's see the make-up guys pull this one off." This joyless movie didn't make any effort to really go beyond poking people with sharp pointy things. To start wondering about such plot points as when Jason got an engineering and electrical degree while living in the woods as a hermit since childhood give the writers of this more credit than they deserve. Having said that, Jason operates out of a VAST network of underground tunnels, that I'm assuming he dug and wired himself, since no other explanation was given. I'm guessing this was the filmmakers thinking that it would be more logical to have him suddenly appear out of nowhere if he popped up through a trapdoor, while not worrying about the logic behind anything else in this movie. Did I mention this movie is a turd?

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25

Elaine Stewart

Friday, October 24, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 2

Led by their abusive director, a group of actors sail to an island containing a graveyard for criminals, in order to perform a ritual meant to raise the dead. Pranks are played, witty barbs exchanged, and to everyone's surprise, the incantation works and the risen dead are not amused.

Your enjoyment of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972) will depend a great deal on how you feel about acting groups, because that's what you'll be subjected to for the first hour of this ninety minute movie. For me, that's a completely unenjoyable experience, so the first two thirds of this movie were pretty punishing. Alan Ormsby, who authored one of my very favorite books, and is also a very nice man, co-authored and created the make-up for this movie (as well, as my previous entry, Shock Waves). He also stars as the nasty director, a performance that is effective, but irritating. If you've seen the movie you'll understand why I'm thankful that Ormsby and Paul Bartel never co-starred in a movie together.

Overall, the entire movie has an amateurish, low quality feel to it, which actually works in its favor. It's clear everyone had a good time making this, and really made the best with what they had to work with. What it needed though was a little less of the drama friends hanging out together and making a movie vibe, and on screen dominance, and more of the repercussions of the ritual waking of the dead. The zombies are pretty neat looking in a no tech way that makes them feel a bit real and fantastic at the same time, but once they emerge, there's no real sense of suspense or drama, and it feels like everyone is rushing to get the movie over with.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 1

A group of tourists on a ramshackle pleasure boat find themselves wrecked after an encounter with a ghost ship. Stranded on a nearby island, they discover things are even worse than they imagined, as Nazi zombie super soldiers created to be able to exist underwater without breathing, have found their way to the island where they pick off the castaways one by one.

Shock Waves (1977) stars Peter Cushing as a reclusive former Nazi scientist, and John Carradine as the captain of the pleasure boat. Despite their starring status, both have small roles in the grand scheme of the movie's running time. Among the castaways is Brooke Adams, a guy that constantly reminded me of Richard Simmons, and a really whiny guy with the voice of David Sedaris, but none of the wit, or charm. For most of the movie nothing really happens. This inaction is broken up by periodic appearances of the Nazi zombies, who also don't do much of anything beyond walking across the bottom of the sea, rising from the waves, and wading through inland bodies of water where they can ambush and drown their victims. The zombies, with their uniform appearance (which includes uniforms which somehow didn't disintegrate after thirty-odd years at the bottom of the ocean) minimally decayed skin and big black goggles which protect them from the sun, are a welcome change from the rotting shamblers we're used to. Overall, this is another movie about an uninteresting batch of adults doing stupid things so that they can find themselves in one danger after another. It's somewhat entertaining if you haven't seen it before, but probably not something you'll want to go back to.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24

Barbara Bates, 1945.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23 - Movie 2

Seed pods from space land on earth and begin to create duplicates of everyone they come into contact with, leaving the originals as desicated husks, while the emotionless duplicates silently take over the world.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is possibly the best example of a remake that equals, or surpasses, its original, in this case the 1955 movie of the same name. Moving the action from anytown USA to the chaotic city of San Francisco works in its favor, and allows us to take in the transformation of the citizens almost ambiently around the main action as the central characters stumble upon the plot initially by a rash of people claiming that their spouses aren't really their spouses, followed by the discovery of unformed human duplicates and suspicious behavior among their friends, coworkers, and officials. By the time they figure out what's really going on, it might very well be too late.

This film really succeeds by presenting its eerie invasion concept against the mundane day to day lives of the central characters and the behavioral changes detected in their loved ones dismissed as an emotional distancing effected to cope with their hectic and unhappy lives. There's a lot of paranoia on display as well. People not believing others, people suspicious of whether their friends are really their friends, of who can be trusted...The special effects are pretty unsettling, amplified by Ben Burtt's highly effective sound design, which along with Denny Zeitlin's minimalist score, drives a lot of the unease and tension in the film. Then there's my favorite moment in the film, which I won't spoil for those of you who haven't seen it. I'll just say it involves a banjo playing homeless man and his dog.

31 Says of Halloween - Day 23 - Movie 1

A test pilot disobeys orders and flies his ship 250 miles from the earth's surface. His ship passes through a strange cloud of particles which turn the pilot into a hideous monster in need of blood to survive.

First Man Into Space (1959) was obviously influenced by The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and would in turn influence The Incredible Melting Man (1977). It's attempt to present serious aeronautic experiments using stock footage, and it's one note characters, add more tedium than excitement. There are some neat things in the movie though. The compositional transformation of both the ship and the pilot is pretty cool, in spite of the pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo presented to explain why it happened. Also, while the transformed astronaut is a deadly monster, all is not as it seems, and the payoff here is a welcome change from how these stories from this period typically played out. It was also nice to see Roger Delgado, the actor who originally played The Master on Doctor Who, appear as a consul from Mexico.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23

Nancy Carrol

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - Movie 2

Poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek). Bullied at school, abused by her crazy religious nut mom (Piper Laurie) at home, just when things finally look like they are going to change for the better for her, a nasty prank at the prom turns tragic as Carrie finally decides to push back with deadly telekinetic force.

I don't have any interest in either of the remakes. Carrie (1976) based on the novel by Stephen King remains a really strong movie and one of the few King adaptations that really succeeds. The strength of the movie lies in its cast Spacek and Piper are fantastic and deserve all of the praise they are given for this film, but William Katt as the high school boy who takes her to the prom, and Betty Buckley as the supportive gym teacher deserve equal accolades. Without their genuine performances here to offset the more villainous characters this movie would not have been nearly as successful, and the tragedy that unfolds would have felt empty. The prom, where Carrie's life seems like it's really going to change, is the heart of this movie, and you really want things to get better for her, and you suspect they probably would have, had not the mean kids intervened with their bucket of blood.

There are a couple of scenes here that feel a bit dated, and there are particular music cues that are almost painful to listen to, but overall Carrie really holds up well. Split screen, which pretty much went out of fashion around the time this movie came out, is used really effectively during the film's climax by Brian DePalma.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - Movie 1

Christina Ricci plays Fall River's notorious ax murderer in the Lifetime original tv movie, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (2014) a historical drama revisiting the murder of Lizzie's parents and the trial that followed. Despite having a good cast, this movie is a dreadful bore. It seems to drag on forever, as if somewhere along the way they discovered that this story isn't really that interesting and could be summed up in about twenty minutes instead. In an attempt to inject some life into any scene that involves people walking outside, riding in a carriage, or just standing outside on the street, modern music that would sound at home in a Jack Daniel's commercial is played over these scenes. This choice was a bad one and only draws attention to itself since the music in no way enhances the scenes in a way that's pertinent to the story.

This may not be the worst movie I watch this month, but I doubt any other movie is going to prove to be more tedious to sit through.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22

Leila Hyams, 1930.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21 - Movie 2

A tarantula injected with a synthetic super food nutrient breaks loose from the lab and continues to grow wreaking havoc on a small desert community.

Like Empire of the Ants (see previous entry), Tarantula (1955) mainly relies on combining photography of an actual tarantula with live action plates (and the occasional close up of a full size mock-up spider), but the effects in Tarantula still look amazing. It doesn't hurt that the story is better and the characters, while being a bit thinner as dimensional characters, are more engaging and likable. John Agar, as is often the case, plays the earnest young scientist. Model/actress Mara Corday is the love interest and scientific assistant to the man behind the synthetic super food nutrient (Leo G. Carroll), who in a b plot is also breeding monsters of the human variety in a series of disfiguring side effects when the nutrient is injected into humans. This fun monster movie is one of the last classics to come out of Universal Studios, and one of my favorites. The score by Ronald Stein is also top notch.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21 - Movie 1

Joan Collins plays a shady real estate developer who takes potential clients to an island in the hopes of selling them beach front property. Little does she, or her guests, know that the island is overrun with giant ants.

Bert I. Gordon (The Amazing Colossal Man, Beginning of the End, Food of the Gods) continues his cinematic fascination with giant creatures with Empire of the Ants (1977) loosely based on a story by H.G. Wells. Formulaic by way of 1970s disaster movies in which a cross section of personality types are introduced so we can fathom who they are, then the horrible element is introduced and the characters are picked off one by one. It's schlocky, but somewhat entertaining. Coming out the same year as Star Wars, which really upped the ante on special effects, the effects here are awful when they fail, such as the transparent superimposed ants, but actually pretty damned good when they work out. The effects are a combination of macrophotography of actual ants inserted into footage of actors, or on miniature sets, mixed with full sized ant props which are shaken at the actors by off screen crew members. The story itself isn't all that interesting, or new, until very late in the film when it introduces an interesting plot development. By the time this comes to the forefront though, the movie is pretty much over.

If you like other 1970s nature gone mad films like Day of the Animals and Frogs, you may get a kick out of this. Everyone else though would be much better off watching Them! (1954)

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21

Myrna Loy

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 20 - Movie 2

Bela Lugosi is definitely the star of The Corpse Vanishes (1942) as a horticulturist who uses an orchid of his own creation to put young women about to be married into suspended animation simulating death. He then steals these "corpses" and whisks them off to his laboratory so that he can extract fluids from the young women to inject into his aging wife in order to keep her beautiful. He is aided by a family of creeps. Luana Walters plays a reporter uncovering the secret behind the stolen dead brides.

This is a pretty ludicrous movie, even for poverty row, but it is pretty fun to watch. The diversity of the elements involved keeps it pretty interesting, and there's some novelty in the orchestration involved in turning the brides into "corpses" and then abducting them. Elizabeth Russell is an actress with a very otherworldly aura about her, which makes her perfect as Lugosi's ailing wife here, just as it benefitted her in movies such as Cat People and Weird Woman. This is no classic, but it's good for a late rainy night.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 20 - Movie 1

Today is Bela Lugosi's birthday, so, as per usual, I try to watch at least one of his movies in his honor. First up is Black Friday (1940) which sounds like he and Boris Karloff should be racing for hot ticket items at one of the big box retail stores on the day after Thanksgiving. Really though, Karloff plays a doctor who attempts to save his friend, a kindly literature professor, by transferring the brain of a dying gangster into his head. The professor suffers from a few back and forth Jekyll and Hyde moments as the dead gangster's personality takes over set on revenge against the criminals who killed him, including  Bela Lugosi in a small role (even though he gets second billing). There's also the matter of a lot of hidden money, which Karloff's character wants to get his hands on for his own experiments.

This is an okay movie with some really wonky logic in it, but it plays pretty well if you're willing to completely suspend disbelief and go along with it. This movie is really a showcase for actor, Stanley Ridges who plays both the professor and his Hyde character as two very distinct characters, even physically. He does a real good job, too. If you're looking for some classic Lugosi/Karloff chills, this isn't going to be the movie to provide them.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 20

Nan Grey