Wednesday, October 31, 2007

WELL IT'S FINALLY HERE. And i decided to have a little movie marathon for Halloween. It doesn't matter which spooky movies you watch, of course, as long as you watch a lot of them. I started things off with some Halloween episodes of South Park; you know the one's -- when Scott Baio gave me pinkeye, spookyvision and the spookyfish etc. Then I followed things up with some Scooby-Doos from the first and second seasons -- you know the GOOD ones -- and I especially made sure to watch the one about the Miner Forty-Niner (Hiya Cheekies!!!) in honour of all those Halloween hayrides.
Then it was time for a couple classic Halloween short subjects: Lonesome Ghosts starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy as "ghostbusters". Then I put on the old Donald Duck cartoon "Trick or Treat". And finally, as extra added Halloween warmups I went to the tried and true "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" followed by "Garfield's Halloween Adventure". And to really get things going I chose the classic Disney version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" which is one of the best (and spookiest) animation sequences ever made!
Now for the real movies: my first choice was the first Amicus omnibus movie "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" which my cousin got me into many many moons ago. Peter Cushing as the mysterious tarot card reader Dr. Schreck (guess what THAT means) reads each train passengers' future -- only to find none of them HAVE a future. Of course, there's Michael Gough and Christopher Lee in the old reliable "crawling hand" sequence and even an EXTREMELY young Donald Sutherland in the vampire story.
Next we go to the classic Robert Wise original "The Haunting" (the 1999 remake does not exist. Sorry) which is one of my favourite horror films of all time. Wise pays real homage to his old mentor Val Lewton with this stylish ghost story. And the acting is top notch with Julie Harris leading a great cast. The sound in this film is, of course, phenomenal and gives it a real sense of dread. Based on Shirley Jackson's classic novel "The Haunting of Hill House", the film concerns our cast of "ghost hunters" spending time in the most haunted house in the universe to determine whether or not ghosts are real.
After this, we wind things up with a similar film made a decade later: "The Legend of Hell House" adapted from Richard Matheson's novel. This film is very similar to "The Haunting" in that it also features a group of people locking themselves inside "the most haunted house in the world" to determine whether ghosts are real. However, it's much different in that, where "The Haunting" was subtle, "Legend" is in your face. Another great cast features Clive Revill (attention Clive Revill fan club!), Gayle Hunnicutt, Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin (the little girl from "The Innocents" now all grown up) as paranormal investigators who bite off a little more than they can chew. Granted, the ending is just a tad weak but it doesn't spoil the rest of the movie leading up to it.
So that's that. Another Halloween has come and is almost gone. But just remember, spooky movies are for watching all year round -- not just for Halloween. Because, you see, as you draw your curtains closed around midnight tonight, you MUST remember that Halloween is 365.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"THE NIGHT HE CAME HOME". Well, we're winding down to the big day. So it seems like the perfect movie to get us in the Halloween spirit is John Carpenter's classic "HALLOWEEN". Now, I've long trumpeted the fact that I hate slasher films because they're frankly boring, unimaginative, repetitive and crap (not necessarily in that order). However, we can't blame John Carpenter's "HALLOWEEN" for that. Sure, this film spawned umpteen poor imitations but that's not this film's fault. In fact, since there is practically NO blood and gore in it, I'd hesitate to call it a slasher film at all. It is, in fact, a masterful horror film which only looks better with age.
I've heard tell that the recent Rob Zombie remake wasn't all that spiffy. I can't say; I haven't seen it. That's somewhat disappointing since I found his "The Devil's Rejects" to be an astoundingly effective film. But either way, the original by John Carpenter is still champ. You've got little Michael offing his sister in a prologue then spending years in an asylum seemingly docile. Until one night . . . Halloween night. . . he makes his mistake and returns to his good ole hometown of Haddonfield to go on a spree. I love love LOVE the early daylight parts of the film where was catch glimpses of "The Shape": over there behind the shrubs, out in front of the school, is that HIM in that car?!? The film builds up the suspense and feeling of dread perfectly. Jamie Lee Curtis, of course, is the archetypal "final girl" and is wonderful in the film as well; even though she does a couple STUPID things. . .WHY OH WHY do you keep dropping the knife, kiddo?!? I know I know -- it was in the script, that's why. And as for that music -- perfection in every way.
All those dreadful, dreary 80's slasher films that followed Carpenter's "Halloween" failed to understand what it was that made THAT film a classic. It's a well-written script, skillful direction, believeable performances and an attention to atmosphere which rolls up into one spectacular horror movie. And the cherry on top??? It takes place on Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2007

"A LONG LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY, GOD SAID 'LET THERE BE LIPS'! AND THERE WERE. AND THEY WERE GOOD." My choice for Halloween movie today is (naturally) "THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW". Now, everybody knows it so I'm not about to give any sort of plot recap here. Suffice it to say, the first I ever heard about it was when a friend of mine in high school went to see it, bought the soundtrack tape and was playing it all the time. Now, not having seen it, I didn't know what the hell was going on -- but the songs were catchy.
Fast forward a couple years later when Cheekies and I decided. . .well, we'd been virgins long enough and it was about high time we toddled along to see what the hell this thing was all about. So off we went to the movie theatre in the Echelon Mall for the midnight showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"! We were all a-flutter. Gee, is the movie theatre still there in the Echelon Mall?!? Is the Echelon MALL still there?!?!?! Anyway, we paid for our tickets and we takes our chances. Now, being an historian at the time, I was somewhat remiss in not having made ANY attempt to research what we were in store for. So, our strategy and plan of attack was to just quietly sneak into the back row and keep a low profile during the film so we could scope out what to do when and why. Naturally, we had no idea that, during the opening CREDITS the entire audience would yell "FUCK THE BACK ROW!!!" But, this was all part of our trial by fire (and water pistol).
Well, after that first night of cherry-busting we (and some other friends) made NUMEROUS forays over at the Frankenstein place. It was always a lot of fun watching one of our virgin friends experience the movie theatre experience for the first time. Needless to say, it's not the same just watching it on TV or DVD; the whole event of audience participation makes the film.
HOWEVER. . .Cheekies and I will have the same fun (almost) of watching his Lady Love see it for the first time soon. Almost -- because we're not going to watch it in the theatre but in his abode. BUT! We ARE going to yell the appropriate things at the screen (if our failing memories can dredge them up) and throw the appropriate articles (I'd hate to have to clean up the apartment afterwards -- Oh, Bummmmmmmmmmblerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...)
Oh. . .
And don't dream it. Be it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"HAVE A POTATO." It goes along with today's Halloweenie film: 1932's "THE OLD DARK HOUSE". While this is not the first "old dark house" movie (the genre goes waaaaaaaaay back to the silent films and before on the legitimate stage with "The Bat" and "The Cat and the Canary" etc.), this film is certainly the one that gave the genre it's name. And for good reason. Director James Whale, after first filming Frankenstein for Universal, has a field day with this one. And it looks forward to the high camp humour which he would utilize for "The Bride of Frankenstein" a couple years later.
A group of people find themselves stranded in a storm at the old dark house of the Femm family. The group includes Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart (yes, from Titanic) and Charles Laughton. The Femm Family is a wacky bunch featuring the amazingly camp Ernest Thesiger and their butler: the mute brute Boris Karloff. Thesiger is a hoot all through the movie. For instance, at one point he comes along a vase of flowers and says offhandedly: "My sister was on the point of arranging these flowers." He then takes them and tosses them into the fire. This wickedly funny spook fest is Halloween to a tee. . .and a very nice touch is the fact that the DVD is fortunate enough to have a commentary track by Gloria Stuart herself; not many 30's films on DVD can boast that!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"EVEN A MAN WHO IS PURE AT HEART AND SAYS HIS PRAYERS BY NIGHT..." will want to put aside a little time for a great Halloween movie: Universal's 1941 "THE WOLF MAN". After Universal's monster heyday in the 30's, Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man was the first monster to rival (and be put on the same level as) Dracula, The Frankenstein Monster and The Mummy. Sure, there was the 1935 "Werewolf of London" starring Henry Hull but that never really caught on. It wasn't until 1941 and the second horror boom the Universal (and Curt Siodmak) produced another in the pantheon of Universal monsters. And unlike all the other monsters, no one else EVER played The Wolf Man besides Lon Chaney Jr.
The story of Larry Talbot probably has a good deal to do with the Wolf Man's popularity. The monster itself is indeed a triumph of Jack Pierce's makeup talents but, before we ever see the monster, we see Lawrence Talbot; and he's so gosh darn likeable that we soon get in his corner and stay there throughout the rest of the film (and the string of movies to come). Talbot's older brother has died tragically and Larry returns home to his estranged father Claude Rains. He soon falls for Evelyn Ankers (Larry, you peeping tom, you) and all seems to be smooth sailing. Until they go to that carnival. And that werewolf Bela (Lugosi, natch). Larry kills the werewolf (and it's interesting to note that Bela the werewolf is seen in complete wolf form as opposed to Larry's later "wolf MAN") and he then becomes infected with lycanthropy. Bela's mother (the marvelous Maria Ouspenskaya) takes Larry under her wing (even though he DID kill her son) and Larry's hirsute tribulations begin in earnest.
Talk about a cast: Lon Chaney Jr, Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya, Warren William (Philo Vance himself) and Universal stalward Patric Knowles. This movie shines with star power more than a full moon. And as for that poem. . .well, which version. Throughout the Universal Wolf Man series, there were two versions of the poem:
"Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayer by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the Autumn moon is bright"
"Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the moon is full and bright"
Pick whichever version you like; they were both written (as was the entire Wolf Man mythology) wholecloth by Curt Siodmak. That's probably the nicest thing about the movie; it seems like an old folk tale when really it was completely dreamed up by a modern movie screenwriter. But anyway you bite it, "The Wolf Man" makes one hell of a Halloween movie! It's a freakin' classic!

Friday, October 26, 2007


ALL THE BEST HORROR COMEDIES START WITH 'C'. Well, that's not exactly true but here are two of my favourites for today's Halloween movie double feature.
We begin with a movie I deeply love: "THE COMEDY OF TERRORS" directed by Jacques Tourneur (I Walked With A Zombie, Night of the Demon) and starring a who's who of horror: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone (as well as the pulchritudinous Joyce Jameson). After all those Poe movies at AIP, Roger Corman wanted to go for the funny bone so this movie is something of a parody of those films. Hinchley & Trumbull funeral parlour is going under (pun intended) because of lack of customers so Trumbull (Price) and his assistant Mr. Gillie (Lorre) decide to make their own customers. Price goes into the night smothering people with pillows and then shows up to bury them. They take this rather agressive tact because the landlord Mr. Black (Rathbone) is threatening to throw them out into the street for a year's back rent. Also in the house are Trumbull's unkissed wife Amaryllis (Jameson) who fancies herself an opera singer but has a voice like a leer jet -- and her father Old Man Hinchley (Karloff) who is deaf and doddering and constantly escapes poisoning by Trumbull.
Everyone involved in the making of the film is clearly having a wonderful time and it shows. The movie is such a lot of fun with Peter Lorre adlibbing hysterically and Price matching him quip for quip. The film also features Rhubarb the cat (who had a surprisingly long and varied film career) as well as a funny cameo from comedian Joe E. Brown as a gravedigger. It's got a terrific score by Les Baxter, wonderful art direction by Daniel Haller, the usual great photography by Floyd Crosby (see, I got it right this time) and a script by the masterful Richard Matheson.
Our second Halloweenie horror comedy of the day is "CARRY ON SCREAMING"; another in the loooooong series of 'Carry On' films. This time they're parodying the classic Hammer horror films and, I must say, they nail it. The film starts with the wildly (& hilariously on purpose) inappropriate theme song sung by what sounds like a swinging Elvis impersonator: "Carry on screaming, cause when you're screaming I know that you're dreaming of me". The film then opens with lovers Albert and Doris (Jim Dale and Angela Douglas) attempting to smooch in a wooded lovers' lane; but things never get started because Doris constantly hears something and screams (loudly) in Albert's ear. Of course, when Albert goes to investigate (to calm Doris down) a Frankenstein Monsterish creature named Oddbod carries Doris off. Albert reports Doris' disappearance to the local incompetent police Sgt. Sidney Bung (Harry H. Corbett) and Constable Slobotham (pronounced Slow-bottom and played by Peter Butterworth) and all three men go out to the scene to investigate.
On nearby Winkle Road stands a spooky old house owned by Dr. Watt (Kenneth Williams and his nostrils) and his sister Valeria (Fenella Fielding doing her best Joan Greenwood impression). Valeria is the vision of Morticia Addams in a slinky red dress while Dr. Watt has been dead for 15 years but is revived through jolts of electricity. There's also a Lurch-like manservant named Sockett (towering Bernard Bresslaw). Dr. Watt and Valeria have a dastardly operation going on where they kidnap pretty young women and cover them in wax to sell to department stores as mannequins. All the tried and true Hammer cliches are played upon and the sets look amazingly like something you'd see in a straight Hammer film. There are also many cameos: Charles Hawtrey as Dan Dann the lavatory man, Jon Pertwee (Doctor Who #3) as bizarre Dr. Fettle and Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock of Are You Being Served) as Mr. Jones.
The great thing about these two horror comedies is that, with the sound off, they LOOK exactly like an AIP Roger Corman Poe film and a Hammer horror film respectively. So you get the nice Halloween atmosphere and shudder while you get the laughs. A great Halloween double feature for an October night with the wind swirling leaves around outside and a cup of cocoa inside.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"I SAW WHAT I SAW WHEN I SAW IT!" And what I saw was today's Halloween movie: "ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN". Many many people call this the greatest horror-comedy of all time; and there's something to be said for that opinion (although I might have something to say about that). However, it is undoubtedly one of the best. In retrospect, it seems like a perfect match (which is probably why the studio went for it). Universal's top money makers were both Abbott & Costello comedies and monster movies; so what better way to get fannies in the theatre seats than to combine the two into one film. After all, Universal had already discovered the cash-making possibilities of combining more than one monster in a movie; starting with FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN and the monster rallies that followed.
Here we've got a movie which works EQUALLY WELL as a comedy or a monster movie. The funny parts are actually funny and the monster parts are actually scary. As an Abbott and Costello movie, it's one of the best. And as a Universal monster movie, it actually works as well. There's a real storyline which could've been used unchanged for a straight monster movie (in fact, the original working title of the film was "The Brain of Frankenstein"). The monsters (Bela Lugosi as Dracula for only the second time on film, Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man and Glenn Strange returning from the monster rally films "House of Frankenstein" and House of Dracula" as the Frankenstein monster for one final time) all play it completely straight and leave the comedy to "the boys". The opening credits set the tone; they're both spooky and whimsical.
Bud and Lou are working at McDougal's House of Horrors where they expect a shipment to come in. The shipment is actual Dracula (in his coffin) and Frankenstein's monster (in his crate). Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) calls to warn them not to open the boxes and rushes to America. Of course, Lou sees Dracula opening his coffin while Bud never sees a thing. The two monsters take off leaving Bud and Lou to spend the night in jail for stealing them. The boys are bailed out of jail by "a woman". It turns out that Lou has a beautiful, cultured girlfriend Sandra (Lenore Aubert) and Bud can't figure out why. The "why" is that Sandra is working with Dracula to find a more docile, controllable brain so when they revive the Frankenstein monster it won't be a brute on the rampage. Sandra has chosen Lou's brain since he will be as malleable as a puppy dog. Talbot arrives and has Lou lock him in his hotel room because the moon is rising -- and you know what THAT does to him!
The movie almost perfectly divides screen time between the funny comedy schtick of Abbott and Costello and the efforts of Dracula to purloin Lou's brain and stick it in the monster's cranium. The movie looks beautiful as it benefits from superb Universal monster sets and frequent A&C director Charles Barton keeps things moving. And hey, there's even a brief cameo by Vincent Price as The Invisible Man. A lot of people have wondered why, with all these famous Universal monsters in the film, The Mummy was not included. Well, shows you what THEY know. The Mummy IS in this movie. Or rather A mummy. Watch the scene near the beginning of the film when Bud & Lou are alone in the darkened warehouse after Dracula & Frankenstein's monster have arrived in their crates. You know, it's the famous scene where Lou reads the "Dracula sleeps in his coffin..." speech and yells "OH CHICK!!!!". Well, when Bud returns to the room, take a look behind him. You'll see a mummy standing up against the wall under a vaguely Egyptian panorama; obviously another part of McDougal's House of Horrors inventory.
Watching this movie really got me in the Halloween mood with a last fond look at our beloved Universal monsters and the spooky fun embodied in the Halloween season.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE MORE HALLOWEEN THAN VINCENT PRICE??? Well, 4 Vincent Prices. At least 4 records which have Vinnie reading spooky stories, poems and. . .yes, even spells! Here we have just such a group of records from the 70's.
The first record is called "Tales of Witches, Ghosts & Goblins" and that's just what they are. Vinnie reads "The Smoker": one of the most bizarre scary folk tales I've ever heard in my life!!! He also provides the eager listener with witches' spells to raise the dead, to become a werewolf and more.
The second record is called "A Coven of Witches' Tales" wherein Vinnie reads more stories and spells such as "To Summon Another Witch", "To Make A Witch Pockmarked" and "To Cause A Witch To Die". Fun stuff. And so practical, too!
The third record is called "A Graveyard of Ghost Tales" and features Vinnie reading such tales as "The Ghostly Hand of Spital House" as well as more how to spells for how to make a "Hand of Glory" as well as "Protection Against the Hand of Glory".
And the fourth record is "A Hornbook For Witches" which finds Vinnie in top form reading poems such as "Witches On the Heath" and "All-Saint's Eve", a lot of "how to" stuff about "The Familiar", "The Coven" and "The Magic Circle" as well as some good advice as in the tracks "How To See Ghosts and Surely Bring Them To You". "Don't" is a particularly useful track where Vinnie gives sound advice on how NOT to piss off a ghost. Also in the "brew" are some great stories such as "Thus I Refute Beelzy" and "The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall"; two favourites from my little ole youth.