Sunday, October 02, 2011

DOCTOR SHOCK'S MAD THEATER HALLOWEEN MOVIE #1! In the last two Halloween Countdowns, I ventured to watch a horror movie a day and post about it. This year I doubt I'll be able to watch a film every single day (I've already missed October 1st) but I hope to quite frequently fire up the old DVD player and post a movie as often as I can. It's also more difficult since I've already done a whole passel of films the last two times I've done this. But hey, Halloween is supposed to be fun, yeah? Free and easy, chill dead breezy! So if I happen to feel like watching a movie I've already posted in years past. . .well, where's the harm in that? The best part about these movies is watching them again and again. That's certainly what we did on Dr. Shock's Mad Theater. And since the late, great Dr. Shock Joe Zawislak is the patron saint of our Halloween Countdown each year, I thought it appropriate to call these movie posts "Dr. Shock's Mad Theater" and "Dr. Shock's Horror Theater" from those long ago beloved memories of Saturday afternoons watching horror films instead of playing outside with all the healthy, well-adjusted and dull kids. So there we have it.
The first film on our Halloween Countdown Watch is the nightmarish 1932 film VAMPYR directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Here is a movie that looks about ten years older than its 1932 release date. That's deliberate because the film itself plays like a fever dream. I particularly love the swift camera movements (belying the reputation of the film as being static and glacially-moving) which give the viewer a very unsettling feeling. Watch as Allan Gray enters his hotel room in the first minutes of the film. See how the camera lurches around and past him as if some malevolent . . . something . . . is in the room with us. I also love how the candle flame looks transparent against the death painting on the wall as Allan holds the candle up to it. There's the fact that the film gives the impressions of being silent (with its periodic title cards) but in fact features a masterfully built sound track of odd sounds and voices. I love the strange gibbering which leads Allan to encounter the disfigured man coming down the stairs; this man in my mind is certainly a World War I veteran. It seems to me that "The Great War" hangs heavy over this film. It would be futile to try to list all of the magnificent touches in this film but one last mention I cannot deny myself: when Allan Gray first goes into the mill and stands next to a vertical pane of broken glass, the hole in the glass is exactly the same shape as Allan Gray's silhouette standing next to it in the doorway. Glorious! Oh, and then there's the shadow of the digger which subtly runs in reverse: the dirt jumps onto the shovel. Ah, but I said I was through cataloguing visual gems, didn't I? The film is loaded with spectacularly haunting shots and even some genuine scares. I'll never forget the first time I watched the film way back in the 1980s on a rather bad print. It was (appropriately) very late at night. It was summer and the windows were open letting in a slight cool breeze after the dissipation of the heat of the day. I was tired and found myself not dozing but entering that state between wide awake and slipping towards slumber. The dream-like quality of VAMPYR surely helped me get to that state. As Allan Gray settles in his bed to go to sleep fairly early in the film, the door to his room EVER SO SLOWLY creeps open. We see it from Gray's perspective therefore we can't see who's opening the door. In fact, at first we're not even sure the door IS opening; so slow is its progress. Then finally we're sure. Someone is coming into the room. When the old man finally appears from behind the door and proceeded to walk around the bed as the wide-eyed Allan Gray laid there watching this startling old man stare frightening at him, it scared the living crap outta me! Needless to say, I was suddenly wide awake again! This is the kind of movie which knows how to give the viewer the creeps. Subtly, unhurried. Kinda a nice way to begin October's Countdown to Halloween, I think.

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