Monday, January 31, 2011

THE GREAT DIRECTORS APEX LIST! As an exercise in extreme futility, I present a list of certain film directors and my favourite film directed by same. Now, you'll notice I didn't say "best" film; I said "my favourite" -- that is, the film which connects the most with me. Also keep in mind that I may not have seen the most famous films by any given director (i.e. I've never seen Preston Sturges' SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS so therefore it ain't my choice). After having perused this monumentally lengthy list, I invite you to post a similar list of directors and your favourite films by them. You don't have to use the same directors or make your list quite as long as mine but go ahead and post it on your blog if you like and put a link in the comment section right here. I'd be very interested to see your faves. And now, on with the show:
  • ROBERT ALDRICH - KISS ME DEADLY
  • WOODY ALLEN - ANNIE HALL
  • ROBERT ALTMAN - THE LONG GOODBYE
  • WES ANDERSON - THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS
  • MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI - L'ECLISSE
  • DARIO ARGENTO - DEEP RED
  • JACK ARNOLD - IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE
  • DOROTHY ARZNER - DANCE, GIRL, DANCE
  • HAL ASHBY - HAROLD AND MAUDE
  • ROY WARD BAKER - QUATERMASS AND THE PIT
  • MARIO BAVA - BLACK SABBATH
  • JACQUES BECKER - TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI
  • ROBERT BENTON - NOBODY'S FOOL
  • BRUCE BERESFORD - BREAKER MORANT
  • INGMAR BERGMAN - WINTER LIGHT
  • BUDD BOETTICHER - THE TALL T
  • PETER BOGDANOVICH - TARGETS
  • MEL BROOKS - YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
  • TOD BROWNING - DRACULA
  • LUIS BUNUEL - THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL
  • TIM BURTON - ED WOOD
  • FRANK CAPRA - MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON
  • MARCEL CARNE - LE JOUR SE LEVE
  • JOHN CARPENTER - HALLOWEEN
  • JOHN CASSAVETTES - SHADOWS
  • WILLIAM CASTLE - HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL
  • CLAUDE CHABROL - LA FEMME INFIDELE
  • CHARLIE CHAPLIN - CITY LIGHTS
  • CHANG CHEH - THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS
  • RENE CLAIR - AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
  • JEAN COCTEAU - LE TESTAMENT D'ORPHEE
  • JOEL & ETHAN COEN - THE BIG LEBOWSKI
  • FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA - THE GODFATHER
  • ROGER CORMAN - HOUSE OF USHER
  • WES CRAVEN - THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW
  • CAMERON CROWE - SAY ANYTHING
  • GEORGE CUKOR - HOLIDAY
  • MICHAEL CURTIZ - CASABLANCA
  • JULES DASSIN - NIGHT AND THE CITY
  • BASIL DEARDEN - THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN
  • CECIL B. DEMILLE - SIGN OF THE CROSS
  • JACQUES DEMY - LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT
  • BRIAN DE PALMA - GREETINGS
  • VITTORIO DE SICA - UMBERTO D.
  • WILLIAM DIETERLE - PORTRAIT OF JENNIE
  • EDWARD DMYTRYK - MURDER, MY SWEET
  • STANLEY DONEN - BEDAZZLED
  • CARL THEODOR DREYER - DAY OF WRATH
  • JULIEN DUVIVIER - PEPE LE MOKO
  • CLINT EASTWOOD - UNFORGIVEN
  • BLAKE EDWARDS - BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S
  • FEDERICO FELLINI - I VITELLONI
  • DAVID FINCHER - SEVEN
  • TERENCE FISHER - HORROR OF DRACULA
  • RICHARD FLEISCHER - 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
  • VICTOR FLEMING - THE WIZARD OF OZ
  • JOHN FORD - THE GRAPES OF WRATH
  • MILOS FORMAN - ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST
  • FREDDIE FRANCIS - DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS
  • GEORGES FRANJU - JUDEX
  • JOHN FRANKENHEIMER - THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE
  • STEPHEN FREARS - DANGEROUS LIAISONS
  • KARL FREUND - THE MUMMY
  • SAMUEL FULLER - PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET
  • LEWIS GILBERT - SHIRLEY VALENTINE
  • TERRY GILLIAM - BRAZIL
  • JEAN-LUC GODARD - BREATHLESS
  • ROBERT HAMER - KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS
  • BYRON HASKIN - WAR OF THE WORLDS
  • HOWARD HAWKS - ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS
  • WERNER HERZOG - AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD
  • ALFRED HITCHCOCK - REAR WINDOW
  • MIKE HODGES - GET CARTER
  • ISHIRO HONDA - MATANGO
  • RON HOWARD - GRAND THEFT AUTO
  • JOHN HUGHES - THE BREAKFAST CLUB
  • JOHN HUSTON - THE MALTESE FALCON
  • PETER JACKSON - THE LORD OF THE RINGS
  • NORMAN JEWISON - JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
  • LAU KAR-LEUNG - THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN
  • ELIA KAZAN - A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
  • HENRY KING - WILSON
  • STANLEY KRAMER - GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER
  • STANLEY KUBRICK - THE KILLING
  • AKIRA KUROSAWA - IKIRU
  • GREGORY LA CAVA - MY MAN GODFREY
  • FRITZ LANG - M
  • DAVID LEAN - SUMMERTIME
  • SPIKE LEE - 4 LITTLE GIRLS
  • PAUL LENI - THE CAT AND THE CANARY
  • SERGIO LEONE - ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
  • JOSEPH H. LEWIS - GUN CRAZY
  • JOSEPH LOSEY - SECRET CEREMONY
  • ERNST LUBITSCH - TROUBLE IN PARADISE
  • GEORGE LUCAS - AMERICAN GRAFFITI
  • BAZ LUHRMANN - WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S ROMEO + JULIET
  • SIDNEY LUMET - LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
  • ALEXANDER MACKENDRICK - SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS
  • LOUIS MALLE - MY DINNER WITH ANDRE
  • ROUBEN MAMOULIAN - DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
  • JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ - ALL ABOUT EVE
  • ANTHONY MANN - THE NAKED SPUR
  • MICHAEL MANN - LAST OF THE MOHICANS
  • GEORGE MARSHALL - DESTRY RIDES AGAIN
  • ARCHIE L. MAYO - THE PETRIFIED FOREST
  • LEO MCCAREY - DUCK SOUP
  • NORMAN Z. MCLEOD - MONKEY BUSINESS
  • JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE - LE SAMOURAI
  • WILLIAM CAMERON MENZIES - INVADERS FROM MARS
  • ANTHONY MINGHELLA - TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY
  • VINCENTE MINNELLI - THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
  • ROBERT MULLIGAN - TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
  • F. W. MURNAU - NOSFERATU
  • MIKE NICHOLS - CATCH-22
  • MAX OPHULS - LA RONDE
  • YASUJIRO OZU - TOKYO STORY
  • ALAN PARKER - THE COMMITMENTS
  • SAM PECKINPAH - RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY
  • ARTHUR PENN - ALICE'S RESTAURANT
  • ROMAN POLANSKI - REPULSION
  • SYDNEY POLLACK - THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED
  • MICHAEL POWELL - A CANTERBURY TALE
  • OTTO PREMINGER - LAURA
  • SAM RAIMI - THE QUICK AND THE DEAD
  • IRVING RAPPER - NOW, VOYAGER
  • NICHOLAS RAY - JOHNNY GUITAR
  • CAROL REED - THE WAY AHEAD
  • MICHAEL REEVES - THE SHE BEAST
  • ROB REINER - STAND BY ME
  • ALAIN RESNAIS - LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD
  • MARK ROBSON - THE SEVENTH VICTIM
  • GEORGE ROMERO - DAWN OF THE DEAD
  • ROBERTO ROSSELLINI - THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS
  • JOEL SCHUMACHER - A TIME TO KILL
  • MARTIN SCORSESE - GOODFELLAS
  • RIDLEY SCOTT - ALIEN
  • M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN - LADY IN THE WATER
  • DON SIEGEL - INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
  • BRYAN SINGER - THE USUAL SUSPECTS
  • ROBERT SIODMAK - PHANTOM LADY
  • DOUGLAS SIRK - ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS
  • KEVIN SMITH - CLERKS
  • STEVEN SPIELBERG - DUEL
  • GEORGE STEVENS - WOMAN OF THE YEAR
  • OLIVER STONE - JFK
  • JOHN STURGES - THE GREAT ESCAPE
  • PRESTON STURGES - THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK
  • SEIJUN SUZUKI - BRANDED TO KILL
  • QUENTIN TARANTINO - JACKIE BROWN
  • JACQUES TOURNEUR - THE COMEDY OF TERRORS
  • FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT - FAHRENHEIT 451
  • EDGAR G. ULMER - DETOUR
  • PETER USTINOV - BILLY BUDD
  • CHARLES VIDOR - GILDA
  • LUCHINO VISCONTI - LA TERRA TREMA
  • JOSEF VON STERNBERG - THE SCARLET EMPRESS
  • LARRY & ANDY WACHOWSKI - THE MATRIX
  • RAOUL WALSH - THE ROARING TWENTIES
  • PETER WEIR - GALLIPOLI
  • ORSON WELLES - CITIZEN KANE
  • WILLIAM WELLMAN - THE PUBLIC ENEMY
  • WIM WENDERS - BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB
  • JAMES WHALE - THE OLD DARK HOUSE
  • BILLY WILDER - THE APARTMENT
  • ROBERT WISE - THE HAUNTING
  • EDWARD D. WOOD JR. - PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE
  • WILLIAM WYLER - THE LETTER
  • FRED ZINNEMANN - HIGH NOON

See what our friends said with their very own lists:

Weaverman at the Fleapit: http://fleapit-movieexpress.blogspot.com/2011/02/totally-futile-waste-of-time.html

Well You Say That: http://wellyousaythat.blogspot.com/2011/02/favourite-waste-of-time.html

Monday, January 24, 2011

SO YOU WERE PROBABLY WONDERING WHEN I WAS GOING TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THE U.S. VERSION OF TOP GEAR. The time is now. After seeing the first episode, I had an initial reaction but I wanted to wait until the entire series had managed to get "across the line" before piping up about it. First off, TOP GEAR is the wonderfully entertaining international hit show which I fell in love with from the first time I saw it -- and I don't even care about cars! After an abortive attempt to come up with an American version at NBC a couple years back, there is now an ongoing TOP GEAR U.S. airing on the History Channel (of all places!) which began at the end of last year. The hosts are comedian Adam Ferrara, pro racing driver Tanner Foust and automotive/racing analyst Rutledge Wood; they are joined by an American clone of mysterious, masked racing driver The Stig (more on him in a moment). The format, naturally, is following the tried & true British version in that the trio of hosts test-drive cars and get sent on a serious of wacky races. Of course, the US TOP GEAR programme should follow the format of the original -- or why call it TOP GEAR? However, there are some problems. Some big problems. The words I used to describe the show after seeing the first two episodes are: "slightly woeful".
First, there are the hosts who sadly lack the -- shall we say -- very strong personalities of British hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. I'm fairly familiar with comedians but Adam Ferrara is a name I've never heard; apparently he was a regular on the Denis Leary firefighter series RESCUE ME and appeared in such unseen-by-me films as PAUL BLART: MALL COP. This all makes no difference if, on TOP GEAR U.S., he's funny and a great host. Unfortunately, he's more annoying than funny and his hosting abilities (like most comedians) leaves a lot to be desired. For example, the first episode features Ferrara interviewing Buzz Aldrin: their "big star in a small car". The interview was embarrassing and awkward to the point of being unwatchable. Somebody must've taken note because the second episode features Rutledge Wood doing the star interviewing this time; and Wood is a much more natural and relaxed interviewer. For comparison purposes, watch the Buzz Aldrin interview with Ferrara and then watch the Kid Rock interview with Wood -- miles apart! Ferrara suffers from a trap most comedians fall into when required to host a television programme: that you have to try to make every word that comes out of your mouth "funny". No one can do that and the constant straining for such a result tires the viewer and probably Ferrara as well. Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood are OK in their roles but again remain strangely bland and awkward; although Wood's "aw shucks Southern man-child" routine is also laid on a little too thick and a little too often. After watching all 6 episodes, I can think that probably that fault can be laid at the feet of the producers/directors of the series who seem to be forcing the trio into mimicking the personalities and repartee of the British hosts. A big mistake since the segments when they do this are so obviously forced as to be annoying. However, when the three men forget themselves, relax and allow their own personalities to come through things get better and the show becomes more watchable. This brings us to the Stig. Whereas the possibly extra-terrestial tame racing driver is an integral part of the original show, here the American Stig is hardly used and, in fact, doesn't even appear in one or two episodes at all. Also, the hosts (and more probably producers of the show) have made no real effort to establish the mystique of this unknown pro racing driver whose face is never seen. The British show, of course, does the famous "some say he sleeps upside down like a bat" comments or that he has no concept of earth food. For viewers who have never seen the original programme, the American Stig must seem like just an anonymous hired hand in a helmet and white jumpsuit who test-drives cars. As previously mentioned, oddly enough the show suffers when it tries to follow the better British version too closely. The aforementioned attempts to cram the British personalities down the throats of the rather "un-fireworks-like" US hosts is so forced and awkward as to evoke pity for the three men. Also, sometimes the "wacky races" tasks given the trio can be too derivative. For example, one episodes has them duplicating EXACTLY the tasks given the British hosts when they were trying to prove that British Leyland made decent cars: the "rough road test with a collander of eggs suspended over the driver's head" test, the "emergency brake parking on an incline" test and the "filling the cars with water and having the men drive submerged around a track" test are all exactly duplicated. Why? We've seen that done by the Brits and it was a helluva lot funnier; in fact the familiarity with the original programme makes it even LESS funny and more annoying. So we have a programme which is not as funny as the original, not as entertaining as the original and basically a very pale copy.
However . . .
. . . as the series went on it actually got a little better -- to the point where now it is quite often watchable. Sure, there are still intensely awkward segments but as the three hosts start to relax into their roles they seem to be doing a better job of it. In fact, the more they emphasize the "American-ness" of this American version of a British show, the more successful they seem to be. The aforementioned near-plagiarism of the "British Leyland" segment shows the depths of the problem but such particularly "American-flavoured" segments as the "Moonshine Runner" race and the battle of the American trucks in Alaska were actually quite enjoyable. So what is my advice to the producers of the show for their next seasons? Well, first and foremost . . . let the hosts be themselves. Sure, they don't have much of a personality between them but that's certainly preferable to aping the personality of others. Also, be creative. I don't want to see any more duplications of races we've already seen on the original programme. Also, someone SHOULD be able to come up with at least one original idea for a programme segment which is unique to the US show. I know Hollywood is bankrupt of ideas but one can hope. And finally, let's make an effort to establish the otherworldliness and mystery of the Stig. If you're not gonna do that, why have him on the show at all. It doesn't make sense. So there you have it. A mostly negative review with a couple glimmers. As stated many times in this blog, I try to focus on the good and not heartlessly bash a movie or tv show. If TOP GEAR US was completely hopeless, I never would've written a thing about it here. However, a show with that much potential could actually work in the U.S. -- and that's something I never thought was possible (neither did Jay Leno) before I watched the US version. TOP GEAR US isn't a patch on the original and cannot hope to compare but, with the right creative minds behind it, COULD possibly be a worthwhile way to spend an hour. But that's a BIG "could".

Monday, January 17, 2011

IN THE DARK DEPTHS OF WINTER, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE MORE FITTING THAN READING A BOOK. And yes, I said a book; not one of those satanic Kindle things which are so unpleasant, unreadable and currently sticking a knife in the back of the bookstore industry. Any true book lover would never touch one of those things. But I digress (I do that). Back to reading books. If things were different, I'd be wearing a smoking jacket sitting in my well-appointed library in Gormenghast castle seated in front of a roaring fire in an overstuffed leather chair reading a leather-bound volume with gilded edges by the light of a green-shaded lamp. However, my current circumstances lean more towards the Weekly World News behind a dumpster. But this is cyberspace, so lets pretend it's the first example, shall we? As is my wont, I never read solely one book at a time but usually have several going at once. And I'd like to briefly talk about my pile of reading material. I know this is an unusual subject for this blog but hey. . .it's an unusual blog.
This first tome is one I've been reading off and on since the autumn: Bill Warren's KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES: THE 21st CENTURY EDITION. This is the new, totally revised version of the classic critical study of science fiction/horror films of the fifties (more or less) and its certainly indispensible for anyone remotely interested in the genre. Also, it's one of the most famous books on the subject so you really should read it at some point. Granted, occasionally you may find yourself violently disagreeing with Warren's opinion of a particular film but isn't that what film criticism is all about? After all, have you ever read one of David Thomson's books?!?
Peter Ackroyd's LONDON: THE BIOGRAPHY is also indispensible for anyone interested in history. Ackroyd is always immensely readable, witty and erudite and this book exemplifies that beautifully. This book was made into a BBC-TV (all too brief) 3 episode series (Hiya, Weaverman!) which serves to whet your appetite for the full-course meal the actual book will provide. Ackroyd covers everything from the ancient founding of the city to . . . well, . . . turds. Where else are you gonna get such coverage of a subject, I ask ya?!?
I have been a fan of the silly, irreverant work of cartoonist Fred Hembeck since I first encountered his tiny little strip on "The Daily Planet" page in late 1970s DC Comics. So I was nothing but thrilled to latch onto THE NEARLY COMPLETE ESSENTIAL HEMBECK ARCHIVES OMNIBUS which, as the title suggests, reprints "almost" all his stuff in one phonebook-sized tome. Granted, none of the DC "Daily Planet" strips are here; nor are Hembeck's "Marvel Age" pages or such Marvel Comics productions as the notorious "FRED HEMBECK DESTROYS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE". But the classic early-80s Fantaco magazine-sized Hembecks are all here: THE HEMBECK FILES, BAH HEMBECK, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE BRIDE OF HEMBECK, etc. The volume also reprints early work from the cartoonist as well as his lengthy run in the pages of the Comics' Buyers Guide running right up to almost the present day. A treasure trove for Hembeck fans and comic book fans everywhere.
Speaking of comic books, I also found myself compelled . . . and I do mean compelled . . . to purchase the first two volumes of both ESSENTIAL MARVEL TEAM-UP and ESSENTIAL MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE. These are among the black and white reprint line of Marvel Comics which have been going for several years now. The reason why I felt compelled to get them is because the Marvel Comics of the first half of the 1970s are particularly magical to me; there is something about the look, the feel, the mood of them which I've always loved. And these 4 reprint volumes provide that feeling to me in spades! "Marvel Team-Up", of course, (usually) featured Spider-Man teaming up with a different guest star hero every issue while "Marvel Two-In-One" did the same for the Fantastic Four's lovable rocky hero The Thing. Being the early to mid-1970s, these books featured Spider-Man not only teaming up with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Dr. Strange and the Incredible Hulk but also such crucial mid-70's Marvel characters as The Son of Satan, Ghost Rider, the Monster of Frankenstein and Man-Wolf! The artwork of such great pencillers as Jim Mooney and Sal Buscema is exemplary but the single most mood-inducing factor in these comix is the gorgeous Marvel "house style" inking done by such stalwards as Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott and Mike Esposito. Tasty!
I've always had an interest in secret codes and ciphers (ask anyone who received a "Happy Birthday" sheet from me back in the Rustler days) so I naturally found THE CODE BOOK by Simon Singh as great read. This book not only gives you such famous ciphers as the Caesar shift and the Vigenere square but also gives the historical background of some of the most famous incidents in cryptography from the secret code of Mary, Queen of Scots to the famous German Enigma machine of World War II. A potentially dry subject is kept lively by Singh's obvious enthusiasm for the subject as well as his grasp of the workings of ciphers.
****
All these books, if'n you haven't guessed already, come to you highly recommended by me. And I know you can all read because you're not here to look at the pictures. So do yourself a favour and read an actual book and not one of those headache-inducing little pocket calculators.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"THEY CAME. THEY SAW. THEY DIED." TOWER OF EVIL is probably the best 1970's horror film you've never heard of. For those in the know, this 1972 film is sometimes regarded as the linchpin between the older style of gothic horror film and the soon-to-come 1980's-style slasher film. Almost ten years ahead of its time. Some accolade for a small little film featured on a double bill with late-Hammer subdued horror DEMONS OF THE MIND. But this one is indeed a surprise! You won't be expecting much when you see the opening shot of an obvious model lighthouse; however the model is shot so beautifully engulfed in fog from a fog machine and featuring a lovely slowly-rotating camera movement circling the lighthouse that suddenly you're in a forgiving mood. Then the opening scene with two old salts (Jack Watson -- the beleaguered captain of Esther from FFOLKES -- as Hamp and George Coulouris -- of CITIZEN KANE -- as his father) putt-putting through the pea-soup fog on a boat called "The Sea Ghost" intensifies the good ole moody mood better than a Season 1 SCOOBY-DOO cartoon! The two men are going to Snape Island (HORROR OF SNAPE ISLAND being an alternate title of this film as well as BEYOND THE FOG -- nothing like literal movie titles) which is shunned by commonfolk as being not at all nice. As the men step on the island, it isn't long before they encounter a severed bloody hand -- quickly followed by the discovery of said hand's former owner lying naked and dead face down in a pool of water arse up to the world if you please!

"Me agent didn't tell me I was playing "Arse Up Naked Boy!"

***

Have I mentioned there is indeed a copious amount of nude flesh paraded about in this movie and we are treated shortly to some more when the (face-up) nude corpse of a woman is soon discovered inside the lighthouse shack. Well, face up may be a misnomer because while the body is facing up the head is facing down -- that is because it has been severed from the body but put in its former place by a murderer with an obvious sense of humour. I will admit that I too am at a loss as to how this special effect was created -- the head, of course, is a fake but when one of the men lifts up the head we can plainly see the real body of the actress with no head! No CGI back then, kiddies, and there is no evidence of any matte work or similar SFX tricks known at the time. Perhaps the actress really did bend her head all the way back into a false floor but I don't see how that's possible. Anywho, the head winds up getting loose and bouncing merrily down the lighthouse steps. Excellent! Then a subsequent shot features one of the men gingerly walking around the severed head as it lays on the floor (this shot, however, I know EXACTLY how it was done -- obviously). I think you'll guess too by looking at this still.

"Is this really how to get ahead in the British film industry?!?"

***

The two men separate and George Coulouris enters a room behind the door of which is another nice young man (clothed, this time) impaled to the wall with a solid gold Phoenician spear (nice!).

"That oughta shut yer great Cockney gob, mate!"

***

Unfortunately for our Mercury Theatre veteran, Coulouris moves to another room and hears noises coming from behind a door. When he opens it, a starkers Candace Glendenning (fresh from the film NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA) springs out and stabs Coulouris with a knife and runs screaming from the place. Until, that is, she runs straight into Jack Watson who conks her in the head with a stick. End scene. Now how's THAT for a way to start a movie?!? No one can accuse director Jim O'Connolly of letting things drag along!

"Has Rasputin nicked me clothes AGAIN?!?!"
***
The crazed naked girl with the knife is called Penny (and no, the Sea Ghost is NOT PENNY'S BOAT!!! heh heh) and she is promptly assumed to have killed the other three naked twenty-somethings. However, she is in a state of catatonic shock and unresponsive to all questions so a psychiatrist (played by CALLAN's own Anthony Valentine) uses a bank of what has been called "disco lights" to snap her out of it (...and I'm pretty sure that's a game of Connect Four on the table behind him).
"I'll bet Hunter didn't make Patrick Mower work with disco lights when he took my place!"
***
Throughout the film, we get snippets of what happened on the island through flashbacks. Of course, Penny didn't kill her companions -- there is a giggling homicidal maniac loose on the island. Of course, a group of archaeologists (I suppose) takes an interest in the Phoenician spear and decides to head to the island to take a look. Good move, guys! So naturally, the group hires the self-same Hamp and the self-same boat "The Sea Ghost" and sail out to the self-same island to eventually meet up with the self-same giggling homicidal maniac (in between discussing jazz festivals, smoking grass and having sex with one another). And that's basically it.
"Behold my ridiculously tight flares, ye mighty and despair!"
***
Of course, it's NOT it because the film is just so damn entertaining in spite of itself that, no matter how much you want to dismiss it, it remains kinda impressive. As I said, the film does seem like the missing link between classic horror films like THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) and nubile teenagers having sex and then getting killed HALLOWEEN (1978); in fact, the homicidal giggling maniac in both THE OLD DARK HOUSE and TOWER OF EVIL are both named Saul. Coincidence? Either way, the film is dripping with spooky atmosphere (AND fog . . . AND blood) while paradoxically playing like its ahead of its time with the sex and the language and the gore (which, while prominent, is never gratuitous paradoxically). This is, indeed, a paradoxical film and, despite having watched it more than once, I still can't put my finger on why I like it so much. It does contain its fair share of laughable moments but somehow they never destroy the mood of the film or make it descend into camp or self-parody or a "so bad its good" mode. No, despite its faults, TOWER OF EVIL is somehow one of the best horror films I've seen for quite some time.
"Anna and Jill mistake an exploitation-horror movie for a production of Private Lives."
***
The film has it's share of high profile cameos: the aforementioned one scene with George Coulouris, the several scenes involving Anthony Valentine and another single scene featuring Dennis Price. However, the movie relies completely on its cast of little-known (at least over here in the States) British actors (several of whom are made to utilize dodgy American accents); but they all take the film seriously and still give good performances. Among them the aforementioned Candace Glendenning, Jill Haworth (who sadly died just a few days ago as I write this), Bryant Haliday, Anna Palk, Jack Watson, Gary Hamilton (looking very Mick Jaggerish and wearing an impossibly tight wardrobe), Robin Askwith, Serretta Wilson and others.
The Richard Gordon-produced TOWER OF EVIL began shooting at Shepperton Studios on September 13, 1971; the exact day Amicus' famed horror portmanteau film TALES FROM THE CRYPT began shooting at the exact same studio! As previously noted, TOWER was double-billed with the latter-day Hammer production DEMONS OF THE MIND to make a rather odd pairing; TOWER is balls out knock-you-in-the-head exploitation while DEMONS is a subdued, cerebral odd little horror which its studio had no faith in, didn't promote and dumped unceremoniously into a double-bill with what they thought was a boneheaded proto-slasher film. Of the two films, TOWER is the much more entertaining film. There were even some rather good notices: Variety even called TOWER "...a slick entry for the exploitation market, where this British entry may be ballyed for good returns . . .While the story line is somewhat confusing and contrived, it serves well enough for the purpose and excellent production values and cast help build excitement." And I think Variety has hit the Phoenician spear on the head; TOWER OF EVIL doesn't set the world on fire with its plot which was old and cliched during the silent film era -- in fact TOWER OF EVIL could be called THE CAT AND THE CANARY in a lighthouse. No, where TOWER is particularly good is in it's style and execution -- and I don't mean the execution of nubile young streakers. TOWER OF EVIL is simply the best example I can think of combining classic old-school gothic horror with modern-day "body count" films still to come later in the 1980s. John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN has tons of atmosphere but I wouldn't call it "gothic". The splendid lighthouse sets frankly look wonderfully creepy, the lighting is kept properly low-key and the photography (by DP Desmond Dickinson) is superb in combining darkened mood as well as early 70's vibrant colour. The film was based on an original story by George Baxt: writer of "outrageous mystery novels" (and TOWER OF EVIL is certainly outrageous) as well as script work on such classic films as CITY OF THE DEAD, BURN WITCH BURN, VAMPIRE CIRCUS and REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. If you have even the slightest interest in the horror film, I urge you to track down TOWER OF EVIL because I think you will pleasantly surprised at uncovering a neglected, multi-faceted yet flawed 70's jewel. I am inordinately fond of this movie, ya dig?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

CLOSE THE BOOK. It has come to my attention that the Borders store where I used to work closed its doors forever yesterday. My dear friend and wife Star posted a really lovely post about it on her superb blog; you should really go read it because it goes a long way towards showing what those of us who once worked there may be feeling. She and some others apparently went to see the place one last time. I didn't. One reason is because I frankly didn't know exactly when it was closing and didn't find out until after the fact. Another reason would be that I'm not sure I wanted to see it the way it is now: a sad shell of its former self. It's been that same sad shell for quite a few years now. That's why I left in 2006. I didn't agree with the management's way of doing things (which was born out by the steadily decreasing customer count and the fact that it's now shut down) nor did I like the direction the company as a whole was taking.
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I first started working there at the end of June 2000. As a lover of books, of movies and of music this was probably the closest thing I had ever come to a "dream job". I had been shopping at the store since it first opened in the early 90's. Why? Because it stocked everything under the sun and I could always walk in looking for something obscure and usually find it. Several years later, a Barnes & Nobles store opened literally around the corner and I naturally went in to see what it was like. After a couple tries, I decided I didn't like it and returned to Borders. Why? Because B&N seemed to only stock the most mainstream items: NY Times Best Seller List and Top 40 music. Whereas I could walk in off the street and pick up a "His Name Is Alive" cd right off the Borders shelf on my way to work, everything I was looking for B&N never seemed to have. They could order it for me. The shopper does NOT want to hear those words. Ever. They want to walk in and walk out of the store with the desired item in their hot little hands. B&N was uptight, starchy and corporate; Borders was laid back, eclectic and stocked to the rafters with almost anything anyone could look for. After I began working at Borders, it remained the same for a few years until they suddenly started emptying the shelves. I do not exaggerate when I say that over half of the entire store product was suddenly gone; we were carting out umpteen empty bookshelves. Where once had been saleable product now there was carpet. I was actually walking through the store with the GM who was raving about how nice and spacious the store was now with plenty of room to move around. Yes, I said, but you can't sell "space to move around" . . . you sell books and cds and dvds. What's the point of having a store with no product in it to sell?
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And this is the REAL reason why my former Borders store is now closed. Sure, the internet has put a severe dent in things. So has itunes and amazon and kindle and any other work of the devil. However, when given the choice of desiring a dvd and having it in my hot little hand this very hour or waiting for amazon to mail it to me, I would chose the former. Why would ANYONE want to get in their car and drive across town to a store that didn't have any product in it other than "The DaVinci Code", "Who Moved My Cheese" and Rod Stewarts' latest "American Songbook" cd. At one point, I seriously went over to the Beatles section and it didn't have "Sgt. Pepper". What kind of store is that? A store that's heading towards oblivion. And yesterday it final reached it. During all this time, Barnes * Noble started heading the other direction; while Borders was getting more mainstream, boring and corporate, B&N was getting less so and stocked more eclectic material. Sure, they are hurting to but you will notice that the B&N store around the corner from my old Borders is STILL open for business -- DESPITE the horrendous road construction which has been going on for a couple years now. This should tell us all something.
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The reason I left . . . the reason we ALL left the "Hellmouth" . . . is because they had turned a very pleasant, efficient and money-making store into a very unpleasant, hostile and empty store. On many occasions, I would drive from Borders to B&N -- any day of the week and any different time of day or night -- and I would leave a Borders deserted of customers (literally 3 in the building) and walk in a Barnes & Nobles packed with patrons. They were probably a quarter mile apart, folks. This should tell you something. It told ME something . . . and that's why I left. That's why we ALL left. The Borders we all knew died years ago; the company just didn't know to bury it until yesterday. Am I sad that I didn't go in for one last look around? I don't think so. I think it would've been too upsetting and I've got enough upset and pain in my life right now. I don't need any more. I don't need to be reminded of what a horror my current job is and what a truly rewarding and fulfilling place to work Borders had once been in my life. I echo the sentiments of Star and Epiphany concerning the friendship that were made there once upon a time. The place is gone but the people are still around. I miss seeing them and we do need to fight against fading from one another's life. I work during the night while everyone else is asleep and I sleep while you all are awake. This has meant that in the last year and a half I have had basically no existence at all and lately I have honestly felt, for the first time ever, that all that time has been completely wasted. I say this not for any pity party but to express how much I truly miss seeing all my friends due to this soul-destroying job which separates me from everyone that means so much to me. There's nothing I can do about that now but hopefully one day that will change and I will be able to see you all once again. I just wanted you all to know that I still think about you and it hurts me not to have seen you all for such a long time. Don't ever think that means I've forgotten you or you mean nothing to me. Nothing could EVER be further from the truth.
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"Sunset at Borders" photo provided by Star*