Years ago, the Brattle lined up a night of Universal horror films. It was James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, followed by THE WOLF MAN. I was in monster-kid heaven settling down in my regular balcony seat. FRANKENSTEIN started, ended, and left the audience in quiet reflection. As DRACULA started I was beside myself as it has always held a place in my heart as one of my favorite films. My excitement dissolved into heartbreak as the audience started to laugh. They were not nervously laughing at Renfield’s possessed performance to break the tension, or at the teasing relationship between Mina and Lucy; they were laughing at the film itself. What would cause the audience to treat this early horror masterpiece like some silly B-movie? Was I so overwhelmed with nostalgia for the film that I failed to see it with modern eyes? Clearly an investigation was needed to find the reception disruption between me and everyone else in the theater that night.
Author: Deirdre Crimmins
DIE HARD has somehow sneakily joined the ranks of Christmas films. It has been embraced by many with open arms as a modern holiday classic, and defended vigilantly by others for its status as a yuletide treasure. I have long been a fan of the film, but this pivot from adoring DIE HARD at face value to championing the film specifically as a seasonal offering gives me pause. Rather than examining if this is the best Christmas film of all time (a debate that is well populated online), I am much more interested in exploring how DIE HARD functions within the subgenre. In other words, what is it that makes DIE HARD a Christmas movie?
Comedy is a tricky art. It involves meticulous timing, clever writing, grand but believable situations, and the right performers to pull it off. And when comedy goes wrong, the result is often uncomfortable to watch. The Coen brothers have perfected the art of comedy, but even with their level of expertise, it is still very easy to make a misstep. While I think The LADYKILLERS is by no means a missed mark, I do think it treads closer to the precipice of disaster than their other comedies. This wavering level of quality is more due to audience expectations, however, than the quality of the film itself.
THE HAUNTING is an undeniably classic horror film. Even to this day, the black and white film can still scare audiences without the crutch of over-the-top special effects or gore. Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House (a beautifully written, and equally terrifying haunted house story), the film sets itself apart from its source material. It is, instead, an exploration of a woman’s descent into hysteria, and the consequences of taking her far out of her regular surroundings.
Films about filmmaking are one of the more robust themes to span across cinema. From SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and THE PLAYER to SCREAM 3, these films give us insight into the filmmaking process, while driving ahead plot, song and dance, drama and intrigue, and horror. Though no one in their right mind would ever accuse filmmakers of being lacking in vanity, I don’t think that is the only reason for making films about filming. Directors know that no matter how diverse the audience, the collective love for cinema is what has brought them together. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO plays off a more specific love for 1970s Italian horror cinema, and also drives the audience forward with a confounding plot.
When THE HOST was released in 2006, the traditional monster film had not had a presence in popular cinema for some time. There was a brief blip with ANACONDA in 1997, but the box office failure of GODZILLA in 1998 indicated that monster movies were no longer a draw. After all, films about giant other worldly monsters attacking the small humans below them are associated with the red-scare films of the 1950s and 1960s. These films are now appreciated more for their campy fun, than their ability to draw an audience. With film production costs increasing, along with the demand for realism in our CGI, studios were unwilling to invest in a no longer marketable genre.
To call JAWS a classic film is an understatement. It is the yard stick against which every modern monster movie is measured. To this day, the film still draws crowds, drives Narragansett beers sales, and terrorizes skittish beach goers wherever a shoreline is visible. What is it about JAWS that is so alluring? What gives this film the ability to scare audiences as easily today as it did 38 years ago? It certainly isn’t the riveting dialogue, or advanced special effects. Rather than these, it is the film’s cinematography and camera work which make the shark attacks feel personal–a sensation that defies generations.