Tag: Horror

August 12, 2008 / / Film Notes

By KJ Hamilton

Halloween – 1978 – dir. John Carpenter

It’s the story of a small-town girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) who is terrorized by Evil Incarnate, as Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) explains:  “I spent eight years trying to reach him and another seven trying to keep him locked away when I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely, simply evil.”  The boy is Michael Meyers.  When he was six years old, he stabbed his sister Judith to death—on Halloween night. Michael was then institutionalized, and the Meyers’ home in rural Haddonfield, Illinois, became an icon of fright.

July 14, 2008 / / Film Notes

By Julie Lavelleinvasion of the body snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – 1956 – dir. Don Siegel

Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers has prompted countless debates over its political message: is it anti-McCarthyism or anti-communist? Although the iconic invasion narrative gives the plot cohesion, the film is most interesting for its bleak envisioning of a post-World War II America filled with broken promises, mental instability, and general uneasiness–a world in which anxiety rules and love can’t save the day.

July 11, 2008 / / Film Notes

By Paula Delaney

Chinatown – 1974 – dir. Roman Polanski

A young Jack Nicholson stars in this complicated weave of drama, suspense and intrigue. Nicholson plays the role of J.J. ”Jake” Gittes, a private investigator who has retired from the police department with some very bitter memories of corruption during his days working for the district attorney in Chinatown. Nicholson is as savvy and self-assured as he is in all of his movies, and he can be captivating as he risks his life to solve this intricate “whodunnit” about the murder of a Water Department official in a close knit town in southern California.

July 8, 2008 / / Film Notes

By Kris Tronerudfearless vampire killers

The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of The Vampires) • 1967 • dir. Roman Polanski – Original Theatrical Trailer

Someone’s heart is beating around in their bosom… pitter pat… pitter pat… like a rat in a cage…
— Iain Quarrier to Roman Polanski in The Fearless Vampire Killers

From the beginning of the long and winding road that has been the film career of Roman Polanski, the Polish-born director’s films have been judged not only by their often considerable merit, but as a kind of post facto barometer of his tragedy-haunted, scandal ridden life. The corrosive alienation and jaundiced world view of his early successes Knife in the Water (1962), Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-Sac (1966) taken as a reflection of his being left alone to escape the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto and survive the war in the Polish countryside at the tender age of nine; the pessimistic, paranoid (and brilliant) Rosemary’s Baby of the fears of a successful young director dependant on strangers in a foreign environment; the brutal, feral violence of Macbeth redolent of the horrific murder of his wife, unborn baby and 4 friends at the hands of the Manson family; with his whole post-exile career seen as a long string of reflections on personal morality, corruption, and the terrible difficulty of human relationships in general, and a string of artistic missteps and/or commercial failures viewed as some sort of karmic/filmic comeuppance. All this ephemera has been, happily, put to rest with the commercial and critical success of the Oscar/Cannes Prize-winning The Pianist and the presumably healing effect of the 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired; a good time, perhaps, to revisit the one Polanski film that can truly be enjoyed completely on its own, the light-hearted and baggage-free The Fearless Vampire Killers, an affectionate, charming homage to the Golden Age of Gothic Cinema in general, and 60’s Hammer vampire films in particular.

July 8, 2008 / / Film Notes
October 1, 2007 / / Film Notes

The basic premise behind Grindhouse, the B-movie double feature from directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, isn’t really all that novel. Director Stanley Donen’s 1978 effort Movie Movie is a strikingly similar package to Grindhouse, albeit Donen flew solo. That package is this: a pair of separate movies sharing some of the same cast members and glued together by nostalgia and fake trailers (Grindhouse‘s fake trailers are a major drawing card, featuring cameo directorial appearances by Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Eli Roth). But while Movie Movie affectionately spoofed the candy-sweetness of Old Hollywood in the midst of the grittier 1970s, Grindhouse longingly harks back to exploitative ’70s cheapies in an era when Hollywood product has grown dishearteningly slick and safe. By marking up their movies with scratches, pops, and intentionally missing reels, Tarantino and Rodriguez’s modus operandi is to transform sanitary suburban multiplexes into grindhouse cinemas that, while undeniably rattier, at least had a kind of dingy individualism intact. The entire enterprise is more about the act of going to see a film than anything else. See it on DVD and you’ve already skipped half the joke.

May 18, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Julie Lavelle

For fans of the horror/exploitation genre, Wes Craven’s early films are required viewing. For newcomers to the genre they are a great starting point; the films genuinely terrify despite their lack of production value, experienced actors, or special effects. In his second film, 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes, Craven revisits themes from his profoundly disturbing directorial debut, Last House on the Left (1973). The film initially asks us to identify with the Carters, a white-bread, gun-toting, RV-driving, blonde haired archetypal American family. When they set out on their ill-conceived search for a defunct silver mine in the southwest, you want them to listen to the old gas station attendant (and progenitor of the evil breed who will ravage the Carters) who sagely warns them to “stay on the main road, you hear?”. Soon the unwitting family is terrorized by a family of cannibals who live in the barren hills of the desert. Craven locates monstrosity or “otherness” within the family by setting up a mirror image between the “normal” family and the “monstrous” cannibal family. However, the lines that divide these two families blur as the narrative progresses, and the viewer is left unsure where (if anywhere) their sympathy lies.

May 17, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Peg Aloi

Remember when Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was remade in color? To be fair, its chromatic transformation was the least of its problems: the heroic protagonist of Ben, played by African American actor Duane Jones, was replaced with, um, a white woman, thereby completely altering the original film’s wonderful undertones of racial unrest. Hello, it was released in 1968! But it was Romero’s choice to work in black and white (prompted by lack of money, and we should be thankful for this, otherwise we’d have had a Blood Feast-like gore-fest on our hands) that helped elevate this strange and deeply-layered film to both classic and cult status. It was the prototype of flesh-eating ghoul films that later spawned many imitators and led Romero to engage in some delightful self-referential parody in later years.

May 11, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Sean Rogers

After the decline of the studio system, Hollywood would often struggle to find fresh ways of generating sure-fire hits. 1969, for instance, saw the release and surprise success of Easy Rider, whereupon the studios, the story goes, decided the “youth picture” was where the money was. Universal, however, discovered otherwise in 1971 when both The Hired Hand and The Last Movie, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider follow-up projects, flopped spectacularly (as did Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop, among the first films released by Universal’s youth-oriented division). In the early 1980s, John Carpenter’s films provide a similar object lesson in industry obtuseness, this time with regard to the profitable corner of the market carved out by exploitation films in the 1970s. These genre picture’s inherent transgressive qualities may simply have proved too unseemly for the larger, blander platform of multiplexes and PR campaigns the studios would present to them.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

Though we often forget it, the Universal horror films of the 1930s are among the most enduringly iconic in the history of cinema. Look around next Halloween and consider it. A great majority of the representations of Dracula, from costumes to dolls, will be in the likeness of Bela Lugosi, and the ubiquitous green-skinned, square-headed images of Frankenstein’s monster will be derived from Boris Karloff in his makeup. Universal’s classic monster movies have long since made the rare and momentous leap from the screen to the collective subconscious. You needn’t have seen the films to recognize the characters and or even quote them offhand, imitating the accent of Lugosi’s vampire count or the exultant “It’s alive!” spouted by Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein. The films have been imitated and lovingly parodied through the years, and, in the realm of pop culture, their representations of the famous monsters have largely superseded even the novels from which the creatures originated. Perhaps it is appropriate then that The Bride of Frankenstein, the 1935 sequel that ranks as perhaps the most highly-regarded of all the classic Universal horror films, introduces another truly iconic – and this timely wholly original – monster in Elsa Lanchester’s characterization of the eponymous Bride.