blob-eats
October 25, 2014
David Kalat
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Halloween Won’t Hurt You: Or, How My Daughter Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blob

It’s not that I advocate terrifying children, I hope you understand, but… well, let me start at the beginning.

When I was 8 years old, my dad used to wake me up late at night to join him in watching the classic Creature Features package on local TV. The deal was I had to finish my homework and go to bed early, and then at 11 he’d come wake me up to join him for late night popcorn and Dracula (or pizza and Frankenstein—he’d mix things up).

As I’ve mentioned here before, I was blessed with parents who made little effort to censor what I had access to, and who blithely took my pre-teen self to see things like Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ridley Scott’s Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing… I was enthralled—and also terrified. I had nightmares, and I loved them.

When I became a parent myself, I wanted to share with my kids the monster movies I’d grown up with. And so, one night in 2005, I showed my 5 year old daughter and 3 year old son a marathon of DVDs on Halloween that culminated with The Blob.

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KEYWORDS: The Blob
COMMENTS: 0
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Brains! (Think about it.)

Brains - Frankenstein 1931

Wrap your head around this: the word “brain” appears in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus just once. Chapter 4, to be precise, in a throwaway line about everything that dies with a man’s body. The business of the Frankenstein Monster getting a bad start in life due to the implantation of a dodgy brain is entirely the invention of the movies – specifically James Whale’s 1931 genre game-changer FRANKENSTEIN. Credit for this narrative wrinkle, which sidesteps the soul-searching of the source novel in favor of what amounts to a clerical error — goes (it seems) back to writer-for-hire Garrett Fort and Robert Florey, who brought the project to Universal Pictures and was on tap to direct before James Whale entered the equation. Over 80 years later, brains are very much on our mind, collectively-speaking, and never more so than in horror and science fiction films, where the tussle to retain the primacy of, or superiority over, the human brain provides us with an abundance of food for thought.

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Mummy Dearest

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Hammer Films produced four Mummy movies between 1959 and 1971 and this coming Saturday (Oct. 25th) TCM is airing one of my favorites, Seth Holt’s BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971). This unabashedly sexy horror extravaganza was the last Mummy movie produced by the ‘Studio that Dripped Blood’ and thanks to a great cast and some creative directing choices it turned out to be one of their best. But before it reached the screen the production was plagued by some serious setbacks that seemed to resemble the effects of a ‘mummy’s curse’ that’s often associated with doomed adventure seekers and tomb raiders. Was it just circumstance and bad luck or did something supernatural interfere with the making of the film? Read on to find out!

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The Fog of Horror

Later tonight, as in tomorrow morning on the east coast, TCM airs The Fog, the 1980 John Carpenter movie that, like a lot of John Carpenter movies, opened to middling reviews only to be heartily welcomed into the horror canon later.  This also happened with his 1982 remake of The Thing from Another World, this time around simply titled The Thing, which opened to downright bad reviews but now has a solid reputation among horror fans, including this one.   Later, Carpenter’s Christine suffered much the same fate.  I saw Christine when it opened and thought it okay.   A few years ago I watched it again and found it superior to much of what modern horror produces.   Even Halloween was only given a few loving notices by Roger Ebert and Tom Allen originally while Pauline Kael led the charge against it as derivative crap.  So, Ebert/Kael… I mean, flip a coin on that one, right?  Eventually Ebert’s side won and the film is today regarded as a classic.   Why they all took so long I think is not related to Carpenter so much as it is related to horror.  Horror misdirects and confuses the audience, uses plot devices easily belittled and picked apart, and generally uses storytelling techniques so far removed from subtlety they don’t even occupy the same hemisphere.  Behind all that could be a great movie but sometimes critics, and audiences too, can get lost in the fog of horror.

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Bowling for Dollars: Kingpin (1996)

still-of-bill-murray-and-woody-harrelson-in-kingpin-(1996)-large-picture

 

Farrelly Brothers movies are akin to family gatherings. They are filled with extreme neuroses, unexpected violence, and deep undercurrents of affection. Their films are even populated with friends and relatives from their Rhode Island home. Listen to any of their audio commentaries and you’ll find that half the actors are bankers and car salesman who grew up with them back east. Every time I see a Farrelly feature I think of how Manny Farber described Howard Hawks’ “weird mother hen instinct.” The Farrellys have it as well, just weirder.  Dumb and Dumber was their directorial debut and an enormous hit, a tale of ignorant male friendship that lowered scatalogical slapstick so far it went below lowbrow and out the other side. It’s also their first attempt at depicting the bonds of brotherhood, in which Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels perform a kind of radical acceptance of each other’s flaws — through complete stupidity, but still (they treated the same theme with greater complexity in Stuck on You, their greatest film and biggest bomb).  The long-gestating but certainly not maturing sequel, Dumb and Dumber To, comes out next month.

The Farrellys follow-up to the original Dumb and Dumber, though, will never get a sequel, though it did come out on Blu-ray last week. Kingpin is another tale of success-challenged males learning to live with the other’s failure, this time in the lacquered middle-aged crisis world of bowling. Though where Dumb and Dumber is an abstract performance piece, as Carrey and Daniels could have been performing in front of a blank wall to similar effect, Kingpin tries to embed its outrageous characters into a semblance of the real world. Each bowling alley and auto-body shop is lovingly detailed, and essential to the development of its sad sack characters. The lead failure Roy Munson, Jr. (Woody Harrelson) is from the made-up small town of Ocelot, Iowa, a corroded rust belt city where he was once its proudest son as State Bowling champion, while ending up in a pit-stained flophouse in Scranton, PA dodging his scrofulous landlord’s bill. He sees a way out in the smooth stroke of Amish naif Ishmael (Randy Quaid), who he thinks can win the big bowling competition in Reno, and take down his longtime nemesis Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray).

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Happy Birthday Fayard Nicholas

brosjumpinjiveA few years back, I was teaching the musical comedy when a male student remarked that he did not care for musicals because they were like chick flicks—too focused on romance and too filled with music that was old-fashioned. He did not find the production numbers with Fred Astaire from Top Hat to be particularly impressive; while he recognized that Astaire was good at his craft, anyone can take lessons and learn to dance, or so he claimed. For the next class, I came armed with a clip of the Nicholas Brothers performing their famous staircase dance from Stormy Weather (left). The class was dutifully impressed, and the student who dismissed musicals begrudgingly admitted that he liked the Nicholas Brothers whom he compared to athletes. The incident came to mind because today is Fayard Nicholas’s birthday, and it seemed fitting to acknowledge the talents of the Nicholas Brothers.

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Stephen King Goes to the Movies

Horrors of Stephen King

A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King (Laurent Bouzereau, 2011), an hour-long documentary with the iconic best-selling author, premiered three years ago on TCM and is being brought back this Saturday. The topics covered include the early horrors that both scared and inspired him as a kid, moving on to films like Dementia 13, Night of the Living Dead, both versions of The Thing, his love of B-movies, ghosts, vampires, religion, slashers, and a section I’m especially looking forward to seeing where he discusses the movies that were made from his books. With the latter in mind, I’m here to provide a few highlights from a 600+ page paperback released five years ago that I stumbled across while attending the last Telluride Film Festival titled Stephen King Goes to the Movies. [...MORE]

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October 18, 2014
David Kalat
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I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

So, in case you haven’t heard, there’s this movie called Phase IV. It’s a 1970s apocalyptic sci-fi thriller about killer super-intelligent ants, and it was directed by Saul Bass of all people. And instead of special effects, the killer ants are played by real ants, filmed in close-up by National Geographic photographer Ken Middleham.

Either that is enough to make you drop everything and go see it (or go see it again) immediately, or you’re one of those people whose tastes make no sense to me.

But the thing is, as deliriously entertaining as Phase IV is, it’s a singular creation that could only have existed when it did, and couldn’t be (re)made today. And therein lies this week’s story…

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KEYWORDS: Phase IV, Saul Bass
COMMENTS: 6
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Hand in Hand in Hell: My Top 10 Horror Movie Brother and Sister Acts

Night of the Hunter

This Sunday, October 19th, marks the 30th anniversary of the death of my sister Cheryl Ann, or Cheri, as we called her. She died just two weeks shy of her 29th birthday. I was 23 at the time, just turned; I’m 53 now and I guess that makes Cheri the baby these days, frozen as she is at that — it seems to me now in my middle years — very young age. I’ve been thinking about my late sister but also watching a lot of spooky movies for the Halloween season and it all came together for me this week how many portrayals there are in genre films of brothers and sisters lost in bad territory. I guess we have Hansel and Gretel to blame for that. Odd that the most famous brothers in western civilization are Cain and Abel and the most famous brother and sister Hansel and Gretel. Maybe it’s because I grew up with sisters that I prefer fairy tales to Bible stories. But anyway. By way of turning sorrow into light, I offer you my highly subjective and far from comprehensive list (please, no comments telling me “you forgot…”) of my favorite brother and sister acts in fright films. [...MORE]

Aaahoo! She-Wolf of London (1946)

swlposterThe setting is London in the early 1900s, where a young Scottish woman named Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) is preparing to wed her beau (Don Porter). The happy couple’s plans are interrupted when someone or something begins killing locals at a nearby park. Terrified Phyllis is certain an old Scottish curse that has plagued her family for centuries is turning her into a bloodthirsty werewolf while she sleeps but her domineering aunt Martha (Sara Haden ) and lovesick cousin Carol (Jan Wiley) seem to think otherwise. Is Phyllis a werewolf? Is she going mad? Or is something else even more sinister stalking the nearby park under the cover of night? SHE-WOLF OF LONDON (1946) is often dismissed as one of the lessor entries in the Universal monster cannon but while watching this briskly paced B-movie again recently after decades of reading numerous dismissals, I was swept up by the films moody atmosphere and shaken by its surprising brutality. The film may not satisfy viewers anticipating a typical monster movie but SHE-WOLF OF LONDON has plenty of things to recommend it and with Halloween quickly approaching it seemed like the perfect time to praise its unsung sinister charm.

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