Seeing Things, or “It’s one damned thing after another!!


I used to love in movies when characters would play the “free association” game. You know the bit… the psychiatrist guy presents to the patient a series of seemingly innocuous, unrelated words for which the patient provides a response. “Safe.” “Baseball.” “Volcano.” “Mother.” “Danger.” “Sherbet.” That bit. I sometimes feel as though my mind plays that game, especially when I’m watching movies. I’ll see a particular visual and then — BANG — something related comes right to mind.


And maybe you can’t appreciate the parallel if you haven’t seen the movies I’m referencing. The black and white image comes from Renato Polselli’s L’AMANTE DEL VAMPIRO (US: THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA, 1960) and the color screencap from Vicente Aranda’s LA NOVIA ENSANGRENTADA (US: THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE, 1972). Both are vampire stories, made in Italy and Spain, respectively, more or less a decade apart. Both scenes involve the entombment of a female character (as it turns out, in both cases, a vampire) who is about to be freed or removed from confinement, with wildly different results. I suppose my mind should have jumped here instead…


… to Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR (1932) and a more literal echo of that moment from THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA but that’s not how free association works. The mind goes where it goes and we make sense of it later. I suppose my brainmeats weren’t scanning for more of the same so much as they wanted a corollary, Or, to put it into the argot of improvisational actors, a “Yes, and…” And I got it. Both of the images of women encased, as it were, are about vampire awakenings. In the Polselli film, a village girl is reacting with the fear and dread of the fledgling undead… she is already immortal but is helpless as her grieving family buries her alive. Later, she will rise and…. well, that would be telling. In THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE, a vampire is uncovered by an unsuspecting human, who will bring her back to his ancestral home and watch hopelessly as the comely revenant possesses his young bride. I guess what I love about the setup in THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE is how Vicente Aranda ups the ante, having his lady vampire sleep not in the earth as did bloodsuckers of folklore but in sand, using a mask and snorkel. It’s completely off the hook and working outside the pine box and the matchup between this scene and the one in THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA is very brain-satisfying.

The Fog 1980

I was surprised when I had another look at John Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980) recently — making this my, oh, sixth or eighth viewing, including seeing the film during its original theatrical run — by how little you see of the ghost ship in the film. If you had asked me last week to describe the Elizabeth Dane I might have provided you with a detailed description… but where would the details have come from? I may have, over the years, embellished in my mindloft non-existent particulars in the Carpenter film with ones borrowed from Amando de Ossorio’s EL BUQUE MALDITO (aka THE GHOST GALLEON, aka HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES, 1974)…

The Ghost Galleon

… which is mocked up in long shots by a highly unpersuasive scale (well, let’s say hobby shop) model but which has a lot of original charm on the inside: cobwebs, rotting timbers, rusty hoists, and all manner of arcane maritime bric-a-brac. The movies complement one another very well, with the sightless, skeletal Knights Templar (aka the Blind Dead)…

Blind Dead

… serving as the dessicated forebears of…

The Fog 1980b

THE FOG‘s leper brigands. The Ghost Galleonana might have ended then and there…

Shiver Me Timbers

… had my son not just  begun his Popeye catechism, and with a chance viewing of the 1934 animated short “Shiver Me Timbers!” This completed what is to my mind a very satisfying trinity. What’s the point in all this? I guess it’s that, if you see enough movies, if you love movies and live movies and spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about them, you will start to see patterns with the pinpoint acuity of a conspiracy theorist. Homage only goes so far …

To Kill a Mockingbird

– we don’t pay nearly enough court to coincidence, to chance, to the possibility of magic, that intangible element that makes moving pictures what they are.

Night of the Living Dead

And you’ve got to love the journey, the game of leap frog, the places you wind up, and the free association your journey can inspire. To jump from a moment in DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)…

Dead of Night

… to CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)…

Carnival of Souls


Ghost Galleon


Vampire and the Ballerina

Isn’t this where we came in? All this to say that, for movie-lovers (in any genre, of course), the real show starts only once the film has faded to black and we’re left alone in the dark with what the movies have made us.

3 Responses Seeing Things, or “It’s one damned thing after another!!
Posted By swac44 : August 24, 2013 5:56 pm

Reminds me of a series over on If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger…, titled Similar Images. Also including Popeye!

Posted By Anthony Balducci : August 24, 2013 10:35 pm

Great article!

Posted By Michael Laws : August 24, 2013 11:09 pm

This is one of the reasons I enjoy doing the Saturday Double Features on my own blog. Sometimes its surprising the associations that come to mind when I’m trying to figure out a “classic” film with something that’s out now. Watching the mind make those jumps and seeing where it eventually winds up. And then talking with people that I work with or with friends to see what guesses they will make as to the week’s pairings.

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