The Funny Old Dark House

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“Don’t big, empty houses scare you?”
“Not me. I used to be in vaudeville.”

That wry exchange is one of the many little asides that typifies The Cat and the Canary (1939), airing in prime time this Friday on TCM. This Paramount production (now part of the Universal library) is the earliest surviving sound version of the original old dark house chiller that started life as a stage play by John Willard, and it’s a savory bit of counter-programming to Universal’s ongoing parade of beloved movie monsters (which were being toned down in the early throes of World War II). The idea of Hope starring in a horror movie (especially so early in his career — he’d only been starring in features since 1938!) sounds bizarre on paper, but it works beautifully in practice. Part of the charm here is the smart pairing of Hope (more subdued and urbane than usual here) with the gorgeous and charming Paulette Goddard, who was married to Charlie Chaplin at the time and was best known for Modern Times (1936). The chemistry between Hope and Goddard was so good they were teamed up for another horror comedy in 1940, The Ghost Breakers, and in between she made her most familiar film for many TCM viewers, The Women (1939). And as you can see in that promotional shot above for The Cat and the Canary, she also knows how to rock a Halloween costume like nobody’s business. [...MORE]

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December 26, 2015
David Kalat
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Waging War on Christmas

There are many pop culture traditions at Christmastime that are important to me. Charlie Brown Christmas, of course—its power only grows over time. The Grinch (the original 60s cartoon). A Christmas Story, preferably on some kind of marathon loop. And then there’s Jalmari Helander’s looney cult flick Rare Exports. Perhaps that one is less familiar to you.

I wrote about it here several years ago, and to help give my revisit a fresh perspective, I asked my son Max to join me this year in paying tribute to this gloriously insane holiday horror movie.

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KEYWORDS: Jalmari Helander, Rare Exports, Santa Claus
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Extruded plastic dingus, for kids

Last week I posted here some embarrassing anecdotes about my experiences as a color timer in the early 1990s—and I’d intended to immediately follow it up with a sequel.  The first post was about Even Cowgirls Get the Blues—a film I knew was a commercial and critical disappointment, and I thought it was funny trying to pretend I was the reason for its problems.  And so the sequel would flip the story—a Hollywood film I came near, but which soared to great heights because I was kept safely far away from it.

Except when I sat down to start writing this, I was absolutely jaw-droppingly gob-smacked to discover that my whole premise was flawed.  To my utter astonishment, I learned that the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy was not considered a success.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.

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Snapshots of the Fall: Part II

In my last post I provided a look behind the curtain for the first five weeks of film programming for my fall film calendar. This week we look at the remaining 24 titles that round out the schedule. It features everything from classics such as Vertigo to the state premiere of the latest uncompromising and visually arresting film by Bruno Dumont, Outside Satan (a scene of which is pictured above). [...MORE]

The Spring Lineup

Before delving into some highlights for my upcoming calendar film program, which has everything from singing cannibals and Robby the Robot to sex addicts and Pam Grier (in-person!)… I’d like to back-track a little. In my last post I wrote that the venues where I screen films were akin to a leaky rowboat. While this statement remains essentially true, especially when we are compared to any state-of-the-art dedicated film theater, I would like to amend the metaphor a bit. In retrospect, I feel it would be more accurate to say that the film series I program is more like the Orca boat commandeered by Robert Shaw in Jaws. It’s big enough to chase large game, but you still can’t help wishing you had a bigger boat – especially when you get a clear glimpse of the challenge ahead. When I previously said that we do a lot with very little, the “we” in that statement referred to the small crew that has kept this particular boat from becoming an artificial coral reef on the ocean floor, and this despite staying afloat long past its expiration date.  [...MORE]

Rare Exports

“I didn’t know you could mix Santa Claus and horror movies,” my son Max told me this morning (y’all met him last week when he guest blogged on my behalf). He was referring specifically to his and my current obsession, a movie that has been inaugurated as a holiday viewing tradition in our home: Jalmari Helander’s looney cult flick Rare Exports.

Never heard of it? Well — as Max said, it is a (mildly gory) horror movie about Santa Claus.

Scary Santa

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The Face of Fear — Don Knotts in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”

I really wanted to contribute something to this Halloween blogfest, so I offer a little nonsensical coda about a movie I’m sure a lot of us have seen many times and probably enjoy.  Funny + spooky has been a movie tradition forever, and nobody did it quite as well as the limber-limbed and rubber-faced actor/comedian Don Knotts in his 1966 feature film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

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“Lesbians, Martial Arts, High Heels and Science”: More Marketing Madness from the Home-Viewing Industry

As a former editor, I am annoyed that the items listed in the tagline above are not parallel: After all, it should be “Lesbians, Martial Arts, High Heels and Sciences.” But, then again, that is the least of the problems on the sellsheet for Minty the Assassin, a title offered by Cinema Epoch, which specializes in straight-to-DVD releases.

I work at Facets Multi-media, and part of the “multi-media” part is a vast video rentals service, which includes thousands of foreign, indie, documentary, and classic films. We regularly receive sellsheets from all manner of straight-to-DVD production companies, who want us to buy their titles for our rentals service or to sell via our online catalogue. While most major studios and DVD companies tend to announce and promote their offerings online, the companies that sell low-budget, exploitation titles still mail slick-looking sellsheets printed on nice paper stock. Periodically, I leaf through these sellsheets because they never cease to amuse—and amaze—me. Either the films are ludicrous, the taglines shameless, or the sell copy incomprehensible. I am simultaneously appalled by the poor grammar and punctuation and impressed by the cheekiness involved in promoting these movies.

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Mack Daddy, Daddy Mack

[Slapsticon, the greatest film event of the year, has been canceled this year.  To grieve it, I am devoting the entire month of July to posts about slapstick comedy.]

He was the Roger Corman of comedy.  A miserly skinflint whose extraordinary ability to identify and nurture talent made his studio THE jumping-off point for more superstars than anywhere else.  The litany of film greats who started here, even if they went on to achieve greatness elsewhere, is astonishing—not to mention all the has-beens and already-ares who cycled through his orbit as well.

But Mack Sennett’s films remain difficult territory for film fans.  Call him the King of Comedy if you wish, but a great many of his productions fall flat to today’s audiences, or require a patience or mindset that only the most dedicated fan can muster.  Seeing as I am one of those patient, dedicated fans, I offer up here a tribute to—and primer on—the man who invented American slapstick.

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THE TRAILERS THAT MADE MY BRAIN

I spent this morning watching a compilation DVD that was sent to me by filmmaker/artist/musician Cory McAbee. It was titled “TnT” (which stands for Titles and Trailers), and it was the focus of a presentation he did a few months ago for the UnionDocs Collaborative in Brooklyn in conjunction with Rooftop Films (whose byline is: “Underground Movies Outdoors”). Their program notes that short films have now become a predominant form of entertainment, thanks in part to the growing popularity of video-sharing websites. But long before everyone was glued to YouTube or their cell phone, we were (and are still) watching short films on the big screen in the form of trailers and credit sequences – both being made, for the most part, by “outside parties (who) were hired to create a short interpretation from the film itself or from unused elements.” Cory’s TnT collection were specific “short films” that had influenced his own work in meaningful ways. While I can’t think of title-sequences that have influenced my life, I can certainly think of more than a few trailers that had a big impact on who I am now.  [...MORE]

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