Dementia 13: Coppola’s Graduation Film from “Corman College”

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Francis Ford Coppola cut his teeth in the film industry working for B-movie master Roger Corman as a script doctor, dialogue writer, sound tech, and all-around jack of all trades. As a supplement to Coppola’s education in cinema studies at UCLA, Corman’s tutelage provided a “film education” from a practical perspective. Later, Corman would enhance the educations of other writers and directors, including Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Towne, Nicolas Roeg, and Jonathan Demme, by hiring them to write, direct, or shoot his B-movies. This combination of formal schooling and “Corman College” gave this group of filmmakers—the Film School Generation—a unique understanding and appreciation of cinema. I can’t help but think that this is what makes the FSG difficult to match in terms of mastery of the medium.

I recently watched Coppola’s debut directorial feature, Dementia 13, for the first time, and I could see the influences of both a formal film education and Corman College.

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Father of Fear

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This Friday, August 26, finds TCM’s Summer under the Stars getting a little chillier than usual with an all-day marathon covering the career of horror icon Boris Karloff from the dawn of cinema’s sound era in the revolutionary FRANKENSTEIN (1931) through his elder statesman phase of the horror genre in Roger Corman’s THE TERROR (1963).

However, I’m zooming in on the last film in the Karloff filmography airing that day (and repeating again on Halloween if you miss it!) — and one that’s especially close to my heart since it’s the first film I remember scaring me on TV (courtesy of a TBS airing many years ago). BLACK SABBATH (1963) is the only anthology film directed by the great Mario Bava and Karloff’s sole excursion into Italian horror. Karloff plays a key role in the longest and most elaborate of the three stories, “The Wurdulak,” and also serves as the onscreen host tying all three tales together. What’s fascinating and well covered by now is the fact that Karloff actually shot his narrator duties twice, with the Italian and American prints featuring entirely different presentations. The Italian version also adds a lighthearted coda with Karloff astride a wooden horse used for one of his earlier scenes, pulling back to show the film crew in a delightful, barrier-shattering flourish. [...MORE]

Revisiting The Terror (1963) on Blu-ray

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TCM’s spotlight on American International Pictures is over but I recently got my paws on a copy of The Film Detective’s new Blue-ray of The Terror, a film that was originally released by AIP in 1963. I was so bowled over by the quality of the disc that it made me reconsider my long held view of this low-budget Gothic horror film initiated by Roger Corman.

Like any horror film fan worth their salt and of a certain age, I’d seen badly beat-up and butchered prints of The Terror on TV and video a number of times. The film suffered the unfortunate fate of falling into public domain decades ago so it became a staple of late night television and was repeatedly released as part of cheap video and DVD compilations typically sold in bargain bins. What I hadn’t realized is how much the poor presentation of the film had colored my opinion of it.

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Robert Fuest & His Abominable Creations

rfvpVincent Price & Robert Fuest on the set of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

TCM’s month-long celebration of American International Pictures comes to an end tonight with some of the company’s best productions from the seventies including Martin Scorsese’s Boxcar Bertha (1972), Brian De Palma‘s Sisters (1973), Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama (1970) featuring one of Robert De Niro’s early screen appearances, William Crain’s Blacula (1972) and the little-seen A Matter of Time (1976), which was the last film directed by Vincente Minnelli. I haven’t seen the Minnelli film myself so I’m looking forward to finally catching up with it but today I thought I’d focus my attention on filmmaker Robert Fuest. Fuest directed the first AIP film airing in tonight’s impressive line-up, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) featuring Vincent Price in one of his most memorable roles.

The late Robert Fuest, who died in 2012 at age 84, has become one of my favorite filmmakers over the years thanks to his artistic direction and ability to mix fear and humor into a creative combustible cocktail that yielded such gems as The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) as well as the brilliant, stylish and utterly bonkers Michael Moorcock adaptation, The Final Programme (1973). Other films in his impressive oeuvre include Just Like a Woman (1967), And Soon the Darkness (1970), Wuthering Heights (1970) and The Devil’s Rain (1975).

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Mistress of Menace: Barbara Steele in The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

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There was a depth to her. On the surface she was a beautiful brunette woman. Beneath that–and you could almost get poetic here looking into her eyes–you could see layer, upon layer, upon layer. I could probably best, and inadequately, describe it as a kind of exotic mystery.” – Roger Corman on Barbara Steele

There are many reasons why you should turn into TCM tonight (8 PM EST/5 PM PST) to catch The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) hosted by Roger Corman. First and foremost, it was the second film in Corman’s laudable Edgar Allan ‘Poe Cycle’ and it remains one of the director’s most frightening achievements generating a palpable sense of dread within its opening minutes with help from Les Baxter’s bone-chilling score. It is also one of American International Picture’s best looking productions displaying some sumptuous 16th century inspired set design by Daniel Haller who, with a minuscule budget, transforms a Hollywood set into a medieval castle draped in blood red and cryptic black velvet accompanied by glimmers of antique gold. Richard Matheson’s script is surprisingly innovative adapting Poe’s suspenseful tale told by a single nameless protagonist into a full-blown gothic drama with multiple characters and elements of mystery, romance and supernatural horror. In addition, Vincent Price delivers one of his greatest performances here as the ill-fated Don Nicholas Medina, a deeply troubled character who alternates between profound melancholy and all-consuming madness. Last but certainly not least, it has the distinction of being the first American horror film featuring the beguiling Mistress of Menace, Barbara Steele.

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Barrymore Best: The Spiral Staircase (1946)

ss17Ethel Barrymore & Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase (1946)

This month Turner Classic Movies is spotlighting “The Best of the Barrymores.” The Barrymore family regularly appears on TCM but every Monday evening throughout April viewers can tune in and catch a selection of films featuring one or more of the Barrymore siblings in some of their best roles. Next Monday (April 18) the TCM spotlight will shine on Ethel Barrymore and one of the films scheduled to air is The Spiral Staircase (1946) at 10 PM EST/7 PM PST.

The Spiral Staircase is a longtime favorite of mine and the film has been hailed as a prototype for many of the best giallo; the Italian genre films that I touched on just last week in a piece titled Death Walk Twice: A Giallo Double Feature. With thoughts of murder and black-gloved killers still running through my mind, it seemed like a good time to revisit this classic thriller that features an Academy Award nominated performance by Ethel Barrymore as the bedridden matriarch of a wealthy family that is concealing some unsavory secrets.

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The First Time I Ever…

Tonight TCM airs one of the all time classics by anyone’s yardstick, The Wizard of Oz.  It’s a movie that occupied a great deal of my childhood imagination as its annual showing was a highlight of each passing year, long before the days of cable and VCRs and DVDs when making sure you were home in front of the tv on Good Friday was your only chance to take in the magic of Oz.  And a magical movie it was, and is to this day.  It’s also a movie that can easily lead off a list I’ve wanted to do for some time: The First Time I Ever…  What does that mean? Let’s start off with The Wizard of Oz and it should be clear.

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Ghoulardi: Cleveland’s Monster of Ceremonies

blog openerThis semester, I covered a topic in my horror-science fiction course that I never addressed before—monster culture. Monster culture was that phenomenon that began in the 1950s in which young fans of horror and sci fi embraced all things monster—from b-movies to models to fanzines like Famous Monsters of Filmland. It kept horror alive and well during the late 1950s and early 1960s when the Hollywood industry had left the genre to indie directors, who made films for drive-in and second run markets. Monster culture created an affection and tolerance among fans for schlocky examples of horror and sci fi; introduced viewers to older eras of horror; and made fans accepting of old black & white movies, extending stardom for legends such as Boris Karloff and Bela Legosi.

Television was key to monster culture from the 1950s till the advent of the home-viewing industry in the 1980s. For many of us who grew up during that time frame, watching horror films, creature features, and sci-fi was like a weekend ritual to be shared with friends. The high priests (and priestesses) of those rituals were the horror hosts—television personalities who hosted the weekly horror series on local stations. Only recently have critics and scholars begun to give horror hosts their due for cultivating monster culture and creating a fan base that embraced films from previous eras. (See The Monster Show by David Skal.) Fostering a love for classic movies is not easy—something film studies instructors know all too well.

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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
COMMENTS: 6
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Wine & Wolves: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

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I can’t let Halloween pass without talking about a Hammer film. They go hand-to-hand in my home and one of my favorites is Terence Fisher’s The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). The film features some sumptuous color photography, incredibly sophisticated make-up effects for its time and a powerful central performance from Oliver Reed. It also happens to contain many references to wine.

The Curse of the Werewolf begins with a hungry beggar (Richard Wordsworth) who arrives in a small 18th Century Spanish town while church bells ring out in celebration of a wedding. He immediately visits a local bar where the townspeople have gathered and are drinking wine in abundance from crude cups. When the beggar asks them to share their wine and food, he’s refused and told to visit the wedding party taking place at the home of a powerful nobleman appropriately named Marques Siniestro (Anthony Dawson). The local town’s people know just how sinister the nobleman truly is and suspect the beggar will suffer his wrath but they selfishly send him there anyway. Their heartlessness and lack of compassion for the poor man will eventually have a devastating effect on the whole community. Although this is a crimson colored film in more ways than one, The Curse of the Werewolf smartly stresses that the true horrors of the world are man-made even when they have supernatural connotations.

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