Day of the Doberman

dobermangang_1 Do you love dogs? Of course you do, and so do most moviegoers if Hollywood history is any indication. However, if you had to name the biggest decade for man’s best friend, which one would it be? The heyday of Rin-Tin-Tin in the ‘20s? The arrival of Lassie in 1943 or her TV reign in the ‘50s? Maybe, but for my money the winner hands down has to be the 1970s – and there’s one breed that personified the Me Decade more than any other. Just as the United States was plunging into the chaos of Watergate, the whole country seemed to go canine crazy in 1972 when the most famous comic strip pooch got a theatrical vehicle with Snoopy Come Home and the Newberry-winning novel Sounder became a multiple Oscar-nominated prestige release. [...MORE]

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]

Give Us Absolution

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The passing of screenwriter and playwright Peter Shaffer this summer (June 6, to be precise) is another reminder of how most successful writers tend to be remembered for one or two signature works. In this case, all of his obituaries focused on two titles, both of which he translated from stage to screen himself: Equus, filmed in 1977 by Sidney Lumet with Richard Burton and Peter Firth, and Amadeus, turned into an Oscar-winning 1984 film directed by Milos Forman with F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce.

Less remarked upon but not entirely ignored was the fact that Peter was preceded into this world by five minutes in 1926 by a twin brother, Anthony Shaffer,  who also turned a successful, Edgar Award-winning 1970 play into a hit film: Sleuth (1972), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.  (Harold Pinter later overhauled it considerably for a 2007 version directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Caine switching roles opposite Jude Law.) [...MORE]

Tippett Studio

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A few weeks ago I got a chance to visit Tippett Studio and was given a tour by Phil Tippett himself. He was seven-years-old when he saw Ray Harryhausen’s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and knew what he wanted to do with his life. Since then he has worked on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, received his first Academy Award nomination for his dragon in Dragonslayer, was awarded his first Oscar in 1984 for his work on Return of the Jedi, worked with Paul Verhoeven on both RoboCop (the terrifying ED-209) and Starship Troopers (the even more terrifying alien arachnids), would win another Oscar for his visual effects on Jurassic Park, and the list goes on… [...MORE]

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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April 30, 2016
David Kalat
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The Artist Formerly Known as Walter Paisley

As regular readers here know, I’ve got a thing for documentaries that ruminate on the meaning of “art” and dig into the gray areas of artistic expression.  Well, I also like fictional satires on the art world, too—and one of the cleverest, Roger Corman’s gloriously bonkers A Bucket of Blood (1959) is on TCM on Thursday the 5th (set your DVRs).

A Bucket of Blood stars Dick Miller as “Walter Paisley,” lowly busboy in a coffee bar/art gallery. The poor guy is a little slow, and as impressionable as a child. Too bad his biggest influences are self-absorbed young adults preening with affectation: they wear bathrobes and creative facial hair, blather on about organic farming and obscure foodstuffs, constantly projecting an air of bored indifference. They rally around a beatnik poet whose manifesto declares that Art is more important than anything, even the lives of other human beings. And Walter wants nothing more than to be one of them.

The joke is that he wins their accolades and respect only by taking that callous screed literally – he kills people and turns their corpses into Art. That part is familiar – on loan from House of Wax (1953), the film that made Vincent Price a household name just a few years earlier. A Bucket of Blood distinguishes itself not by plot points but by context – let Vincent Price mummify his victims with nary a tongue in cheek, but Dick Miller’s body of work is gloriously absurd.

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KEYWORDS: A Bucket of Blood, Dick Miller, Roger Corman
COMMENTS: 10
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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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A Quiet Place in the Country

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A Quiet Place in the Country was nominated for a Golden Berlin Bear at the 1969 Berlin International Film Festival. The film was spearheaded by Italian director Elio Petri, stars Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave, and includes the work of Ennio Morricone. Billed as a sadistic and erotic horror film, it reminds me of Piero Schivazappa’s The Frightened Woman (aka: The Laughing Woman) which was released in 1969, a fitful year for Italian psychosexual thrillers. I’ll admit to preferring the latter to the former, but A Quiet Place in the Country is not without various selling points. [...MORE]

Six Irish Tales of Terror & Imagination

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Many of my favorite horror and fantasy books are short story collections or compact novelettes. Some excellent examples of this include Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly, which contains his chilling vampire tale Carmilla among other fright-filled stories, or Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray that runs a mere 176 pages (give or take a few depending on what version you may own). I’m also extremely fond of horror film anthologies made up of brief tales of terror that provide a variety of shocks in a short amount of time. It’s worth pointing out that before 1980 horror films generally clocked in under the two-hour mark but that isn’t the case anymore. Today I frequently find that many modern horror films tend to run too long and are bogged down by unnecessary filler. They often lose momentum and fail to maintain suspense so in turn, they end up relying on cheap jump scares to excite audiences and keep them in their seats. In my quest for more fulfilling fright films I’ve come across some exceptional shorts that manage to engross, amuse and startle viewers without wearing out their welcome and they rarely rely on jump scares to entertain.

To celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day I thought I would share a collection of outstanding short Irish horror and dark fantasy films that readers can view online free of charge. The six films I’ve selected showcase the talents of some up-and-coming Irish filmmakers who frequently incorporate Gaellic folklore and legends into their work. These films also demonstrate how potent a succinct shock to the system can be when it is thoughtfully executed by creative writers and directors. In fact, some of these short films are so accomplished and effective that you might find yourself wishing that they were full-length features.

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