The Devil Made Me Do It: La main du diable (1943)

CARNIVAL OF SINNERS (1947)

Cinephiles and film aficionados come in all stripes. Some of us are drawn to the star quality of performers while others may obsess over scriptwriting, set designs or a director’s unique skill set. We’re often fond of particular genres and may gravitate to specific eras that we find especially rewarding. One of the many things that compel me is the thrill of discovery and the sheer delight I get from encountering an extraordinary older film that is new to me. This can be challenging but FilmStruck’s impressive library is introducing me to some marvelous movies that have managed to elude me in the past. My latest FilmStruck find is La main du diable (1943), also known as Carnival of Sinners or The Devil’s Hand, a fascinating and incredibly stylish French horror film involving an ambitious artist who makes an ill-fated deal with the devil.

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Scanners: Cronenberg, Existence, and Body Horror

SCANNERS (1981)

Scanners (1981) is a movie lacking in almost every area of cinematic showiness: Its locations, in and around Toronto and Montreal, are plain and dull. The film’s protagonist is practically emotionless. The editing is thoroughly unobtrusive, mostly cutting back and forth between speakers in conversation. The camera doesn’t waste any time or energy moving around the sets, preferring to sit idly, for the most part, and observe. The music matches the quietude of the movie and simply provides an aural backdrop to the action.

It is a masterpiece.

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THE CREEPING FLESH

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The Creeping Flesh (Freddie Francis, 1973) screens on TCM later this week and it’s worth highlighting for several reasons. Oddly enough, for me anyway, the skeleton found in New Guinea by a Victorian scientist – one that can regenerate flesh and which is posited as some ancient embodiment of evil – is low on the priority list. [...MORE]

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]

Paranormal Police Procedural: Nothing But the Night (1972)

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Christopher Lee and co-star Diana Dors sharing a laugh behind-the-scenes of
Nothing But the Night (1972)

To celebrate the season of scaring TCM has made Christopher Lee their Star of the Month. Viewers who tune in will be able to enjoy the tall, dark and handsome ‘Master of Menace’ in over 40 different films airing each Monday throughout October. Next week I encourage you to seek Lee out in the unsung British thriller Nothing But the Night (1972), which is sandwiched between one of five Fu Manchu films Lee appeared in (The Vengeance of Fu Manchu; 1968) and an interesting Amicus thriller (Scream and Scream Again; 1970). Nothing But the Night is one of the most unusual and provocative pictures in Lee’s extensive filmography and deserves a better reputation than it’s been saddled with for the last 44 years.

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The Opera Ghost Requests Your Presence

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It’s October, and you know what that means: spooky movies all month long! Every horror fan of a certain age has a favorite movie monster they first encountered as a child: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and of course, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. For me it was the Phantom of the Opera, whom I met in a number of cinematic guises before I was out of elementary school. The combination of grotesque horror, cliffhanger thrills, and doomed romance is like catnip to an impressionable young viewer.  Now it’s a fine chance to make the Phantom’s acquaintance right now, since TCM’s running the Lon Chaney silent version on October 7, and Herbert Lom’s turn in 1962 just made its Blu-ray bow in a sparkling new presentation as part of Universal’s Hammer horror set.

So here we go with a few thoughts about the many faces of the Phantom we’ve seen over the past century, and what’s remarkable about this seemingly immortal character is the fact that every significant movie adaptation has turned out to have something of value. [...MORE]

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]

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.