Mario Bava Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly

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To view A Bay of Blood click here.

A Bay of Blood (1971) shares something in common with Friday the 13th (1980), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Brazil (1985). The first commonality is obvious as A Bay of Blood was clearly a huge influence on Friday the 13th (director Sean S. Cunningham cribs Mario Bava’s murder-setups along with a forest-by-the-water landscape normally used to inspire a sense of idyll), leaving the second connection squarely on the shoulders of Carlo Rambaldi, a special effects master who could decapitate a person as easily for Bava as he could construct a small, amiable and home-sick alien with a penguin-like waddle for Spielberg. As to the third connection, I’d like to think that one would stump most. Here’s the answer: both A Bay of Blood and Brazil begin with the death of a fly. In Brazil it’s a big to-do, with a bureaucrat killing said fly such that it lands in a typewriter, causing a typo that sets in motion all the chaos to follow. In A Bay of Blood, around the two-minute-mark, a fly buzzes noisily in the night sky and then, seconds later, drops into the water with a soft “plop” and dies with barely a ripple. It will be the first death of many.

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Boris Karloff is The Body Snatcher (1945)

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To view The Body Snatcher click here.

Director Robert Wise is widely regarded as a journeyman filmmaker with no defining traits or distinct talents. In The American Cinema: Directors And Directions 1929-1968 critic Andrew Sarris famously labeled Wise’s output as “strained seriousness” asserting that the director’s “stylistic signature . . . is indistinct to the point of invisibility.” David Thompson parroted these claims in his New Biographical Dictionary of Film when he stated that Wise’s “better credits are only the haphazard products of artistic aimlessness given rare guidance” and complained that his filmography was merely a “restless, dispiriting search among subject areas.” While it’s true that Wise explored a variety of genres including horror, science fiction, noir, westerns, musicals and war dramas, his best films frequently share a gloomy nihilistic worldview and he possessed the extraordinary ability to elicit career-defining performances from many of the actors he worked with.

A few of the remarkable roles Wise nurtured and defined include Lawrence Tierney’s ruthless Sam Wilde in Born to Kill (1947), Robert Ryan’s down-and-out boxer in The Set-Up (1949), Michael Rennie’s peace-pursuing alien in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Susan Hayward’s doomed career criminal in I Want to Live! (1958), Rita Moreno’s spirited and vengeful Anita in West Side Story (1961), Julie Harris’s meek and melancholy Eleanor “Nell” Lance in The Haunting (1963) and Steve McQueen’s solitary sailor in The Sand Pebbles (1966). But my favorite acting feat in all of Wise’s directing oeuvre can be found in The Body Snatcher (1945). Currently streaming on FilmStruck, this classic Val Lewton production directed by Wise, stars Boris Karloff in what is arguably his most accomplished performance playing John Gray, a merciless grave robber with soul-piercing eyes and a bone-chilling grin.

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Women at War: Onibaba (1964)

Onibaba (1964)  Directed by Kaneto ShindÙ

To view Onibaba click here.

In feudal Japan, war is being waged between Imperial forces loyal to the reigning emperor and those who support the shogun. Samurai warriors wearing expensive armor and carrying powerful weapons fight side by side with peasant farmers conscripted into military service. Amid this bloody chaos women, children and the elderly suffer unimaginable horrors including rape, disease and widespread famine.

This is the grim backdrop of Kaneto Shindô’s Onibaba (1964), a bleak, sensual and bone-chilling horror film currently available on the Criterion Channel at FilmStruck. Some critics disagree over the classification of Onibaba but there is no escaping the film’s callous brutality amid its otherworldly beauty. Shindô’s nightmare-inducing vision, depicting the ravages of war on an isolated rural community, is rooted in Buddhist tales and Japanese folklore where terrifying demons haunt the living and possess the dead.

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Dueling Delons: Spirits of the Dead (1968)

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To view Spirits of the Deadclick here.

FilmStruck is currently streaming 11 films featuring Alain Delon as part of their “Icons: Alain Delon” theme and for the next 4 weeks I’ll be spotlighting a few of my favorite titles in this collection. To learn more about the French actor please see a previous post I wrote in 2010 to celebrate Delon’s 75th birthday titled, “The Ice-Cold Angel turns 75.” You might also enjoy perusing my modest collection of Delon memorabilia on display in Alain Delon: A Personal Passion

In the 1960s anthology (also known as omnibus or portmanteau) films became extremely popular and were attractive to producers who wanted to appeal to a broad range of viewers. The segmented format also encouraged audiences to make multiple trips to the concession stand, which pleased theater owners. Sex comedies were particularly trendy but the most successful anthologies appealed to horror fans.

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Animal Passions: Cat People (1942)

CAT PEOPLE (1942)

To view Cat People click here.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Cat People (1942) and subscribers can currently catch this spine-chilling classic on the Criterion Channel of FilmStruck through June 30, 2017. Cat People is one of the most influential horror movies made during the 1940s and due to its reputation among film historians, it has been studied and written about extensively with plenty of praise rightfully being heaped on its producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur. With FilmStruck and TCM currently celebrating Pride Month, I thought I’d turn the spotlight on DeWitt Bodeen, the gay American scriptwriter who was responsible for Cat People as well as its sequel, Curse of the Cat People (1944). Bodeen scripted many other classics including The Seventh Victim (1943), The Enchanted Cottage (1945), I Remember Mama (1948) and Billy Budd (1962) but he has often been overshadowed by his esteemed collaborators. To his credit, Bodeen’s work subtly addressed gay oppression at a time when homosexuality was still considered a crime in Hollywood and Cat People is arguably one of the best examples of this.

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Fear of Flowers: Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (1975)

UNDER THE BLOSSOMING CHERRY TREES (1975)

To view Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees click here.

“Without people, a forest of cherries in full bloom is not pretty, just something to be afraid of.”
- Ango Sakaguchi

Although typically described as a horror film, Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees (1975) defies simple categorization. This grisly adult fairy tale, currently streaming on FilmStruck, is a strange amalgam of traditional Japanese theater, folktales, ghost stories, social commentary, anti-war sentiment, dark humor and existential philosophy based on a story by Ango Sakaguchi titled In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom. Sakaguchi was a bold libertine and like many postwar Japanese writers and artists, he was also a proponent of the European decadent movement that found beauty in death and death in beauty. His wartime experiences deeply affected him and Sakaguchi’s thought-provoking essays and stories expressed his distaste for authority while embracing and eroticizing the destruction that had consumed his country. It’s not surprising that director Masahiro Shinoda (Pale Flower [1964], Samurai Spy [1965], Double Suicide [1967]) was motivated to adapt one of Sakaguchi’s subversive stories for the screen. Much like the author, Shinoda was also a devotee of the decadent movement and his best films incorporate similar ideas and themes. Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees may not be a conventional horror movie, but like the transgressive literature and art that inspired it, this violent tale of carnal desire and obsession contains plenty of horrifying moments.

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An Actor’s Revenge: Theatre of Blood (1973)

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To view Theatre of Blood click here.

“It was a marvelous role because I got to play eight Shakespearean parts in it, which is a feast for any actor. And I got to knock off eight critics. It was a story dear to the heart of any old actor. It was a dream to make and very real to me. I really understand the man who is doing his very best and yet is unrecognized.” – Vincent Price, discussing his starring role in Theatre of Blood (1973) from The Price of Fear: The Film Career of Vincent Price, In His Own Words by Joel Eisner

In 1970 Vincent Price became discouraged by the state of his career. He was acting regularly, writing cookbooks, appearing on stage and in a variety of television programs while generously supporting the arts as a member of the Royal Society of Arts, the Arts Council of UCLA and the Fine Arts Committee of the White House, but he agonized over his reputation. According to his daughter Victoria Price and author of Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography, her father worried that he wasn’t taken seriously by his fellow actors due to his career choices. The lack of respect from his peers encouraged the 60-year-old actor to embrace the monstrous roles he had made famous. From mad doctors to witch hunters and a plethora of Poe villains and antiheroes, Price had perfected the role of a sympathetic scoundrel.

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The Curse of Eternal Life: Cronos (1993)

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Guillermo del Toro was still in his twenties when he wrote and directed Cronos (1993), a horror movie, yes, but also a movie about time and age and what it means to live forever. One might think 29 too young an age to tackle such subjects but when it comes to horror, in particular, and moviemaking, in general, del Toro could easily be the subject of Count Dracula’s famous response to Van Helsing, “For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you are a wise man.” Since then, del Toro’s reputation has grown and his movies have become blockbusters at the box office but his first one out might still be my favorite.

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Devil’s Advocate: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968), which is streaming on The Criterion Channel at FilmStruck throughout the month of March, is rightly hailed as one of the best American horror films of the 1960s. It begins and ends with a mother’s lullaby but the unsettling story of Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse is anything but soothing. Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes star as a young married couple who move into an antiquated apartment building in New York with an unpleasant history. After reluctantly befriending some colorful and intrusive elderly neighbors (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), the Woodhouse’s lives are gradually transformed into a Faustian nightmare.

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Every Day Is Like Black Sunday (1960)

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Okay, it may technically be Wednesday, but there’s never a bad day of the week to pay a visit to Black Sunday (1960), the grandmother of Italian horror films. Sure, the country produced a few movies with horrifying or macabre elements, most notably Riccardo Freda’s I Vampiri (1957), but here’s where the magic really kicked into high gear and set the stage for a dazzling wave of phantasmagorical creations that would run well into the 1990s. [...MORE]

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