Father of Fear

Black Sabbath

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]

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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Conversations with Ray Harryhausen (1998)

It Came From Beneath the Sea

One of my earliest and fondest movie memories has me watching a black-and-white double-bill creature-feature. I was about six years of age, armed with a melting bowl of ice-cream as I watched Ray Harryhausen’s giant sea monster attack San Francisco from the comfort and safety of an elaborate pillow-fort. It Came From Beneath the Sea (Robert Gordon, 1955) was followed by Attack of the Crab Monsters (Roger Corman, 1957). Did I notice that Harryhausen’s “octopus” only had six tentacles instead of eight, so as to save money on the budget? Or the wheels and legs under Corman’s giant crabs? No. In both cases I was equally thrilled and terrified by these nightmarish visions of giant and deadly sea creatures attacking puny humans. Also thrilling to me is the idea that 25 years later that kid would “grow up” (something I still have to put in quotes even now) and fly Ray Harryhausen out to Boulder as a special guest to introduce a beautiful, mint-condition 35mm print of It Came From Beneath the Sea, alongside separate presentations of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Nathan Juran, 1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963). TCM will be screening those titles, and many others bearing Harryhausen’s fingerprints, this Tuesday morning on through the afternoon. [...MORE]

king-kong-vs-godzilla
November 28, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

Giving Thanks for King Kong vs. Godzilla (You’re Welcome)

For me, Thanksgiving and Godzilla go hand in hand as much as turkey and stuffing do. Back when I was a small child, Superstation WTBS consistently aired Godzilla movies—sometimes in double features or marathons—on Thanksgiving Day. I have very vivid memories of seeing King Kong vs. Godzilla for the first time on Thanksgiving, at my grandparents’ house in Charlotte.

I’ve heard that there is a reboot/remake/revisit of King Kong vs. Godzilla in the works, from the team behind Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla. I’m not quite sure what to make of that—cautious optimism, I suppose? As I’ve written about before, as good as Edwards’ version was, it was not silly. And the thing that made the 1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla such a groundbreaking blockbuster iconic hit was its steadfast refusal to take itself, or anything else, seriously. And for all y’all who like your Godzilla dark and brooding and grim, just bear in mind that the somber version of Godzilla isn’t what launched the franchise. We have Godzilla movies today for one reason only: because there was King Kong vs. Godzilla, and it was bonkers.

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KEYWORDS: Eiji Tsuburaya, Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Rankin-Bass, Tomoyuki Tanaka
COMMENTS: 11
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September 5, 2015
David Kalat
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The Misunderstood Legacy of Dr. Caligari

There are times when the received wisdom on a movie separates from the movie itself and starts to run down a track of its own. Consider “Play it again, Sam,” the Thing Everybody Knows about Casablanca even though that line is never spoken in the film. Thinking that’s a line in Casablanca is a trivial error with no real consequences—the sentiment is recognizable from the film, such that it can be true-ish if not strictly accurate.

But then there’s the strange case of Dr. Caligari. Somewhere along the line, the Thing Everybody Knows about this landmark classic of horror cinema took root in our culture like intellectual kudzu—quickly overtaking all available territory and choking to death all the alternative points of view. Thankfully, this remarkable film is making a mini-comeback thanks to some intrepid restorationists, affording an opportunity to rethink its legacy.  (Plus it’s on TCM this Sunday, so now’s the time to read up and do our homework on it, right?)

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KEYWORDS: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
COMMENTS: 19
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Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride

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FRANKENSTEIN (1931) airs tonight on TCM at 9:30PM EST/6:30PM PST

The name Mae Clarke might not immediately ring any bells but the fair-haired, spirited and sad-eyed beauty was a promising leading lady in pre-code Hollywood before personal disappointments, mental health issues and a disfiguring car accident took their toll. When Clarke died in 1992 at age 81 most classic film fans remembered her as the woman who gets a grapefruit smashed in her face by James Cagney during THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) or they might have recalled her daring leap from a window to protect the man she loves in THE FRONT PAGE (1931). Thankfully, many of Clarke’s earlier films have been restored and made available since then. We’re now able to get a much broader understanding of why a 1932 issue of Picture Play magazine prophesied a “brilliant career for her” and Modern Screen claimed, “Mae Clark deserves a place among the big names of filmdom and will get there before long–watch her!”

Today TCM is featuring Mae Clarke in their Summer Under the Stars programming and you can catch her in a number of films including James Whale’s WATERLOO BRIDGE (1930), where she plays the doomed Myra. Many consider it her best film and Clarke often referred to it as her favorite role but today I’d like to focus on her often-overlooked performance in Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931), where she plays the sympathetic fiancé of Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive).

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RODAN
April 25, 2015
David Kalat
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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rodan!

When I was a kid, Ted Turner’s Superstation WTBS ran this thing practically every week. It became as comforting as an old blanket, as familiar as my own skin.

Eventually, as an adult, I revisited the world of Japanese giant monster movies. I wrote a couple of books, gave some lectures, recorded some audio commentaries, blah blah blah. And along the way I came to recognize this film about a doomed dinosaur is basically a doomed dinosaur itself.

In so many ways it prefigured the future: Rodan boldly leaps into full color, introduces one of Toho Studio’s most enduringly popular monsters and introduces one of the studio’s most enduringly prolific movie stars (Kenji Sahara). But for all it innovates, it’s the last gasp of what was then a dying way of making giant monster flicks. This approach to storytelling was almost instantly rendered obsolete.

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KEYWORDS: Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, shinichi sekizawa, Takeshi Kimura
COMMENTS: 4
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October 18, 2014
David Kalat
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I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

So, in case you haven’t heard, there’s this movie called Phase IV. It’s a 1970s apocalyptic sci-fi thriller about killer super-intelligent ants, and it was directed by Saul Bass of all people. And instead of special effects, the killer ants are played by real ants, filmed in close-up by National Geographic photographer Ken Middleham.

Either that is enough to make you drop everything and go see it (or go see it again) immediately, or you’re one of those people whose tastes make no sense to me.

But the thing is, as deliriously entertaining as Phase IV is, it’s a singular creation that could only have existed when it did, and couldn’t be (re)made today. And therein lies this week’s story…

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KEYWORDS: Phase IV, Saul Bass
COMMENTS: 6
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I’m not finished with you, MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD… not by a long shot!

monsterchallengedI’ve been grooving to the soundtrack to Arnold Laven’s THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957) for about 24 hours now (there was some sleep jumbled up in there, but not a whole lot), which was released by Monstrous Movie Music back in 2011. (It should come as no surprise at this juncture that it takes me a while to get to around to new things.) Heinz Roemheld’s full-bodied cues (orchestrated by Herschel Burke Gilbert) for this mollusk-on-the-loose classic are reliably immortal, full of blood and thunder (and slime), and making pioneering use of backmasking ten years before The Beatles got all the girls for doing the same thing. There’s lots of choice misterioso in the mix and moody string work, some of which might remind the older Monsterkids among us of Roemheld’s score for THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956). Anyway, Monstrous Movie Music has done an incredible job of assembling all of Romheld’s cues and providing context for each of them, deconstructing the composition and execution to give the curious a fuller appreciation of the work that went into this project, which I first saw as an impressionable lad of, oh, 10 or 11 or 12, when it was shown at my local drive-in on a triple bill with THE VAMPIRE (1957) and THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1957)– all projected in green, so that they could be sold to us rubes as color movies. I love the track titles that disc producers David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne have provided for our enjoyment, such as “Death by Fright,” and “Mollusk Mood Music” and “Slime.” But one track in particular caught my eye: “Scarf Found.” And it got me to thinking. (Cue flashback music.) [...MORE]

It’s the End of the World and I Feel Fine

If you are reading this, then the world didn’t end. I never put any stock in that whole Mayan calendar silliness–if I had, I wouldn’t have spent any time writing this. And so it is with absolute confidence in the continuation of the world that I am writing this, marking the non-pocalypse by paying tribute to some of my favorite end-of-the-world movies.

Let’s start by noting that in most cases, what we really mean by end of the world movies are not movies about the literal destruction of the planet. Every once in a while you get a Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where the world is actually blown to smithereens, but those are the exceptions. The real point is to explore the end of the world as we know it, that is, the end of civilization.

In my mind, you can divide these movies into three sub-categories, and I’ll offer an example of each.

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