Cabin Fever

Jerry Aronson, one of my weekly poker game buddies, gave me a last-minute invitation to a sneak-preview. Jerry’s a retired film instructor, and the movie in question was by one of his former students who had graduated back in 1998. That student was Drew Goddard, who later found success as a writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, and Lost (to mention only his TV work, he also scripted Cloverfield, as well as its pending sequel, and Robopocalypse – which Spielberg will release next year). Drew is currently scheduled to set the world on fire this Friday the 13th with The Cabin in the Woods, a directorial debut he co-wrote and co-produced with Joss Whedon. [...MORE]

Rare Exports

“I didn’t know you could mix Santa Claus and horror movies,” my son Max told me this morning (y’all met him last week when he guest blogged on my behalf). He was referring specifically to his and my current obsession, a movie that has been inaugurated as a holiday viewing tradition in our home: Jalmari Helander’s looney cult flick Rare Exports.

Never heard of it? Well — as Max said, it is a (mildly gory) horror movie about Santa Claus.

Scary Santa

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Reading Into Robert Cornthwaite

My favorite mad scientist may just be Dr. Arthur Carrington, the hopelessly naive (but very dressy) ascot-, turtleneck-, and blazer-wearing trailblazer in The Thing From Another World (1951). Every time I see this movie set in a military and scientific observation station in the frozen North, I always wonder where this man’s parka could be.  Did he forget to pack it in a moment of absent-mindedness while in the lower 48?  As played by character actor Robert Cornthwaite (seen above, with his head in a script),  he is the embodiment of polished intellectual curiosity without a shred of common sense.

As far as I’m concerned, you can keep the other actors in this movie, (even George Fenneman, shortly before he became Groucho Marx’s game show flunky and that big galoot lumbering around in disguise long before Gunsmoke premiered on television)–the star of this film is the rather epicene Doc Carrington, played to a fare-thee-well by the unsung Cornthwaite, a small man with a receding hairline, a sneaky wit, and a cold mien that suits this part perfectly. The authoritative actor, seething with a bookish hauteur, appears to have created a colorful backstory for his character–He is the erudite man of science, disheartened (and maybe bored out of his skull), who is becoming increasingly unable to cope with the psychological demands of his daily grind after months penned up inside the bleak, fetid atmosphere of  this frostbitten outpost where he languishes in the company of a passel of Air Force yahoos, a few doddering biologists, and some malleable underlings. The bottled-up, almost terminally frustrated Carrington appears to be a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, as eventually becomes clear throughout the nimbly staged 87 minute movie. He’s also quite a hoot.

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The Importance of Being Godzilla (Part 3)

For those of you who missed last week’s post, a quick recap:  I recorded audio commentaries to both the Japanese and American cuts of Ishiro Honda’s GODZILLA for Criterion, but some of the material was cut from the tracks as the discs were sent to the factory.  I am using this forum as a venue by which to publish some of the deleted material.

The most controversial sections addressed the European distribution of the original Godzilla.  Last week we saw what happened in Germany–this week we explore the nuttiness of COZZILLA!

Cozzilla! [...MORE]

The Importance of Being Godzilla (Part 1)

The cat is out of the bag–I had been under orders not to tell anyone until now that I provided the Vin Scully style play-by-play for both versions of Godzilla (1954/1956) on Criterion’s new Blu-Ray edition. I guess some Godzilla fans sensed something in the air, the way animals perceive a coming tornado, because I’ve gotten quite a few email inquiries about whether I was doing a commentary for the Godzilla vs Megalon Blu-Ray. Close, but not quite, fellas.

Over at the Criterion Forums, speculation about the Godzilla Blu-Ray led to this exchange:

Posted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 7:43 pm 

What value does this have besides kitsch? This is an honest question; I’m not trying to troll anyone who likes this. I’ve never seen anything Godzilla-related, and I’m curious as to what the appeal is.

Posted: Mon Aug 22, 2011 7:53 pm 

You have to look at the first Godzilla movie quite differently. It was a lot more serious in tone, a reaction to the bombings in WWII, the destruction of Japan, the hydrogen bomb testing in the Pacific that killed some fishermen (a newsreel on the BFI disc shows it).

Fair enough, but it does rankle me a tad how respect for the austere horror parable of Honda’s original Godzilla tends to come at the expense of the later, sillier films. The 1954 ‘Zilla is a masterpiece, a work of apocalyptic art. But the crazy sequels are fun, too, and I hate to see them thrown under the bus.

Godzilla vs. Megalon [...MORE]

Frankenstein vs. God

We begin with a warning:

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This vaguely threatening yet ironically tongue-in-cheek admonition would influence generations of horror filmmakers to come. And I don’t just refer to all the times that savvy exploitationists would post nurses in the lobby to relieve the fainthearted, or take out insurance policies in cases audience members died of fright. Those are stories for another day. What matters to me today is that bit where Edward Van Sloan worries that Frankenstein did what he did “without reckoning on God.”

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October is coming! October is coming!

Every October 1st I turn into a big weirdo. Well… more so.  [...MORE]

What do H.G. Wells and Wallace and Gromit have in common?

Both are English, but the title is a trick question. To be more accurate, it would read: “What should H.G. Wells and Wallace and Gromit have had in common?” Around the mid-1990′s a very interesting project almost saw the light of day: a faithful film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds that was to fuse the talents of Aardman Animations and director Alex Cox. “It would have been the biggest project I’d ever done,” says the director. Sadly, the whole enterprise was torpedoed by one musician. I recently sat down with the director for more details to this story.  [...MORE]

I don’t have a clever title for this one, it’s about King Kong

The late 1970s was a period in film comparable to the present day: Hollywood developed a fixation on geek culture, turning out comic book movies and remakes of older sci-fi productions, while Lucas and Spielberg created new versions of well-worn pulp forms. Part of the leading edge of this trend was Dino DeLaurentiis’ 1976 King Kong.

Time Magazine cover [...MORE]

It Creeps and Leaps and Glides and Slides

Today is the last day of TCM’s month-long celebration of Drive-In Double Features and if you’re anything like me, you’re going to miss spending your Thursday evenings with radioactive monsters, space aliens, sea creatures, giant women and mutant men. When viewers tune in tonight they’ll be able to enjoy some of my favorite ’50s science fiction flicks including THE BLOB (1956), THE H-MAN (1958) and X THE UNKNOWN (1955), which all explore our primal fear of the primordial ooze.

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