Hitchcock vs. Dracula

By sheer coincidence, in one of those warpings of reality that make people believe in Fate or powers greater than themselves, I happened to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt for the very first time just a few days after seeing The Return of Dracula.  And to quote Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference in the world.” 

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Snapshots of the Fall: Part II

In my last post I provided a look behind the curtain for the first five weeks of film programming for my fall film calendar. This week we look at the remaining 24 titles that round out the schedule. It features everything from classics such as Vertigo to the state premiere of the latest uncompromising and visually arresting film by Bruno Dumont, Outside Satan (a scene of which is pictured above). [...MORE]

HORROR AND THE HORROR FILM, by Bruce Kawin

Bruce Kawin is a widely published scholar, film historian, and poet. As Professor of English and Film at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he has influenced many careers. Some 25 years ago, Dayton Taylor, the producer of Habit (1995) and Wendigo (2001), got the idea for his three-dimensional imaging Timetrack® camera system while learning about Eadweard Muybridge in Kawin’s class. (In 1877 Muybridge captured continuous motion of a horse by setting up twenty-four cameras in a row along a racing track.) More recently, both Derek Cianfrance, director of Blue Valentine (2010) and Drew Goddard, director of Cabin in the Woods (2011), have cited him as an influence. In the interest of full-disclosure, I should mention that I took my fair share of classes from Kawin and later did a stint as his T.A. and projectionist, and he played a pivotal role in my path toward cinema literacy. Kawin had a reputation among the students as being a demanding teacher. Kawin was not afraid to flunk people who did not show up or do the assigned work, thus he has had his fair share of detractors. Kawin’s encyclopedic knowledge and keen attention to detail could be daunting to students used to fudging their answers. In his class, if you spelled Gregg Toland’s name with only one “g,” or only knew him as the cinematographer of Citizen Kane (1941) without being able to link him to Mad Love (1935), your grade would suffer. For Kawin, history and connections are both important. It is also one of many reasons why serious lovers of the horror genre have reason to rejoice, because here now is a book that fuses Kawin’s keen intellect and attention to detail with his passion for monster movies. [...MORE]

Ring around J-Horror

J-Horror don’t get no respect.  The long-haired ghosts have become a cliché to be ridiculed, and the tragedy of it is that the audiences perhaps best attuned to appreciate what J-Horror had to offer in its heyday are those least inclined to give it a chance.  I know—I speak from experience.  My love affair with J-Horror began, as all the best movie love affairs do, with opposition.

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Tales from the trenches: Me vs. the Asphyx

I’m holding in my hands an absolutely marvelous Blu-Ray edition of the terrific British sci-fi chiller The Asphyx, and I can say unequivocally that you need to own this.  Among other things it represents one of the residual gifts to movie lovers from the late Don Krim, who set this Blu-Ray in motion before his untimely passing, and if he thought so highly of you to make this movie available in such a delicious form, then you should repay the compliment.  But the main reason I’m talking about it this week is because I had nothing whatsoever to do with this Blu-Ray, which gets right everything I screwed up when I produced the 1997 DVD version of The Asphyx.  This week’s post is a cautionary tale about what I did wrong, and why.

(I have no conflict of interest here—I no longer hold a stake in The Asphyx in any way.  Even if you were to foolishly abstain from Kino’s exemplary release and instead seek out one of the overpriced out of print copies of my DVD on eBay, I wouldn’t get any of that money.  My connection to this movie was severed long ago.)

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Quatermass and the X

Quatermass creator and screenwriter Nigel Kneale (1922 – 2006) has his roots in the Isle of Man, a small patch of over 200 square miles in size that is located between Great Britain and Ireland. Megalithic monuments that heralded a new development in human technology began to appear on the Isle of Man during the Neolithic Age. At present, the island is the center for various competing private space travel companies that are vying for a thirty million dollar Google Lunar X Prize, organized by the X Prize Foundation. “X” marks the spot, and in this case it’s where reality and space travel intersect, bringing us back to Nigel Kneale and The Quatermass Xperiment (U.S. title: The Creeping Unknown), which was the first feature film to introduce his beloved alien-battling character of Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group. [...MORE]

Viy for Victory

I’ve been in a state of sleep-deprivation-induced delirium for a couple of weeks now, an unending surrealist haze, and so I decided to pay a visit to one of the nutty dream-like movies that most closely approximates this state of mind–the wonderfully structured horror-comedy Viy!

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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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