Rabbits_(Night_of_the_Lepus)
February 28, 2015
David Kalat
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Kill da wabbit

So—later this week, TCM will be running Night of the Lepus. It’s been on TCM before—but usually relegated to the late night TCM Underground slot. This Wednesday it’s on at 6pm Eastern where decent folk might stumble across it unawares. Which is awesome.

There are few films as mocked as Night of the Lepus. You only have to mention the premise (attack of the giant bunnies!) and the derision sets in on its own. It’s a wonder the whole genre of horror didn’t just curl up and die in embarrassment. Legions of film critics, genre fans, and innocent bystanders have set up their tents in the let’s-make-fun-of-the-dumb-bunnies camp—all sharing the assumption that the problem here was the choice of monster. How could killer rabbits ever be scary?

But if it is self-evidently obvious that rabbits can’t ever be a scary monster… then what would motivate a motion-picture institution run by responsible adults to invest in a thing like this? What were they thinking?

Come on—click the fold and find out. I know you want to. I promise the answer will surprise you.

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KEYWORDS: Night of the Lepus
COMMENTS: 10
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Silent_running_3
January 31, 2015
David Kalat
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Silent Running

Let’s stipulate that Silent Running was not Joan Baez’ best single. I’m not a Baez fan—that era of folksy music isn’t my thing, but somehow Silent Running and its B-side Rejoice in the Sun manage to be even more shrill and more silly than usual. Which isn’t all that odd, when you consider the songwriter was Peter Schickele. For those who haven’t gotten the joke yet, Schickele’s main career was under the stage name “P.D.Q. Bach,” the Weird Al Yankovic of classical music.

But wait… why did the producers hire a musical satirist to write the score to a serious SF drama? Well, it seems a few years back, Baez’ producers were ginning up a Joan Baez Christmas album and wanted her to sing one in the style of an 18th century carol, and based on P.D.Q. Bach’s expert musical parodies figured he was the guy to fake an old timey carol. The makers of Silent Running saw his name on the album credits and didn’t do any follow-up research before signing him on.

Which is exemplary of the kind of gloriously half-assed creative decision making that colored the 1971 eco-thriller in space Silent Running. By equal measures benefitting from serendipity and faltering over oddball missteps, this is a film that exemplifies what can happen when you don’t bother to follow anything through and just go with the flow. It is a completely singular sort of thing, and almost critic-proof because too much of it seems accidental.

If most filmmaking is the perfect crime, this one is manslaughter—an effect devoid of intent, caused only by reckless circumstance.

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KEYWORDS: Bruce Dern, Douglas Trumbull, Silent Running
COMMENTS: 16
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“Discover a savage world whose only law was lust!”

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Today TCM is airing a batch of great fantasy and adventure films produced by Hammer starring some of the studio’s most memorable leading ladies including the exotic brunette beauty Martine Beswick in PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1967), blond bombshell, Ursula Andress in SHE (1965) and the ravishing redhead, Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966). ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. is undoubtedly the most popular and widely seen film of the bunch thanks to a lucrative distribution deal with 20th Century Fox and financing from Seven Arts Productions that allowed Hammer to hire the up-and-coming Welch and procure the services of special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen. The bigger budget for ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. also allowed Hammer to shoot the film on the exotic Canary Islands where the rocky volcanic landscape and lush beachfronts made for a surprisingly believable primordial setting. The plot was based on the similarly titled 1940 Hal Roach film starring Victor Mature, Lon Chaney Jr. and Carole Landis that was nominated for a number of Academy Awards. The Hammer remake didn’t receive any award nominations but it did become the studio’s most commercially successful film and it made Raquel Welch an international star.

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Just Visiting: Starman and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

 

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Inside each hand, a miracle. Starman (1984) and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) both envision the ineffable, of presences that transcend our earthly domain. But both also celebrate the joys allowed to those bound in flesh, of Dutch apple pie and a frolic in the woods. Odd things happen when movies are viewed in quick succession. As I watched Starman and Kaguya, their stories seemed to be the same story. Both features follow an alien lifeform adapting to Earth. In Starman it’s a crash-landed alien anthropologist trekking back to his rendezvous point, while in Kaguya it’s a princess who was discovered inside of a bamboo shoot, and presumed to be a gift of the heavens. There are comic fish-out-of-water segments in adapting to their new environments, as well as doomed romances that spark and snuff out due to the whole long-distance relationship problem (it’s tough when you’re in different galaxies). But they are bittersweet films, ones that make the transcendent visible, only for it to disappear in the end.

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g2
December 6, 2014
David Kalat
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Ground Control to Major Tom

Hi everybody–I’m taking the week off to give my spot over to my daughter, Ann Stapel-Kalat.  She’s gonna talk about space movies.  OK, Ann–take it away!

Before I say anything about this topic, let’s get two things straight. 1. I really freaking love space. 2. I know absolutely nothing about space. You could throw anything at me about space and I’d believe it. For someone who claims movies about space to be her favorite, I really haven’t done my homework. However, I am a 17 year old girl looking into a career in music, so I don’t think a very high level of expertise is expected of me. My emotions and opinions on science fiction could be completely different from one of a space major (yes, I know space major isn’t what it’s called but bear with me). But let’s talk about it anyway. Oh, one more thing to set straight: I am absolutely terrified of space.

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KEYWORDS: 2001 A Space Odyssey, Gravity, interstellar, the black hole
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]

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July 12, 2014
David Kalat
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Dawn of the Rise of the Conquest of the Escape of the Planet of the Apes

In honor of this week’s debut of the latest outing in The Planet of the Apes franchise, I rewatched Tim Burton’s 2001 misbegotten reboot.  It was like picking at a scab that wouldn’t heal—I know I wasn’t doing myself any favors by watching it, but I couldn’t help it.  And along the way I ran across an essay on that Apes misfire I’d written at the time but never published.  I’ve dusted that piece off and thought I’d share it here.

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KEYWORDS: Planet of the Apes
COMMENTS: 11
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July 5, 2014
David Kalat
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All kids love Alien

It was 1979; I was nine years old.  It was a Sunday morning and my parents were leisurely enjoying the Sunday paper.  I could see there was a front page story, illustrated with a massive photograph of what appeared to be the wreckage of a crashed spaceship on the moon or something.  I don’t remember the headline exactly—something to effect that a person (Scott-something, or something-Scott) had discovered alien life.

My heart quickened a bit—somebody’s actually discovered evidence of other life in the universe?  But also complete bafflement—this was huge news, and why weren’t my folks showing any interest in it?  As far as I could tell, they weren’t even reading this story.

My dad explained that this wasn’t the front page of the newspaper, it was the front page of the Arts section of the newspaper.  Ridley Scott hadn’t found alien life, he’d made a movie about an alien.  This was just an article about the movie, to get people to go see it.

My bubble burst, but I didn’t feel any disappointment.  My excitement just shifted.  I went from being excited about the prospect that we were not alone in the universe to being excited at the prospect of seeing this movie.  Because, oh man, did it look awesome.

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KEYWORDS: action figures, Alien, Kenner, Ridley Scott
COMMENTS: 16
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When Insects Attack: GENOCIDE (1968)

genocideposter2Springtime has arrived in California and do you know what that means? BUGS! During the past week I’ve battled a couple of spiders in my kitchen, wrangled with a beetle that invaded my bathroom and took up arms against a small army of moths determined to raid my closet. These creepy critters seem to be everywhere so it seemed like a good time to revisit one of my favorite bug invasion movies, Kazui Nihonmatsu’s GENOCIDE (aka WAR OF THE INSECTS; 1969). GENOCIDE chronicles an attack on a small island community by a large mass of aggressive flying insects. It’s been made the butt of bad jokes by the folks behind Cinematic Titanic and Mystery Science Theater 3000 but this creative low-budget film is no B-movie bomb. Along with its strong antiwar message, GENOCIDE boasts some impressive visual touches and packs an emotional wallop during its explosive final moments that compassionate viewers won’t soon forget.
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