Paranormal Police Procedural: Nothing But the Night (1972)


Christopher Lee and co-star Diana Dors sharing a laugh behind-the-scenes of
Nothing But the Night (1972)

To celebrate the season of scaring TCM has made Christopher Lee their Star of the Month. Viewers who tune in will be able to enjoy the tall, dark and handsome ‘Master of Menace’ in over 40 different films airing each Monday throughout October. Next week I encourage you to seek Lee out in the unsung British thriller Nothing But the Night (1972), which is sandwiched between one of five Fu Manchu films Lee appeared in (The Vengeance of Fu Manchu; 1968) and an interesting Amicus thriller (Scream and Scream Again; 1970). Nothing But the Night is one of the most unusual and provocative pictures in Lee’s extensive filmography and deserves a better reputation than it’s been saddled with for the last 44 years.


The Opera Ghost Requests Your Presence

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It’s October, and you know what that means: spooky movies all month long! Every horror fan of a certain age has a favorite movie monster they first encountered as a child: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and of course, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. For me it was the Phantom of the Opera, whom I met in a number of cinematic guises before I was out of elementary school. The combination of grotesque horror, cliffhanger thrills, and doomed romance is like catnip to an impressionable young viewer.  Now it’s a fine chance to make the Phantom’s acquaintance right now, since TCM’s running the Lon Chaney silent version on October 7, and Herbert Lom’s turn in 1962 just made its Blu-ray bow in a sparkling new presentation as part of Universal’s Hammer horror set.

So here we go with a few thoughts about the many faces of the Phantom we’ve seen over the past century, and what’s remarkable about this seemingly immortal character is the fact that every significant movie adaptation has turned out to have something of value. [...MORE]

Blood in the Water: The Shallows (2016)


The Shallows is a disappearing breed – the mid-budget Hollywood hit. Made for $17 million and grossing $118 million worldwide, it is the kind of efficient thriller that studios were once able to crank out on the regular. But now in the age of branded universe nine-figure blockbusters it is treated as an anomaly, and entertainment reporters have dutifully sought reasons for The Shallows’ success, whether in Blake Lively’s social media numbers (11.6 million Instagram followers!) or savvy marketing partnerships with Buzzfeed et al. One compelling argument, via Scott Mendelson’s prescient preview at Forbes, is that ” in a summer filled with sequels and franchise installments, The Shallows looks and feels outright revolutionary by virtue of its small scale and (comparatively) small stakes. It’s about Blake Lively, who gets attacked by a shark while surfing and must fight to survive. That’s it. No world-building, no sequel set-up, no planet-in-peril finale, no Easter eggs.” It is a film that can be taken on its own terms, anchored by an intense central performance from Lively in a film hammered together by Hollywood’s premier genre problem-solver Jaume Collet-Serra. With financial and production limitations, the most heinous shark violence occurs off-screen, registered by Lively’s expressively weathered reaction shots, implying horrors beyond imagining.


Is It Still Funny: Revisiting Comedy with Mark Caro

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I lived in Chicago for almost 25 years before relocating to sunnier climates, and one of my favorite parts about the Windy City was that it was a cinephile’s paradise. Historic theaters hosted silent movies, film societies programmed classics, and the rarest of indies could be found at Facets Multi-Media or the Gene Siskel Film Center.

“Is It Still Funny? is a recent addition to Chicago’s eclectic cinematic scene. Hosted by film journalist Mark Caro, this terrific series showcases a variety of comedies in order to test their comic viability. The movies are shown once a month on the big screen at the Music Box, one of Chicago’s movie palaces. Afterward, audiences discuss and debate the movie’s comic merits. I knew TCM viewers would want to know more, and Mr. Caro graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his series. His comments are below.

TCM just wrapped “Ouch! A Salute to Slapstick,” which was a rousing tribute to physical comedy on the big screen. I discovered that some of the directors and films featured in “Ouch!” were also included in “Is It Still Funny?” I would love to hear from viewers who regularly watched the movies that were part of “Ouch!” to see if their thoughts were similar to those of Mr. Caro’s audiences.


Frankenstein Sundays


Today heralds the beginning of “Frankenstein Sundays” taking place throughout October. TCM is, of course, referring mostly to Frankenstein’s monster, and not the person who gave birth to him in his mad scientist lab. Boris Karloff’s rendition of the monster is one of the reasons I became obsessed with movies at an early age. My identification with the sad creature probably had something to do with the fact that Karloff was a walking freak show who fully represented mutant otherness. As a child growing up Mexican-Norwegian in mostly non-Mexican and non-Norwegian Boulder, Colorado, I was constantly reminded of being “the other” – by both peers and adults. Part of me wanted to embrace this otherness, which might explain why, when my mom took me to the dentist to cure a massive over-bite in Jr. High, I begged and pleaded with her to please leave my horrific teeth exactly as they were. How could I ever play the part of a monster with perfect teeth? Those braces, however, were put in place, for five long years, and everything got straightened out. Steve Buscemi faced this same dilemma – albeit as a young adult – and he was able to keep his bad teeth to great cinematic effect. I’d regret my mother’s decision if I had any delusions to having acting chops. But I don’t. Good job, mom!

On to Frankenstein’s monster, which has been well covered. I won’t add to the canon other than to present the following capsule reviews pertaining to the Universal studios version of Frankenstein (1931) that are gleaned from seven different books randomly selected off of my book shelf. I’ll present them here in chronological order and add only that I think they all have something unique to offer as they move from prints, to video, then mentioning laser discs. Tellingly, the last book is from 1999, at which point the internet took out the market for books trafficking in capsule movie reviews – so don’t expect to hear about Blu-ray releases (which were unveiled in 2000). [...MORE]

There’s Only You and Me and (sometimes) We Just Disagree

As I sit down to write another post for the Movie Morlocks, I often think about the reaction, what it will be, and how it will affect me.  Sometimes, in my everyday life, I avoid talking about movies in specific situations because I don’t want to get into a heated debate over something I love or hate and I know the person I’m with feels the other way.  Other times, I can’t wait to get into it because it’s a movie I feel so passionate about I can’t hold my tongue.  Personally, and I’m not just saying this to make anyone feel better, I think this blog has the best commenters of any blog for which I’ve had the pleasure to write.  The commenters here are engaging, knowledgeable, and quick to assert their opinion without being distasteful or rude.  We won’t agree all of the time but when we disagree, I know it won’t be an awkward situation.  In other words, I’ve never noticed any scorched earth reactions like, “Well if you don’t like this movie, you must not know movies!”  That said, I’m now going to list several of the things that often get the most disagreement from fellow movie lovers, spurred by a movie on the TCM schedule tonight.  I expect disagreement but, please, go easy on me.



My Visit to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery


If you’re a member of the TCM Wine Club, and even if you’re not, you are probably aware of the fact that director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery located in California’s picturesque Sonoma County. I recently had the opportunity to visit the winery’s Rustic restaurant and explore the grounds, which house memorabilia from many of Coppola’s movies.


Farewell to the Frisco Kid

The Frisco Kid 1
The much-mourned passing of comic actor, writer, and director Gene Wilder on June 11, 2016 was one of the saddest shocks in a year already full of them. A master of both physical and verbal comic timing as well as an underrated dramatic actor, Wilder will be honored on Thursday, September 29, with a four-film sampling of his formidable talents including Young Frankenstein (1974), Start the Revolution without Me (1970), and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), plus a double airing of his one-hour Role Model interview episode from 2008. Of course, you could easily program an entire day of Wilder without covering everything, so hopefully this will be enough to either get fans back in the mood to explore his output or awaken newbies to the riches in his filmography, which also includes such milestones as Blazing Saddles (1974), The Producers (1967), and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). [...MORE]

Law and Disorder: The Naked Gun (1988)


David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker were three wiseasses from Milwaukee who killed time watching movies. They gained an admiration for the stoic leading men in cheap genre productions, those actors who jutted their chins and remained expressionless through the most absurd scenarios. ZAZ’s whole comic ethos stems from these viewings – their main characters are virtuous idiots wandering through a world that explodes with gags around them. These dopes’ deadpan obliviousness provide the majority of punchlines in  Airplane!, Top Secret, and The Naked Gun trilogy. And there was no one more virtuous or more idiotic than the fools portrayed by Leslie Nielsen – who was ZAZ’s platonic ideal for a comic actor. Often mistaken for his  Airplane!-mates Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves, he had that aging leading man gravitas (and mane of gray hair) and could play everything straight, reciting the most ridiculous lines as if he was in an airplane disaster film like Zero Hour (1957, the model for Airplane!). ZAZ’s follow-up to Airplane! was the short-lived and joke-packed TV show Police Squad! (1982), a parody of M-Squad and other square-jawed cop shows. The TV version was canceled after four episodes (six would air), but strong reviews (and a lead actor Emmy nomination for Nielsen) kept the project alive until ZAZ adapted it into the  The Naked Gun, which airs tomorrow night on TCM as part of their “Salute to Slapstick.” It is with The Naked Gun that Nielsen fully displays his comic gifts, a tour-de-force of deadpan, face-pulling, and pratfall.


Remade, Reworked, and Recycled: Who Knew?

The big Hollywood studios continue to insist that audiences will line up around the block to see movie remakes, though that is counter to conversations I overhear at theaters or among movie-goers. Even my students groan at the idea, often asking me why Hollywood insists on remaking popular movies. Remake mania is so rampant that studios are reworking films from less than a generation ago.



Among the retools for 2016 was Ben-Hur, which has been called the biggest box-office bomb of the year so far. The reboot of Ghostbusters hit the screens this summer, which alienated fanboys, but the movie delighted many of my female students who accepted its shortcomings in exchange for women characters of all sizes and types. Happily, not all remakes are cause for groans and moans. I just saw Antoine Fuqua’s interpretation of The Magnificent Seven, which was a well-executed update that can compete with the original in terms of star power, action scenes, and a satisfying ending. It’s a bona fide classic western that looks contemporary.

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