A Forgotten Film to Remember: The Most Dangerous Game

gameopenerIn David Fincher’s Zodiac, the protagonist Robert Graysmith discovers that some of the letters written by the infamous Zodiac killer contain partial quotes from the 1932 film The Most Dangerous Game. In an incredibly tense sequence, Graysmith visits the projectionist of a revival theater where the Zodiac may have seen the film. The creepy projectionist lures Graysmith into his basement to look for a poster as sounds from above suggest the pair is not alone. In the plot of The Most Dangerous Game, a character hunts human beings for sport, not unlike the Zodiac killer and, ironically, not unlike Graysmith, who spent years of his life obsessed with finding the identity of the Zodiac. If you are curious about the movie forever linked with one of the most notorious unsolved murder cases in history, The Most Dangerous Game airs on TCM this Wednesday at 4:30pm.

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KING BROTHERS KRAZY

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I really wish I knew French. I say that because I’m in possession of the Blu-ray box set of Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950), which is basically a hard-cover book with over 200 pages of essays, beautiful stills, and lots of interesting ephemera relating to Lewis’ most famous work – and all the essays (even the intro by film critic, author, and programmer of the Festival of Film Noir, Eddie Muller) are in French. It’s enough to make me want to take a crash-course in the language, but for now I’ll have to focus on the ephemera. [...MORE]

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November 1, 2014
David Kalat
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Elevator to the Eyes of Jeanne Moreau

I had intended to post this back during TCM’s tribute to Jeanne Moreau but I got distracted and ran something else that week instead.  Then I happened to re-watch Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows recently.  I’d seen it a long time ago, but it had commingled in my memory with some other films noir to the extent that it was almost like watching it for the first time, my memory of it was so scrambled and mistaken.  For a while, I was fixated on the clockwork precision of the plot, and how its narrative tricks reminded me of Steven Moffat or Christopher Nolan, but before long I realized that the real magic of this thriller isn’t its bleak vision or its ruthlessly cutting storytelling–it was the way these attributes set the stage for a particularly soulful pair of eyes. [...MORE]


KEYWORDS: Elevator to the Gallows, Film Noir, French Film, Jeanne Moreau, Louis Malle
COMMENTS: 6
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Mask up for Halloween!

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There’s something about slipping on a mask that changes a person, something in the blood, something that reacts to a race memory of ritual, to a time when we were all more personally connected to this world. That’s why so many of us love Halloween, a Pagan custom (Kirk Cameron be damned – both on this specific point and generally speaking) that we have pulled along with us into the modern world. And that’s the extent of my bloviating on the subject today, All Hallows Eve, which I’m reserving for a celebration of mask-wearing and people-scaring in movies horror (and otherwise). Trick-or-treat, boils and ghouls. Now get your masks on! [...MORE]

Halloween Viewing Recommendations with a Feminine Touch

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Halloween is fast approaching and tonight TCM is starting the party early with a batch of great haunted house films beginning at 5PM PST (8PM EST) followed by a 24-hour classic horror movie marathon that’s sure to please the most finicky horror connoisseur. With so many terrifically terrifying films to choose from I decided to ask some of my favorite female film journalists who also happen to be fellow horror devotees to join me in recommending one movie from TCM’s Halloween line-up for your viewing pleasure. I think you’ll enjoy our enthusiastic endorsements but you might want to approach them with caution. A few contain minor spoilers along with some surprising scares but I hope that won’t stop you from joining us in celebrating Halloween with TCM. Demonic monsters, scary chauffeurs and axe-wielding killers are just a few of the shocking thrills that await you!

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Love the Genre, Avoid the Movies

Whenever someone asks me “What’s your favorite genre,” it seems like an odd question.   It seems odd because my favorite genres often don’t match up with my favorite movies.  The movies I consider personal favorites spread across a wide spectrum of genres.  I often list movies I write about here as personal favorites, and they are, but the movies I bring up here lean more towards the universally praised while the movies I consider my favorites cover the good, bad, and the ugly all at once.  My favorites are classics, and masterpieces, and duds, and awful stinking bombs too, covering every genre in the book.  And yet when someone asks, “What’s your favorite genre,” even though I have no more favorites in it than any other genre, I say, “Science fiction,” without fail.  Then I’ll add, “Horror, too.  Science fiction and horror.”    Why do I keep doing that?

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To Save and Project: The 12th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation

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Late last month, on the outrage machine known as Twitter, Variety tweeted the following: “Most films and TV shows are now available online legally, says a new study”. As with most provocative headlines, it turned out to be incredibly misleading. The “study” was commissioned by NBC Universal and performed by audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG. They only chose to track the most “popular and critically-acclaimed” films, which according to them comprises films with the “highest gross box office receipts” and those that won Oscar Best Picture awards. So this is a highly selective, entirely meaningless 808 film sample that overlooks the majority of film history. It’s not surprising then, that 94% of the films in their report were available on streaming platforms. Essentially it is saying that all the films you have already seen are available for you to watch again. 35mm is becoming an archival medium, more stable than digital in its constantly shifting technologies, but that makes archives more reluctant to ship prints to theaters, as Nick Pinkerton reported in his article on the DCP wars in Film Comment. A situation is growing where studios don’t want to ship prints of rare titles, but neither do they want to shell out the money for a decent HD transfer and clean-up, a very expensive proposition to enact on a large scale. Thus my dream of a 127-film 4K-scanned Edward L. Cahn retrospective will never come to pass.

That is why festivals like To Save and Project are so vital. In its twelfth year at the Museum of Modern Art, the series gathers recent restoration projects from around the world, and was organized by film curator Joshua Siegel, adjunct curator Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, and curatorial assistant Sophie Cavoulacos. For years a redoubt of celluloid, it has had to bow to the prevailing winds and present digital scans, including this year’s 4K restorations of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and A Fistful of Dollars.  But there are also more heroic instances of digital rescue, like the South African blaxploitation soccer-rigging curiosity Joe Bullet (1971, screening 11/8 and 11/13), banned by the government soon after its release but rescued by the Gravel Road African Film Legacy (GRAFL) initiative. I’ve always treasured the festival more for its oddities than its classics, which would emerge elsewhere anyway. Another one is Miss Okichi (1935, screening 10/31 and 11/4), with Kenji Mizoguchi credited as “supervisor”, though elsewhere he is listed as a co-director. It’s a tragic tale of doomed love that feels like a missing piece in Mizoguchi’s filmography, even if more detective work needs to be done about its origins. Then there is the bizarre It’s a Wonderful Life noir Repeat Performance (1947, screening 11/12 and 11/14), in which a murderous dame gets to re-live the year leading up to the moment she kills her husband.

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Creepy Kids: Don’t Turn Your Backs On ‘em

kidsopeningAs Halloween week begins, horror fans look forward to an array of scary movies offered by cable television networks who promise marathons of new favorites and familiar classics. TCM joins this week’s fright fest by showcasing Dracula movies and horror anthologies on Tuesday, ghost stories on Thursday, and a full “24 Hours of Horror” on Halloween.

In the line of duty as a movie historian, I have watched films from all eras of horror—from the genre’s German Expressionist beginnings to contemporary Grand Guignol gore-fests like Saw. While my personal favorites are heavy on gothic atmosphere, I tend to feel the most anxiety during stories with murderous clowns, psycho ventriloquist dummies, and killer dolls. However, one type of horror tale freaks me out like no other—stories with creepy kids. I confess that I am not remotely maternal, and I am inclined to believe that children in real life are only one step removed from those in horror films. It’s just that most of the world is blinded by sentimentality and look upon children as bastions of innocence. In reality, the little whelps are only waiting for their chance to bash in our skulls so they can take over, forcing us to listen to Justin Bieber and watch endless Transformers sequels. Below are ten horror films that nearly did me in with their creepy kid characters.

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The Perfect Circle

Today, Planet of the Apes airs on TCM and it’s a movie that I saw, honestly, dozens of times in the seventies and eighties.  I watched it and its sequels over and over again, even giving the lousy television show a chance, and buying anything associated with the franchise, from lunchboxes to Viewfinder slides.  POTA, as it will hence be called with each sequel following suit, was much bigger for me than Star Wars ever was and a part of the appeal is and was the time travel element.  Specifically, the way the story folds in on itself and the consequences of one action will become the set of events that sets off the actions that become the consequences of the first action.  It’s like one huge cinematic Möbius strip, with each side being the same side while occupying different sides at the same time.   Yes, the movies got cheaper and except for the leads, every ape became an extra in a low-rent rubber mask and, no, I don’t care.  There’s a storytelling arc there and it’s gutsier than a lot of sci-fi that gets produced.

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October 25, 2014
David Kalat
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Halloween Won’t Hurt You: Or, How My Daughter Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blob

It’s not that I advocate terrifying children, I hope you understand, but… well, let me start at the beginning.

When I was 8 years old, my dad used to wake me up late at night to join him in watching the classic Creature Features package on local TV. The deal was I had to finish my homework and go to bed early, and then at 11 he’d come wake me up to join him for late night popcorn and Dracula (or pizza and Frankenstein—he’d mix things up).

As I’ve mentioned here before, I was blessed with parents who made little effort to censor what I had access to, and who blithely took my pre-teen self to see things like Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ridley Scott’s Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing… I was enthralled—and also terrified. I had nightmares, and I loved them.

When I became a parent myself, I wanted to share with my kids the monster movies I’d grown up with. And so, one night in 2005, I showed my 5 year old daughter and 3 year old son a marathon of DVDs on Halloween that culminated with The Blob.

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KEYWORDS: The Blob
COMMENTS: 16
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