October 30th, 2011


More Shocktober Rambling

The snow let up enough yesterday that we were able to take Emily to a friends house for their annual Halloween party, which was nice as Em really wanted to go (she was dressed in full cowgirl gear, which Sarah handmade and embroidered -- save for the gun, hat and boots -- it looks great) . The weather kept a number of folks home, mainly those from New Jersey, which got hit hard by the storm, the power's still out in places. It really was nasty out, another memorable weather day in a year of memorable weather.  Anyway, a nice night and a welcome evening out of the house for all of us. Ended up talking horror movies for much of the night, along with discussions of old, dead comedians (one guest had written some stand-up material for Dick Shawn back in the 80's), abandoned Staten Island cemeteries, updates on people who weren't there, and how we're all getting older and hitting the age where you tend to talk about how you're getting older, although you're not exactly old.

When we got home it was relatively early (for me, at least) and I was in no mood to work (when am I ever, ha ha...ugh), so I fired up the Netflix and stumbled across Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires, a movie I've wanted to see for decades. And I enjoyed the hell out of it, for what it was, if you know what I mean. I like Bava, he couldn't make a home movie with a puppy and a baby without it being slightly unsettling, and this 60's SF/horror thing delivers brightly-colored, wildly-designed weirdness. You want the plot? Two spaceships end up on a misty, set-laden planet after answering a distress signal. Shit happens. Read the title if you need a hint. Although the titular vampires aren't the usual variety, in fact it's a misleading title, I'd say. Anyway, reasons to see it: awesome 60's Euro-art direction (the ship's interiors are nifty, the alien landscape sets are very Star Trek colored rocks and mist), good-looking guys and gals in crazy leather space outfits resembling a mix of the movie X-Men costumes, Judge Dredd casual wear and a spacey S&M club, a few not really scary cute moody moments, cool-looking weapons, and if you're into seeing where filmmakers get their ideas from, a few plot elements that obviously inspired the early sequences in Ridley Scott's Alien, specifically the distress  signal/landing/exploring the terrain/what they find stuff. The dubbing is better than average for the time, the acting is more like "let's pretend we're spacemen" than actual acting, if you know what I mean. Maybe you don't, but for me, there's a type of spaceman movie where the actors seem to almost be playing at spaceman than acting as spacemen -- does that make any sense? Ditto jungle explorer movies involving dinosaurs or monsters or lost tribes. For me, at least, the actors seem to be running around like big kids playing in the woods. Maybe it's just me. But I enjoy that kind of movie partly because it looks like fun and because I wish I could dress up and run around on the sets playing spaceman. Because I'm a child. Anyway, it's short, to the point, the build-up is better than the wind down to the more traditional finish. It's a time piece, it's goofy harmless fun. 

Afterward I watched Burn, Witch Burn, -- which I had the nagging feeling that I'd already see --  but whatever the case, it's based on a nifty book, Conjure Wife by author/actor/imbiber Fritz Leiber. Maybe it seemed familiar to me because I'd read the book and it follows it closely in places. Maybe I have a terrible memory and watched it once already. I liked it quite a bit, well-directed and acted and creepy and cool. The screenplay was by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, I think someone else worked on it but they didn't write for The Twilight Zone so I don't know who they are or remember their name. I'm a geek, not a detective. Of course, Beaumont may not have actually touched the screenplay, but that's another, actually sad, story. This flick is ripe for a remake, a smart remake, upping the politics, snark and bitchiness of academic life, of husbands and wives and rivalries, where the wives are using sorcery to upgrade and maintain their clueless husband's positions and status at the university. You can see where it can play with male/female role issues and wedge in some pointed commentary about marriage and social/academic politics while unwrapping the nuts and bolts genre stuff. Also, CGI would enable effects-happy filmmakers to attack some of the elements of the story that 60's filmmakers couldn't pull off, and thankfully didn't try. Anyway, nifty little flick. The film does a swell job of building tension and paranoia, it's smart and paced well, the villain of the piece is memorably nasty and well-played. This might make a good double-bill with The Curse of the Demon for a "do you believe in the occult" night of old, fun horror movies.

The night before last I stayed up too late to watch Burnt Offerings, a movie I'd been curious about since I was a kid, because the T.V. commercial scared me and images from it have stayed with me. Digression alley: I was talking to a friend at the party about old horror movie ads that scared us, these invariably only ran on the local NYC syndication-heavy channels, mainly WOR (ch 9) iirc. I distinctly remember being terrified of the ads for Phantasm, Dawn of the Dead, Suspiria, Chosen Survivors, Zombie...there were certainly others but the memory banks are failing. Maniac, I think, that loathsome Joe Spinell mess. Mother's Day, for sure, and It's Alive. Anyway, Burnt Offerings -- no great reputation, some folks hate it (some folks hate apple pie and babies, though), but I figured I'd get it under the belt after all these years of wondering what it's all about. I ended up liking it for the most part, it has some unsettling moments, I don't mind the slow burn, the kid actor isn't irritating, and comparing it to The Shining -- which Burnt Offerings and the book it was based on predates --  is interesting. Supposedly Stephen King has said the book was an influence, certain elements are certainly there -- small family in big, troubled house, relationships fray as obsession and possession and the supernatural crap kicks in, the caretaking element, a son in danger from his father, dangerous plant life, etc. It's not spectacular and it's slow, you'll yell at the characters to just leave the friggin' house at some point,  and Oliver Reed's sweating might distract you more than Karen Black's eye. Reed is actually the rational one (!) but like Nicholson in The Shining, he brings baggage to the role and you keep wondering when he'll go bugnuts. I think Reed, Black and Bette Davis chew up less of the scenery than one would expect (they do bite off quite a bit), and despite the big names and familiar faces (Dub Taylor -- who the hell puts Dub Taylor in a horror movie even for five minutes? Hubba Bubba!) it didn't feel like one of those schlock horrors where some know actors are slumming through and you can't pay attention because you keep thinking, "Holy shit, there's Jack Palance -- what's he doing here?" Acting honors go to Eileen Heckart for a short but crucial turn as one of the home's owners, sister to the hamming it up Burgess Meredith in a wheelchair ("Holy shit -- what's he doing here?").  He does the typical creepy old dude thing that, if I were dealing with him, would make me walk quickly to my car and get the hell out of the place. Heckart manages to do the "I've got a secret, heh heh heh" bit really nicely, putting a more urbane and modern spin on what's usually a gothic old crone routine. She's like an evil real estate agent just barely hiding a smirk as she sells someone on a very sour lemon, a fairly banal take on evil that really worked for me. Anyway, no great shakes, you'll guess some plot points way ahead of the characters, but I think it's a decent spook bit.

Earlier this week I watched Ghoulies because I'm an idiot and while it wasn't what I expected it was as bad and stupid as I expected. I did laugh a bunch of times and enjoyed the cheesy 80's-ness of it all.

Hoping I get enough work done today to justify seeing another potential piece of whatever. Feel free to chime in with whatever you've watched in the last day or two for the season, or what you have lined up for Halloween night.