Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fool's Views (5/23 – 5/29)


Hellow, you funny bunnies,

Looks like summer is finally upon us, or so it seems. The sun and kids are out, and rehearsals for summer Shakespeare are in full swing, though I was still able to find time between swinging steel and slinging verse to get in a few flickers. In honor of a certain horror icon’s 100th birthday, I spent a few Priceless hours indulging in the crown prince of horror’s output, as well as enjoying some Hammer time and some of Burt Reynolds’ “best” films. Superheroes, plagues, cowboys and homicidal landlords, we’ve got it all…

As always, feel free to throw in your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR:




HAMMER TIME:
Resident, The (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Jokinen, Antti
E.R. doc Hillary Swank finds a swell bargain in a newly refurbished Manhattan apartment, with hunky bearded Jeffrey Dean Morgan (looking very Javier Bardem-esque) as her new landlord and potential paramour. But when she gets cold feet and rekindles matters with her ex, Morgan goes a mite cuckoo in the same manner as any number of "Empowered Female in Peril" Lifetime Movie programmers. Horror icon Christopher Lee promisingly turns up as Morgan’s grandfather, as if to pass benediction over the proceedings, only to be eliminated with precious little ceremony. Despite solid production values and a fair amount of skin displayed by a certain hard-bodied two-time Oscar winner, this intended flagship of the newly revived Hammer Studios (before wiser heads ceded pole position to the superior Let Me In) disappoints mightily, and its unceremonious DVD dumping seems entirely justified. Let us hope stronger stuff waits in the wings.

These are the Damned (1963) (1st viewing) d. Losey, Joseph
A disarmingly sinister sci-fi morality tale whose chilly, bleak demeanor recalls Robert Aldrich’s classic Kiss Me Deadly, as well as that film’s pointedly indirect introduction of futuristic elements. An engaging opening act follows vacationing American retiree MacDonald Carey’s mugging by Oliver Reed’s gang of Teddy boy thugs, and an ensuing (if slightly creepy) romance with young thugette Shirley Anne Field. Whereupon screenwriter Evan Jones introduces a secondary narrative, one that unveils a secluded bunker along the English coast concealing an experimental colony of children specifically engineered to survive a post-WWIII wasteland. The unsubtle ethical dilemma is handled with remarkable restraint by Losey, who engineers a thick atmosphere of dread with cinematographer Arthur Grant and James Bernard’s melancholy score. A sadly neglected, intelligent offering from “the studio that dripped blood” in its prime. Based on H.L. Lawrence’s novel, The Children of Light.



CIVILIAN:
Andromeda Strain, The (1971)
(3rd viewing) d. Wise, Robert
Superb bit of sci-fi paranoia, with a group of specialists gathered in the desert to discern the properties of a interstellar virus before it wipes out the planet. Smart and well played, based on Michael Crichton’s novel.

Iron Man 2 (2010) (1st viewing) d. Favreau, Jon
Basically a more expensive rerun of the already expensive original (which I liked), committing the unpardonable sin of not allowing any of its characters to evolve. How a film with this much whiz and bang at its disposal can manage to be this unengaging is the true mystery.

True Grit (1969) (2nd viewing) d. Hathaway, Henry
Charming and satisfying four decades later, the original screen version of Charles Portis’ novel manages to hold up against the Coen Brothers’ more faithful adaptation, with terrific turns by Dennis Hopper, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall and Oscar-winner John Wayne as the one-eyed marshall Rooster Cogburn.

Whatever Works (2009) (1st viewing) d. Allen, Woody
It’s as though Allen watched an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and thought, “Oh, Larry David plays an utterly despicable character who manages to be charming and likeable in spite of all the horrible things he says. I’ll make a movie where he says horrible things to everyone and it will be funny and likeable.” What you missed, Woodman, is that CYE has other characters who make a point of telling David that what he’s doing is unconscionable and usually there are consequences. Here, David just doles out the abuse nonstop with no one to spar or shame him into submission. Dismal and dismally unfunny.




BURT AND THE “BEST” BLONDES:
Best Friends (1982)
(1st viewing) d. Jewison, Norman
Goldie Hawn and Burt Reynolds play a screenwriting team who also shack up together. But when societal pressures lead them to the chapel, all goes sour. Fitfully amusing, largely due to its winning ensemble of players (Audra Lindley, best known for playing Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company, steals her every scene as Reynolds’ mom). Written by then-divorced screenwriting team of Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin.

Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The (1982) (1st viewing) d. Higgins, Colin
Quaintest and cutest handling of potentially prurient material ever, adapted from the Broadway hit. Dolly Parton plays the madame of the Chicken Ranch, Reynolds is the local sheriff and all is well until moral crusader and televangelist Dom Deluise targets the house of ill repute. Never amounts to much of anything, with no genuinely funny moments, memorable musical numbers or real chemistry between Dolly and Burt. Charles Durning’s grinning, issue-dodging song-n’-dance governor earned a surprising Oscar nomination.




VINCENTENNIAL – HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY, VINCENT PRICE!
HORROR:
Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971)
(3rd viewing) d. Fuest, Robert
It’s hard not to appreciate what director Fuest, star Vincent Price and screenwriters James Whiton and William Goldstein were bringing to the table with this savagely original blend of horror and dry British wit, but the resulting film only partially satisfies. Brilliant composer/scientist Anton Phibes (Price) vows revenge upon Joseph Cotton’s surgical team after they fail to revive his beloved bride (an unbilled Caroline Munro) on the operating table, utilizing the 10 Curses of the Pharaohs as his diabolical methodology. Before one can say, “Holy Moses,” eminent doctors are felled by frog masks, catapulted unicorns heads, and swarming locusts, whilst befuddled lawman Peter Jeffrey consistently remains a step behind. Foreshadowing the 80s splatter heyday by a full decade, the pleasures here are not who will die, but how, and credit must be given for the “creative deaths” which truly live up to their name. However, the whole affair is so bizarre, introducing so many disparate and unexplained elements, that it takes the viewer until the midway mark to grasp what the hell is going on. Price himself is a freakshow, meticulously reattaching latex facial appliances, chattering through a speaking tube, conducting an orchestra of clockwork musicians, hammering away on an art-deco organ... But due to his character’s infirmity, Price’s inherent gifts are hamstrung, denying the viewer a single facial expression or vocal flourish – for shame! Despite its willfully fantastic nature which implies questions are beside the point, they continue to niggle throughout, even down to Phibes’ bizarre relationship with comely assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North). I know it’s a “classic,” but it doesn’t move me, much as I wish otherwise.

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) (2nd viewing) d. Fuest, Robert
After the surprise hit of the original Phibes, Fuest & Vincent Price returned for another go-round of mirthful murderous mayhem, this time with the mad doctor hoping to revive his lost love via a sacred papyrus scroll and the mythical “River of Life” in Egypt. Robert Quarry co-stars as a millionaire equally consumed with the river’s life-restoring properties, one not at all amused by Price’s propensity for knocking off his expedition members through varied outlandish means. As before, myriad elaborate murder scenes are the highlights, with victims stung by scorpions, blasted by sand, and jugged in giant gin bottles, though expectant viewers may express some chagrin at the lack of a pervasive theme – it’s simply “kill ‘em all and make it extravagant.” By the same token, the black comedy in Fuest and Robert Blees’ script is much better incorporated, with everyone seemingly in on the joke this time around. Price, allowed to smirk and waggle eyebrows as he enjoys fine champagne through his neck-port, is clearly having more fun, and the always game Quarry makes for a formidable foe. Phibes’ assistant Vulnavia (now pronounced “Vul-nave-ia”, rather than “Vul-nah-via”) is played by Australian beauty Valli Kemp, while Peter Cushing and Terry-Thomas make brief appearances (and Caroline Munro again unbilled as Phibes’ beloved, despite numerous close-ups. Strange, what?) In the end, the sequel actually surpasses its predecessor for sheer entertainment, while never quite matching its intellect. (The following year’s Theatre of Blood manages to combine all of the above, and remains my personal favorite of the three.)

House of Wax (1953) (3rd viewing) d. De Toth, Andre
The first major studio film released in 3-D, this fine remake of Mystery of Wax Museum cemented Vincent Price’s reputation as the crown prince of horror. Employing the sly, winking wickedness that would become his stock-in-trade, Price has a whale of a time as eccentric sculptor Henry Jarrod, crippled in a fire and now leading tours in his museum of wax figures, all of whom bear an uncanny resemblance to recent murder victims. Supremely enjoyable, with Price’s plummy performance as the centerpiece for a grand buffet of memorable sequences. Included among the many highlights are the studio-turned-blazing inferno with gorgeous wax figures’ faces melting into macabre visages, cape-whirling pursuits through turn-of-the-century New York streets, amazing fight sequences, and an early screen appearance by Charles Bronson (billed as Charles Buchinsky) as mute assistant Igor. Glib banter and bad puns abound in Crane Wilbur’s droll screenplay, providing smiles and shudders in equal measure. Amazingly, director Andre de Toth created his marvelous 3-D effects despite being blind in one eye. The sensational paddleball barker scene will have you ducking in your seat, and the music hall beauties will sit you right back up. Great fun.

Tomb of Ligeia, The (1964) (2nd viewing) d. Corman, Roger
The last of Corman’s Poe adaptations is certainly one of the best-looking, due to terrific exteriors shot in the English countryside (a rarity for the notoriously tight-fisted producer/director). Adapted from Poe’s slim story “Ligeia” by Chinatown scribe Robert Towne, the film revels in its morbid gothic atmosphere and excellent leading performances. In the midst of a well-photographed foxhunt, Elizabeth Shepherd comes across grieving widower Vincent Price and his groovy period shades. Immediately drawn to his mysterious nature, she insinuates herself into his life, and the two happily court and marry. Following their honeymoon, however, she observes the return of her husband’s dark mood, accompanied by increasingly strange behavior. Under hypnosis, she reveals Price’s darkest fear: The spirit of his previous wife, the dark, exotic Ligeia (also played by Shepherd), is intermittently inhabiting the body of his new bride, fulfilling her dying curse that she “would be his only wife.” If all this seems a little much, it is, with Corman and Towne blatantly borrowing elements from previous AIPoe outings (hallucinatory dream sequences, black cats, fiery climax). But the costumes and sets look great, and Price dives into the role of madman clinging to sanity with his usual aplomb, ably matched by Shepherd in her dual roles of tormentor and savior.




CIVILIAN VINCENT:
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)
(1st viewing) d. Bava, Mario
The sequel to Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, despite its bevy of titular android combustible bimbos, is a children’s film, filled with broad comic vignettes that will amuse only the four-year-old set and their ilk. (You know how one can be a comic god to a child by pretending to fall down-go boom ad infinitum? It’s like that.) That said, if one is able to tune in their inner preschooler, the sped-up chases, explosions, physical “comedy” of Franco & Ciccio (Italy’s answer to Abbott & Costello) and megalomaniac Uncle Vincent’s frequent direct address monologues actually manage to provoke more laughs than one might expect. I would seriously love to program this for a group of kindergarteners as a social experiment.

More Dead Than Alive (1969) (1st viewing) d. Sparr, Robert
Price plays an olde time Wild West Show carnival barker showcasing reticent ex-con gunslinger Clint Walker's leather-slapping skills. Fairly standard “bad-man-gone-good struggles against society’s prejudices” tale plays well thanks to its worthy cast and delivers up a truly jaw-dropping finale. Seriously, your jaw will drop.

2011 totals to date: 225 films, 132 1st time views, 109 horror, 14 cinema

BOOKS:

Horror Films of the 1970s, Part 1 (1970-1975) by John Kenneth Muir

3 comments:

  1. I totally agree about The Resident

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  2. Your thoughts on the Phibes movies echo my own, but you probably already know that. I LOVE The Tomb of Ligeia, which seems like Corman's version of Rebecca. Did you watch House of Wax in 3-D? I saw a revival of it some years ago on a double bill with It Came from Outer Space. It was a pretty awesome evening. I think the thrill would be gone for me today, though, given that I'm beginning to really HATE the contemporary 3-D fad.

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  3. LoF - Yup. It was doubly disappointing since I was genuinely looking forward to it. From what I'd heard, I assumed it was a haunted house story, not some crazy psycho flick. Yawn.

    Vulnavia - how appropriate that you should respond from this particular profile. I didn't realize that we were on the same page with the PHIBES movies. Whew! I feel a lot better knowing that someone else doesn't worship at their altar, as I figured I would be inviting a wealth of criticism from Price fans. Actually, I did see HOUSE OF WAX in 3D, as I have a home system converter that uses a flicker effect - very cool, feels like you can reach into the television. Still, my life will not be complete until I can see it on the big screen in a double feature with THE TINGLER (with Percepto, naturally). Believe it or not, the 3D in HoW is still better than most of the RealD stuff coming out today.

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