Monday, March 26, 2012

Fool's Views (3/12 – 3/18)



Back again, my friends. Crankin’ ‘em out, crankin’ ‘em out…

The Netflix gods smiled on me this week, as did the Chicago public library, and it is to them that I raise my figurative hat. I had discovered an array of older horror features that had somehow been overlooked in my travels on the Little Red Website, and was enjoying a pleasant nostalgic float down the black and white river (when I wasn’t deep in the shooting of pal Jason Coffman’s short film TAPE, that is. http://vimeo.com/38677838)

It was right about then that I got the call from Nathan Hanneman, editor of HorrorHound magazine and the brains behind their HorrorHound Weekend conventions, that I would be hosting several of the Q&A panels in Columbus the weekend of March 23-25, including the one featuring headliner Pam Grier. Needless to say, my priorities got switched in a hurry, and the Views changed gears from forgotten horrors to a deep dive into the blaxploitation pool. See me complaining? No, you don’t.

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

Enjoy!

HORROR:

BLACULA IS BEAUTIFUL:
Blacula (1972)
(3rd viewing) d. Crain, William
What could have been a truly terrible notion (see Blackenstein for evidence thereof) turns out to be a relatively solid and fun fright flick, thanks primarily to William Marshall’s dignified turn as an African price cursed with the Transylvanian bite. Played straight and well paced, it kicked off a whole wave of blaxploitation horror and still holds up 40 years later as a tongue-in-fanged-cheek delight.

Scream Blacula Scream (1973) (2nd viewing) d. Kelljan, Bob
The huge success of Blacula led to its inevitable sequel, one that acquits itself quite nicely as a follow-up to its well-received predecessor. Marshall is revived courtesy of a voodoo spell, but finding eternity too unbearable without his lady love, he seeks out priestess Pam Grier to exorcise his damned spirit from his vampiric frame. Campier and sillier, but still enjoyable. Directed by Count Yorga’s Kelljan.




FORGOTTEN VAMPS AND WERE...CATS:

Catman of Paris, The (1946)
(1st viewing) d. Selander, Lesley
To put the state of the genre in context, Universal was a breath away from handing over the horror reins to the likes of Abbott and Costello when Republic trotted out this tired variation on the lycanthrope theme. There’s a tasty touch of red herring flavoring the hairy proceedings concerning the curious case of notorious novelist Carl Esmond and the fact that people all around him keep succumbing to violent, animal-like attacks (that it’s only 65 minutes helps too), but there’s a reason it flew under the Doc’s radar this long.



Vampire, The (1957) (1st viewing) d. Landres, Paul
The Gramercy Pictures marketing team must have been snoozing when this mad scientist programmer slid past their desk. While small town doc John Beal does develop a blood-junkie condition when he mistakenly ingests an experimental drug (distilled from vampire bat DNA no less), his transformation into a puffy-faced Hyde-like creature must have confounded the crowds of monster kids expecting a dose of capes and fangs. As it stands, it’s still an engaging tale (Landres and writer Pat Fielder would continue their deconstruction of the myth in the following year’s Return of Dracula) with some daring low-budget tracking shots and an especially enjoyable performance by character actor Dabbs Greer.



Vampire's Ghost, The (1945) (1st viewing) d. Selander, Lesley
A puzzling title for a not-bad programmer, following an African expedition led by – you guessed it – a financier who just happens to be a vampire. He nibbles a couple people here, hypnotizes others there, baffles voodoo attacks, but eventually falls to the forces of good. All in under an hour. Huzzah!



Return of Dracula, The (1958) (1st viewing) d. Landres, Paul
Landres and writer Fielder kept the capes in place this time around, and all for the better in this Fool’s opinion, reviving the big bad Drac (Francis Lederer) who poses as a Smalltown, USA family’s visiting European cousin. Swept up by his exotic manner, budding young teen Norma Eberhardt easily falls under his spell and it’s up to John Wengraf’s Transylvanian cop to save the girl, the town and the day. Enjoyable black and white fare.




CIVILIAN:

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
(1st viewing) d. Gibney, Alex
Oh, man. This one kinda blew my mind, listening to the story of how many people were involved in the grand Wall Street scheme and how easily heads were turned, eyes shut and ears closed by the sweet, sweet smell of all that is green. Wanna see where your 401k went 10 years ago? Here’s the answer, untangled by Gibney & Co. in a very watchable way.

Enter the Dragon (1973) (5th viewing) d. Clouse, Robert
A very special Fool's View Haiku for Bruce:

Died before release
Film made him legendary
Hardly knew ye, Lee

House Bunny, The (2008) (1st viewing) d. Wolf, Fred
Gorgeous Anna Faris is amazing in that she’s so damn funny that you almost forget just what a smokin’ sally she is. She seems like a person you could sit around farting and food fighting with, which ultimately only makes her hotter; the Hollywood starlet who acts like the best girlfriend you ever had. This relatable quality is her secret weapon, and it’s how she manages to pull off playing a Playboy bunny booted from Heff’s mansion who ends up taking over as house mother for a college sorority (headed by a amusingly nerdy Emma Stone), all with a PG-13 rating.





WHAM, BAM, THANK YOU PAM (GRIER):


Black Mama White Mama (1973)
(1st viewing) d. Romero, Eddie
Friday Foster (1975) (1st viewing) d. Marks, Arthur
Sheba, Baby (1975) (1st viewing) d. Girdler, William
Women in Cages (1971) (1st viewing) d. de Leon, Gerardo
In prepping for the Pam Grier Q&A panel, I knew I needed to bring my A-game and that meant catching up on as much of Miz Thang as I possibly could in the time available. Happily, this is a pleasant task as Grier is always watchable even if (or perhaps because) her films tend to err on the action-packed silly side. This held especially true for the assortment of flickers here, two of which (WIC and BMWM) were shot in the Philippines and two (FF and SB) back in the States. Grier always plays an indomitable spirit, one who faces incredible challenges and finds the courage to save the day (unless she’s playing the baddie, as in WIC, where she gets her comeuppance and how). FF is probably the least satisfying of the bunch, only because it never seems to take its given circumstances all that seriously, but even there you’re treated to a dynamite array of African-American talent such as Thalmus Rasulala, Godfrey Cambridge, Carl Weathers, Scatman Crothers, Yaphet Kotto, Ted Lange and Eartha Kitt. And yes, Virginia, sexy Pam takes her clothes off in most of these, all of which except BMWM (my favorite of the bunch, with SB close behind) are currently available streaming on Netflix.




SHAKE IT, DON’T BREAK IT
Inherit the Wind (1960)
(2nd viewing) d. Kramer, Stanley
Inherit the Wind (1999) (1st viewing) d. Petrie, Daniel
As I’ll be taking on the role of closed-minded evangelist Matthew Harrison Brady this summer, I thought I’d take a look at a couple screen dramatizations of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. Both use the screenplay developed by Nathan E. Douglas and Harold Jacob Smith, based on the original stage play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, and there are definite pluses and minuses to their tweaks. On the one hand, they stretch out the action over an additional day or two so that it doesn’t all happen conveniently in the courtroom – on the other, they conjure more than a few “precious” moments that ring out as melodrama. In the Kramer version, it’s Spencer Tracy carrying the sword of logic against Fredric March’s shield of faith while the Showtime TV-movie pairs Jack Lemmon with George C. Scott, and there’s no faulting any of this vaunted quartet’s turns – all are in top form, parrying and jousting with one another and clearly enjoying the task at hand. Petrie’s color version somehow carries a bit more artifice, with lines ringing out a little more bluntly, which is not to say there aren’t a few clunkers in Kramer’s as well. Overall, neither is a truly great film, but both sport terrific all-star casts having a great time with juicy subject matter that seems more timely than ever.

2012 Totals to date: 95 films, 83 1st time views, 39 horror, 5 cinema

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