Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fool's Views (9/17 – 9/23)

Howdy, lords and ladies,

Keeping this short, as I actually have a pile of films that I’d like to knock out before the October Challenge kicks into full gear next month – a mere 7 days away. Suffice to say, I had to settle for the mere essentials: completing my monthly Kryptic Army assignment and polishing off a few more of the Danny Peary flicks I brought with me to West Virginia. Oh, I had such intentions of drowning myself in civilian cinematic bliss during September, but other, slightly loftier plans have since emerged from the creative ether and they’ve been keeping me busy in between Crucible rehearsals at Greenbrier Valley Theatre. More on that in future installments – oh, yes, you will be hearing about them.

In the meantime, don’t forget to leave us your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Army of Darkness (1992) (3rd viewing) d. Raimi, Sam (USA)

I must admit that this third installment in the Evil Dead trilogy never really hit my sweet spot, too preoccupied with doling out one-liners to star Bruce Campbell and parading puppet soldiers across the landscape to manage anything nearly as genuinely inspired as its predecessors. Sure, there are some moments of charm, such as the battle with the pit hag, the riddle of the three Necronomicons and, in spite of dodgy effects, the horde of miniature Ash assailants laying siege to their oversized doppelganger. In expanding the Dead-ite universe (and its budget) beyond the cabin in the woods, Raimi manages to tell a new story in a different way, and it’s fascinating how each of the trio of films appeals to a different audience – a horror litmus test, if you will. (In case you were wondering, my favorite used to be the slapsticky second installment, but my appreciation for the first has grown exponentially over the years and it now reigns supreme.)


Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) (1st viewing) d. Ulmer, Edgar G. (USA)

Betrothed lovebirds Gloria Talbott and John Agar visit her guardian Arthur Shields to tell of their upcoming marriage, but it turns out that he has a surprise in store for them as well. Seems that the bride-to-be is actually the descendant of the notorious Dr. Jekyll, although Stevenson’s source material has been tweaked more than a little – instead of mysterious elixirs, the good doctor’s alter ego is nothing short of a werewolf, complete with the full moon’s transformative effects. Sure enough, the first night that Talbott spends under the old roof, she is plagued by homicidal nightmares awakens with blood on her hands and dirt between her toes. Can it be the family curse has struck again? Very much a low budget programmer, but the always interesting Ulmer manages to spin a few straw segments into gold, particularly the dream and monster change-o sequences, the latter of which hark back to the groundbreaking in-camera effects from the Fredric March-starring 1932 version. Juvenile but fun.

Son of Dracula (1974) (1st viewing) d. Francis, Freddie (UK)

Ringo Starr co-produced this not particularly silly nor scary musical sequel to the Stoker classic. On the 100th anniversary of the death of the grand old bloodsucker (depicted in an intriguing opening sequence that shows Dracula off as a bald, clawed Nosferatu-like monster), undead offspring Harry Nilsson is poised to take his place as the supreme leader of the underworld. Only problem is he’s more inclined to pound the piano keys and romance lovely Suzanna Leigh than dive into a vein. As “Count Downe,” Nilsson seems to be in a catatonic stupor throughout most of his dramatic scenes, only coming alive during the bizarre, barely justified musical numbers. (“I like music” is pretty much as close as we get to an explanation for the Count’s spontaneous rock proclivities.) Starr is his usual avuncular self, buried beneath a giant white wig and beard as the old Arthurian wizard Merlin (don’t ask), though he’s pretty much the straight man here. Old pros Freddie Francis and Dennis Price seem to enjoy nibbling the scenery in their supporting roles, as power-hungry Baron Frankenstein and sage alchemist Van Helsing respectively. A curiosity to be sure, with a few memorable Nilsson Schmilsson musical numbers (“Without You,” “Down,” “Jump into the Fire”) with the singer backed by an impressive array of musicians including Peter Frampton, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Leon Russell and others, but ultimately its relatively forgotten status seems perfectly justified.


Crucible, The (1996) (2nd viewing) d. Hytner, Nicholas (USA)

In adapting his classic American stage drama – ostensibly about the Salem witch trials but allegorically to address the HUAC communist red scare of the 50s – for the screen, Arthur Miller splinters his compact and powerful dramatic scenes into scores of smaller, geographically varied sequences in an attempt to “open up” the piece. This approach, unfortunately, dissipates the power of the play by literalizing many offstage moments (the opening dance ritual, Giles Corey’s tragic fate, etc.), and the dramatist also makes some bewildering alterations to his characters’ dialogue, stripping the richness of the language. Hytner also seems intent on heading off any criticisms of the piece’s “two planks and a passion” origins, so preoccupied is he with whirling tracking shots and bizarre camera angles that he loses sight of the claustrophobic elements that make the play work. It’s not a total disaster and the performances by an all-star cast featuring Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Bruce Davison, Jeffrey Jones, and George Gaynes are entirely watchable. But those who’ve seen the drama in its true environment cannot deny the hollowness the change in medium brings.


Burn! (1969) (1st viewing) d. Pontecorvo, Gillo (Italy)

Marlon Brando stars as a professional English mercenary charged with aiding a revolt of the black slaves against their Portuguese leaders in the Carribean Antilles. Of course, once the Portuguese are overthrown the English find their new leaders to be not as cooperative as they’d hoped over the ensuing years, and so Brando is recruited again to destroy the very rebellion he helped start in the first place. Not hard to see the Vietnam parallels – or the Iraqui or the Afghanistan or the (fill in the blank) – here, and the message is still as resonant now as it was 40-odd years ago. History will teach us nothing.

Shooting, The (1966) (1st viewing) d. Helleman, Monte (USA)

Breathtaking in its spare plot and character exposition, this brazenly independent Western throws together taciturn former bounty hunter Warren Oates, his good-natured if lunkheaded sidekick Will Hutchins, mysterious and strong-willed female Millie Perkins and cold blooded assassin Jack Nicholson (who also co-produced with Helleman) and lets them fry together under the desert sun. The viewer’s curiosity and frustration is mirrored by Oates’, who accepts Perkins’ lucrative offer to lead her through the mountains to a distant town but answers and information prove continuously elusive and increasingly dangerous. Absolutely worth tracking down.

Woman in the Dunes (1964) (1st viewing) d. Teshigahara, Hiroshi (Japan)

An amateur etymologist (Eiji Okada) is stranded in a deep sand pit with a lonely widow (Kyoko Kishida), performing the endless and inexplicable task of digging out buckets of sand for their inscrutable masters. An absolute stunner from start to finish, Toru Takemitsu’s stinging musical score punctuating Teshigahara’s meticulously crafted black and white imagery. The biggest shock was that I had never heard of the film before, in spite of its being nominated for Best Foreign Film in 1964 (and its director being nominated a year later for Best Director for the same feature – surely an Oscar first, though I have yet to confirm this). A film clearly in need of rediscovery by a new generation.

2012 Totals to date: 426 films, 367 1st time views, 225 horror, 156 cinema


  1. Woman in the Dunes is a terrific film. Not sure how you've missed it. I've occasionally sung its praises.

    I'm not a fan of Army of Darkness. It's very much the least of the Evil Dead movies. I've always preferred the first film in that series to the other two, but that's because it's genuinely frightening. The others never bother with scares.

    Daughter of Dr. Jekyll isn't very good. It wastes a lot of time trying to establish that its title character actually IS the daughter of Dr. Jekyll when it could be doing other things. It's ill conceived.

    I used to be uncomfortable with the political content of Burn! back when I saw it in the 1980s (Pontecorvo being a communist propagandist, after all, was beyond the pale of the middle class kid I used to be). I wonder how I'd react to it now, given that the old me was a moderate and the current me is a socialist firebrand. It might be an interesting experiment.

    1. Apparently, I missed this aria. But then again, I miss a lot.

      I'd agree that DoDJ isn't very good, but I still thought it was pretty fun. I'm a little puzzled by your complaint about how it spends its time. Or more to the point, what are these better things that you thought it should have been doing?

  2. Even if it isn't very good, you've still piqued my interest in Daughter of Dr. Jekyll since I'm rapidly running out of decent werewolf movies to watch. After that, all that's left are the indecent ones.

    1. Again, to my mind, "fun" often trumps "good." I forget if you've seen PROJECT METALBEAST, but I watched that this morning for the October Challenge. Speaking of which, I need to get caught up so I can get caught up...

  3. Oh man, I haven't seen THE SHOOTING in yeeeaaars. I remember loving the film, but not the lousy early '80s video transfer. I'm guessing someone put it out on DVD somewhere in a nice looking transfer. I'll have to do some digging.

    1. Sadly, it was not a great transfer. I'm not sure if it was just the disc I was watching it from, but there was a lot of shake and shudder. Do look around for a good copy, I'm sure there's some out there, but be advised that all discs are not created equal.