The Italian Horror Blogathon: Dario Argento’s Jenifer and Pelts

Italian director Dario Argento is known for his giallo films featuring excessive style, bloodshed and sex. His surrealist and controversial horror thrillers of the 1970s are often cited as some of the most influential films by modern horror filmmakers. In the mid-2000s, Argento directed two episodes of the Showtime “Masters of Horror” series. While not strictly Italian horror, the influence and signature style of Argento is unmistakeable. Argento’s first short film for “Masters of Horror” was Jenifer, based on the graphic novel by Bernie Wrightson and Bruce Jones. Police Detective Frank Spivey and his partner are on a boring stakeout. When Spivey accidentally stumbles across a man taking a cleaver to a woman he has dragged under a bridge, Spivey shoots the disheveled man and kills him. At first thought beautiful, when the woman’s blonde curls pull away from her face, Frank sees that she is quite disfigured. Spivey is immediately obsessed, unable to forget the woman he has just saved. Spivey is put on administrative leave pending psychological counseling after killing the suspect. He returns home to a distant wife, irritating teenaged step son, and even a hostile cat who hisses at him every time he approaches. The next day he follows up on the girl. Her name is Jenifer, he is told, and she has no family, no information is in the system for her, and she is unable to speak. They assume she is mentally challenged and place her in a poorly-run state institution, from which Spivey … Continue reading

The Torture in Store: Ken Russell’s Gothic (1986)

Gothic is a wild mix of the beautiful and the grotesque, intriguing philosophical questions and empty MTV-era visuals, cloaked in an impossible melange of cobwebs and goats and sex and leeches. The film borrows thematic styles at whim, everything from David Lynch to Fellini’s exquisitely debauched Casanova (1976) to Hammer studios’ signature colorful lighting palette. The film opens with giggly residents on the non-Byron side of Lake Geneva, peeping at the poet’s home through a spyglass and gossiping about his sexual exploits and resultant exile. As they watch, visitors to Byron arrive by water and, immediately upon disembarking, poet Percy Shelley, a guest of Byron’s, is beset upon by shrieking fangirls. Shelley, Mary Godwin and her half-sister Claire Clairmont did indeed visit Lord Byron in the real 1816 just as they do in the cinematic 1816, staying with him for a while, then living near him at the lake for months; the film shows them there for only a single weekend. During their real life stay, the novels Vampyre and Frankenstein were born after nights of ghost stories and playfully competitive challenges. The summer of 1816 was known as “The Year Without Summer” due to the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia the year prior. The cold, rainy weather kept them indoors much of the time. In Gothic, this climatic claustrophobia is only barely hinted at, as the night and their inner passions are to blame for the resultant boredom and inevitable amusing seance. The seance, at first a lark, … Continue reading

Carole Lombard

Five hours late and short on promised content, I offer some lovely Carole Lombard photos in humble apology for flaking out on the Caroletennial (+3) held at Carole & Co. To explain why my offering is so late would take away from the blogathon, so look for a post later this week on that. Meanwhile, please check out the Caroletennial (+3) as there have been some truly amazing posts in the blogathon, all of them very much recommended.    

Berserk (1967)

In 1962, the cult mainstay Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? launched a genre of campy horror films starring actresses who were best known for their classic Hollywood films of two, three, or even four decades earlier. Joan Crawford was one of the queens of this new genre and starred in several B-grade horror flicks. Berserk (1967) was her fourth — fifth if you count Della — and one of her most glamorous. Joan is Monica Rivers, owner and ringmaster of a financially struggling circus. During a matinee high wire act, a cable snaps and the tightrope walker falls, only to be caught by the snapping cord… unfortunately, it catches him around his neck. The movie shows this with tasteful subtlety, using the hanging dead man as a wipe-transition across the screen while revealing the wacky, colorful title: Thus begins a spate of alternately boring and campy scenes depicting a series of gruesome murders at Monica’s circus, murders that just happen to be drawing more attendees and more money to her business — precisely as she predicted. Soon after the tightrope walker dies, Frank (Ty Hardin) just happens to arrive, just happens to be a tightrope walker himself, and just happens to want to work for Monica. He also just happens to wind up in her bed, upsetting her lover Alberto (Michael Gough). Alberto is not the only one upset, as evil-sexy magician’s assistant Matilda (Diana Dors) has disliked Monica for years and is now jealous of her boss’ newly acquired … Continue reading

The Unknown (1927)

Related: the first of what should be many Flickr sets: The Unknown. *** There are, apparently, multiple prints of the Lon Chaney classic The Unknown (1927), though sorting the whole situation out is difficult to the point of impossible. In June and December of 1997, TCM showed an amber tinted print of The Unknown (1927) that I really enjoyed. By August 1998 they had begun showing the black and white version we see today, which is the historically accurate version, or at least is probably the historically accurate version. We had a nice discussion about it on alt.movies.silent several years ago. The black and white print on the DVD and on TCM is from a French copy that was basically lost for a while, filed away with unknown/unidentified films thanks to a confusion with the movie’s name. The titles on the current version were inserted in 1978 if I’m reading the Roman numerals on the copyright notice correctly, and are not original to the film. I believe the content of the titles are original, but I do not know, because someone on that alt.movies.silent thread indicated that his old 9.5mm print had significantly different titles. Also, Joan Crawford’s name is different on the print I saw: She was Estrellita. According to Jon Mirsalis’ excellent website, the original cutting continuity lists the character as Nanon, but Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times saw her name as Estrellita in 1927. Not only did the amber tinted print I see exist, but … Continue reading

The Faculty (1998)

The Faculty is a star-studded horror comedy featuring Piper Laurie, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Usher Raymond, Elijah Wood Jr., Clea DuVall… …and Josh Hartnett’s ridiculous hair. This is a fun film, so much better than I expected after the critical evisceration it endured on release in 1998. There is a lot of fun with foreshadowing, such as Professor Furlong’s snarky comment when the pretty nurse won’t pay attention to him, Delilah’s bitchy “When did you become Sigourney Weaver?” to Casey, and the coach’s anger at the sprinkler system coming on during practice at the beginning of the film. Later on, the coach seems to have completely changed his mind about the sprinklers.   One of the most charming things about this movie is that the adults as both characters and the actors who play them seemed to have had a blast making the film. While the students are serious about the threat that has visited their town, offering theories and developing chemical concoctions to save the world, the adults are gleefully terrorizing whomever they wish. There is a fair bit of conflict about the film’s purpose, as it on one hand seems designed to mimic B-grade horror and scifi films of previous decades, but on the other hand not only entered into a highly-publicized deal to promote Tommy Hilfiger clothing with the film but features a cast of several highly recognizable A-list stars. The Faculty contains a variety of references to classics such as Alien, Buffy … Continue reading

The Lady in White (1988)

Be ye warned: There be spoilers. I don’t reveal the murderer, but I reveal a lot of important plot points.   The Lady in White (1988) was mentioned in a double feature post last year on the now-defunct The Dark Sublime, and was accompanied by screencaps of delicious fall scenery — I knew I had to see it. The Lady in White is nostalgia overload. Impossibly perfect fall landscapes and cute kids in adorable costumes overcrowd the first act of the film, and I quite frankly would watch this again just to see the opening 20-odd minutes. I feel the same way about the brief outside shot of Gimble’s at Christmas in Fitzwilly or the parade and shopping mall scenes in A Christmas Story. They induce sentimental warm fuzzies all around, even though I wasn’t alive in any of those depicted eras. There are some genuine scares in the film, mostly due to the immediate impulse to protect a young child who is bullied by racist asshole kids and then attacked by an adult molester. The actual business of ghosts seems detached and flat when compared to the family dynamics at play and the usual Bildungsroman elements one expects in a story of this type. Despite the charming and effective world created for this film, there is some inexcusable tastelessness that would give most viewers significant pause. Frankie is locked in a school coat closet after hours by some bullies, and hours later sees the ghost of a little girl. … Continue reading

The Dick Van Dyke Show Blogathon: The Masterpiece & The Man From My Uncle

This is my entry for Ivan’s Dick Van Dyke Show Blogathon, celebrating the revolutionary sitcom that first aired 50 years ago today! “The Masterpiece” Season 3, Episode 2 Rob sidesteps the ottoman! He then spazzes out and almost falls on Laura.   “The Masterpiece” was the second episode of season 3, nestled between the classics “That’s My Boy???” and the two-parter “Laura’s Little Lie.” Laura Petrie has decided to attend an estate auction, and Rob, Sally, and Buddy have tagged along, ostensibly to do research for their writing gig at “The Alan Brady Show.” You have to admit, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” had a pretty good conceit going with the team of comedy writers, because you could have them do almost anything under the guise of research. Today’s guise: Estate auction. Sally wants to turn everything into a lamp, Buddy has a punny crack for everything he finds, and Rob tells Laura just how much she is allowed to spend. You know, just in case you forgot the show was set in the early 1960s. Laura finds a thing she loves. Unfortunately, character great Amzie Strickland loves it too! Laura gets her allowance upped by digging her nails into Rob’s arm and wins the thing, a thing that is so unidentifiable that even the auctioneer doesn’t know what it is. Up next is a truly rotten clown painting signed by Artanis, which spurs quite a few jokes from the writing gang. Rob Petrie is really boring. I always forget … Continue reading

Slither (2006)

  Slither (2006) is a witty horror homage, borrowing elements from various zombie movies as well as Squirm, The Brood, Night of the Creeps, The Blob, and a dozen others. It’s filled with little in-jokes, such as Rob Zombie as the voice of Dr. Karl, Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman in a tiny cameo, and I believe there is even an off-hand reference to a family called “The Romeros”. Director James Gunn in a cameo.   That’s not to say it doesn’t engage in some overt yet very quotable hipsterism, and I suspect that is a main complaint of those horror fans who dismissed Slither as essentially pointless. Director James Gunn‘s off-putting insistence that the film was in no way related to Night of the Creeps certainly worked against the film, as the is-it-or-isn’t-it factor continues to overwhelm the majority of reviews five years after its release. Michael Rooker as the implausibly named Grant Grant puts in a stellar performance as the obligatory dude bitten by alien slug things. Rooker easily provides the charisma, looks, pathos, rage, and needle-sharp comedic timing needed for a surprisingly complex role. As Grant Grant transforms into something hilariously unidentifiable — the incompetent small town police force apparently believe him to be some kind of land squid — his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) finds herself falling for Sheriff Bill Pardy, her former beau (Nathan Fillion). The romantic triangle is customary, even obligatory, yet it never feels forced. Fillion — who is apparently officially known on the … Continue reading

Count Dracula (1977)

  At 56 years of age when this 1977 BBC adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel was filmed, the desire to pun that Louis Jourdan is “long in the tooth” is too great to deny. Yet his older-than-usual Count has a weighty, experienced presence that is an absolute delight to watch. He is everything a Count Dracula should be, with an added touch of sinister chivalry and intellectuality that is often cast aside in other adaptations, usually to make room for more sexy times. That’s not to say Louis Jourdan is not a sexy Count Dracula, because he is, my friends. He is very sexy. Jourdan’s Dracula is also, soon after being introduced, a frightening figure thanks to some subtle touches. His superhuman strength is barely noted, and the lack of servants not directly explained; you have to think to understand what’s really going on, and this places the viewer directly into Jonathan Harker’s shoes. He doesn’t quite know what’s going on, and neither do you. Harker (a terrific Bosco Hogan) is a necessary character, often marginalized in adaptations of the Dracula tale, here given his full due and made much more interesting than in most other film versions. Hogan’s performance along with the created atmosphere invokes the easily recognizable uncertainty of a new land, especially once Harker embarks on his trip to the Count’s castle. When Harker is experiencing a new location plus the fear of the unknown, we are too. When Harker is taken to the castle by … Continue reading