Tourists are shipwrecked on an island ruled by an SS commander with a dark secret: undead super soldiers still kicking years after World War II. It sounds ludicrous, and it absolutely is, but the cast includes Hammer’s Peter Cushing as the villainous commandant, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ Brooke Adams, minus her shaking eyeball trick. Some of the images are indelible. People love Dead Snow, but if you only have the chance to watch one underwater Nazi zombie movie this month, this is the one.
31 Days of Horror Films: Shock Waves (1977, D: Ken Wiederhorn, W: John Kent Harrison, Ken Pare, Ken Wiederhorn)
An exceedingly outlandish sci-fi monster movie, The Hidden has alien Kyle MacLachlan assisting angry ’80s cop Michael Nouri in tracking down a body-hopping alien who likes Ferraris, metal and shooting people in the face. Lots of stuff blows up, gets mowed down or driven over. He also did Alone in the Dark, in which Jack Palance and Martin Landau terrorize “Howling Mad” Murdock Dwight Schultz, and the homoerotic themed Nightmare on Elm Street 2, about which Sholder says, “I simply didn’t have the self-awareness to realize that any of this might be interpreted as gay.” In other words, he’s not big on nuance. But The Hidden is pretty awesome. Plus you can watch the whole movie on YouTube.
Tobe Hooper staked his claim with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and this is one of his more successful later films. This one isn’t as corrupted as his more Hollywood pictures — Poltergeist (which is good in its own right but more Spielberg than Hooper, and features way too much whispering for my taste; can’t stand mouth sounds), Lifeforce (which I love in its own weird way, but that’s more about Mathilda May and Patrick Stewart’s brain being sucked out), and Invaders From Mars (a mistake, albeit with the late Karen Black who is always great to watch) — but instead is a genuine thrill-ride horror story with a mostly sympathetic villain. An underrated film. The film’s premise alone — being stuck on a funhouse ride after the carnival closes — is a real fear, and the film exploits it in just the right manner. If Texas Chainsaw is Hooper’s Halloween, to make a Carpenter comparison, this is his The Fog.
It’s October 1, so that means it’s time to embark on 31 days of horror films, in which I’m going to write a little bit about a horror movie I love or loathe every day. If anyone else wants to join me in the challenge, feel free, just tag me somewhere or let me know so I can read yours too. (I know Marc Mueller, Jon Hunt and Trixi Michelle Hunter are doing similar month-long horror fests so I can’t wait to see if we cross streams at any point). First one up is “Pieces,” which has one of the greatest horror trailers (make that meta-horror trailers) ever: “You don’t have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre” reads one title card, while another simply says “It’s exactly what you think it is.” (I do wonder if this is the original trailer?) This one’s trash, but for fans of the genre it’s prime-slasher-era trash.
I love Neil Marshall’s films. Dog Soldiers, The Descent, his total wackadoodle Mad Max rip Doomsday… If there was a reason to remake Troll Hunter, which until just now you couldn’t convince me, it would be that Neil Marshall agreed to do it.
This movie has the insistent, additive story-telling of a 5 year old on a sugar rush. And then… And then… And then… It piles half-baked ideas on top of other half-baked ideas in an attempt to get you to submit to its lunacy. And it works, sometimes. Chase Williamson plays the lead, Dave, and unfortunately is the weakest role in the piece, although it’s tough to tell if this is Williamson’s fault. He’s a paranormal investigator of a sort, who with his pal John are sucked into a world-threatening invasion from a parallel dimension. Director Don Coscarelli, who previously did the great cult favorite Phantasm, and oddball film Bubba Ho-Tep, is great at conceiving unusual imagery and plentiful gore effects (almost all practical effects rather than CGI). But the film’s world feels small, contained, tethered to singular locations while the characters talk about world-breaking horrors. A giant CGI Cthulu-esque “thinking machine” is a highlight, if in spirit rather than execution. Paul Giamatti plays the journalist listening to Dave’s story, and executive produced the film. For particular kinds of audience, this movie will be like catnip: horror movie fans, and dudes who are really, really high.
Grand Illusion (1937 D: Jean Renoir, W: Jean Renoir, Charles Spaak)
This is the one. A war movie that ignores the war, and concentrates on the men — yes, they’re all men — across nationalities. Even in wartime, class distinctions exist, and enmities are dismissed to share a glass of wine between aristocrats. Still, the lower class forms their own unions — in this film through a sort of vaudeville show, as well as a tunneled escape. Renoir examines all of them with a kind of gentle gaze. Eric von Stroheim plays the German calvary captain Von Rauffenstein, with a neck brace and a flower he tends to. Jean Gabin is Marechal, the charming representative of the working class prisoners. I dare you to watch even a minute of this and not be captivated til the end. Orson Welles said he’d take this movie “on the ark.” That’s high praise.
(and thus ends the 31 Day Film Challenge –http://readmorewritemorethinkmorebemore.blogspot.com/2013/07/31-day-film-challenge-rules.html)
Day 30 – The “Smartest” Film You’ve Seen
Citizen Kane (1941 D: Orson Welles, W: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles)
The “smartest” distinction is a tough one. I tend to think of “smartest” as having the deepest layering of ideas, themes, notions and moments, as having the longest resonance. Orson Welles struck this bell as a 24-year-old in 1940, and it’s still ringing. It may be ranked, deposed, and ranked again as the greatest film ever made, but it’s certainly one of the smartest. Welles and Mankiewicz, and, it should be said, cinematographer Gregg Toland, created an immense portrait of a fictionalized William Randolph Hearst, from lonely childhood to rambunctious youth to corrupt, powerful adulthood to bitter, beaten old man. Welles’ booming presence is unbeatable — you can see now why everyone told him he was a genius. Watch the film now and the energy is still palpable. I still find new things every time I watch it. Welles’ later career is full of unfinished, challenged works and the occasional near-masterpiece. Nothing touches this one.
Quatermass And The Pit (1967 D: Roy Ward Baker, W: Nigel Kneale)
I am obsessed with the Quatermass series. Massively influential in the UK, the series jump-started British televised science fiction (it originally aired as BBC serials) and Hammer Films, who adapted the serials into feature films. This is the absolute highlight of the series, about an often cranky, aging British scientist played by Andrew Keir (Brian Donlevy played him as an American in the first two films, although they were still set in Britain), Professor Bernard Quatermass. When a large, strange metallic object is discovered buried in the London Underground, efforts to uncover it are thwarted by strange energy emissions and erratic behavior. Quatermass deduces it to be a Martian spacecraft, buried thousands of years ago. The movie’s DNA can be found in many later films, and, of course, Doctor Who episodes. Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers is a pretty straight rip of the storyline. John Carpenter’s subtle Prince of Darkness — one of my favorite films — was written by Carpenter as “Martin Quatermass” and uses substantial tropes developed by Quatermass Nigel Kneale. Kneale’s worth digging into — his BBC movie The Stone Tape is a cool little ghost story.
The Shop Around The Corner (1940, D: Ernst Lubitsch, W: Ben Hecht, Samson Raphaelson)
Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan are co-workers at a shop in Budapest who detest each other, but, unknowingly, are also falling deeply in love through anonymous letters in this brilliant, nuanced and funny classic. It’s a perfect romantic film for a first date, full of charm, as long as you can hold it together at the end. Yes, it was remade as You’ve Got Mail.