House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill

Image via Wikipedia

I like watching classic horror films. Many of them are campy, but still thrilling in a different way modern horror films are. The films usually prey not only to the characters’ flaws and insecurities, but also on the audiences’ as well. I also find the best and most over the top acting comes from classic horror films. Who can forget Colin Clive’s hammy performance as Dr. Henry Frankenstein? Or Bela Lugosi’s lack of ability to pronounce words clearly? Acting like that just isn’t found in modern thrasher flicks which I find sad. We just don’t have actors like we did in the good old days. Nobody can be put in Bela Lugosi’s cape or Vincent Price’s shoes.

Vincent Price is one of the best scene chewers I have seen ever. His voice is iconic that any self-respecting impressionist has to have an impression of him. He can enter a scene and everything goes quite until he is done speaking. His ability to command the viewer’s attention, the director’s attention and the fellow actors’ attention seems effortless.

In House on Haunted Hill, Price plays a millionaire who invites several guests to a haunted house. He says that he will give each one ten thousand dollars if they can spend the night there. Suspecting that this is a trap, several of the guests investigate the strange goings on in the house. Meanwhile the millionaire’s wife schemes to kill her husband in a way where she would never be suspected.

I like classic horror, because it doesn’t necessarily scare the way more modern horror films do. However there is one moment in the film when the young woman guest goes into a dark room and something jumps out at her. It is the scariest moment in the film because I wasn’t expecting it. Other moments that are similar don’t work as well, including the floating skeleton that the wife thinks is her husband. It looks like they stole a skeleton from a science lab and put strings on it.

Vincent Price ends up out smarting his clever wife and giving her the old heave-ho in the most nonchalant way in cinema history. I love the scene when the millionaire and his wife are in his bedroom. Vincent Price is so mean to her and yet still oddly charming. You can see why she wants to kill him. I also love how he brings up that she had poisoned him in the past. The conversation was just as emotionless as a recounting of a day to another person and yet what he is saying is so outrageous. That is why I love Vincent Price. He can say the most outlandish dialogue and it comes off as everyday language. He is awesome. I would recommend this film in order to watch Vincent Price prance around, for the cheesy special effects (man I wish I could have seen this film on its original theatrical release. They put a fake skeleton in the theater to be swung out during the skeleton scene in the film. How awesome is that?), and the screams that the young woman pulls off every two seconds. You just want to hand her a couple of tea and lozenge at the end of some of them. Priceless. (Haha. I am so clever.)

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The Orphanage

This film has been on my to-see list for four years now. I have been avoiding it because of one simple reason, I read that is really scary. I don’t like being scared. Ever since I watched the Exorcist and Carrie on the same night when I was thirteen, I have avoided horror films like they are some kind of plague. I am trying now to rectify that, but I can only do that if my boyfriend is around. Thank Christ he was around during my viewing of this film or else I don’t think I would have gotten through it.

Backed by Guillermo Del Toro, this film was the type of horror that I wanted to watch more of. So with trepidation, I dived into it and I liked it. I would go so far to say that I liked it a lot. The story is about an orphan who grew up and adopted a child wants to move back to her old orphanage and start a house for special needs children. However, after the woman left the orphanage, a strange thing happened to the orphans and their spirits still lived on in the home and they haunt this woman and her child. Her child who is sick goes missing for months without any clue as to where he had gone. The woman slowly goes insane and thinks these spirits took her son from her. She then starts an investigation that leads to some fucked up events.

What I liked about this film is simple. I liked the lead character. The film ultimately takes her side and believes that she is not crazy, although everyone else in the film thinks so. She is a strong woman who just wants to find her son, n matter what it takes. The ensuing battles she has to endure wreck her stamina, but she still continues the search long after her husband and the police give up. She brings in mediums and she plays the games she used to play with the children in order to get them to come out. She is also played very well by Belen Rueda. If you read her biography on IMDB, you will learn that she lost a child about ten years ago, and you can tell that she brings those experiences back to the surface in order to play this mother. This provides an emotional truth for the character that is desperately needed in order to portray her right.

Another reason I sort of avoid modern horror films is because of the gore. I feel like sometimes it is too over the top and just plain gross. In this film, with the exception of her pulling out her nail in one scene, the gore is kept to a minimum. The suspense is mostly psychological which I respond to more than physical suspense (like a person actively chasing someone and you are yelling at the screen don’t go into that dead-end, you idiot). I think it is harder to pull off which is why so many psychological thrillers don’t work. But when they do, they become masterpieces. I think this film is a masterpiece. I know that is me being hyperbolic but I really do think that. When horror geeks in ten years look back at this time in cinema history, they will inevitably put this film on a to see list along with other horror classics. I am done talking this film up, just go see it.

 

My Favorite Monster Films

What is a monster? Is it purely supernatural like the old films of Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon or Frankenstein? Is it a human that is transformed into something that will kill other humans like zombies or possessed people? Is it just humans that have the desire for bloody vengeance so they kill their friends and random people like Freddy or Michael Myers? Or is it just your mother-in-law? To me monsters are all of these things, except for maybe your mother in law… Maybe. I put together a list of my favorite monster films from the ages. The list may seem a bit obvious, but I am not well versed in the horror or monster genre so bear with me.

5. The Exorcist

A little girl becomes possessed by Satan. Doesn’t that seem like a pleasant way to while away your afternoon watching? This horror classic scared the shit out of me when I was younger and I haven’t been able to watch it since.

4. Evil Dead

This low-budget classic has interesting scenes involving tree rape and creamed corn barf. I like this film because the women who get turned into the Evil Dead put on a chilling performance full of sing-song devil voices and crazy makeup.

3. Dawn of the Dead

Zombies! This film got me turned on to exploring the zombie film closely. I had liked the modern incarnations of zombie culture, but this film got me interested in how Romero came up with zombies and the history of them.

2. Frankenstein

I haven’t seen the Bride of Frankenstein which I hear is better than this one, but I still find this film really interesting. I wish they would have shown this version of Frankenstein instead of the crappy Robert De Niro one when we were studying this book in high school. It is full of low-budget camp and silly special effects and yet I can watch it over and over again.

1. Dracula, Nosferatu, and Thirst

Vampires have always been a supernatural element that fascinated me. In fact I was one of those silly half-goth kids in high school who sat around reading Anne Rice novels. I also labored my way through the Bram Stoker original. (Don’t read it. It is one of the most frustrating and annoying classics of all time. Man Bram Stoker was not a good writer.) I also watch all of the vampire films that come out (with the notable exceptions of the Twilight Series. Those people are not real vampires. Dracula never sparkled and therefore vampires cannot sparkle, damn it. And they are supposed to be evil, not good!) I love watching Bela Lugosi gliding around being his bad ass self. I also like the Murnau version that is creepier than the novel could ever be. One of the best modern takes on vampires has got to be Thirst. That is a twisted and awesome story about the sheer bloodiness of being a vampire. So much blood! It is awesome.

Monster films I have not seen:

The Thing (John Carpenter)

The Invisible Man

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Hellraiser

Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street

and probably many more films

Naked

I like Mike Leigh as a director. He makes films that sort of scream Maria. They are dialogue heavy, have no heavy plotting, have down-to-earth characters and other characters that may not be down to earth, but have some semblance of reality to them. I like Mike Leigh because he is unassuming. He likes to speak through his characters, whether it be a married couple, Gilbert and Sullivan, or a happy-go-lucky thirty something. Each one feels like they would be in the same universe and I guess more importantly in our universe. He achieves this through working on characters that the actors want to do, having unassuming cinematography, and having improvised scripts. He achieves what he is aiming for in most of his films. However, in Naked, I don’t think that he aims at all.

Naked is about a man who is on the run (?) and he decides to crash at his ex girlfriend’s flat. He nails several women and interfere with other’s lives all while being an insufferable prick. He philosophizes without actually saying anything, has rough teetering on rape sex with girls, imposes on security guards and random strangers that he meets in fish and chip shops, and he leaves each one with a solemn “fuck you!” when he has worn out his welcome. He is on the surface a charming guy in that rough and tumble sort of way. However if one were to dig deeper you find nothing more than a masochist. His story is parlelled with another man’s story who is basically the first man only with money. He is ruthless, angry and sees all women as sexual objects who he can rape and impose on at his leisure.

I am not one of those women who objects to all portrayals of women in rape situations. If a film earns the rape scene either thematically or plot wise, I usually am fine with it. However, this film does not earn the many scenes where there is violence inflicted on women, sometimes resulting in rape. Hell, the first scene is the “protagonist” raping a woman in a back alleyway. It is treated like just another character flaw along with him not bathing and not having any money. I am not asking for punishment, I am asking for acknowledgement. Someone please in the film acknowledge that this behavior from men is not acceptable. Instead the women in the film accept him as an eccentric and the other man as a forceful and overbearing, but not bad. I don’t understand why so many scenes have to involve women being forcefully dominated. Is there no other way for the director and star to show that these are despicable characters other than them raping and hurting girls?

Because of the sexual scenes in this film, I found it hard to really sympathize with the main character. This fact made it a very long film, even though it was only two hours long, it felt like eight. The other reason it felt so long was because of the dialogue. The dialogue was at times interesting, but does he really need to inflict his philosophy on every person he meets for more than five minutes. We get it you are passionately delusional. Wonderful. You don’t need to keep proving that again and again. If this was a series of short films where I could pause in between, I think that I would have liked it more.

If you are wanting to see Mike Leigh films, I would suggest to stay away from this film. I would rather point you in the direction of Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, or Topsy Turvy. All of these films have characters who not only talk a lot but actually have something to say and are sympathetic. Naked’s protagonist is neither of these things.

The Fly (Cronenberg Version)

Due to a mail mishap, I will not be reviewing a Godard film today. Instead I want to talk about another auteur filmmaker, David Cronenberg. Much has been written on him and I am no expert, so I won’t try to put my foot in my mouth by getting academic. I think that he is an auteur because when you look at a film whether it be from the eighties, nineties or recently, you know it is from Cronenberg. I like Cronenberg because he is interested in the evolution and corruption of the human psyche. One of the best films to illustrate that is with his version of the Fly.

The Fly is about an eccentric scientist who comes up with a teleportation device. However he has problems teleporting live creatures and he can’t decide what to do until he finds a girlfriend who inspires him. They come up with a way to program the computer to recognize flesh. After achieving the effect, his girlfriend goes back to her ex-boyfriend in order to hash some things out. The scientist, a little upset about it and drunk, decides that he is going to teleport himself in order to prove his theory. Unfortunately a fly gets trapped in the teleportation system and his DNA is spliced with that of a fly. He slowly becomes a fly, getting more and more angry at every stage. He comes up with a way to become human again, but the catch is he needs another human. He traps his girlfriend who still has feelings for him even though he is becoming a mutant. He wants them to become truly one. He doesn’t realize what it would do for her to not truly exist anymore.

This film is hard to watch at times, which I feel is true with all of the Cronenberg films that I have seen.(Especially Naked Lunch… holy cow is that crazy hard to watch) The scientist when he is in the final stages of developing into a fly, he spits on things in order to eat them, he has these bumps all over his body and he pulls out his fingernails. All of these scenes are graphic, but you can’t help but admire the effects he employs in making this film. Nothing is CGI (mainly because the only thing that was CGI was the horrible film Tron at the time), but rather physical make-up and physical special effects. Let’s just say there is a lot of dry ice in this film. I love the look of this film, especially the teleportation pods. They are futuristic without seeming to be too out-of-place in the modern world. I also love when he becomes fused with the pod at the very end, he turns into this mutant fly pod creature that is absolutely horrifying. I know this is said a lot, but they just don’t make films like this anymore. You believe that everything is happening to Jeff Goldblum the way it does, because it is actually happening to him. Jeff Goldblum had to stand in make-up for five hours before he was able to do a scene. That is dedication. That is what makes this film interesting.

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

look at how crazy huge the first technicolor cameras were

I always like watching documentaries on people who helped to shape film history. Jack Cardiff is definitely one of those men who have influenced tons of filmmakers that came after him. He did cinematography work for the Powell and Pressburger films, revolutionized color cinematography and worked until the day he died. He was an artist that would take problems that the filmmakers had and turn them into revolutionary solutions. All of his films utilized color in such a distinct fashion that you knew if you were watching a Jack Cardiff film. Part of Powell and Pressburger’s legacy is the use of color cinematography and it was all provided by Jack Cardiff.

This documentary was mostly made when Jack Cardiff was still alive. He was a charming man who accomplished a lot in his career, even if he isn’t a household name. The way he goes about deciding on the look of a film is what is most interesting about this film. Cardiff was a skilled painter and he used to copy masters on canvas, study their paintings and then transfer those looks to the screen. The way Vermeer, Turner and Van Gogh played with light and movement is the same way Cardiff plays with light. He also provides some interesting anecdotes about stars including a charming one about Marlene Dietrich. I also find it charming that Cardiff did all of these special dramas that are must see if you are interested in film’s history in the forties, fifties and sixties and then went on to do Rambo in the eighties.

Anybody is interested in how a film gets made should see this film. Anyone who is interested in being a cinematographer should see this film and then watch all of Cardiff’s films. Cardiff is a charming man who has given so much to the craft of filmmaking, it is incredible.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

After seeing this film, it is hard to see Robert Mitchum as a suave cool man who dominated gritty films of the fifties. He so embodies the character he plays in this film, that you think that deep down inside, Robert Mitchum is a lonesome loser gun runner. The only friend he seems to have is Peter Boyle, who plays this slimy police informant and is using Mitchum in order to get to harder criminals. He is starring another prison sentence in the face, and her would do anything in order to avoid having his family go on welfare and not see them for years. He has qualms about squawking on his fellow criminals even though they rolled over on him and fed him to the police. he just wants to make money and not get caught. However no matter what he does for the people he works for, he gets screwed over either by them or by the informant he is working with. The informant wants everything that Mitchum can give him, even if it puts his life in danger. YOu feel so sorry for Mitchum and yet you can’t help being on Peter Boyle’s side when he screws him over again and again.

The look of the film I thought was interesting. In this genre of film, it is usually filmed in black and white or muted colors. However in this film, one of the gun runners has a bright green muscle car. The sun drenches the screen as they arrest many key characters and Mitchum’s wife is filmed in mostly white fabrics. Even if the screen is full of light, the light can still become a damning and judgemental force, just like black and white can become.

I liked this film for the performances more than anything. I loved the wild and crazy gun dealer who Mitchum deals with. I love Peter Boyle as a non-Frankenstein’s monster character (although I did joke to my boyfriend when he first came on the screen about Puttin on the Ritz). I love the fast dialogue and the stories Mitchum tells about his days in crime. Although Mitchum is a pitiful creature, the director treats him fairly and maybe even with some love. However it just makes him more pitiful in my eyes.

Four Lions

I recently caught up with this gem from 2010. I felt a hole in my heart that could only be filled by watching, experiencing and then inevitably blogging about it. If you haven’t heard of this film (What have you been doing, living under a rock?????), the premise is simple. It is about five people (that quickly turns into four) who want to become terrorists in the name of Islam. Yes this film is a comedy and yes it is amazingly funny and yes you should probably stop reading my dribble and check it out for yourself.

So since you insist that I continue, I will tell you why I think that this is one of the most innovative comedies of the 2000s. First off, Christopher Morris takes a taboo subject that has been in the news a lot, especially in Great Britain, and makes it funny. Terrorism is not usually thought of as a funny subject, especially when it has religious motivations behind it. Most especially if the religion is Islam. It just isn’t a funny thing that people believe so much in a concept that they are willing to die for it. At one point in the film, two of the characters even go to a “training camp” in Pakistan that have scared the living shit out of good upstanding white citizens.  They are so feared that American drones make it a habit of trying to find them and kill the inhabitants, even if it might not be a training camp. In fact these characters while at the training camp experience one of these drone attacks. It is one of the funniest and possibly only really scary moments in the film. Terrorism scares most people down to their bones. Only people who are not ruled by CNN or Fox News will be able to laugh at this film. The other people will probably just take it as truth and then go and make racial slurs at the nearest Muslim.

Second off the characters are delightfully inept. They think that people are watching them at all times, they make bomb powder and set it off in their apartment for fun, one thinks that blowing up crows would be an amazing idea, and they think that the mosque would be a perfect place to blow up in order to radicalize the local religious people. One person (the same person who thought training crows to be suicide bombers would be a great idea) gets blown up while trying to hop over a stone fence, taking out sheep with him. Their videos trying to incite fear in the community gets huge laughs from me in particular. Everything these men do and say are slightly off and slightly ridiculous.

Third off even though this film is considered a comedy and the characters are silly, they still feel like characters who have real motivations and families and cares. That is truly what makes a great comedy. I have to be able to relate to the characters. If I ever became a Muslim and decided to become a suicide bomber, no doubt my experience would probably be a lot like the one this group experiences. Life just isn’t all seriousness and stuff, but full of embarrassing and funny moments. This is what most of the people in the world have to realize. Don’t take things so seriously. Even something as sombre as suicide bombing can be rife with problems. Take this film as an example.

Maculin Feminin

Battle of the sexes. A trope in storytelling that is as old as time. However most of the time it is seen from the male perspective and the woman always looks insanely stupid, vapid and just plain annoying. It annoys the shit out of me. Maybe I am hysterical, vapid and ultimately stupid but I know plenty of men who are the same if not worse than I am. Where are the films that show the men as stupid or vapid? Oh right because women who are of higher intelligence wouldn’t go for those men, but men are willing to sleep with any attractive woman even if she is a big ball of annoying. (See how I stereotyped men? I told you, you opposite gender.)

What I described above is the same as what happens in this film. The film follows Paul played by Truffaut’s muse. He is an idealistic and out of work communist. He meets a woman whom he knows through other people and he falls in love with her. However she knows nothing about communism, politics in general, protecting herself against getting pregnant, or anything else except how to look good and how to sing in a flat annoying voice. Paul falls in love with her and moves in with her. However she has roommates who are girls and the roommates are vastly more intelligent than she is. One of them falls in love with Paul and they share a love for classical music and witty repartee while they wait for the vapid girl to join them. He only sees this singer and he stays in love with her throughout the rest of the film.

The film is broken up by long dialogues where the camera interviews these characters. It is mostly focused on the girls that populate the film. One girl is a pageant winner who has definite ideas about getting married, but can’t name what wars are going on at the time (hint: this was made during the period of escalation of involvement in Vietnam and France had colonized Vietnam before the war started. They were just as involved as America was). You also get hints at the love interest by these interviews. These hints do not make her a whole person or redeem her in any way. So why are these interviews in the film? I think it was to illustrate how uninvolved with politics most people are and to also show his contempt for the main love interest.

I tried to give this film a fair shake. When I am perplexed by film due to its historical context, I usually watch the extra features and it helps me understand and contextualize the film. This time it just showed how bitter Godard was after his divorce from Anna Karina. He picked up the main love interest after watching her in a cafe for a half hour. She had been in the popular music scene before she met Godard but had no acting experience. The famous story is that Godard picked Anna Karina out of a soap ad and asked her if she would take off her clothes for Breathless. When she said no, he came back to her for Le Petit Soldat which is a political film. He got lucky with Anna Karina. She turned out to be subtle and interesting to watch on film even when her characters were flat and uninteresting. He missed the point with this girl. I was bored with the film, because I was bored with her. Although on paper, his female roles seem stereotypical, the actresses he chooses brings them to life and make them interesting by their choices. This girl had no choices. She just sang inane songs.

All and all not one of my favorite Godard’s films. I felt he gave this generation, in particular the women, a short shake. This may have been before May of 1968 in Paris, but there was no doubt a building up to those times of political unrest that could be seen in 1965. He should havve had more faith in his peers.

Hail the Conquering Hero

I love this picture of Sturges! It is so cute!

I admire Preston Sturges for what he did in Hollywood in order to make intelligent, witty films that were script based as opposed to actor or cinematography based. He paved the way for many other screenwriters to become directors, producers, actors and/or cinematographers. He wrote dialogue that was at once clever and perfect for the scene and the character he constructed. (That is way harder than you think. Clever dialogue is most of the times not suited for the character, but rather for the screenwriter writing it.) Comedy as a genre wouldn’t be known for its verbally wittiness if it wasn’t for Sturges. (See the Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels)

Hail the Conquering Hero could on the surface be seen only as a propaganda film that is pro-individual, but it has subtler tones of anti-Americanism that can be seen peeking out of the corners of the film. Even though in the first sentence, I said this film can be construed as pro-individual, it actually is not. When Woodrow Truesmith denies that he is a hero and delivers a speech explaining why, the audience still sees him as a good candidate for mayor. This is just my interpretation, but I believe it is because the same reason that Clinton got elected for president despite having several allegations of infidelity against him (foreshadowing his later in presidency scandal). The collective townspeople still saw him as having more integrity and honesty than the establishment mayor.

Also the mayor is pro-business and Sturges recognized, like many people at the protests for Occupy Wall Street realize, isn’t the best idea to mix politics and business. It becomes sticky and makes a candidate look slimy, much like this slimy mayor looks with his pompous speeches and his rapid fire insults. Although this may be considered an idealistic film in line with Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Meet John Doe, the commentary is pretty deep cutting even for today’s audiences. Politics should be more idealistic than it is. Politics should be populated by people who tell the truth and have a real passion for the welfare for people, other than just making money and being power-hungry.

This film should be shown in history classes along with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and war films. In fact it should be shown in place of war films.