“Get your shovels!” Bataan (1943) revisited.

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TCM Underground is suspended this week to make way for Memorial Day programming. Included in the lineup of movies about men at war is Tay Garnett’s BATAAN (1943), one of my favorites. Some time ago I wrote the movie up with an angle on how combat movies effectively paved the way for the body count-style horror movies popular from the 1970s on and I offer that essay again today for your consideration. I hope you catch BATAAN on Sunday May 24th at 11:00 am PST/2:00 pm EST.  

First, a disclaimer. I don’t mean to diminish the sacrifices of the American armed forces and their Philippine compatriots by likening BATAAN (1943), MGM’s chronicle of the 1941-42 Japanese invasion of the Philippine islands during World War II and the crushing Allied defeat that followed, to a horror movie. As fervid as my imagination might be, I cannot even begin to fathom what went on back then, in the first hours, days, weeks, and months following the Japanese bombing of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, leading up to the fall of the Bataan Peninsula in April 1942 and the subsequent “Bataan Death March,” during which 60,000-80,000 Allied troops were walked at gunpoint across the peninsula. Of the soldiers who survived the failed defense of the islands, tens of thousands perished through mistreatment and malnourishment while interned at Japanese prison camps. Bataan represents a tragic chapter in our nation’s history… and yet it has not retained the stature of other historic battles, such as Bunker Hill or Gettysburg. With the end of World War II growing close to being 70 years in our past, young adults now have no firm connection to those world-changing events. I’m not trying to rectify that problem today but rather to look again at this early WWII film (like the battle itself, largely forgotten) through the prism of my favorite movie genre to see what comes out the other side. [...MORE]

Love the Genre, Avoid the Movies

Whenever someone asks me “What’s your favorite genre,” it seems like an odd question.   It seems odd because my favorite genres often don’t match up with my favorite movies.  The movies I consider personal favorites spread across a wide spectrum of genres.  I often list movies I write about here as personal favorites, and they are, but the movies I bring up here lean more towards the universally praised while the movies I consider my favorites cover the good, bad, and the ugly all at once.  My favorites are classics, and masterpieces, and duds, and awful stinking bombs too, covering every genre in the book.  And yet when someone asks, “What’s your favorite genre,” even though I have no more favorites in it than any other genre, I say, “Science fiction,” without fail.  Then I’ll add, “Horror, too.  Science fiction and horror.”    Why do I keep doing that?

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Aaahoo! She-Wolf of London (1946)

swlposterThe setting is London in the early 1900s, where a young Scottish woman named Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) is preparing to wed her beau (Don Porter). The happy couple’s plans are interrupted when someone or something begins killing locals at a nearby park. Terrified Phyllis is certain an old Scottish curse that has plagued her family for centuries is turning her into a bloodthirsty werewolf while she sleeps but her domineering aunt Martha (Sara Haden ) and lovesick cousin Carol (Jan Wiley) seem to think otherwise. Is Phyllis a werewolf? Is she going mad? Or is something else even more sinister stalking the nearby park under the cover of night? SHE-WOLF OF LONDON (1946) is often dismissed as one of the lessor entries in the Universal monster cannon but while watching this briskly paced B-movie again recently after decades of reading numerous dismissals, I was swept up by the films moody atmosphere and shaken by its surprising brutality. The film may not satisfy viewers anticipating a typical monster movie but SHE-WOLF OF LONDON has plenty of things to recommend it and with Halloween quickly approaching it seemed like the perfect time to praise its unsung sinister charm.

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A Killer Stalks the Streets of San Francisco in Edward Dmytryk ‘s THE SNIPER (1952)

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You can currently stream THE SNIPER online at Watch TCM

A few weeks ago I finally caught up with THE SNIPER (1952) on TCM, which tracks the brutal crimes of a gun-wielding maniac stalking women on the streets of San Francisco. The film boasts an impressive pedigree that includes director Edward Dmytryk, producer Stanley Kramer, screenwriters Harry Brown along with Edna and Edward Anhalt, cinematographer Burnett Guffey and composer George Antheil but outside of screenings on TCM, it has been somewhat hard to see until recently thanks to a Columbia DVD release in 2009.

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Matrimony, Madness and Murder: HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)

hhpModern weddings often bring out the worst in people. The attempt to meet family and social expectations while exchanging vows that occasionally read like a prison sentence can be a dangerous cocktail made worse by a deep focus on money matters. Instead of enjoying their “special day” couples and their accommodating families often end up obsessing over the high cost of gourmet cakes and designer dresses. And as the manufactured pressure mounts, the passion and purpose that brought two people together can get lost in the frantic shuffle down the aisle. Thankfully matrimony rarely leads to madness and murder unless your name happens to be John Harrington and you run one of the most fashionable bridal salons in Paris. Harrington is the main protagonist in Mario Bava’s incredibly stylish thriller HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON aka IL ROSSO SEGNO DELLA FOLLIA (1970), which airs on TCM underground this coming Saturday (11PM PST/2AM EST). The grisly title tends to conjure up all kinds of terrible images in the mind’s eye but the film, which details Harrington’s murderous exploits, is surprisingly free of gore. Corpses do pile up in HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON but they’re drenched in more bridal lace than blood. The film’s dreamlike atmosphere and Hitchcockian plot twists leave a lot to the imagination and viewers who tune in to TCM Underground on Saturday night should appreciate Bava’s bold color palette, inventive directing choices as well as his bleak sense of humor and willingness to scrutinize the myth of marital bliss as well as the fickle world of fashion with a critical eye.

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The Nightmarish World of Maya Deren

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Those of us who appreciate the eclectic programming on TCM Underground are in for a real cinematic treat on Saturday, March 29th. At 12am (PST)/2am (EST) TCM will be airing Pip Chodorov’s 90 min. documentary FREE RADICALS: A HISTORY OF EXPERIMENTAL FILM (2010) followed by two hours of groundbreaking, experimental and avant-garde short films made by some of the mediums most accomplished directors including Maya Deren’s seminal classic, MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943).
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Ancient Evil is Now a Modern Industry: THIRST (1979)

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In Rod Hardy’s THIRST (1979) we’re introduced to Kate (Chantal Contouri), an attractive waif-like young fashion designer with a pet cat and a serious problem. Kate’s the last descendent of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, often cited as history’s first and most prolific female serial killer, and she’s been kidnapped by a group of power hungry aristocratic vampires known as ‘The Brotherhood’ who need her blood so they can fulfill their diabolical plan to turn the rest of us into human cattle. Will Kate outwit her sinister captors and survive her ordeal or succumb to her baser instincts? Thanks to a new Blu-ray package from Severin Films you can discover the answer to that question for yourself.

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Telefilm Time Machine: Home for the Holidays (1972)

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Eleanor Parker in 1972

The holidays can be a very difficult time for some. I know from firsthand experience that when you don’t have any family to rely on or any kind of financial security to speak of Christmas can feel like a national nightmare inhabited by drunken revelers, crazed shoppers and merciless merchants. This is only compounded by what author Anthony Trollope once called “the perils of winter.” More folks tend to die during the winter months than any other time of the year so when you’re coping with the death of a loved one or a life threatening illness the pressure to remain “merry and bright” can become wearisome and demoralizing. I mention all of this because one of my favorite telefilms seems to perfectly capture the darker aspects of the holidays that are so often swept under the rug. Throughout 2013 I’ve spotlighted a few of my favorite made-for-TV movies so it seems appropriate to conclude this unofficial series with a look at HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1972), a surprisingly grim and suspenseful Christmas themed thriller that also happens to star Eleanor Parker who recently passed away at the age of 91.

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Adults Only: House on Straw Hill (1976)

lhIn the early 1980s British home video stores found themselves in the center of a storm when moral panic swept through the U.K. Religious leaders, parents and politically motivated individuals created what’s now known as the “video nasty” scare after discovering that stores were renting graphic horror films usually reserved for American grindhouses and indiscriminate drive-ins. Most of the objectionable movies were made in the U.S. or Italy where excessive violence and nudity had few problems getting past censors if it was properly rated but in Britain film censorship tended to be much more restrictive. Movies with explicit content and titles that often intended to shock such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), THE DRILLER KILLER (1979) and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) caused widespread outrage throughout the U.K. that led to them being removed from video stores, criminally prosecuted or cut for British audiences. The only British film that was apparently singled out during the video nasty scare was James Kenelm Clarke’s THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL (aka Exposé; 1976). For decades this notorious erotic thriller has had the reputation of being one of the sleaziest films ever produced in Britain during the 1970s, which made it difficult to see. Badly cut or edited video copies circulated among the curious but the quality was always questionable. Thanks to the efforts of Severin Films I recently had the opportunity to catch up with this infamous film on DVD but it didn’t exactly live up to its seedy status. Is it an unsung cult classic waiting rediscovery? Or is it one of the most depraved movies ever made? In truth it’s neither of these things but I’m glad that Severin has saved the film from obscurity and given it a new life on DVD.

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What Terrors Await Inside… The Black Room?

Serial killers are not a recent phenomenon in horror, they’ve been around for a while. The difference is, when one appeared in a horror movie back in the day, he was called a “mad killer” or, more simply, a “killer on the loose.” But they’ve been there a long time, especially once public interest in real life killers like H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper took hold.  When one thinks of classic portrayals of serial killers on the silver screen, the names Peter Lorre, Anthony Perkins and Anthony Hopkins immediately come to mind, having portrayed three of the most notable serial killers in film history, in the films M, Psycho and Silence of the Lambs (and its sequels and prequels), respectively.  But one name that should come to mind, and too often doesn’t, is Boris Karloff.  He’s played more killers than most people know and perhaps the best of them all is serial killer Gregor in the 1935 horror classic, The Black Room, directed by Roy William Neill.

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