Natural or Supernatural? Name Your Poison

Movie genres are notoriously malleable things.  We all know what a western is until someone mentions that Star Wars is a horse opera in space or Outland is a remake of High Noon in a futuristic setting, and suddenly it doesn’t seem as clear anymore.  Genres also cross streams constantly.  A crime film can be a noir (Out of the Past), an epic drama (Once Upon a Time in America), a gangster film (Public Enemy), a comedy (Some Like it Hot, which also manages to work in rom-com while it’s at it) or any other number of multiple genre mash-ups with “crime” as the umbrella covering all the different subsets.  In the end, horror is no different but no matter how many subgenres of horror there are (and there are plenty), horror can be efficiently broken down into two categories: Natural and Supernatural.  Which side are you on?

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And You Thought Donald Pleasence Was Creepy

Angela Pleasence, like her father, has a face made for the cinema though not in the realm of conventional leading ladies. Even as a young actress appearing in bit parts in movies like Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush (1968) and The Love Ban (1973), she was never a winsome ingénue or the lovable girl next store. But her uniquely peculiar beauty – especially those hungry eyes that bore holes right through you – must have somehow hindered her movie career because her film roles have been few and far between. She is mostly remembered for her television work, particularly her role as Catherine Howard in the 1970 TV mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, but she should have had the film career her father had on the basis of SYMPTOMS alone.     [...MORE]

Why The Birds Matters

If you asked me what my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film was, the list would be narrow but nowhere complete.  On any given day, it changes.  It could be Shadow of a Doubt or Psycho on one day, Notorious or North by Northwest on the next.  Of course, I also love The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes.  And Foreign Correspondent.  I really love Foreign Correspondent.   Others might name any one of these or substitute Rear Window, Vertigo or Strangers on a Train.  There’s also… well, you get the idea.  With Alfred Hitchcock, there are enough favorite movies to go around for just about anyone.   Ask anyone else and you’ll get different answers than even those, from Rebecca to Marnie.  Now if you asked someone what Alfred Hitchcock’s riskiest movie was, the one where he really went out on a limb, most people would say Psycho.   Given the recent press surrounding Psycho thanks to the excellent book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello (and the upcoming feature film), it’s become more widely known for its risk taking steps outside Hitchcock’s normal mid-century comfort zones of technicolor and movie stars.  And there’s more than a good case to be made for that answer.  But if you ask me, his riskiest, edgiest film is The Birds.   It’s damn near insane.

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Stuff I love

I feel as though I’ve been complaining a lot lately. Pointing the finger. Assigning blame. And so, with my birthday looming, I’m going to take a break from all that and throw some love at you. [...MORE]

The Road to Hell: Women in Fear and Flight

Give me a horror movie in which a woman climbs behind the wheel of a big American car and hits the road to meet her doom and I’m a happy hitcher. [...MORE]

The HorrorDads’ 2011 Dusk-to-Dawn All-Nite/All Fright Halloween Screamboree!

RHS: Let’s pretend the HorrorDads have the run of a disused movie theater and permission to run a Halloween dusk to dawn horrorthon. We will all contribute a movie to the line-up but before we begin, let’s talk about the kinds of horror movies each of us think is right for this time of year. Go… [...MORE]

October is coming! October is coming!

Every October 1st I turn into a big weirdo. Well… more so.  [...MORE]

Technically Speaking, I’m not really a Technical Guy

Art is an act of communication.  I heard that a lot in college.  I majored in theatre and usually the term was applied directly to the subject at hand, i.e., “theatre is an act of communication” but later, I learned, that’s just an adaptation of the art line.  And it’s true, art is an act of communication.  I still use that definition to this day.  Art is the act of the artist communicating to whomever beholds the artist’s work.  The message is received differently by different people and even the artist may be unsure of what the message is, which is why the art has to be made.

Film is, of course, my favorite art form.  There’s a cliché that is so clichéd (if it’s possible to produce a sliding scale of cliché-ness) I don’t want to type it out and, yet, it truly does describe my connection to the cinema so I’m going to go ahead and use it:  Movies speak to me.  Now, that said, I should say that they speak to me, personally, in a very intimate way.  When I see a movie, practically any movie, my heart’s in it and the stakes are my emotions, at practically every viewing.

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THE TRAILERS THAT MADE MY BRAIN

I spent this morning watching a compilation DVD that was sent to me by filmmaker/artist/musician Cory McAbee. It was titled “TnT” (which stands for Titles and Trailers), and it was the focus of a presentation he did a few months ago for the UnionDocs Collaborative in Brooklyn in conjunction with Rooftop Films (whose byline is: “Underground Movies Outdoors”). Their program notes that short films have now become a predominant form of entertainment, thanks in part to the growing popularity of video-sharing websites. But long before everyone was glued to YouTube or their cell phone, we were (and are still) watching short films on the big screen in the form of trailers and credit sequences – both being made, for the most part, by “outside parties (who) were hired to create a short interpretation from the film itself or from unused elements.” Cory’s TnT collection were specific “short films” that had influenced his own work in meaningful ways. While I can’t think of title-sequences that have influenced my life, I can certainly think of more than a few trailers that had a big impact on who I am now.  [...MORE]

From the Mouths of Critics Come . . .

The last episode of TCM’s Moguls and Movie Stars, “Fade Out, Fade In,” chronicled the Film School Generation and its impact on Hollywood history. The episode also noted the impact of young movie critics of the era, many of whom supported the then-radical films against the old guard of reviewers who were vexed by the New Hollywood. A major incident of the era was the battle among the critics over Bonnie and Clyde, with grand old man Bosley Crowther of The New York Times remarking about the film, “This blending of farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste, since it makes no valid commentary upon the already travestied truth. And it leaves an astonished critic wondering just what purpose Mr. Penn and Mr. Beatty think they serve with this strangely antique, sentimental claptrap.” Coincidentally, the reviewer for Time magazine also declared Bonnie and Clyde to be “claptrap.” Either Time’s critic had read Mr. Crowther’s review, or “claptrap” was a very popular word at the time.

Crowther’s intense hatred for the film became a rallying point for supporters of the Film School Generation, who felt the movies of these young, college-educated directors were not understood by older critics of the establishment. Crowther wrote three negative reviews and repeatedly criticized the film in other articles, and then in the spring of 1968, he was dismissed from The New York Times. Many assume that Crowther was let go after 27 years because his opinion of Bonnie and Clyde revealed him to be too far behind the times. After hearing the incident recounted in Moguls and Movie Stars, I couldn’t help recall other films that were wrongly maligned by critics upon initial release. With the aid of some helpful resources, including The Critics Were Wrong: Misguided Movie Reviews and Film Criticism Gone Awry, I thought I would share a few examples that I found particularly thought-provoking. This week, I will focus on reviews of movies from “old Hollywood,” including the silent era through the 1960s. Next week, I will dig up reviews of contemporary films, including those of the Film School Generation. I was going to comment on the quotes, or group them together into fun categories, but I decided they are more telling without adding my two cents. Draw your own conclusions.

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