Showdown – Horror Style

Almost every movie ever made that involves any kind of conflict has a showdown.  It may not be the grand finale and it may not last more than a few seconds, but showdowns are a part of dramatic structure.  They can be big, like the showdown between Shane (Alan Ladd) and Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) at the climax of Shane or small, like the showdown between R.P. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when he wants to let the gang watch the World Series and loses initially (she doesn’t allow Chief Bromden’s vote) only to pull out a victory seconds later by pretending to watch it anyway.   They can come in the form of a standoff between rich young publisher and legal guardian, as in Citizen Kane, where Kane (Orson Welles) tells Thatcher (George Coulouris) that at the rate of a million dollars a year he’ll have to close this paper in… sixty years or they can come in the form of an imaginary standoff between two movie patrons (Woody Allen and Russell Horton) and a magically produced Marshall McLuhan (um, Marshall McLuhan) in Annie Hall.  But for pure bang for the buck, showdowns rarely reach the visceral heights as those produced by horror.  Here are some of my favorites.

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Looking after women

All the stuff in the news lately about a woman’s reproductive abilities and responsibilities and the impact these capabilities have on society in general and men in particular have got me thinking about California Charlie.  [...MORE]

Here’s to the Horror Film: A Measure of Our Times

I have the unenviable task of wrapping up the Morlocks’ week-long blogathon devoted to horror. Actually, most of us jumped the gun and wrote on horror movies or related subjects even before the blogathon began. I wish I were clever enough to offer an insightful summary or, at least, a show-stopping list of terrific horror movies, but I don’t think I can surpass the articles and lists already posted. Looking back over the blog topics for October, we covered everything from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein to non-horror movies that are horrific to specific films that touched us for personal reasons, such as Voices and the The Hypnotic Eye. Along the way, we speculated on the meaning of monsters, questioned standard interpretations of classics, and drew attention to sound as a technique of terror. Our observations and interpretations speak volumes about the depth and breadth of horror, and I tip my hat to my fellow Morlocks for their insightful explorations of the genre. I conclude our blogathon by offering some thoughts on a genre that cinephiles tend to embrace, though mainstream movie-goers seldom take it seriously.

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The Fear of Losing Control

Horror movies have, for decades, dealt with ghosts, vampires, monsters, mad killers and invading aliens and, usually, the fear of a violent death is all it takes to frighten a character into finding the strength to do what needs to be done (and striking a primal nerve in the viewer as well).    Characters like Abraham Van Helsing find it in them to overcome whatever fears or apprehensions they might have to gather the resolve to rid the world of relentless, blood-sucking evil.  And we, as the viewers, both cheer them on and find a measure of relief when their prey is exterminated, as if, somehow, we were in danger, too.   The same primal instincts of self-preservation inform us when watching a mad killer slashing fresh young victims.   We talk to the screen (“He’s right behind you!” “Run!” ), cover our eyes and hope that someone will defeat this menace or, at the very least, survive to fight another day. But what if the fear is deeper?  What if the fear isn’t about violent death at the hands of a werewolf or vampire or serial killer?  What if the fear is simply no longer having a choice?  Losing your free will?  Losing control over everything that is important to you?  It is a fear that is, quite frankly, one of the most terrifying things a human being will ever encounter but one that horror has only examined erratically, more indirectly as a side-effect than head-on as a condition.

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October is coming! October is coming!

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

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Although Luis Bunuel never made a straight up horror film in the traditional sense, many of his movies contained elements of the horrific and the fantastical such as the “mother meat” nightmare sequence in Los Olvidados (1950), the severed, crawling hand in The Exterminating Angel (1962) or the Devil in his many disguises in the 45 minute allegory, Simon of the Desert (1965). Juan Luis Bunuel (the director’s son), however, launched his feature film career with an audacious and unsettling journey into the paranormal – AU RENDEZ-VOUS DE LA MORT JOYEUSE (1973, aka Expulsion of the Devil) which must have made his father proud as it was brimming with the sort of anarchic disregard for the rational that distinguished the master’s films. It’s also creepy as hell.      [...MORE]

French & Saunders Do The Movies Their Way

I’m not going to assume that you know French and Saunders, that is, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, but I bet that you might.  Even if you haven’t ever caught their eponymous comedy series and specials via some means (they’ve been doing them for British TV since the late 1980s), perhaps you know Dawn French in the title role of The Vicar of Dibley (frequently seen on PBS stations), and Jennifer Saunders as the creator and co-star (as Edina Monsoon) of Absolutely Fabulous.  Both French and Saunders are funny and fabulous, and one of the frequent features of their work together were parodies of popular movies, old and new, with both ladies playing all parts, often male and female, and having a riot doing it. 

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V is for… Viy!

When you’re talking obscure horror movies you’ve got to know your audience.  Mention a movie that the general public might consider obscure – say John Hancock’s eerie LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) or Dario Argento’s immortal SUSPIRIA (1977) – and you’re likely to elicit a groan from a true horror aficionado.  This isn’t snobbery per se but something closer kin to the 1,000 yard stare of combat-hardened veterans of war.  A horror lifer doesn’t just yank one of the ubiquitous Horror Films To Die For from the New Releases rack come Friday and think him or herself a horror maven because he’s watched some poor sap have his scrotum staplegunned to the seat of a chair; the true horrorite has put in the leg work and laid out the cash to buy the films they’re interested in – in every possible media known to man.  A lot of us have history with these so-called obscure horror movies… we’ve either seen them theatrically, in their original release (as I did the above two titles) or followed their trail from 16mm to gray market VHS to studio released tape to DVD upgrade (been there, bought that) to Blu-ray and beyond.  So we tend to be an exacting lot, especially when the O Word is being passed around, because for all our faults – and they are legion – we know from obscure.  [...MORE]

Secret Messages

It has been called “a virtual social H-bomb,” and it detonated at a press conference in New York on September 12, 1957.  Advertising researcher James M. Vicary announced that he had successfully tested a device that could implant subliminal messages in the minds of moviegoers.  Vicary, Rene Bras, and Francis C. Thayer were partners in Subliminal Projection Company, Inc.  Their “Trinity Site” had been the Fort Lee Theatre in New Jersey.  There, a special projector known as a tachistoscope (capable of flashing an image at 1/3,000th of a second) conveyed secret messages to the audience, one every five seconds, during the run of the movie Picnic (1955).

There were two messages:  “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola.”  Vicary boasted that, during the six-week test, sales of popcorn increased 57.5% and Coke 18.1%.

Life Magazine ran this simulated image of what they imagined the subliminal projections must have looked like.

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100 Years of Horrors!

1910.  One hundred years ago yesterday, the Edison Kinetograph Company released the first-known adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1817 novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.  Shot over the course of three days in January of that year, FRANKENSTEIN is a somewhat stagebound 12 minute retelling of the story with some special effects that surely looked impressive a century ago… and still do, to my old school eyes.  Charles Ogle isn’t my idea of the ideal Frankenstein monster but I owe him a debt of thanks anyway for kick starting what would turn out to be a full century of shock and awe.  [...MORE]

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