Holiday Specials

HALLOWEEN 2017 COLUMN

By • Oct 24th, 2017 •

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Our yearly Halloween column, one of our two most popular, suggests what you might want to pick up as a gift, or for yourself at this festive time of year.  We’re always worried that there won’t be any good choices, but this year there are quite a few, including both discs and books.  Some are old favorites in new clothing, others are brand new.


E.T. (Universal)

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ET was one of the great hits of all time.  It was such an unknown quantity when it was made that, despite Steven Spielberg’s involvement, M&M wouldn’t give permission to create the candy trail the children use to lure the alien be composed of their product, and so Reese’s Pieces got the honor and the subsequent financial benefits.

Now, 35 years later, with its scary-but-not-too-scary-for-kids tone, it’s pumpkin-headed alien, and it’s signature full-moon ID, ET has become one of the great and perennial Halloween films of all time.  It’s Spielberg at the height of his ability to commune with children, and it’s John Williams’ best score, although one might agree with this pronouncement more easily if listening to the music without the narrative accompaniment. While that isn’t one of the supplements included with this release, we do get a discussion with the composer.  Close enough.

What we are also given are DVD and BluRay copies of the film, some deleted scenes, and a few documentaries about its creation. As per usual, Spielberg doesn’t do a commentary track.  Too bad.  The few times I met him, he was articulate about his work, and about films in general.

 

FRIGHTFEST GUIDE:  MONSTER MOVIES (FAB PRESS)
Author – Michael Gingold.  Layout – Harvey Fenton.  240 pages.

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This substantial coffee-table book is a terrific symbiosis of capsule-reviewing and layout design.  You can read and digest Michael Gingold’s heartfelt, fan-friendly, appetite-whetting texts and at the same time be deluged with delicious poster art reproductions from many countries.

Though familiar with most of the films discussed, I hadn’t seen at least half of the posters adorning the 240 pages.  Take for instance THE BLOB poster art on page 72, culled I presume from a French-speaking territory, its title amusingly transformed into FLUIDO MORTALE. It depicts the red glop everywhere, with four men and one woman in various poses of pain, terror, and absorption, the woman’s mouth stuffed with carnivorous protoplasm. None of the faces are recognizable as actors from the film, which starred Steve McQueen (okay, it was his first role, but still), and even the blob doesn’t look like itself.  The painting is so chaotic in its boldness that I have no clue what the artist was thinking, nor how the film could have lived up to its promise in that territory…and do not get me wrong – I like the film!

Then there’s THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.  The foreign poster they’ve dredged up calls the film SKRACKEN I SVARTA LAGUNEN.  Sounds to me like the pigeon Swedish devised by Tony Lover for his beloved parody THE DOVE.

What I had a little trouble adjusting to initially were the standards utilized in choosing the 200 entrees.  Vampires, zombies, and Lon Chaney Sr. films were disqualified.   Bad films made the list as easily as good ones. At first perplexing, it boils down finally to the idea of monsters, not the direction, the performances, the budget levels, etc.  And once you accept this approach, it’s kind of cool, seeing all those stinkers proudly strutting their wares next to bona fide historical classics.    It’s rather democratic.

Now I think I found one misstep, one visual that does not synch up with the accompanying paragraph.  I’m not going to reveal it; rather FIR will present a gift DVD to the first five readers who think they’ve found that trivial inconsistency buried somewhere in the 240 pages, waiting to be unearthed.

 

THE LURE (CRITERION)

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Earlier this year I caught THE LURE at a screening in Criterion’s office in New York City.  After it was over I discovered that two of the producers were in attendance.  One asked me what I thought, and I said, quite honestly, that I could sit down and watch it again right there.

It’s a vastly creative film about two mermaids who want to do a nightclub act on shore, and that description, by the way, gives away nothing.  I’m sure you’ve read enough of my writing to know how I loathe coming attractions, spoilers, and the like, but what I just told you is covered in the first five minutes of the film.  I can also say, without revealing the shocks of the content, that the film, made in 2015, is on some level LA LA LAND went even more experimental.  There is a rush of joy and music and color throughout the first half that is miraculously infectious.  Then, unfortunately, the film loses its focus for a while.  It’s in the editing, I suspect, which sacrifices narrative clarity for the headlong pacing.  It fully recovers near the end and so, in balance, you have a special experience, and one of the best releases of the year.

 

ONE MILLION YEARS BC  (KINO/Lorber)

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For all sorts of reasons, this title really held up.  The questionable cave-people language, borrowed from the Original 1940 Hal Roach version, has a certain benign charm, whereas WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, in comparison, seems a lot more puerile and unpleasant to the ear.

Raquel Welsh, who hoped and assumed that the film would disappear in short shrift, instead found that it made her a star and a poster girl of mega-visibility. Her rueful participation proved to be her career salvation.

Supreme table-top animator Ray Harryhausen threw in a live lizard (though he didn’t do so, according to interviews, as an homage to the original which used no stop-motion).  However, he didn’t go so far as to pit lizards against one another, or heave them into a pit, or bury them under fake lava.  Back in the 40s, these shots slipped by the animal protection people.  They wouldn’t have in 1968.  (Incidentally, I find this film’s lava more exciting and convincing than the formula George Pal employed for THE TIME MACHINE.)

Mario Nascimbene’s inventive score is terrific (and available on CD), with memorable themes, and creative, if not quite period (who knows what that was), instrumentation.  The image is lush and colorful.  And KINO’s transfer is unimpeachable.

 

ONE MILLION BC  (SPROCKET VAULT)

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As a fun Halloween double-bill, start with this one and show the remake afterward.  In its innocence, the film, and particularly the relationship between newcomer Victor Mature and Carole Landis is undeniably charming.  The mini-Tyrannosaurus was apparently unconvincing, so they partially hid it behind some trees.  The plethora of live lizards is a guilty pleasure.  Some of the shots are surprisingly gory for 1940.  And it’s fun to see Lon Chaney in a decent role, which he doesn’t quite do justice to.  The informative commentary track from Hal Roach Jr. reveals that Chaney wasn’t allowed to do his own make-up which, considering the career of his famous father, must have irked him quite a bit.

Sprocket Vault, a new company, has done a fine job with this long-MIA title, as well as GO, JOHNNY GO, which boasts a fabulous mastering.

I believe it was in the ‘70s that, through my friend Al Kilgore (the creator of the  Bullwinkle comic strip), who had friends at the Roach Company, I was offered the job of screenwriting a remake of ONE MILLION BC.  I devised a plot with young people out exploring the remote corners of the world and stumbling upon a forest in which time has stood still.   We were talking about shooting it on Borneo, and I was asked for a list of natural wildlife that the local contact would capture and have ready for us.  As a joke I put in the list the name for the local version of Big-Foot, and was told a few weeks later that they had all the animals we’d listed, including that one…

The film never went forward.  Too bad, I would love to have seen that animal.

 

THE HIDDEN (WARNER ARCHIVES)

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(To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection (www.wbshop.com)

A horror-thriller and the perfect Halloween treat.  Back in ’87 when it came out, the most memorable thing about THE HIDDEN (of its many laudable virtues) was its breakneck pace.  To this day the sense of forwarding movement had endured in my memory.  So it was a pleasure to re-visit the film thirty years later and find its momentum intact.

Kyle MacLachlan is a Federal Agent, three years, incidentally, before he reprised the role with only the slightest modifications in David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS.  He really nails a tricky performance, and his face, parenthetically, often looks like alabaster.  I screened it for a group who had not seen it, and they all loved it.  You get car chases, bloody shootouts and mayhem, excellent casting in creepy roles of what appear to be ordinary people with an edge of possession about them, uneven success with humor but enough good gags and lines to derive enjoyment, and particularly clever twists as we are slowly let in on the fullness of the narrative.

As a Warner Archive restoration job, I must say it feels as if the film were just released.  A lot of thought was clearly put into the color design by a devoted art department, and the BluRay’s palette is lush and powerful.  The score is impressively original: at one point in act three, we think we’re hearing noise in the police corridors, only to realize that it’s the film’s orchestration at play.

Director Jack Sholder claims that this is his favorite film.  That must have been an easy call.  The only one of his other films that come close to THE HIDDEN is ALONE IN THE DARK, his first theatrical release, and for that one, just the memorable casting of Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence, and Martin Landau was a spectacular coup.

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