Tag Archives: Dead of Night

Scorecard: October

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

As usual in recent years, I devoted October almost solely to horror films, and actually managed to catch up on several that I’ve been meaning to see for a LONG time. I only loved a few of these, but I enjoyed watching them all. It was a good month, all in all, with a lot of variety despite sticking pretty much exclusively to a single genre. Horror has a lot of facets! Most of these capsules are recycled from posts at Row Three, so if you read me there, you’ve seen most of this – the only other film I saw in October was Take Shelter, so that capsule is brand new. I kind of like focusing on a single theme for a month. Maybe I’ll do it more often. (I probably won’t – I always say stuff like that and then don’t do it.)

What I Loved

The Cat and the Canary

It figures that my favorite new-to-me film of the month would turn out to be a silent. I think I’m made backwards or something. Heh. Anyway, this “old dark house” film was namechecked at the screening of The Bat I went to earlier this month (see capsule below), and even though I liked The Bat well enough, THIS is the film it largely wanted to be. I saw “largely” because this film is not a crime film in the same way, and those crime elements are solid in The Bat. The Cat and the Canary focuses on a last testament left by a crotchety old man twenty years ago – he stipulated waiting twenty years after his death to read it, and this is the time, with all his relatives gathered like vultures in his spooky old house to find out who will get his fortune. His instructions are complicated, involving a second inheritor if the main one proves to be insane, which leads to much suspicion all around. Add in a potential escaped lunatic running around through hidden passageways in the house and a mystery involving the family diamonds, plus some well-done comedy around the disparate group of people, not to mention the quite excellent Expressionist-style cinematography and really innovative animated titles, and this is a super-fun time. Is it scary? Well, maybe not, but there are some moments of genuine suspense and tension, and a few of the visuals are extremely creepy. I posted a longer review here.
1927 USA. Director: Paul Leni. Starring: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Shanley, Tully Marshall, Gertrude Astor, Flora Finch, Arthur Edmund Carew, Martha Mattox.
Seen October 25 on Netflix Instant.

Carrie

I’ve had Carrie on my horror to-watch list every October for about three years – in other words, as long as I’ve had a horror to-watch list. I finally got to it! And despite its reputation and that I knew the basic beats of the menstruation-bullying-to-prom-night-revenge plot, the film still had a lot of surprises for me, most of them good. First off, Carrie’s mom is CRAZY – it’s a little disheartening to find yet another crazy Christian immortalized on celluloid, but I think it’s pretty obvious that she is totally off the deep end, not only extremely strict on Carrie’s interactions with boys, but insistent that natural biological functions are markers of specific sexual sins and that Carrie’s telepathic ability is a sign of demon possession. Although, to be fair, the film doesn’t really explain where that comes from. Anyway, what makes the film strong and memorable is the focus on Carrie, whose transformation into queen of the prom is utterly beautiful and utterly heartbreaking because you know what’s in store for her – the lead-up, though, is so well-done (if a bit retroactively cliched) that you ache for her to have her perfect night. The denoument had me a little baffled, I will admit, though, and undermines Carrie’s deserved revenge; I’m still not sure what I make of it. Plus De Palma has a tendency to go for flashy shots when he doesn’t need them – the writing and acting here is strong enough that he could afford to save those flashy moments for really striking scenes, giving them greater impact. Longer review here.
1976 USA. Director: Brian De Palma. Starring: Sissy Spacek, William Katt, Piper Laurie, John Travolta.
Seen October 19 on DVD.

The Descent

My interest in seeing this cave creature feature went up a lot after I quite enjoyed Neil Marshall’s Centurion, but the opportunity never presented itself until now. Six young women who have shared various outdoors adventures with each other meet up again to do a little spelunking a year after one member of the group lost her husband and daughter in a car accident. The trip is supposed to kind of bring the friends back together again after the trauma, but things, well, don’t go according the plan. Tensions rise when the trip planner reveals it’s an unexplored cave and that cave-in might just block the only entrance; even this part of the film is good, with some quite intense cave-in and climbing scenes. But they’re not alone in the cave, and the film continues to ramp up all the way to the end, balancing out and out action and thrills with quiet moments that are often just as nail-bitingly intense. The scares here are solid, and even though some are jump scares (which I don’t necessarily like), a lot of them are also the quieter “evil thing randomly in a shot” kind of scares that I LOVE. The effects are surprisingly good despite what I assume is a relatively low budget, and though it’s not hard to predict the order of deaths, there are still a lot of surprises in HOW they come. I apparently watched the director’s cut version, which has quite a different ending merely by having an extra couple of minutes of footage to the end of the theatrical cut – from what my boyfriend was telling me, I muchly prefer the darker DVD cut.
2005 UK. Director: Neil Marshall. Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone.
Seen October 16 on DVD.

What I Liked

The Fog

This was a nearly random pick off Netflix Instant (not totally random, because I have been meaning to watch more John Carpenter films), and I knew almost nothing about it. I haven’t seen the remake or anything. I ended up really enjoying it – Carpenter has a talent for the kind of creepy scares that I love. Not quite jump scares, but where something just appears (with no cut or music to make it a jump) or you become aware of the bad guy’s presence and it sends chills down your spine. I love that, and there are several scenes in here that did that for me. The story is based on a ghost story (told wonderfully by John Houseman to a bunch of kids in the first scene) about a group of people killed 100 years earlier when their ship wrecked in a massive fog. Legend has it that when the fog returns, so will they, and this apparently is the year for it. Fog is creepy anyway, hiding things until they’re right upon you and tending toward exactly the kind of reveals I just mentioned. And there’s more to the story, as the priest in the town uncovers, that means these ghosts are not just unsettled due to their violent deaths, but actually seeking revenge. Not all of this plot works out totally, and the end is fairly nonsense-making, but on a scene-by-scene basis, I loved this. I actually liked it a little bit more than Halloween, which I’m sure I’ll get eviscerated for, but it’s because I like the ghost back story more (despite the nonsense-making). Halloween is the tighter, better movie, but The Fog appealed to my sensibilities more.
1980 USA. Director: John Carpenter. Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, John Houseman.
Seen October 24 on Netflix Instant.

Halloween

Yes, I had never seen this before, though it’s been on my list for a few years. Really, I don’t have much interest in slasher films, but I felt like I needed to see the first entry in each of the major franchises just to be able to say I had and have some level of competence as a film buff. I expected Halloween to be one of the best of those initial films, and it pretty much is. The film establishes Michael Myers with a creepy first-person opening, then immediately jumps ahead to him escaping from the mental institution where he’s been ever since – enough back story to set him up as a character, but not enough to risk falling into the psychoanalysis explanations that too many remakes fall into. But we’re also introduced to Jamie Lee Curtis’s character along with her less-well-grounded friends, giving us a connection to her that a lot of later slasher films eschew (to their detriment). And then the film does those creepy reveals and disappearances that I like so much, even if Carpenter here tends to announce them with obvious music cues. I like his score for the film, so I didn’t mind too much, but some of them I think would’ve been more effective if Michael had just appeared with no score backup. The moment in the screencap above is the best. Anyway, by the time the killing actually gets going, the atmosphere is sufficiently built and it steamrolls to the end nicely. Still, like I mentioned above under The Fog, a psycho killing teenagers is not really that interesting to me as a basic plotline. It’s handled here better than most movies I’ve seen, but it doesn’t really grab me beyond the level of craft.
1978 USA. Director: John Carpenter. Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Tony Moran, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Ciphers.
Seen October 27 on DVD.

Eyes Without a Face

For once I made good on a promise to see a film soon after I made it, thanks to a couple of Row Three-ers talking it up recently. I won’t say I loved it immediately, but I can definitely see the haunting and disturbing beauty that draws people to it. Dr. Génessier is one of the most clinical and detached monsters I’ve seen in cinema – he doesn’t even seem to care that much about his daughter Christiane, whose facial scarring he’s trying to fix via skin grafts. She even indicates that she’s more of a guinea pig to him, a convenient way for him to practice surgical grafts of this level of complexity. Despite our intellectual understanding of her plight, it remains a little hard to empathize with her – that’s partially due to the blank mask she wears to cover her injury, and also to her seeming indifference (for a while, at least) to the girls her father kidnaps and operates on to get faces for her – but in a way, that very distance is horrific in and of itself. Christiane doesn’t say a whole lot, so we’re mostly left with this masked girl wandering around an ornate house, a house which is hers but yet she seems utterly alien in it. That otherworldly quality continues to the ambiguous but poetic ending; the film is more like a strange dream than a horror film (it doesn’t go for scares), though I will say, the operation scene was far more graphic than I expected!
1960 France. Director: Georges Franju. Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob.
Seen October 23 on HuluPlus.

Take Shelter

My one new release, non-horror film of the month! Although, in a way, it is pretty scary – more on the level of a psychological drama/thriller than horror, but still. Shannon turns in yet another fantastic performance as a working class husband and father plagued by nightmares (and sometimes daytime visions) of a massive encroaching storm. He knows mental illness runs in his family (his mother has been hospitalized since he was ten), and fears he may be suffering from schizophrenia, but even as he takes steps to seek medical treatment and therapy, he can’t fight the compulsion to fix up the old storm shelter outside his house to protect his family from the storm he dreads. This causes havoc in his family, already dealing with a lot due to the young daughter’s deafness – aside from his instability frightening his wife (one of several fine roles for Chastain this year) and child, his actions threaten his job and thus the medical insurance that would cover his daughter’s cochlear implant. It’s a lot to deal with, but writer/director Nichols shows remarkable restraint in focusing on this family and their day-to-day interactions, many of which are wonderful and normal – the constant threat of breakdown is meaningful because all the actors, including young Stewart, do such a great job of making this family real to us. The storm metaphor is an obvious one, but it works, and a bunch of the scenes just play like gangbusters. It repeats itself a bit sometimes and could’ve been trimmed a bit, but this is a very strong second feature from Nichols (his previous Shotgun Stories I actually own via some blog contest I won, but have never watched), with some great visuals ably supported by a great score and a raft of solid performances.
2011 USA. Director: Jeff Nichols. Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Wingham.
Seen October 29 at a Laemmle cinema.

The Wicker Man

Another one that’s been on my horror to-watch list for years; how I made it this long knowing as little about the story as I did I’m not sure. I knew there was something about a remote village and cultists, but that’s about it. Religious/ideological battles are at the heart of this film much more strongly than I expected. Police detective Woodward heads to this remote Scottish village on a tip that a girl there has gone missing, but when he gets there, everyone (including the girl’s mother) denies that she even existed. Sensing something’s up, the detective keeps poking around, running across rituals and teachings that hearken back to pre-Christian paganism. He doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong Christian in a personal sense, but he’s explicitly saving his virginity for his upcoming marriage, and when confronted with the contented villagers practicing public orgies and teaching their children about the Maypole as a phallic symbol, he can’t quite stand it and goes all holier-than-thou on them, much to their amusement. The film skews toward the pagans for much of its running time, as Woodward comes across as a bumbling interloper interfering in things that aren’t his business, but that only makes the eventual climax that much more disturbing. Note I didn’t say “scary.” The film isn’t really scary in a visceral way, but by end (which is somehow both surprising and inevitable), it is existentially frightening. I suspect that sense will increase on rewatch, when I’m not as focused on figuring out what’s going to happen. Oh, and for the record, I did love the inclusion of all the weird folk music which almost threatens to make the film an out-and-out musical for a little while. It’s a weirder film than I was expecting, but a less scary one.
1973 UK. Director: Robin Hardy. Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt.
Seen October 13 on IFC (via DVR).

[Rec] 2

The first [rec] was a fantastic example of the first-person camera found-footage technique (one of the few that’s fairly internally consistent), and made great use of its claustrophobic environments. The second one picks up right where it left off, with our intrepid reporter in the attack on the verge of being caught by the virus’s progenitor, then cuts to a SWAT team about to enter the building to shut down whatever is causing the attacks. The scares here aren’t as effective because they’re more out in the open – instead of a creepy feeling of something being just out of sight, the infected here are right there in your face. Which is more gross, but less scary. There are some really interesting things done with structure, though, as parts of the film are done from the point of view of a group of kids who think it’d be cool to break into the building – they’re pretty freaking annoying, but seeing some of the things from a different perspective is nice. The tension ramps up toward the end, and there’s a fairly neat use of night vision. I enjoyed the film, but it doesn’t have the pure viseral thrills of the first.
2009 Spain. Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza. Starring: Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Óscar Zafra, Ariel Casas, Alejandro Casaseca.
Seen October 6 on DVD.

Candyman

I hadn’t even heard of this film before my boyfriend started telling me about it – he likes the Chicago ghetto location and the way the ending plays out, which of course he wouldn’t tell me about until after I’d watched it. I was apprehensive, and it was definitely more on the jump scare creepy side than I usually like, but it did have elements that I appreciated. For one, like he said, the location in the Chicago projects is quite interesting, and the way Virginia Madsen’s character (very white, very middle-class) gets drawn in there through her academic research into urban legends works pretty well – it creates a double element of danger because, really, she probably shouldn’t be there at all, mythical killer or no mythical killer. Then the way the plot turns as she starts seeing Candyman and somehow winding up at crime scenes in incriminating circumstances gave it a thriller angle that I didn’t expect (I even wondered for a while if there was a non-supernatural explanation for everything). Some of the imagery (like the paintings in Candyman’s lair) was nice and creepy, too. It goes on a bit too long at times, and even though I liked the ending on a visceral level, it doesn’t quite make sense to me, but that seems to be happening with a bunch of these horror films. Ah, well.
1992 USA. Director: Bernard Rose. Starring: Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Tony Todd, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams.
Seen October 29 on DVD.

The Skeleton Key

I’ve tended to avoid most mainstream horror movies for the past several years, mostly because they aren’t frankly very good. I’m not sure I’d call The Skeleton Key GOOD, per se, but I had an enjoyable time watching it, and it definitely has some intriguing concepts under the hood. Kate Hudson takes a job caring for an older man who’s had a stroke at the old Southern mansion home he and his wife share in the bayous of Louisiana. You pretty much can’t have a supernatural horror flick set outside New Orleans without voodoo (or hoodoo, as the film distinguishes them), and sure enough, turns out the house originally belonged to a Southern gentleman who had no concept of his black servants being anything more than “the help,” when in fact, they were hoodoo practictioners of the highest order. Hudson stumbles into all this and OF COURSE won’t let it go and OF COURSE goes investigating in locked rooms and OF COURSE starts playing with spells herself and OF COURSE gets herself into deep trouble. Most of it is fairly predictable, but it has a few genuinely interesting twists, and watching Gena Rowlands go to town in her hammy part more than makes up for some wooden line readings from Hudson. Plus Peter Sarsgaard is on hand to be his usual self, full of benevolent menace.
2005 USA. Director: Iain Softley. Starring: Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Joy Bryant.
Seen October 9 on Netflix Instant.

The Bat

October’s Silent Treatment program at Cinefamily screened the rare silent horror film The Bat, one of several “haunted” house crime thrillers of the time. In the opening scene, a master criminal known as The Bat (because he dresses like a bat) manages to burgle a millionaire’s home right under the noses of scads of police, who he magnanimously tipped off to his plans. It plays like Fantômas or Les Vampires, and has gorgeous Expressionist photography as we see him set off to another job, a bank robbery. But turns out the bank owner may not’ve been on the up-and-up either, as he seems to have disappeared and the majority of the bank’s money as well. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how it went down. I was in and out doing volunteering stuff during some of this exposition. Anyway. Before long, the plot converges on a country home owned by the bank owner, but currently being leased to the imposing Miss Cornelia and her niece, where police and private detectives, bank clerks and criminals, not to mention a hysterical maid, all try to figure out where the money is and stay safe from The Bat, whose identity is kept a secret to the bitter end. The promise of the early scenes is squandered a bit in the long, comedic center section with all the characters (except Miss Cornelia and the Bat, both of whom are self-possessed to a fault – a real stand-off between these two would’ve been something to behold!) bumbling about. But the end pulls it back together for a satisfying conclusion. Bonus: Even though I’ve read that this isn’t the inspiration for Batman, there’s basically a batsignal moment that’s pretty awesome to see.
1926 USA. Director: Roland West. Starring: Emily Fitzroy, George Beranger, Jack Pickford, Jewel Carmen, Tullio Carminati, Eddie Gribbon, Charles Herzinger, Louise Fazenda, Robert McKim.
Seen October 5 at Cinefamily.

Child’s Play

My boyfriend cajoled me into watching this despite my protestations about doll fears (damn those ventriloquist dummies), arguing that it was the first of a franchise and I’d stated my intention to watch the originals of the major horror franchises. Turns out, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting; the voodoo element of soul transference was a fun surprise, the pacing of the film is pretty solid, the effects on Chucky are good, the kid is quite good, and those swooping camera moves are fun if a bit over the top and cliched. I do think there were a few too many “oh, he’s not dead YET?” continuations, but aside from that, I was pretty entertained. I do not intend on watching the sequels, though.
1988 USA. Director: Tom Holland. Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif.
Seen October 22 on Netflix Instant.

Pit and the Pendulum

I quite enjoyed the Corman-Price take on The Masque of the Red Death, so I figured I’d circle around for another dose of their Poe cycle, and I enjoyed it, too. Here John Kerr (a little wooden) hears that his sister has died suddenly and goes to visit her husband Price at his remote castle. Price is apparently devastated and eventually lets out that his wife died after a growing fixation on the castle’s torture chamber, left there by Price’s Inquisitor father. More and more macabre details emerge about Price’s childhood and his father, as well as the potentiality that his wife was actually still alive when buried – a fact that seems more likely as she takes to haunting the castle. It all builds to a climax with the titular pit and pendulum, but the more ghastly moments spread throughout involve B-movie scream queen Barbara Steele, who carries off the part of wife Elizabeth with panache that puts even Price in his place. It’s a splashy big colorful film (it is in color, despite my only finding quality promo images in B&W online), with lots of relatively mindless fun to be had.
1961 USA. Director: Roger Corman. Starring: Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone, Patrick Westwood, Lynette Bernay.
Seen October 20 on Netflix Instant.

What I Thought Was All Right

Friday the 13th

And with this one, my quest to see all the firsts of the slasher franchises is complete, I think. I’m told I still need to watch Black Christmas, but that isn’t a franchise, so I’m counting it separately. This is the one I was looking forward to the least, and it is pretty darn stupid. But it has a good bit of campy fun to it, too. Clearly influenced by Halloween right down to the first-person opening kill and the twenty-year jump in time, this one doesn’t bother very much to create any empathy between us the teenage summer camp counselors being killed one by one. The fun in the film is all in seeing exactly how each one is going to be offed, with Kevin Bacon’s post-coital knife-through-the-throat a high point. We never see the killer until the very end, though a lot of the time we’re in the killer’s perspective, which adds to our distance from the victims. In this way, Friday the 13th is perhaps the clearest antecedent to the legions of slasher films to follow, which tend to lose human connection in favor of the most outrageous kills – a trend I don’t particularly like, even though it’s done with freshness and naivete here. The music is quite effective, evoking some combination of Psycho and Jaws with screeching violins and see-saw melodies, but again, none of the character depth or quality scripting that made those films so lasting.
1980 USA. Director: Sean S. Cunningham. Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bertram, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer.

Paranormal Activity

I was more amused than intrigued by the first Paranormal Activity‘s marketing campaign, and didn’t rush out to see it, especially as reactions seemed pretty split between “it’s the scariest thing in the world ever” (which I didn’t particularly care to see) and “it’s not scary, it’s totally stupid” (which also isn’t particularly tempting). As is typical for me with films that most people seem to either love or hate, I’m right down the middle. I liked a lot of things about it – the evocation of the demon using very small touches, like a moving sheet or a shadow on a door, are evocative and effective. It does well with creating its mood. On the other hand, almost everything is telegraphed well in advance, so very little of it is actually scary. And the editing drove me crazy – if this is supposed to be a found footage film, with everything coming from the boyfriend’s camera, why are there so many random little edits everywhere? I mean, he didn’t pause and unpause the camera as he’s walking across the room (the camera would’ve jostled a bit while he did, besides why would he), and whoever found the camera later wouldn’t have bothered with editing out a half-second here and there as the guy’s crossing the room. And those edits were EVERYWHERE. So it succeeds on creepy, suggestive low-budget special effects, but it utterly fails as a found footage film, and that’s such a big part of it that I have to mark it down a lot for that.
2007 USA. Director: Oren Peli. Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs.
Seen October 12 on Netflix Instant.

Rewatches – Love

A Tale of Two Sisters

I first watched this in October 2009, and it was my favorite film that month. I simply had to revisit it and share it with my boyfriend this year, and it did not disappoint on rewatch. I’m notoriously bad at remembering endings, so even though I remembered part of the twist, I’d forgotten the other part so slowly remembering it as the movie went on was quite enjoyable. I love that the film works equally well as a tragic drama as it does as a creeptastic horror film – the very end is absolutely heartbreaking as well as chilling. It takes its time a bit more toward the ending than I’d like, threatening to delve into “too many endings” territory, but as I said, the final sequence makes it all totally worth it. And as I watch more horror films and nail down the approaches I like and don’t like and what scares me and doesn’t, this film is an excellent example of what actually scares me. The sequence where Soo-mi sees a dark figure at the foot of her bed that’s hunched over awkwardly and moves closer until it rushes above her…that whole part. Scares the crap out of me. It’s some combination of sound design, plain weirdness (the unnatural positioning of the figure) and the editing shifting from slow to incredibly fast without warning. So yeah. If you want to scare me, do stuff like that. Jump scares and gore don’t do it.
2005 South Korea. Director: Kim Jee-woon. Starring: Lim Su-jeong, Moon Geun-Young, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Kap-su.
Seen October 30 on DVD.

Dead of Night

This was one of the first horror films I remember seeing that I actually liked – a trend in my tastes toward creepy B&W atmospheric horror that hasn’t really abated, despite my new openness to other subsets of the genre. When TCM played it this week, I jumped at the opportunity to see it again. What I’d forgotten before this rewatch was how quickly it jumps into the frame story, no explanation, just the guy driving up to the country house where he has a weird sense of having dreamt about all these people before and an incredible ability to predict things that will happen throughout the evening. Intrigued by his uncanny sixth sense, the other guests start telling about their own experiences with unexplained phenomena – each of these stories could easily be a Twilight Zone episode, and they all have that feel of something just outside normal, none moreso than the frame story. Often frame stories in anthology films are throwaway and rather tiresome, but I really love this one, and the way it circles in on itself and the other stories at the end is surreal and genuinely intense, even though several of the stories are not particularly scary. I was a little afraid it wouldn’t hold up to my memories on rewatch, but it did. I still love it.
1945 UK. Director: Basil Dearden, Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton. Starring: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird, Sally Ann Howes, Robert Wyndam.
Seen October 10 on TCM.

Jaws

Watching this again, I’m not entirely sure what genre it should be. I guess all creature features tend to be lumped into horror, but it plays more like a character drama punctuated by bursts of intense thrills. So, creature feature drama thriller, I guess. Whatever it is, it’s damned impressive, even thirty-five years later. Countless films have tried to capture whatever it is that makes Jaws special, but few even come close – the pacing is perfect, building up the tension before the shark attacks and letting it go just at the last minute, or temporarily difusing it with a red herring. The fact that the film comes right out of the gate and makes a dog and a little boy among the first set of victims is telling – it remains shocking. Thrills aside, the real pleasure here is the interactions between the three very different characters who go after him. Beginning as stereotypes, but not sticking to them, Brody, Quint, and Hooper have a competition/companionship vibe among them that’s much stronger than most creature features have time to establish. Sure, the movie has great special effects (you’ll rarely notice the shark is animatronic), thrilling action, and even awkward humor in the form of the dumbass mayor and his cronies, but the depth of character and willingness to linger on the in-between moments are what make Jaws great.
1975 USA. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton.
Seen October 7 on DVD.

Rewatches – Like

The Uninvited

It’s been so long since I’ve seen this one I didn’t remember anything beyond the descriptor “creepy haunted house movie.” Which could describe umpteen different movies. A rewatch was definitely in order, especially since I’ve continued to mention the film as an example of the kind of 1940s quiet horror that’s closest to my heart even as my memory of it faded into nothingness. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey are brother and sister who buy a deserted seaside mansion, only to discover that it’s routinely filled with noises of crying, flickering candles, creeping coldness, and a scent of mimosas, none of which can be explained scientifically. It all seems bound up in the former owner’s granddaughter, who lived in the house until she was three and her mother died falling off the cliff. The next logical step – hold some seances! Of course. It’s a charming little film, really, with a nice crotchety performance from veteran Donald Crisp as the dour grandfather, and some really effective special effects on the ghost. It’s not particularly scary, but it definitely has the quietly chilling atmosphere down pat.
1944 USA. Director: Lewis Allen. Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Alan Napier.
Seen October 10 on TCM.

Totals

Films seen for the first time in October: 16
Rewatches in October: 4
Films seen in theatres in October: 2
List of Shame films seen in October: 3
2010s films seen in October: 1
2000s films seen in October: 5 (1 rewatch)
1990s films seen in October: 1
1980s films seen in October: 3
1970s films seen in October: 4 (1 rewatch)
1960s films seen in October: 2
1940s films seen in October: 2 (2 rewatches)
1920s films seen in October: 2
American films seen in October: 14 (2 rewatches)
British films seen in October: 3 (1 rewatch)
Spanish films seen in October: 1
French films seen in October: 1
Korean films seen in October: 1 (1 rewatch)

Classic Horror: Dead of Night (1945)

Omnibus films have a long and distinguished history, especially in the horror genre, and it’s possible that this quiet British film from Ealing Studios is one of the first. It’s certainly one of my favorites. I’ve seen it several times before, but when TCM played it recently, I couldn’t resist watching it again. The first time I saw it, many years ago, it was one of the first legitimate horror films that I actually liked (I didn’t start venturing into horror much until a couple of years ago), partially because, well, it isn’t that scary, but also because I love the way the frame story works. Most of the time, frame stories in omnibus films are pretty throwaway, just a string to hang the other stories on. But in Dead of Night, it’s essential, and possibly even the most intriguing/scariest of the stories.

This frame story has provincial architect Walter (played by Mervyn Johns) arriving at a country house to meet with the owner about potential renovations, but his demeanor reveals that something’s not quite right – he’s off-balance, and soon tells his host and the various other guests at the house that he’s met them all and experienced this situation before, even though he hasn’t. He’s convinced that certain things will happen throughout the evening (and they do), and that eventually something truly terrible that he can’t quite remember will happen, filling him with dread. The others laugh it off as a weird coincidence, but each of them also has a strange story to relay, and those stories, told in turn, take up the bulk of the film.

A few of the stories are relatively unmemorable, and none of particularly scary, but they’re all entertaining and a couple of them are quite well-done and chilling. One story of a wounded soldier seeing a vision of a dark hearse waiting for him is pretty routine and doesn’t go much of anywhere, and the Charles Crichton-directed golfing ghost episode is played for broad laughs rather than scares (which is fitting, since Crichton was responsible for some of Ealing’s most uproarious comedies, from The Lavender Hill Mob to A Fish Called Wanda). But the young girl’s tale of going through a door while playing hide and seek in a supposedly haunted mansion and meeting a little boy who doesn’t seem to belong with the party she’s at has one of those nice chills right at the end that Twilight Zone episodes do so well. Really, that’s the best comparison for these stories – they get just barely to the weird and unexplained part, just enough to suggest to you something odd and then stop just when your imagination can take over. It’s one of my favorite horror techniques.

There’s also a finely done creepy story of a mirror that shows another room in it, a room that turns out to hold its own horrific secrets that threaten to bleed into our character’s life. This one evokes a bit of Dorian Gray for me, where an image ends up affecting the owner’s life in a far deeper way than initially expected, and though it plays out more like a thriller than horror, it’s quite a nice little entry. It’s got kind of a Victorian feel to it (as do most of the shorts, actually, but this one and the haunted mansion one do most strongly) that appeals to my horror sensibilities.

But the segment that most people remember from this film and definitely the most creepy one is the last one before the frame story kicks back in, bringing us full circle in more ways than one. The last segment, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (an Italian expatriot who also did several other excellent moody British films during this time, and also directed the haunted mansion segment here), has to do with a ventriloquist played by Michael Redgrave and his dummy, who seems to have a strange control over his master – in fact, who indeed IS the master? I’m always creeped out by ventriloquist’s dummies, and I have a pretty strong feeling that this movie started that.

When the frame story comes back, the last of Walter’s predictions comes true, and he soon falls into a surreal nightmare world that’s worthy of Dali or almost David Lynch – most of the movie isn’t scary, but this part is genuinely frightening, I think, and elements from all the other stories turn up again, distorted into an Expressionist mishmash of terror. It’s pretty short, but there are some wonderful and terrible images in there, and then the last little coda, which I won’t spoil, is fantastic and the thing that really sold me all those years ago on loving this film. I loved it all over again this time.

Directors: Robert Hamer (“The Haunted Mirror”), Basil Deardon (“Hearse Driver” and “Linking Narrative”), Alberto Cavalcanti (“Christmas Party” and “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”)
Screenplay: John Baines and Angus MacPhail
Original Stories by: H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, John Baines, Angus MacPhail
Producer: Michael Balcon
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe, Stanley Pavey
Editing: Charles Hasse
Score: Georges Auric
Starring: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk, Sally Ann Howes, Robert Wyndam, Michael Redgrave

Film on TV: October 26-November 1

village-of-the-damned-002-450.jpg
Village of the Damned, playing on TCM at 2:00am on Wednesday, October 28th (late Tuesday night)

This week we get to Halloween, and while TCM’s been doing a slow build for the past three weeks, this week they start really piling on the classic horror, starting with a double feature of The Haunting (the good one) and Village of the Damned at midnight on Tuesday. Then they’ve got some Val Lewton on the Friday and Saturday, hitting both highlights (Cat People at 5pm on Saturday) and lesser-known but still quite good films (Isle of the Dead on Friday, The Body Snatcher on Saturday). And you can compare two versions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on Saturday night. Finally, DO NOT MISS the oft-overlooked Dead of Night on TCM Saturday morning. If you like 1940s understated British horror, this is a winner.

In non-horror offerings, IFC is showing Les enfants du paradis on Wednesday, a film that absolutely bowled me over when I first saw it, and Kurosawa’s classic of ambiguity Rashomon on Saturday. Not to be outdone, TCM’s got the New Hollywood classic Easy Rider on Wednesday. Also plenty of repeats that are masterful films, so check for any of those you haven’t caught up with yet.

Monday, October 26th

5:05am – Sundance – The Squid and the Whale
Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are married writers/academics who finally drive each other too crazy to keep living together, bringing their two adolescent sons into their turmoil when they separate. Everything about the film works together to create one of the best films of the past few years. Writer/director Noah Baumbach has crafted a highly intelligent script which is achingly witty and bitterly funny; the acting is superb all around; the music fits beautifully, and even the setting (1980s Brooklyn) is something of a character.
2005 USA. Director: Noah Baumbach. Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline.
Must See

8:30am – IFC – Au revoir, les enfants
A new boy arrives at a French school and becomes close friends with one of the French boys. But it’s the early 1940s and the new boy turns out to be Jewish, and hiding from the Nazis. Louis Malle directs this achingly lovely portrait of schoolboy friendship in an uncertain time.
1987 France. Director: Louis Malle. Starring: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejtö, Francine Racette.
(repeats at 2:25pm)

5:55pm – IFC – Trainspotting
Days in the lives of Scottish heroin addicts. Sounds like a downer, and I won’t say it’s not, but it’s also brilliant and searing. It’s actually one of the scariest movies I’ve seen, despite not being in any way a horror film.
1996 UK. Director: Danny Boyle. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly McDonald.
Must See

10:30pm – Sundance – INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch’s latest magnum opus, which pretty much can’t be understood by any use of normal narrative logic. However, it works thematically and emotionally as well as any movie I’ve seen ever. Stories weave in and out of each other, characters merge and separate, the plot you thought you had a hold of becomes elusive and it’s essentially impossible to tell what’s real. But if you let yourself go to it, you’re in for a special treat. You know those 3D images that you can only see by throwing your eyes out of focus? Do that with your mind in order to “see” INLAND EMPIRE.
2006 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons, Jan Hencz, Karolina Gruszka, Grace Zabriski
Must See

12:00M – Sundance – Metropolitan
If Jane Austen made a movie in 1990 and set it among entitled Manhattan socialites, this would be it. The film follows a group of such entitled teens from party to party, focusing especially on the one outsider, a boy from the blue-collar class who has to rent a tux and pretend he likes to walk to avoid letting his new friends know he has to take the bus home. Though they find out soon enough, they keep him around because his intellectual nattering amuses them. In fact, it’s quite amazing that this film is interesting at all, given the amount of pseudo-intellectual nattering that goes on, from all the characters. But from start to finish, it’s both entertaining and an incisive look at the American class structure.
1990 USA. Director: Whit Stillman. Starring: Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Carolyn Farina, Taylor Nichols, Dylan Hundley.
(repeats at Midnight on the 30th)

Tuesday, October 27th

7:00am – TCM – The Caine Mutiny
Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg is a piece of work, and by that I mean some of the best work Bogart has on film. He’s neurotic, paranoid, and generally mentally unstable. Or is he? That’s the question after first officer Van Johnson relieves him of duty as being unfit to serve and faces charges of mutiny.

6:30pm – TCM – High Noon
An Oscar-winning performance by Gary Cooper and an early role for Grace Kelly in Fred Zinnemann’s classic cowboy showdown drama. Follow it up with Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, something of a response to High Noon, which Hawks disliked.
1952 USA. Director: Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado.

12:00M – TCM – The Haunting
No worries, this is the good, 1963 version of The Haunting, not the overblown 1999 remake. The story’s the same, but Robert Wise’s original is creepy, disturbing, and, like, good.
1963 USA. Director: Robert Wise. Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn.
(repeats at 10:00am on the 31st)

2:00am (28th) – TCM – Village of the Damned (1960)
After all the inhabitants of a small British village mysteriously black out at the same time, all the women become pregnant and later give birth simultaneously to a group of fair-haired children who, as they grow, prove to share a telepathic bond and strange powers. An understated but extremely well-done sci-fi/horror film that will stay with you long after its finished, thinks in no small part to Martin Stephens, AKA one of the creepiest kids to ever grace the screen.
1960 United Kingdom. Director: Wolf Rilla. Starring: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Michael Gwynn, Martin Stephens.
Newly Featured!

Wednesday, October 28th

10:55am – IFC – Les enfants du paradis
A shy mime loves a popular actress in this classic French film set in the artsy district in Paris. This is one of the most magical, beautiful, captivating films I’ve ever seen. It’s almost three hours long, and it feels like half that.
1945 France. Director: Marcel Carné. Starring: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brassuer, Pierre Renoir.
Must See
Newly Featured!

2:15am (29th) – TCM – Easy Rider
The story of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda trying to make this film is almost as interesting as the film itself; if you get a DVD copy of this, make sure to watch the documentary about it. It’s fitting, though, that a film about bikers on the fringe of society, completely outcast in some places, would be made at great personal difficulty outside the studio system. As a whole, the tension works for the film, which is brilliant, iconoclastic, and marks, along with Bonnie and Clyde, the beginning of the New Hollywood that would blossom in the 1970s.
1969 USA. Director: Dennis Hopper. Starring: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Thursday, October 29th

6:00am – TCM – Follow the Fleet
Follow the Fleet doesn’t get as much press as its fellow Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers vehicles Swing Time and Top Hat, but it’s not far below them in quality. Fred’s a sailor on leave, trying to get back together with old partner/girlfriend Ginger, who’s doing her best to have none of him. Some great Irving Berlin songs, most notably the rather somber ballad “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” Look for a young Lucille Ball in a dressing room scene, and a young Betty Grable as one of the other showgirls.
1936 USA. Director: Mark Sandrich. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Harriet Hilliard.
Newly Featured!

10:15am – IFC – Hannah and Her Sisters
Say what you want about Annie Hall, I throw my vote for best Woody Allen movie ever to Hannah and Her Sisters. It has all the elements Allen is known for – neurotic characters, infidelity, a tendency to philosophize randomly, New York City, dysfunctional family dynamics, acerbic wit – and blends them together much more cogently and evenly than most of his films do.
1986 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Barbara Hershey, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Woody Allen.
Must See
(repeats at 3:30pm)

9:00pm – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
This unflinching Romanian film remains one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in the last several years. Set in the mid-1980s, it builds a thriller-like story of a woman trying to help her friend obtain a dangerous illegal abortion – yet it’s a thriller so deliberate that its very slowness and lack of movement becomes a major source of tension. When the camera does move, it has an almost physical force. I can hardly describe how blown away I am by this film…tough to watch, but incredibly worth it.
2007 Romania. Director: Cristian Mungiu. Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean.
Must See

Friday, October 30th

9:35am _ IFC – Dancer in the Dark
Bjork plays a factory worker whose increasing blindness threatens to keep her from being able to do her job, which will keep her from earning the money she needs for an operation that will prevent her son from suffering the same blindness. Add in the relationship with her not-as-happy-as-they-seem neighbors and a trenchant critique of the justice system and death penalty, not to mention several musical numbers juxtaposed throughout, and you have a film that’s unlike any other.
2000 Denmark. Director: Lars von Trier. Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:15pm)

6:45pm – TCM – Isle of the Dead
In this Val Lewton-produced film, Boris Karloff is a Greek general who, along with a few others, is quarantined on an island when a strange sickness threatens them. Could it be the work of a vorvoloka, a vampire-like creature from Greek folklore? The film itself is uneven and poorly paced, but the last forty minutes or so are extremely effective. Well worth watching if you like Lewton’s stuff.
1945 USA. Director: Mark Robson. Starring: Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Marc Cramer, Katherine Emery, Helen Thimig.

12:00M – TCM – Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock built the foundation for all future psycho-killer movies with his classic. It’s not as terrifying as it once was, but that doesn’t at all diminish its greatness.
1960 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam.
Must See

Saturday, October 31st

8:00am – IFC – Rashomon
Two men and a woman are in the woods, and one of the men dies. But we get three different eyewitness versions of how his death transpired, and the film shows us all three without ever privileging any of them as true – any of them or none of them may be what really happened. With this brilliant film, Akira Kurosawa forever banished any sense that what you see on film is narrative truth.
1950 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyô, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura.
Must See
Newly Featured!

8:00am – TCM – Dead of Night
An omnibus horror film from 1945, set at a country house where each guest tells his or her horror story. In the frame story, a man is drawn to the house, where he seems to know everything that will happen before it does, though he can’t figure out how; the other stories are pretty varied, a couple of them even comedic. But Michael Redgrave’s evil ventriloquist dummy story is one to watch. It’s quiet horror, but that makes it all the better for me.
1945 United Kingdom. Director: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Chrichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer. Starring: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird, Sally Ann Howes, Michael Redgrave.
Newly Featured!

2:45pm – Sundance – Ran
Akira Kurosawa’s inspired transposition of King Lear into medieval Japan, mixing Shakespeare and Japanese Noh theatre tradition like nobody’s business.
1985 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu.
Must See
(repeats at 5:10am on the 1st)

5:00pm – TCM – Cat People
Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur team up for this suggestive horror film, tapping into Eastern European legends of women who turn into cats to protect themselves against oppressive male attention. Highly creepy while showing almost nothing – and I happen to quite like that in a film.
1942 USA. Director: Jacques Tourneur. Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph.

6:30pm – TCM – Curse of the Cat People
Val Lewton’s “sequel” to Cat People is such only in the loosest of ways. In fact, it’s hardly even a horror film. It’s more a rather charming, if slight, drama/fantasy about a child who has difficulty relating to her peers, happier to stay in her own dreamworld despite her father’s (Oliver from the original film) attempts to get her to open up. It is a perfect example, though, of Lewton’s tendency to take the horror-suggestive titles given him by the studios and proceed to make whatever the hell he wanted.
1944 USA. Directors: Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch. Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Julia Dean.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – TCM – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
There have been a lot of versions of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and this one isn’t considered one of the better ones. It’s interesting to me, though, because Spencer Tracy expresses the transformation between meek doctor and monstrous alter-ego almost solely through his facial expressions and physical bearing – no change in makeup – and his intensity makes it work.
1941 USA. Director: Victor Fleming. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter.

10:00pm – Sundance – The Lives of Others
If any film had to beat out Pan’s Labyrinth for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, I’m glad it was one as good as The Lives of Others. A surveillance operator working for the Nazis assigned is to eavesdrop on a famous writer who may be working for the Resistance – he’s torn in both directions when he starts sympathizing with his subject. It’s really well done in tone and narrative, with a great performance by the late Ulrich Mühe.
2006 Germany. Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Theime.

11:15pm – TCM – The Body Snatcher
Producer Val Lewton is known for his extraordinarily literate 1940s B-level horror films, and this one is more of a drama with a lot of creepiness throughout and a scary climax. In 19th century Britain, a couple of doctors carry out their medical research on corpses snatched from cemeteries – but what if there aren’t enough viable corpses to snatch? Leave that up to Boris Karloff, as the menacing cab driver who acquires them. A little slow to get going, but rewarding.
1945 USA. Director: Robert Wise. Starring: Boris Karloff, Henry Daniell, Russell Wade, Edith Atwater, Bela Lugosi.

2:00am (1st) – TCM – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
Fredric March won his first Oscar for his role as the meek doctor and his violent alter ego, but honestly, the make-up department deserves most of those accolades. Well-done, posh version of the story.
1931 USA. Director: Rouben Mamoulian. Starring: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins.

Sunday, November 1st

4:15pm – TCM – Forbidden Planet
What’s better than Shakespeare’s The Tempest? Why, a science fiction set on a planet run by a maverick genius, his robot, and his daughter, of course. Okay, Forbidden Planet isn’t really better than The Tempest, but it is an interesting take on the play, and an obvious influence on the original Star Trek.
1956 USA. Director: Fred M. Wilcox. Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis.
Newly Featured!

6:00pm – TCM – Shadow of a Doubt
Somewhat lesser-known Hitchcock film that ought to be top-tier. Small-town girl Teresa Wright idolizes her uncle Charlie, but we know that he’s an infamous murderer on the run. Hitchcock once made a distinction between mystery and suspense: mystery is when there’s tension because the audience doesn’t know whodunit, suspense is when there’s tension because the audience does. This film is a perfect example of suspense, and Hitchcock’s preference for telling the audience whodunit very early in the film and letting them squirm.
1942 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten.

2:00am (2nd) – TCM – Mon Oncle
Jacques Tati’s Chaplin-esque character, Mr. Hulot, this time takes on modern life in the form of his sister’s house that has been mechanized with all the most modern electronic aids – think Disney’s 1950s House of Tomorrow. Of course, everything goes wrong, hilariously.
1958 France. Director: Jacques Tati. Starring: Jacques Tati, Jean-Pierre Zola, Adrienne Servantie, Jean-François Martial.

Film on TV: April 13-19

Monday, April 13

2:00pm – TCM – Kiss Me Kate
It’s hard to improve Shakespeare, but Kiss Me Kate comes pretty close by couching Taming of the Shrew in a backstage show business story and adding Cole Porter tunes.

8:00pm – TCM – The Letter
A cut-above Bette Davis melodrama – great example of Warner Bros. studio style.

10:00pm – TCM – Grand Illusion
You ever get that feeling when you’re watching a film that you’ve somehow become privvy to something wonderful? The sense that being allowed to see such an incredible film is a great privilege. I get it once in a while, and it’s usually on a film that I expected not to like that much – I mean, come on, French prisoners of war? Meh. But Grand Illusion is pretty much the opposite of “meh.” It’s extremely special. Must See

2:00am (14th) – IFC – Before Sunrise
It takes a special kind of filmmaker to make a moving, entertaining, and engaging film out of two people talking all night, and Richard Linklater is just that special. Of course, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy help him out by being highly engaging and entertaining.

Tuesday, April 14

6:30pm – IFC – Garden State
(repeats at 12:30pm on the 15th)

8:00pm – TCM – Gone With the Wind

12:00M – TCM – Singin’ in the Rain
Must See

12:00M – IFC – Trainspotting
(repeats at 4:00am on the 15th)

12:00M – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

2:00am (15th) – TCM – Angels With Dirty Faces

Wednesday, April 15

9:30am – IFC – The New World
(repeats at 3:45pm)

11:15am – TCM – The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
I rewatched this the last time it was on TCM, and it’s pretty much just as bizarre as I remember – turn Dr. Seuss loose on Hollywood with Technicolor, and this is what you get. No, seriously, he wrote it. The main character is a kid who hates taking piano lessons, so he daydreams a world in which his teacher, Dr. Terwilliker, is an evil mastermind forcing children to play the piano against their will.

8:00pm – TCM – Double Indemnity
Must See

8:00pm – IFC – Night Watch
The first of a planned vampire trilogy, I wish Night Watch were better – it has so many good ideas and backstory, but it ended up fairly incoherent. It’s still worth watching, and I’m still hoping the rest of the trilogy pulls it out.
(repeats at 2:15am on the 16th)

10:00pm – IFC – Day Watch
The sequel to Night Watch. Haven’t seen it yet, so I’ve yet to discover if my hopes for the remainder of the planned trilogy are realized.

10:00pm – TCM – Swing Time

11:30pm – Sundance – Oldboy

Thursday, April 16

6:00am-6:00pm – TCM – SUPER MONDO CHAPLIN FESTIVAL
TCM is running Charlie Chaplin films all day today, and they are ALL WORTH WATCHING. They’re starting with some early shorts and short features, then moving on to the absolute classics – I’ll highlight the best below with the actual times, but seriously. All worth watching.
(see below for highlighted listings)

8:30am – TCM – The Kid
Chaplin’s Little Tramp persona comes into its own in one of his first feature-length films (and by feature-length, that’s like an hour, here). Add in an adorable kid that the Tramp tries to keep from having to take care of, but of course, he ends up taking care of him.

9:15am – Sundance – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Bunuel’s biting critique of the bourgeoisie. Quite surreal, so don’t expect anything else.
(repeats at 3:45pm)

11:30am – TCM – The Gold Rush
The Little Tramp takes up prospecting in one of Chaplin’s most enduring films, with great set pieces including the house that’s about to fall over the cliff, and memorable scenes like the starving Tramp boiling and eating one of his boots.

12:45pm – TCM – Modern Times
My absolute favorite Chaplin film has him as a cog in the wheel of a factory, rebelling against the mechanization of the industrial age. It was made in 1936, long after synchronized sound was introduced in film (1927), but is mostly silent. Which doesn’t hurt the film at all. Must See

2:15pm – TCM – The Great Dictator
Chaplin’s first completely talking film, and one in which he doesn’t play his Little Tramp character. Instead, he’s both Hitler and a Jewish man who looks strikingly like Hitler. This obviously creates confusion. Brilliantly scathing satire – always amazes me that it was made as early as 1940.

8:00pm – TCM – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Friday, April 17

8:00am – TCM – Sunset Boulevard
Recently rewatched this as part of a series at the local repertory cinema, and totally loved it – before I had admired it but it hadn’t quite grabbed me. This time it grabbed me, and most every bit of it is perfect. Still easily the best “dark side of Hollywood” ever made. Must See

8:00pm – TCM – The Maltese Falcon

11:30pm – TCM – Silk Stockings
The musical version of Ninotchka, about a staid, repressed Communist woman who goes to Paris on a mission, only to get loosened up by a Western guy. You’re better off with Ninotchka, honestly, which has the triple-threat of Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, and Greta Garbo behind it. Silk Stocking substitutes Cyd Charisse (who’s really only ever convincing when she’s dancing), Fred Astaire (who’s fine, though a bit on the old side by 1957), and adds Cole Porter music, which is really the major reason to check this version out.

Saturday, April 18

6:00am – TCM – Dead of Night
An omnibus horror film from 1945, set at a country house where each guest tells his or her horror story. The frame story I love (a man is drawn to the house, where he seems to know everything that will happen before it does, though he can’t figure out how); the other stories are pretty varied, a couple of them even comedic. But Michael Redgrave’s evil ventriloquist dummy story is one to watch. It’s quiet horror, but that makes it all the better for me.

8:00pm – TCM – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

10:00pm – TCM – The Graduate

Sunday, April 19

11:00am – TCM – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

3:00pm – TCM – Oklahoma!

6:00pm – IFC – Miller’s Crossing
(repeats at 5:00am on the 20th)

8:00pm – TCM – A Shot in the Dark
Here’s your counter example for the “sequels are never as good as the original” argument. This second film in the Pink Panther series is easily the best, and stands as ones of the zaniest 1960s comedies ever.

12:00M – TCM – City Lights
TCM didn’t get City Lights in on their Chaplin day, but apparently decided to make up for it a couple of days later. This one is from 1931, but is silent. The Little Tramp helps a blind girl get the operation she needs to see again, but doesn’t immediately reveal himself to her. One of the most beautiful and poignant final scenes in film history. Must See

1:45am (20th) – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

4:00am (20th) – TCM – The More the Merrier

Film on TV (Oct 27-Nov 2)

Monday, Oct 27

2:00pm EST / 1:00pm CST – TCM – Roman Holiday
Not Audrey Hepburn’s film debut (that would be a brief walk-on in the British crime caper The Lavender Hill Mob), but the film that thrust into international stardom. She plays a sheltered princess who runs away to see real life and falls in with reporter Gregory Peck and photographer Eddie Albert. Slight story, but Hepburn’s charm fills the screen.

4:00pm / 3:00pm – TCM – An American in Paris
American ex-pat Gene Kelly dances around Paris, snagging Leslie Caron along the way. Oh, yeah, and dancing a mind-blowing modern ballet through Parisian art to Gershwin’s title piece. These days it usually plays second fiddle to Singin’ in the Rain, but American in Paris rewards a viewing.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – To Be or Not To Be
If you never listen to anything else I ever say, listen to this: To Be or Not To Be is one of the greatest films of all time, and you should see it. It’s a comedy about Nazi Germany. I know. Jack Benny plays the leader of a Polish theatre troupe, specializing in playing Hamlet along side his wife Carole Lombard. I know. When Hitler takes over Poland, the troupe engages in an act of espionage both dangerous and ridiculous. I know! It’s simultaneously hilarious, ominous, and heartbreaking. Director Ernst Lubitsch’s finest hour? For me it is. Carole Lombard’s best role (the final one of her career, before she was killed in a plane crash returning from a war bond tour)? For me it is.

Tuesday, Oct 28

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s classic noir explores the dark side of the rich and formerly famous, as a struggling screenwriter gets involved with a silent screen star seeking to make a comeback in the sound era. In one of the most brilliant cast films ever, actual silent screen star Gloria Swanson returned to the movies to play the delusional Norma Desmond, actual silent star/director Erich von Stroheim (who worked with Swanson on the never-finished Queen Kelly, portions of which appear in Sunset Boulevard) plays her former director/current butler, and Buster Keaton makes an appearance as an old friend.

10:00pm / 9:00pm – TCM – Ace in the Hole
This is a Wilder film I haven’t seen yet, but it’s got a reputation for being one of the most cynical films of all time. Sign me up for that!

4:00am / 3:00am (29th) – TCM – Some Like It Hot
And if Wilder-does-depressing-noir and Wilder-does-cynical-drama doesn’t grab you, how about Wilder-does-madcap-cross-dressing-comedy? Quite probably the best comedy ever made, in fact. Musicians Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress as women to join an all-girl band and escape the mob after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Keeping their cover as women becomes quite a chore after they discover the charms of Marilyn Monroe are ALSO in the band.

Wednesday, Oct 29

7:45am / 6:45am – TCM – Notorious
Hitchcock turns in his finest spy drama; US agent Cary Grant recruits Ingrid Bergman to get close to enemy target Claude Rains. When “get close” becomes “get married to” their own budding romance is in jeopardy, not to mention Bergman’s life if Rains discovers her true affiliation.

11:45pm / 10:45pm – TCM – Out of the Past
Out of the Past comes up in most conversations about film noir. It’s got all the elements: low-key lighting (due in this case to budgetary concerns), an existential anti-hero (Robert Mitchum), a femme fatale (Jane Greer), etc. It’s honestly not my favorite noir, but it’s a good one to see once.

Thursday, Oct 30

9:00am / 8:00am – TCM – I Walked With a Zombie
In case you missed it during the Val Lewton festival last week.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Dead of Night
A group of people gather at a lonely English country house and tell scary stories. One of the earliest horror anthology films, it remains one of the best. The framing device particularly makes me happy, and I’m really looking forward to revisiting the film.

2:00am / 1:00am (31st) – TCM – Kwaidan
One of the more famous and lauded horror anthology films, Kwaidan is a set of Japanese ghost stories. I watched and didn’t completely love Kwaidan earlier this year, but I promised myself I’d give it another chance. I was highly distracted the first time.

4:45am / 3:45am (31st) – TCM – Spirits of the Dead
I haven’t heard of this film, but I looked it up, and it’s an anthology film of Edgar Allan Poe stories directed by Federico Fellini, Louis Malle, and Roger Vadim. I know, right?! So I have to check that out.

Friday, Oct 31

7:30am / 6:30am – TCM – Cat People
In case you missed it during the Val Lewton festival last week.

Saturday, Nov 1

2:00pm / 1:00pm – TCM – 2001: A Space Odyssey
In case you missed it last week. Wow, lots of repeats, TCM. What’s up with that?

6:15pm / 5:15pm – TCM – Forbidden Planet
What’s better than Shakespeare’s The Tempest? Why, a science fiction The Tempest set on a planet run by a maverick genius, his robot, and his daughter, of course. Okay, Forbidden Planet isn’t really better than The Tempest, but it is an interesting take on the play, and an obvious influence on the original Star Trek.

10:15pm / 9:15pm – TCM – A Star is Born (1954)
After four years away from the screen trying to recover from depression and addiction, Judy Garland returned for this film of a singer/actress getting her big break in show business just as her actor husband’s career is falling off the rails. Along the way, she belts “The Man That Got Away” and other great tunes that define her late career. (The 1937 non-musical version of the film with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March is also worth watching; I couldn’t say about the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, because I have not yet personally found it worth watching.)

1:15am / 12:15am (2nd) – TCM – All About Eve
The ultimate backstage drama. Superfan Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) worms her way into working for Broadway diva Margo Channing (Bette Davis), but she really aims to replace her. The superb supporting cast includes Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, George Sanders, Thelma Ritter, and a young Marilyn Monroe, all spouting crackling dialogue by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Sunday, Nov. 2

6:00pm / 5:00pm – TCM – Gigi
Vincente Minnelli’s Oscar-winning musical seeks to answer the age-old question – can a Parisian playboy marry for love? This is quite a mature-themed musical, focusing as it does on Louis Jourdan’s intent to make Leslie Caron his mistress rather than his wife, not to mention Maurice Chevalier’s slightly disturbing rendition of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” but it has many rewards in a wonderful score and beautiful art direction. You just may not want to make it family movie night.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – All the President’s Men
The Watergate scandal becomes a follow-the-money mystery of investigative reporting by main characters Bernstein and Woodward of the Washington Post. Great filmmaking, and tour de force performances from Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the rookie/outcast reporters who earn their stripes on the story of the decade.