Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hollow Weenie


The first holiday of the season isn't really a holiday at all, is it? Defend Halloween all you want. The truth is that Halloween is about as real as Valentine's Day. I won't get into the cynical  discussions about crass capitalism revolving around these two, complaining that they're both just blatant marketing ploys for the candy, greeting card and costume industries. Who gives a royal hoot in Hell? They're just pagan celebrations that happen to give the economy a boost while injecting a little fun in your life. You get to play dress up, get the crap scared out of you and hopefully get a lil' sumpin'-sumpin' at the end of the night.

I've always liked Halloween from a geek standpoint because it used to be the only time of year when horror films were actually celebrated by those other than the core group of fans. October 31 became the time we could come out of our parents' basements and freely enjoy the cinematic delights of the macabre with everyone else. Then the next day, let the wedgies re-commence.

Therefore I'm going to suggest a few tricks and tricks for your All Hallow's Eve viewing pleasure. While there is a dearth of choices out there, here, from the Cinema of My Mind's Eye, are some recommendations for your own spooky film festival. In the words of Count Floyd, "It'll put goosebumps on your goosebumps!"
A recent movie about movies is E. Elias Merhige's delicious wicked take on the making of the silent vampire classic NOSFERATU starring John Malkovich as director F.W. Murnau and Willem Dafoe in his Oscar nominated performance as Max Schreck. The conceit of this pic is the assumption that Schreck was a real vampire. Double your pleasure with the original NOSFERATU, but only if played afterward to see how well the former pays homage to Murnau and Co. No tolerance for silent film? Try Werner Herzog's incredible remake of NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE with Klaus Kinki, a guy who could have been BFFs with Schreck.  This also works to a lesser extent with Bill Condon's film about director James Whale, GODS AND MONSTERS with Ian McKellan and that director's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THE TINGLER
Back in his heyday in the Fifties and Sixties, William Castle was a genuine Hollywood character of epic proportions. A former carny, Castle used the same showmanship and bombast to get butts in movie theater seats with a series of schlocky horror films complete with marketable gimmicks like Percepto (theater seats that were wried to vibrate during key scenes in the movie). He even promoted himself as a lower-case Hitchcock, though he actually did make it into the big leagues by producing one authentic masterpiece, ROSEMARY’S BABY. Two of his best directorial works gave Vincent Price’s career a much-needed kick in the ass. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was the most frightening movie I had ever seen as a kid. When it played on TV one summer afternoon, the neighbor kids and I tried to make the house as dark as we could so that we could get the living crap scared out of us. It actually worked. I still think it works on certain levels and always enjoy the performances of Price and a more spaced out than usual Elisha Cook Jr. THE TINGLER is amazing, a wild story involving a creature that inhabits the human body that will kill you if you don’t scream when you're frightened. Two highlights: Vinnie takes an acid trip and, though black and white, the film contains a fairly effective color sequence.

CURSE OF THE DEMON and BURN, WITCH, BURN
Witchcraft in the 1950s is featured in these two sensational British programmers, neither one of them Wiccan friendly but both hold up really damn well. The demon in CURSE, directed by Jacques Tourneur, was unseen in its original British version, but when released to the States, a monster was created for us dumb ‘Mericans. Fortunately, the creature wasn’t a hack job and turned out quite terrifying. WITCH, based on Fritz Leiber’s novel CONJURE WIFE also delivers the goods, particularly in the climax with a giant eagle.

Remember when the walking dead were summoned by voodoo? Yeah, it wasn’t stemmed in reality like it is nowadays. Here are two excellent examples of old school zombies ina pre-Romero world. PLAGUE is Hammer horror par excellence. WALKED is one of produced Val Lewton’s best and directed by CURSE OF THE DEMONS’s Tourneur. Both are creeptacular and feature zombies the way they are meant to be: slow.
Fast zombies. That's about as stupid as cute sparkly vampires.                                                                   

There you have it, kids. See you in the back row...oh, oh, oh, oh...at the late night double feature picture show.

Happy Halloween

Oh yeah.

Boo!
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