Sunday, September 27, 2015


In the orchestra Glass and his team put a beautiful score to Dracula. The blog is all about October now. Sadly, September is just in the way. Plain and simple. It is the month that ushers in Fall and says, "Kiss my ass, Summer".  That's it, pretty much. It was when my beloved son was born, and my wonderful sister. I'll give September that. But I want my October, dammit!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Eyes Without a Face







 *****

A physician and highly skilled surgeon will do whatever it takes to “return a lovely face” back to his tormented daughter, her own face mangled after pops wrecked a car carrying them. Mother died in this wreck while the daughter endures endless suffering as a result of its damage to her face. A frightening visage that leaves her concealed within the home of the surgeon, to successfully allow pops to use his skills as a surgeon he’ll allow the police to believe the daughter has vanished. Disposing of the latest victim is his assistant, owing him for repairing her face, and this body is identified by the surgeon as his daughter. It allows him to bury the body of his surgical victim, pretending it is his (this kind of behavior sets him up as a serious sociopath), and allow everyone to believe his daughter is dead.



Doctor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) keeps failing in the grafting experiments, using the faces of drugged women (stalked and manipulated by assistant, Louise (Alida Valli; she’s as complicate in what happens to the victims as the doc) in surgeries, transferring them to his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob). This process takes its toll on Christiane…how couldn’t it?

Part of what makes this film so extraordinary is Christiane to me. The mask and those glassy eyes. The way she moves like a ghost. Her haunting quality is iconic. I think her presence is still influential to this day. Mannequins remind me of her. There’s a scene where she quietly trips about her home, into the kennel where pops keeps dogs for grating experiments to embrace lovingly the dogs held prisoner in their cages, riled up but seemingly calmed by her presence among them, and spying on her father and Louise during their heinous activities in kidnapping, chloroforming, and eventually removing the face of a new victim. Calling up a boyfriend who believes she’s dead, Christiane just wants to hear his voice…but she wants to talk with him, but Louise is there to discourage that. Meanwhile Doctor Génessier tends to his patients at his clinic during the day, working on the dogs, and awaiting the next fresh victim with similar features to his daughter. He’s so cold-blooded and methodical, seemingly undeterred by any guilt, undaunted in his pursuit of the perfect face  for his daughter.


In the conversation between Louise and Christiane, we learn that Doctor Génessier was responsible for the wreck due to a rage overtaking him. This motivates the mad surgeon to do his very level best to provide a face for the girl his wreck ruined. I think you can see signs of wear and tear on the conscience of Louise, but she still dutifully assists in his grisly efforts. She eyes girls close in looks to Christiane, routinely follows them, selects them for surgery using methods that would convince them to trust her, and at some point Doctor Génessier uses an agent to send them to sleepy-town. The way Louise drives attentively to the destination of a dumping spot in the Parisian Seine, and discards the body of a victim at the opening of the movie implicates her as a willing and efficient cohort owing so much to the man who gave her a “new face”. I think both doctor and assistant are even terms disturbed.

To think that so much was going on in the estate in the affluent suburb in Paris, orchestrated by Doctor Génessier and Louise adds an unsettling level to the warped plot. The director allowing us to spend time in the surgery room, seeing a face being penciled and scalpeled, and the forceps helping to pry away the flesh to be applied to Christiane; this is a detailed, inert, and mechanical surgery, all matter-of-fact and clinical.

Edna: Casualty of a pretty face

The horrible fate of Edna is a chapter in the film that stands out due to the already mentioned surgery on her so that Christiane could have her face. Losing your face is bad enough, but this doesn’t hill her. Bandages on her head, imprisoned in a cell which favors a hospital room, and facing the probability she’d never be the same where she is, Edna (convinced to ride to the house by Louise who had capitalized on her poor status as a Swedish foreigner trying to get a fresh start in Paris) takes advantage of an opening of escape, knocking Louise across the noggin with a vase. But the house is locked, and running upstairs left nowhere to go. So out a window Edna chooses, crashing to the ground, killing her instantly. The body dumped in the mausoleum with the body found in the Seine, Edna’s last days weren’t particularly magical.What adds to the impact is how a series of images show the "new face" deteriorating. How devastating to Christiane to know that again a girl dies and the results were a failure.

But does this halt the efforts of Doctor Génessier? With a new face, it isn’t long before the flesh starts to die and ultimately what’s tragic about this? Edna died for nothing. Her face didn’t work. So another girl will be needed. This time, an eyewitness (a friend of Edna’s) identifies a woman with a pearl necklace “choking her”. Christiane’s beau knows Louise wears a pearl necklace and a plan by the police is hatched.




What I find fascinating about the following of a girl used by the police to see if Louise (and the doctor) would “bite” is that ultimately it isn’t law enforcement or a sting that brings down the murders…it is the “girl without a face”. Enough is enough. Christiane will take it upon herself to release the newest girl chosen to be a “face lost” in the sake of a guilty conscience and his diabolical use of science and surgical know-how to repair a face his car wreck destroyed. The only way it seems the doc and his assistant will be stopped is by Christiane. The film does show this girl just mentally withering away until she’s just a human shell as vacant as the white mask on her face. That visual, her masked face and gown in white, achieves a dark poetry to it that gives Eyes Without a Face a distinctive power that resonates. Her releasing the dogs upon her father (his face soon ripped apart in a case of dark irony), stabbing Louise in the throat with the scalpel that lent a hand in her face’s repair, and allowing the pigeons to fly out of their cages (symbolizing her own release from her prison inside her home) is what stops the madness. The police, funnily enough, were unable to catch them. It is a clever ruse incorporated into the plot. The police are piecing together clues that start to emerge, but they are duped all the way to the end.

A scene has Christiane begging Louise to give her suicidal release, and this falls on deaf ears. Louise isn’t about to let that happen. So instead, Christiane eventually is driven to the breaking point, never to return perhaps. Her freedom comes with a price.

Monday, September 21, 2015

All Smiles After Psycho



A moment in the theater that really stuck out to me. Norman smiling as PI Arbogast drives away
When that score from Herrmann starts up and those credit titles by Saul Bass come across the screen in the theatre, it all gave me goose bumps. I was jazzed to be in that theatre as the opening shot of the camera taking us into the cheap hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona, to get an inside peek at an affair between lovers John Gavin and Janet Leigh.

 I guess in a theatre it all is so amplified and magnified. The murder and clean up was an obvious highlight. Seeing the shower scene right there on the big screen, how Hitchcock’s camera captures it all…just magic. I was even absorbed by how the opening hotel room scene is noticeably sexy. It often sets up why Marian Crane is snatching the money. Debts Gavin’s Loomis has stifling him. I don’t what it was, but in this sitting, Anthony Perkins just looked so young. I don’t know why they came to me, but perhaps it is a detail that often gets overlooked. This is a barely adult man, one who has carried around his demons for almost an entire young life. 

One of my favorite scenes in the movie, actually. Marian smiling about stealing Mr. Moneybags' 40 thou.
Leigh’s Marian is inspired by him, though. She decides thanks to her talk with Perkins’ Norman Bates that being caught in the trap she walked herself into might can be rectified. Obviously, we know that won’t be the case. 

Because the shower murder lands such an impact (for fuck sake, there’s even a pistachio commercial which uses “mother” to knife at shelled nuts!), the second one often kind of gets less of a rub. It is also quite a well designed “bird’s eye view” camera shot that Hitchcock goes to twice to keep “mother” at a distance, from a high angle. Unexpected and a jolt, the second murder against someone perhaps paying a price for “snooping alone” in the Bates home comes right out of nowhere. It was built to this, too. 


The score for Psycho, to me, is as important as Carpenter’s was for Halloween. I think without the score, you still have a great movie, but the score just dignifies the tension and drama of everything you see. A film that uses money and gets us into the disturbed and tragic existence of Norman Bates. There’s a psycho, the title tells us. The film sweeps us into Marian’s dilemma, and then Norman’s. He has to find a way to conceal two murders by “his mother”. 


As the film shows you, one or two murders cannot keep away the inevitable. Norman’s nervy confrontation with a private investigator (Martin Balsam) who gets him all bent out of sorts, catching him in lies and hoodwinking him with the right questions that thwart his efforts of retreat from speaking too much to implicate himself. Norman Bates: Perkins’ casting along with Leigh’s was all the stars being aligned. The expressions are subtle, too. A smile when it looks as if he’ll help his mother keep from being caught. The fear of saying the wrong thing or the anger that arises when Marian mentions maybe he should put away mother. The mentioning of two other murders at the end which informs us of mother’s activities prior to Marian (this makes the long psychiatrist’s explanation at the end justified). The swamp located in a convenient spot to dispose of bodies.

What a great Sunday afternoon treat. Next month: DRACULA!!!!

Saturday, September 19, 2015


You have one happy horror fan here today. Psycho is being shown in a local theater near I live as part of Fathom Events series. Since Psycho is my all-time favorite horror film, this is a dream come true. I can FINALLY say I had the opportunity to see this masterpiece in a theater. Just to know this in advance is a thrill as I sit here thinking about it. Another film off the checklist. I remember the Fathom event which had a double feature of Frankenstein & Bride of Frankenstein. Another that was 2001: A Space Odyssey. These are special times in my life I truly appreciate. I will blog tomorrow when I return home with how it played on the screen. I couldn't think of a better time to watch this than on a lazy Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. This is exciting stuff.

Thursday, September 17, 2015



You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into... the Twilight Zone.

How I Rate 'Em: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)



It's a Good Life (directed by Joe Dante)
****









Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (directed by George Miller)
****
 
Reaching out for what he can no longer have: freedom


Not so easy down looking up.

Time Out (directed by John Landis)
**½



Kick the Can (directed by Steven Spielberg)
**½

Run, Ethel, Run!

Uh oh. Ethel's going bye-bye







Anthony didn't like what Ethel had to say about his "disposing" of his parents. This little detail eventually does seem to slip from the mind of Helen when she proposes their road trip at the end of It's a Good Life. He'll send you away if you screw with him.

The Twilight Zone: The Movie

Oh, No! The Whatsit!








Rob Bottin's work deserves to be pimped. Yep.
The Twilight Zone: The Movie 
It's a Good Life

Past Prologue




The Twilight Zone: The Movie

Be careful who you pick up!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It's Not Quite Serling, Now Is It?



Tonight was my latest viewing of Twilight Zone, The Movie (1983), and I have to be honest, I was hardly compelled by it. Without those last two tales, I would have been dead to rites. The "prologue" with hitch-hiking Aykroyd and chatty driver, Albert Brooks, was amusing to me mainly for how it ends before Burgess Meredith substitutes for Serling as narrator of the incoming stories to be featured throughout the movie. Brooks and Aykroyd in the same car brings a smile to my face every time just because of their comic talents. But going through "guess that television tune", singing to CCR's "Midnight Special", and talking about Twilight Zone episodes (never a bad conversation in my opinion) perhaps might lull an audience immediately. I guess it is a means to an end. It shows Aykroyd who looks and appears harmless, emerging as a monster much to the shock of Brooks who is all smiles expecting "something really scary" to be a good gag for the two of them to laugh about. It is unexpected (well, if you hadn't watched it before at the time) and kind of tells us to always expect the unexpected.





I was indifferent to the first tale. When you consider the horrible results of the infamous helicopter crash which haunts it to this day (and should, quite frankly), this tale didn't deserve to lose Vic Morrow or those two unfortunate kids. It wasn't really much of a true-to-the-spirit TZ tale, either. Quite frankly, Landis has done so much better, with this tale leaving out the customary off-the-wall humor that stamps his work. It is heavy-handed and sledge-hammers its message with blunt force. Morrow portrays a jaded racist pig overwhelmed because a Jewish employee at his job got the promotion over him. He rants about the Jews and blacks and Japanese races in a bar to his two buddies who certainly look uncomfortable due to being in the vicinity of the very people Morrow criticizes. Then Morrow leaves the bar under scrutiny for his belligerence, and "takes the place" of those very races he despises. He's a Jew being hunted by Nazis. He's a black man in the midst of a possible lynching as the Klan have a burning cross and a tree long enough to support a long rope with a knot-tied noose. He's narrowly dodging the machine gun fire of Americans in Vietnam. I think the reasoning behind it is to allow us to picture a bigot getting a taste of his own medicine, but the message (and I'm not excusing Serling; he's made some loud statements about social issues in his stories as well; One such about a night that all-encompasses a town preparing to execute someone in I Am the Night--Color Me Black)  is a bullhorn that I just assumed to earplug.


The second tale means well and has its heart in the right place (and Scatman Crothers can light up a screen with his warm smile that I'm sure those who really knew him miss), but is so schmaltzy and sugary-sweet, I felt a diabetic coma coming on. The Goldsmith score, while rich and manipulatively "good for the soul" just rings in the ears still. It isn't some raging cynic here writing this, but the "youth is more than how old you are" message thunders and roars in its approach to strum your heartstrings and bring a tear or two to your eye. Scatman visits old folks' homes with a little magic in the form of returning the elderly to their childhood, giving them a chance to relive life again. One of the old folks was dumped at Sunnyvale by his son and wife, and he's damned cranky about it. The others try to offer him friendship and speak of the days of their youth while he rambles on about needing to accept old age. One among them won't, leaving the home as an adventurous lad emulating Douglas Fairbanks, chooses youth while the others learn to accept that they're 80 but deciding to feel much younger at heart. It is sentimental and reeks of feel-good. Spielberg goes for the warm blanket comfy hugs approach with the tale; out of the many TZ stories that could have been updated, "Kick the Can" was not a choice I would have went with for a 1983 audience.


Joe Dante's updating of "It's a Good Life" breathed some welcome life into the movie, though. Using the advantage of Warners Bros. funding this picture, cartoons of old are playing on television sets and inspired with actual Rob Bottin effects for monsters showing up thanks to the child's conjuring them up out of his imagination and mental power. The use of color is a knockout! Kathleen Quinlan was absolutely stunning, and the way Dante's terrific crew lights and shoots Jeremy Licht, he's ominous enough despite having a rather innocuous face and presence. This is my favorite because of the casting (William Schallert and Patricia Berry as Licht's terrified fake parents, forced to agree to keep him happy and wear false smiles doing so, Kevin McCarthy as an uncle in given title only, trying to keep from pissing his pants and having a nervous breakdown while exhaustively holding an agreeable nature and performing magic tricks on cue even though it all depends on the kid to make it happen, poor Nancy Cartwright as pretend sister who is grudgingly adopted by Licht despite her objections eventually unable to carry on the charade and paying for it when she's willed into a cartoon and gobbled up by a monster (!), Dick Miller as a diner owner fancy on Quinlan, and including a cameo spot by Billy Mumy who played the kid with evil power in the original TZ episode), use of TZ characters and places in the dialogue (where Quinlan came from and plans on going, her character's name, etc.), and the numerous sight gags and special effects. Dante and his team pull out all the stops and steal the show.


The final tale is all John Lithgow. I'm a big fan of this actor. I just love the guy. What a fuckin' awesome face. He was made for the movies. His hysterics and histrionics are off-the-charts fun to watch. This is all Lithgow taking what Shatner was doing in Nightmare at 20000 Feet and carrying it to the Nth Degree. You can't blame the passengers and crew on board the plane for considering him unhinged and a flight risk to all involved. Of course, the monster on the plane is detailed a bit more ghoulishly. I think George Miller has a style that is quite in-your-face and maddening, quite in league with Lithgow's terror and tormented features. By the end, as the gremlin that had been ripping up the engine has Lithgow right where it wants him (hanging out of the window trying to shoot it with an ankle pistol), that strait-jacket will be a proper dress for the poor fellow.



I think the final two tales redeem TZ: The Movie from being a forgettable misfire. The energy, vitality, verve, and creative ways to light and shoot the cast and scenarios by the last two directors usurp the intentions by Landis and Spielberg wanting us to examine race relations and attitudes, and not allow aging bodies to be a detriment in living a young life in our heart. The show could do that because it had a way of not essaying its message (most of the time, not all the time)  too bluntly or forcefully. Deaths-Head Revisited has a message about Nazism and the horror it caused, done in a chillingly poetic way that left an impact, not a thud. Landis admitted that the crew used illegal foreign children, with them dying in a chopper crash due to a stunt gone wrong at night. Recipe for disaster. This kind of diffused the message his tale meant to signify. Spielberg ratcheted up the cutes and left a tummy ache as a result.

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The Boogens - Intro

While I must admit that as a monster movie, The Boogens (1981) doesn’t quite measure up (its monsters aren’t particularly menacing ...