As John Haloran rows across the lake on his family’s Irish estate, he teases his wife Louise (Luana Anders). If he drops dead, Louise will inherit none of the Haloran wealth. Pro tip: Never annoy your wife in a rowboat…if you have a bad heart. The always resourceful Louise dumps John overboard, packs his suitcase, and tells the family he went to New York on business. She’ll stay at the Haloran castle and get to know them while John’s away. Psst…it’ll be a while. It doesn’t take long for Louise to see just how nutty the Halorans are. Richard (William Campbell) solders bad art and scowls. Billy (Bart Patton) walks around in a fog telling people about his dreams. Lady Haloran, fixated on death and grief, holds funerals to commemorate a funeral. Creepy Doctor Caleb (Patrick Magee) tells everyone they’re doing it wrong in a ‘Get into my van. I have candy.’ kind of way.
“…and then I crushed its head.”
They’re a fun bunch.
Louise, ever the multitasker, figures she’ll push the already dotty Lady Haloran over the edge using a few props from the nursery while insinuating herself into the family and the will. Her simple plan runs into a snag, however and then the fun really starts.
If you see this, you have gone too far.
Francis Ford Coppola (yes that one), wrote and directed Dementia 13 with some tweaks by Jack Hill (The Bees, Coffy). Coppola gives the film a creepy quality by using odd camera angles and off-kilter close-ups and filming so much of it at night. The look reminded me of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Even the dim day shots look dismal and give the black and white film an eerie atmosphere.
Eavesdropping on the funeral.
What’s missing is dialogue and character development. What dialogue there is works, but the characters need more to say to help us get to know them. More realistic conversations might also decrease the tendency toward exposition. Also, for a film set in Ireland, I found the lack of Irish accents from almost all the lead characters somewhat baffling. According to articles on the making of Dementia 13, producer Roger Corman assigned Coppola to make a gory Psycho on the cheap so he dashed off a script and went into production. In spite of this and the fact that this marked Coppola’s non-porn directorial debut, it’s a good gothic horror film with a creative plot and some genuinely scary moments. The nifty chamber music by Ronald Stein enhanced the mood as well. I understand why this has become such a cult favorite and I’m glad I finally saw it.
A sure sign of quality
I’m @echidnabot on twitter.
I love Halloween. I decorate every room in my house and fill my yard with skeletons, gravestones, and disembodied heads. I am the only one in my neighborhood who does it. I know I’m not the only one in the world though. Many adults with kids get a kick out of Halloween. They love seeing the cute costumes and the reaction of their children to spooky decorations. Well, my kid is seventeen now and I’m still doing it. For years I made her costumes and helped her make invitations to her yearly Halloween party. Did I do it because I’m a good mom? Possibly. I think it might also be that I love making skull cookies and punch with an ice hand floating in it. I love using toilet paper dowels and glow sticks to fill my bushes with glowing eyes. I also love horror movies. I’m a big fan of psychological and atmospheric horror, but I welcome gore as well.
This year, I plan on watching a horror film every day in October. I will write a little something about each film. I won’t write tomes, just short posts consisting of impressions or highlights of each film. I’ll post links on twitter and use the #31DaysofHorror
Since I’m planning to watch some horror films I’ve never seen before, I’ll post on cinemashame.wordpress.com and my own blog prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com throughout the month.
I’m @echidnabot on twitter.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
2-The Man Who Cheated Death (1959)
3-The Savage Bees (1976)
4-In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
5-Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
The Cat and the Canary (1939)
8-The Innocents (1961)
9-The Fog (1980)
Vault of Horror (1973)
11-Kill, Baby Kill (1966)
12-The Deadly Bees (1966)
14-The Legend of Hell House (1973)
15-Mark of the Devil (1970)
16-Wolf Creek 2 (2013)
The Devil’s Rain (1975)
18-Carnival of Souls (1962)
19-Terror Out of the Sky (1978)
Dementia 13 (1963)
21-Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Black Sunday (1960)
I’ll admit there are a few on this list I’ve always wanted to see and a few I just haven’t seen. I thought I’d throw them on this list for fun. For instance, I’ve wanted to see Suspiria, Black Sunday, and The Innocents for ages. The Slime People, not so much. That’s ok. I have to lighten it up too.
Since it’s 31 Days of Horror and not 22 Days of Horror and 9 Days of Annoyance, here are the other 9 films I plan to watch. I’ve seen these before, but they fit the parameters. Boo.
Torture Garden (1967)
The Uninvited (1944)
The Creature From the Black Lagoon 3D (1954)
The Thing (1982)
Tales From the Crypt (1972)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Let the Right One In (2008)
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Never has the expression honor among thieves played a larger part in a modern film than in this Coen brothers’ Prohibition era gangster film. Gabriel Byrne stars as Tom Reagan, right hand man to Albert Finney’s crime boss, Leo. Tom, a brilliant strategist in the crime world’s chess game has long had Leo’s ear and his back. He also has Leo’s girl, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) and this Lancelot/Guinevere affair threatens to undermine King Leo’s reign.
The story begins in a Godfather-like scene with mobster Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) asking Leo to rub out John Turturro’s Bernie Bernbaum, a bookie with a knack for angering the wrong people. Leo refuses because although Bernie is a thorn in his side, he’s also Verna’s brother. Tom advises Leo to give up Bernie and when he won’t a mob war starts. Tom ends up on Leo’s bad side and despite his loyalty, Tom is cut loose. Caspar snaps him up and Tom seems to have switched sides. Caspar takes over Leo’s businesses and prospers as Tom plants seeds of distrust about Caspar’s main henchmen Eddie Dane (J.E. Freeman) thus eroding Caspar’s gang from within and proving his loyalty to Leo.
Based on the Dashiell Hammett novels Red Harvest and The Glass Key, Miller’s Crossing is a love letter to 1940s film noir and the snappy dialogue prevalent in novels by Hammett, Chandler, Thompson, and Cain. At one point Tom is asked if he knows the mayor. He says, “I oughta. I voted for him six times last May.” The costumes by Richard Hornung, sets by Nancy Haigh and cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld along with Carter Burwell’s spare and perfect score give the film a 1940s feel. Supporting roles by Steve Buscemi, Mike Starr, Frances McDormand, Michael Jeter, and Olek Krupa add depth to the already stellar cast and the direction by Joel and Ethan Coen just works. The scene with hit men approaching Leo to the strains of Danny Boy is as beautiful as grand opera and as violent as anything Peckinpah ever directed. Poetry. I liked Miller’s Crossing a lot. It has a flawed hero devoted to an equally flawed father figure and crime. Combine that with the Coens usual gang of quirky characters and great dialogue and you have an entertaining and almost Shakespearean story. I cheered for Tom and Leo. I booed for Bernie and Caspar. I hung on every word of dialogue and after watching the film for just under two hours, I wondered where the time went. Here’s another example of the sharp dialogue.
“Come on Tommy, wake up.”
“I am awake.”
“Your eyes are closed.”
“Who you gonna believe?”
How can you not love this film?
Luis Buñuel directed 34 films and made surrealism fun! People consider his film style and concepts groundbreaking and inspirational. He made Belle de Jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which I really like. I just watched Un Chien Andalou. I’m not sure how much absinthe he and Salvador Dali did, but they clearly saw things others don’t. Often that characteristic makes art that transcends time. In this case, it made an incomprehensible combination of odd images that combined to make fifteen minutes I’ll never get back. Ants crawl out of the hole in a man’s hand. A beautiful, androgynous woman in the street pokes a severed hand with a stick. A man watches as the woman, who has put the hand in a locked box around her neck, stands still as cars whiz by her. The last car has better aim and runs her over. That makes him want to fondle the breasts of the woman next to him who takes issue with that and tries to evade him. After a while he begins to drag two grand pianos each filled with half a dead horse across the room. Soon pilgrims appear. It goes on from there. I have no idea what the film symbolized or if it symbolized anything other than Buñuel’s desire to film some weird ass stuff. The sequence everyone knows with the razor and the eye serves as the jumping off point for one of the strangest films I’ve seen. I’m not exactly sorry I saw it because now I can cross it off my list. That’s about it. Thanks for coming. Please enjoy a hot towel.
Say Anything (1989)
“I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”
Lloyd Dobler, a bright, sweet underachiever loves Diane Court, class valedictorian. It writes itself, doesn’t it? She’s headed for a promising future and he’ll be lucky if he graduates. Opposites attract and they do sort of a modern Romeo and Juliet thing complete with dueling parents and Lloyd wedging a cross into the door of the high school gym at graduation. Or…they have a short romantic summer in which they learn to be open-minded about people and not take them at face value, then have a moving break-up scene and we see them at different colleges starting their lives apart. Be still, my heart. Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut could have skated by on a thin premise and the charisma of John Cusack, but the plot, characters, and acting chops of the entire cast lift Say Anything to a higher level of teen angst films.
First, the plot allows us to see Lloyd and Diane fall in love, but it also deals with their relationships with family and friends. It’s not all dates and necking and will they or won’t they. Diane has a dad and a job and a desire to step outside her academic life and see the world. Lloyd has military parents stationed overseas and a grown sister (real-life sister, Joan), her young son, and nagging doubts about his own future.
The characters and the actors who play them make this a denser film as well. John Mahoney, as Diane’s father never disappoints and his single-minded single dad gives a terrific performance as both Diane’s best friend and the first guy to let her down. He also has a wonderfully touching scene. He flirts with the attractive saleslady in a shop and asks her out as he acts the big man and places a large order. She tells him, awkwardly that his credit card has been declined. Embarrassed, Mahoney makes an excuse and leaves the store. The scene speaks to Mahoney’s character and part of the motivation for his misstep. Joan Cusack is solid, as usual. Lili Taylor has a nice smaller role as one of Lloyd’s close friends and has a great line. When Lloyd decides he won’t try to get back with Diane he says it’s “because I’m a guy. I have pride.” Lili says, “The world is full of guys. Be a man; don’t be a guy.” Eric Stoltz, Lois Chiles, Jeremy Piven, Chynna Phillips, Philip Baker Hall, and Bebe Neuwirth have small roles and the entire ensemble works together nicely. Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson even appears as Lloyd’s martial arts coach.
Cameron Crowe wrote Say Anything’s screenplay and his dialogue has a natural sound to it. Nothing is forced and the story flows along nicely. The iconic scene with Lloyd holding the boombox over his head playing “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel has less impact in the film than I thought it would, but it carries more emotional weight for me now that I understand it in context.
Say Anything had fully formed characters, an interesting plot, and John Cusack. It didn’t fit into the usual teen mold and had a less stylized ambiance than a John Hughes film. I enjoyed Say Anything and I’m glad Cinema Shame gave me a reason to see it.
Get Carter (1971)
Jack Carter (Michael Caine) hears of his brother’s death and heads up to Newcastle from London where he works as a mob hit man. As he speaks to his brother’s friends and coworkers, Carter suspects the car accident that killed his brother Frank was no accident at all. Inconsistencies in people’s stories along with their unwillingness to talk about Frank’s last day convince him to look deeper. As Carter digs we see how much the local gang wants him to stop looking and go home to London. We also see how ruthless he is. He doesn’t care who gets hurt in his quest for answers about a brother he hasn’t seen in years. We also get some idea of why Carter left for London in the first place. He rose above this second-tier town. Seedy and low-rent, Newcastle’s bars, betting parlors, and rooming houses serve as the perfect backdrop for the story of a pretty serious bastard picking through the low-lifes to find the lowest one. You don’t love Carter, but he’s fun to watch. He maneuvers around the local thugs like a sort of hoodlum James Bond. Violent and single-minded, Carter has no qualms about using his friends to get the answers he wants. An interesting scene in a local bar gives some insight into Carter’s personality and the atmosphere in Newcastle. A pub singer kisses a male customer as part of her act and a jealous woman attacks her. The two women roll on the floor fighting as the patrons look on, cheering. It’s one of the few times in the film when Carter smiles.
The character of Carter and the story “Jack’s Return Home” by Ted Lewis appealed to Michael Caine and his partner Michael Klinger so they bought the rights to it and chose Mike Hodges (Terminal Man, Croupier) to direct. Caine had been searching for a vehicle since he found his last few films disappointing. He had to be happy with this one. Get Carter showcases Caine’s assets spectacularly. He gets to be crafty, sardonic, and even cruel as he muscles his way toward the real story behind his brother’s death. This is Caine at his best. He outsmarts the goons hired to rough him up while throwing out great lines. After going to the wrong man’s house, he attempts to leave quietly. The man starts to fight with Caine/Carter who says, “You’re a big man, but you’re out of shape. With me it’s a full-time job. Behave yourself.” Carter slugs him and leaves. Even while chasing a man in order to kill him, Carter has some great lines. As the man falters trying to escape Carter says, “You couldn’t win an egg and spoon race, [name*].” I loved Get Carter. It had a strong story and an incredible performance by Caine. The direction was no-nonsense and very Don Siegel-like which suited the material perfectly. I haven’t read the story so I don’t know how much material Mike Hodges added when he wrote the screenplay, but choice bits abound. During one scene, Carter has phone sex with his mistress Britt Ekland while staring at his landlady. The camera stays on Carter in the background on the phone and the landlady in the foreground in a rocking chair. As the conversation gets more heated, the rocking quickens. Later, Carter has sex with the landlady under a sampler that reads ‘What Would Jesus Say’. Priceless.
BAFTA nominated Ian Hendry for best supporting actor, but skipped Michael Caine entirely. Since he dominates the film, his omission stuns me. Caine acts in every scene and I couldn’t take my eyes off him for a second. The plot, atmosphere, supporting cast, and especially Michael Caine’s performance makes Get Carter one of the best crime-related films I’ve seen. Thanks, Cinema Shame! I’m glad I had a reason to see this.
*including the name would be a spoiler
Set in post-war Rome, Bicycle Thieves tells the story of Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), his wife, Maria (Lianella Carell), and their son, Bruno (Enzo Staiola) as they struggle to get by in the ruined city. The film begins with a mob of job seekers gathered outside a government office waiting for any kind of work. The clerk offers Antonio a job with one condition; he must have a bicycle. He takes the job then has to come up with the money to retrieve his from the repair shop. His wife hocks their bed sheets for the money to pay for the bike and the two ride home happy. The next day, Antonio sets off for his new job and the promise of a change in his family’s fortune. As Antonio works hanging posters, a gang of thieves steal his bike. He chases the thief, but loses him in the crowded streets. Antonio reports the crime to the police who clearly don’t care and make no effort to help him. He enlists the help of his friends led by Baiocco (Gino Saltamerenda) and together the group of men and young Bruno walk the bicycle market where Baiocco says the thieves will attempt to sell Antonio’s bicycle parts. They come up empty and Antonio and Bruno go alone to another market. There Antonio sees the thief, but loses him again. He finds an associate of the thief and follows him to a church-run mission where, after making a scene during the service, Antonio gets the address of the thief. Antonio and Bruno go to the thief’s neighborhood, but have to fight off the neighborhood toughs to escape and even a sympathetic policeman cannot help him. Exhausted and desperate, Antonio makes a final attempt to save his job and his family and possibly lose himself.
Throughout the film we see De Sica making political and social statements about bureaucracy, government, politics, and the nature of man. He doesn’t hit you over the head with them a la Oliver Stone though. He shows the anonymity of bureaucracy using shots of a large wall of shelves holding bed sheets sold by the poor to buy food or in Antonio’s case, a bicycle. Behind the policeman in the station we see a group of identical cubbies holding papers. Each file, a crime with a victim they probably can’t or won’t help. There’s also an election going on during the few days the story takes place with politicians speaking philosophically on social issues while people starve.
Bicycle Thieves, directed by Vittorio De Sica won’t exactly cheer you up, but it’s a beautifully made film with subtle performances from all its leads and a lovely score by Alessandro Cicognini (Summertime, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). Lamberto Maggiorani (Umberto D., Women Without Names) has little dialogue, but he’s on screen for the entire film and every feeling shows on his chiseled features. You see every possible emotion on his face. His love for his wife and children, his hope for their future, his sadness and fear at this loss on top of all his other losses, and finally his anger and desperation all play on his face like a film on a screen. Enzo Staiola (The Barefoot Contessa, La Ragazza dal Pigiama Giallo) as Bruno also astounds with the subtlety of his acting. That such a young child could project such emotion amazed me. De Sica cast mostly non-professional actors in Bicycle Thieves claiming he wanted authentic, and not trained emotions conveyed to the audience. It works. An engaging story, lovely and realistic performances, and a beautiful score make for a wonderful and touching film. I’m glad I saw it.