The Auteurs Daily: Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

The Auteurs Daily

The House of the Devil

Halloween is at least twice as fun when October 31 falls on a weekend as it does this year and, while I mentioned a few related goings on at the beginning of the month, no Halloween roundup comes close to Dennis Cozzalio's: the movies, the blog-a-thons, the works. On Friday, I noted that the race to cash in on the season at the box office had already begun (and in case you haven't heard, Paranormal Activity is the clear winner so far) and this week, of course, the race is still very much on. Watch this entry, then, for updates from now through the weekend.

"It would be easy to peg [The House of the Devil] as a superficial exercise in vintage pastiche," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog, noting that "the film non-ironically borrows the look and feel of the horror produced in the era in which it's set - [that would be the 80s] - but [director Ti] West's more impressive nod at classic horror is his mastery of misdirection. I was recently asked to make a list of my favorite horror films of all time, and it shouldn't be a surprise to readers of this blog that all five films I chose were made before 1980, and three of them before 1950. If horror films weren't unequivocably better before gore and graphic violence and were standard practices available to makers of mainstream scary films, a lot of the Code-restricted frighteners that have survived to become classics (cult or otherwise) are richer in subtext, more evocative of base human fears, and more effectively politically and/or philosophically provocative. In other words, in the classic horror and sci-fi films that I love, there tends to be more than one thing going on: there's what we see, there's what we don't see but imagine or infer is also happening, and there's what, as a product of the clash between the actual visible evidence and what our psyches produce as an extension or embroidery on what we see, there's what we leave believing it all really means."

Besides Adrian Curry's entry on those nifty posters, here's a bit more for now on House of the Devil: Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Benjamin Strong (L) and Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York). Interviews with West: Nick Dawson (Filmmaker), Eric Kohn (Wall Street Journal), Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Nick Schager (IFC) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail).

Dave Kehr's recent DVD roundups for the New York Times make for a nice pairing with Karina's review; a couple of weeks ago, he revisited some 40s-era horror classics, while this week's batch focuses on the 80s. More DVDs? Brian Miller has recommendations in SF Weekly and, like Dave Kehr, Sean Axmaker and, in the Los Angeles Times, Dennis Lim have spotlighted the William Castle Film Collection. Meantime, via Richard Brody, comes news that TCM is teaming up with Universal to do a Warner Archive Collection-type manufacturing-on-demand service, beginning with five classic horror titles from the 40s.

"While the 1980s horror pantheon is rightly filled with Things, Poltergeists and Freddy Kruegers, the decade also spawned an awesome sub-strata of sublime B-movie genre efforts," writes Michael Adams at Movieline. "Some, such as Screamplay and The Hidden we've already shone light on, but one unheralded schlock classic has remained in the shadows - its VHS copies revered, TV screenings relentlessly tracked - since it fleetingly flickered across silver screens in 1986. Until this week, that is, when, in no small part thanks to an Internet petition, Night of the Creeps, a comic-horror sci-fi tribute to all things alien (and zombie) finally makes it debut on DVD and Blu-ray." Adams talks with writer-director Fred Dekker.



Fear(s) of the Dark

Fear(s) of the Dark "is a hypnotic cocktail, and its key liquor may be Frenchness - some of the materials folded in have no sensible conclusion (the fear of Tales from the Crypt moralism is unavoidable), and some aren't stories at all." Michael Atkinson for IFC: "Some stand entire and alone, while others are spliced into suggestive chapters; there's no mandate to be extreme, or to be obvious. Mostly, the individual artists aren't even intent on inflicting a reaction upon the viewer, but instead on taking obsessive care about the light and shape of their particular world. The upshot is disarmingly grown-up, but also, at times, a creepy freakout."

Would This Is It count as a Halloween flick? It's hard to see how it doesn't. "The movie itself still arrives, screened for critics only hours before opening, with an eerie taint," notes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "It comes days before Halloween; its star, while far from death at the time, a diminished version of his electrifying self, his face a wan mask. Next weekend, that popular chiller about the couple in the haunted house won't be the only paranormal activity at the box office. Yet, watching [Michael] Jackson pop, lock, rock, writhe, thrust, and clutch his crotch, even at 50%, leaves a feeling of woe: This show really would have been major."

More from Melissa Anderson (Artforum), Richard Corliss (Time), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), David Gritten (Telegraph), Eric Henderson (Slant), David Jenkins (Time Out London), Karina Longworth (SpoutBlog), Kevin Maher (London Times), Rob Nelson (IFC), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Ann Powers (LAT), Andrew Pulver (Guardian), Nathan Rabin (AV Club), James Rocchi (MSN), Dana Stevens (Slate), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Meantime, as you'll likely already know, many of Jackson's fans are not at all happy with AEG and Sony Pictures for piecing this thing together and booking it in theaters around the world. The Atlantic Wire's John Hudson rounds up their arguments.

Roger Corman: Poe and Beyond opens tonight at Anthology Film Archives and runs through November 8 and, in the Voice, Scott Foundas finds that "these color-saturated CinemaScope fables range from the scrupulously faithful (House of Usher) to the freely inventive (The Raven, which uses Poe's melancholic narrative poem as a jumping-off point for... a farcical battle of wands between rival sorcerers Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff!). And if The Masque of the Red Death (1964) is duly the most celebrated of the lot (for its Nicolas Roeg camerawork and Bergmanesque touches), none are without their pleasures, whether Corman's pseudo-psychedelic dream sequences or simply the sight of old pro/ham Price enthusiastically leading the charge through Poe's own storehouse of recycled tropes. A particular delight: Lorre's grandiloquent drunk going round for round with Price's dandyish oenophile in the 'Black Cat' episode from 1962's Tales of Terror."

"Film Forum's self-proclaimed 'Gruesome Twosome' double feature should give fright seekers and gorehounds plenty of bloody mutton to chew on," writes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. "Theater of Blood is the more sanguine offering, featuring a wonderfully hammy Vincent Price as British thespian Edward Lionheart, who plots grisly revenge against his reviewers. Scream of Fear, meanwhile, is a superb bit of Hammer hysteria." More from Henry Stewart, who notes in the L Magazine that "horror and comedy are two sides of the same emotional coin: either one can make you piss your pants," and from Armond White in the New York Press.

Via Swindle, on Halloween night, Cinefamily in Los Angeles premieres Bollyweird: The Movie, "our very own feature-length video mashup celebrating the most horrifying, fantastic, costume-crazed and outlandish moments of vintage Indian musical madness ever."

In London? Time Out's David Jenkins and Tom Huddleston lists the season's events.

David Cairns recalls how Tod Browning introduced him to Keats's concept of negative capability.

FilmInFocus asks 5 horror writers to pick the movies that scare them most.

Levi Stahl considers an imaginary "anthology of unsettling tales" Edmund Wilson dreamed up in 1944.

Browsing. Mondo Tees has got lovely new posters for Beetlejuice, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm St and A Journey Around My Skull has been unearthing and posting marvelous seasonal imagery and texts for weeks now.

Viewing. The NYT's AO Scott on the 1945 British horror compilation, Dead of Night, and at Moving Image Source, Matt Zoller Seitz once again reminds us how much fun getting educated can be with "Zombie 101": "To quote the alternative title of a 1974 Werner Herzog movie, in zombie films it's every man for himself and God against all. And as survivors sift through the rubble, weighing selfish imperatives against kinder, gentler impulses that might get them and everyone around them killed, the genre pulls off a nifty bit of creative jujitsu, defining civilization, morality, stability, and decency by depicting their opposites."

Updates: Josef Braun: "The more I look over this list of my favourite horror films of our dwindling decade, the more I see how many endure for pretty much the same reasons the great horror films of the 30s and 40s or of the 60s and 70s endure. They strike a balance between unnerving mystery and a guttural, creeping certainty about something repellant. Something waits for us in the shadows. Something irrational, yet possibly real. Some shard of nightmare that lingers with us when we wake. Something common sense urges us to avoid. Yet we go to the movie anyway."

The Alternative Film Guide lists the award-winners at this year's Screamfest LA.

 

Vampyr

Updates, 10/29: Allan Macinnis previews the Vancity Theatre's Vampyre Weekend in Vancouver. On a related note, Richard Rayner reviews The Vampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published for the Los Angeles Times, where Susan King previews local "Halloween weekend horror shows."

The Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov recalls what he owes to William Castle.

Vue Weekly's Josef Braun looks back, too: "The 1980s were strange and deliriously productive years for horror."

"At least the Little Movie That Could (after brilliant viral marketing) Paranormal Activity, for all its absurdities, reminds us of what drew us to ghost stories in the first place: the bump in the night," blogs David Edelstein. Also: "You have to be a bit indulgent to love The House of the Devil as much as I do." Plus, more, more, more Halloween goings on.

For the Daily Beast, none other than Martin Scorsese lists the "11 Scariest Movies of All Time."

"You can sleep with the closet light on, you can crawl into your parents' bed, but you can never forget your first truly frightening horror movie." A Morning News roundup.

At the AV Club, Noel Murray gives The House of the Devil a B+.

And in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis: "For his nifty, creepy new film, Mr West, a genre savant versed in classic fright and its self-conscious permutations, has dusted off several durable motifs - Satanists, the spooky house and solitary baby sitter - but ditched the now often tedious sardonic attitude. Instead of another homage (like Cabin Fever) or glossy remake (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), he has come up with a period pastiche that mimics the low-res vibe and look of early-1980s horror, along with the same bad hair and clothes. And he’s done so with more shiver than splat."

"Available concurrently is Ti's web series for IFC, Dead & Lonely," notes David Lowery. "When he showed me the rough cuts of the first few episodes, I noted that they felt like a strange hybrid of 80s and post-millennial Michael Mann - digital minimalism with a Tangerine Dream score. The whole series will be online by the end of the week..."

Justin Hilden on "Color design in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

Speaking of Great Pumpkins, Reverse Shot has revived its annual series of entries on Halloween movies.

For NPR, Michael Schaub reviews American Fantastic Tales, Volume 1: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps: "Editor Peter Straub, himself an acclaimed author of horror fiction, has done a superb job, not just with his selection of these 86 stories but with his engaging and hyperliterate introductions as well."

Updates, 10/30: Andrew O'Hehir's suggestions: "Rather than assemble another one of those haunted-pumpkin lists of the scariest movies ever, which always tend to reshuffle the same 15 or 20 films, I thought I'd pick out a few recent horror highlights, and along the way argue for an enduring if unofficial alt-horror tradition. I'm not necessarily talking about ultra-low-budget indie films, although there are a few of those on this list. Mainly, I'm saying that horror movies based more in storytelling, character and psychological creepiness than in shock value and formula have never died, and you can find them in all kinds of places at all levels of production."

Also in Salon, Stephanie Zacharek: "House of the Devil is almost all windup, and when the action finally happens, it's somewhat disappointing: It's a little too Dario Argento, without Argento's wackadoo baroque visual style, to fit the overall vibe of the movie. But this is one of those cases where the ending is almost beside the point, an afterthought. The best part is getting there, and West (the cult-horror director behind The Roost and the upcoming Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever) takes a great deal of pleasure and care laying out specific 80s-era details without making them campy or overdone."

At Cinematical, Todd Gilchrist interviews Ti West.

"The surprise success of the microbudget indie horror film Paranormal Activity constitutes one of those pop-culture moments when you realize that mass taste is sometimes better than you give it credit for," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "This may not be the horror movie of the year - that crown still easily goes to Sam Raimi's similarly themed Drag Me to Hell - but it's good enough that its unexpected popularity is heartening. In a genre where a fresh mutilated corpse every 15 minutes has become a reasonable expectation, this slow-paced but relentless spooker is refreshingly un-extreme. It comes by its screams honestly, earning them with incremental, at times agonizing gradations of old-fashioned, what's-that-noise-in-the-hallway suspense."

 

Strait-Jacket

Chuck Bowen gives the William Castle Film Collection four out of five stars at Slant.

"Monsters are on the rise," and Stephen T Asma, professor of philosophy at Columbia College Chicago and author of On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, has a theory as to why - which he lays out in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

AV Club staff and readers: "Entertainment that terrified us."

IFC puts together a list of the "25 Scariest Moments in Non-Horror Movies," and from Matt Singer: "Speak of the Devil: The Many Faces of Cinematic Satanism."

Richard Harland Smith for TCM: "My Fear-vorite Things!"

Ongoing series now drawing to a close yet still warrant browsing (and will for some time to come as well): Not Coming to a Theater Near You's 31 Days of Horror VI; Phil Morehart's clip-a-day special for Facets Features; Bill Ryan's series on horror fiction has been pretty damn stellar all month long; and then, of course, there's that monster of a project, the Countdown to Halloween.

Blogging for the Walrus, Sean Rogers considers "some choice old horror anthologies, in whose pages lurk all sorts of scares and shocks."

Online browsing tip. Steve Chasmar's Flickr set, "Halloween in the Time of Cholera," via Coudal Partners.

Online viewing tip. Unreal Estate, the "Scariest Movie Locations of All Time." Matt Zoller Seitz for the L.

Here's a good one: "In the spirit of the season, we asked a select coven of horror mavens (including a couple of our own) to write about their favorite Criterion scarefests."

At Bright Lights After Dark, Joseph "Jon" Lanthier presents An Athiest's Guide to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Terrence Rafferty in the NYT Review of Books: "The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein is an entertaining and bracingly intelligent yarn, but, try as he will, [Peter] Ackroyd is hard pressed to spark an idea that isn't already burning, fiercely, in Mary Shelley's still-vital novel. This, perhaps, is the postmodern Prometheus: an attempt, aware of its own futility, to reanimate something that never died."

At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell posts his final "Today in Film Bloggery" roundup, a fine collection of Halloween-related reads, news, lists and more.

Josef Braun revisits John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness.

For the L, Henry Stewart considers the "subgenre of horror movies involving protagonists in a wheelchair."

Online viewing. Twitch has the trailer for Bruce LaBruce's La Zombie.

Updates, 10/31: First, for those in the US, you've simply got to check out Criterion's festival of free scary movies: Sisters, Carnival of Souls, Onibaba and Eyes Without a Face. As for that last one, Catherine Grant has a terrific roundup at Film Studies for Free.

From io9, "The Ultimate Guide To Scary Sex Scenes [NSFW]."

Bruce Bennett for Stop Smiling on Roger Corman: Poe and Beyond: "A particular stand-out in both Corman's filmography and Anthology's program is the [Robert] Towne-scripted 1964 Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, The Tomb of Ligeia, the last of eight films Corman directed based on Poe's works. Shot over three weeks partly on sets recently vacated by the cast and crew of Becket, Ligeia is a delicately paced widescreen gem that mixes elegant camera moves, oddball montage shock effects, and shrewdly placed voiceover into a neo-classical concoction. It's a movie that could have given pause to even the most ardent sophomore-year drive-in date spit-swap."

At GreenCine, Simon Augustine counts down the "25 Most Disturbing Movies: Part I."

For the New York Times, Mike Hale surveys a few Web-only horror shorts and serials, beginning with the Roger Corman-Joe Dante collaboration, Splatter.

Der Golem screens at REDCAT once more tonight: "While the similarities between The Golem and Frankenstein films are unmistakable, it is important to note the way science replaces religion as the popular narrative evolves, setting the stage for the height of sci-fi by the 1950s," writes Catherine Taft for Artforum. "But there will always be something captivating and mysterious about this first silent being, the Golem, brought to life not by experimenting with corpses but through language, a secret word placed in an amulet."

Sean Axmaker at the Parallax View: "Instead of the usual 'best of' countdown of familiar classics, here's a look at some of the more interesting horrors that have arrived on DVD within the last year." And Bob Cashill's got a guide at Popdose.

For TCM, morlockjeff on House of Horrors (1946), featuring Rondo Hatton as "The Creeper."

Matt Maul's "5 for the Day" at the House Next Door: "Aliens Aren't Scary, Dad."

Online listening tip. At GreenCine Daily, Aaron Hillis talks with Tom Noonan (The House of the Devil) "about his acting workshops, being naturally creepy, why he never reads the whole script, and anecdotal remembrances of working with John Cassavetes, Michael Mann and Michael Cimino - 'just a terrible human being.'"

Images: The House of the Devil, Fear(s) in the Dark, Vampyr and William Castle's Strait-Jacket.

 

Responses

3 responses to this post.  Join the discussion

  • Tom Charity

    To which I would add…

    http://alienatedinvancouver.blogspot.com/2009/10/festival-of-vampires-aka-vampyre.html

  • David Hudson

    Many thanks, Tom!

  • JB

    If anyone’s interested in reading even more comments on Trick or Treat than can be found in the above-noted Vue Weekly piece—thanks for the link!—an expanded version—with lots of images!—can be found on the blog:

    http://thephantomcountry.blogspot.com/2009/10/unwanted-body-hair-unwanted-parents.html

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