Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Fantastic Films of Vincent Price #78 - Journey Into Fear (1975)



By the 1970's most of Price's classic horror roles were behind him. He still worked regularly but it was usually in supporting roles for films with large casts. Such is the film under discussion here. Wisely the focus is instead placed on some of the more interesting projects for the small screen that Price was a part of including one very special rock show that fans of a certain age will never forget! 

Friday, June 23, 2017

FIRESTARTER (1984)


I'm not telling anyone anything new when I say that the field of Stephen King film adaptations is littered with landmines. Each step taken is a risky one and if you keep going you are going to be injured - badly. For decades now long into the night intoxicant-inspired conversations have taken place arguing which King adaptations are actually worth a damn and which ones are so bad they're unwatchable. Even films some consider classics (THE SHINING, CARRIE, THE DEAD ZONE) have their detractors and some of the ones generally thought of as crap are sometimes hailed as underappreciated works of genius (THINNER, DREAMCATCHER, SLEEPWALKERS). I'm tempted to find a way to fund a study that correlates the age of the first time viewer with the estimated quality of King adaptations but barring that unlikely money sinkhole there seems no good test for  judging where someone will fall on any particular film.

Personally I think most of the worst versions of King stories have been made for the small screen. Even the best of them neuter the material, excising the elements that give his tales their visceral kick, blanding them down to dull, middle of the road tales of clichéd horror. I haven't seen any of the new crop of work being done for streaming services (11.22.63, CASTLE ROCK) so maybe that is the visual medium that will allow his often lengthy stories to perfectly blossom.


I was a teenager when I read King's book FIRESTARTER and also when I saw it's film adaptation in 1984. At the time I knew the film was not very good but I kind of got a thrill from seeing the novel transformed into a two hour Cliff Notes report. It was instructive to a young me, showing how something could strive to be pretty faithful to it's source material but still feel artificial and plastic. Coming out the same year as the miserably awful CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) it showed me that some King stories might be best left on the page.

I've never considered Firestarter to be a particularly good book and the film did nothing for me so I never returned to rewatch it even when endless cable reruns were available. The only memories that had stuck with me from over thirty years ago were of George C. Scott being pretty creepy and Drew Barrymore's hair flying around whenever she used her pyrokinetic powers. These were not the kind of memories to inspire a return visit. So, what did make me watch FIRESTARTER (1984) again after all these years? A Blu-Ray release, of course.


The first thing I should say is that the film actually makes an attempt to do well by it's source material. It works hard to cram several hundred pages of prose into roughly two hours. What it can't do is make this story into something that feels all that interesting and that is bizarre. The broad outline of the story is incredible and should have made for a hell of a tale but it just never catches fire. (See what I did there?) Instead the film jumps around introducing it's huge cast of vaguely defined characters and then blowing things up without ever really giving us much to hang onto. The film uses broad, often caricatured types to shorthand things so it can get onto the business of racing through the many stages of the story. The only injections of shading for the characters come from the casting of some very good performers in key villainous roles.


George C. Scott is great here giving his role a lot of deadly menace. Introduced as a straightforward CIA bad guy killer he inserts himself into the super powered child's life so that he can take her life after becoming her friend. That is one sick idea and is worthy of a film on it's own but having it in this story kind of throws off things. It's clear that head villain Martin Sheen has no desire to kill his amazing potential super weapon so why he tolerates Scott's killer to be anywhere near Barrymore is a mystery that makes the final act of the film silly. But it is a pleasure to watch the scenes with these two actors making their plans and carefully sparing. It's also a joy to watch the great British character actor Freddie Jones in his one scene with them as they argue over the correct course of action. As an actor Jones almost always seems on the brink of losing his mind so these three together make for very entertaining viewing. And, to be clear, these men are giving this film their full attention and turning in very good work but it's all in service of a story that just isn't very good.


The same can be said for the great Art Carney as a do-gooder farmer that helps out Barrymore and her father in the first half of the movie. He turns in a solid, nuanced performance that is much more than the material deserves. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Louise Fletcher as his character's wife. Her line deliveries are embarrassingly flat sounding like an actor that thought she was going to get either another take or at least a close-up to emphasize her part. She is simply terrible here and isn't helped at all by her director.

One of the film's biggest failings is the choice to very rarely cut into the dialog scenes with any close-ups to give the actors some help getting across the emotions of the characters. About thirty minutes into the film I began to notice how almost all of the film is composed of master shots of multiple actors who should be given some individual insert shots but are not. This has the effect of not only dampening the effectiveness of several performances and distancing us from the emotions onscreen but it also makes big sections of the film pretty dull. Composing your film primarily of master shots gives the feeling of watching a filmed play and destroys any dynamic energy you might be able to coax from your actors. This is supposed to be a science fiction horror movie! We need to have a sense of heightened passion, deep rage, outbursts of intense power that frightens us but most of the time we are simply distant observers of events of little consequence. This poor choice is the mistake that damns FIRESTARTER to second rate status on the list of Stephen King adaptations. For all the explosions, stunts and star power on display the film just isn't very interesting and there is no excuse for it. The word boring should never be used to describe a horror film. 



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Euro-Spy Music!

I have no good reason to be listening to these tunes. I haven't watched a Euro-Spy film in months! But every now and then I just get the urge to hear some of these amazing pieces of music. See if they hit your spot as well.







Monday, June 19, 2017

The Bloody Pit #55 - The Outer Limits (1963-1965)


Although The Outer Limits lasted only two seasons in the middle of the 1960's its influence is still being felt today. Because it was an anthology series it is often compared to The Twilight Zone but while Rod Serling's brainchild often relied on 'sing in the tail' conclusions The Outer Limits was much more interested in creating strong science fiction stories that could have easily been feature films. With it's hour long running time the show could stretch out to spin large, detailed and complicated tales with multifaceted characters and complex motivations. The best episodes combined strong acting, great storytelling and absorbing ideas to build stories that would stay with the viewer for decades. Even the least effective entries were capable of bringing new things to television whether it be a strange special effect or a concept so dark that most TV would have to shy away for fear of a backlash. Great science fiction often uses the tropes of the genre to comment on contemporary problems and The Outer Limits certainly qualifies.

For our  latest podcast artist Mark Maddox joins me to talk about this fine television show. It made a deep impression on both of us, coloring the ways in which we enjoy science fiction film and TV to this day. We discuss some of our favorite episodes; what made them effective; what elements stood out on first viewing as well as things that stick in the memory over time. Mark relates the chore he had a young man trying to see the show at a time when there was only one television in the house and everyone had to compromise on which program would be watched. We talk about the various monsters the show featured as well as the smart cost cutting ways the producers found to fool the eye and broaden the limited visual scope possible on a TV budget. I also babble on a bit about the incredible photography of the show which I think rivals what was being done in big budgeted films of the time. This might well be ground zero for the idea of sci-fi noir! The Outer Limits is a show that accomplished a lot with meager means and still stacks up today as one of the best SF series ever made. 

Comments and suggestions can be sent to thebloodypit@gmail.com in either typed or MP3 form. We'd love to hear from you. What are your favorite episodes of The Outer Limits? What is the scariest of the show's monsters? Are there episodes that we love that you think are bad? Let us know! And if you would like to help us out there is a donate button on the right side of the blog page - feel free to click it and send a couple of bucks our way. Thank you for checking out the show! Mark and I will return later this summer with another show on 1960's television - if we can stay on topic. 






Sunday, June 18, 2017

Women Who Kill Me - Erna Schurer

Although I have seen several films in which Erna Schurer appears it wasn't until last night's viewing of  LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA (1969) that I took notice of her. She is a gorgeous lady and is able to do a lot with a little in this film. The script requires that she remain in the dark as her character is Gaslighted by several people and menaced by a classic black-gloved killer. That throws this film into the giallo genre but since it takes place in a European castle it also has  a bit of a gothic vibe. Miss Schurer does her best but, although the film is very pretty on its Twilight Time Blu-Ray, it's also not very involving. I think it might be tome to revisit another of her gothic type films - SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER (1970) - to see why she didn't catch my eye when I first viewed it over twenty years ago.









Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Fragrance of Fulci

Today would have been the 90th birthday of legendary Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci. There are a lot of products out there that attempt to capitalize on the cult built around his career - especially his horror films - but this one has to be the most audacious. And the funniest!

Sadly it's only available to UK buyers. Until some enterprising soul imports enough to sell here as well. 


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What I Watched In May


I've already written about the latest in the ALIEN franchise but here are the other two theatrical viewings for last month. 

About GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) I'll just say that although it isn't as fresh as the first film it still had more than enough energy, imagination and humor to make for a very fun couple of hours in the extended Marvel Universe. Ever since SLITHER (2006) writer/director James Gunn has shown himself to be a clever, witty fellow capable of making even large, unwieldy ideas easily understandable and abrasive characters somehow relatable. Frankly, Marvel is lucky to have him. This is a damn good movie and I can't wait for more.

But I want to single out two performances for praise. I've said for a while now that the easiest way to up the quality of your film is to get Kurt Russell in the cast. The man is effortlessly cool and a brilliant professional who adds immeasurably to whatever story you place him in. Given the right role he may one day actually be noticed by his colleagues as the shinning talent hiding behind that mountain of sheer charisma but until then we can just soak up his awesomeness in roles like Ego. As soon as I knew he had been cast in this role I knew he could pull it off and, indeed, just might be the only living actor able to play a living, planet sized intelligence without embarrassing himself. Russell is perfect here and shows once again that he can do damned near anything onscreen asked of him.

The other performance has already been talked about by writers my skilled than I so I'll just add my voice to the choir - Michael Rooker has been James Gunn's secret acting weapon for more than a decade and it's high time everyone else noticed how good he is. Here Rooker reprises his role as Yondo and is allowed to bring color (hahaha) and depth to the character that was completely unexpected. By answering the lingering questions about his attachment to Quill we get a beautiful and ultimately touching arc that shows Rooker digging into this criminal and showing us the wounded heart of a good person. He is fantastic and if these kinds of films were taken at all seriously by critics he would be nominated for a supporting actor award or two.


Sometimes when you see a film that is no good it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. Such is not the case with KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017). There are two big problems with this movie one of which might not have been under the control of the director. But the second one is a direct result of the directors weaknesses and he should have known better.

I've loved Guy Ritchie's crime films, really liked his Holmes films and I think his stab at The Man From UNCLE was brilliant but it seems that he has taken the wrong lesson from those tales. Ritchie and his writers have reimagined Arthur and his band of blokes as a group of London pimps and criminals which might well have worked IF - and this is a big if - there had been any attempt to make us believe that these characters existed in the story's period of history. But there is zero desire (it would seem) to have these guys act like people would act in Arthurian England, so instead we get SNATCH refugees running around being cool with knives instead of guns. It does not work and so often destroys the tone and atmosphere that the excellent production design evokes that it becomes completely irritating. Casting the characters as rouges with rough edges was a good idea but making them late 20th century pub blokes with dialog that feels lifted out of ROCKNROLLA was a huge misstep.

The second big problem is one I'm not sure Richie could have done much about given the state of things in filmmaking today. It would seem that because of the Lord of the Rings films we will never be able to have another medieval fantasy type battle without CGI creatures regardless of whether they are needed. From the first few minutes of the film we are treated (?) to the sight of several humongous  war elephants helping to lay siege to an even larger castle. They smash up against things, swing huge boulders tied to their tails and just generally stomp around causing a large amount of CGI damage. All this over-priced carnage is there only to give audiences what I'm sure is perceived as what they expect - big monster CGI beasts. I mean, how will anyone know this is a fantasy story without the big CGI beasties, huh?

It's pathetic unnecessary crap and it's clear that they were an addition slathered onto the film late in the game by someone panicking that people would expect such things in a film with swords and stuff. How do I know they were added late? Because the monstrous animals are never even referenced in the dialog! Wouldn't giant, tusked, castle-crushing brutes be a topic of conversation in the aftermath of a battle? Or during it? Or at some damned time? Ugh! What a lame mess. 


The List 

THE LORELEY'S GRASP (1974) - 7 (rewatch)
THE FALCON IN HOLLYWOOD (1944) - 7
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965) - 2
THE FACE OF FU MANCHU (1965) - 7 (rewatch)
THE OTHER HELL (1981) - 4 (Italian 'nuns get possessed' tale)
POINT OF TERROR (1971) - 5 (drama masquerading as a horror tale)
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) - 8
ROBERT KLEIN STILL CAN'T STOP HIS LEG (2016) - 8 (excellent documentary about the comedian)
THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU (1966) - 6 (rewatch)
THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (1967) 5 (rewatch)
ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) - 8
NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES (1984) - 6
CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) - 8 (rewatch)
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) - 9 (excellent Korean zombie film)
STRYKER (1983) - 4 (post-apocalyptic trudge)
KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017) - 4
PRIVATE LIVES (1931) - 6 (Noel Coward play adapted in pre-code style)
ABBOT & COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (1955) - 5 (rewatch)