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)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Women Who Kill Me - Adrienne Barbeau


Today is the birthday of my longtime celebrity crush Adrienne Barbeau. She turns 71 and I still think I would blush like an adolescent virgin if she were to wink at me. Which means I should never try to meet her in a public place. Ever. 
Happy Birthday Miss Barbeau! 










Saturday, June 10, 2017

KILLER SNAKES (1974)


After borrowing the DVD of this Hong Kong set Shaw Brothers Production I finally got around to watching it tonight and my God is this a strange film! It's kind of a character story about a social misfit and his odd life. He's a very socially awkward loner who's constantly the victim of bullies, cheating employers, low level criminals and muggers. Constantly harassed in many different ways he is a sad, pitiable creature who seems to have either the worst luck in the world or is without a doubt one of the most put-upon film characters I've ever seen.


Part of his problem seems to stem from an unfortunate childhood incident in which he watched a sadomasochistic sexual encounter between his mother and some man or his mother and his father  - the film doesn't really make it all that clear. This has made his adult view of sexuality somewhat stunted. He does have one romantic focus and that is the only virginal female in the entire story who he fixates on to the exclusion of any other female attention. Anyone who has ever seen a film about this kind of miserable young love knows that this will not end well!

Adding to the fellow's odd nature is the fact that he seems to have an almost supernatural affinity for snakes. He seems to be able to communicate with them and clearly feels absolutely no danger handling every type of snake or reptile that you can think of. Whether it's incredibly venomous cobras or fairly dangerous monitor lizards he seems to have some kind of extrasensory mental rapport with them and, as you might expect, eventually is able to command them to do his bidding. This leads to the expected revenge portion of the film in which a lot of people who have treated him like dirt end up on the receiving end of a lot of poisonous fangs. That might be considered a semi-satisfying section of the story but it's coupled with the nastiest elements that they can throw into a story of this type.

 
So, of course, there's a sleazeball scumbag who desperately wants to have sex with the virginal female and so is slowly pushing her into being a prostitute. The virgin's best female friend - who's already a prostitute - is pushing her in that direction as well because they're just aren't a whole lot of economic opportunities for the young lady. So by the time the inevitable happens and the slithery venomous revenge takes place we all know where this thing is going. It's difficult to feel bad for any of the snake victims as they lead such wretched, self-centered lives but the nastiness of the story also blunts any sympathy we might have for the main character and his romantic fixation. Everyone here is doomed to live out a cheerless, sad existence until the snakes come.  


I can't call this a good film and I can't say that I totally enjoyed watching it but I must admit I was completely fascinated by it. It's chock-full of nudity, sleazy sex, and just a ton of snakes of every type and description. Potential viewers should be warned that a lot - and I mean a lot - of snakes were obviously killed in the making of this film. And I mean in every way that you can think of. There's a scene in which about 8 or 9 are killed by machete and a scene near the end where boxes of them have gasoline poured on them and are set aflame. It's a little nauseating. Adding to my own discomfort with this film are several sections that can only be read as intentional dark humor but in each case it's so off-putting and inappropriate that I began to wonder if that's how the rest of the film was going to play out. But it was not. This is a grim, nasty, mean-spirited little movie and I can't recommend it for most people. If you read this far and it still seems appealing, well, at least you know what you're getting yourself into.


Friday, June 09, 2017

Star Trek TOS Inspired Art















Because sometimes you just need to watch some good, old fashioned Trek! 


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)


Once again we have a new ALIEN film and, as was true few years ago, I'm going to have to step out from the crowd and praise it. Yes that's right - I'm one of the folks who loved Prometheus - warts and all. Was it perfect? No. Was it extremely interesting and incredibly engaging and very entertaining? Yes. I can honestly say that all the things that people bitched about in 2012 did not matter to me in the slightest. In fact, after watching it several more times on Blu-Ray and seeing the deleted scenes I can say I like it more with each viewing.


So here we are again. This is Ridley Scott's second of what reports say will be a Trilogy of new Alien films set before the original 1979 classic. I should stay up front that I am a huge fan of the Alien films.  All six of them. And by that that by that of course I mean that there are a couple that I consider to be pathetically risible. Those would be the two Alien vs Predator films which I consider to be cinematic abominations and totally without merit. They are garbage. But the first four Alien films I really enjoy to varying degrees. Of course, nothing is ever going to surpass the original.  It was groundbreaking in that it fashioned a new way of doing things melding an old style SF story with things no one had ever seen before courtesy of H/.R. Giger. There had never been anything quite like it and everything after that can only strive to be the classic that the 1979 film was and still is. But I have enjoyed the immediate three sequels to varying degrees and often for some of the same reasons that a lot of people dislike them. Suffice to say that I like most of the Alien movies, which probably puts me into a pretty small category of film fans.


But, to this new film, Alien: Covenant (2017). This seems to me to very plainly draw a line between Prometheus as prequel and Alien (1979) as the end point. In other words, the story is taking shape in a fascinating way. The melding of the idea of human progenitors/creators figures with the genesis of the large biomechanical weaponry system that is the Alien species is quite intriguing to me. The Alien movies have focused in various ways on the concept of either motherhood or the creation of life. When that became text instead of subtext in Prometheus I think it may have been one of the problems that kept audiences from relating to it as an 'Alien' film but that imagery and idea has been there from the beginning all the way down to calling the ship's computer Mother. But with this new film I think that the continuity of that idea over the films is now beginning to take shape in a way that - while it irritates a number of people - I find absolutely beguiling. Don't get me wrong - I find silly guesses about Chariots of the Gods style alien intervention and human life to be little more than amusing BS to talk about while drinking. But as presented in these films it's wonderful science fiction / fantasy. I love the idea that a race created us and then saw us (for some reason that is still undetermined or unrevealed) to be disappointing enough to deem us erasable.


Knowing that Prometheus and Alien: Covenant are films that are leading us in a straight line toward what we saw in the original film I'll have to admit I did not expect this second movie to take the turn that it did. I'll refrain from ruining the film or spoiling any of the neat surprises in the latter half of it, but suffice to say I think we can tell that the egg chamber and alien creature encountered in 1979 are not exactly what the aliens of Prometheus had in mind as the biological weapon that could remove us from our own planet. Interestingly enough it appears one of our own creations shaped that Beast into what it became. This points toward even more interesting mythological connections that could be explored in the third film if they so choose.


Of course, as with the release of every previous Alien film, this one comes with its own built-in criticism. In other words there's almost no one who's going to be pleased by this right now. The fact that I'm one of only two or three people I've spoken with so far who really liked it. The rest I've heard is the usual disdain that centers around the fact that as an audience we know more than the characters onscreen. This allows viewers to sneer at actions "I would never do". Yeah - You already know there's a monster on the loose, dumbass. We get it! You know someone is lying. We know too. The characters don't.

I rarely do so but I'm thinking I need to see this one again before it leaves theaters. I want to soak in the visuals again, check out the details and wallow in the amazing mood the film sets. This is the first Alien film since the first to 'feel' like the original in tone and pacing. That alone makes it worth buying another ticket. 


Monday, June 05, 2017

Model Spotting at Wonderfest

Every year for more than a decade now I travel up to Louisville, Kentucky each Summer for Wonderfest. The show is primarily about modelling, sculpture and kit building usually of the science fiction or horror variety. I have never been much a model builder and my painting skills hover in the 'barely passable on a good day in weak light' so I don't go there to buy new projects. I go there to look at the cool stuff that people with real talent show off! And to see a lot of friends I only get to see once or twice a year. This time I took a number of cool photos of the stuff on display and now you can see them without following me on Facebook! Sorry that some of the pictures are less than perfect.