Wednesday, July 23, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 12

This is the final posting of the PD Project Horror Collection so it's only fitting that it start off with something truly horrific:

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the face of the abyss.

Anyway...

Disc 12

The House on Haunted Hill

Vincent Price plays an eccentric millionaire who throws a party for his wife in a haunted house. Each guest is promised $50,000 if they can make it through the night. Only there seem to be schemes at work beyond what even the ghosts have planned.

I just saw this again on The It's Alive Show. Does it have its cheesy moments? Absolutely, but I remember watching this as a kid. I stumbled across it on TV after waking up in the middle of the night and it honestly scared the life out of me. There's a certain time of night, when you're a certain age, where ghost stories seem like the most reasonable things in the world.

William Castle produced and directed this as well as several other classic Vincent Price horror pics. He was doing midnight movies before there was such a thing. When I look at Horror Host shows like Elvira or The It's Alive Show, I'm struck by how much they owe William Castle. It's not that he produced so many movies that they could then build a career on, it's that he made movies that got you excited enough about ghost stories to make them a part of your life.

I uploaded the MPEG to the Internet Archive. It's a nice letterboxed print. If you haven't seen this movie before, it's well worth watching. Especially late at night when there's a storm outside--thunder or snow, doesn't matter. Get the popcorn, get under a blanket and enjoy.

The Last Man on Earth

Vincent Price plays the Last Man on Earth after a virus has killed everyone else and brought them back as vampire-like monsters.

From the excellent Richard Matheson Novel I Am Legend which had a middling remake last year starring Wil Smith and was also the basis of the film The Omega Man starring Charleton Heston. This movie sticks closer to the novel and I find it, frankly, a little dry, a little dull. It's a lot of Price wandering around while we hear his inner dialogue. While it's true to the novel, it's not edge-of-your-seat film making.

There are disagreements on that point though, especially on The It's Alive Show message board. The film's been featured several times on that show and has some ardent admirers. And there is a lot to recommend it. It's very artfully done and what I consider dull or dry can be construed as a portrayal of the monotony of living where there's nothing else in the world.

It's absolutely a movie worth watching and I'd say that goes double for the book. The novel's ending is a knock-out and so far none of the adaptations I've seen of it have gotten it right. Last Man on Earth gets the closest and watching Vincent Price at work is never a disappointment.

Dementia 13

An old Irish family is haunted by dark secrets around the death of a little girl seven years earlier. Two women, one married into the family and one soon to be, start unraveling the secrets at great risk.

Roger Corman producing a film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Yes, that Francis Ford Coppola, here credited merely as "Francis Coppola." A generally unremarkable slasher pic, it does at least have some good twists. You think the movie will be about manipulating the mother to change the will and then it becomes about something else entirely. Could have been better, but not bad for a first pic and not bad by Corman standards either.

Phantom From 10,000 Leagues

An undersea radiation experiment produces a monstrous creature, but instead of trying to destroy the creature, people are fighting over keeping it a secret.

Oh, and we end with a non-free film! What bad luck. While the film appears to be PD, the score is not and thus I cannot add it to the Internet Archive. Alas and alack.

And further gnashing of teeth, this one blows--hard. Standard 50's atomic sci-fi featuing a dumpy white hero who does nothing to save the day or affect the plot. Teeth-achingly dull. The monster at least looks neat, but not neat enough to counterbalance the absence of anything else to see in this film.

And that's it. The Horror 50-Pack is tapped out, completely watched and as fully uploaded as can be. There will be a breif hiatus from the PD Project as I gather information on the films in the Chilling Classics 50-Movie Pack and move from one American metropolis to another. In addition to starting a new pack, the format of the project will change as well. Instead of one disc of films being reviewed every Wednesday and Saturday, I'll only post a two-film, double-feature-style review every Saturday at midnight following The It's Alive Show (which broadcasts online. So enjoy that and then surf over here for more movie much to stream online). It'll take a little longer (25 weeks for the whole thing), but it'll be more consistent and give me a chance to work on other projects. So stick around, the dreck will be back soon. As long as Hollywood keeps squeezing 'em out, I'll be around to say it smells.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 11

Guess what...
puppies
see more dog pictures

I'm so excited, I threw a party but...
dog
see more dog pictures

So I decided to stop posting LOL pictures on this blog.

Disc 11

The Amazing Mr. X

A widow preparing to remarry consults a psychic after she starts being haunted by the ghost of her husband. Only not everything is as it seems.

A beautifully-shot piece of duplicity and double-crosses. The twists are so satisfying that I don't want to say anything more lest I spoil the surprise. This might be my favorite movie from the set.

Bloodlust

A group of teenagers land on the shores of an island owned by a hunter who likes to play the most dangerous game.

There are only two things worth noting about this film. 1: it stars the father from the Brady Bunch who was apparently being groomed to be a teen steam star. 2: there's a MSTie version and you're better off watching that.

This was featured as episode 0607 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 1.

The Bat

A mystery writer starts being menaced by a serial killer known as "The Bat" after renting a house with a million dollars hidden in its walls.

Vincent Price as a conniving doctor in a murder mystery. It's not bad. Not horror in any way, shape or form, but it's not bad. The revelation of the killer is a bit of a let down if you know the logic of murder mysteries and their inevitable twists. Still, a pretty good movie and an incredible print. I'm used to the films on this 50-movie mega pack being bad video rips of scratchy prints. This looks sharp, nearly pristine and it's the version I've added to the Internet Archive.

Last Woman on Earth

Something temporarily sucks all the oxygen out of the air killing everyone on earth except Mr. and Mrs. Gent and their lawyer Martin who happen to be SCUBA diving at the time. Tensions rise as Mr. Gent and Martin start fighting over Mrs. Gent, the Last Woman on Earth.

Roger Corman. Hooray! But this isn't one of his best. You'd think the movie would be about the woman coming into her own. After all, she's in demand and controls the supply, you'd think she'd own the situation. Instead it's just an hour of the older Mr. Gent and the younger Martin chaffing over the points where their worldviews don't gell. Pretty disappointing.

Next week, everything ends. Disc 12: Vincent Price x2, Roger Corman and a radioactive monster. The perfect end to a perfect project so I might as well use it for this project.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Comics Day

Slow week. I only picked up the new Hellblazer and Penny Arcade collection. I'll post about the latter later since I want to write about webcomic print collections in general.

Hellblazer 246: "Newcastle Calling" Part two of two

This two-parter manages to cover everything I love and hate about Hellblazer. Last issue, focused on a group of amateur documentarians producing a special on Constantine's punk band Mucus Membrane and they, of course, awaken some sleeping evil and embark on journeys of personal terror. This issue continues the story with a rundown of all the terror afoot in Newcastle. Constantine walks through, observes it all, puts the evil down and then explains all the relevant back story to the one surviving member of the film crew who then dies.

What I love about this story and Hellblazer in general is the really evil imagination that's brought to bear. The stories, at their best, manage to draw out the human themes of responsibility and shame and tie them to fantastical and disturbing visions of monstrosity. There's a refined nightmare logic that runs parallel to the human drama. That's what makes the series both stand out and be consistently readable.

On the other hand, that very nightmare logic disrupts the narrative. When it doesn't work you end up with some character putting on the hat of Basil Exposition to explain everything that's happened up to that point, why it happened and what it means. It's like reading a Cliff Notes of the comic within the comic itself. Unfortunately it falls upon Constantine himself to take that role this time around. While Constantine's attitude when confronting the Terror Elemental is nice, you don't actually see him deal with it. He starts the staring contest and, next time you see him, is lighting a cigarette. Tease. No doubt it'll come up later in the series as a major plot point. After all, this story is seemingly drawing on the original Newcastle story from the first year of the comic, twenty years ago. Good thing my library has most of the trades.

More satisfying, and exploring the thematic strengths of Hellblazer, is the new mini-series Chas: The Knowledge. The first issue came out a few weeks ago and you should still be able to find it on the shelves. It's a five-issue series focused on the Chas of the title, Constantine's old taxi-driving friend who can always be counted on to stick his neck out a little too far. "The Knowledge" refers to the cab-drivers' routes around London and no doubt is tied to the supernatural force that strikes at the end of the issue. While the first issue largely sets up the situation that'll play out over the next four, it reads well and really taps into the best repeating themes of the Hellblazer universe: responsibility and shame. It looks very promising.

PD Project Horror Part 10

Ladies and gentlemen, six and a half minutes of pure win:

Now,

Disc 10

Monster From a Prehistoric Planet

An expedition to gather exotic animals for a publishing magnates theme park nets a baby "Gappa." Only the creature's monstrous parents don't like that their child's been taken away and head to Japan to save it.

The formula of these kaiju/sci-fi monster movies is endlessly entertaining. The tribal culture that's lived with the monster for generations, the imperial hubris that disdains the culture's knowledge of the monster, the competing interests fighting over who'll profit from the monster, and then crap gets smashed! Woo-hoo! That's what we came here for mofos! Sure, the monster looks like a pigeon cross-bred with a lizard that's choking on a starfish, but it wouldn't be kaiju if the monster didn't look kind of stupid.

The movie can be pretty shocking though. A female scientist is asked why she isn't at home making babies and the film has Japanese people in blackface. There is some craziness going on here.

The Monster Walks

A woman returns to claim her inheritance after her father dies only to learn there is a theat stalking the house that may soon claim her life as well.

A not-overly-involved story of broken promises and double-crosses. The violin trick got me. That was pretty inventive. This movie's pretty okay. Just try not to cringe at the antics of the black driver.

The Gorilla

The Ritz Brothers play a group of private detectives hired to protect an attorney from a serial killer called "The Gorilla," only there may be more secrets in the house than they anticipated.

The movie's okay if you can ignore the painfully unfunny antics of the Ritz Brothers. They're like a low-rent Three Stooges, and the Stooges can be had cheap. The plot itself involves a variety of people posing as other people and the ample use of secret passages. Those parts are kind of fun. Also the maid/cook/whatever is kind of funny too. To top it off, Bela Lugosi plays the menacing butler.

A Shriek in the Night

A man falls to his death from the balcony of his penthouse apartment and two reporters covering the story start to wonder if it was an accident at all.

If you cut out the comic relief you'd have a really good movie. As it is, it's just a pretty good mystery where the villain is revealed to be secretly related to someone who'd been crossed by the victims. Not bad. The reporters have a snarky, screwball comedy relationship going on and you don't see that in movies anymore.

Next time, the penultimate disc, Disc 11. I'm almost loathe to reveal what's on it. I will say it features my favorite movie so far from this set.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 9

I have seen the heart of madness:

Moving on...

Disc 9

Swamp Women

An undercover police woman helps a band of female criminals escape so they can find a hidden stash of diamonds.

Roger Corman directing immoral women. This is pure pulp joy.

This was featured as episode 0503 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 10.

The World Gone Mad

A reporter investigates the murder of his DA friend who was investigating a company with crooked accounting practices.

A nice primer for what Enron and the entire sub-prime mortgage business did.

The Little Shop of Horrors

Seymour is picked on by everybody in his life until he discovers a strange plant that makes him a media sensation. Only the plant has unusual dietary needs--human blood.

Roger Corman again! Classic film remade into the classic musical. Maybe that's where they got the awful idea for whole film-to-musical craze that's been going on. Maybe Roger Corman wasn't the greatest creative mind of cinema.

Naaaaah!

Tormented

A man is haunted by the vengeful spirit of the ex-lover he allowed to die.

Bert I. Gordon hurts you, hurts you and then hurts you some more. And then he makes you watch his awful movies. This is one of his better ones, but that's not saying much. It's ultimately almost okay.

This was featured as episode 0414 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 11.

Next time, Disc 10. We're closing in on the end. Can't you feel the anticipation? Me neither. People in big stupid monster suits, big stupid gorilla suits, and two okay mystery/noir-types. Oh, and the Ritz Brothers ruin a mediocre film.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Midnight showing fools! I went early so I could spoil it for all of you! CAUSE I'M A SPOILER!

I'm lying. No spoiler. My folks did this to me with every Star Trek episode. I never wanted to watch and they'd always go, "No, you gotta see this one. This is the one where Kirk dies." And of course I had to watch. I had to find out if the toupee was really the father of all those tribbles.

I can't wholly remember the first Hellboy. I only remember not being too impressed with it and that Pittsburgh got mentioned. And I'm only marginally familiar with the "Mignolaverse." So I can't say how it compares to the first or how it measures up to the comic. I can say it was fun, an okay selection of action and comedy, but not a mix. There's the story we've seen in the ads--the ancient kingdom of Bethmora is rising against the human race and the BPRD has to stop it. The back story for the kingdom is related in an opening sequence that looks fantastic. CGI armies of little wooden soldiers--marionette-style little wooden soldiers. If I could see a movie that just looked like that I'd be thrilled.

There's a second story though. One that's not in the ads and it's a more domestic one. Hellboy's chaffing at having to stay hidden, there's stress in his relationship with Liz and now he's got a German giving him orders. The story touches on the standard Hellboy themes of destiny, choice and where his allegiances truly lie, and while those elements tie it thematically to the Bethmora story, they don't really. There's this weird supernatural almost-sit-com thing going on and then there's the monster busting. The timing is almost right to bring them together, but not quite. Both are good in and of themselves though. The funny is funny and the exciting is exciting.

And the visuals are spectacular. They were teasing us in the trailers. Del Toro is constructing truly surrealistic visions. One monster, unfortunately, looks like Chaos from Sonic Adventure, and another, a little messenger thing, looks like a reject from the Star Wars universe, but even they don't look bad. They just don't look as twisted and inventive as the other creatures.

Overall it was a lot of fun. The audience helped a lot. This is quality midnight movie fare. If you can't see it with a theater full of freaks, at least see it with a crowd. I don't think it'll hold up to thoughtful reflection so go when you'll be pleasantly distracted.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 8

Some days...

Whubble by Jaime Smart

Disc 8

The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Nosferatu

I've grouped the three of these together because there's not much to say about them. Not because they're not good but because what new thing could I say? Phantom and Hunchback are the classic silents based on the classic stories starring that classic actor Lon Chaney. And Nosferatu is of course the classic adaptation of Dracula starring Max Shreck. I hadn't seen the Chaney ones before and two things stood out: 1. They're good. Really good. 2. They're long. Really long. I didn't know silents ran that long especially since the talkies that followed were so short. They're amazing pieces and definitely worth watching especially if you've never seen a silent film before.

The Indestructible Man

An executed criminal comes back to life after a scientist performs some experiments on his body. The resurrected criminal is now hunting down those who betrayed him to get revenge.

Nothing special here except the fact that Lon Chaney Jr. as the Indestructible Man doesn't speak. And he dies in a stupid way. In fact it's kind of a stupid movie. Enjoy!

This was featured as episode 0409 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 11.

Next time, Disc 9 featuring two, count 'em two Roger Corman pictures and one by Bert I. Gordon. This is the end of all good things!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Chris Hedges on TruthDig

Chris Hedges, "Surviving the Fourth of July"

I survive the gradual, and I now fear inevitable, disintegration of our democracy because great literature and poetry, great philosophy and theology, the great works of history, remind me that there were other ages of collapse and despotism. They remind me that through it all men and women of conscience endured and communicated, at least with each other, and that it is possible to refuse to participate in the process of self-annihilation, even if this means we are pushed to the margins of society.

He expands on the idea of meaning through art--specifically literature--that he raised in I Don't Believe in Atheists (which I reviewed here) and demonstrates why he's one of my favorite writers and why I gave that book as much time as I did. He strikes a tone in this essay that's very similar to Arthur Silber's writings (another writer who's shaped a lot of my thinking lately, especially his pieces on Iran). They share a seemingly contradictory revelry in despair. I don't say that to imply that there is any sense of revelry in their writings. The despair is palpable and born of a clear-eyed, uncompromising view of reality. To put it another way, "I have found the cure for hope and it is awareness."

But why do I saw "revelry?" Because there is hope at the heart of both writers' oeuvres and both find release through art. The despair lies in what we are, the hope in what we may be. Despite the ever-repeating histories of depravity, destruction and dehumanization, the pinnacles of beauty humanity achieves endure despite the misery. That's cold comfort, certainly as even Hedges notes:

Thucydides, knowing that Athens was doomed in the war with Sparta, consoled himself with the belief that his city’s artistic and intellectual achievements would in the coming centuries overshadow raw Spartan militarism. Beauty and knowledge could, ultimately, triumph over power. But we may not live to see such a triumph.

Who can say? Maybe we will. Maybe we can only hope to see the minor triumphs in the lives of those around us. And though Arthur thinks it's too late, we are not at war with Iran yet and as long as that is the case we can fight against it. I know this is a penny-ante blog about goofy movies you can download for free, but this post is here because you do what you can. So read through these links and then talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to your pastor and congregation (if you have one), talk to whoever you know about the moves against Iran (here's Seymour Hersh's latest on the actions against Iran and why they're a catastrophically bad idea). When you see an article in the paper demanding military action against Iran, write to the editor. Tell your representatives that there's been enough death. Do what you can when you can. To paraphrase Richard Nelson Bolles, life is a choice between doing good and doing nothing, so do what good you can.

And to bring it back around to Hedges' finding solace in literature, here are three books. They aren't directly connected to this post, but they are good and that might make the daily vicissitudes of life a little easier to endure, and maybe that's the point after all.

  • Spaceman Blues: A Love Song by Brian Francis Slattery
  • Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis by Ali Smith
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n

The songs my music player pulled up while I was reading the Hedges piece: "No Mercy for Swine" by Cherry Poppin' Daddies and "Nearer Blessed Lord" by Nina Simone.
While writing this post: "Hateful" by the Clash and "Misery and Famine" by Bad Religion.
While revising: "We Are Alive" by Paul van Dyk.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 7

Hey, where have you been?

Ahem. Yes. After some delay I am back and so is the horror. Please, try not to cry. Here we go!

Disc 7

Bluebeard

John Carradine plays an artist who murders the women who sit for his paintings.

This is a PRC picture which means it should be awful, but it's not. It's actually pretty good. I'd go so far as to recommend it unironically, and I don't do that with many movies in this project.

The Corpse Vanishes

Bela Lugosi plays a mad scientist who uses the vital fluids of young women to keep his wife alive and beautiful.

An interesting revision of the vampire story. I can't remember much about the movie though.

This was featured as episode 0105 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be downloaded via the Digital Archive Project or watched on YouTube (in 10 parts).

Doomed to Die

Boris Karloff returns for his final performance as the detective Mr. Wong. A shipping tycoon is found shot to death in his office after one of his ships catches fire and sinks.

Not as good at The Fatal Hour, this one drags a little bit. It's fun to note how often Wong has to break the law to solve the mystery. Ends with a disappointing revelation of guilt, but it's okay until then.

Night of the Living Dead

The dead walk! The classic film that redefined our idea of zombies. Fantastic.

Next time, Disc 8: Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., Max Shreck and none of them talking.