with siblings like this…

One of the places that I’ve always wanted to visit is the Paris catacombs, so when I heard there was a movie that took place there, I just had to check it out. I realize that it wasn’t really filmed in the catacombs, but the notion was enough for me… so this is Catacombs, the first feature film brought to us by Fearnet. Surprising, it is actually pretty good. Some of it is shot in that annoying rock video editing style, but not much.

Catacombs is the story of a woman who is invited by her sister to visit Paris. She gets there, meets her annoying sister and her annoying friends and is whisked off to some exclusive dance party taking place illegally in the catacombs under Paris. Apparently this party is all the rage, but our hero isn’t really in to it. Then when they go off and everyone tells her stories of some of the evil uses that the catacombs have been used for: the satanic rites, sacrifices, raising a man on raw meat and with no exposure to sunlight and now he wears a wears a goat head and wanders the tunnels. She starts getting a bit freaked out. So, of course, she wanders off on her own through the tunnels and, let the fun begin!. Surprise, surprise, the goat head appears the big chase is on!

 

Catacombs

who’s there?

 

Catacombs

oh, its you…

 

The rest of the movie is pretty much a chase scene through the catacombs: lots of running, wavering light sources, darkness, and walls of skulls. It feels like watching someone fleeing a minotaur in the dark… After an hour or so I thought it was getting a bit tiring, but then it picks up again and starts to get interesting. The movie isn’t particularly tense or scary, but it’s a nice environment, a great villain, and a fun story with, of course, a nice twist.

 

Catacombs

well, well, well

 

Catacombs

not a happy sort of smile

 



to look at oneself in the mirror is to see oneself think

After all of these years (in fact, a good number of years since I borrowed this dvd) I have finally watched Wings of Desire. It is an interesting film, two quite distinct parts, each of which are quite good. I imagine that everyone else has seen it, but I will recap anyway. Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander are two angels who wander about Berlin: watching people, listening to their thoughts and taking notes, all while pondering what it would be like to be a physical being. They are invisible to adults so they have free rein in eavesdropping, but children can see them, though children don’t have the kinds of thoughts to hide that adults do.

 

wings of desire

do i fall?

 

The first part at times seems more like a photo montage; beautiful black and white images of Berlin and the people therein. It is like watching a book of pictures with pleasant music in the background and philosophical sayings written on the pages (thanks to subtitles). Person after person cross our field of vision, and we hear the personal thoughts of many of them. In hearing these people think, we hear tales of joy and war, ponderings of suicide and other sad things. There is a lot of reminiscing about the days after the war, accompanied by a good deal of tragic actual footage of the destruction in postwar Germany: ruined buildings and dead folks. Surprisingly, there is a substantial cameo of Peter Falk, which I thought was fun, as I’ve always liked his little charm.

 

wings of desire

der engel weiß jetzt

 

The movie than moves into both color and a more standard movie format, a search for true love and the knowledge of lessons to be learned about life. A lot of it is played out against a Nick Cave concert (another fun cameo). While it is a dramatic change from the first part, it is a nice closing for the film.

 

wings of desire

not from her to eternity

 

All in all, in is a quiet and moving film, viewing the quest for contentment that defines ones day and the importance of the minor details of life. It is also an interesting trip around West Berlin, when the Berlin Wall and the destruction of the war were still quite evident.



never go swimming in your wedding dress…

So many choices! A practical joke? A vampire? A hallucination? It is a psychological thriller? A psychedelic romp? A horror movie? All of the above? Regardless, it is an odd movie. Yes, we watched Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. It wasn’t much of what I expected and at times it was hard to tell exactly what it was, but I love the title and we just had to see it.

In classic 1971 style (I kept thinking it would make a good double bill with Last House on the Left), a hearse being driven by a hippie couple and their friend rolls into a small Connecticut village where they receive, surprise, surprise, a cold welcome from the batch of old VFI fellows haunting about the town. In fact, it is an unsettlingly hostile welcome that they get. But one of our heroes has bought a local farm, The Old Bishop Place, and they plan to make it their home. See, one of them, Jessica, has recently been released from the mental hospital and they are looking to get away from the big city, I imagine for her mental health. Why they start off the trip by taking her to a graveyard so that she can do some tombstone rubbings is beyond me, of course, she gets some nice old tombstone posters to hang on the wall but she also catches a brief glimpse of a red-head in a white gown who looks like some kind of apparition. She doesn’t tell anyone about the girl, fearing they’ll think that she is losing her mind again, and off they go!

 

Let's Scare Jessica to Death

disgruntled bride

 

 

Let's Scare Jessica to Death

friendly locals

 

They get to the house and Jessica begins hearing her voices, rather creepy ones at that, and then a glimpse of the red-head on the porch? And there is someone in the house? After these initial shocks, it turns out that their guest is nothing but a wandering young lady who was crashing there because it was empty. This girl catches the eye of both the fellows yet Jessica, strangely, invites her to stay… Even though seeing this girl and her fellow eying each other only accentuates the voices. As the movie progresses, Jessica’s voices become firmer and more violent and the white gowned girl begins silently appearing just about everywhere that Jessica looks, reminding me why it is wise to keep your eyes shut when swimming in a lake. When the one friendly local tells them that the house is haunted by the ghost of a young woman who drowned there and Jessica begins noticing that everyone in town has strange scars on their necks, things really seem to fall apart for everyone. And wait, doesn’t the girl they found in the house bear a striking resemblance to a girl in an antique photograph in the attic. Is Jessica seeing/thinking/hearing things? Is there really a member of the undead floating around? Is someone trying to drive her crazy? It is really hard to tell and it kept me guessing.

Apart from all that, the movie was pretty good: it had a good score, some nice settings and parts that really made me wonder what was going on, and the locals looked like they probably really were small village locals.

And on a small celebratory notice, this is post #200 of The Penguindevil. So Hurray! Sadly, I don’t have a toasting beer handy, so I guess that a little glass of Bunnahabhain is in order…



living graves of murder…

Though I was slightly scared away from this film due to it starring Julia Roberts, we nonetheless decided on Mary Reilly, the Stephen Frears film about a maid who falls for both Dr Jeckyl and Mister Hyde, and gets involved much deeper than she should. Julia Roberts actually seems alright in this role, her strange appearance and paleness worked fine for me as a waifish servant girl. I don’t know if she is always like that, as I don’t recall seeing her in a movie before, but it worked out here. John Malkovich, as the doctor/mister, does a great job in the dual role and there are even some small appearances of Michael Gambon.

Mary is the new scullery maid at the residence of Dr Jeckyl, a no longer practicing physician who has a large, elaborate laboratory across the way in which he engages in some kind of experiments. When he announces that Edward Hyde, his new assistant, should have the run of the house, things start getting weird and Mary Reilly puts herself right in the middle of it. Hyde is an energetic, confident, intimidating and wild fellow, who is not shy in his interest in Mary and seems to enjoy a little ladykilling on the side. It was a different take on Mister Hyde than I’ve seen before, he seemed more like a troublesome regular guy, no hunchbacked monster here.

One odd thing, for a movie about a violent serial killer, is that it shows virtually no human carnage, mainly just some bloody afterwards (well, and one loose head). Of course, the film is through the eyes of Mary Reilly, who is not present for any of these incidents, so that makes sense. But for some reason, the movie seems to go out of its way to identify Mary as squeamish by showing her negative reactions to lots of animal carnage, from the slaughter of an eel to the cleaning out of a cow and all sorts in between. Since her squeamishness seems to have no function to the plot, one cannot help but wonder why they focus so much on the slaughtered animals and her reactions to them, it seems like the movie is replacing the human victims with animal ones. For those of us who see no moral difference between killing animals and people, it seems to be serving as an allegory about the killing of animals! Coupled with the Dr Jeckyl/Mr Hyde situation, it seems to be using the dual nature of the prim and proper kindly Doctor and the cruel, conscious and murdering Mr Hyde to express the human duality of being a good, kind and thoughtful person, yet one who daily engages in lethal involvement with other animals, all while acting oblivious to the moral reality of such activity.

But I digress… I liked the movie all right, it was quiet and pleasant to watch… taking place in a foggy land and a pleasant house and with a strange walkway in the lab that I found strangely fascinating. The down point comes with the long awaited transformation from Hyde to Jeckyl, not only was it not at all what I would have expected, it was a bit too, um, dumb. A totally unnecessary effect that seems to have dumbed down the entirety of the movie.

Oh, and like another recent selection, it features rats.



let the hammer fall first upon the count…

Do movies get any better? Christopher Lee’s first Dracula role, Peter Cushing doing a masterful Van Helsing in his first appearance as that character, great sets, a very dramatic score, nice supporting actors (especially Michael Gough, star of Horrors of the Black Museum, as Lucy’s brother) and directed by Terence Fisher, the king of the modern Gothic horror…

Yes, it is Horror of Dracula! Maybe not the timeless classic that is the 1931 Dracula, but one of the true classics of Hammer Films, certainly a pivotal rendition of the story (as it was the seed of the Dracula movies that we have known for the last 50 years) and a colorful, exciting film! The set for Dracula’s castle is really quite nice, a good looking building with a nice dramatic mountain in the background, Dracula’s hearse is pretty cool (I would have opted for a coffin that wasn’t white, if I were him), the decor is great, the colors are bright.. Great looking all around.

Jonathan Harker’s ill-fated trip to visit Dracula ends him up in a coffin, but not after staking Dracula’s woman. Dracula, of course, heads out seeking revenge by going after Harker’s fiance and her family. As we expect, he will stop at nothing to possess Lucy and Mina but of course, the good Doctor Van Helsing is all on his game and he pursues Dracula wherever need be. All of this revenge and pursuit is made easier by the strange geography in this movie, as the Castle of Dracula seems to be a carriage ride across the border from the city, much more convenient then the London to Transylvania trip that we are used to.

Cushing is the illustrious and dapper man we expect him to be, playing this role like he was born for it and looking sharp and confident with his wooden stakes and silver crucifix, Lee plays Dracula not so much as a supernatural superman (we don’t see any great transformations into bats or unlikely escapes, in fact, he even does a vigorous run as he flees from his nemesis), just as a powerful and evil man of few words, who doesn’t shy away from a good hand-to-hand tussle or throwing a candelabra at his enemy. And all of this leads to the gruesome yet poetic showdown at the end that is reason enough to watch this!

 

Peter Cushing

tools of the trade

 

 

Peter Cushing

the dapper doctor

 

 

Christopher Lee

oh yes, and dracula

 

Oh, and if there are any HPL fans out there, be sure to stop by the Lovecraft Historical Society (from whom I got the picture within my masthead) and check out the trailer for their new film, The Whisperer in Darkness!



afi it, now and then…

So once again we have broached the subject of tackling the American Film Institute’s Top 100 list. We last thought about it a couple of years ago and when looking into it now, we have learned that the list has been updated! I had to look them over, fearing that this might be leading me to watch a greater number of movies that I don’t have much interest in seeing, and we now need to decide which list to follow. Taking an eye towards the changes on the lists, a number of issues pop up, making the decision a tough one.

On the good side:

Vertigo (my favorite Hitchcock) jumped up the list substantially, to place now in the top 10, From Here to Eternity fell off the list (way too boring for my likes, at least to be one of the 100 best), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf made it to the list (personally I would have put it higher than 67) and most excitingly (and quite timely) Blade Runner made the cut!

On the down side:

What is The Lord of the Rings doing on there? Where did Amadeus go? Did they have to take Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner off of the list? And the Manchurian Candidate… How could that come off? And Frankenstein? And Doctor Zhivago? All these great films dropped to make space for a bunch of others (most of which I, admittedly, haven’t seen). And then amidst all of that, the most boring of all westerns, The Searchers, climbs nearly to the top ten? Couldn’t they have pulled that one off the list? Along with E.T., The African Queen, Tootsie and Forrest Gump? If they’d have dropped those, they could have left the good ones on the list. Obviously, it’s no where near as nice a bunch as my Top 65 list.



don’t let your deal go down…

Once again we had to answer the call of Stephen King. This time we watched Graveyard Shift. Yes, it was another cheap and corny King movie, but for some reason I found it more refreshing than most of them. I don’t know why so many of his theatrical movies have the look of TV movies (I think maybe he is just a corny guy), but this one had more meat to it.

The high points are Stephen Macht as the evil boss (while his accent was a bit disturbing, I think it added to his sense of meanness), Brad Dourif as the crazed exterminator and, mainly, the setting. It takes place in an old mill (next to a graveyard, of course) and they did the mill up nice. It is filled with genuine-looking and scary old equipment and it features creepy and convoluted lower levels. The trouble is that this little mill in Maine has a rat problem… and maybe some other kind of a problem, as people who work in the basement have a tendency to disappear. The boss is always needing to hire new fellows and when this new fellow appears, you know he’ll be the answer to all of their problems. The lower level, where he works, is filled with rats, and maybe something else that has a fondness for rats, lots of rats. There are rats all over this movie. Rats, disappearing people, some big leathery wings and a dark basement filled with garbage. There is a project in the works to clean out the basement, and you just know that this plan will lead to something a little more exciting! The boss is a big scary fellow, with a habit of intimidating the men who work for him and harassing (and more) the women, Brad Dourif is wonderfully creepy and the movie actually gets pretty gory as it goes on.

And I watched, when I could manage to pay attention to it, Pervert!. On its own it would be a mediocre, low-budget, sex-comedy with a lame horror element. Sadly though, it was heavily referred to as a homage, or some such, to the films of Russ Meyer. Something which makes it worse than it would have been otherwise. Once you impinge the name of an auteur like Russ Meyer, you bring a level of judgment to your films that they are probably better off without. RM films have a level of character, originality and “philosophy” behind them that would make most any attempt at replication seem trite and contrived. Case in point? Pervert!.

The story of a young fellow who returns home to the family farm to find his elderly father shacked up with a young stripper he met in reno. Of course, ribald escapades follow and then the lady’s deceasement occurs. As the movie progresses, a number of other young ladies violently and mysteriously join her in nothingness. Due to a voodoo curse, it turns out. So what is the RM connection? Well, the whole thing is basically taken from some of the storylines of Supervixens, stretched out and with a horror element added. In fact, a good number of the scenes are taken quiet liberally from Supervixens. This is a strategy that fails everywhere in this movie! RM’s aces are: his girls, his guys, his settings and his stories. While the settings here are fine, nothing else is. The girls? Obviously, as a modern film they use just some standard b-movie starlets in this, uninspired and campishly acted they don’t even approach the potent physicality and menacing psychology of Uschi, Lorna or Sheri and the other dramatic women that Russ fills his movies with. The men? The famed square-jowls of the awesome Charles Napier are sadly lacking here, even the old dad has nowhere near the presence of Hal Hopper or Frank Bolger. And then there’s the story… RM films are generally about decency coming into contact with deviousness, duplicity and deviance, they are focused on the depths of human greed and ill behavior. To start there and end up with a silly voodoo thing (and I mean, really silly) as a protagonist detracts from the glory and shame of the human element and is just plain dumb.



the dutchman’s breeches became a thing of sinister menace…

Filling out the second side of The Dunwich Horror disc, there is a second “Lovecraft” feature, Die Monster Die. As with most of these, it is very loosely adapted from Lovecraft’s works (The Colour out of Space, in this case). In fact, this movie actually seems quite similar to the Dunwich Horror movie. This whole genre of the 1960’s Gothic horror is a very strong one, and as such we can’t really judge these movies based on their Lovecraftian merits, as they have little and that would distract from the entertaining qualities that these possess… As far as these 1960’s AIP things go, this one was pretty good and of the high quality common to these: with an engaging story, nice sets and special effects that while primitive (this was 1965) are interesting in concept.

An American fellow arrives by train into the town of Arkham looking to get to the old Wiley estate. Of course, no one in town will help him or even give him any information. Frustrated, he heads out of town on foot. As he approaches his destination, he is intrigued by a large, creepy, unnatural looking “burnt” spot that he passes by. Then, upon arrival, he is rebuffed by the master of the house, old mister Witley (Boris Karloff). Witley and his servant seem to have something going on that they don’t feel like answering any questions about, not even about the burnt spot. Our American is curious but, as before, information fills out slowly. Luckily, for the American’s inquisitive mind, Witley’s daughter had invited him and Witley’s wife wishes him to stay, or better yet, take the daughter away, so old Boris can’t quite seem to get rid of him. Of course, there is something wrong, a veiled woman in a black cloak creeping around outside, strange animal noises, the mother rotting away from some strange disease, a locked greenhouse, strange glows… And our handy American cannot help but oppose the old man and investigate.

Boris Karloff is great as old mister Witley: is he evil, confused, naive? What is he hiding and where? It’s a good looking and fun movie. While the modification of the original story certainly takes away some of the depth it could have had, and the Lovecraft stuff that remains seems a bit ill-fitting to the rest of the movie, it is a nicely made, fun and interesting film.

As we are unable to resist these Stephen King things, we watched The Dark Half. It does seem that Stephen King and George Romero should make a fine film, but like most of the King movies, this is pretty bad. It also seemed to drag on a bit. This is the story of a boy who has a twin who is not completely formed, so not formed that what is formed is in his head, literally! The scene where the doctors open his brain and see a blinking eye and find some teeth inside is enough to make you want to shut it off. Sadly, the boy grows up to become a teacher and a serious novelist (and still sadly, to be played by Timothy Hutton), who also writes violent sensational pulp novels under a different identity to make ends meet. When the time comes to reveal to the public that this hardboiled Mississippi novelist is really a mild mannered writer in Maine, he also decides to stop writing the other books. Of course, the old alter ego “bad” side to him is more then just a pseudonym, and he gets mad and comes for vengeance, killing the people who he feels is responsible. As is common with King, a story that has a nice psychological thriller angle to it, becomes instead a hokey horror story with a TV movie feel to it. The only plus it has is, that for a lot of the movie, Timothy Hutton actually does a good job and is interesting as the “bad man” writer.

And finally, tonight we watched Knocked Up. This little comedy had some funny parts. The story of an unlikely couple: Ben (Seth Rogan) an unemployed stoner who lives with bunch of guys who are trying to put together a website that lists the nude film appearances of famous actresses, and Alison, an up and coming E! TV hostess. They randomly encounter each other in a bar, get drunk and after the one thing leads to the other, she ends up pregnant. The rest of the movie is the comedy hijinks as they attempt to get to know each other and stay together. It was entertaining enough, though at over two hours, it also seemed a bit too long.



accelerated decrepitude

Ah yes, Blade Runner, it is a quiet and somber film, science fiction in its settings and its antagonists, but a detective story in all else. It is the grand film noir of the future, replete with shady trench-coated policemen, a foggy Los Angeles of rainy streets and perpetual darkness and every room is smoke filled. In this place is a tired and retired policeman, Deckard (Harrison Ford). He was a Blade Runner, an elite policeman charged with hunting rogue Replicants, androids so perfect that they are virtually indistinguishable from humans, but much stronger. When a group of these Replicants murder their way to Earth, Deckard is brought back from retirement against his will to hunt them down.

 

Los Angeles

Same old weather

 

This hunt takes place in one of the greatest environments created for a film, a sensuous, sullied Los Angeles. As with most of the old crime films this is modeled on, Los Angeles is just as much the star and the story as the actors and the plot. It is a rich pit of a place and the whole of our gritty and grimy tour through its streets is spellbinding with its sullied magnificence… Its settings and characters feel somewhat timeless as a mixture of the 1940’s and “2019”, the great dystopian future of Brazil blended with the dark and damp urban solitude and anonymity of In The Mood for Love.

 

Los Angeles

some things never go out of style

 

Deckard has to be at the top of his detective game as these androids keep separate and have blended with the population. Ford is perfect as Deckard, you can feel his tired resignation, the sense of caring from someone who has forgotten what it means to care. The entry of Sean Young’s character as a love interest with more than the usual set of issues, is the catalyst for a reawakening for Deckard and between her and his targets and the long arm of the law always tapping his shoulder, it is a harrying time. The real problems though come from those determined Replicants. Led by the cunning and cruel Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), this batch of baddies mean business and deal out destruction with no second thought. Ridley Scott is at the top of his game here, a perfect blend of story, action and setting nearly matching the brilliance of his previous film, Alien. Blade Runner also features a great cast of Harrison Ford, Emmet Walsh, my introduction to Rutger Hauer, and the beginning of Daryl Hannah’s career. I was quite pleased with Hauer and Hannah in this, sadly the rest of their careers failed to live up to it. Harrison Ford though, this was his peak era.* This is also the movie that started off the wave of films taken from PK Dick stories. It feels more serious then the ones that followed, and it contains the same focus on questioning identity, memories and personal reality.

 

Los Angeles

more scenery

The movie wins in every way: great direction, visually stunning, intriguing story, Harrison Ford, even the groovy Vangelis soundtrack really works.

The fact that I have one of the original DVD’s releases with a less than wonderful picture quality leads me to think that come their release in December, I may need to get one of the new edition. Hmm, 2 disc, 4 disc or 5 disc?

* In every one of the ten years from 1977-1986 he was in a great film: (77) Star Wars, (78) Force Ten From Navarone, (79) Apocalypse Now, (80) The Empire Strikes Back, (81) The Raiders of the Lost Ark, (82) Blade Runner (83) Return of the Jedi, (84) Temple of Doom, (85) Witness and (86) The Mosquito Coast (and then in 1988 another, Frantic). This is one of the great films of all time, starring the only Hollywood actor I have every really been a fan of in the midst of his golden years. Sadly I lost interest in his career soon after those films. Last Crusade was fun but sort of a silly farce & unneeded (though Sean Connery was very good in it) and then he started those dry political thrillers and all the Jack Ryan stuff.



sometimes it’s too close

The eternal lure of another “drug scare” movie brought me out tonight to The Clinton St Theater for a pint of Porter and a viewing of what may be the most obscure thing I’ve seen, since I can’t find a single online reference to it. It may have been a CBS Playhouse show, but regardless, no one seems to mention it, not even IMDB. The object here is “The People Next Door”. No, not the 1970 version with Eli Wallach, but a different version from about the same time with Robert Duvall. The fellow who was screening this had bought the reels on eBay thinking it was the Wallach version, instead he found out tonight that it was a version he’d never even heard of. Adding to the confusion, the focal character, Maxie, was played by the same actress in both films, Deborah Winters!

The casting is nice, Duvall has a fairly small role as a psychiatrist and the father is played by Darren McGavin (correction: Lloyd Bridges… see comments). I also liked whoever it was who played the father next door, he seemed very familiar to me.

It is the story of a family with a rebellious hippy son and a perfect daughter and the problems that arise when they come upon the daughter having a bad acid trip in her closet and then blame her brother for it and kick him out. It is a very serious and dry movie, but sometimes it is hard to tell which side of the issue they are taking. The parents are shown to be the standard middle class hypocrites, lots of drinking, smoking, some womanizing, yet demonizing their children for their drug use. Of course, the daughter is misbehaving due to a lack of respect for her parents and she runs away, gets institutionalized and all sorts of things as the parents get terribly overwhelmed by all of this stuff. And, as one might imagine, the neighbors are a perfect little family with or problems. Or are they?

It wasn’t as exciting as I was expecting: drug scenes are pretty mild and it is not psychedelic at all, but it was alright. It felt like a black and white TV movie made of a stage play. The high points are really just some shots as the family is going through the eats village looking for the runaway daughter, some surprisingly nice shots.



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