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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, October 27, 2007

 
Saturday Night At The Movies

Oh come, all ye Pagans: DVDs for All Hallows Eve

By Dennis Hartley

I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to horror flicks. I don’t truck with the slasher genre. I can’t take any film involving claustrophobic captivity. Physical torture as “entertainment” is out; the inexplicable success of films like “Hostel ”, “Saw” and “Turistas ” baffles me (“art” imitating Abu Ghraib is something I can live without).

If I am in a mood to have the bejesus scared out of me, an old fashioned, atmospheric suspense yarn, like a Peter Weir (“The Last Wave” or “Picnic at Hanging Rock ”), or a taut thriller a la Polanski (“Rosemary's Baby”, “The Tenant” or “Repulsion”), will usually suffice. Oh, I can take a little gore and viscera if it’s delivered with a nod and a wink (so over-the-top that it’s funny fare like “Dead Alive”, “Shaun of the Dead” or “Bubba Ho-Tep”) or just for pure campy fun (“Young Frankenstein”, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show ” or “Little Shop of Horrors”). I can always tune in to the nightly horrors on the Nancy Grace Show if I crave a dose of real murder and mayhem, eh?

In addition to any film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Tod Browning or F.W. Murnau (duh!), here are a few more recommendations, submitted for your Halloween pleasure:

The Abominable Dr. Phibes/Dr. Phibes Rises Again!-MGM reissued these Vincent Price classics as a “two-fer” DVD a couple years ago. In the first film, weird Dr. Phibes finds a plethora of wickedly imaginative ways to kill off the doctors he blames for his young wife’s untimely death (I suppose that’s one approach to dealing with the health care crisis). In the sequel, things get even more twisted when the doc finds it necessary to wreak revenge on all those who thwart the planned resurrection of said dead spouse (lovely Caroline Munro-yowsah!). IMHO, these are THE quintessential Price films.

Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter-“What he doesn’t know about vampires wouldn’t even fill a flea’s codpiece!” This unusually droll Hammer entry benefits from direction and a clever script by Brian Clemens, one of the creators behind “The Avengers” TV show. And may I mention it also features Caroline Munro? (Uh, I’m not obsessed…)

Cemetery Man -Rupert Everett is the sleep-deprived keeper of a cemetery where the freshly buried don’t care much for the accommodations; after several days, they start clawing their way back out. It’s up to the weary cemetery man to give them the old zombie coup de grace so that they may rest in peace. Everett’s (literally) soul-sucking 9-5 gig is spiced up considerably when voluptuous Anna Falchi sashays into his bone yard. The cryptic, mind-blowing final shot is on a par with the last scene in “The Quiet Earth”.

Don't Look Now-Based on a Daphne du Maurier ghost story, this vivid, one-of-a-kind psychological thriller from director Nicholas Roeg precipitates the likes of “The Sixth Sense” by a good 25 years. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie portray a couple dealing with the post-traumatic stress following the drowning death of their child. Roeg slowly builds a subtle sense of impending doom, drenched in the Gothic atmosphere of Venice.

Ed Wood -A perfect marriage between a particular film director’s sensibilities and the subject. Tim Burton’s penchant for turning quirky underdogs and outcasts into endearing protagonists (while letting his vivid imagination run wild in the process) found its ideal match in the tragicomic real-life story of the cross-dressing, ultra-low budget director Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Johnny Depp). Martin Landau steals every scene as Bela Lugosi.

Forbidden Zone-A cult film that nearly defies description. Picture if you will: an artistic marriage between John Waters, Guy Maddin, Busby Berkeley and Rod Serling. Now, imagine the wedding night (er-I’ll give you a moment). Suffice it to say, any film that features the late Herve Villchaize as the King of the Sixth Dimension, Susan Tyrell as his Queen and Danny Elfman channeling Cab Calloway in a devil costume is a dream for film geeks; a nightmare for others. Directed by Danny’s brother, Richard Elfman.

The Kingdom -“Dansk scum!” Lars von Trier pulls out all the stops in his twisty tale of the bizarre goings-on in a Danish hospital. Zombies, ghosts, a demon lovechild and a hypochondriac clairvoyant are all tossed into the mix along with the usual soap-opera hanky-panky between doctors and nurses, all demarcated by a Greek Chorus of mentally-challenged kitchen workers. Alas, “The Kingdom II” is currently on PAL DVD only.

The Lair of the White Worm-Before you put this Ken Russell flick in the player, you might want to shoo out any children, nervous adults or members of the clergy who might be hanging out in your media room. Amanda Donohue is a sexy, slinky serpentine siren, and a pre-Hollywood Hugh Grant camps it up as a modern-day “worm slayer”. There’s enough Freudian imagery here to choke a psych major. Over the top and quite a hoot.

Nightwatch
(aka Nochnoy Dozor) A genre-defying film from the land of Eisenstein that tosses “Dark City”, “Delicatessen”, “Highlander”, “Constantine ” and “The Matrix” into a blender and produces one of the more unique thrillers of recent years. Vampires, a shape-shifting sorceress, and agents of Darkness and Light all converge in modern-day Moscow. Don’t look for a logical story; this one is about the exhilaration of pure cinema. A “two-fer” DVD, including the 2006 sequel, “Daywatch”, is due out on October 30.

The Sadist -This low budget wonder from 1963 weaves a truly frightening tale about some California motorists who find themselves stranded at a deserted gas station in the middle of nowhere and completely at the mercy of a sadistic, pistol-wielding creep (Arch Hall, Jr.). Interesting to note that the DP was none other than the great Vilmos Zsigmond!

And the best DVD box set to plow through on a dark and stormy night:

The Val Lewton Horror Collection -“Horror” may be a bit of a misnomer when you are talking about the best work from producer Val Lewton, well represented in this nine film collection. Thrillers like “The Seventh Victim”, “I Walked with a Zombie”, “Isle of the Dead” and “The Cat People” are more about building a sense of foreboding atmosphere and suspense than splashing the screen with blood and gore. All of these beautifully shot B&W films display an artistry that belies their B-movie budgets.



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