October 31, 2006


This is a cobweb-strewn piece that originally appeared in a 2002 instalment of the long-defunct FILM FREAK CENTRAL NEWSLETTER. (I've certainly done my share of catching up with Euro horror since its publication; and the complete and total omission of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre seems positively inexplicable.) Nevertheless, in the spirit of All Hallow's Eve and in lieu of the Vampire Blogathon, enjoy "Walter & Bill's 'Five' Fave Horror Films".


The Halloween of my childhood's delighted memory is an autumnal 1985 when I, then twelve, cowered my way through a VHS screening of A Nightmare on Elm Street with pals before hitting the cool Colorado evening for the last trick-or-treating uncoloured by neighbourhood razored-apple/poisoned-cookie paranoia. Too old to be afraid of scary movies yet too young not to be terrified of a certain burned, sweater-clad bogey crouching behind the next hedge, I was fresh into junior high school and feeling exactly centred in a way that I had seldom felt before--and have seldom felt again since. In the spirit of the season, I'm going to do this list as a trick--batches of flicks that share a theme or a thought and evoke that most infernal of pagan holidays (Christmas a close second, of course). Happy Halloween!

5. Deathdream (1972), Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972), Black Christmas (1974)
The three Bob Clark horror films from the 1970s occupy the fifth slot of my five; together they form a trilogy of unease seldom equalled in the annals of genre filmmaking. Deathdream updates the "Monkey's Paw" into a melancholy, terrifying Vietnam allegory as a boy murdered on distant battlefields comes home, while Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things offers a generational horror slant touched upon in the child-betrayal of Night of the Living Dead. The most important film of the three, however, may be Black Christmas, which not only identifies the source of Scream's telephone paranoia, but also locates itself at the start of the slasher film sub-genre, complete with the child killer and the killer P.O.V. shot.

4. Night of the Living Dead (1968), Repulsion (1965)
George Romero's still-gruelling, zero-budget zombie opera remains among the best and most-imitated horror films ever made. Politically-minded and possessed of a relentless, visceral energy, it opens with an inexplicable bang and never relents until its conclusion, one of the most ironic and heartbreaking in all of filmdom. Married to it temporally and by its catatonic villain/protagonists, Roman Polanski's English-language debut Repulsion makes Grand Guignol use of a dead rabbit and a straight-razor in its telling of a woman so terrified of sex that she becomes predatory.

3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)
Two remakes of 1950s Red-Scare classics, both Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers--with its '70s paranoia--and Carpenter's The Thing--with its Reagan-era Red-Baiting--have been refashioned as creatures of their time. Serving as political allegory and platforms for character actors at the tops of their games (Sutherland in the former, Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley in the latter), these two films boast of the best special effects of their time (and they hold up remarkably well) and an undeniable creepiness that gets under the skin and festers there.

2. The Exorcist (1973), Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Even better in its original form, William Friedkin's mad look at one Georgetown family's dance with the devil is a revolution in aural trickery and subliminal crosscut. It pulls no stops in offending the senses--from a possessed child mutilating herself with a crucifix to Ellen Burstyn in bell-bottoms, The Exorcist, along with Polanski's classic of spousal betrayal Rosemary's Baby, are the ultimate examples of the mistrust that erupts between every generation but particularly the one post-JFK and intra-Vietnam. Both demonstrate a remarkable technical proficiency, and both, like the others on this list, hold up under the ravages of time and repeated viewing.

1. Don't Look Now (1973), Suspiria (1977)
Nicholas Roeg's dark Venice squats in the middle of this tale of generational mistrust. A brilliant character study starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie at their respective peaks, Don't Look Now is home to one of the most realistic love scenes in all of cinema and one of the most shocking endings as well. Beautifully balanced between the minutia of the mundane and the incomprehensibility of the supernatural, the picture is among the most horrific in history, joining Dario Argento's mad homage to insanity and Hitchcock, 1977's Suspiria, as my favourite horror films for rental this 2002 season. Both lurid and colour-saturated, both possessed of a kind of dream logic and displacement, watch each of them at your own risk...and preferably while sober.


In compiling this list of my five (technically six) favourite horror movies, I took two factors into account. The first is whether it scared me, but that criterion is too broad; Mariah Carey movies leave scars, yet I felt that my selections should also be steeped in more genre traditions than just the screaming banshee. (This also led to omitting Seconds, which is indeed frightening but mostly for its honest treatment of the human condition.) Note that I feel somewhat disadvantaged by my ignorance of the giallo and Euro-horror, for which I blame poor video transfers that made these correlated sub-genres unappetizing t o me as a youth. (Just missed my list, in no specific order: Rosemary's Baby, The Blair Witch Project, Don't Look Now, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho.)

5. Scream 2 (1997)
Yes, Scream 2. This sequel to the po-mo slasher pic pretended to deconstruct the inevitable second instalment in any horror franchise when really it just wants to sever any attachment we have to its predecessor. Scream 2, in fact, is so misanthropic as to become vital--it's got a big, black chasm where its heart should be, and that's a massively welcome reprieve from the majority of modern fright flicks.

4. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)
What Jaws and Psycho did for H20, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer does for mankind. It's not a safe movie even with the lights on, yet in many ways, the violence comes second in memory to the miraculous melancholy achieved by director John McNaughton and actor Michael Rooker, playing real-life homicidal maniac Henry Lee Lucas. The movie's horrific because you start to feel comfortable around the title creature.

3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)/Dawn of the Dead (1978)
I'm cheating here because the first two official Dead movies are inseparable companion pieces in my mind. A pair of radically different siege pictures from the same director, George Romero, the former is without question scarier, but the latter encourages a more active viewership--we've all, in essence, been trapped in a mall with zombies.

2. The Exorcist (1973)
Ironically the most optimistic movie on my list, the visceral and cerebral levels of The Exorcist pack the same intense wallop. Aside: avoid "The Version You've Never Seen" and stick with the classic 1973 incarnation, or be subjected to some cheeseball CGI and an atonal denouement.

1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Conscience does make insomniacs of us all. Philip Kaufman's remake of the 1956 original is filled with unrelenting dread; to wit: a character discovers the path to freedom, a joyous moment underscored by the bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace." But in no time flat, his hopes are cruelly dashed, and "Amazing Grace" gives way to the fuzz of a radio tuning into another station. It's not just everything you want in a horror movie (i.e., it reflects a certain nihilism), but also a great piece of cinema, one of the greatest.

What would go on your lists?

October 27, 2006

Afternoon Delights?

Well, since the founders of YouTube won't be sharing any of those Google billions with yours truly any time soon, I think I'm going to be taking down my 26-minute thesis-y film, Ursa Major. If you're deathly curious, enjoy it while you can. Hard to believe it will be ten years old next year...just like FILM FREAK CENTRAL itself.

In other news, you probably noticed that we've been on a TV kick lately, what with reviews of "Stella: Season One", "Sealab 2021: Season IV", "Arrested Development: Season Three", and "Ren & Stimpy: The Lost Episodes" making consecutive appearances on the mothersite. It actually wasn't premeditated, but with so many season sets of various shows collecting dust on the shelves at FFC HQ, it's been a load off my conscience. Next week: "Big Love: The Complete First Season".

Lastly, I want to thank long-time reader Vikram Nair for his lovely review of THE FILM FREAK CENTRAL 2006 ANNUAL, which he recently posted at both Lulu and Amazon.com. We don't have an advertising budget, so this kind of gesture really helps. (For a full list of retailers, see our homepage.)

I leave you with a mystery screen capture. No prizes for guessing correctly, just bragging rights.

October 08, 2006

The Trench

- Ah, an air pocket.

- Did the introduction/discussion mambo with Dark City twice, with The Truman Show and Memento as well – the three films all about God/Creation issues: Father/son stuff at the end of our last millennium. Seems fitting that this fin de siecles in our cultural history would be about existential fear and trembling. Still didn’t prepare us for 9/11 and its accompanying influx of nihilism and chest-pounding. The King Kong remake, consummated atop Art Deco’s phallic pinnacle, couldn’t have happened at a different time.

- It raises the rhetorical question re: Pleasantville (also a 1998 film) of whether the Don Knotts television repairman is God in the unknown watchmaker sense.

- The new series at the Denver Public Library is called “Black & White” and I’ve chosen five films that I think each demonstrate a certain ambiguous quality; a place between genres that defies easy categorization and analysis. We began with Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) – a film that is in many ways the precursor to Vertigo in its feminine iconography and, more, in its investment in the bestial husband’s emotional point-of-view. Most films like this (and like Vertigo) are about the girl after all. Doing the Cocteau caused me to finally track down his production diary, published contemporaneously. It’s a great read – echoes of The Jaws Log.

- Speaking of Spielberg, began the Gilpin County Library’s Spielberg series this Saturday (DPL shows every Tuesday @ 6:30pm; Gilpin shows every Saturday @ 1:00pm) with the blueprint pic Duel (1971). It’s arguable that every film after Duel was a remake of Duel just as every film after E.T., at least for a decade or so (and including Schindler’s List, is a remake at least in part of E.T..

- Next week: Frankenheimer’s Seconds at the DPL and Spielberg’s Jaws at Gilpin.

- Rest of the respective runs: M, Eyes Without a Face and The Innocents - and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and War of the Worlds.

- Went to a screening of French cartoon Renaissance and wanted to pound a nail into my forehead.

- The Cinema Club series at the DPL this month feature supplementary films to the evening series: Repulsion, Night of the Living Dead, and Bride of Frankenstein.

- Next week also finds me at the finale of Douglas County’s Sci-Fi Film Series: the freshly-minted director’s print of Blade Runner. I don’t think it’s the re-touched version promised by Scott earlier this year, but isn’t there yet another shined up release set for the street? In any case, I’m excited at the chance to finally talk Blade Runner - the film about whose production I may know the most about thanks to the remarkable Future Noir book.

- Learned this week that my mother-in-law has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease which, in antidote to the stress and time debt of recent weeks, has provided a good healthy dose of perspective on the troubles of the world. All a hill a beans, or sentiments to that effect.

- That cold splash of mortality makes me feel more able to contextualize the irritations of people making cell phone calls and text messages from the seat next to me – kicking me in the back, eating a bucket of fried chicken, bringing their children to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 7 and so on. It also makes me aware, simultaneously, that there are roughly a billion people on this blue Earth that deserve more to die.

- Here’s how the radio show works (there are now more than 10 million subscribers to Sirius Satellite Radio – how many of them listen to the Bill Press show on Friday mornings, I don’t know) I wake up at 6:15am my time, drink a little tea to lube the pipes, get the call at about 6:35am from the producer of the show and chat about what we’re going to chat about, sit on hold for about a minute, and then we’re live and off the cuff. This week, Press made a comment that he thought The Queen was about the Foley scandal in Congress – and I said something like between The Queen and Little Children, we might be heading towards a full-blown description. Hey, it was early.

- Reviews of both The Queen and Little Children, by the way, are on their way along with write-ups, sooner or on video, of Beowulf, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, Hidden Blade, Dogwalker, Keeping Mum, that new Julie Walters picture, and American Hardcore.

- Working through the first season of “Rome” and the complete “Jack of All Trades” series.

- Man of the Year is a big, giant pile of moose shit: call it “Good Morning, Beltway” and call it a day. In a lot of ways it’s just like Zaillian’s All the King’s Men. I was interested to read, by the way, Zaillian saying that he felt as though he’d been hit by a truck: referring to the critical and popular rejection of his picture. Really, though, can this have been a complete surprise?

- Go rent Lucky McKee’s The Woods, by the way.

- As the letters these last four weeks have been uniformly, perversely positive (including a very nice note from Neil Labute), gonna’ forego the Reader Mail this time around.

- With Del Toro’s ravishing-looking Pan’s Labyrinth (Bill raves about it from TIFF) that I’m dying to see, and with this last week finding me before the failure of Renaissance and the timelessness of Beauty and the Beast, the first question I want to throw out there is “Films that Best Evoke a Fairy Tale or Dream Quality?”

- And related to that (and the work of Alekan on Beauty and the Beast and James Wong Howe on Seconds), the best black-and-white cinematographers or, even better, single works.

- Finally, related to The Woods and, soon, John Gulager's Feast: the best direct-to-video films?

October 07, 2006

Martin Scorsese's Student Films

Apparently these were readily available for those wanting to see them. I had no idea. Really great work, this guy really took like a duck to water. It's Not Just You, Murray was especially surprising.