Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Terror-Thon 2014: The Cat and the Canary, Poltergeist, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Thing, Wait Until Dark, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Let the Right One In

I wasn't sure I was going to do this, because it was just a week after the miserable day where a cold decided to manifest on the bus on the way to a wedding. But a combination of a silent, some big deal movies I'd never seen, and some favorites got me there, and it was a pretty good time. I don't think I infected too many people.

At some point, Ian commented that they might choose a different weekend next year, because overlapping Honk! Fest meant that Davis Square was really crowded, and when we paused for a dinner break at around five, the environment was far from spooky

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm with live musical accompaniment)

There really should be some sort of revival of "old dark house" movies, because for as much as everything about them would likely come off as absurdly dated today, there is a great deal of fun to be had when you play by the rules in place at the time. But given that you're already kind of doing that with silent movies anyway, it's not that big a leap, and it makes for an amusing diversion.

This one starts from the premise that old Mr. West died two decades ago, hounded by greedy relatives, and aiming to deny them any sort of quick satisfaction, he insisted his will not be read until midnight of the twentieth anniversary of his death (he also resented his family calling him crazy, and one of the conditions of the will is that the inheritor be medically examined to have his or her sanity confirmed). That day has come, and now lawyer Roger Crosby (Tully Marshall) and the maid who has been keeping the place tidy (Martha Mattox) await the would-be heirs: Charles Wilder (Forrest Stanley) and Harry Blythe (Arthur Edmund Carewe), who have some sort of grudge between them; blonde flapper Cecily Young (Gertrude Astor) and her aunt Susan Sillsby (Flora Finch); easily frightened Paul Jones (Creighton Hale); and Annabelle West (Laura La Plante), said to resemble her great-uncle - including, perhaps, his madness, although she seems nice enough. Everyone winds up staying the night, even if the locals say the house is haunted and a guard the nearby asylum (George Siegmann) warns of an escaped lunatic.

That's a lot of characters for somebody to potentially be picking off, but the stabs in that direction are actually rather minimal; director Paul Leni and the various writers adapting John Willard's play aim as much for goofy hijinks as mystery and suspense. That's not to say there's never any sort of sinister air to the production; the opening scenes set up things to keep in mind as things play out later, and a low body count is probably far more effective than a high one if the goal is to either drive Annabelle mad, or at least to make her appear that way. A modern audience may find something campy about early-twentieth-century attitudes toward mental illness or the secret panels and passages that appear to riddle this old house, but Leni does not present then that way - a hand emerging from a bed's headboard to menace a sleeping woman comes off as genuinely creepy, for instance, and it's possible that certain bits can be scary or funny depending on what the accompanist does with it.

Full review at EFC.

Poltergeist (1983)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Every movie-lover, even those whose whose affections tend to fall along specific lines, has a few things that they haven't seen, because time and opportunity is just not distributed fairly. Poltergeist was one of mine, which is strange, because I really like Steven Spielberg when he decides that it would be fun to scare kids in a movie.

I'm glad I saw it this way, though, because I found myself wondering early on if the flickering effect when a room is primarily lit by the television would have had the same feel on video or digital projection; it feels like an effect that is kind of film-specific, enhanced by the differences between how film and television work. I could be talking completely out of my butt here, but it feels fairly film-specific. On top of that, though, seeing the film in its natural environment brings out how great the effects were, and how even if a part didn't necessarily make you jump, there was still plenty of fun in hearing the guy two seats down yelp.

Something that can easily get lost in the spookiness, though, is just how fun and occasionally funny this movie is. There's a dark, sarcastic streak that runs through the first half of the movie, along with something really charming in how the mother living in the haunted house initially has a "this is kind of neat, let's see how it works" attitude toward the poltergeists in the house. It gets tense in a hurry, though, although I do kind of love the down-to-earth group of paranormal investigators that soon arrives. There's a genuine feeling of not knowing how to react in the face of something truly incomprehensible. It's why I think a little air leaves the movie when Zelda Rubinstein shows up as a medium. As much as the story needs a way toward resolution (other than everybody dies and the house remains haunted and dooooom...), that sort of sudden, instant credibility sort of feels like a cheat, with her weirdness kind of destabilizing the protagonists' easy relatability.

Still, I'll probably pick this up on Blu-ray sometime, especially if they release a super-spiffy version to tie in with the upcoming remake. Despite Tobe Hooper's name being on it (and his contributions not being minor), it's got enough Spielberg DNA expressed well to become a potential favorite.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm/anaglyph 3D)

Looking at my review from almost ten years ago, I seem to have given it a lot more thought back then than I did this time around. I didn't see anything gay at all this time!

I still think that this is one of the lesser Universal Monster movies, in large part because there's no humanity to the Creature. I think this makes it ripe for a remake, though - as much as it's remembered as a classic and thus a sort of brand name, there's plenty of room for improvement, and I'd love to see what a modern FX crew could come up with for an updated monster. There's a chance to build mythology here as opposed to try and retrofit the source material, and the underwater environment is perfect for the inevitable 3D shooting.

Speaking of which, I'm kind of disappointed that this is the 3D movie the Somerville Theatre guys chose to include/could get their hands on for the marathon, as it meant anaglyph 3D, and that's the way I saw it before, when Universal supplied it to the Coolidge that way despite them gearing up for "Natural-Vision". The Kendall played it in 3D a week later as part of their "Midnight Madness" series, and I suspect that said DCP would have used the current polarized tech. I wasn't going to see a movie I don't love twice in two weeks, but I'm curious what this thing looks like without red and blue filters on my eyes.

Full review (from 2005) at EFC.

The Thing (1982)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Same thing I said back in 2007: This is really a near-perfect movie that, if it shows any age now, does so in a way that makes even someone like me pine for the good old days when they actually built things for movies. It's utterly tactile and any issues I might have are completely put aside by the great work John Carpenter and his team, from cinematographer Dean Cundey to composer Ennio Morricone, put in.

In fact, the tight way they melded atmosphere with storytelling is what really impresses me. I really like to keep track of what is going on, who has been killed and replaced when, etc., but I stop worrying about such things quickly when watching The Thing. Carpenter pulls me into this movie in a way that I tend to resist, and I appreciate the heck out of that.

Wait Until Dark

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin were born five years apart, but while Wait Until Dark is near the beginning of Arkin's career, Hepburn would would enter semi-retirement afterward, not yet forty. This means that while Audrey is still Audrey, young Alan Arkin (with hair!) might seem rather jarring to those who know him as an older character actor. But you get used to it, especially since the movie itself is a thriller so taut that it's not uncommon to have people describe it as a horror movie.

It starts with some heroin being sewn inside a doll so that it can be smuggled from Montreal to New York, but it went astray on the way. Mr. Roat (Arkin) knows that courier Lisa (Samantha Jones) gave it to unsuspecting graphic designer Mike Talman (Efram Zimbalist Jr.). Roat strong-arms small-time crook Mike Talman (Richard Crenna) and former cop Carlino (Jack Weston) into getting it out of the Hendrix apartment - ideally by talking wife Susy (Hepburn) into giving it to them. And if words aren't enough, well, Susy recently lost her sight, and is still somewhat dependent on the neighbors' daughter Gloria (Julie Herrod) for help - and might not realize what's going on in and around her apartment while she's supposedly alone.

Wait Until Dark started life as a play by Frederick Knott, and if you remove the hardly-necessary scenes in Montreal and the airport from the beginning, it becomes more clearly so, with almost all the action taking place within Susy's apartment or just outside, with director Terence Young and director of photography Charles Lang frequently choosing angles that don't necessarily put the entire apartment in the same shot as might be the case on the stage, but which let the audience see where everything is, both for later reference and to rub their noses in just what Susy is up against, as one side of the screen will often show her while the other has something sinister happening within her line of sight.

Full review at EFC.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1983)

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Believe it or not, I had never seen an entry in the big three 1980s horror franchises before this marathon - no Nightmares on Elm Street, no Fridays the 13th, no Halloweens. I'm not sure how that happened, aside from growing up in a small town and not really going to movies with folks who liked this sort of thing when we did head to the city; when I got to college, these series had more or less played themselves out.

Watching Dream Warriors, I kind of got the idea that I didn't miss much. Don't get me wrong, I kind of admire the ambition on display here; a lot of slashers are just about jumping out at kids with a knife, but the Elm Street movies come up with trippy, bizarre kills realized with some very cool practical effects. It is filled with cool-looking things. Unfortunately, it is also filled with some truly terrible acting, a plot that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and goofy jokes that escape being groaningly dated mostly because they were probably kitschy at the time (Dick Cavett and Zsa Zsa Gabor were never actually cool, ater all).

The funny thing is, I think I did about four or five double takes during the credits. Patricia Arquette is in this? "Larry" Fishburne? Some guy I've never heard of named Craig Wasson was apparently considered a big enough deal to get an "And" credit (to be fair, he did star in Body Double)? Frank Darabont contributed to the screenplay? Chuck Russell directed? As to that last, it's probably worth mentioning that all of the Elm Street movies bar #2 seem to have directors that would have careers - or at least stretches - worth noticing when so many horror helmers wind up anonymous.

Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon 2014, 35mm)

Is it really six years since I saw this at Fantasia and found myself bowled over? Wow, but time flies.

One thing that really amazes me about it is that, though I've seen it enough that it really doesn't scare me any more, it is still astonishingly engrossing. The cast is fantastic, the environment is still perfect, and there's still a palpable tension on display. When it first came out, everybody writing reviews said that it wasn't just a great horror movie, but a great movie period, but we kind of didn't know that until it's had the chance to age a bit.

Having done so - yeah, it's still great. I told the guy next to me who had seen everything on the schedule that he was in for a treat, and I certainly suspect that he agreed with me by the end.

Full review (from 2008) at EFC.

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