Monthly Archives: March 2020

Anniversary Post: Motion Picture Production Code

Motion Picture Production Code

On this date, 31 March, in 1930, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America agreed to abide by the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) or “Hays code.” It stayed in effect until 1968, by which time it was often circumvented anyway. This saw the rise of the MPAA rating system.

Censorship

All of these efforts — in the US and abroad — to protect audiences from the contents of films are evil and stupid. They are evil because they stop people from seeing the films they want, which producers are willing to supply in a lawful way.

We aren’t talking about kitty porn here. One of the final straws for the MPPC was its denial of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up. Why? Because it had nudity!

(Now the MPAA effectively has the ability to dictate what can be seen in a theatrical release because of the lack of competition in the theater business. And the MPAA uses this not to stop consumers from seeing love scenes, but rather same-sex love scenes. Think what you will about such things but the MPAA is effectively censoring ideas in these cases.)

Stupid and Evil

But this censorious behavior is also stupid in that it does protect anyone from anything. Take, for example, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It was banned by the British Board of Film Classification. But in 1999, this ban was reversed. So that’s the difference between a film so dangerous it can’t even be seen and one that can: 25 years. What happened? Did humans become different?

It’s clear that the MPPC and other censors are not working in the interests of film viewers but of themselves. They don’t want to see the films so no one can. But after a bit of time, the censors get used to the films and allow others to see them. No one is made safer as a result of this.

Now, with so many films being released directly to consumers, the MPAA and others don’t have the power they once did. But they continue to have a pernicious effect on film. See Kirby Dick’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

Also on 31 March

Actor Patrick Magee (A Clockwork Orange) was born on 1922,

William Daniels (A Thousand Clowns) is 93, Richard Chamberlain (The Three Musketeers) and Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family) are 86, Christopher Walken (The Dead Zone) is 77, Gabe Kaplan (Welcome Back, Kotter) is 75, Rhea Perlman (Canadian Bacon) is 72, Paul Mercurio (Dark Planet) is 57, William McNamara (Natural Enemy) is 55, Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) is 49, and Andrew Bowen (The Division) is 48.

Directors Robert Stevenson (The Love Bug) was born in 1905, Ted Post (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) in 1918, and Nagisa Oshima (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence) in 1932.

Director Adam Green (Hatchet) is 45.


Hays Code image taken from a copy of Bride of Frankenstein under Fair Use.

Anniversary Post: Billy the Kid vs Dracula

Billy the Kid vs Dracula

On this day, 30 March, in 1966, Billy the Kid vs Dracula saw its world premiere in New Haven, Connecticut. I avoided seeing this film for years because it has arguably the silliest title of any film ever made.

Okay. Maybe Octopussy is worse. Of course, I’ve never seen it. I don’t much care for Roger Moore period Bond. But that also indicates why the title doesn’t matter. It’s a bond picture. They could be numbered. Who knows what to expect from Billy the Kid vs Dracula?

Well, it isn’t hard to guess if you think like a filmmaker. After all, Dracula lives forever. So why not turn Billy the Kid into Van Helsing?

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter

The film was shot back-to-back with another bizarrely-titled film, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. In it, Dr Frankenstein’s granddaughter has moved to the old west to continue his work. Jesse James comes to town to do a robbery that goes bad and eventually falls into the hands of Frankenstein. It was released 10 April, but the two films were often shown as a double-feature.

Both films were directed by William Beaudine. He had been directing since the silent era. In total, he directed hundreds of feature films and television shows including 80 episodes of Lassie.

I like both films, but I prefer Billy the Kid vs Dracula — probably because of John Carradine’s over-the-top performance. I also like how the start of the film is a bit of an homage to Stagecoach. And I like the happy ending.

You can find Billy the Kid vs Dracula online but the prints range from fairly bad to unwatchable. Last year, KL Studio Classics released what is probably the best version we will get on DVD and Blu-ray. They both come with a commentary track by writers Lee Gambin and John Harrison.

If you want to get Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, Elite Entertainment produced a good version on DVD with a Joe Bob Briggs commentary track.

Also on 30 March

Street People was released on this day in 1976. Frantic was released in France in 1988. Basic Instinct 2 was released in 2006. Mr Bean’s Holiday was released in 2007. And StreetDance 2 was released in 2012.

Actor Richard Dysart (The Thing) was born on this date in 1929.

Actors with birthdays today: John Astin (The Addams Family) is 90, Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde) is 83, Robbie Coltrane (The Brothers Bloom) is 70, Paul Reiser (Stranger Things) is 64, Maurice LaMarche (Futurama) is 62, Mili Avital (Stargate) is 48.

Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (Lone Star) is 68 today.


Billy the Kid vs Dracula Poster taken from Wikipedia under Fair use.

Anniversary Post: The Long Good Friday

The Long Good Friday

On this day, 29 March, in 1981, The Long Good Friday was released to the world (at first in London). Over the years, I’ve come to hate films that make gangsters out to be heroes. That’s true of The Godfather, of course, but also of Goodfellas and The Sopranos. The Long Good Friday is not like that.

Story

In it, Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is a successful London-based gangster who is trying to expand his operation into real estate with the help of representatives of the American mafia. Shand is clearly older and more thoughtful than he used to be. In fact, he has become part of the establishment and spends much of the film whining about the state of the world that he helped build.

But despite his protestations, he’s still just a thug who rationalizes his own horrible behavior while complaining about that of others. Ultimately, he has little going for him other than his propensity toward violence.

That’s his downfall. The behavior that allowed him to rise to the top of the crime world doesn’t suit him outside of it. He doesn’t do what he should with the IRA and it is clear that he wouldn’t do any better with the real estate deal.

Production

Whenever I read about a film production, I’m amazed that any film ever gets produced. It’s like flipping a coin 50 times and requiring that it come up heads every time. The Long Good Friday was no exception.

It was originally produced as a film, but its funding collapsed. So it was picked up by ITC. But then when it was ready to be broadcast, it was badly cut. So a scramble ensued and Handmade Films (George Harrison’s company) bought it and released it.

If you get a chance, you really should watch it. It’s a great film.

Also on 29 March

Shaun of the Dead had its world premiere in London in 2004.

Actors born on 29 March: Warner Baxter (In Old Arizona) in 1889, Arthur O’Connell (Anatomy of a Murder) and Dennis O’Keefe (Abandoned) both in 1908, Eileen Heckart (Butterflies Are Free) in 1919.

Terence Hill (My Name Is Nobody) is 81, Eric Idle (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) is 77, Bud Cort (Harold and Maude) is 72, Brendan Gleeson (The Guard) and Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation) are 65, Christopher Lambert (Highlander) is 63, Amy Sedaris (Strangers With Candy) is 59, Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess) is 52

Directors: Victor Salva (Jeepers Creepers) is 62 and Michael Winterbottom (The Killer Inside Me) is 59.


Image cropped from IMDb under Fair Use.

Anniversary Post: The Conqueror

John Wayne

On this day, 28 March, in 1956, The Conqueror was released to the public. It is a CinemaScope extravaganza about the rise of Genghis Khan. Directed by Dick Powell (The Enemy Below), it does not disappoint in terms of battle scenes and spectacle. At the time of it’s release, John McCarten correctly noted, “You never saw so many horses fall down in your life.”

And if that were all, it’s be a fun old film that was beautifully rendered. But it’s not. For some reason, John Wayne was cast to play Genghis Khan. Even without speaking, he looks silly with the Fu Manchu mustache. And he moves awkwardly, although I guess that’s part of his persona.

It’s when he speaks that Wayne is at his worst. Every character was apparently the same for him — be it Genghis Khan or Cole Thornton or the Ringo Kid.

I don’t like laughing at movies. I think it’s a personal defect. But it’s hard not to chuckle watching The Conqueror. Everyone else in the film can act. And then there’s John Wayne who sticks out like a Make a Wish kid whose dream was to play with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Synopsis

In it, Temujin (who will become Genghis Khan) basically goes to war because he has the hots for Bortai (Susan Hayward). He gets her quickly with a combination of bad tactics and overwhelming force.

Temujin’s mother (Agnes Moorehead) is none too pleased about the “red-headed Jezebel.” (Yes, that’s actual dialog!) But then, no one is pleased. She doesn’t want to be there and is determined to cause trouble. His brother, Jamuga (Pedro Armend├íriz), considers setting her free. (Jamuga is far more heroic in the film and believable as the Mongol leader.)

This is a great set-up for a tragedy, but we already know who Genghis Khan is. Add to that John Wayne and we’re talking major happy time by the end. Within 15 minutes after her capture Bortai is passionately kissing Temujin.

Cancer!

Many of the exterior scenes in The Conqueror were shot downwind of the Nevada National Security Site where they tested a lot of nuclear weapons. Many claim that this was the cause of such a large part of the cast and crew getting (and often dying from) cancer.

It’s not clear to me that this is actually the case. When people live long enough, they have a very high chance of getting cancer. It is true, however, that financial backer Howard Hughes thought he had effectively killed a bunch of people. He bought up all prints later and the film was not re-released until after his death.

What I think is most interesting is that so many people put themselves in danger for a film that mostly doesn’t work (at least as intended) because John Wayne never learned, or tried, to act.

Should You See The Conqueror?

The truth is that The Conqueror isn’t even good for people who like to laugh at films. There’s really only one joke. It’s a perfectly fine film. And then there’s John Wayne in the middle of it, messing everything up.

This trailer gives you a good idea what the film is like. But the color is far better on good prints. This doesn’t feature as much embarrassing John Wayne dialog as you’ll find in the film.

Also on 28 March

Also born today: actors Dirk Bogarde (The Night Porter) in 1921, Freddie Bartholomew (Little Lord Fauntleroy) in 1924, and Ken Howard (The White Shadow) in 1944. Vince Vaughn (Old School) is 50, Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) is 48, and Cho Seung-woo (Tazza: The High Rollers) is 40.

Producer Pandro S Berman (Ivanhoe) was born in 1905. Screenwriter Edward Anhalt (Becket) was born in 1914. And director Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco) is 78, Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal) is 77, and Brett Ratner (Red Dragon) is 51.


John Wayne in Rio Bravo by Liorek in Public Domain.

Anniversary Post: Tom Howard

Tom Howard - 2001 - Front Projection

On this day, 27 March, in 1910, the special effects artist Tom Howard was born. He worked in the world of practical effects. He received two Academy Awards for his work on Blithe Spirit and Tom Thumb.

Howard was best-known for his use of front projection. In fact, Howard even invented a special process of this.

Front Projection

Let me go over front projection. I think most people are familiar with rear projection. An image is projected on to a screen which allows light through, which can be seen from the front.

I most associate this technique with Alfred Hitchcock and it is thanks to him that I have a low opinion of it. He over-used it and did so poorly. Today, people use this as a reason to hold him up as a hero, “He demanded so much control that he had to use rear projection!” I really think it was more that he didn’t care.

Front projection is the opposite. An image is projected onto a screen via a two-way mirror. The camera is positioned behind the two-way mirror.

The screen behind the actors is highly reflective so that the image is seen as the background to the camera. And the image displayed on the actors in front of the screen is not noticeable because the actors aren’t highly reflective.

Tom Howard was part of the team that worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey (along with titans of the field Douglas Trumbull and Wally Veevers). In particular, the “Dawn of Man” scenes used front projection. Like all the effects in that film, it still looks great:

Tom Howard worked on a ton of other films including The Haunting and Where Eagles Dare.

Also on 27 March

I didn’t find any significant film releases on this day.

Actors born today: Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard) in 1899, Richard Denning (Target Earth) in 1914, David Janssen (The Fugitive) in 1931, Austin Pendleton (My Cousin Vinny) in 1940, Michael York (The Three Musketeers) in 1942, and Nathan Fillion (Serenity) in 1971.

The screenwriter of the classics On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd Budd Schulberg was born in 1914

Quentin Tarantino is 57 today. Read more about him, A Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch.


Image cropped from 2001: A Space Odyssey under Fair Use.

Anniversary Post: Evil Clutch

Evil Clutch

On this day, 26 March, in 1988, the Italian horror film Evil Clutch was released. It was writer-director Andreas Marfori’s first feature film. He’s a very interesting guy, which may explain why he’s only made six features. Some of them I’ve never found like Energy!!! The Movie, which features Timothy Leary.

But you can find other films that are worth checking out like Desperate Crimes (featuring Denise Crosby and Traci Lords) and Soviet Zombie Invasion. Evil Clutch sets the stage for Marfori’s idiosyncratic career.

Synopsis

The film starts with a young man going to a remote building where a beautiful woman is sitting. They start to make-out but then a claw appears and she rips off a bunch of flesh from his groin. He slowly dies and she now has white skin and fangs and laughs maniacally.

Not long after… The woman flags down a couple in a jeep. She says she was attacked and they give her a ride to a nearby town where they are vacationing. Once there, the woman sees a motorcyclist with a voice box and runs away.

The motorcyclist then tells the young couple a horror story about the zombies. They don’t like it and run away. But he follows and tells them that it is dangerous. Nonetheless, they stay and camp, disregarding one of the primary rules of horror films: always listen to cryptic warnings offered by people with unusual physical disabilities.

They soon run into the evil woman from before and follow her to the same building she was in at the start of the film. There’s a zombie roaming around (the victim at the beginning). Some goop splashes on the guy and he becomes sick and then homicidal.

Then it gets weird…

Analysis

Really! This is a seriously weird film. It does, however, have a flaw that makes it a bit hard to really submerge yourself into: it’s such a rip-off of Evil Dead II including tons of Sam Raimi’s two-by-four camera work. But if you can get past this, Evil Clutch has much to offer!

Andrea Marfori has a more interesting visual sense than Raimi. And much of the gore is gloriously over-the-top — yes, even more than Evil Dead II.

The film stars Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni (Terror At The Opera), Diego Ribon (Apnea), Luciano Crovato (Family Scandal), and Elena Cantarone.

I loved this film! For me, the Raimi stuff was part of the fun. And it’s not like the filmmakers are being coy. One of the characters refers to the zombie creatures as the “evil dead”!

You can get Evil Clutch on a Troma DVD. You can also find it around the internet, but generally in very bad shape. Much of the film is very dark and it’s hard to see much of anything at times. But knowing Troma, the disc isn’t that much better.

Image via Amazon under Fair Use.

Anniversary Post: In Ghost House Inn

In Ghost House Inn

On this day, 25 March, back in 2010, the Indian comedy-horror film In Ghost House Inn was released. I haven’t seen it. I don’t even know how to see it at the moment. So all I have to go on is Wikipedia and the trailer, which is in Malayalam with no English subtitles.

I’m afraid this is going to be the way it has to be. I’m trying out something new here and just finding films and people to write about will be hard. In this case, my other option was The Outsiders, Francis Coppola’s filmed version of SE Hinton’s beloved book. It had the advantage of my having read the book and seen the film. But it didn’t seem nearly as much fun!

The Narihar Nagar Trilogy

This was the third film in a series and despite the fact the films span 20 years, they all feature the same principal actors.

It started with In Harihar Nagar (1990), a film about four friends who become attracted to a young woman who is trying to figure out why her brother was murdered. Soon they are kidnapped by the bad guy. But it all works out because this is an Indian film.

Next came 2 Harihar Nagar (2009). Now the four friends are older in established in life, married except for one of them who is about to be married. They again get embroiled into a plot but everything turns out fine because this is an Indian film.

In Ghost House Inn

In Ghost House Inn adds horror to the hilarity. The story is pretty much the same as any episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! The guy who got married in the last film buys a house only to find that it is haunted. He finally gives up and sells the house at a loss only to find out that it was all a scam and get his money back because… This is an Indian film! Except…

Since the reviews for In Ghost House Inn were lukewarm and the box office only reasonable, it was the last in the series. Check out this trailer to get an idea of why I want to know more about it:


In Ghost House Inn poster via Wikipedia under Fair Use.

Recent Additions: Feb 2020

Psychotronic Review

Another month of unique movie watching. I finally got past a bunch of arty “horror” films, which, as much as I liked them made me long for the simple pleasures of straight horror. But I didn’t watch as much stuff as usual because I had guests and lots of work.

There’s a lot that’s been sitting around. I just got a collection of blaxploitation films (one of which is below). I also got a collection of monster movies. I should probably avoid these because most of the films in these low-cost collections are usually available online for free. But I also think I should reward people who go to the trouble of putting worthy films on disk.

  • The Big Boss (1971): My brother was a huge martial arts film fan. The main thing I remember from those days was the over-the-top sound effects — a punch sounding like two-by-fours colliding. That’s mostly what I notice now.
  • The Black Gestapo (1975): This film could really use a bit more second-unit coverage. But overall, it’s pretty fun and has something to say. And that’s a pretty awesome title.
  • Blood of Dracula (1957): Don’t mistake this for the Warhol film. This is a 1950s teen horror film. And it’s quite good! If you’ve seen I Was a Teenage Werewolf, you know the plot.
  • Clownado (2019): this one was recommended to me by a friend as one of the worst films ever made. I liked it. It’s low budget and campy with some of the most disgusting gore around. The filmmakers seem to think the insides of humans look like a shepherd’s pie.
  • Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968): This one is a lot of fun in the way those 1960s British horror films usually are. Although they are supposedly the stars, Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee aren’t in the film that much. But that’s okay.
  • Dead & Rotting (2002): This is the only film David Barton ever directed. And it’s pretty good! Personally, I identified more the “bad guys.” But it still works. It has some decent make-up effects but little gore.
  • Demolition Man (1993): Films like this are always a problem because at base they push a very reactionary political theory. But the first half of this is incredibly clever and worth checking out. The end is by-the-numbers action.
  • The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967): Roman Polanski’s vampire film spoof. It’s okay but I didn’t find it amusing at all. I’d love to hear from someone who did. I’m sure some do. It’s really well made regardless.
  • The Fuzz (2014): A surprisingly good cop comedy with puppets. If you like silly movies with puppets, I don’t see how you can go wrong.
  • I Am Not a Serial Killer (2015): All my life I’ve believed that Christopher Lloyd was a space alien serial killer and now I have proof! When it comes to arty horror films, you can’t go wrong with this one. And it’s very sweet. This film ages well in the mind.
  • Jug Face (2013): This film shows how much you can do with a limited budget, but my main takeaway is just, “That was Sean Young?!” It’s a film where you feel sorry for pretty much everyone.
  • Knights of Badassdom (2013): Here is a silly one. It’s about a group of LARPs (live-action role players) who accidentally unleash an evil creature into the world. It’s my kind of film but I like The Last Lovecraft a lot more.
  • Let Us Prey (2014): International horror has exploded over the last decade or so. This Irish film (set in Scotland) has echos of about a dozen past horror films. It’s really serious for an hour and then goes completely crazy for a half-hour.
  • The Mummy (1932): I’ve loved this film for a long time. It’s rare a horror film manages to make the villain just positive enough that you really aren’t sure who you want to win. This is also Karloff at his best.
  • Night Moves (1975): This is one of those great 1970s paranoia films — as a PI film. The first time I saw this film, the ending lost me. So watch closely, but do watch!
  • Night of the Demon (1957): They really like their occult films in the UK, don’t they? This one isn’t really scary, but you do care about the main character and the way he gets out of his trap is clever.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): although I have problems with the ending, this is one of the best horror films ever made. You simply must watch it.
  • Nina Forever (2015): Now that I think about it, this is kind of like the prototype of Her Name Was Christa. The film is a lot of fun even with all the young angst. But if you can’t make it through it, don’t attempt Christa.

Summing Up

Slow month, I suppose. I’ve been disorganized because I know I watched some new films that I didn’t get around to writing about. Unfortunately, I have no memory at all. I had to look up some of the films in this list just to remember what they were.

Films like Blood of Dracula really highlight just how hard it is to even begin to cover all the low-budget films that have been made. And it only gets worse. The number of movies that deserve to be seen is only accelerating.

There are three films that everyone should see if they haven’t already: The Mummy, Night Moves, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Of the recent films, I think I Am Not a Serial Killer and Let Us Prey deserve attention even though they have a few problems.

But every one of them is worth watching.