Sunday, October 28, 2012

Death Ain't No Way to Make a Living

Director Peter Jackson is probably best known for his adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Long before those films made him a household name, he made probably the best zombie comedy ever in 1992's Dead Alive (known as Braindead outside the U.S.). Jackson also made the astounding 2005 version of King Kong, which made Uncle P fall in love with the movie that made me fall in love with the movies, all over again. Jackson really made his mark with 1994's Heavenly Creatures, a mostly true story starring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as two Kiwi girls who live in a fantasy world and eventually conspire to kill the mother of Lynskey's character. The film was an International sensation and Jackson found himself invited to play with the Hollywood big boys for 1996's The Frighteners, an underrated and unappreciated ghost story starring Michael J. Fox; John Astin; Dee Wallace; Jeffrey Combs and Jake Busey. Re-edited by the studio, The Frighteners is not the film Jackson intended to make, though it deserves more praise than it received upon its realease.

Frank Bannister (Fox) develops psychic abilities after his wife is killed in an auto accident. Able to commune with the dead, he starts a business where the ghosts he knows haunt houses which he then "exorcises" for a fee. When the ghost of a serial killer (Busey) starts marking his victims, Frank and his ghost pals embark on a quest to stop the murders. Aided by Lucy, the widow of a heart-attack victim (Trini Alverado) - whose character is named after Melanie Lynskey, Frank tracks down the killer's still-living lover (Wallace) and eventually sends both of them to their just rewards, but not before dying, himself. Frank realizes that the killer was responsible for his wife's death and returns to Earth with her blessing, finding new love with Lucy and able to finally demolish the unfinished home he'd started to build while his first wife was still alive.

Hated by most critics and denounced by Jackson, The Frighteners isn't exactly a bad movie, though it's not really a good one, either. The performances are pretty solid and the FX are certainly on par with other mid-90's films, but I imagine Jackson's version was probably much scarier than the one audiences were given. I, for one, would love to see a 'Director's Cut' version of this film.

More, anon.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: "Cloud Atlas"

Sorry, no Ghost Movies tonight. That's because I've seen an extraordinary film and need to talk about it. As I update this review, I'm still digesting Cloud Atlas, the new film from Tom Twyker (Run Lola Run & Perfume) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix trilogy). Based on the novel by David Mitchell and adapted by the directors, Cloud Atlas is unlike any other film you've ever seen, mixing genres and periods to tell six interconnected stories over several centuries. 

The plot(s) are so complex, I can only describe it/them  in the most basic of ways. In 1849, a young man journeys from the Pacific Islands to San Francisco to close a slave trading deal, while slowly being poisoned for the gold he carries; a young composer in the 1930's writes letters to his lover about his services as an amanuensis to another aging composer; a reporter finds herself caught up in a dangerous game in 1970's San Francisco; in 2012, an elderly ne'er-do-well publisher falls into a comedic trap after his ship finally comes in; a cloned waitress in 2155 'Neo-Seoul' finds herself the unlikely center of a revolution and a frightened tribesman in post-apocalyptic Hawaii aids a stranger in her attempts to save humanity from a radiation poisoned Earth, while trying to survive against cannibalistic raiders.

The truly International cast includes Tom Hanks; Halle Berry; Hugh Grant; Jim Broadbent; Hugo Weaving; Doona Bae; Jim Sturgess; Ben Wishaw; James D'Arcy; Keith David and Susan Sarandon, all of whom play at least three (and up to six) different characters; switching races, ages and genders throughout. In fact, part of the fun in watching Cloud Atlas is trying to figure who is who under some often remarkable (and occasionally terrible) makeups. Grant's old-age makeup in the contemporary story is particularly bad, though Berry's transformation into a white woman is quite startling. Personally, I was (unlike some) never offended by the racial transformations (even the less successful ones) because they made complete sense in the context of the stories and how they they related to one another. That's probably because the concepts presented actually transcend race, gender and sexuality.

Most of the performances are truly terrific here, though Hanks has some problems with a convincing Cockney accent in the contemporary story. Sturgess and Bae are quite effective in the 2155 story, while Broadbent is absolutely hilarious in the 2012 tale, though Weaving and Grant seem to be having the most fun. Weaving is best as 'Old Georgie,' the embodiment of Hanks' fears in the post-apocalyptic story, though his voice as sadistic Nurse Noakes in the 2012 story borders on Pythonesque. Grant is a very effective villain as both the operator of a nuclear power plant in the 70's and a cannibal tribal chief in the very distant future. And I dare you to figure out which male character Sarandon plays, at least until the end credits roll.

Visually, Cloud Atlas is nothing less than astounding. The directing jobs were split evenly between Twyker and the Wachowskis, with the siblings taking on the more fantastical stories (and rightly so) and Twyker dealing with the more historical ones. The scenes in 'Neo-Seoul' are staggering and the location shots in Hawaii just gorgeous. While it does take a good 20 minutes or so to get used to the way the film jumps between stories, the apparent randomness of the editing soon starts to make complete sense and the connections between the six stories becomes clearer and clearer as the film unfolds, not unlike an onion revealing its layers as it is peeled. The brilliant score by Twyker, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek serves perfectly to tie the six stories of the movie together and you can be sure that I'll be adding it to my collection. While I may not personally agree with the philosophies of Mitchell's novel, I could still appreciate what he and the filmmakers had to say, here even though I found it philosophical twaddle. As much as I would like to think we're connected in the ways the novel and movie espouse, I'm much more of an "It's all pretty random" kind of guy, so I took its central message with a grain of salt, as it were. That doesn't mean I didn't have a fine time at the movies.

My companions and I all agreed that we loved this movie and need to see it again, though I understand how some critics just hated it (personally, I think those who hated it, just didn't get it). Never boring, often hilarious and always fascinating, Cloud Atlas is the kind of movie that stays with you long after you've seen it. I know I'll be thinking about it for quite some time. Truth be told, it's the best movie I've seen so far this year. Of course, there are plenty of other films yet to come this Fall. **** (Four Out of Four Stars).

More, anon.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What Is a Ghost?

The Devil's Backbone
Director Guillermo del Toro's first anti-Franco horror film, 2001's The Devil's Backbone explores many of the themes common to his films: parental abandonment; the horrors of war; children who are 'different;' man's inhumanity to man and ghosts. 

Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at an orphanage, thinking his stay is temporary, until his father returns from the war. In the orphange's courtyard lies a supoosedly diffused bomb. Carlos tries to make friends, but is bullied by Jaime (Inigo Garces), who steals Carlos' comic book. That night, when an apparent ghost knocks over the water pitcher, Carlos and Jaime dare one another to go to the kitchen and refill it. Carlos is caught by Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) and sent back to bed. The next day, Carlos saves Jaime from drowning, despite having his face cut by Jacinto. Eventually, Jaime tells Carlos the story of Santi, an orphan who died the day the bomb was dropped and who now supposedly haunts the orphanage. Jacinto learns that there is a large stash of gold in the orphanage and plans to take it, but is foiled when the orphanage's director Carmen (Marissa Paredes) refuses to give him the key to the safe. Carmen is in love with Dr. Casares, but he is too scared to admit he loves her. When he witnesses the murders of Carlos' tutor and body guard, he decides to lead all of the orphans out of the city. His plan is spoiled when Jacinto burns down much of the orphanage in failed attempt to steal the gold, during which Casares is mortally wounded. 

Jaime tells Carlos he saw Jacinto kill Santi in the cistern. Meanwhile, Jacinto returns for the gold with band of hooligans, who abandon him when they find the safe empty. The remaining orphans, knowing that Jacinto is evil, arm themselves with sharpened sticks and pointed rocks. When Jacinto finally finds the gold (hidden in Carmen's prosthetic leg), he is confronted by them and thrown into the very cistern where he drowned Santi. Weighed down by the gold and dragged down by Santi's ghost, Jacinto disappears in the murky water and the orphans leave as the ghost of Casares watches over them.

Just a bit grimmer than Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone is remarkably atmospheric and quite chilling. Del Toro truly found his voice with this film and his love of the genre and flair for ominous visuals is in full display. I imagine a double feature of the two films would be rather... intense. Later films produced by del Toro (The Orphanage and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark) explore similar themes, though none quite so horrifyingly as The Devil's Backbone. Del Toro has said it may be his most personal film, which I must imagine says a lot about his own childhood. 

Del Toro's next film Pacific Rim, is his homage to Japanese kaiju (monster) movies of the 50's and 60's.

Given del Toro's amazing visuals (see Hellboy II  and Pan's Labyrinth), Pacific Rim should be THE Sci-Fi movie of 2013. Personally, I am bummed that his proposed adaption of At the Mountains of Madness isn't going to happen.

More, anon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

There's Something In the Fog!

Captain Blake and Company
To those expressed concern and well-wishes over my recent bout with a stomach virus: Thank You! 

Any way, back to the Shocktober subject at hand.

Director John Carpenter followed up his massive Slasher hit Halloween with a more traditional horror movie in 1980's The Fog

The sleepy northern California town of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate it's Centennial when a series of strange events occur. Lights go out; gas stations pump themselves and all the town's payphones (remember them?) ring at once. Mr, Machen (John Houseman) tells a spooky tale at the beach, where young Andy finds a piece of driftwood with the word "DANE" carved into it. Meanwhile, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) discovers the journal of his great-grandfather in a crumbling section of his church. A heavy fog rolls in and three members of a small fishing crew are killed.

Drifter Nick Castle (Tom Atkins in a role that's nod to actor who played 'The Shape' in Halloween) picks up hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is headed home to Antonio Bay where her mother (Janet Leigh) is heading up the Centennial Celebration. Nick's headlights and radio start to fail and his truck's windows shatter, inexplicably. The next day, Andy brings the piece of driftwood to his mother, local DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau). Stevie takes it to the lighthouse from which she broadcasts, only to find it seeping water onto her tapedeck and bursting into flames, but not before a mysterious voice intones "Six must die." Once she extinguishes the flames, the wood once again reads "DANE."

As the celebration moves forward, Nick and Elizabeth learn that her mother's husband was among the fisherman killed the night before. Kathy (Leigh) and her assistant visit Malone to ask him to deliver the benediction at the celebration, but Malone reads from the journal which tells the tale of a group of lepers aboard the ELIZABETH DANE, who wanted to establish a colony at Antonio Bay but whose ship was deliberately sunk by Malone's great-grandfather. Not wanting to hear such a horrible tale, the women continue their plans for the celebration. That night, the fog moves in and Stevie talks to her Weather Service pal Dan, listening in as the ghosts of the DANE kill him. As the fog continues to permeate the town, Stevie begs people to help save Andy. His babysitter, Mrs. Kobritz, is killed but Andy is saved at the last minute by Nick. Retreating to the church for safety, Nick; Andy; Elizabeth; Kathy and Sandy gather where Blake finds a cross made from gold stolen from the ELIZABETH DANE. As ghosts trap Stevie on the roof of the lighthouse/radio station, Blake grabs the cross which emits an eerie glow, apparently eliminating the ghosts and the fog. Stevie goes back on air to warn others about the fog as Malone, wondering why he was spared, is suddenly taken by the ghosts of Blake's ship.

The Fog has plenty to admire, the least of which is the only pairing of 'Scream Queens' Janet Leigh and her daughter, Jamie. Of course, the traditional tale of ghostly revenge is gory, creepy and loads of fun. Featuring loads of genre actors, plenty of inside jokes and another terrific score by Carpenter, The Fog is one of the few 80's horror movies to rely on atmosphere as much as gore. 2005 saw a truly awful remake starring "Smallville" star Tom Welling and "Lost" alum, Maggie Grace. Avoid it and stick to the original.

More, anon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tummy Troubles

Not Me, But Close
So, I had every intention of finishing last night's post about John Carpenter's The Fog (and still intend to do so), but I found myself struck down my a rather nasty stomach virus.

This one isn't quite as horrible as what I had a few years ago in Florida, but it still entailed several hours of being unable to keep anything in my stomach, no matter how hard I tried to do so.

Exhausted and unable to concentrate the way I'd like to, I am taking tonight off, as well.

I'll (hopefully) finish yesterday's post tomorrow and have a new post tomorrow night. For now, I'm going to go to bed early (for me) and hope I feel like myself in the morning.

I hope none of you get this bug. It's not much fun.

More, anon.

Monday, October 22, 2012


"Sick" picks up right where "Seed" left off as Rick amputates Hershel's lower leg while five surviving prisoners watch, unsure of what's happening. Glenn grabs a wheeled serving table and as the men rush Hershel back to Cell Block 3, the survivors follow them. Led by an obviously unstable Latino with a gun left to him by the guard who locked them in the cafeteria, the surviving prisoners demand to know what's going on. As Carol and the others try to stop Hershel's bleeding, Rick explains to the five what's happened outside. Eventually, they come to an agreement: the men will share half their food in exchange for Rick and company clearing a cell block for them.

They head out into the prison and Rick explains what needs to be done to kill the Walkers. Of course, as soon as they come upon some, the five go nuts, ignoring Rick's advice. Rick, TBone and Daryl just watch as the men attack the Walkers in all the wrong ways. One of the prisoners, 'Big Tiny,' backs away from the fight, only to be cornered by two Walkers. He takes out one, but another, tearing its hand loose from the handcuffs he wears, manages to bite Tiny on the back before the Latino guy shoots it. While arguing about what to do with Tiny, the Latino attacks him, brutally beating his brains in. Rick and Daryl agree to take the Latino out if he causes any problems.

Meanwhile, Carl shows up with a bag full of medical supplies, telling Lori and Carol that he made his way to the infirmary on his own, taking out two Walkers along the way. When Lori castigates him for going off alone, Carl lips off to her; "Get off my back!" Beth yells at him for talking so disrespectfully to his mother and Carl takes off in a huff. Carol has managed to slow Hershel's bleeding and Glenn handcuffs Hershel to the bed, in case he dies and comes back. 

In the prison laundry, Rick throws the keys to the Latino, who balks at opening a set of doors behind which Walkers are growling hungrily. When Rick insists, telling him to open only one door, the Latino opens both and throws a Walker on Rick. Luckily, Daryl takes that Walker out and after they have killed the Walkers, the Latino says "Sorry. He was coming at me." Rick says "Stuff happens" and promptly takes the Latino out with a machete to his head. One of the three remaining prisoners takes off with Rick in pursuit while prisoner Axel begs for his life and his friend Oscar says "I've never begged for my life. Do what you gotta do." The running prisoner ends up in a courtyard full of Walkers and Rick closes the door on him, leaving him to his fate.

Carol and Glenn head out to find a Walker on whom she can practice Cesarian surgery, as she fears Hershel will no longer be able to assist in Lori's birth. Maggie asks for time alone with her father, telling him it's okay to let go. When he stops breathing, Lori administers CPR and Hershel revives, scaring them into thinking he's come back as a Walker. 

Rick, TBone and Daryl lead Axel and Oscar to a cleared cell block, telling them that if they so much as smell them near their people, they will will be killed. Rick and company return to Cell Block 3, where Hershel awakes, apparently having survived the amputation. Later, Lori and Rick meet outside where Lori tries to apologize for being a bad wife, while Rick touches her for the first time months, saying "We're all grateful for what you did," in reference to saving Hershel. In the yard, as Carol practices surgery on the Walker she and Glenn killed, someone (or something) watches from afar.

So, what have we learned? Rick is clearly concerned about losing his humanity, though Lori insists that she knows he's still a good man. Quick action on Rick's part may well have saved Hershel from the fever that usually follows a Walker bite. Rick obviously has no problem killing to protect those about whom he cares. Carl is still a willful little brat who thinks his new-found bravado will protect him, while Maggie and Glenn are obviously growing closer. Carol, while stronger than ever, still has some trepidations about her ability to help Lori deliver her baby. But just who (or what) was watching her perform 'surgery' on the Walker?

From the trailer, it seems that next week's episode will focus on Andrea, Michonne and the Governor, who is apparently not a very nice person.

More, anon.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I See Predictable Plot Twists

Poor Cole. He sees dead people. But you knew that. Writer/director M. Knight Shyamalan had his first big success with 1999's The Sixth Sense, a ghost story with a supposedly "surprise" plot twist at the end (more on that in a bit).

Bruce Willis plays child psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe. When Malcolm and his wife return home from an event in his honor, he is confronted  by a disturbed former patient Vincent (an emaciated Donnie Wahlberg). Vincent feels that Crowe failed him, as he still has the hallucinations that for which he sought help in the first place. Vincent shoots Crowe and then himself.

The following fall, Crowe meets a new patient, Cole Sears (Haley Joel Osment in his film debut). Cole confides the he sees dead people walking around like live people and that they terrify him. Crowe at first thinks that his new patient is suffering the same condition as Vincent and he worries he may fail him as well. Meanwhile, in the wake of his shooting, Crowe's marriage seems to be falling apart and he can't understand why can no longer get into his basement office. Eventually, he decides that Cole may be telling the truth and convinces him to talk to the dead people and help them move on. After helping several ghosts, Cole tells his mother (the excellent Toni Collette) about seeing the dead people. She finally believes him when he passes on a message from her dead mother. Satisfied that Cole is going to be okay, Crowe returns home to find his wife sleeping on the sofa. She turns over and his wedding ring rolls out of her hand, making him realize that he hasn't been wearing it along and that (here's the big twist) he is actually dead, himself.

So here's the thing, I figured out the big twist about halfway through the movie. It was the scene where Malcolm meets his wife for dinner and she completely ignores him. I turned to my companion and whispered "He's dead. No one else has spoken to him but the kid the whole time." It seemed pretty obvious to me and I was kind of shocked that other people didn't figure it out, as well. The movie is fine as a ghost stoy, without the big twist and Shyamalan coaxes a beautifully nuanced performance from both Willis and Osment and provides some good scares. But it's 'surprise' just wasn't, which really ended up kind of ruining for me. Of course, Shyamalan went on to make increasingly bad movies (Unbreakable is simply ridiculous and Lady in the Water is practically unwatchable). For a really good ghost movie released that same summer, see my previous post.

More, anon.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Does It Hurt to Be Dead?

Kevin Bacon and Jennifer Morrison
Sadly overshadowed by a more popular (though inferior) ghost movie released the same year (and one I will write about soon), writer/director David Keopp's Stir of Echoes is another example of the ghost story as a mystery, centered around the disappearance of a local girl.

Kevin Bacon plays Tom Witzky, an average Joe trying to support his family as a phone lineman. His pregnant wife Maggie ("Law and Order: C.I." alum Kathryn Erbe) and their son Jake live in a working-class Chicago neighborhood. One night at a party, Maggie's sister Lisa (the underrated and always wonderful Illeana Douglas), convinces Tom to let her hypnotize him. She implants a post-hypnotic suggestion in the skeptical Tom to be more 'open-minded.' 

Not long after, Tom starts having visions of a mentally-challenged girl named Samantha ("Once Upon a Time" star Jennifer Morrison) who disappeared a few years before. The visions lead to obsession and Tom is soon digging up the backyard and causing Maggie to question his sanity. Tom eventually demands that Lisa undo whatever it is she did to him, but she can't and Samantha continues to haunt him. Tom finally breaks through a wall in his basement to find Samantha's remains and confronts his landlord, who admits that his sons lured the girl to house with the intention of raping her. When she resisted, they killed her and their father helped brick up her body in the basement. Consumed by guilt, the landlord apparently kills himself. When his sons show up and confront Tom with the intention of killing them, the landlord emerges from the basement and saves Tom and Maggie. The mystery solved, Tom's visions abate and the family moves out of the house. But as they are driving away, young Jake is seen battling against the voices of the dead which now rage in his head.

Keopp, who also wrote the screenplays for Jurassic Park; Panic Room and Spider-Man (among many others), working from the novel by Richard Matheson ("I Am Legend"), crafts a creepy and atmospheric tale in Stir of Echoes, populated by believable characters reacting to forces and situations outside their realms of experience and aided by an extraordinary cast. Bacon is simply terrific as Tom, a man confused and frightened by what's happening to him and Erbe is solid as a wife and mother who doesn't understand why her world is being torn apart. Douglas gives yet another wonderful performance as the quirky sister-in-law who isn't fully aware of the consequences of her interests in the occult, while the rest of the cast embody Chicago's late-90's working class. Prolific composer James Newton Howard (Batman Begins; King Kong; The Hunger Games) provides an appropriately creepy score and the visual effects by BFTRE are spot on.

If you've never seen Stir of Echoes, you owe it to yourself to do so. If you have, then you already know what a terrific and underrated film it is.

More, anon.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tonight's Post is Effed

Oh, how I HATE Blogger's new format! An hour's worth of writing lost to a single mistyped keystroke!

I'll be back tomorrow with a (hopefully) improved version of tonight's intended post.

More. anon.
(A VERY aggravated) Prospero

(Who may well be moving if Blogger doesn't fix their mistake).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Heeeere's Disappointment!

Not Nearly as Creepy as They Should Have Been
Prolific Horror author Stephen King's third (and one of his best) novel "The Shining" is an epic masterpiece about ghosts, madness, ancient evil and familial terror. When I first read it, it was the most terrifying and fascinating novel I'd ever read. And I ate it up like manna. 

You can't begin to imagine how excited I was to hear that one of the greatest filmmakers of all time was going to adapt one of the best ghost novels of all time into a feature film. I remember sitting in the theater before The Shining started, nearly peeing my pants in anticipation of what I thought was going to be the scariest movie ever made. The film started out so promising... Wendy Carlos' (The Exorcist) and Rachel Elkind's booming score was amazing. Jack Nicholson and Scatman Crothers seemed perfectly cast. I could live with Shelley Duvall as Wendy and Danny Lloyd seemed just right as Danny. 

But as the movie unfolded, it soon became clear that Kubrick's vision had very little to do with King's. Nicholson, rather than a contrite alcoholic who wanted to make things right, seemed mad from the start and Duvall was hardly the strong-willed Wendy from the book. All of the hotel's backstory was made irrelevant and the roque court and wasp's nest were dismissed out of hand, while the topiary garden was replaced with a hedge maze. WTF!?!? In King's novel, everything has meaning and all of the events are tied together. In Kubrick's movie, nothing has true relevance and events that are explained in the book remain completely random in the film. 

It's not as if I don't get what Kubrick was going for. He obviously wanted to create a disorienting atmosphere for his audience. Okay. But why would he deviate so far from King's very effective novel? Why abandon so many of King's ideas? Why present glimpses of scenarios so important to the book's narrative without any context to the plot? When Jack killed Dick Halloran with an ax to his chest, I gave up. This was by no means the movie I had hoped it would be.

Now, before you all go nuts on me and start complaining about how brilliant this movie is, I must ask: Have you read the book? Because just about everyone I know who read the novel, hated the movie. Conversely, those who saw the movie without reading the book, loved it. And I totally get both points of views, though I will go to my grave saying that Kubrick completely failed in adapting King's novel.


Mick Garris' 1997 TV miniseries version is a little more faithful to the novel (and Rebecca DeMornay makes a much more convincing Wendy), but still disappoints on so many other levels.

The Shining remains on my list of 10 Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi Movies that Should Be Remade.

Meanwhile... King's son, writing under the pseudonym Joe Hill, had a brilliant debut novel with his own modern ghost story "Heart-Shaped Box," though his second (and inferior) novel "Horns" is being adapted for the screen, starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. The film adaptation of "Heart-Shaped Box" remains in 'turn-around.'

More, anon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"It's No Crime to Be Alive."

Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison
A 'Romantic Fantasy,' 1947's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, based on the novel by R.A. Dick, tells the story of widower Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) who moves in to an English seaside cottage which is haunted by the ghost of it's former owner, Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison). Lucy's daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and maid Martha (Edna Best) join her, though Gregg only appears to Lucy, agreeing that Anna is "...too young for ghosts." When Lucy's investments fail, Gregg helps her out by dictating his memoirs to her. The resulting book, 'Blood and Swash' proves to be a best-seller and Lucy earns enough to keep the cottage. Of course, during the writing of the book, Lucy and Daniel fall in love. Knowing their romance is hopeless, Daniel advises Lucy to find a "real" (i.e. living) man. 

Lucy eventually goes to London to publish her book, and meets charismatic children's author Miles Fairly (George Sanders). Fairly follows Lucy to Gull Cottage and begins to woo her. Knowing he doesn't stand a chance against a living person, Captain Gregg agrees to leave Mrs. Muir alone to pursue her happiness. Lucy is later devastated to learn that Fairly is not only married with a family of his own, but has behaved similarly with other women. She soon shuts herself away at Gull Cottage with Martha. Years later, a grown Anna (Vanessa Brown) returns to Gull Cottage with her Navy Lieutenant fiance, telling her mother she knew all along about Gregg and Fairly and that Fairly has grown fat and bald and has been abandoned by his wife.  Lucy and Martha grow old together and on her death bed, Gregg appears to Lucy, lifting her youthful spirit up and the two of them disappear into the mist. The movie's original trailer can be seen here. I've embedded a fan-made homage below:

24 years later, the movie inspired a 1968 TV sitcom starring Hope Lange as 'Carolyn' Muir; Edward Mulhaire as Daniel Gregg; character actress Reta Shaw (Mary Poppins) as Martha and gay icon Charles Nelson Reilly as the Captain's wimpy descendant, Claymore. The series ran for two full seasons and was my youthful  introduction to the story.

The original film, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is just about as atmospheric and romantic as they come. Harrison is superb as the externally gruff Captain Gregg, whose heart is captured after death, while Tierney (best known for her Oscar nominated performance in Otto Preminger's Laura) is simply lovely. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir may not be a scary ghost movie by any means, but it is certainly worth a look for film students and lovers of old-fashioned love stories.

More, anon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?

Lucas Haas in Lady in White
Like many good ghost stories, 1988's under-appreciated Lady in White is actually a mystery (which I am about to spoil). 

On Halloween, 1962, nine year old Frankie (Lukas Haas) is trapped in his school cloakroom by some bullies. While there, he sees a young girl being murdered and is attacked, himself. The girl's ghost asks Frankie to help her find her mother and he faints. He awakes in the hospital to learn that the school janitor has been arrested for the attack on him and the murders of 11 other children.

The ghost. Melissa, befriends Frankie and eventually, he returns to the cloakroom where he finds a hairclip and a class ring. The janitor is released due to insufficient evidence, but is later murdered by the mother of one of the real killer's victims. The bullies later lure Frankie to the nearby cliffs, but are scared off by a ghostly lady in white. Frankie runs home and confides to his brother Geno, who doesn't believe him, until Melissa appears to him as well. Frankie also tells family friend 'Uncle Phil' (Len Cariou) about the ring and how he thinks the real killer was looking for it on the night he was attacked. Geno and Frankie follow Melissa to the cloakroom where they see her murder re-enacted, though the killer remains invisible. After being strangled, Melissa's lifeless body is carried to the cliffs, where she revives and is then thrown over. Her mother, dressed in a white dressing gown, runs out of their nearby cottage and, seeing her daughter's lifeless body, throws herself off the cliff in despair.

Eventually, Geno and Frankie link the ring to Phil who drags Frankie off to the cliffs to kill him, but as Frankie's life is being choked from him, Phil is hit from behind. Frankie awakes in the cottage, tended by Amanda (Katherine Helmond), Melissa's aunt and the lady in white who scared the bullies away. Before she can get help, Phil enters the cottage and kills Amanda, setting the house on fire. Phil drags Frankie back to the cliff but before he throw him over, he is assaulted by the ghost of Melissa's mother and falls over, himself. Melissa and her mother then ascend together toward Heaven as Geno and their father Angelo (Alex Rocco) arrive to pull Frankie up from the side of the cliff. Just as they do so, Phil reappears, grabbing Frankie's ankle. Faced with the truth and the police, Phil lets go and plunges to his death.

Creepy and loaded with atmosphere, Lady in White was a critical, if not a commercial, success. It was eventually embraced by fans with its release on video and repeated offerings on cable, where it eventually earned a sort of cult status. Writer/director Frank LaLoggia does a fine job of creating atmosphere and tension, though the plot was probably a little old-fashioned for contemporary horror fans, who were still looking for gore and mayhem in the wake of the 80's Slasher craze. The performances are mostly terrific. Haas was still best known for his debut in Witness but does a lovely job and Cariou, known mostly as a Broadway performer is superb as the guilt-plagued killer. And while hardly a scare-the-pants-off-you thriller like The Haunting or Insidious, Lady in White is certainly worth watching on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, especially when paired up with another similarly atmospheric film.

More, anon.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Season 3 of AMC's "The Walking Dead" opens several months after the Seasson 2 finale in which the barn burned down and Hershel's farm was overrun with Walkers. Our intrepid band of survivors enter a home, taking out the Walkers inside and looking for whatever food they can find. Daryl kills and plucks an owl roosting in an upstairs bedroom while Carl finds a few canned items in the kitchen. But before they can enjoy their finds, Walkers move in and the group moves on. 

Stopping to reconnoiter, Daryl and Rick head out to hunt ("That owl didn't exactly hit the spot"), finally discovering the prison hinted at in the last episode and Rick formulates a plan. Rick, Glen, Daryl, TBone and Maggie slip inside the outer yard as the others distract the Walkers. Eventually the Walkers in the yard are all destroyed and the group spends the night in the relative safety of the yard, where Hershel suggests they could plant tomatoes, corn and soy beans. Beth and Maggie sing "Parting Glass" around the fire, while Rick formulates a plan to take over the prison as a safe refuge. It soon becomes clear that Rick and the very pregnant Lori have not overcome the problem of her baby's uncertain fatherhood and Carl has not yet forgiven his father for having to 'kill' Shane.

Elsewhere, Michonne (who has yet to be named) sneaks into a pharmacy, killing three Walkers (two with one stroke of her sword) and snatching up a packet of aspirin.

The next day, the group moves into the inner perimeter of the prison, taking out dozens of Walkers in hand-to-hand combat. Several of the Walkers are prison guards in riot gear and have to be taken out under their helmets. When Rick pulls a gas mask off of one them, it's face literally comes off with the mask, leaving a snarling, chomping skull behind. Eventually, they make their way into a cell block that is full of dead bodies, but free or Walkers. The group settles in to the cell block, though Daryl is uncomfortable sleeping in a 'cage' and Carl appears to have a crush on Beth.

Returning to the bar where she has her armless and jawless Walkers confined, Michonne delivers the aspirin to an obviously sick Andrea, who admonishes Michonne for staying to take care of her. We must assume that Andrea has some kind of flu, though it isn't made clear. Michonne asserts "We'll leave in a few days," while Andrea says "If we stay, I'll die."

In the morning, Lori is scared because the baby has stopped moving and worries that it is already dead and may rip its way out. Hershel tries to allay her fears and Rick; Hershel; TBone; Glenn; Daryl and Maggie head deeper into the prison in search of food and an infirmary. Glenn marks their way with spray-paint arrows on the walls. When they encounter a mob of Walkers and attempt to escape, Hershel is bitten on the calf and the group is forced into what appears to be the prison cafeteria. Rick finds no other way to save Hershel than to amputate his leg with an ax. 

Michonne and Andrea (and Michonne's 'pet' Walkers) head out from the bar's receiving dock, cautiously making their way through what looks like an abandoned lumber yard.

Back at the prison, where Rick has just cut off Hershel's leg, TBone notices a group of figures behind a chain-link wall, which they assume are Walkers, but who turn out to be several living survivors who are just as surprised to see them.

Filled with loads of zombies, 'Seeds' showed just how callous the group has become about taking out the Walkers. Even the formerly meek Carol and Beth have no problem stabbing Walkers in their heads. I can only imagine that the (as yet) undocumented winter have turned all of them into expert Walker killers and can't wait to find out how Michonne and Andrea have survived. And who are the people still alive in the prison? How have they survived and how will they effect and interact with the central characters? What's wrong with Andrea and how have she and Michonne bonded? And when and how will we meet 'The Governor?'

Here's a look at next week's episode, 'Sick:"

More, anon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dogs and Cats, Living Together

"It just popped in there!"
Okay - so technically, 1984's Ghostbusters is a comedy. Dan Aykroyd supposedly based the screenplay for Ivan Reitman's movie on his own beliefs in the supernatural and UFOs. The veracity of the supposition remains to be proven. Of course, it doesn't really matter because Ghostbusters remains one of the quintessential '80's comedies which will be quoted by frat boys and movie enthusiasts ad infinitum.

Aykroyd is Columbia University parapsychologist Ray Stantz, whose colleagues Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are called in to investigate phenomena at the NYC Public library and later, a prestigious hotel, where their use of 'proton packs' and a ghost 'containment system' causes all sorts of damage, resulting in them being fired from Colunbia. They start their own business, 'Ghostbusters,' with which they promise to remove paranormal entities from fellow New Yorkers' homes. They set up shop in an abandoned firehouse and transform an old ambulance into their official vehicle, hiring Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) as their receptionist. Business is slow until they get a call from Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), a philharmonic musician whose apartment has been taken over by an ancient demon named Zuul. As the sarcastic Venkman woos Dana, Egon discovers that her building was designed by a cult leader who designed it as gateway to summon a demon known as Gozer in order to bring about the destruction of mankind. Meanwhile, Dana's neighbor Louis (Rick Moranis) becomes possessed by a demon known as 'Vinz Clortho,' or The Keymaster. When Dana is possessed by The Gatekeeper Zuul, she and Vinz start the end of the world. All of this thanks to EPA lawyer Walter Peck (William Atherton), who shuts down the Ghostbusters' containment unit because it's an unlicensed nuclear device. When the spirits trapped in the device escape, New York is overrun by malevolent spirits and the mayor has no choice but to let the team (now joined by Winston Zeddemore - Ernie Hudson) to take action. Zuul forces the team to choose the form of the 'destructor,' and while the others block their thoughts, Ray can only think of the mascot for StaPuft Marshmallows and a giant marshmallow monster is loosed upon the city.

Aykroyd, Ramis and Moranis came up with a brilliantly hilarious script and Reitman was wise enough to let Murray improvise much of his dialogue, resulting in one of the funniest supernatural comedies ever made. But for my money, it's Weaver's fearless performance as Dana/Zuul; Moranis' insane performance as Lewis/Vinz and Potts' deadpan performance as an imperturbable New Yorker that make the movie work so well. Without these three actors, Ghostbusters would have been just another throw-away 80's comedy with a supernatural hook. Personally, it's the amazing Annie Potts who makes the movie so watchable. Janine embodies the unimpressionable "been there, seen that" New Yorker of the 80's to a tee. Of course, Atherton's imperious prig Peck doesn't hurt.

The rather silly 1989 sequel Ghostbusters 2 has it's merits (among them, Peter MacNicol's insanely hilarious performance as Janosz), it doesn't hold a candle to the original. 

More, anon.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

It Knows What Scares You

Sorry, D
I know that I've written about Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist several times. And there's a very good reason for that: it's a true modern genre classic. And I'll get to the why's and wherefores in just a minute.

First, I would like to note that Poltergeist serves as one of four movies with which I can always win a bar bet. I've seen this film so many times, you can play any scene without dialogue and I can tell you exactly what's happening on screen just by listening to the score. The other movies I can do this with are Raiders of the Lost Ark; Psycho and the original version of King Kong. I know my sister can also do this with Poltergeist; probably with Raiders... and maybe with Kong. But that's beside the point...

The Freelings are a typical suburban family of the early 1980's. Father Steven (Craig T. Nelson) is a successful realtor in Cuesta Verde, the planned California community in which they reside. Mom Diane (Jobeth Williams) is young and hip, while rebellious teenaged daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne) and her younger siblings Robbie (Oliver Robins) and Carol Anne (Heather O'Roarke) are typical kids. They all live typically messy suburban lives. A construction team installing their in-ground pool has the backyard in a tizzy, while the death of the family canary Tweety has Carol Anne wanting a canary funeral and Robby wanting to dig Tweety up after it rots.* One night, while Steven and Diane fall asleep in front of the TV, Carol Anne comes in to watch the post Anthem buzz (this was before the days of 24 hour cable) and begins talking to the "TV people." Soon, furniture in the kitchen begins to rearrange itself and Carol Anne can slide across the kitchen floor without being pushed. These seemingly harmless events soon escalate and Carol Anne is eventually captured by the "TV People" during a thunderstorm, her voice crying out from the TV for help. 

At their wits' end, the Freelings call in a team of parapsychologists, led by Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) who brings her assistants Ryan (Richard Lawson) and Marty (Martin Casella). After a particularly awful night in the house in which Marty sees himself tearing off his own face, Dr. Lesh calls in diminutive psychic Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein), who sends Steven on a journey through the Other Side to rescue Carol Anne from the 'Beast' which holds her captive. Tangina declares the house 'clean,' though the horror isn't over. It is eventually discovered (after Diane spends some horrifying moments among the corpses in her unfinished pool) that Steven's boss, developer Teague (James Karen) has built Cuesta Verde on an old cemetery where he moved the headstones, but left the bodies. The Freeling's house is eventually consumed by a psychic black hole.

Tobe Hooper, best known as the writer and director of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, had his undisputed best success with Poltergeist, though there are those who would argue that producer Steven Spielberg actually directed the movie. There are 'Speilbergian' touches all over the place, including his trademark close-ups and reaction shots. Of course, the performances of the (mostly) then unknown cast that make Poltergeist so good. Nelson and Williams are just terrific as the suburbanites who find themselves up against forces beyond their comprehension, while the accomplished Straight (Network) lends gravitas to the role of the bewildered parapsychologist (and I must admit to using part of her performance to inform my own performance in a college production of Equus). Add loads of foreshadowing in the brilliant script from Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor; a creepy clown doll; a terrifying tree; a ceiling crawl and amazing effects from Jeff Jarvis, Jose Abel and company, and you have the iconic ghost movie of all time. Oh, and then there's Jerry Goldsmith's aforementioned score. Genius doesn't even begin to cover how brilliantly Goldsmith was able to musically convey what's happening on screen. Can you say "Perfect Movie?"

Sadly, increasingly inferior sequels and the unfortunate deaths of several actors involved in the film and it's sequels (including young Heather O'Roarke's untimely death from an intestinal blockage and the murder of Dominique Dunne at the hands of an unstable ex) have led to a bizarre, cultish following to what should be considered one of the 80's best horror films.

Unfortunately, a completely unnecessary remake has been announced, though I (for one) am hoping the project never comes to fruition. Poltergeist remains one of the few ghost movies that scares, entertains and fascinates all at the same time. Any remake would have to prove exceptionally extraordinary to be worth seeing. Personally, I don't see that happening.

More, anon.