Blog Directory CineVerse

The most fun you'll ever have...being scared

Sunday, October 22, 2017

CineVerse's Shocktober Theater and our current Quick Theme Quartet concludes on October 25 with “Creepshow” (1982; 120 minutes), directed by George Romero. Plus: the “Meet Sam” episode from “Trick ’r Treat” (2007; 21 minutes)

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Far out tales from the Far East

Thursday, October 19, 2017

It doesn't boast much action. Its pace may be glacier slow for many Westerners. And many would scoff at categorizing it as a "horror film." But Masaki Kobayashi's "Kwaidan" is still considered one of the greatest of all horror anthology movies. On the strength of its unforgettable visuals alone, here is a picture that can leave a memorably macabre imprint and implant an unshakable feeling of foreboding doom and dread. After discussing the movie last evening during our CineVerse meetings, here were the major takeaways we concluded:

WHAT LEFT A STRONG IMPRESSION ON YOU ABOUT THIS FILM?

  • The stylized and artificial sets and colors; the filmmakers seem to be purposely trying to avoid realism and instead portray an exaggerated, expressionistic simulation of reality in which visuals and sound are hyperbolic manifestations of a particular character’s mindset or experience.
  • The craftsmanship evident is meticulous; this was the most costly Japanese movie to date; it was photographed nearly completely on hand-painted sets within a giant airplane hangar, providing a needed sense of vast scope that enabled the use of extreme widescreen (2.35:1) to portray extra wide compositions.
  • The soundtrack abandons traditional over-dramatic horror/mystery music, instead relying on outlandish instruments and objects to generate unsettling noises and music. Essayist Gwendolyn Foster wrote: “Toru Takemitsu’s bold and modern soundtrack, which deftly avoids the clichés of conventional film music…uses expressionist sounds, and bizarre instrumentation interspersed with sections of uneasy quiet and deliberately disarms the spectator, while simultaneously weaving a spell that draws the viewer further into Kobayashi’s colourful and highly stylized realm.”
  • The horror isn’t violent, graphic or traditionally shocking. Instead, it evokes an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere and a milieu in which the characters seem to be drifting between two states—the real world and the supernatural world, which often blend together. Foster further suggested: “Kwaidan is a film of nuance and restraint, despite the excesses of sound design and wildly stylized visuals. Kobayashi’s misc en scene is deliberate and proceeds with the assurance of dream-like logic, or the lack thereof. Kwaidan is a psychological horror film for those who are seeking an utterly immersive experience, in which the viewer is gradually seduced by the deeply saturated colour, the expressiveness of the seemingly vast hand built studio sets, and the sheer time factor. In its visual and thematic structure, Kwaidan is ultimately an expressionist fairy tale for adults, in which all is artifice, and yet at the same time mesmerizingly real.”
  • The film feels decidedly Eastern in its sensibilities, yet comprehensible to Westerners. Consider that the source material comes from Japanese folk tales reinterpreted by a westerner—Lafcaido Hearn, an Irish-Greek writer who lived in Japan—and was inspired by woodblock printmaking of the 17th century Edo period and Kabuki theater. Yet, the stories would fit right in with western-style anthology horror and thriller texts like The Twilight Zone.
WHAT THEMES ARE EVIDENT IN KWAIDAN?
  • Cosmic karma: how breaking your promise can come back to haunt you.
  • The dangers of venturing beyond the normal limits of safe reality. Criterion Collection essayist Geoffrey O’Brien wrote: “These are not tales that point to any obvious moral other than the danger of venturing, deliberately or by accident, beyond the invisible barriers that mark the limits of the human world. What lies beyond those barriers is the domain of supernatural terror, but it is also the domain of art. In Kwaidan, beauty is not decoration but a direct link to unknown and perilous realms.”
  • The terrifyingly cold and vast emptiness of the universe. “The three main stories of Kwaidan offer no escape. The gorgeousness of their painted skies and otherworldly color schemes, the transparent unreality of everything we see, all the bravura touches of stylization, only emphasize that one may travel to the farthest reaches of the imagination only to find at last a great and terrifying void,” noted O’Brien.
  • “Hauntedness as a state of Japanese existence,” according to Slant Magazine’s Carson Lund. “. Kobayashi’s gambit is to contextualize these hauntings in political terms, as reflections of deep-seated anxieties within Japan as a result of its strict moral codes…(the film) seems as much a cautionary message to Japanese audiences on the danger of following the mistakes of history.”
OTHER WORKS DIRECTED BY MASAKI KOBAYASHI:
  • Black River
  • The Human Condition I, II, and III
  • Harakiri
FILMS THAT KWAIDAN REMINDS US OF:
  • Suspiria, with its lavish and exaggerated color
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, two Kubrick films that share a sense of cold, expansive and hermetic space

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A stir-fried helping of tasty Asian horror

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On October 18, three themes converge on CineVerse: World Cinema Wednesday, Shocktober Theater, and Quick Theme Quartet. Join us for “The Black Hair” and “The Woman of the Snow” episodes from “Kwaidan” (1964; 83 minutes), directed by Masaki Kobayashi. Plus: the “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” episode from “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983; 30 minutes) and a trailer reel preview of the November/December CineVerse schedule

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Terror times three

Thursday, October 12, 2017

It's not often you see Boris Karloff in a color horror film – especially one with garish hues and exaggerated chromatic tones like "Black Sabbath," perhaps director Mario Bava's finest hour (or should we say 90 minutes). If the funky colors – which predate the psychedelic era – and atmospheric lighting don't leave an impression, other unsettling visuals probably will. For a roundup of our CineVerse discussion points from last evening, read on.

WHAT STRUCK YOU AS DISTINCTIVE, UNEXPECTED OR RARE ABOUT THIS MOVIE?

  • The color photography and lighting design is especially memorable; we see deep and sometimes exaggerated colors that catch the eye. “Favoring bright primary hues, sets are bathed in washes of color that can only be called hallucinatory. Electric greens and crimson reds, steely blues and deep purples give the screen depth and character,” wrote reviewer Glenn Erickson.
  • Often, there are long stretches of little to no dialogue, allowing the story to unfold via pure visuals, unnerving sound effects, and strength of performance by the actor. Consider the last nine minutes of the third story, “A Drop of Water.”
  • Arguably, each story improves upon its predecessor, resulting in a film that gets better as it progresses. This is often true of horror anthology movies, which commonly save the best episodes for the conclusion.
  • This film presents a vampire tale that goes against the grain: introducing to many the disturbing concept of the “wurdulak,” an undead fiend that feasts on the blood of its loved ones.
  • The epilogue peels back the curtains on movie magic and shows us how the sausage is made in a humorous way.
  • This movie was memorable enough to inspire a major heavy metal band to name itself after it: Black Sabbath. 
  • The film stands as another example of giallo — “a lurid, colorful, perverse and blood-drenched brand of Italian horror”, as described by New York Times writer Andy Webster.
WHAT THEMES RUN AS UNDERCURRENTS IN ONE OR MORE OF THESE THREE EPISODES?
  • A person being alienated from their own home and attacked from within a would-be safe sanctuary; consider that two of the three stories occur completely or primarily inside a small apartment, with a female being besieged by a real or supernatural force.
  • The sins of greed and lust do not go unpunished: the nurse’s avarice and the prostitute’s seedy profession come back to haunt them.
  • Family ties can bind – An adherence to traditional family values and patriarchal respect can ironically destroy the entire clan. Erickson wrote: “the idea that family is a weakness against supernatural evil goes against conventional horror tradition, and is all the more disturbing for it.”
  • Revenge of the dead upon the living.
  • Personal and psychological horror can be more terrifying than a physical or supernatural manifestation. Director Mario Bava was once quoted as saying: “If I could, I would only tell these stories. What interests me is the fear experienced by a person alone in their room. It is then that everything around him starts to move menacingly around, and we realize that the only true 'monsters' are the ones we carry in ourselves. Alas, the marketplace demands terrible papier-mâché creatures, or the vampire with his sharp fangs, rising from his casket!"
WHAT OTHER FILMS, TELEVISION SHOWS, OR WORKS OF LITERATURE COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING BLACK SABBATH?
  • Thriller, a TV show hosted by Boris Karloff
  • The Hammer horror films of the late 50s/early 60s, with their saturated colors, Gothic sets and costumes, and amped up sex and violence
  • Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY MARIO BAVA:
  • Black Sunday (also known as The Mask of Satan)
  • The Evil Eye
  • Five Dolls for an August Moon

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Cat scratch fever

Monday, October 9, 2017

You won't want to miss Cineversary on Thursday, October 12, at the Oak Lawn Library, from 6:30-8:45 p.m.. That's when we'll celebrate the 75th anniversary of “Cat People” (1942; 73 minutes), directed by Jacques Tourneur

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A movie so scary it inspired the name of the first heavy metal band

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shocktober Theater and our current Quick Theme Quartet returns to CineVerse on October 11 with “Black Sabbath” (1963; 92 minutes), directed by Mario Bava. Plus: the “…And All Through the House” episode of “Tales From the Crypt” (1972; 11 minutes), and the “Amelia” episode from “Trilogy of Terror” (1975; 24 minutes)

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Tea, crumpets and ghost stories

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The granddaddy of all anthology horror films is arguably "Dead of Night," a lesser-known and rarely seen outing from Britain released in 1945. Martin Scorsese ranked this picture among his 11 scariest horror films of all time, and it places high on other reputable lists as well. Creaky in some spots, excessively padded in others, and certainly tame by today's Tinseltown terror standards, this film nonetheless gets under your skin – if you give it a chance. Among the major discussion topics at last evening's CineVerse meeting are the following:

WHAT DID YOU FIND CURIOUS, SURPRISING OR OUT OF THE ORDINARY ABOUT THIS FILM?

  • It varies in tone and style – some of the episodes are scarier than others, while at least one is downright humorous and may not fit tonally with the rest of the picture (the ghost golfing vignette). Interestingly, each story was helmed by a different director – with four in total. Arguably, that helps distinguish each episode from one another in terms of visuals, pacing, themes, and overall feel.
  • Anthology films in general can be risky: just as one bad apple can spoil the barrel, one lesser episode in an anthology can sour the rest of the movie for the audience. Then again, word-of-mouth about only one or two good episodes in an otherwise mediocre anthology horror film can be enough to keep it alive and resonant.
  • It’s surprisingly creepy and effective as a good horror movie, despite being released overseas in the mid-1940s. Remember that Britain was not known for horror pictures – in fact, between 1942 in 1945, the government barred the import and viewing of all H-rated pictures (meaning H for horror), likely due to the brutality of World War II and to keep morale and spirits up at home.
  • Dead of Night carries on the tradition of the classic English ghost story; it feels very British, yet appeals to Americans because we have an affinity for the English ghost story and famous writers of this genre, including Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, M.R. James, Henry James, and Algernon Blackwood.
  • It features a compelling circular wraparound story that serves as a framing device . The epilogue provides a twist ending that makes the viewer feel unsettled and helps the overall film resonate more with viewers.
  • This film apparently inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho; consider that Psycho uses mirrors in several scenes to depict a split personality or some off-screen menace that could come into view at any moment. Psycho also ends with a psychotic individual in custody and overwhelmed by the dominant side of his split personality – similar to Maxwell being capped in a sanitarium and talking in his ventriloquist dummy voice.
  • Speaking of Hitchcock, this movie brings back three memorable actors from the master of suspense’s last great film made in Britain: The Lady Vanishes – Michael Redgrave, and Naunton Wayne as Caldicott and Basil Radford as Charters; the latter two characters became a popular duo who starred in their own films after The Lady Vanishes, and the actors reappear here as similar characters.
  • Apparently, the film also influenced the Big Bang Theory. Writer Jez Connelly wrote: “Astronomer Royal Sir Fred Hoyle and his Cambridge colleagues Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold were inspired by a viewing of Dead of Night when formulating their pre-Big Bang ‘Steady State’ theory of the Cosmos. ‘My God! It’s a cosmology. Maybe there’s something in this cyclical cosmology’ wrote Hoyle in his diary after witnessing the film’s famously elliptical narrative, and so was born a theory explaining life, the Universe and everything based on a horror film about one man’s never-ending nightmare.”
  • Lastly, this film is memorable for attempting something rare, especially for an older film: allowing the twist to play out while the end credits roll. That’s risky, considering that some viewers may walk out or turn off the movie as soon as they see the first credit text appear.
MANY CONSIDER THE VENTRILOQUIST DUMMY FINALE EPISODE TO BE THE FILM’S STRONGEST CHAPTER. IF YOU AGREE, WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THIS IS SO?
  • Perhaps it’s because, among all the tales told in Dead of Night, it allows for either a psychological or supernatural reading; in other words, it’s the most ambiguous and subjective. There’s a suggestion here that Hugo is really alive and autonomous; it’s also quite possible that Max is deranged and suffering from a split-personality disorder, only imagining that his dummy is alive.
  • Consider that this may have been the first instance of ventriloquist dummy horror in film; many imitators have followed, including Magic, Dead Silence, and Devil Doll. Prior to this film, ventriloquist dummies like Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy were considered cute, comedic and harmless. This story helped introduce the creepy notion that dolls can be possessed by supernatural forces and should not be trusted. That’s a formula that’s worked countless times in pop culture, from the Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina to Chucky to Annabelle.
  • This vignette also features an A-list British actor for the time, Michael Redgrave, who gives an outstanding performance – probably the best in the movie.
  • There are also fascinating psycho-sexual dynamics at work in this story, as Max seems to be involved in a strange love triangle with Hugo and his rival Klee. 
WHAT OTHER FILMS COME TO MIND AFTER VIEWING THIS MOVIE?
  • The Topper films 
  • Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors
  • Tales from the Crypt, the Vault of Horror, and Asylum – all anthology horror films by Amicus Studios
  • Hitchcock’s Psycho, Vertigo and The Lady Vanishes

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The English know how to tell a pretty good ghost story, too

Sunday, October 1, 2017

On October 4, Shocktober Theater returns to CineVerse, this time in the guise of a Quick Theme Quartet we call "A Fearsome Foursome of Anthology Horror." Once a quarter (every third month), CineVerse will explore four movies tied together by a theme. Our fourth quartet will focus on four horror anthology films (featuring separate scary stories within one movie). Part 1: “Dead of Night” (1945; 103 minutes), directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, et al. Plus: the “Morella” episode from “Tales of Terror” (1962; 22 minutes)

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Life, death, and everything in between (plus a few oddball diversions along the way)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

If you're seeking sobering philosophical answers to the most important existential questions, you may not want to ask the Monty Python troupe. Then again, this silly and sardonic sextet may have actually figured out what it's all about – the meaning of life, that is. For proof, look to their film of the same name, which we explored yesterday at CineVerse. Although we may not have uncovered the answers to the mysteries of life, death and the afterlife, we did uncover answers that may help you appreciate this movie. For example:

WHAT DID YOU FIND SURPRISING, UNPREDICTABLE, UNEXPECTEDLY FUNNY, OR EVEN CONTROVERSIAL ABOUT THIS MOVIE?

  • It begins with a strange mini-movie prologue that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film but which fits within the Python tradition of non sequitur absurdist humor.
  • It’s not a straightforward narrative with set characters, settings and situations like the Python troupe’s previous Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian. Instead, serves as a series of unrelated and seemingly random sketches about life and death.
  • It isn’t afraid to be disturbing, provocative, divisive, grotesque, crass, obnoxious, and immaturely titillating. It attacks many sacred cows and institutions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, patriotism, government, education, fear of death, and others.
  • Consider the lengths it goes to to lampoon and make us laugh – depicting an extended and disgusting vomiting session by morbidly obese man, naked women serving as a harbinger of death, singing a farcical song about the religiously inspired choice of not using contraceptives, satirizing the teaching of sex education, and more.
  • Arguably, it’s not as funny as the group’s previous works; but it seems to be tackling the deepest and most serious issues and has the benefit of what appears to be a larger budget and higher production values in which to demonstrate its zany brand of comedy.
  • Interestingly, the film does ask deep, serious philosophical questions that prove rhetorical: why are we here, what is it all about, where do we go when we die, etc. Using the pretext of comedy and silliness, the Pythons force us to ask similar questions about our own mortality and reasons for being. Blogger Phil Reed said the film presents “big ideas explored in small (and often irrelevant) ways.”
  • Reed suggested that the ridiculous nature of the movie and its characters “takes us off our guard. After all, a film that intends to discuss a topic as wide and ineffable as the meaning of existence can't be taken too seriously if the question is posed by a fish with John Cleese's head on it. It makes the audience more receptive to the idea that a satisfactory answer to The Ultimate Question might not be reached after all. But more importantly, it allows the Pythons to slip a genuine stab at the meaning of life into the film without actually having it held up and dissected by viewers at all.”
  • It ends by fulfilling the promise it made at the beginning that everything you wanted to know about life and existence will be explained; ironically, however, this explanation is quickly rattled off by a talking head who reads a bit of prepared copy for a few seconds – making the ultimate explanation for the meaning of life quite anticlimactic and relatively insignificant.
WHAT THEMES ARE EXPLORED IN THIS PICTURE?
  • The randomness, unfairness and possible pointlessness of life: “Triumph and tragedy alternate throughout the film, but there is always a steady magnetic return to the middle ground of life's tedium and banality, such as when trench warfare takes a back seat to a birthday celebration, or an exploding restaurant patron gives way to an after-hours cigarette break,” posited Reed.
  • Different levels of life and reality. Reed also believes that there are three parallel levels of reality within the film, starting with the lowest level, “in which the characters do not know they are characters and don’t realize they are in a film or even that there is a film to be in,” he wrote. The top level, represented by the fish – which “not only start off the film, but they appear to be above the middle of the film as well, as they are able to watch and comment on it when it’s over,” Reed noted. And us in the middle.
  • The fat man seen also plays with levels in the form of a hierarchical social structure and pecking order, according to Reed. At the top of Reed’s ladder here is Mr. Creosote, who is catered to by the maître d’ and other servants within the restaurants on a lower level. At the bottom of this ladder is Maria, the cleaning woman, and the fish in this scene. By causing Mr. Creosote to blowup, the maître d’ puts himself at the top of the ladder and also elevates the stature of the cleaning lady.
  • The viewer as the central character in the movie they are viewing. Reed writes that, often, “the camera is operating from a first-person perspective. Characters address you, apologize to you, invite you to follow them, and become frustrated with you. It is for your benefit that they are having these discussions, and they sincerely want you to benefit from them, becoming upset when you walk out of the restaurant, or frustrated when you don't seem to have learned anything from their own personal philosophies.”
DOES THIS MOVIE REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHERS?
  • Zulu
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Oliver!
  • Stand by Me

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