Blog Directory CineVerse can't get rid of the Babadook

Sunday, October 23, 2016

CineVerse concludes Shocktober Theater with on October 26 with part 4: “The Babadook” (2014; 93 minutes), directed by Jennifer Kent. Plus: enjoy Vincent Price performing “The Pit and the Pendulum” from “An Evening With Edgar Allen Poe” (1970).


A female force of nature

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Carrie," Brian De Palma's haunting ode to teenage angst and woman's inhumanity to her fellow woman, still has the power to shock and stir 40 years after its theatrical release. A major reason, of course, is the quality of its original source material – the novel written by Stephen King. But cinematically, De Palma is deserving of the kudos, particularly due to his interesting filmmaking choices and concerted focus on establishing Carrie White as a sympathetic but tragic figure. Here's what we learned about this film and why it remains resonant today:

It’s one of the first feature films that tackles the topic of menstruation and the challenges of female adolescence/growing into womanhood. This movie also shows nude female bodies in an honest, innocent, natural, and non-titillating way.
The film’s tone is predominantly bleak and depressing and disturbing; the filmmakers emotionally manipulate viewers into a false sense of security and comfort only to pull the rug out from under us and depict a world of unrelenting cruelty, injustice and unfairness for Carrie White, a sympathetic teenager who is undeserving of the torment she endures.
Brian De Palma utilizes creative shots, camera movement and editing – including the use of a deep focus/split-diopter lens so that objects in the foreground, middle ground and background are in complete focus; split screens that show action and reaction shots simultaneously; mobile camera work, including a memorable unbroken take involving a camera that spins increasingly faster around Tommy and Carrie as they dance, creating the illusion of dreamy fantasy and being swept off your feet; silly sped-up footage shown during the tuxedo shopping scene; and extended slow-motion sequences that ratchet up the suspense, especially when we see Sue and the teacher realize something is terribly wrong at the prom; and kaleidoscopic lens shots depicting a cacophony of countless laughing and jeering spectators to Carrie’s humiliation.
It’s the first adaptation of a novel by Stephen King – a writer whose stories have been among the most widely adapted and in-demand by Hollywood.
Arguably, this is a film with a strong feminist message: consider that there are no strong male characters portrayed in this movie – Travolta is a clownish oaf, Carrie’s prom date turns from a jerk to an empathetic love interest to a hapless victim dispatched by a falling bucket, and Carrie’s father is out of the picture entirely.
The twist shock ending was unexpected and mortifying to moviegoers back in 1976, and became a hallmark of horror films to come like Friday the 13th and De Palma films like Dressed to Kill, although this conceit of a hand rising suddenly from the surface was borrowed from Deliverance.

It’s rendered in excruciatingly protracted slow-motion, which increases tension, foreboding and anticipation.
The score alternates between tender romanticism and shrill and suspenseful starkness.
We have sympathy and admiration for Carrie – the fact that she’s been transformed into a beautiful woman and is being recognized by her peers.
The knot tightens when we see Sue notice the rope and bucket, followed by the teacher noticing something wrong, which increases our nervousness.
A series of quickening cuts ensue, combined with selective sound effects.
Finally, after the blood pours down, we see prom attendees laughing and screaming silently, which creates an unnerving feeling of disorientation, as if we – like Carrie – have been shell-shocked and deafened by a bomb that has gone off.

The devastating consequences of bullying – which is something that is quite topical today.
Revenge and wish fulfillment: Carrie speaks to teenagers and outcasts everywhere who yearn to deliver comeuppances to the cruel denizens of the “in-crowd.”
The mysterious and feared power of female sexuality and the myth that women and their bodies – like Eve in the garden of Eden – can unleash a destructive power upon the earth. Stephen King commented that the book is concerned with “what men fear about women and women’s sexuality.”
Greek mythology and ancient beliefs. Dmetri Kakmi, writer for Senses of Cinema, wrote: “The film’s overarching concern… shows a mythic view of woman as Force of Nature, a Furie whose destructive capacity is unleashed by primitive rites of passage brought on by the flow of menstrual blood.”
o Kakmi further posited: “In Greek and Roman mythology the Furies were goddesses who avenged crimes, and particularly offenses against the family. In one version of the myth, the three sisters were engendered by the drops of blood that fell upon the ground after Kronos, the primal father, was castrated. In Stephen King’s book, it is stated that Carrie’s father is the bearer of the telekinesis gene, which he has bequeathed upon his daughter. Seen from young Carrie’s point of view, the absent father is like a distant God who descends to plant his seed in a mortal before ascending the heights of Olympus, never to be seen again. Although she lives in an earthly matriarchy, Carrie is very much under the spell of a patriarchal force which keeps her in thrall.”
o Consider, as well, that several shots of Carrie soaked in blood on the prom stage were borrowed from visuals and staging de Palma used in his film Dionysus in ‘69, which is an adaptation of The Bacchae, an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides.
Tragic fate, doom, foreboding and unavoidable destiny: Ponder how the fanatical mother serves as a kind of Oracle who predicts what’s going to happen with her ravings. She says, “First comes the blood, then comes the sin.” Sure enough, Carrie has her first period and later sows destruction upon the town with her telekinetic powers. Margaret also prognosticates that the prom evening will end in everyone laughing at her, which it certainly does.
The dangers of religious fanaticism, overzealous parenting, single-parented homes, and willful ignorance of biology (Carrie’s mother never tells her the truth about birds, bees, boys, or tampons)

Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher
Psycho, the score for which is emulated significantly in Carrie; there are also little winks and nods to the Hitchcock classic, including the name of Carrie’s school: Bates High School.
Deliverance and its haunting ending featuring a phantom hand
Raise the Red Lantern, another film featuring a claustrophobic and oppressive world for females who battle one another
Dressed to Kill, another De Palma picture that includes a shock ending
Ruby (1977) and Jennifer (1978) – two films involving daughters who exact a terrible revenge on their tormentors
Other horror films from the 1970s depicting evil children, including The Exorcist, The Changeling, and The Omen

Blow Out
Dressed to Kill
Body Double
The Untouchables
Carlito’s Way
Mission: Impossible


The prom date from hell

Sunday, October 16, 2016

CineVerse's Shocktober Theater will celebrate the anniversary of another milestone horror movie on October 19 when we present part 3 of our series: “Carrie” (1976 – 40th anniversary; 98 minutes), directed by Brian De Palma. Plus: enjoy a trailer reel preview of the November/December CineVerse schedule.


Hour of the wolf

Thursday, October 13, 2016

It's hard to believe that "The Wolf Man" is celebrating a diamond anniversary in 2016 (a "silver" anniversary sounds like it would be more fitting), but time marches on. Yet, this classic Universal horror film and character still retains a power and magnetism that defies the passing of years – like a good fairytale should. And make no mistake about it: this movie was crafted to play as a 20th century fairytale, taking place in an ambiguous European setting in a non-specific time and using the evergreen theme of science versus superstition to underpin its message. Indeed, for a 70-minute B-picture, "The Wolf Man" bites into a big mouthful of ideas and concepts with its 75-year-old fangs. Here are the collective observations from our CineVerse group after viewing the film:

Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, the Wolf Man doesn’t draw from a direct literary reference/source. Instead, the character was derived from fairy tales, Greek mythology and Greek tragedy, legends, and European folklore.
Larry Talbot’s character – and, to some extent, the monster – evokes sympathy, as he is depicted as a tragic victim of fate or circumstance. Dracula and many of the other classic Universal monsters aren’t sympathetic characters – they are meant to inspire fear. The Wolf Man is characterized as the most human and the most regretful of all these creatures.
o “Consider the remorselessness of his movie monster counterparts: Count Dracula served as an embodiment of pure evil in Bram Stoker’s hands, shameless about his bloodlust; Frankenstein’s monster is too reliant on bursts of raw emotion to feel regret over his victims; The Invisible Man was a scientist driven mad who murdered to demonstrate his power; The Mummy killed to service his own romantic desires; the Black Lagoon’s creature was little more than an animal. None but the Wolf Man reflected humanity so adeptly, capturing the duality behind the human monster,” posited movie reviewer Brian Eggert.
This picture was instrumental in establishing tropes and conventions that all werewolf characters and werewolf movies to come would follow: transformation via the full moon, wolfsbane, pentagrams in the hand, vulnerability to silver, etc.
The film espouses psychoanalytic theory, which was popular at this time, to help explain how and why Talbot would succumb to a beastly hidden nature.
The movie is supported by a surprisingly strong cast for a supposedly B-picture: Claude Raines, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya.
We actually don’t get to see the werewolf monster until after the film’s midpoint, which might be frustrating to younger viewers but proves to be refreshingly adult and Spielbergesque to others (Steven Spielberg and other filmmakers are known for not showing the creature/monster until at least the midway point of their films).
Instead of focusing on the physical manifestation of the monster here, the filmmakers are more invested into tapping into Talbot’s fear, apprehension and self-doubt, mining deeper psychological themes.
Despite being released immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the setting and time of the story remains vague and nonspecific – there’s no mention of World War II going on, and the location is some fictitious European village populated by Brits and Americans.
Man’s dual nature: Angel and devil, good and evil, civilized man and savage beast, gentleness and violence.
Existentialist angst: the cruel nature of random fate or circumstance. Consider that Talbot is an everyman who becomes a victim unfortunately bitten by a wolf or werewolf and is undeserving of this bad fortune.
The psychological power of suggestion: although we see Talbot transformed into a hairy monster, and the physical manifestation of this shape shifting is evident to the viewer, there is the suggestion here that all of this is happening only in his own mind.
o Eggert theorized the following: “The story itself infers that his character has been driven mad by tragedy and cultural hysteria, and that the transformation from man to monster occurs only in Talbot’s head… This initial film is about madness as a symptom of duality, not some supernatural creature of the night. And from that perspective, the film proves ultimately more confronting, psychoanalytic, and undeniably more terrifying than an explanation rooted in the paranormal.”
o Consider, as well, that the filmmakers aren’t very definitive as to a lycanthrope’s nature – does it transform totally into a wolf or a man-wolf crossover? Why is Bela’s character replaced by an actual wolf after the rise of the full moon and not a wolf man-like monster?
o Ponder, too, that lycanthropy is defined in the film as “a disease of the mind in which human beings imagine they are wolf-men”; in other words, it suggests the delusion of transforming into a wolf, not transforming into an actual werewolf.
The prodigal son: Larry hasn’t been home in a long time and proves disappointing to his father, who ultimately ends up killing his son.
Stars of ill omen: the pentagram is a symbol for a star, the moon represents an ill-faded star of doom, and Larry works for a company that makes telescopes that can see into the heavens – including heavenly bodies like the woman he sees and is smitten with but who inadvertently leads him into danger.
Science versus superstition: Larry’s father is an esteemed scientist who believes there’s a psychological answer for Larry’s behavior; Larry comes from a modern technical background (he works with telescopes/optics) but turns to antiques (literally in that he purchases an antique silver-topped cane from an antique store) and away from rational/logical thought – instead choosing to believe antiquated notions from fortunetellers and folklore.
Greek mythology: According to Wikipedia, "In Greek Mythology, there is a story of an Arcadian King called Lycaon who tested Zeus by serving him a dish of his slaughtered and dismembered son to see if Zeus was really all knowing. As punishment for his trickery, Zeus transformed Lycaon into a wolf and killed his 50 sons by lightning bolts, but supposedly revived Lycaon's son Nyctimus, who the king had slaughtered.
Fairytales, and ancient folklore/legends: “In medieval romances, such as Bisclavret, and Guillaume de Palerme the werewolf is relatively benign, appearing as the victim of evil magic and aiding knights errant. However, in most legends influenced by medieval theology the werewolf was a satanic beast with a craving for human flesh. This appears in such later fiction as "The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains": an episode in the novel The Phantom Ship (1839) by Marryat, featuring a demonic femme fatale who transforms from woman to wolf. The wolf in the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood" has been reinterpreted as a werewolf in many works of fiction,” per Wikipedia
In the 20th century, werewolf stories were popular in the United States and Britain – one of the biggest sellers was “The Werewolf of Paris” (1933).
Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the 1932 film adaptation starring Fredric March
Werewolf of London, a 1935 universal horror film that first introduced a werewolf to the cinema

The Undying Monster (1942)
Cat People (1942)
Hammer Studios’ take on werewolves: Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
the Incredible Hulk comic book character
An American Werewolf in London, and The Howling, both from 1981
Remus Lupin, a character who turns into a werewolf in the Harry Potter series


Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night can become a Wolf Man fan

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Don't miss CineVerse on October 12, when part 2 of  Shocktober Theater will feature “The Wolf Man” (1941 – 75th anniversary; 70 minutes), directed by George Waggner. Plus: enjoy two brief features – "He Who Made Monsters: The Art and Life of Jack Pierce" (25 minutes), and "Monster by Moonlight" (33 minutes).


Bringing in the sheep…

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Twenty-five years since its initial release, The Silence of the Lambs doesn't fail to frighten or entertain: a testament to fantastic writing, direction, acting and technical artistry. It's also a picture overflowing with ideas, memorable visuals, unforgettable dialogue and complex themes. Here's our take on the movie as a film discussion group after careful dissection:

Unlike predecessors that depicted psycho killers and mentally deranged sociopaths, this movie attempts to employ a forensic psychology approach to better understanding the mindset and motivations for the criminals.
o Film reviewer Richard Scheib wrote: “Prior to The Silence of the Lambs, the psycho movie genre’s view of psychology and behavior had then routed in absurdly outmoded and melodramatic forms of Freudian trauma – Psycho (1960) and successors – or where killers were stripped of human motivation and seen as incarnate faces of evil – Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) and various sequels. The forensic psychology psycho-thriller gave the psycho film psychological motivation – it took a glimpse inside the heads of psychopaths and what made them tick behaviorally.
While many earlier or films had already established the formula of the “final girl” – in which the last survivor is a vulnerable female who has been pursued and attacked by an antagonist – this picture refreshingly presents a strong female protagonist who is the hunter instead of the hunted, the hero instead of the victim, and the rescuer: Clarice presents an inversion of the “knight in shining armor” male archetype who has to rescue the fair maiden locked in the villain’s castle.
Interestingly, this horror film gives us two monsters – Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter – each of which is terrifying and dangerous in their own ways. But the latter is depicted as a charismatic, likable personality because we see that he takes an interest in and sympathizes with Clarice, whom we suspect Hannibal would not harm, and also because he’s such an intelligently written character. Yet, he’s also capable of even more extreme violence and brutality then Buffalo Bill.
This movie’s influence was wide and vast: consider all the copycat films that came in its wake, including Beyond Bedlam, Nightscare, Just Cause, The Cell, Angel Dust, When the Bowel Breaks, Se7en, Copycat, Kiss the Girls, The Bone Collector, etc. it may also have inspired the forensic police procedural TV dramas that came a few years later, including CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Bones, Without a Trace, etc.
Additionally, the filmmakers compare and contrast Lecter and Clarice as parallel characters. 
o As Roger Ebert surmised: “Both are ostracized by the worlds they want to inhabit – Lecter, by the human race because he’s a serial killer and a cannibal, and Clarice, by the law-enforcement profession because she is a woman. Both feel powerless – Lecter because he is locked in a maximum security prison… And Clarice because she is surrounded by men who tower over her and fondle her with her eyes. Both use their powers of persuasion to escape from their traps… And both share similar childhood wounds.”

This movie is very effective as a gripping study in suspense and horror because we are forced to identify with Clarice on the start. We often see her point of view and are often reliant on her discovery of the facts to help uncover the mystery.
It’s also riveting because there’s a time limit involved: we know that Clarice only has three days in which to find Buffalo Bill or his newest victim will be killed.
It occasionally turns the tables on us as viewers with various techniques. For example, it utilizes the Kuleshov effect in which two shots juxtaposed back to back take on a different meaning than a single shot by itself would – consider the amassing of the SWAT team outside the house juxtaposed with a shot of Clarice ringing the doorbell. You instantly think that one of the SWAT team members is ringing the bell and that they have arrived at the right house. But we quickly learn that it is Clarice at the right house and she’s alone. Secondly, we are tricked by Lecter’s clever masquerading escape scheme – after that stunt, the audience isn’t sure what to trust with their own eyes.  Third, we are given Clarice’s POV as she nervously finds her way through Bill’s home, up until the lights go out; suddenly, we are given Bill’s point of view, which shows a terrified Clarice seen through night vision goggles – which makes us all the more fearful for her. Fourth, ponder the amazing sound design throughout the film – especially the climactic scene where Clarice enters Bill’s lair: we hear barking, yelling, rock music, flapping sounds, heavy breathing – all of which add up to an unnerving aural wallpaper.
Viewers also brought their own baggage with them to this film. It would have conjured up earlier memories of John Hinckley and his obsession with Jodie Foster prior to attempting to assassinate Reagan, as well as real-life serial killer Ted Bundy who donned a cast to appear benign and lure victims into his vehicle, as well as another true-life serial killer – Ed Gein, who also used the skin and human remains of his victims.
Controversially, it taps into fears and misunderstandings by heterosexuals of gay and transsexual people by depicting Buffalo Bill as a confused and disturbed homosexual/wannabe transgender who may or may not have come out of the closet. Many in the LGBT community despised this portrayal as stereotypical and damaging.

Repeated use of the colors red white and blue as well as American flags and additional symbols of patriotism – such as the Washington Memorial and the Capitol building as well as a cake sporting the seal of the Department of Justice. In a perverse subversion of the American Eagle, Lecter displays the spread-eagled body of one of his victims.
Multiple barred doors that Clarice must get past to enter the lairs of both Lecter and Buffalo Bill, respectively.
Gender bending: consider that bill is a seamstress while Clarice is a rugged and resourceful FBI agent.
Heavy breathing and sighs – which are heard at various intervals throughout the movie (including a sigh audible when the Gypsy moth is removed from Buffalo Bill’s first victim’s throat).
Recurrent shots of Clarice outnumbered or dwarfed by or leered at groups of men or – in the case of Lecter – a dominant male personality.
“Point of view shots to create the sensation that the movie is watching Clarice. For example: The camera which awaits and precedes her as she walks down the corridor toward Lecter. The camera inside the storage garage as she slides under the door. The camera inside the car as she tries to peer into it. The camera inside Bill’s house as he opens the door. All of the shots contribute to the impression that Clarice is not in command of her own space, but is threatened by others,” wrote Ebert.

Old-time horror movies, like Frankenstein, Nosferatu, King Kong, and Psycho – all of which contain monsters that, to some extent, Lecter resembles or makes us think of.
2001: A Space Odyssey – its villain, HAL 9000, inspired Hopkins’ performance, he revealed.
Aliens – another horror film which features a strong female protagonist who also hunts monsters and plays the part of a rescuer.

Melvin and Howard
Stop Making Sense
Wild at Heart
Married to the Mob
Rachel Getting Married


What can be better than liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Shocktober Theater, CineVere's annual foray into frightfully fun feature films, kicks off on October 5 with part 1: “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991 – 25th anniversary; 119 minutes), directed by Jonathan Demme.


From Madison Avenue to Mount Rushmore

Thursday, September 29, 2016

When it comes to sheer exhilaration, intrigue and adventure, no Alfred Hitchcock film quite surpasses "North by Northwest." Some 57 years later, the picture remains a fresh and fast-paced entertainment that keeps audiences enthralled – a testament to the master of suspense's keen ability to keep viewers on the edge of their seat while also infusing elements of comedy and romance designed to please. Among the observations reached by our CineVerse group last evening, after watching this movie, are the following:

There are two possible McGuffins: the microfilm/top-secret information wanted by the spies as well as the wrong man/mistaken identity that begins the film.
The director appears shortly after the start of the movie – shown missing a bus he tried to catch.

The wrong man, misunderstood innocence, and mistaken identity
Disorientation and the challenges of navigating a dangerous world, as indicated in the very title of the film: North by Northwest is not an actual direction on a compass; it’s meant to signify a lack of specific direction. Consider that there is a famous quote in Hamlet that goes: “I am what mad North-North-West; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”
Masquerading, false identity, and playacting – every significant character in this movie pretends to be someone they are not.
The capability of an everyman being a hero and mystery solver, even if reluctant. As in Vertigo, the main protagonist steps into the role of a detective/investigator who must try to solve a mystery or crime.
A female love interest who is duplicitous and not whom she seems to be – also explored in Vertigo.
The double chase: the innocent man erroneously accused has to elude both the police and the film’s villains.
The potential for danger anywhere and everywhere – for example, in a least likely place like a mundane cornfield (which can feel downright claustrophobic in the hands of Hitchcock) as well as a highly popular tourist attraction like Mount Rushmore, and an assumedly safe and secure place like the United Nations building.
o Danger, mystery and adventure, in fact, can occur in high-profile public places – a plot element Hitchcock likes to revisit in several films; consider how Saboteur concludes with a dramatic scene atop the Statue of Liberty, The Man Who Knew Too Much includes a tense scene inside Britain’s Royal Albert Hall, a pivotal plot point occurs adjacent the Golden Gate Bridge in Vertigo, and a suspenseful chase leads to the British Museum in Blackmail.
Criticism of bureaucracies and the way they treat humans as disposable. Critic James Kendrick wrote: “In North by Northwest, the community is represented by heartless bureaucracies like the CIA, willing to sacrifice innocent people for secretive causes involving the Cold War. Community is symbolized by the huge, emotionless stone faces on Mount Rushmore and the towering glass building that houses the United Nations, which in one fantastic shot is seen literally towering over the ant-like characters trying to escape it. The underlying cynicism about government in North by Northwest – which predates the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, and Watergate, all modern harbingers of mistrust in politics and government officials – makes it somewhat ahead of its time. This is a movie that never gets old, despite its Cold War datedness.”

The opening credits by Saul Bass are visually inventive and memorable.
Hitchcock employs “pure cinema,” as he often does in Rear Window, by using images and sound effects to tell a story without dialogue, voiceover or other narration: this is effectively demonstrated in the crop-dusting scene, which builds very slowly and extends over approximately seven minutes.
This is also one of the longest films in terms of runtime that Hitchcock ever directed – yet many viewers don’t feel it is excessively long and in fact want more, which is a testament to fine direction, pacing, screenplay writing and other elements.
James Mason and Martin Landau make for two of the most memorable Hitchcock villains in his canon – the former a mannered, cultured and sophisticated character who exudes class and taste, the latter a quiet but subtly menacing figure who could be a homosexual partner to the former.
Hitchcock and his collaborators are particularly sexually suggestive and playful in their use of double entendres and visual metaphors (like the speeding train rushing through the dark tunnel).

Previous Hitchcock films that mine the wrong man theme, including The 39 Steps, Saboteur (which also features a famous concluding scene atop a major American monument – in this case, the Statue of Liberty), and The Wrong Man, as well as The Man Who Knew Too Much.
The James Bond films – which would have certainly been influenced by the suave charm and debonair sexiness of Cary Grant in this role as well as the globetrotting action of the plot.
Silver Streak, a 1976 comedy starring Gene Wilder that tries to repeat North by Northwest’s formula while also paying tribute to it.
The X-Files Movie
Eagle Eye (2008)


Take a one-way trip with Cary Grant and the master of Suspense

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hitchcockronology: A Sequential Study of the Master of Suspense comes back to CineVerse on September 28 with Part 10 in our series: “North by Northwest” (1959; 136 minutes), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.


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