Blog Directory CineVerse: October 2013

Hinting at "The Haunting"

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Few horror films are as rich in content, craftsmanship and subtext as "The Haunting" (the 1963 original version, that is). Last night's CineVerse foray into the macabre, and the last of our Shocktober Theater series, proved to be an insightful one. Here is what we learned from this flick:

HOW IS “THE HAUNTING” DIFFERENT AND DISTINCTIVE FROM OTHER HORROR FILMS, ESPECIALLY MOVIES OF THIS TIME PERIOD IN THE EARLY 1960s?
·       It’s a movie that relies on psychological subtext and suggestion instead of monster/ghost manifestation: it’s what we don’t see that scares us the most in this film, as opposed to showing horrifying monster makeup and special effects.
o   This is in keeping with the Val Lewton formula for horror; director Robert Wise was part of the Lewton horror unit at RKO in the 1940s, and he learned how to exploit the audiences’ fears of the unknown and show less rather than more.
·       Nearly everything in the film can be explained as a figment of Eleanor’s unhinged imagination; we’re not shown any concrete proof of ghosts or hauntings here, although the scene with the booming sound and bulging door definitely suggests the supernatural. Keep in mind, however, that the film is told through Eleanor’s disturbed point of view, so we could be seeing and hearing things that the others in her group do not.
·       The film is one of the first to feature a lesbian character, especially one who is depicted as feminine instead of predatory.
·       The film is shot in black and white at a time when that was no longer in vogue.
·       The sound design employed functions as a character unto itself: it’s often what we hear, and not what we see, that unnerves us so much; moments of stillness are suddenly disturbed by unsettling noises, from booming walls and doors to eerie chanting and child cries.
·       It’s arguably the first picture made about a serious scientific investigation of a house that is haunted, which became a subgenre in itself that continues today.

WHAT ARE SOME RECURRENT MOTIFS, PATTERNS AND THEMES FOUND IN “THE HAUNTING”?
·       Psychological persecution: Eleanor feels closed in upon and her psyche is fragile, ready to break at any time.
·       Alienation: The group in the house form a bond of sorts, but Eleanor is continually separated and alienated from the others.
·       Mirrors, reflecting the duality of a character and suggesting characters who second-guess what they see or their own natures.
·       Statues—silent stone figures placed around the environment as if they’re eerily watching the proceedings with cold impartiality, yet with an insinuation that they could come to life at any moment.
·       Lights that turn off and on, seen both from the interior and exterior, implying perhaps that supernatural forces are at work, or that the sleuths are sometimes in the dark before and during their investigation of the house.
·       According to one writer (found at http://www.the-haunting.com/haunting_themovie.html), “clean deaths that don’t involve blood or gore, but can also be easily explained instead of chalked up to the supernatural.”
·       The same writer also posited: “Life leaving a character is suggested by a falling object:
o   (the death of) Hugh Crain’s young wife…is represented by her bracelet sliding along her wrist.
o   The second Mrs. Crain’s death is resprented by her keys that fall and that she cannot hold/grip anymore.
o   Abigail Crain’s death is represented by the stick that falls because she cannot hold it anymore.
o   The companion’s death is represented by one shoe that falls in the void.
o   Eleanor’s death is represented by her wrist that lies with no life.



WHAT DO THE FILMMAKERS DO VISUALLY TO INCREASE THE SUSPENSE AND CREATE INTERESTING SHOTS AND IMAGES THAT FIT THE TONE AND TENSION OF THE STORY?
·       As is common in many horror, suspense and film noir movies shot in black and white, the movie employs high-contrast, low key lighting the emphasize shadows, character complexity and things that cannot be seen in the darkness.
·       Some of the haunted home’s exteriors were shot with infrared film to give it a weirder look.
·       Many shots are filmed from low angles and lit from below for a more horrifying cinematography approach and to accentuate ceilings, which suggests a claustrophobic feeling.
·       The film features an unusual number of moving camera shots (such as the camera following along the spiral staircase), creepy tracking shots, unconventional pans (camera moving from left to right or vice versa), and shots using distorted lenses to evoke a warped, bent look.
·       As critic Glenn Erickson put it: “The compositions stress the location over the people, dwarfing them in wide shots or ornate rooms, or leaving them off-balance in tilted angles, which necessitates constant reorientation.
o   Also, notice how Nell and Theo in one scene are placed in the middle of the frame, either collectively or separately. But eventually, shots progress throughout this scene that show them drifting apart, coming back together, then drifting further apart.
o   There are also other scenes where the characters are visually shown growing farther apart from each other, ultimately leaving Eleanor completely alone and isolated.

WHAT’S INTERESTING ABOUT EACH OF THE 4 MAIN CHARACTERS, AND HOW DO THEY COMPARE AND CONTRAST?
·       Eleanor is fragile, unstable and an untrustworthy narrator because we can’t know for certain that what she’s experiencing is happening in reality.
·       Theodora is cunning and manipulative.
·       Dr. Markway is a trustworthy source on the supernatural, but perhaps too clinical in his approach.
·       Luke serves as a surrogate for the audience because he’s the most skeptical, grounded in common sense, and a type we’re most likely to meet on the street, perhaps.

OTHER FILMS THAT COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING “THE HAUNTING”
·       The Uninvited
·       The Innocents
·       The Legend of Hell House
·       Ghost Story
·       Poltergeist
·       The Conjuring

OTHER MOVIES DIRECTED BY ROBERT WISE
·       The Body Snatcher
·       The Day the Earth Stood Still
·       I Want to Live
·       Run Silent, Run Deep
·       West Side Story
·       The Sound of Music
·       The Sand Pebbles
·       Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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A classic revered from ghost to ghost

Sunday, October 27, 2013

On October 30, CineVerse concludes Shocktober Theater and celebrates the 50th anniversary of “The Haunting” (1963; 112 minutes), directed by Robert Wise, chosen by Brian Hansen.

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New CineVerse schedule for November/December posted

Friday, October 25, 2013

Curious to learn what we'll be screening and discussing at CineVerse over the next 2 months? Check out the November/December schedule, hot off the presses and ready for viewing at http://sdrv.ms/H6KoW6

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A "Ring" of truth

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Few films ratchet up the creepiness factor quite like "Ringu," the original Japanese version of "The Ring," which we dissected last evening at CineVerse. Here's what we learned about this flick:

HOW IS THIS FILM DIFFERENT FROM TYPICAL HORROR MOVIES AND FROM YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
·       It builds a steady atmosphere of moody dread, tension and fear with minimal cheap scares and shocks.
·       It contains very little graphic violence, blood or gore. Instead, it relies on tone, atmosphere, smart sound design, crude effects like negative photography and freeze frames, and simple but disturbing imagery to unnerve us.
·       It also refrains from revealing and showing us too much, including the ghost girl’s face; instead, we are only shown her eye and are forced to conjure up the rest of her horrible visage in our mind’s eye.
·       It’s an interactive horror experience in that it involves the viewer as part of the film: we’re watching a scary video of people watching a scary video that brings a curse to the viewer, which adds a creative creepiness to the proceedings.
·       For a modern color film, the color is very muted; the picture relies on subdued grays and harsh blacks and whites, giving scenes like the haunted videotape screening a surreal feel.
·       The film was extremely popular worldwide (becoming the highest-grossing Japanese horror film in history) and proved to be very influential:
o   it spawned two Japanese sequels and a prequel, a 12-episode TV series
o   It was remade in both Hollywood and South Korea
o   It kicked off the “J-horror” fad of the late 1990s/early 2000s, which included American remakes of The Grudge, Pulse, One Missed Call, and Dark Water
o   The ghost character Sakado, has become a massively popular horror icon, like Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, in Japan.

WHAT INFLUENCES DOES “RINGU” DRAW UPON?
·       According to writer/researcher Mark Frey (see his article at http://www.jetaanc.org/ringu/), Ringu was inspired by many earlier sources and “drawing from centuries of Japanese cultural history:
o   Previous Japanese classic horror films and movies featuring ghosts, including Onibaba, Kwaidan, Ugetsu, Kuroneko, House, Tomie, Chakushin Ari, and Honogurai mizu no soko kara.
o   Butoh, a strange, grotesque dance form that originated in Japan following World War II
o   Classic yuurei ghost stories. Frey says “yuurei are usually women with a white face, long black hair, and a long, white kimono that trails off into mist where her legs should be. This is how Japanese women looked when they were buried.”
o   Japanese urban legends and horror tales of people dumping bodies into wells and women committing suicide by leaping into wells. “There is a deep connection in Japanese culture between wells and troubled women,” Frey says.
o   The long-held Japanese belief that water (represented in the well) is the pathway to the land of the dead.
o   Special Japanese ghosts called onryou who want revenge; these were “women who were done wrong by a man. Often, the man cheated on these women and then killed them.”
o   The women wrongly accused of and killed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials

RINGU HAS BEEN DESCRIBED BY SOME CRITICS AND SCHOLARS AS A FEMINIST FILM OF SORTS. WHAT FEMINIST SUBTEXTS CAN YOU READ INTO THIS MOVIE?
·       Writer Mark Frey says Sadako’s story carries on the tradition of Japanese ghost stories involving a woman being abused and killed. “Sadako’s rage avenges the injustices committed by men against women throughout history,” he says.
·       The image of the well itself is a powerful motif that stands as a Freudian symbol: a dark, wet, deep, mysterious place that represents the mysteries of female power, female genitalia and the womb; in this reading, it would be a particularly frightening motif for men.

WHAT OTHER FILMS DOES RINGU REMIND YOU OF?
·       Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon, in how the twist endings of both films resolve.
·       Mystery films like The Eyes of Laura Mars and Sensation, where supernatural forces are at work, but the main characters are sidetracked in the straightforward solving of a whodunit mystery.
·       Poltergeist and Videodrome, other movies where evil and supernatural forces emanate from a video screens.
·       Horror films whose premise is based on an urban legend, such as The Blair Witch Project.

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Asian style screams

Sunday, October 20, 2013

On October 23, CineVerse presents part 4 of Shocktober Theater, which also happens to be a World Cinema Wednesday special from Japan: “Ringu (The Ring)” (1998; 96 minutes), directed by Hideo Nakata, chosen by Tom Nesis. Plus, stick around for a preview of the November/December CineVerse schedule.

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The black facts on Red Death

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Roger Corman's "Masque of the Red Death" proved to be a devilishly delightful foray into atmospheric costume drama horror, circa 1964. Fascinatingly, the film is chock full of symbolism, motifs and subtexts that speak to the intelligence of its original author and the filmmakers who adapted Poe's tale. Here's what we learned based on last evening's discussion:

THIS FILM IS REPLETE WITH SYMBOLISM AND MOTIFS. CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES?
·       Man’s obsession with sex and death, as exemplified by Prospero’s affection for Juliana and Francesca, and his determination to keep the Red Death plague outside his castle walls
·       The color red, which also represents sex and death in the form of:
o   the two redheaded women
o   the white rose turned red (innocence, beauty and purity turned to dark passion)
o   the last of the suite of colored rooms, this one black but lit with a rich red light
o   the incarnation of the Red Death plague itself in the form of a mysterious figure clad in crimson
·       Man’s bestiality, hedonistic tendencies and animal instincts: consider the mentions of dogs and hounds; the man in the ape suit; Prospero commanding subjects to behave like a pig, worm, or other creature; the falcon that kills another bird.
·       Touching as an act of desecration: the white rose that is turned red; the menacing of the prone Juliana by weapons of torture; the bloody hands of the sick, terminal party guests clutching out for Prospero at the end during the dance of death sequence; the poisoned dagger sequence; the satanic cross branding; the falcon’s attack on Juliana
·       Freudian symbolism, as exemplified by the running of Francesca down an eerie corridor. In an interview, Corman said: The girl “must run down that corridor!” Corman explained with a laugh. ‘That is very symbolic and extremely important. To me, the corridor is, simply, a vagina. You must set up two things in the movement down the corridor; I think it is a child’s approach to sex, in which he knows there is something great and wonderful out there but that child has also been told by the parents, ‘That’s bad—don’t do that!’ So to recreate that feeling—because I think the sense of horror does have elements of sexuality within it—you go down the corridor, and the audience must be saying to the person—identifying with the person—‘Don’t take another step. Get out of there right now! Don’t open that door! At the same time, the audience must be saying, ‘Open the door. We must see what is behind that door!’ If you set that sequence up correctly, it never fails to generate an emotional response.”
·       Dichotomy—the contrasts between Francesca, symbolizing good, and Prospero evil; and vice versus virtue.
·       The ultimate theme of the film is not good vs. evil, however; it’s that death plays no favorites between the two—by the film’s conclusion, only six random survivors are left, and good and evil characters alike have perished.

HOW IS THIS FILM DIFFERENT OR SIMILAR TO OTHER OUTINGS IN THE CORMAN/POE CYCLE OF 8 FILMS?
·       All explore the repression of sexuality, the disintegration of personality, and the entry of an innocent character into a realm of decay and corruption, from which the innocent prevails.
·       Most include some eerie dream sequence.
·       It is the first to explore Satanism, and also one of the very first Hollywood films to dabble in this topic, preceded earlier by Val Lewton’s “The Black Cat,” and “The 7th Victim”.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES TO ADAPTING A POE STORY TO CINEMA?
·       Poe’s tales are often introspective, moody, atmospheric stories that relay the inner thoughts and emotions of a character and lack action, realistic characters and dialogue.
·       They’re also often very short, lacking enough back story, character development and subplots to sustain a 90-minute or longer film.
·       One advantage to adapting Poe, however, which also attracted Corman: they are in the public domain and free to tinker with.
  
DOES THIS FILM REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHER MOVIES OR WORKS OF LITERATURE?
·       Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which also features a dance of death and a mysterious figure of death that stalks the characters.
·       Poe’s short story “Hop-Frog,” a revenge tale about a dwarf that Corman chose to weave into this tale to pad out the story.
·       Witchfinder General, also starring Price, featuring an utterly evil, merciless torturer who has women burned at the stake for supposed witchcraft
·       The story “Torture of Hope” by Auguste Villiers de I’Isle-Adam, from which a sub-plot in Masque is taken.

OTHER FILMS IN THE POE CYCLE DIRECTED BY ROGER CORMAN
·       Fall of the House of Usher
·       The Pit and the Pendulum
·       The Premature Burial
·       Tales of Terror
·       The Raven
·       The Haunted Palace

·       The Tomb of Ligeia

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The Price is right

Sunday, October 13, 2013

On October 16, you don't want to miss CineVerse's Shocktober Theater part 3, which will also be a return to our monthly theme: Triple Talent Pioneers - Filmmakers who wrote, directed, produced (and sometimes starred in) their movies. This time out, it's a tribute to B-movie director extraordinaire Roger Corman and his film “The Masque of the Red Death” (1964; 89 minutes), chosen by Dan Quenzel; Plus: enjoy a video tribute to  Corman, perhaps the most influential independent filmmaker in history. 

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Unmasking the Phantom

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Yesterday, CineVerse took a stroll down the corridors of silent cinema to enjoy "The Phantom of the Opera," which provoked a healthy discussion. Highlights of our group conversation are as follows:

HOW WOULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN GROUNDBREAKING, INNOVATIVE AND ATTENTION-GETTING FOR THE MID TO LATE 1920S?
·       The studio lavished an exorbitant budget on the project to make it one of its crown jewel films: the elaborate opera set was the first concrete and steel stage built in Hollywood, which still stands today; the two-color Technicolor process used was expensive and complex; and over 250 dancers were enlisted for the dance sequences.
·       The horrific makeup job by Lon Chaney was shocking to audiences in that era, and a testament to the genius vision of this major silent era star; likewise, Chaney’s performance, which relies heavily on exaggerated body language, helps carry the film.
·       Likewise, the unmasking scene is one of the most iconic, famous and horrifying in the history of cinema, although it’s lost its potential to scare by today’s standards.
·       This was the first monster in Universal’s lineup of famous monsters it would portray on the big screen throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s.
·       The film has memorable set pieces: the Phantom appearing as the Red Death in a tinted color sequence; the sabotaging of the chandelier; the trek through the many underground layers beneath the opera house.
·       This character also set the template for future horror villains who were “perceived as insane and clinically institutionalized, only to later learn that they could not be rehabilitated and perhaps never needed to be,” according to one critic.
·       The movie is also an early example of a meta-narrative: of containing a play within the play or a performance within the performance.

THEMES IMBUED IN PHANTOM OF THE OPERA:
·       Rejection and the tragic agony and consequences of unrequited love.
·       The human trait of “masking” our true selves by fabricating a superficial disguise to cover up a flaw or something we’re ashamed of. Beauty is only skin deep, and the true beauty of a person lies beneath the fa├žade they create.
·       The dangers of blindly chasing success, fame and fortune: As one critic put it: “Carlotta’s misguided ambitions and the new owner’s drive for success ultimately initiate the phantom’s tragic endgame.”
·       The duality and dichotomy of man: We’re each capable of opposite natures, from beautiful and honorable to ugly and cruel.
·       The classic love triangle: concerning Erik, Christine and Raul.
·       Redemption: Erik remains a murderous, hunted villain throughout the movie, but he proves that he’s capable of bestowing kindness on Christine and releasing her from his ultimatum choice of either sparing Raul’s life and remaining with him, or leaving him which means Raul dies.

WHAT OTHER FILMS, CHARACTERS OR WORKS OF LITERATURE DOES THIS MOVIE REMIND YOU OF?
·       Beauty and the Beast, another tale of a disfigured monster who tries to win the love of a beautiful woman.
·       The Hunchback of Notre Dame, yet another ugly but pitiable creature who loves an attractive woman but who must sacrifice himself for her.
·       Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—a similar tale about the dual nature of man.
·       Frankenstein, which also features a hideous monster that struggles for acceptance and survival in a world that hates and rejects him.

OTHER MEMORABLE FILMS STARRING LON CHANEY
·       The Penalty, in which he plays a legless criminal mastermind
·       The Hunchback of Notre Dame
·       The Unknown, in which he plays an armless circus performer who throws knives with his feet
·       Laugh, Clown, Laugh, in which he portrays a the tragic clown Pagliacci
·       He Who Gets Slapped
·       The Unholy Three
·       London After Midnight, one of the most famous lost films in history, destroyed by fire decades ago

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Eerie meets aria

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On October 9, CineVerse presents part 2 of Shocktober Theater by going old school horror on you, a la “The Phantom of the Opera” (1929; 94 minutes), directed by Rupert Julian, chosen by Erik Martin; Plus: Vintage Halloween-themed animated and live action shorts will precede the movie.

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Halloween shorts for young and old

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Erik Martin, your friendly neighborhood CineVerse moderator, will be hosting two separate free screening events in Oak Lawn later in October showcasing a collection of vintage and contemporary Halloween-themed cartoons, movie clips and trailers designed to entertain viewers young and old (ages 6 and up recommended), projected on a big screen.

The first event occurs during Spookview, the Oak Lawn Park District's annual Halloween festivities scheduled for 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19 at Oak View Center (click here for details). The Spookview screening will include all new material that Erik has not screened before.

The second event is called "Big Screen Halloween", slated for 10 a.m. - noon on Saturday, Oct. 26 at the Oak Lawn Public Library (click here for details).

Make your plans to bring the family and enjoy both events this October. And happy Halloween! 

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Recipe for a mouth-watering meat pie

Yesterday, we revisited the imaginative world of Tim Burton, who tried his hand at a major movie musical a la "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Here are the primary observations we came away with:

WHAT DID YOU FIND SURPRISING, REFRESHING OR EVEN SHOCKING ABOUT SWEENEY TODD?
·       Unlike the Broadway stage musical, this film version has been described as more realistic, less madcap and humorously over the top, and more of a revenge fantasy with gruesomely dark elements.
·       The volume of blood shed is surprisingly high, even for a contemporary R rated film; the film contains numerous throat slashings in close up and visually gory depictions.
·       Depp is not known for having a singing voice, but you could argue that he acquits himself nicely in this role for a novice.
·       After a string of box office and/or critical failures, including Mars Attacks!, Planet of the Apes, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, fans and critics considered this movie a return to form for Tim Burton.
·       This is actually the 9th film adaptation of the urban legend story of Sweeney Todd, which began circulating in early 19th Century Britain. It’s also the third attempt at filming an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 stage musical source.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FILM’S GREATEST STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
·       Good casting featuring top actors who create strong performances here, despite Depp’s lack of singing experience.
·       Strong emotional underpinnings: we understand Todd’s revenge motivation and loathe Judge Turpin.
·       Memorable sets, musical numbers and period costumes.
·       Masterful lighting scheme and sumptuously dark cinematography that emphasizes rich grays and eye-popping reds.
·       However, while Burton is gifted at depicting fantasy elements and colorfully expressive visual stories, he’s not as experienced as a director of musicals, and this may not be his forte.

WHAT ARE SOME FAMILIAR TROPES, PATTERNS AND MOTIFS FOUND IN MANY TIM BURTON MOVIES THAT ARE REPEATED IN SWEENEY TODD?
·        “Fish out of water” eccentric main protagonists who don’t quite fit into the world they live in: think of Edward Scissorhands, Ichabod Crane, Ed Wood, Batman, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. These are outsiders who will not be denied or ignored, who wish to fit in with others but cannot deny their own nature to do so
  • Exaggerated, fantastical powers or circumstances that propel the protagonist
·       The creation of wondrously fabricated and surreal worlds that don’t follow the conventions of the world we know: these are highly stylized, exaggerated, expressionistic environments that bear little resemblance to the real world: Think of the outlandish architecture and scale of his Gotham City, the German Expressionism-influenced off-kilter angled universe of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the cartoonish landscapes of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, etc.
·       A witch: in this film, the role of Mrs. Lovett; in Sleepy Hollow, it’s Lady Van Tassel; in Alice in Wonderland it’s the Red Queen
·       The innocent blonde babe in the woods: Johanna in Sweeney Todd; Vicki Vale in Batman; Katrina Von Tassel in Sleepy Hollow; the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland
·       Flashbacks: Todd’s reminiscence of his beloved family before they were torn away from him; Ichabod Crane’s nightmare dream of his mother’s death; the multiple flashbacks in Big Fish
·       Repeat castings: Depp, Bonham-Carter, Christopher Lee and Jeffrey Jones are among the actors who continue to appear in many Burton films

FILMS AND STORIES SIMILAR TO SWEENEY TODD
·       Les Miserables, another tale about a man who is harshly persecuted and whose family is taken away from him.
·       Django Unchained, another over-the-top revenge fantasy flick.
·       The Phantom of the Opera, a grand guignol cousin to this tale and character
·       Repo! The Genetic Opera, a 2008 American horror musical rock opera

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