Film Reviews

Nobody Studies Happiness: Ghosts And Madness On The Mountain In A Brief Review Of The Shining

PosterCharles Olson’s gone. But some few years ago, there he was. Saw his mother and she was in a chair as he remembered her when she was alive. I remember that in a poem of his. Once he wrote, “Nobody studies / happiness,” and here I am with that, too. —Stanley Kubrick: Like he said, Kubrick: “Real is good; interesting is better.” Nobody studies happiness: The Shining (1980).

Jack Torrance pounds his life out the typewriter keys. Luck isn’t. Wendy and Danny, the wife, the son. New world here at the Overlook Hotel. New and strangely familiar journey up the dark and beautiful mountains. We know where we’re going but we don’t know why it’s familiar. Life on high and ghosts, too, like anywhere else. Only, the ghosts here can touch, can speak, can move and strike and open the doors to rooms where the future is closed.


What was it? Who was it? Feel my mind burning cold under the snow banks of this film—the atmosphere, it’s as heavy as the snow and wide as the bottom below; it induces one to feel severely restricted, and it will suffocate one as it suffocates characters and viewers in tandem with rot-gore images sourced from the unforgettable redrum flood. To be a guest here is to remember Home, to know Home, and what’s more, to yearn for it. I’m displaced in a pure void, writing to you from a place founded on Manifest Sickness. I don’t know anything but that I have to tell to find a way out.


I’m typing along to the great piano captured, like a film, like anyone watching The Shining. On this recording, titled Windmills, Lubomyr Melnyk’s hands just go, and I mean go; the dream-charged composition blown up by a power that rages and caresses, like fathers, like wind, blown up, blown out, clearing dead leaves of thought between the ears—what an album to try and think to! What an enigmatic film to try and write about! Invisible force, palpable power—what a rush! Windmills even at the danger of writing to you like so many do, swept away in the rush of what they’re hearing on high.

Of course, when it comes to music and The Shining, one can’t help but think of Berlioz with his Symphonie Fantastique. So full a hum in the thick of the throat, is that dense, bone-deep blow of the funereal “Songe d’une nuit du sabbat” (Dream of the Night of the Sabbath), which is about as frigid of a melody I can recall. Yet the heat of the dance, the movement of the witches, ghouls, the monsters, shades, bells and the brush-fire of the evening beneath a night of horror that looks like any other night—just the black, and the objects and that energy that drives and drives until we see and feel the fire out, the power shot forth, gone. What depth of hopelessness is that? And what could be more fitting a piece in this film?

—Well, the rush and the rage and the force, they are fathers in this story. They live here, as the ghosts do, residentially, above one of Stephen King’s fave’s: an old Indian burial ground.

Party Time

Horror loved Kubrick. Horror loves King, too. But King doesn’t love The Shining because Kubrick was the greater artist, and The Shining belongs to Kubrick now, est. 1980. When you’ve seen the film, you’ll know.

Yes, Jack—the character; not the character that is Jack Nicholson as Jack Nicholson, but the character that is Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. What a character! Nicholson’s performance, at times over-the-top, yet captured, and never out of place; a fine, walk-on-the-line-of-losing-it, trapeze over the abyss, performance; all those legendary takes en repeat per Kubrick helping not a little. Likewise for Scatman Crothers (Dick Hallorann), Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrence) and Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrance)—what endurance! [See DVD and Blu-ray and YouTube and others of the heavyweight media et cetera for info and explanatory notes regarding Kubrick’s much discussed quantity of takes. Or, summarily: REHEARSALS ARE A WASTE OF TIME!].

Jack Mad (2)

What else? Well . . .

Jack doesn’t love Wendy.
Not like poetry loved Verlaine.
Jack loves Wendy like Jack hates Jack.
Jack hates Jack never finishing projects;
hates Jack with nowhere to go and the time short
and tight like the noose between his eyes;
hates Jack like settling into soft leather
with a copy of Playgirl,
waiting for Ullman, his wife and son to find him
in a lobby at the end of things;
hates Jack like Danny
overthrowing an existence Jack hates
without promise, without even the dream of escape—
no, even in his dreams, Jack hates,
and it’s growing, violently growing:
“I dreamed I killed you and Danny . . .”;
hates Jack like he hates Jack like he hates Jack
taking odd jobs, asking for dead-end work
from men who dress like the American flag
and refer to celebrities and presidents
as “all the best people”
with hair like Kennedy's
while Jack ties green around his neck
across the beggars side of the desk,
desiring creation (veni! veni! veni!)
—hates Jack like the suit and tie
absolutely nothing behind the suit and tie
save madness and the madness
of keeping madness under woolen wraps;
hates Jack like you might Hate Jack
hunting Danny, hunched over, sick walk, sick ape,
fixated, the stare of death from madness
streaming down a riven mind imploded:


Who slipped monocaine into this man’s bourbon? Jack Griffin. Jack Torrance. Disappearing act—where is Torrance? Wherever Johnny is . . . . What horror is this when alone at the top of the mountain, man can finally know what it all was, what is and what isn’t, and do, finally, what one’s entire life has brought him to? I cannot actually tell what Kubrick shows.

The Shining has it all. But don’t try and write about it. The ghosts that bully reason were kin to Kubrick, and they will come for you if you do. It’s all there. Go and see. Don’t be late.

This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

Film Reviews

You Should Have Listened: A Review Of The Hallow

Hallow PosterOh yes, The Hallow (2015). Your ticket read, The Woods. So call it, The Woods, if you please. Both are C+’s from IFC Midnight. So come on, then.

This film feels how it looks. We start bright with all of the promise sunshine can offer one taking the ferry to a new life. Good god it is bright and warm under such a hot coin; that boat keeps it moving and we’re ex-patriots, yes, and travelling to Ireland where director Corin Hardy’s story of Adam, Clare (Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic) and their baby son, takes its seedy root.

Banger house with barred windows. A mill house all sag and chips. Signs of long life: rust, bad wood eaten up and miles and miles and miles (and miles) of lush green forest—this is what Adam and Clare wanted, likely dreamed of, when cramped in London town locked away in another story. But they’re here, now: Ireland; and windows barred with iron by previous owners make not a difference, spark not even a sand grain of concern regarding their most recent happiness. Take a ferry to a new life. Gone. Bright white and blinds like romanticism.

Irish Countryside (2)

[Oh, by the way, the dogs name is, Iggy. Which could be close to funny if you think about those Stooges, those musical Stooges. Now, back to it].

Adam and Iggy walk the forest, look the trees, examine the trees, connect with the trees. Nothing doing while this sleepy picture crawls its frame. Nothing even really cinematic until the music turns guide, directs the viewer how to perceive the dead and rotting deer carcass Adam and Iggy uncover on their trek—the ominous now known with black, viscous blood, the wild hair and rotting flesh hammering the message of the stomach-turning sight home. Romantic fade. Dark notes and tones.

Iggy Bite

Adam’s a scientist; concerns concerning forestry and the health of trees concern him greatly, and if you were to imagine that this now known piece of information inspired his budding family’s move, well, you’d likely be on to something: He’s going to save it!—What’s it, you ask? The tree!, of course. Adam’s going to save the tree!

All well and good; but, what is it, how is it, this understanding, Adam’s understanding of trees? Where does it come from? What shaped it? What’s really beneath this microscope? What did Adam touch with his bare hands before England, Mum, textbooks and tradition touched and bound him? And what can he bring now, a man out of bounds from multiple views, to this saving mission?

Yeah, who knows? But by the looks of it, Adam’s dallying in the dense and hallowed forests of Ireland look to be the start of a great lesson for him. Just a shame he has a family in tow, for what will they reap? For, when real and supreme ignorance couple with a lack of noble understanding, a greater price than tuition must be paid; this comes, is shown, and that brings the horror down like a pissed off Chatterton writing, “For how can idiots, destitute of thought, / Conceive or estimate, but as they’re taught?”. —Forgive the end-rhyme, for he was only human.

Clare and Baby (2)

Creatures closely resembling little Pumpkinheads thieve babies in the night. You already know what Adam and Clara have . . . . For this trespassing on the Hallow (which basically constitutes living in the house Adam, Clara and the baby live in/walking in the woods, poking around, touching shit (and trees, too, of course)), Adam and Clara’s baby is declared a recompense. In the folklore, this event is already known. Not specifically, of course, with reference to these characters, but, it is known that the Hallow will come for any and all trespassers on the sacred land.

It comes to the house, it comes in the house, moves within the walls, flops down into the crib, inhumanly reaches out to the car, mysteriously clutches and chokes out the engine, pokes for entrance into human eyes: it comes, it grows, it lives within living organisms—this is, the Hallow.

Attic Clare (600x314)

Born of unknown origin and recorded in folklore, this is the apple of existence Adam refuses to bite into, seemingly, for no other reason than that, having not been sufficiently able to account for it by a most rational and scientifically appropriate explanation, that is, supported by facts and evidence, it must simply, surely—yes, has to be—be pure nonsense.

Adam’s conviction is compounded by his increasingly odd, yet altruistic, neighbor, Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), who, due to Adam’s unwillingness to lend a listening ear to him (Donnelly has suffered something awful at the hands of the Hallow and earnestly cautions against the actions of Adam that are, in his mind, eventually leading him down that very same path), eventually bursts with that beloved and often parodied line that unites so many horror films with but a itty-bitty mouthful of painfully truthful words. Yes, that’s right, it’s the “you should have listened” line: YOU SHOULD HAVE LISTENED! And on and on and on into that bloody tradition.

Pumpkinhead (700x394)

Well, Adam should’ve listened. And hey, you know what, Clare should’ve listened, too. Especially when Donnelly broke into their home and dropped off his fancy fairy tale book. Shoulda listened. Here come the little pumpkinheads now, the pangs of suffering and mostly nothing else . . . . Oh, a touching recognition of loss in a scene of awakening with Clare holding her baby . . . then, the nothing else from here on out.

If you’re a teenager at home, expecting friends, rifling through your satellite search results and looking for a “good one” for the late night, sure, add The Hallow to your list. But if you’re going to the theatre, something else is being shown . . . . Or else . . . . YOU. SHOULD. HAVE. LISTENED!

This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

Film Reviews

Mommy You’re A Wreck: A Review Of Severin Fiala And Veronika Franz’s Goodnight Mommy

PLAKAT Kinostart Oesterreich FINAL-END 02122014.inddIt’s October 30th at the Alamo Drafthouse. My brother and I sitting there, talking: “I like foreign films because they make you pay attention.” Next thing I know, a few rows below us I see a man wearing the pumpkin mask from Halloween III. It was a comforting sight. [Read a piece on Halloween III].

Goodnight Mommy reminds me of The Very Things with their “Mummy You’re A Wreck” song. In addition to complimenting any Halloween playlist, there’s a striking bond between that mummy and the one in this film: they’re both in rather poor shape and frightening those that care for them.

Having returned home swathed in bandages and looking like a modern version of the classic monster, is, Mom. I don’t know mom’s name and it doesn’t matter. Mom is Mother, and Mother’s the anchor.

Mother’s had some facial surgery. Her face is unrecognizable, swollen with dark purple bruises. It’s an abject horror nearly too much for her young boys, twins Elias and Lukas, to bear. (Note too that one red eye. Angry red eye and it’s looking at a boy emerging from the dark and he’s scared and you’re watching it and . . . oohh.). And Mother’s not exactly warm to the boys’ reservations about her current condition, either. Which, for the caring, concerned mother, is rather odd. Something in the way . . . .

Mother Blinds

Mother carries the keys to the home (no male figure, no male presence) like some sullen warden, even locking the boys in their room on occasion. A rather stylized shot comes. It helps to paint Mother’s picture for the audience. Dark shot of her standing before the mirror, tan chemise swaying in front of the Dyson while she looks and looks, bandages on her face, trouble on her mind. Her boys hiding out in the cramped safety of their room, speculating about Mom’s new mien, wondering what to do about it, how to behave.

Mother is exceedingly irritable too. Has new, off-putting demands: no sunlight, no visitors to their home, and no disruption of her incredibly important rest. Viewers sense the window of affection closing in on the relationship between she, Elias and Lukas faster with each transition of scene. This doesn’t seem to be the same woman heard on a recording singing solace to her boys’ pains while she was off having her surgery. “Lullaby and Goodnight,” she sang.

Elias and Lukas are having a hard time with it all. For them, youth and the understanding that ripens in raw experience, lacks an elder’s guidance. Boys have their imagination and these boys have nature in the beautiful Austrian countryside to exhaust their burning energy. But Mother is the strongest presence of any nurturing quality, and rarely is she present as a mother or simply anything but a towering, implacable figure holing herself up, internally, externally, in the dark. No love. No closeness. What’s to become of these boys? asks the viewer.

Despite it eventually being depicted as recourse to a crushing loneliness incubated inside of their home, Elias’ and Lukas’ adventurous play in the countryside seems promising. In other stylized, beautiful sequences shot on the “glorious 35mm,” the boys are seen having the time of their lives in the arms, so to speak, of the natural world. Scenes of the them outside, laughter and roaming, roughing each other up, racing through corn stalks, swimming, are uplifting.


From a viewer’s standpoint, though, perhaps it’s a bit too pacifying. Such warm shots shown in a flush of sunlight induce a bit of drowsiness in the dark of the theatre like a cloud of henbane. The effect is short-lived, though, ending as quickly as the freedom Elias and Lukas feel in their outdoor play. The quiet voice of the countryside is no remedy for the growing horrors of doubt awaiting the boys in their home; though it spells disaster for the family, for the audience, this is where Goodnight Mommy really starts to heat up. Sick heat, sickening shots, sickening sights.

Mother says she’s Mother, but what else would a person posing as your mother say when you ask them if they’re truly your mother and they stand to lose considerably by telling you otherwise? Since she’s been home, hardly a kind word, no loving touch, just the commands. Elias and Lukas can’t understand it. Logically, they decide (aided by family photo albums, the wrong eye color and a missing mole on her face) that she’s somebody else.

“She’s so different” says Elias. And the boys’ thoughts as cruel blooms grow into their imaginations unrestricted. They don’t want to be lied to. Need love. Badly. At what price will it come?

Goodnight Mommy’s power lies in the build; in the growth of the film into the evil that replaces the love and trust between mother and son poisoned by an avalanche of pain. There’s trouble here and it’s often highlighted by the filmmakers’ use of stark images, like the mirror shot mentioned earlier; like the nature shots with the boys; like a dead cat in a fish tank on the living room table (how’s that for a symbol of disconnect?).

Mother and Son

The attentive powers of the viewer are tested in these moments: make the connections, follow the signs. Notice the home, how grand, large, how expertly and artfully furnished. See too the roach as wide as your middle and index finger combined scurrying up the wall. The two sights, one of affluence, the other disgust, aligned, clash considerably. There are many others, mostly of disgust, but at the risk of spoiling . . . .

Losing touch and patience, needful of truth from the mouth they are desperately in need of trusting, Elias and Lukas go overboard: Mother wakes to her hands and feet bound to her bed. This time she knows, physically, how little meaning her words have in her boys’ doubting minds. Mother wakes to Elias and Lukas still and masked. “How do I get up?” she asks. “You don’t,” is her reply.

Amid agonizing screams, yet again the shot of beauty shines through. What’s heard is an awful discordance coming from the room with the boys and their mother, as in shrieks indicating the birth of inflicted pain; yet, what’s shown through the lens, what’s seen by viewers—bright green leaves suffused with sunlight, a green that glows under the radiance no matter what humans do/are doing/have done, and for whatever reason(s). This shot is harnessed for all the eternity of a torturous truth.

Over all the evil, the honey sun, still golden. There is growth and there is decay, and there’s the echo of Mother’s lullaby trapped in youth as green as the leaves.

This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

Film Reviews

Halloween III: For What It’s Worth

I. Trouble For The Hell Of It

Scrappy Pumpkin Television AdOne night, I took off my Michael Myers mask and watched Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). It was the first time I had done that, though it wasn’t the first time I had watched the film.

Growing up watching and discussing horror movies, Halloween III was a title that inspired nearly the same barks from somebody you either watched it with or tried to speak about it to: “IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MICHAEL MYERS: SUCKS!” screams somebody into your ear. The most common cry of disapproval being: “IT SHOULDN’T BE CALLED HALLOWEEN!”

If when the smoke clears from such exclamations that person or those people is/are still anywhere near you, then you might have an opportunity to have that less-had conversation: the one about what Halloween III actually does offer—an interesting and at times even humorous conglomeration of horror and science fiction just on the other side of what those harsh ejaculations about Michael Myers and the film’s title would have us believe.Myers

Yes, Michael Myers is one hell of a frighteningly interesting character (wait, is he?) but, is he truly worth the rejection of something refreshingly new by way of the third installment in this infamous series? —“Hell yes!” was/is the resounding answer to that question for many horror fans. And that’s perfectly fine.

I don’t claim that it’s not tempting to wonder why the filmmakers attached Halloween III to the Halloween series (which had produced an incomparably successful 1-2 punch in the seedy world of horror cinema) or to disregard the fact that one could easily view it as a straight up punch in the mouth to fans of those earlier films; but, I do claim that those thoughts are boring. Like, “totally boring, if you’ll permit the P. J. Soles line (you will). There’s more than just another Halloween movie here. Call it whatever you want.

Be that as it may, the fans of Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1980) respectively (disrespectively too, of course) wanted what they wanted, i.e. MYERS; got disappointment instead. What a guessing game for the filmmakers, trying to please so many people you’ve never met while ensuring the hands of those in charge don’t hesitate signing the checks that make your vision reality—what must be done to ensure that!—how truly horrific!

Carpenter“Fuck ‘em,” is how John Carpenter’s and director, Tommy Lee Wallace’s, treatment for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, came out. The script was originally written by Nigel Kneale, but eventually rewritten by Carpenter (uncredited), credited solely to Wallace.

There you have it, Halloween III—a new tale spawned from an idea that Halloween, quite simply, could be more than the boogeyman; that under this umbrella term, there was potential for something of a horror series, with each chapter, in its own unique way, creatively exploring the wicked and nefarious, quenching the same viewer-inspired thirst for evil just like the original and sequel did, yet in entirely different ways and completely irrespective of its link with the aforementioned creative and financial successes bearing the same imprint.

—Yes, what an idiotic idea indeed. The public proved it! TOTAL FLOP! Though, surely from the mind of John Carpenter—director of The Fog (1980) and Escape from New York (1981) before his involvement with Halloween III, and who had written, along with Debra Hill, Halloween II—an idea such as this must have presented itself as quite appealing to producers and behind-the-scenes heavyweights.

Whatever it took to keep Halloween alive, appeared what horror fans wanted most. How they wanted it, however, became quite clear once Halloween III appeared.

II. (Most Of) The Gangs All Here

Links abound connecting this new chapter with prior Halloween entries. But, mostly, they are to be found behind screen, and are more closely connected to Carpenter than with Halloween.

WitchAs they did with Halloween II, Universal Films distributed Halloween III. Moustapha Akkad, producer of the first two films, produced Halloween III, and, the incredible cinematographer, Dean Cundey, director of photography on Halloween II and the Carpenter-directed remake of, The Thing (1982), also provides his talent here on Halloween III.

So, from a production standpoint, Halloween III is rather close to its siblings. Halloween itself even shows up in this new installment by way of a television advertisement (one of quite a few television advertisements) in which it is referred to as the “immortal classic.” What fun is being had already! with or without the audience. Not to mention that Nancy Kyes, the actress who played “Nancy Loomis” in Halloween and Halloween II, fulfills a role in Halloween III as well, this time as the ex-wife, “Linda Challis,” of her cult horror film counterpart, Tom Atkins—“Nick Castle” from Carpenter’s, The Fog—playing “Daniel Challis.”

And what about the masterful and eerie synth score that frames this film so well? It was composed by none other than Carpenter and the incredibly inventive, Alan Howarth, who contributed some of his original sound to yes, you guessed it, a couple of Carpenter’s previous film efforts, Escape from New York and, The Thing.Composing

Even MICHAEL MYERS is in this film, sans that white mask we all left our little mark on. That’s right, the incomparable stuntman, Dick Warlock—wait . . . DICK! WARLOCK! Yeah, that’s better—whose work can be seen in such mammoth films as Soylent Green (1973), Jaws (1975) and about a thousand others for which he either coordinated and/or performed stunts, is stunt coordinator and performer in Halloween III as well.

Ah, now that we’ve got the skinny on the production . . . .

III. Roll It

Halloween III FlyerHalloween III begins in the night with a man clutching a mask on the run. This is Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry), and the scene is expertly scored by Carpenter and Howarth’s minimal, yet convincingly spookish sounding synthesizers. Rarely does a score set the tone of a film to such a degree that one feels as if the story might actually be told through the sound—this one does that; impending doom with every note; piercing sound through the frame.

The chase sequence eventually leads the audience to a hospital where the character of Dr. Challis (Tom Atkins) is introduced. Challis presents audiences with a unique character kind of perfect for the horror/sci fi genre. While an utmost professional, dutifully caring for and considerate of his patients, Dr. Challis is also a womanizer. Well, he’s comfortable in his place of work. Really, really comfortable. Naturally, this poses dilemmas for the professional side of his character and pokes at the audience’s willingness to trust in their leader’s intentions whenever a female enters the frame.

Coco AtkinsChallis is seen grabbing Nurse Agnes’ ass (Maidie Norman)—done in jest, to be sure; but, not really much of a joke when one considers his behavior throughout the film as a whole.

After spending the afternoon drinking up the dust and booze of a dark bar, we see Challis lying to his ex wife about attending a conference of doctors to get out of spending the weekend with their children, calling from some dingy payphone with a six-pack of High Life sweating on top of it while a woman much younger than he, Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin), waits for him in her car.

Only a few scenes before, Challis was abusing his past relationship with a hospital worker, “Teddy” (Wendy Wessberg)—“I’m always ready for dinner with you,” he tells her to garner information he’s not, professionally, authorized to know or required to pursue.

But I’m being a bad writer, lying to you like this. I mean, a writer, lying to you like this. All you read in the previous paragraph . . . facts only; and, truly, taken out of context. Well, except for the ass-grabbing. Ass-grabbing is ass-grabbing is ass-grabbing (thank you, Virginia Woolf).Intimate

Though Challis’ lower half may inspire a bulk of his action, his reasoning goes deeper (smirk if you please). Challis may avoid his kids and lie to their mother, but it’s not just for the opportunity of laying Ellie. A man through and through, Challis and his curiosity are here to discover and understand as much as his desire is here to stand in the way.

Ellie’s father, Harry (in that opening chase scene, Harry is heard shouting: “They’re coming, they’re coming!” while only a few screens over in a movie house in 1982, Carol Anne announces, “They’re here”) is mysteriously murdered by a human-looking drone in the hospital in which Challis works.

Challis, out of a particular respect that comes to one who cares for their place of work and what happens in and to it, is hereby provided an escape route from his troublesome family life in exchange for the chance to aid someone else (this being Ellie) in their obvious time of need.

Off they go in search of answers, leaving behind them a trail of flames and a few kills at the mechanical hands of suave, businessman-looking robots (some social commentary here having those drones dressed like Wall Street? Hm?).


Of course, Challis doesn’t forget the High Life, either, which makes him more recognizable as a human (that is, calculating wants and needs above the ideal, forever and always) than merely a flat, one-dimensional character; gives him the polarities of good and not-so-good, but mostly good, that offer intrigue and the opportunity for audiences to have a reason to invest their reactive quips, scowls, questioning thoughts, or whatever they choose, into this film.

Challis and Ellie head to Santa Mira, the quaint, pastoral and fictional Californian town quite settled since all those unfortunate mishaps of those formidable Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) days. Of course, not really. This is a Halloween film, and so the audience’s wish for something frightening is indeed granted; Challis and Ellie, they are heading right for it, unquestionably curious.

Posing as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” the lovesome duo set up their makeshift base in a motel just outside the Silver Shamrock factory headed by one Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). Through Cochran, Carpenter and Wallace introduce the audience to their chief figure of evil.

Cochran is a slim, stately Irish man in his elder years who is also quite the dignified and renowned businessman. He is head of the immensely successful Silver Shamrock Company, known, this year, for its production of three “fun and frightening” Halloween masks: the witch, the skeleton and the pumpkin.

Mask Selection

Cochran’s mien boasts the quiet condescension indicative of one of great success in the company of those ultimately out to thieve him, be it of goods, time, or even “trade secrets.” Cochran is a man who appreciates fine craftsmanship and a solid work ethic without the disobedience characteristic of unruly human beings.

With his inimitably warm tone of voice and improbable cool, Cochran chooses to meet the adversity of others with the attitude of an ingratiating father rather than a true competitor.

His words of warmth cover hostility like a heavy blanket as he pacifies a frightened Challis and Ellie upon discovering a woman (“Marge,” acted by Garn Stevens) with a horribly and unnaturally disfigured face being carted out of her motel room.

That’s right—a strange and alarming death at the same motel Challis and Ellie happen to be occupying. It does but increase the budding intrigue; and not incrementally, at that, as the audience, in but a few frames prior, witnessed a blue ray of death literally shoot from a micro-chip (attached to the trademark of one of those Silver Shamrock masks) straight to Marge’s mug, burning her face wide open to reveal a mess of a meltdown accompanied by a great many insects emerging from a mush of skin.

For fans of horror seen, as in special effects, this scene marks a highlight in Halloween III while simultaneously asserting its separation from the shadow-heavy and gore-less suspense of Carpenter’s initial chapter. Simply put: the makeup and special effects here are effectively gruesome. Looks like a plague burst from Marge’s face.

Marge Plague Face

But anyways, back to Cochran, as he is indeed the focus of this tale as it unwinds. As Challis and Ellie observe this unparalleled and horrific discovery—Challis even tries to assert his doctor self to get a good look at Marge, but is coldly turned aside by a living stiff, one of Cochran’s drones—Cochran placates them both, announcing that Marge will be taken to . . . his factory (what? cries the viewer) for, the most “marvelous treatment.”

While the rational mind cries out against the thought of a woman so clearly in dire need of intensive medical treatment being carted off to a factory instead of being rushed to a hospital, Cochran’s tone, low, direct and but first warm and friendly, is indeed enough to hoodwink the simple souls trusting solely in what they hear from an authoritative voice delivered in a most unassuming manner. —It’s an old lesson to be learned again and again, isn’t it?

So this is Cochran: a man with pliable words behind a pleasing smile in the face of evil; a laudable business man, creatively responsible for such ultimately child-pleasing gags as sticky toilet paper and the soft chainsaw.


Yes, Cochran is the “all time genius of the practical joke”; a man who “has always paid attention to detail,” says Buddy Kupfer (Ralph Strait), a salesman who has sold more of Cochran’s Halloween masks than any other. Buddy, with his family in tow, is on his celebrated way to a private tour of the Silver Shamrock factory on behalf of Cochran as a personalized thank you for all his selling efforts.

Recognizing his motel partners, Challis and Ellie, Buddy convinces Cochran to let them along on the tour as well, thereby creating an avenue for exploration that Challis’ and Ellie’s combined curiosity simply cannot refuse. Cochran, sacrificing a wise discretion that would be eliminating any additional witnesses to his “special” operation, agrees to have them come along, though a heavy price be paid in the bargain for a first-hand look into the inner chambers of his modest empire.

Curious Pair (2)

Cochran’s factory and robotic henchmen may keep the town of Santa Mira guarded, ignorant and ultimately lifeless, but they cannot do so with regards to those most disloyal and perpetually disobedient creatures: yes, humans. Who else but a drunk, but a watchful drunk, at that, to strangle the mystery out of this picture with his truth-hungry hands? Throughout the ages, countless storytellers have found the mouths of the blind and drunk to house their dearest sentiments; and in this sense, Halloween III is no different. It’s . . . traditional.

Starker (Jonathan Terry), Santa Mira’s wayward truant drunk with liquor and lucid with truth, divulges much information in exchange for a nip off Challis’ bottle. Here enters some barbs on the big business tactics of Corporate America, as Starker relates: “He [Cochran] made Santa Mira what it is today—a dried up little pile of nothin’. Brought in every one of them damn factory workers from the outside. Think he’d hire me, a local boy? Turned me down flat!”

Previously in the film, when she and Challis first began investigating her father’s absence, Ellie quipped a similar line when, with a tone of gentle disappointment regarding her father’s struggle to keep up with big-business competitors, she remarked: “But business was bad. I suppose you shop at the new mall like everybody else, huh?” —Humorously enough, Ellie will be seen bringing to life a liquid staple of the mall environment, drinking a bottle of Coke at the motel, the label turned perfectly out towards the camera; Penzoil, too, will have its advertisement, the bright and shiny yellow gleaming while a man frantically enters a gas station on the run for his life. (Got to pay the bills. It’s no joke).

Santa Mira

The information offered by Starker regarding Cochran and the dusty, rural town of Santa Mira is received by Challis in the dark, both literally and figuratively speaking. Come sundown, 6:00 pm, all inhabitants of Santa Mira are to be in their homes per the town curfew ordinance—brought to you by Silver Shamrock, of course, broadcasted over the town via Silver Shamrock sponsored wires. As the sun goes down, the sterilized voice of a woman (which is actually Jamie Lee Curtis, uncredited—Halloween fans, rejoice!), politely, and totally without feeling, admonishes the town: “Please confine your activities to your home. Have a very blessed evening.”

Movie cameras show the Silver Shamrock cameras on the wire where Leonard Cohen’s bird is nowhere to be found. Silver Shamrock’s commercials also fly in and out of eyes and ears, be it through the almighty television or the radio waves. Beyond Silver Shamrock produced noise, there’s hardly a peep in Santa Mira. All is quiet, all is obedient and all is damned, watched by the second and expertly scored by Carpenter and Howarth who are, compositionally, at their best. Look at ’em down there: Fire minds. Water hands.

Carpenter and Howarth

So far, with its drone bots, abuse of power via tools of technology/thunderous media machinations, and kills complete with gruesome special effects, Halloween III has shown audiences some science fiction and horror motifs that would satisfy most any horror fan. Well, yeah, but then again, there’s that name, that dreaded, stupid name: Halloween. How could they call it Hall . . . .

But hey, what about the “witchcraft entering the computer age,” as one of the taglines suggests. Here’s a grand leap from the small, nowhere-nothing-Haddonfield-like story of a mysteriously evil boy; here we have a man, Cochran, who covers his face with nothing inhuman, yet contrives an unquestionably evil gag targeting children across the United States. “I do love a good joke, and this is the best joke ever: a joke on the children,” says Cochran with a tone bordering on gaiety (for him, at least). Then, to Challis, with a quick and grave tonal shift: “You don’t really know much about Halloween? You’ve thought no further than the strange custom of having your children wear masks and go out begging for candy.”


Cochran then heads off to the heart of his Silver Shamrock operation, the control room. The central control room is alive with artificial life bustling about, the drones occupied making preparations, checking, calculating. The room is full of machines, some broadcasting the infinitely annoying Silver Shamrock commercial (crafted to the tune of “London Bridges”); others displaying the futuristic, sci fi majesty that is a sea of screens with buttons, digitized numbers, wavelengths and graphics. Nonsensical flash for the casual viewer abounds!

Something else is in the room, too: “ancient technology”: a very special stone stolen by Cochran and his bots from Stonehenge, the Stonehenge, which provides the ancient and undying power that has somehow (is this the witchcraft element?) been harnessed in a computer chip which is embedded into each Silver Shamrock mask.

In this cold gray factory, viewers learn of Cochran’s wicked master plan: “the big giveaway,” in which children all across America wearing Silver Shamrock masks will tune in to their television sets at the same time (different time zones exist only in your world. not behind the screen of the imagination, so don’t even) and receive their final treat-disguised trick straight from Stonehenge’s awesome and deadly power. Yes, sit at home, watch TV, wait for a prize, get blown to death—the Americans are easy enough.

Pumpkin Broadcast

Cochran, not to be considered foolish, understands clearly how with just such a little push, droves of people, like leaves, can be moved with a touch as light as an autumnal breeze. To achieve his ends, Cochran goes where the people go: TV land. But he goes as a foreigner from a place where no television set sterilizes the living.

Cochran comes from a place where men, women and children watch from their “wattles of clay the hills red with the blood of animals and children” during the Festival of Samhain. With sight, with color, with sound, the American children are given their command through the window they’ve learned to trust (yes, the television); and they follow the order just as they are taught to do, buying up Cochran’s masks, anxiously awaiting the big night.

And so this piece comes to an end with a clip of not only what’s to come for the kids, but also what makes Halloween III worth the watch. All of the horror of what one man is capable of, the dark humor of the world and the cruel blooms of one society within it, the icy arrows of science fiction and cringe-worthy special effects, they’re all here. Take a look yourself at what makes Halloween III truly what it is, and happy freaking Halloween already!

Film Reviews

A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose And A Viewer Is A Prisoner: A Review of the Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment PosterThe Stanford Prison Experiment (2015) is a film about what it means to be human, with a special emphasis on what it feels like to suffer and to know pain. Of course, it’s also about the Stanford prison experiment, which is portrayed so realistically, one wonders why a film was even made about it at all.

Those searching frames for facsimiles of what they learned in Psych class are likely to be pleased, finding that, within these artificial halls of realism, viewers are trained not to wonder, but to condemn their imaginations under director Kyle Alvarez’s strict, no-tolerance policy demanding them to do so. An appropriate tag-line for this film could’ve been, “Here it is. Again.”

There is no escape for the audience, save a solitary scene that takes place, presumably, at the home of Dr. Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) and his girlfriend, Dr. Christina Maslach (Olivia Thirlby). All other scenes are shot within the Stanford University hall chosen for the experiment and recreated for this film, which is incredibly effective at creating and incubating the heavy, somber mood that simply does not leave The Stanford Prison Experiment. Nor the viewer, for that matter.

But I go too fast . . . What is this experiment?—A group of willing, college-age males are chosen by Dr. Zimbardo and his graduate staff, along with a former prison inmate/current advisor, Jesse, (Nelsan Ellis) to simulate the experience of prison life by enacting roles as guards and prisoners in a mock prison created at Stanford University during the summer of 1971. All are observed continuously by Zimbardo and his staff, who sit back and watch what unfolds from a safe distance. What is it that determines the students’ roles in the experiment? A mere coin toss.

“We’ve embellished very little,” said Alvarez during the introduction he provided for the Winchester Film Club. The Stanford prison experiment (the actual experiment) being not a muted, mysterious nor un-documented occurrence, the film aridly translates reports of the experiment via audio/video recreation—nothing is happening here but what is already known and previously documented. So why do it? Why choose to cloak something that just is in an art form when not a thing new or distinct is to be introduced to the public about it?—I don’t know either.

Which brings us to The Stanford Prison Experiment’s strength and, probably (this reviewer cannot fully decide) saving grace—the talented young cast.

Viewers experience all the dramatic capabilities of pain-addled and heavy human emotional trauma within the characters; specifically, within the dramatic interplay between the guards and prisoners, their role assignations and the consequences thereof. This relationship is the vehicle for all of the The Stanford Prison Experiment’s movement into a dense, mind-probing experience; one that leaves audience members feeling anchored to the floor when the credits appear.

Though it lacks in creativity, Alvarez’s follow-the-rules-and-make-what-happened-happen-again style is quite effective at inducing the feeling of confinement within the frame, which, for this story, is both fitting and feels . . . proper, dull as it is. As viewers, our sight is limited to what occurs within the artificial prison; we are fully immersed. After Day One, the mind is even ready to dispel the term, artificial, as rules are broken that not only jeopardize the experiment, but also the safety of all participants as well, ushering in a minute thrill in the form of a question: Just how far is this going to go? Or, just how far is Zimbardo going to allow this to go?

Crudup, as the experiment’s progenitor and future figurehead, Dr. Zimbardo, strikingly resembles his character, Russell Hammond, from Almost Famous (2000). Add about ten years after Stillwater’s farewell you’ve got Russell finally getting his shit together. There are even intrinsic similarities between the two characters. Like Russell, Zimbardo’s getting off on the feelings of others, searching for the “real.” Though now, as a psychologist, it’s more socially and, technically speaking, ethically, acceptable for him to do so. However, Dr. Russell Z., the professor, is also dating one of his students, which, along with the goatee he wears (less a symbol of good than evil in film), is likely to impress upon modern-day viewers the likes of an absent-minded and untrustworthy figure of authority. Ethically speaking, of course.

But before you go humming “Fever Dog,” remember, this film is about the experiment; what happened and how it affected those it happened to. The talents of Ezra Miller (Prisoner 8612) and Tye Sheridan (Prisoner 819) in particular, as prisoners experiencing true pangs induced by the erasure of their identities, confront viewers with the pain of one suffering at the unmerciful and demeaning hands of another simply because one has been designated to rule, the other to be ruled. “You have no right to fuck with my head!” screams Prisoner 8612 with a terror-stricken animal’s fury.

There are no surprises when considering the facts. Any human being aware of roles played and playing won’t find much worth the adjective, thrilling, in this film. Power conferred by authority from a distance is carried to the utmost degree of severity, which pushes the audience around much like the guards physically and emotionally push the prisoners. Humiliation ensues, via convincing roles of terror from actors, Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and James Frecheville, who, as prison guards, expertly show how quickly and with just such a little push, man becomes beast-like, reason or no.

Though I’ve failed to come up with a reason to justify The Stanford Prison Experiment’s translation into film, I won’t deny being moved by the film’s emotional depth; carrying that out of the theatre and into my life for the evening. There might’ve been some pretty good reasons why this project was “around town for a really long time,” as Alavarez remarked in his introduction—perhaps because the idea is but an empty cell? Nevertheless, it’s here now, and for what it lacks in originality, in creativity, The Stanford Prison Experiment surely makes up for in intensity of feeling.

This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

Film Reviews

Cult of Silence: A Review of Karyn Kusama’s, The Invitation

The Invitation 2015 PosterUnder Karyn Kusama’s direction, The Invitation (2015) is a sharp thrill; tightly knit, well suspended. Tension builds exceedingly, exuding like molasses from frame to frame. The mind exclaims (and some audience members actually did exclaim) behind the eyes following the trail of scenes—point being, engagement with this film hardly appears a choice, until it’s over and you’ve had the time to think your participation through. A most powerful and captivating movie, The Invitation.

Starring Michiel Huisman, Logan Marshall-Green and John Carroll Lynch, The Invitation, outwardly, is a story of friendship, of reunion, of bonds, of human links and the desire for those links to transcend the pain that can be one life feeling alone under the weight of the world. Inwardly, we have here a tale artfully constructed that prompts viewers to ask just how far the human mind is willing to go to fire its person to action with the goal of transcending/escaping/avoiding feelings dark, burdensome and consummately destructive.

The Invitation begins with an introduction to the films strongest character, Will (Marshall-Green). Much about Will points to suffering. As viewers watch him driving in the opening sequence, Will appears to be staring well beyond his point of sight, instead looking backwards in his mind, sinking in a somber reflection.

And why wouldn’t he be, when considering where he’s heading? Will and his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), are driving to his ex-wife, Eden’s (Tammy Blanchard) dinner party being held at the same house they once attempted to raise a family in—a failure the severity of which, in terms of pain and suffering, seems to have brought nearly all but death to the two young adults.

Kusama, in her effective way of storytelling, directs the audience to follow Will closely; consequently, viewers become attendees at the dinner party, arriving with Will and Kira to participate in the evenings carefully arranged events. Through Will, viewers catch a glimpse of he and Eden’s previous life together, which is critical in framing this night in its true context. This is evinced in flashback scenes, horrific rifts in consciousness in which an emotionally fractured Will suffers from visions past, undoubtedly fueled by the sense-connection with objects within the arena of his great pain. In these flashbacks, viewers hardly recognize Will—hair short, clean-shaven; absolutely not a single trace of the Jesus-like visage that brands him now.


Will’s languid, stultified movement, disheveled appearance and mostly detached demeanor suggest that his pain harbored in the past holds much of his person there as well. Will appears on the fringe, already carrying too much, and the film has just begun. This is a man in the throes of something awful, which is a brilliant stroke on behalf of his character, as audiences cannot fully trust in his guidance, as Will is clearly intoxicated with grief.

Let the party begin! Enter the guests, but mostly confusion.

It’s been two years since Will or any of his friends, Tommy (Mike Doyle), Choi (Karl Yune), Gina (Michelle Krusiec), Claire (Marieh Delfino) or Miguel (Jordi Vilasuso) have seen/heard from Eden. When we arrive with Will, all appears well under the circumstances, convoluted as they are—again, a man (Will) and woman (Eden), formerly married, reunite in the home they once shared and lost a son in, surrounded by their former friends and things, joined by the woman’s new husband, David (Huisman). Yes, all appears honky dory, for what it’s worth.

Not too long, though, before Will’s vision, a sharp split between horrid past dreams and a painful, present reality, begins to discern signs presaging disaster.


There’s a couple of guests none of the friends recognize. One, introduced to the party by David as “Sadie” (Lindsay Burdge), is but a thyrsus short of donning the garb of a manic Bacchae. Sadie, in her own unique way, somewhat similar to Will, appears quite distracted. Once she professes her love for an entire group of people she just met, the picture of one who went to Burning Man and never quite came back, a black widow in the barn netting the unwary with pleasure-promises, emerges as an increasingly volatile addition to this increasingly odd get-together. Sadie is presented to all as a sort of “house pet” in David and Eden’s new home—something not one guest is comfortable with, but nevertheless reserves their true feelings in a cult of silence binding the old friends in more ways than one.

Added to the guest list is yet another stranger, Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch). Pruitt is Lynch’s bulking death sentence of a character from Zodiac (2007). Just try and tell the difference between the two. Soft as he may appear talking high on forgiveness, Pruitt proves about as merciful as a shrike, cozy as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music (1975).


Who are these fucking people?! Why are they here? What’s wrong with Eden? seems to emanate from the minds of the guests, expressed through the eyes showing bafflement and disclosed somewhat discreetly through all the half-drunken blathering and largely artificial cheer; yet it finds expression only through Will’s voice, synonymous with the voice of the audience. Will dares to break through the cult of silence; does it alone, with results varying considerably. “Can we (the audience) trust him?” is a question that drives The Invitation along at a slow, but powerful pace. Impossible to look away.

All of the wonderful epicurean delights (the extravagant, last supper-like banquet, outrageously expensive red wine and red velvet cake) of the evening and bright reunion cheerfulness serve as a smokescreen when considering some of the special precautions that have been taken. Safety measures, David concludes. Windows within the home are barred. David locks doors; keeps the keys on his person. Cell phones won’t work. And, added to these startling facts, the group gets a surprise screening of the “look at our cult and special happiness video.”—Wait, WHAT!?

Yes, the hardest pill to swallow for the evening is the revelation of what Eden’s really been up to the past two years. Sure, she was in Mexico. But this was no leisure trip, not a vacation. Strange has grown stranger . . . .

We have here a group of individuals, each united by a traumatic past event, broken thoroughly and yearning for a kind of forgiveness that will allow their lives renewal in meaning and the strength to fight down what nearly took them entirely.

As members of this group, David, Eden, Sadie and Pruitt say what you might expect them to about achieving happiness in a tone indicative of the mindset of one who feels, truly, that they’ve somehow evolved, somehow transcended age-old manacles of pain and anguish; and what’s more, can freely dispel the truth, with pinpoint accuracy, that points to how everyone else has not done so, yet most certainly could if they’d only receive the truth secured within the confines of the group—there is no life but group life; no love but group love. Riff raff, in short.

I’m wholly engaged watching this film unfold. As a member of this dinner party, I feel Will’s frustration when finally, pressed yet again by the indomitable will behind the groups “special” members, Will lashes out at David, excitedly stating: “You don’t know me. You can’t.” attempting to ward off the condescending “Come on, dear brother, why so suspicious of us?” talk flopping out of David’s mouth. I hear Bukowski reading from “The Genius Of The Crowd”: “and those who preach peace do not have peace / those who preach love do not have love / . . . beware the knowers.”

Last Supper

Promises both idealistic and empty as balloons, disguised as truth, fall their frail forms into nothingness, wilting words from oh-so-seriously loving mouths promising escape from what generations of men and women have lived and died in. “Pain is optional,” says a sure-mouthed Eden, her eyes sinking behind the glaze of a chemically induced intoxication. “Come and play with us, Danny. Forever… and ever… and ever.”

A shield comes over Will as he fights with his weapon of sense through other voices claiming they’re off “to a better world, to peace,” in this enrapturing film exploring a modern-day representation of an increasingly interesting human experience.

Bolstering The Invitation’s action is the film’s skeletal score, a haunting, prickly set of sparsely spread out notes effective in their ability to incite one’s awareness of malaise like a fast hand of nimble fingertips racing up the spine.

100 minutes and not a second wasted, this is The Invitation. Sacrifice this much of your life for a thriller you won’t soon be forgetting.

This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

Film Reviews

Watching Youth Attempt To Drive A Stake Through Centuries Of Evil: 30th Anniversary Screening Of Fright Night At The Alamo Drafthouse

Fright Night Movie Poster

I saw Fright Night (1985) as an adolescent. The rental copy chosen was well preserved in the coffin that has become the VHS tape. Seeing this movie again, I’m reminded how Fright Night, with reference to genre, makes for a delightful mash-up. Of what? you ask. Okay, fine. Comedy, mostly. Of horror, too, of course. Of vampire horror, in particular. Anything else? Yes, of course. But really, let’s not overdo it. This isn’t a “think piece,” Mr. Fong-Torres.

At the end of the trailer, a man tells you: “If you love being scared, this might be the night of your life.” Brilliant. A coin toss. Fright deferred from the responsibility of the filmmakers to that of chance entirely. Sounds  something like, “Horror fans, if you don’t like it, we didn’t make any promises.” At least Hollands is courageous.

Fright Night opens up to a sleepy suburban town bathed in the blue light of an exceptionally bright moon. As fits suburbia, it is but the sound of a television only that stirs the heavy stillness of the supernal night. The camera creeping to an open window parallels the eerily effective killer-behind-the-camera view mastered in such landmarks as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). And let us not forget just how close in years those films are to Fright Night. Yes, Holland’s showing us something familiar, isn’t he?

“Where’s this trail leading us?” asks not a few viewers, especially after the bloodthirsty invocation wrapped in the words, “Come, sit here beside me on the veranda,” come seductively delivered from an unseen mouth; presumably, one we’re about to encounter, fang-first. What suspense!

And . . .

Shit. Our presumptions—what happened?! Not what we anticipated. It’s . . . funny?! There’s no vampire; there’s no blood. It’s just a movie playing within a movie. A movie as background noise, used by characters Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and Amy Peterson (Amanda Bearse) in Charley’s bedroom to snuff out the music of their teenage love under the old, lecherous moon. There you have it: Funny, and, realistic.

From the get-go, we’ve gleaned a message from Mr. Holland: No, what you’re about to see isn’t everything else in horror released in the past ten years or so. Forget it. We can have some fun.

Gazing into reels with eyes wide and wild with the sights, viewers see unfolding before them the tale of a vampire moved-in next door to the boy next door dating the girl next door in a nondescript nowhere-nothing town.

If you grew up during this time (late 80’s, early 90’s), in such a small town, then nostalgia is likely to bite down harder than the maw of some indefatigable beast of a deathless burden while watching this film. Like those charismatic creatures of the night, nostalgia can leave one hell of a wicked mark, feelings festering for years on end.

Disgust-worthy special effects, as well as elementary lines of dialogue delivered poorly, yet humorously—“So far, everything has been like it was in the movies. We just have to keep hoping.” —push the film along with a force of past awareness of horror successes and the comedic courage to do away with them in lieu of creating something slightly different.

The otherworldly, exotic element characteristically portrayed through the vampire role, is acted by the West Virginian born Chris Sarandon, whose character name, “Jerry Dandrige,” fits the country roads star not at all. Which, consequently, bolsters Sarandon’s man-of-the-world demeanor when, as a centuries-old vampire, Dandrige is damningly placed alongside Tom, Dick and Harry in a faceless village of reality-whipped yokels.

Oh sweet, bloody wine of Christ! It’s hard enough to be a teen, let alone one facing Mark Ruffalo’s father of a vampire next door! But it’s not like Charlie’s entirely alone in his plight.

Charlie’s got a wonderfully understanding mother; flighty, to be sure, yet caringly attentive. One whose own cavernous vacancies of love instill in her a quiet desire for her son to find his own happiness, instead of burying his love-hope within her own loneliness, as she so intimates with the words, “Thank you for helping Charlie with his homework” to Amy.

And Amy, what an innocent sweetheart. Sure, she’s into herself, mostly—teenager—but she also loves deeply, as when in reference to the outright insane notion of a real-life vampire living next door, Charlie reluctantly asks: “Amy, you don’t believe me, do you?” to which Amy replies: “I love you, Charlie.” She loves him enough to sacrifice her own believe of what constitutes truth; and that’s saying something substantial about her character.

Charlie’s also got a Mustang. Sure, those splotchy white circles that look like blown up white blood cells mar the cherry red paint considerably but, IT’S A MUSTANG. Within the context of this film and youth culture, surely that’s got to be some kind of big deal. Right?

Despite all that, things are just plain hard. Nobody believes Charlie about this vampire foolishness. And who do you turn to when nobody believes you?—Somebody you can trust is crazier than you are. Charlie implores Evil (Stephen Geoffreys) and legendary horror actor turned television host, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), to open their black fountains of arcane knowledge and save his silly life.

If you haven’t seen Fright Night, undoubtedly you’re missing out on many laughs and, summarily, just a plain, old-fashioned creepy good time in the 80’s, adventuring alongside Charlie and his pals as they war through the fiery agony of a bullying beast unable to rest; one irascible, fanged lothario as vindictive as hell. What could be more entertaining than watching youth make the attempt to drive a stake through centuries of evil?

This review was originally published by, FROM THE PROJECTION ROOM, film blog of THE WINCHESTER FILM CLUB.

Film Reviews

Good Time Carnage: Jurassic World In Review

Idominus Rex“We are so trivial by nature that only amusements can keep us from dying for real.”
—Louis-Ferdinand Celine

Teeth PosterForty years ago, Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975) launched the “summer blockbuster.” Hungry eyes packed theatres en masse to watch people just like them gobbled up on-screen by a white shark that just wouldn’t quit. Consequently, the summer theatre experience had evolved.

Since that summer of ’75, little has evolved in the realm of the summer blockbuster. Many even argue it has devolved a considerable degree; that it’s merely a corporate arena offering cheap thrills for two hours worth of schlock and utter nonsense; that what little feeling might be captured otherwise is intentionally nullified by an overdose of technologically induced fireworks designed to wow audiences out of their wallets again and again.

(Not so) oddly enough, many arguing said points are also standing in line at the box office, tweeting invective and sucking each others lemon heads while waiting for tickets. Which is only to say that, as awful as summer blockbuster’s can be, we, that is, the audience, we’re still holding out for something; still intrigued and curious enough to push out the front door and return to the movies. #masochists

Yes, our modern-day visual effects are sickle sharp, sure; we can show like never before. But what of the gifted storytellers? Those able to visually construct a tale that so deeply stirs a group of strangers, they feel imbued with that ebullient magic only the theatre can call its own?

Surely Hollywood’s not the kind of town to offer what isn’t desired, agreed? So are we just a bad audience, plain and simple; a bad audience getting a bad movie; getting exactly what we asked for? —I don’t know, but I get ideas, and think accepting responsibility isn’t such a bad one. But I’m growing older. #dusk

Nevertheless, with Universal, Marvel and other cash cows of the imagination disseminating their turgid creations across screens nationwide, summer after summer, audiences at least have a larger number of summer blockbusters to choose from . . . . #icantevendreamupasummerblockbusterdefenseletaloneargueoneeffectively

Looks like we’ve seen too much . . . . The thrill is blasé. Need a bigger dose. Or so it seems, here in the darkness where Jurassic World (2015) director, Colin Trevorrow, has given modern-day audiences exactly what they’ve been asking for. #ohshit

As I reclined on plush as soft as an out of reach cloud, I wondered: How in the hell could this happen? After Jurassic Park (1993) and subsequent chapters, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001), how could anyone craft yet another semi (yes, I’m stretching it) plausible tale for these once extinct creatures to coexist with human beings?—I know. Foolish, right? An answer-less voice of slop house sense, it speaks: “It’s just business, baby.” Then it asked me if I wanted a Coke. Shame on me, I did.

Here I am, caffeinated, butter-fingered, down the cost of a family meal, and I’m already mentally pissing in the wind, wondering about this big picture.

Jurassic World opens with a brief and awkward goodbye sequence where brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), depart hastily to the “great” and “awesome” and “epic” journey awaiting them. That’s right, off the children go, parents’ blessing and all, to an island inhabited by dinosaurs. Let the tension begin.

Though it may not be exactly the same deathtrap of a park from those uber-experimental 90’s, surely from watching the trailer above it’s quite obvious that this world has all the violent promise of reality and restoration of natural balance one might expect to see when considering what man has done within the context of this story, i. e. make dinosaurs.

This may be Jurassic World; however, Jurassic Park is but a bone’s throw away. One sees John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) portentous words, “I don’t blame people for their mistakes, but I do ask that they pay for them,” carried on the wings of Pteranodons, anticipating the inevitably burdensome price to be paid for humans who look to dinosaurs somewhat as we, here on Earth, look to cats and dogs.

There’s a crass brand of banality impressed upon a number of these dinos, especially the docile plant eaters; they’re effectively portrayed as safe and boring “park-pets” during interaction sequences in the first half of the film. Quite the uncanny relationship they have with mankind, particularly with children.

Children ride herbivores like a jackass at the petting zoo while I chomp popcorn and sip sugar fizz. I even snicker before my mind examines its thought under a reasonable light. —Something naturally sickening and way off kilter, here. Again, the tension, it’s building, and that’s one feat Jurassic World undoubtedly achieves with staggering consistency.

I’m still itchy within the frame, though. Still just can’t accept it. How!? How again!? Flashbacks, on-screen memories of horror—I see it all now in rapid succession: terrified kids trapped in a kitchen with Veloci(Utah)raptors; Sam Jackson’s chain-smoking over endless park malfunctions (Jurassic Park); the love that drove Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) back to the island/his worst nightmare and . . . A FUCKING T-REX STOMPING FREELY THROUGH SAN DIEGO! (The Lost World: Jurassic Park). These on-screen memories slam my mind like the rock-hungry breakers that buffet the island coast. —Losing my bearings, asking: How again?

Back to the movie . . . . The plane arrives, the boys are on the move, and what a world it is! Posh hotels, chain restaurants, upscale shopping, the hubbub of men, women and children—that is, families—all here, a veritable microcosm of life on this picturesque, sylvan landscape with its great mountainous peaks, dense brush, green slopes and verdure as far as the cycloptic camera eye will allow us to see. Sure it’s been tied down with corporate chains, pockmarked by the finite touch of billionaires and fools, but that only serves to help modernity see it most clearly. Dinosaurs screened on a mirror reflecting the sweaty desire of piggish thoughts for parrot minds. #harsh

Not just a couple of kids, some scientists and a lawyer on the island this time, no, but John Hammond’s dream, the public! Yes, the public, the people in droves, they’re all in and Jurassic World is booming as an exotic, thrill-seeking paradise, the T-Rex of family vacations, if you’ll permit such nonsense.

Zach and Gray settle in, meet up with their superficially warm and friendly, Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who, for most of the film, strikes hardest as a career-minded automaton controlling a sliver of woman to which she’s inextricably attached. Claire is more a business ideal than a human being, a monster not wholly unlike those engendered by geneticists on the island, differing only in that this one was not created in the lab.Claire Prototype

Claire’s piercing words delineate little beyond dollars and cents when it comes to her primary concern, the “assets” (her term for the dinosaurs), except when she’s disappointingly removing herself from the emotional ties of family, faltering with frail words that show an embarrassingly infantile jab at truly meaningful communication—but that’s messy, and, also far too resembles an actually relatable story, so we’d simply better not. It’s summer and we’re moving on!

Yes, dinosaurs are big business. And as the boys prepare for their now aunt-less adventure, Claire readies her mind by writing off familial duty as an unnecessary expense. Corporate sponsors are coming, and they’ve an appetite as big as an anything one might encounter from the Jurassic era—“Men are the thing to be afraid of, always, men and nothing else” (also Celine).

The appetites of the corporate guests have been whetted by the promise of a scary new big one, the Idominus Rex (it found you at the top of the page). Idominus Rex, an amalgam engineered entirely to wow and horrify park attendants (from a safe distance, of course) is comprised of several different creatures, a veritable hodgepodge of dinosaur, amphibian, fish and who knows what the hell else. Point is, it’s a monster, engineered with the sole purpose of stupefying youngsters who are bored by Tyrannosaurs, Raptors and other stale scales. #nomercy

My stupid brain just won’t quit: Is Trevorrow expertly mocking the modern taste for excess? Is he doing this intentionally? Is Jurassic World artfully effective because it’s literally showing what the desire to see such audaciousness could actually look like, all the while stuffing the audience’s face with it, their quiet participation screaming satisfaction in spades?

I don’t know, but there are some genuinely horrifying moments within the frames bordering Ido & other incredibly irked carnivores; to that degree, something has been achieved / shown for all its worth.Pissed Off

But here in Jurassic World, we’ve little time for deliberation. Simply fatten up on this visual feast or go home. What’s more, with so little action occurring thus far, the thrill seekers are getting antsy. Time to satiate the old appetite. And here we have a true stroke of brilliance.

Comes hanging tensely on a cable suspended hundreds of feet in the air is, Spielberg’s white shark by its little tail. It’s about to be fed in front of / to a new generation with an even bigger appetite demanding an even BIGGER form to match. Even further, not nature, but man, made this monster. Puke or chomp, the time is come.

The symbolic Great White, previously a symbol of terror to audiences, is now but a fish of bait, and it’s dangling over an aquatic tank the size of Washington, D. C. before something almost as big as anthropomorphism lunges from the depths after its meal. The audience, both within and behind screen, gets a gargantuan dose of monstrous, violent glory bridging the gap all the way from ‘75 to ‘15 in but a few definitive frames. —An homage? —Who cares! That scene is over and there’s no time to think it through. The Idominus Rex is on the loose!

—And that, is your story, without extraneous analysis, of course: a cat and mouse chase after an extremely volatile, abominable laboratory creation, on the lam.

Idominus Rex is an adept hunter, and no foolish creature according to what is said and shown of it on-screen. Equipped with the gift of camouflage and the intelligence to employ its ability with cunning ease, Idominus Rex fools the creatures of reason with very little energy expended. Ido escapes its carefully designed cage like ordering the medium soda for its security of a free refill: so fast, and with so very little thought. #bladderbomb

Joining the hunt to salvage the investment, the asset, the spectacular, Idominus Rex, is Owen (Chris Pratt), a rugged outdoors-man type with a set of morals as hard as his bicep, and an ooh-rah, can-do country attitude to boot. Owen’s conscientious remarks regarding common sense, which might be paraphrased as such: “Don’t build dinos. That’s stupid and wrong. But I need the money,” are expressed coolly with curt phrases and expertly crafted squints. Audiences will root for him, because he means well, and he’s portrayed as . . . cool.

A man of action, Owen accepts his station, whatever that may be, and acts accordingly. Consequently, this character trait proves to be the saving grace of a not a few park employees. Hell, dinosaurs even trust him. Well, as far as any human being can discern, at least. Within a group of highly intelligent and communicative raptors, Owen plays a key role in leadership as their alpha. Contemplate that between your sips of fizz. Better yet, go and get your refill. Live it up. It’s summer.Riders On The StormRaptors At BayAs exaggerated and foolhardy as Owen may seem (especially in the “James Dean & Sons” and “Cool It, Boys” shots above), he is the strongest character tie to the genuinely edifying elements of human nature within Jurassic World.

Not once does Owen wholly accept his relationship with raptors as hierarchical, even when his obvious gift of human-dinosaur connection is (speciously) validated by the macho Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) for the sinister purpose of seducing Owen and his raptor gang into some dinosaur-soldier sub-plot nonsense. Which shows Owen’s not easily tempted, nor stirred by the dubious intentions of his fellow-man, even if he’s working for him.

Yes, a man of character in this outlandish world of brutality and egregious disrespect for the natural order of life and surrounding environs. Holy unholy shit. Who knew?

As in life, situations of a tragic quality bond those physically and emotionally invested in them. So it is here in Jurassic World. Not until the looming threat of disaster that has been amassing in the minds of the audience finds its expression in the characters, do we see the less than formidable aspects of humanity begin to show itself tenfold. Courage, honor, altruism, baited by disaster, here they come.

Claire Awakening SceneClaire returns to life with a fascinating rebirth; accepts and wholeheartedly encompasses new roles as Aunt, warrior and lover, with an emotionally charged verve. The robot, once bearing her name, is now convincingly defunct.

Zach and Gray glean a stronger bond along their quest as well, terrorized as they are just on the other side of video-game indifference and the safety of a casually sarcastic removal from life as it truly is: wild, unpredictable.

Just over two hours later, with a full stomach of popped kernels and a bottomless bubble-flood of fizz, and here you are, arrived finally at the summer blockbuster’s end. A trifle bloated, happy to stand, yet wary of moving too quickly, you might wonder why you chose this experience. That’s only natural. #givethanks

All the same, for sights, for action, for some genuine moments of out-and-out terror, Jurassic World proves to be a rather fitting occasion to simply relax with a fat ass blockbuster and cut loose some hungry thoughts, if only for a couple of hours.

Film Reviews

Lon Chaney—Laugh, Clown, Laugh

I. (Some of) The Many Faces of One Monstrous TalentChaney (590x873)

“My whole career has been devoted to keeping people from knowing me.”
—Lon Chaney

You can be anything you want to be . . . . While those words have been known to trigger a reverie or even draw sly quips out of sidelong mouths, for some, they invite another form of participation.

For the actor, Leonidas “Lon” Chaney, anything became anyone, and he became quite a lot.

A method actor before method acting, this seminal performer of the silent film era is a paragon of excellence in character creation and portrayal, with a world-famous specialization in representing the grotesque and spurned.

QuasimodoA master of interpretation, of transmuting the lovelorn suffering of characters painted with darkness into fine art, Chaney is widely knownThe Phantom (672x873) for bringing to life such legendary creations as Quasimodo, the hunchback from the 1923 Vampire Professor Edward C. Burkefilm-adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame; the hideous Phantom “Erik” of The Phantom of the Opera (1925), based on the novel by Gaston Leroux; and sharp-toothed vampire professor Edward C. Burke of Dracula (1931) director Tod Browning’s now lost film, London After Midnight (1927).

Chaney’s dedication to his craft in order to achieve his legendary physical transformations is just as legendary as the creations themselves.

A makeup master before such a title gained recognition and respect in Hollywood, Chaney toted a tiny bag of scant materials to transform his person, set to set, by aid of his ebullient imagination and some good old fashioned ingenuity.

In his book, The Horror People, John Brosnan writes that Chaney, “being a natural artist from the word go, got his make-up kit and his own stuff together and took it to Universal. And when they asked, ‘Anybody play a Chinaman?’ he’d say, ‘Yeah, I can play a Chinaman.’ He’d make himself up as a Chinaman, go and work for ten minutes, come back, then go out and play a Greek. And this way make three or four pictures a day.”

In addition to transforming ethnicities, Chaney also accepted roles that physically challenged him in strange, bizarre even, ways.

In The Miracle Man (1919), Chaney is “The Frog,” a conman contortionist who teams with other reprobates to use a holy healer in swindling small-town folk out of their lucre. It was a breakthrough role for Chaney that made widely known his ability to do well what others either would not, or simply could not, do.

George Loane Tucker, director of The Miracle Man, remarked that Chaney filled the role of a contortionist much better than the actual contortionists who tried out for the part. Which created quite a buzz over the actor and his unusual talent, leading to additional opportunities to showcase it.

The Penalty posterIn the film adaptation of Gouverneur Morris’ novel, The Penalty (1920), Chaney is “Blizzard,” a cold crime boss whose mistakenly lopped off legs further exacerbate his wickedness, igniting a violent thirst for vengeance against the doctor who did the deed and the city of San Francisco housing the great wealth he seeks for his own.

Chaney’s approach to creating the realistic effect of being an amputee marked a turning point in his preparation for roles, as he went above and beyond what might have been expected of him to not just act like, but become (as close as possible) Blizzard—this to most effectively transmit the character’s physical and emotional torment before viewers. Seems an actor’s staple now, but by many accounts, such a marked effort was quite rare for an actor in Chaney’s time.

So as to truthfully create the effect of being without legs, Chaney manacled his. Legs bound behind him, he walked on his knee caps until the pain, said to be excruciating, won out.

Though any mark of this extreme discomfort debilitating Chaney’s performance is entirely absent on screen, what is seen is Chaney’s remarkable talent for physically, mentally and emotionally embodying the life of his character—a talent that had begun to show itself in a most distinguished and magical way, readily bedazzling movie-goers, stirring people up.

Gaining much critical praise for those challenging roles, Chaney’s creativity was recognized for its potential and celebrated by giving him free reign to take his craft to greater heights. Not one to rest, Chaney got busy thinking and creating, donning even greater masks, taking on even more anguish, eventually giving life on screen to a few of cinema’s most memorable and cherished characters and performances.

Chaney’s vivaciously creative mind afforded him the means to imagine the appearances of characters and re-create what he envisioned with his makeup, while his pure acting talent offered him the skill with which to bring deep feeling to those characters, humanizing any of their monstrous physical deformations by the lucid baring of their souls.

Sometimes the viewer saw fragile, heart-rending beauty (Quasimodo), sometimes black depravity (The Phantom). Time has shown that whatever the camera revealed, Chaney’s acting immortalized.

Tell It To The Marines posterChaney could certainly act well beyond any elaborate mask he might engender for himself, though.

His makeup-less performance as Sergeant O’Hara in Tell It to the Marines (1926) proved the actor more than capable of achieving a bare-boned, realistic portrayal; and the United States Marine Corps, so enthralled by Chaney’s realistic creation, made him the first actor ever to be inducted into the Corps as an honorary member.

Chaney’s place among the elite in cinematic history was cemented by the aforementioned characters he brought to life on screen. And though his grotesque creations brought him widespread recognition for his many creative gifts, they are but a window’s view into the temple of the actor’s talent.

As Tito Beppi / “Flik” in Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), a role Chaney reportedly cherished as one of his favorites, the viewer may indulge in a full serving of Chaney’s gifts, seeing him for the makeup mastermind he was as well as the incredible actor whose graceful movement, pantomime and deep understanding could bring the depths of the suffering man in plain sight before the camera.

II. Laugh, Clown, LaughLaugh Clown Laugh poster

Laugh, Clown, Laugh premiered April 14, 1928, the first film released solely under the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) stamp. It is a silent, black & white picture based on the Italian play Ridi Pagliacci by Gausto Martino.

The film was directed by Herbert Brenon and produced by Irving Thalberg and, in 2002, received a brand new score courtesy of composer H. Scott Salinas.

Chaney chose to fill the shoes of Tito, a travelling circus clown whose story embodies the “unrequited love” theme that Chaney so excelled in portraying throughout his career. This wasn’t the first time Chaney acted the part of a clown, though.

In 1924, Chaney began his partnership with MGM by acting the role of scientist Paul Beaumont / HE in the film, He Who Gets Slapped.

In the film, Beaumont is publicly betrayed by a wicked baron, one who has no reservations about taking credit for Beaumont’s own hard work. Standing up for himself in response to the egregious offense, Beaumont receives an additional blow—a slap to the face, much to the delight of an entire audience.He Who Gets Slapped poster

Peals of laughter crash the high, hallowed halls of science as Beaumont, now utterly alone and suffering through it, stands and takes his punishment—which has an eerie and alarming effect.

Beaumont changes career paths, becomes a professional clown, and, strangely enough, recreates his horrific experience, this time incorporating the infamous slap he received years past as part of a comedic act in which, as a clown, he is slapped repeatedly by other clowns for the public’s enjoyment, rising only to be struck down again and again.

Though somewhat less humiliating (at least publically), in Laugh, Clown, Laugh, Tito experiences deeply rooted pangs similar to Beaumont’s. Tito’s, however, stem from within.

Sharing in likeness with Beaumont, Tito comes to love a young woman who blooms in the light of another man—a handsome, self-indulgent and lascivious man of rank.

Clocking in at 73 minutes, The story of Laugh, Clown, Laugh unfolds rather quickly. But under Brenon’s direction, 73 minutes proves more than enough time to show the heartfelt story of a great and painful desire for love.

As the film opens, a young Tito and his clown-partner, Simon (Bernard Siegel), come upon beautiful Italian hills peopled by thrill-seeking peasants.  Warmly received, the clowns entertain well. Meandering through the territory, Tito discovers a toddler down by the riverbank. The girl, tied fast to a stump, sits and wails. Unable to leave the babe, Tito takes her from the wild, christens her Simonetta, and decides it best she journey with he and Simon.

Most displeased with Tito’s desire, Simon, with grave expression, is quick to caution: “Women bring bad luck!” But Tito, having none of it, and unknowingly to his own detriment, knows by the unwavering knowledge of his heart that “What the saints have sent, the sinners can’t refuse.”

This choice of Tito’s sets into motion future events that inspire the comic and painful irony of this clown’s life, offering Chaney the opportunity to showcase his uncanny ability to bring to life a fractured soul both over and under the makeup—which is a pure, unadulterated delight for viewers.

As Tito, Chaney adroitly acts the broken man. Tito is confused, sullen, distracted. As Flik (Tito in full clown makeup), Chaney excels masterfully as a surface-happy clown losing soul under the false appearance of felicity.

The juiciest, most dramatic elements of Laugh, Clown, Laugh swell to bursting during the latter half of the film, defining both Chaney’s character Tito, and the delicate, lovely haunt that is Loretta Young (just 14 years old at the time of filming), who fills the role of Tito’s radiant symbol of happiness, the young and beautiful Simonetta.

Fast forward to Simonetta’s adolescence, as the film shows the transition of time as such. No gradual transition, but an abrupt change from the babe to the girl—all the better to bring into focus the defining frames of the picture following Tito’s palpable pain.

Now a member of Tito and Simon’s show, Simonetta takes paternal direction from Tito, modeling herself after his guidance and approval of her grace in movement. But a quick change in appearance is all it takes for paternal towers to crumble in the wake of a haunting, spring-like love that cannot be, yet crushingly is—a divide that breaks the man trapped behind the makeup, the man who has to, and who must continue to, paint his smile.

Simonetta & Tito (1192x1300)When Simonetta, as a young woman, makes her debut, beauty with all her bag of tricks comes for the clown, and the hope for laughter evaporates in such a stark moment.

Tito collects and forms words to articulate his burgeoning feelings. Stunned, he speaks: “Why, Simonetta! You’re not a child anymore. You’re . . .  a woman!”

This scene in particular is one in which Chaney brings his coverless best to expose the man behind the makeup for all his weakness.

Chaney’s pure visage marvelously transforms in successive stages while Simonetta performs her interpretation of the coquette. Chaney as Tito is ecstatic, jubilant; then wounded, appalled, and finally, aghast at this beauteous impression.

The viewer is likely to be as mixed up as Tito is upon viewing this scene, as Chaney is so incredibly effective at creating pathos that the disturbing reality of a man falling in love with a young woman he has raised since childhood, one who looks to him as to a father, is hardly at the forefront of this engrossing, emotional experience.

Rather, that wave breaks as an afterthought. It’s Tito’s great sorrow, his moral dilemma of knowing the love he feels for Simonetta should never be (“It wouldn’t be right.”) and, what’s more, knowing that his life will be ultimately fruitless without it, without her, that steals the show—a testament to Chaney’s gift at creating in viewers just the feelings his characters feel.

As Flik the clown, Tito must inspire laughter from his audience despite the all-consuming love that wrenches the heart from the man. Chaney shows this masterfully, coming to life as a clown cavorting to and fro, foolishly flopping as they famously do, softly playing the fop, all the while garnering precious laughter, “a tonic for a tired world.”

Though for Tito the man, day to day living is a singular struggle—one that brings him into the office of a neurologist who assess his condition, also uniting him with future rival for Simonetta’s attention, Count Luigi Ravelli.

Ravelli suffers from uncontrollable laughter, while Tito cannot rid himself of tears. Both are essentially prescribed the same remedy: a love true.

“There’s nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight,” Chaney once quipped.

The night coming on Tito is expressed through Chaney’s magnificent talent as he takes viewers on a roller coaster of emotions (delight, joy, horror, desolation, fright) in just a few simple and predominantly makeup-less transformations—a paramount example of Chaney’s ability to masterfully create and become his character, as well as act above and beyond the makeup to expose a weak creature suffering something deep, painful and true.

Film Reviews


Mad Monster Party DVD coverAmerican directors, producers and writers, Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, have been filling eyes with wonder since founding their own production company, Videocraft International, Ltd. in 1960. The company later became Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc. and enjoyed great success producing animated features geared towards nationally celebrated holidays. Rankin/Bass Productions enjoyed a creatively robust life before shutting down production in 2002.

While the heart-warming and imaginative narratives encompassing the American Christmas holiday gave Rankin/Bass the characters and material for their most often quoted and referenced works—Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (1970) and Jack Frost (1979) —, the duo didn’t just work for Claus.

Enter Mad Monster Party (1967), quite the thrilling treat for the little monster fans.

Like the previously mentioned Christmas-themed classics both before and after it (excepting Frosty the Snowman), Mad Monster Party is a Rankin/Bass feature showcasing the aesthetically unique and unforgettable “animagic” technique that so distinguishes Rankin/Bass productions from others. Pioneered by Japanese animator, Tadahito Mochinaga, animagic is the process of animating three-dimensional objects using stop-motion photography. The results are stellar, and this recently discovered 35mm print used for the DVD release is an absolute beaut.

Featuring the voice of horror legend Boris Karloff, the multifariously, wickedly talented Allen Swift, Gale Garnett and Phyllis Diller, as well as jazz singer Ethel Ennis—the voice behind the enchanting title track—, this DVD release of Mad Monster Party serves up a sumptuous feast of the originally mesmerizing, mischief-ridden images crystal-clear.


Hungry eyes will be satiated. Ears will be filled by the superb clarity of the wonderfully eclectic blend of stylish sound in Maury Laws’ expertly crafted soundtrack. Truly no great task to see and hear the care that was rendered to a proper release of this work.

And what sights! as numerous classic, A-List movie monsters come to life on screen, animated by the flightiness of their character (Dracula in particular) as much as the entrancing animation that finds comedy and light-hearted, kid-friendly spookiness in uncanny facial expressions, gestures and puckish deeds.

Though embodying fear, the colorfully decorated monsters are simply too much fun to scare (most) young one’s outright; dialogue contributes to this. Flat as they are, the puns flying out of several mouths are fun with kids in company, and forgivable by adults buzzing on sweet nostalgia.

Story-wise, writers Len Korobkin, Harvey Kurtzman and Arthur Rankin, Jr. contributed a plausible tale uniting the monsters. Goes something like this . . . Having worked through a life rich in scientific abomination on the Caribbean Isle of Evil, Dr. Baron Boris von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) decides to step down as head of the illustrious band of Monsters. He organizes one last powwow, the infamous “party.”

Courier-bats send word the world over, drawing to the island these most distinguished guests: Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Quasimodo, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, The Creature. Present also are Dr. Frankenstein’s house specials: stunning, conniving assistant Francesca (Gale Garnett), the oafish Monster (referred to as “Fang”) and his bossy, hellcat Mate (voiced by Phyllis Diller) as well as the airheaded zombie butler Yetch (a Peter Lorre impersonation per Allen Swift).

At table, Dr. Frankenstein announces his retirement, introduces his successor (clumsy, but harmless, nephew Felix Franken, also voiced by Allen Swift) and reveals his most recent success, the fruit of his diabolical science, t-o-t-a-l  destruction—a volatile, incandescent cocktail held within a small phial capable of deconstructing any matter within seconds. A monster’s delight, right?

Such a concept as total destruction proves as tantalizing to the monsters as it does to Dr. Frankenstein himself. Which induces great stress with palpable results. And that’s when the story really blasts off . . .

. . . Each monster reacts in its own distinctive way to the dark dream of possessing such a resource. Jealousy, lies and betrayal—beasts of man, in short—congeal from their dank, murky depths, sparking who’s-the-real-monster-here? thoughts down the sharp turns of a twisting tale.

Tack on a new generation of viewers. Tack on several, the effect is the same. Since its release, Mad Monster Party has given audiences a monster-filled thrill of awesome creative power.