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.

Bathroom

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.

Overlook

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:
Jack.
Hates.

Monocaine

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.

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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?).

Drones

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.

Cochran

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.”

Gimme

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!


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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.

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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.

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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.

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Film Reviews

MAD MONSTER PARTY

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.

Monsters

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.

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