One Alone: First Man

Sunday, October 28th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) First Man Poster-small

I am a child of the Space Age. Growing up in Southern California in the sixties as the son of an aerospace worker, the sound of sonic booms from planes flying from Air Force bases in the High Desert were as ubiquitous during my childhood as Beatles’ tunes. I played with Mattel’s Major Matt Mason space toys (go on eBay and prepare to be shocked and awed), I snacked on “space food sticks” (really nasty) and drank Tang (more fun if you shook up the jar, unscrewed the lid, and inhaled the fumes than it was as a beverage), and, along with millions of other people, on the evening of July 21, 1969, I sprawled (in my footie pajamas) in front of a cabinet television set that weighed more than some of today’s cars, and watched as Neil Armstrong took his first step on the Moon. So, being a child of the Space Age, it only follows that my favorite movies are tearjerkers… tearjerkers like The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, and the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

In fact, there is nothing that gets my waterworks started faster than a scene from “1968”, the episode in From the Earth to the Moon that chronicles Apollo 8, the first manned mission to reach and orbit the Moon. When the moment comes when Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders see what no human beings in the long history of our race had ever seen before — the Earth, still and bright and silent, rising over the surface of another world… well, I need a tissue right now, just thinking about it.

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October Is Hammer Country: The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

Saturday, October 27th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Plague-of-the-Zombies-poster

I wanted to close out my Hammer-for-October articles with The Plague of the Zombies, but hesitated because the movie isn’t easily available in North America. The Anchor Bay DVD has been out of production for more than fifteen years and used copies don’t come cheap. Then, just as I was about to scratch it off the calendar and substitute The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll or Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, the news hit — Shout! Factory will release The Plague of the Zombies to Region A Blu-ray in January. For once, I picked up on the Blu-ray release announcement before making a hasty prediction about a movie never showing up in HD and looking like a dope again. So consider this a pre-release celebration.

Anyway … Zombies! Yes, Hammer Film Productions made a zombie film. The Plague of the Zombies was released in 1966 as the second half of a double bill with Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Although the Dracula film brought Christopher Lee back to the role of the count for the first time since Dracula (1958) and was the main selling point of the double feature, The Plague of the Zombies is the more intelligent and gripping film. Dracula: Prince of Darkness is beautiful but plodding, while The Plague of the Zombies is one of the best of Hammer’s mid-‘60s pictures, with a few memorable shock scenes and underlying themes that have encouraged a range of readings.

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“What A Wonderful Smell You’ve Discovered”

Friday, October 26th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

Harold_and_Maude_(1971_film)_posterWe all do it. We all have favourite lines that we quote at appropriate – and inappropriate – times. It happens even when you’re out of the house, and sometimes leads to the person you’re with asking “That’s from a movie, isn’t it?” To which the answer is pretty much always, “yup.”

The movie that gets quoted most around our house is the one I was talking about last time: The Princess Bride. Back when I was working as a temp, I used to say “Murdered by pirates is good” every time I left a particular doctor’s office. (When I passed a certain other person in the corridor, I would whistle the witch’s theme from The Wizard of Oz)

When we’re watching Jeopardy, and the contestant misses something we consider an easy one, we shout “Morons!” at the screen. It’s both an accurate representation of our feelings at that moment, and a reference to our favourite movie. It  relieves our feelings of outrage, and it’s fun.

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October Is Hammer Country: The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)

Saturday, October 20th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

man-who-could-cheat-death-poster

The Man Who Could Cheat Death arrived during the fast and thrilling early days of Hammer Horror. The studio was tearing through Gothic hits from director Terence Fisher and the talented crew at the Bray soundstages: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula, The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy (1959), The Brides of Dracula, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960). Looking at that line-up, it’s obvious why The Man Who Could Cheat Death hasn’t made much of a lasting impression. Where’s the marquee value character or monster? Also, where’s Peter Cushing, Hammer’s headliner? He’s in all these movies except The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll … and The Man Who Could Cheat Death.

This odd-movie-out of early Hammer came about because of a production deal with Paramount. Once Hammer scored huge international hits with Frankenstein and Dracula films, the major Hollywood studios were eager to make co-financing deals and offer up their best horror properties for the Hammer treatment. But Paramount didn’t have a large catalogue of horror movies like Universal did. What they gave Hammer was a little-known 1944 film, The Man in Half Moon Street, which was an adaptation of a 1939 play by Alfred Edgar under the obvious pseudonym Barré Lyndon. The material was ghoulish enough for Hammer’s purposes: a mad-scientist tale with a touch of The Picture of Dorian Grey. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster switched the story to Paris in 1890 to fit the studio’s Gothic style. Production was ready to roll with Fisher directing, Peter Cushing in the lead, and Christopher Lee as the main supporting part.

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She-Ra is Now Even More She-Ra

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 | Posted by mariebilodeau

she-ra-poster

For the first time since 1985 (that’s 33 years, people), She-Ra: Princess of Power is getting a full cartoon reboot. Her twin brother and forefather, in a strange, slightly uncomfortable and incestuous link, has already received multiple reboots, some more popular than others (New Adventures, anyone?), but She-Ra hasn’t been seen since the 80s except in some toys and very dark DC storylines. Which mostly focused around her brother, of course.

This time, She-Ra is breaking free! And, from all accounts, she represents her She-Ra-ness more than ever before.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Parker’s ‘Pulp Repurposed – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Monday, October 15th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_RobinsonCoverClassicFellow Black Gater Thomas Parker and I have been exchanging our thoughts on the various topics covered here in this column. I mentioned Horace McCoy’s Jerry Frost, head of Hell’s Stepsons, sort of a Seals team for the Air Texas Rangers (also fictional). McCoy is, of course, best-known for his novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. Which I’ve never read. Nor have I seen the movie. So, I asked Thomas. if he’d like to write a guest post on that book. And boy, did he! Read on.


“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” — Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

A while back our own Hardboiled Bob Byrne gave us a run-down of the May, 1934 issue of Black Mask, which featured a story by Horace McCoy, a writer whose fame rests solely on his 1935 novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which probably more people know from the fine 1969 film version starring Jane Fonda than from actually having read. McCoy’s novel is an ambitious piece of work, and with it he was clearly seeking to extend himself beyond the boundaries of commercial pulp – and yet, the mark of Black Mask and its ten and fifteen cent brethren is everywhere in the book. In They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, pulp atmosphere and pulp devices are deployed, but with a deadlier intent than any found in the pages of Dime Detective. Call it pulp repurposed.

In what amounts to a manifesto for the American pulp style, Raymond Chandler famously declared (in his 1944 essay, “The Simple Art of Murder”), that Dashiell Hammett had started the ball rolling because he

gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily use for these purposes.

In other words, Hammett and those who followed him were realists, in both style and substance – at least as compared with proponents of the unbearably artificial (in Chandler’s estimation, anyway) English school like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and the American S.S. Van Dine, the creator of amateur sleuth Philo Vance, dismissed by Chandler as “the most asinine character in detective fiction.”

If the American pulp style praised by Chandler consists of realistic characters with realistic motives using realistic means to commit crimes in contemporary urban settings, then They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? must be considered a prime example of the form, even more so than Chandler’s own Philip Marlowe stories, with their stainless hero and romantic patina.

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October Is Hammer Country: Hands of the Ripper (1971)

Saturday, October 13th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Hands-of-the-Ripper-poster-1“You can’t cure Jack the Ripper!”

Hammer Film Productions was a different place in the 1970s than in the 1950s and ‘60s. And although it was generally a less artistic place after in-house development stopped and the original producers left, it wasn’t an awful place. It’s similar to third season original Star Trek: more bad episodes than before, but what’s good is still damn good. You got “The Way to Eden,” but you also got “The Enterprise Incident.” With Hammer, you got the dreadful The Horror of Frankenstein, but you also got Hands of the Ripper — which, for my money, is Hammer’s best horror film of the decade. It was originally released on a double bill with Twins of Evil, making it the last great Hammer double feature.

Jack the Ripper has fueled many mystery and horror films. Hammer visited the topic in their pre-Gothic days in a 1950 period crime drama, Room to Let. It wasn’t until 1971 that the studio gave the Ripper the full horror treatment. Two treatments, in fact. Hands of the Ripper was shot at the same time as Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde, a sex-change twist on Stevenson’s novel set during the Whitechapel killings. Weird as the Sister Hyde idea may sound, it’s Hands of the Ripper that takes the dramatically more challenging and interesting approach to Jack the Ripper. Rather than set the story during the original killings in the late 1880s, the screenplay by L. W. Davidson (from an original story by Edward Spencer Shrew) shifts forward fifteen years to Jack the Ripper’s daughter, teasing a spirit possession story and giving the Ripper’s gory hands and misogynistic rage to a young woman.

Hands of the Ripper was shot at Pinewood Studios with Hungarian director Peter Sasdy in the director’s chair. Sasdy already had a history with Hammer. He directed the best of the Dracula sequels starring Christopher Lee, Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969); but in 1971 he was coming off Countess Dracula, a bizarrely boring movie based on the story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Re-teamed with producer Aida Young, who worked with him on Taste the Blood of Dracula, Peter Sasdy recovered and made one of his best movies. Young was one of the few women producers in England at the time, and her other Hammer films include Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Considering she produced Sasdy’s best films, the two must have shared a powerful creative partnership.

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October Is Hammer Country: The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Saturday, October 6th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

phantom-of-opera-hammer-1962-one-sheetAh, October. That means nothing but Hammer Films. All Hammer Horror, All the Time! So let’s start off with one that’s … not so great. (Gotta build up the suspense.)

Once Britain’s Hammer Film Productions received full permission from Universal Pictures to raid their box of monster goodies, a Phantom of the Opera movie was a certainty. Universal had twice adapted the 1910 Gaston Leroux novel. The first is the most famous version, the 1925 silent classic starring Lon Chaney Sr. in his signature role. Its unmasking scene is one of the first iconic horror movie images. Universal mounted a lavish color remake in 1943 with Claude Rains as the phantom, but the musical production numbers were pushed to the front, making for incredibly anemic horror.

Almost twenty years later, the time was right for a new version, and Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera was perfect material for Hammer’s luxurious Gothic style, its seasoned horror director Terence Fisher, and an ideally cast Herbert Lom as the Phantom. But even with this talent involved, The Phantom of the Opera was poorly received in 1962 when it was released on a double bill with Captain Clegg, a period adventure picture about smugglers. The film still maintains a lower profile than other cinematic Phantom adaptations, both literal and loose, of the story of a tortured and murderous composer beneath the Paris opera house. Or, in this case, a London opera house.

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Fantasia 2018: Reflections After the Fact

Thursday, October 4th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

FantasiaI saw 60 feature films or showcases of short films this year at the Fantasia International Film Festival. As is the case every year, seeing so many wild visions so close together was a powerful experience. If one film didn’t work, there’d be another one coming right after that’d be completely different. Having been slowed down by a bad cold the last few weeks, I’ve had time to think about what I took away from the Fantasia adventure this year in particular, and I keep coming back to things that struck me during the festival itself: the ability of the programmers to select films; the power of seeing the films as part of an audience and indeed part of a community; and the way those things interact.

Let me begin explaining that by thanking the Fantasia team for another excellent festival. I particularly want to thank the people who I spoke with and helped me in my coverage, including Rupert Bottenberg, Mitch Davis, Ted Geoghegan, Kaila Hier, and Steven Lee. I also want to thank a number of fellow writers who helped make the festival even more enjoyable. I’ll specifically note here Giles Edwards, Yves Gendron, Dave Harris, Agustín Leon, and Thomas O’Connor.

I mention all these people because I’ve been thinking about what makes the experience of Fantasia different from watching an equivalent number of movies in an equivalent amount of time on Netflix or blu-ray in the comfort of my own home. Some of it’s getting to see the films on a big screen, of course. But much of it also has to do with the experience of having an audience around you, and so of being able to talk about the films afterward. And, especially, it has to do with the quality of the films and their overall character — the identity of the festival, the overall feel of it that shapes the event.

Spending time at Fantasia is a very specific experience and in writing these posts I try to catch moments outside the movies themselves that strike me as characteristic of that Fantasia feel — the way a theatre may be set up for a special screening, or the way an audience reacts to key moments. Several times over the past few years I’ve mentioned that Fantasia audiences can help elevate the experience of watching a film. Enthusiastic, responsive, but not usually obtrusive, they give another dimension of life to a film. You’re watching a story as part of a crowd, part of a collective whose reaction helps shape the pacing and perception of the tale. Films being films, the director has to try to plan ahead for a crowd reaction, and I think Fantasia audiences on the whole rise to a director’s hopes. That means there’s a special value to being able to see a film alongside an audience, different from watching the same film in solitude or even (usually) at a media screening to an audience of critics. So start with that.

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The Complete Carpenter: Vampires (1998)

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

vampires-1999-one-sheet-posterEscape from L.A. was almost the final film in John Carpenter’s career. He wasn’t enjoying filmmaking as much as he once did, and retirement was looking more attractive. There was also a depressing feeling that movie trends were passing him by — the master’s students had started to take over genre filmmaking. But when Largo Entertainment approached him about directing an adaptation of John Steakley’s 1990 novel Vampire$, the director couldn’t resist the chance to take another crack at making a Western using another genre. The popularity of vampire films had surged in the late 1980s and through the ‘90s. One of the biggest vampire movie hits and a significant influence on the approaching superhero boom of the 2000s, Blade, came out the same year as Vampires.

Blade is arguably one of the problems Vampires ran into when it was released the day before Halloween. Although opening strong at #1, Vampires suffered an enormous second week drop and barely made back its production budget in the US. Younger audiences apparently wanted to see the slick black trenchcoat vampire-hunting heroics of Wesley Snipes in a modern city rather than a grungy ode to Italian Westerns starring James Woods. (The CinemaScore rating of audience reactions to Vampires was a dismal D+. Blade got an A-.) The film that horror magazines had touted throughout the year as John Carpenter’s comeback ended up hastening his retirement.

The Story

Jack Crow (James Woods) is the leader of a vampire-slaying squad working for the Vatican to eradicate the plague of bloodsuckers across the southwestern US. After his team wipes out a vamp nest in New Mexico, the master vampire (Thomas Ian Griffith) slaughters all of Crow’s team while they’re boozing it up at a nearby motel. Only Crow and Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) escape. They take along Katrina (Sheryl Lee), a prostitute who was bitten by the vampire. Crow plans to use Katrina to track down the master and kill him. The Vatican assigns a new priest to work with Crow, Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee), as they hunt for the powerful vampire, who is none other than Jan Valek, the first vampire ever created. Valek is seeking for an object hidden somewhere in the Southwest that will allow him to complete his original reverse exorcism and become the first vampire capable of walking during the day. Crow and Guiteau hunt desperately while Montoya becomes ensnared by Katrina.
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