The Story: A man suspected of murdering his girlfriend awakes to find that he’s sprouted Satanic-looking horns that give him strange powers. The Lowdown: Wildly inventive, genre-spanning film that is by turns horrific, satirical and deeply tragic. It’s easily the best Halloween offering out there, but be prepared for something different.
The Story: Playing around with a Ouija board unleashes tepid horror. The Lowdown: In its favor, Ouija is pretty professional looking. Everything else, however, is on the dull side.
In Brief: David Lynch’s first foray into the world of — more or less — mainstream film, The Elephant Man (1980), is still his most accessible work and probably his most all-around popular. At the same time, its relative normalcy only goes so far. Oh, sure, it garnered a whopping eight Oscar nominations, but you’ll notice it took home exactly zero awards. (This was the year that Robert Redford’s ultra-white-bread Ordinary People was the big winner.) Its story may have been appealing and sentimental enough (some say it’s too sentimental), but it lost points for deliberately not being an adaptation of the then-popular play. But more, it had too much Eraserhead (1977) clinging to it with its nightmarish imagery of Industrial Revolution London. Worse, it puts the audience in the same boat as the freakshow gawkers in the film by keeping the title character from being clearly seen, building our curiosity to get a good look at him. In the text of the film, we’re really no better than the Victorians. The film was a bid for mainstream acceptance without pandering. A bold, brilliant move for a movie that can be fairly called “uplifting,” but one that perhaps cost it its awards — and left Lynch something of an outsider. The Asheville Film Society will screen The Elephant Man Tuesday, Nov. 4, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
In Brief: This is a makeup screening for one that was scheduled in July and had to be canceled due to technical problems. What follows is a reprint of that review. Harry Lachman’s Dante’s Inferno (1935) may be more of a curio than anything else, but what a curio it is. It was an expensive production, with most of the money being spent on an elaborate vision of the title Inferno (based on Gustave Doré’s engravings) — and the film would be worth seeing for this sequence alone. The story itself is still pretty solid, with Spencer Tracy (just before his move to MGM) as an unscrupulous carnival barker turned promoter, whose view of the Inferno attraction is to “put hell on a paying basis.” He also has a tendency to cut corners and ignore safety standards — and thereby hangs much of the drama. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Dante’s Inferno Sunday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: A retired hit man heads out for revenge after his car is stolen and his dog is murdered. The Lowdown: Occasionally exceptional for being a simple, straightforward action picture, the film can’t sustain for its full running time, eventually unraveling into tedium.
In Brief: This marks the fifth time I’ve been called on to write about this film, and fan that I am, I’m pretty much out of things to add, so I’m mostly going with a review from 2007. I will, however, say that watching the film again, I was struck by how much better Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish-language films are than his Hollywood endeavors. Cronos marks his first feature film — and is one of the more audacious debut works you’re likely to find. It’s a rethinking of the vampire film — and unlike most rethinkings, this one really brings something new to the table. The film boasts all the horror tropes — and adds some new ones — but it’s also bitterly funny and finally quite touching. There’s really nothing out there quite like it. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Cronos Friday, Oct. 31, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
In Brief: Though he started out pretty respectably at Universal in 1931, director Edward L. Cahn quickly gravitated to the land of the B-picture and by the 1950s was firmly entrenched in making exploitation trash, westerns and horror movies. These are what his reputation — such as it is — rests on. Some of it is actually pretty good and nearly all of it is entertaining. Near the top of the list is The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959), a thoroughly absurd story about a vengeful — and 200-plus-year-old — specialist in the occult (and headshrinking) who is out to get every descendant of the Drake line. Why? Well, that’s never entirely clear — and the last minute revelation of the origins of this literal headshrinker doesn’t really clear matters up. Maybe it’s the mere fact that he’s played with world-class ennui by the inimitably supercilious Henry Daniell. Giving away his identity is no big deal, since the film quickly makes it apparent who’s behind the grisly business. It’s efficiently done — though it does look more like a TV show than a movie — but its main claim to fame, apart from Daniell’s villainy, is that it’s genuinely creepy and surprisingly gruesome for a 1950s horror film. It’s not great, but it’s good and a staple of the genre of its time. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake Thursday, Oct. 30, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
The Story: A man under investigation for a crime we aren’t apprised of for a long time gives his version of the events. The Lowdown: As an exercise in formal filmmaking, The Blue Room is hard to criticize, but the story, the film’s detached attitude, the overriding ambiguity and the lack of tension are another matter.
In Brief: The Asheville Film Society is having a special Halloween Budget Big Screen Showing of Brian De Palma's horror classic Carrie (1976) on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. at The Carolina. Actually, the AFS attempted to do this last year, but there was a moratorium on the film so that it couldn't compete with that lousy remake that was then in theaters. This, however, is the real thing — the ground-breaking, Oscar-nominated original being presented in all its glory from a new DCP remastered print. It is that rarest of things — a great horror movie that so transcends its genre that it's simply a great film. But it is unmistakably a horror film with everything that implies — and it's one that redefined much about the genre by presenting things in a manner no other film had. If you've never seen Carrie, it's high time you did. If you've never seen it in a theater with an audience, that's as good a reason, because it's a completely different experience. The Asheville Film Society is showing Carrie Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. in at The Carolina Asheville as part of the Budget Big Screen series. Admission is $6 for AFS members and $8 for the general public. Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther will introduce the film.
The Story: A group of gay activists in Great Britain set out to help striking coal miners during the 1984 strike — whether the miners like it or not. The Lowdown: An absolutely pitch-perfect comedy-drama with a remarkable ensemble cast, a witty, literate script and a strong cinematic approach. There is absolutely no excuse for missing this one.
In Brief: Note carefully that this week's film shows at 8:45 p.m., not 8 p.m. It matters very little that George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941) is perhaps most notable for assembling one of the greatest casts of any horror movie and then giving them nothing much to do. It’s still the movie that has become ingrained in pop culture as the essential werewolf movie. Lon Chaney Jr.’s turn as Larry Talbot — the lycanthrope of the title — became the role that would always be the centerpiece of Chaney’s career. Jack Pierce’s werewolf makeup became the standard look for a werewolf. Atmospheric photography by Joseph A. Valentine, a great musical score (from Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner) and a brisk pace sealed the deal. The fact that most kids discover horror pictures around the age of puberty has kept the torch burning, because The Wolf Man is the perfect horror film for that age group. Nostalgia has done the rest, but the film is certainly not without merit. It’s a horror essential. The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Wolf Man Thursday, Oct. 23, at 8:45 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
The Story: Misanthropic drunk plays babysitter and mentor to a young boy. The Lowdown: Yes, it's almost alarmingly unmysterious — a feel-good crowd-pleaser tailored to the talents of star Bill Murray. You know where it's going from the onset, but the trip is still very enjoyable.
In Brief: Somewhere on the border between Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou (1929), David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) and David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981) lies Darren Aronofsky's debut film, Pi (1998). It clearly draws its surrealism from the first, its tone from the second and its "body horror" from the third. Yet this extremely strange, sometimes maddening film is somehow its very own beast — one that announced the arrival of a filmmaker to reckon with, and one that pointed the way to the Aronofsky films that followed. This story of a theoretical mathematician driving himself insane — possibly with the help of some very strange outsiders who may or may not exist — by trying to explain everything in terms of mathematic sequences is undeniably cruder — and more deliberately impenetrable — than Aronofsky's later films. Still, it's also the work of the same sensibility. Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Pi Friday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
In Brief: This is the 1939 Bob Hope version of the venerable old dark-house mystery The Cat and the Canary, and while it’s not as stylistically impressive as the 1927 Paul Leni silent, it’s probably an all-around more successful film. Strangely, considering it’s a Bob Hope movie (the one that made him a star, in fact), the comedy element is less intrusive here than the broad slapstick of the silent. The film follows its 1920s source play pretty closely: the will reading at midnight in an isolated creepy mansion, an escaped homicidal maniac called “The Cat,” an heiress being driven insane by the next relative in line for the estate. It all revolves around lawyer Crosby (George Zucco) assembling the possible heirs to the Norman estate at the house at midnight 10 years after the death of Cyrus Norman as per the instructions of the old boy. Naturally, the will contains one of those clauses providing for an alternative heir that places the leading lady in mortal peril — or at least her sanity, since insanity also disqualifies her. Toss in a maniac on the loose — “He has sharp teeth and long fingers and fingernails like claws and when he’s violent he crawls around on all fours like a cat” — and a missing necklace, and you have the recipe for a solid 72 minutes of entertainment. The Asheville Film Society will screen The Cat and the Canary Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
In Brief: Though pretty obviously inspired by Julien Duvivier's Flesh and Fantasy (1943) — the recurring dream business is a little too much to take as coincidence — the multidirector British horror anthology Dead of Night (1945) is the go-to movie as the source for all subsequent horror anthologies. Of course, since it's a portmanteau film — and one made by four directors — it follows that some stories work better than others. It also now feels just a little overrated in general, but it's still good — at least when it's on its game — and it has a creepiness that is not easily dismissed. The Hendersonville Film Society will show Dead of Night Sunday, Oct. 26, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
The Story: Animated fantasy grounded in the concept of the Day of the Dead. The Lowdown: Its actual plot may be fairly standard love triangle stuff, but The Book of Life's nonstop array of stunning images and invention — not to mention the freshness of its cultural identity — more than transcends its basic plot.
In Brief: A curious, occasionally fascinating, but unfortunately uneven look at the life and work of musician Nick Cave, as seen through the eyes — or more accurately, the memory — of Cave himself. Like so many documentaries, 20,000 Days on Earth depends mostly on your interest in Cave, his music and his thoughts on life, art and himself. Occasional striking images and an interesting — but eventually too thin — motif of documenting one's life make for an original angle at which to tackle the documentary form, but this is ultimately a movie for fans, who should be easily satisfied. The film plays for one show on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. at Fine Arts Theatre.
The Story: A post-D-Day war story about a tank crew making their way through Germany. The Lowdown: Violent, bloody, straightforward old-school war movie that overcomes its shortcomings in its battle scenes — with help from three of its five lead actors.
The Story: Old high school sweethearts reunited after the death of their mentor must look back on — and finally face — their past. The Lowdown: Run-of-the-mill goopy, melodramatic romance from the master of the form, novelist Nicholas Sparks.
The Story: A hotshot defense attorney is forced into defending his estranged dad’s murder charge. The Lowdown: A gooey mess of shameless Oscar bait clichés that’s watchable and little else.
The Story: The story of how Dracula got the way he is. The Lowdown: Slapdash, but slick, horror done in comic book terms. Too little horror, too much CGI — and yet another attempt to make a great villain sympathetic with an origin story. Phooey.