OK, here’s one of those weeks where we’re actually getting some things that people have been asking me about. And once again, I encourage you to get out there and support these movies. It’s in everyone’s best interest to help support quality—or potentially quality—film in Asheville. So when the documentary It Might Get Loud opens at the Carolina and the horror film Paranormal Activity hits the Beaucatcher on Friday, don’t dawdle.
Actually, I’ve already seen Davis Guggenheim’s film on guitarists Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White (review appears in this week’s Xpress), and I don’t think anyone who’s interested in it—or in the guitarists in question—is going to be disappointed. As a picture of the three guitarists, it’d be hard to ask for a better one, and there’s something pretty special when the three get together. And it might not be special in quite the way you may be anticipating.The highly touted Paranormal Activity is an unknown quantity, however, and I confess I’m skeptical of the hype.
Then again, I’m skeptical of most hype, but horror-movie hype really brings out the doubter in me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that was billed as “the most terrifying thing you’ve ever seen” that came anywhere near such a claim. Any time I’ve been told that something or someone was “the new face of horror” or the “savior of the horror film,” it hasn’t been true. This one comes complete with a comparison to a film I thought was utter rubbish—The Blair Witch Project (1999)—to increase my skepticism. But, hey, that’s what happens when claims such as those made about Paranormal Activity crop up—and it’s the film’s responsibility to live up to them.
No one’s asked me about it, but this week also sees Mira Nair’s Amelia—the first breath of Oscar bait this year—hit town. The question in my mind is how much market there really is for a PG-rated biopic of Amelia Earhart starring Hilary Swank. The trailer looks slick enough and awash in period detail, but, for me, there’s not much excitement here. I’m really hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
Since it’s Halloween season that means we’re in for our annual dose of Saw—and this time we’re up to Saw VI. Now if that’s not enough torture porn for you for one year, Carmike Cinemas has decided to offer you a marathon of the first five Saw movies to prime you for the main event. According to the information I have, that’s 499 minutes of Saw—and it’ll take a stronger constitution than mine to tackle it.
It’s also become a Halloween event to bring the 3-D version of Tim Burton’s the Nightmare Before Christmas back to theaters. I have no problem with this, though I’m a little burned out on the 3-D business and would be just as happy to see it without the embellishment. However, it’s still a chance to see the movie on a theater screen and that makes it worthwhile. This year—with the expansion of digital 3-D projection in town—it’s ending up at the Carolina Asheville.
The weekly offerings don’t end there. We also get the big-screen version of Astro Boy and some PG-13 horror—for those who can’t muster the I.D. (or a hapless adult) for the R-rated variety—in the guise of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. In other words, it’s a pretty full week of moviegoing.
Those hoping to catch Inglourious Basterds will have to be quick, since it vanishes from local screens on Friday, as do Séraphine and (if anybody cares) I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.
Well, the best thing I see in the DVD realm is Stephen Frears’ Chéri, which proved to be a modest art-house hit locally earlier this year. If you didn’t catch it then, it’s certainly worth a look now. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer as an aging courtesan, it’s the kind of intimate film that will still work on a TV, but it’s also the kind of visually sumptuous work that might make you regret having missed it in its theatrical run. Of course, this week also sees Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I saw it in the theater. I will not be repeating that mistake in my living room.
Much like the Halloween season impacts theatrical offerings, it has its say in the realm of the DVD, too, which is why there’s a box set of the works (well, some of the works) of shlockmeister director William Castle arriving on the scene. In one fell swoop you get 13 Frightened Girls! (1963), 13 Ghosts (1960), Homicidal (1961), Strait-Jacket (1964), The Old Dark House (1963), Mr. Sardonicus (1961), The Tingler (1959) and Zotz (1962). I’ve seen all of these except 13 Frightened Girls! and what can I say? The first and last time I was ever even slightly frightened by a Castle film was when I saw the trailer for 13 Ghosts at the age of 5 or 6. Mostly, the films are junky fun—with the accent on the junky part—and boast some gimmick or other, most of which will be lost at home. Strait-Jacket, at least, offers you Joan Crawford as an ax murderess in dresses that redefine tacky. The Tingler comes closest to being a good movie and is actually rather creepy on occasion. Both The Old Dark House and Zotz! are thriller comedies starring a frenetic Tom Poston. The former is a travesty of both the 1932 James Whale film and the 1928 J.B. Priestley source novel.
Notable TV screenings
The Corpse Vanishes Saturday, Oct 24, 6 a.m., TCM
If you’re a fan of fascinatingly bad horror movies and you’ve never encountered any of Bela Lugosi’s infamous “Monogram Nine,” Wallace Fox’s The Corpse Vanishes (1942) isn’t a bad place to start. For the uninitiated, the “Monogram Nine” are nine really low-budget horror pictures that Lugosi made for legendary shlockmeister Sam Katzman at Monogram Pictures between 1941 and 1944—and they’re truly special in a certain sense of the word. Most of them make little sense and succeed by offering a lot of Lugosi giving his all, while the studio gave as little as possible. In this one he’s Dr. Lorenz, a mad scientist who—thanks to his special catatonia-inducing orchids (he’s also a mad hybridizer)—kidnaps young brides when they drop “dead” at their weddings. Why? Well, he taps into some gland or other to shoot up his disintegrating bitch of a wife (Elizabeth Russell) and return her to a youthful state. It’s hard to understand why he bothers, since young or old, she’s nastiness personified. There’s also a sinister housekeeper (Minerva Urecal), who is mother to two of his henchmen—a mute moron giant (Frank Moran) and a dwarf (Angelo Rossitto). Splendid nonsense with a weirdly grim climax that ends up with a litter of corpses to rival Shakespeare or grand opera.
Two-Strip Technicolor Horror Double Feature Sunday, Oct. 25. 6 a.m, TCM
Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
It’s not entirely clear why Warner Bros. decided to have Michael Curtiz shoot this pair of back-to-back horror pictures in early Technicolor—a process that used only red and green for its primary colors. The likelihood is that they were using up a contractual commitment, since musicals (the standard realm for color) were then out of favor. This is supported by the fact that Curtiz shot Doctor X twice—once in color and once in black-and-white with only the latter version going into wide release. (And, no, the black-and-white is not just a different print, but a completely separate film.) Whatever the case, the results are striking and among the most creative uses of color up to that time, since Curtiz and cinematographer Ray Rennahan strayed from anything like realistic color. It helps that the films are also two of the best of the early sound era first wave of horror pictures. Doctor X—with its weird tale of cannibalism and synthetic flesh—is the better of the two, but Mystery of the Wax Museum (which was remade in 1953 as House of Wax) isn’t too far behind it. Both established what would soon become a staple of the genre—the wisecracking newspaper reporter as hero in horror movies. Lee Tracy does the honors in Doctor X, while Glenda Farrell assumes the mantle in Wax Museum.
Once More With Feeling! Monday, Oct. 26, 12:15 p.m. TCM
Stanley Donen’s Once More With Feeling! (1960) is an agreeable surprise of a comedy coming from an era of film that’s hardly known for agreeable surprises in comedy. Its story of an egomaniac orchestra conductor (Yul Brynner) engaged in marital warfare with his wife (Kay Kendall) is something of a return to the days of the screwball comedies of the 1930s and ‘40s. That’s probably why the whole things feels a little bit like Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century (1934), and why Gregory Ratoff’s portrayal of Brynner’s long-suffering manager is more than a little like the role of Lionel Stander in Preston Sturges’ Unfaithfully Yours (1948). Am I saying that the film is slightly unoriginal? Well, yes, but it’s also funny and entertaining on its own merits. Unfortunately, it’s also a wide-screen film, and last I knew, there was no wide-screen version available for television, which means this will likely be a rather cramped pan-and-scan showing. But it’s better than no showing at all, and this is a title that doesn’t come around very often.
Valentino Monday, Oct. 26 (technically, Oct. 27), 1 a.m. TCM
TCM closes out its month-long tribute to Leslie Caron with Ken Russell’s Valentino (1977). It’s a good choice, if not one that would occur to most people. Caron plays the flamboyant, outrageous Alla Nazimova (usually known simply as Nazimova), who—along with her lover Natasha Rambova (Michelle Philips)—helped launch Rudolph Valentino’s (Rudolf Nureyev) career. The film was a notable box-office disaster from which Russell’s career has never fully recovered. (Strange now to think of a career being all but ruined by a $5 million dollar movie, but that was an expensive picture in 1977, and the most any Russell film had cost up to that time was $3.2 million for Tommy (1975), which had been a success.) Time has treated the film well, though, and Nazimova’s hysterically funny, over-the-top performance is a delight. My only fear with this showing is that it was originally listed at 115 minutes, which is 13 minutes shy of its actual running time. That’s been changed to 128 minutes in more recent listings. But this is a pretty hard R-rated film. Still TCM claims that it doesn’t cut movies these days (they used to), so perhaps it will be intact.