Apart from Paranormal Activity expanding to the Carolina Asheville this Friday, there’s nothing new on the Halloween horizon, but there are a few notable not-so-new movies making reappearances. Asheville Pizza and Brewing is showing Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later … at 10 p.m. on Friday and its non-Boyle, but worthy, sequel at 10 p.m. on Halloween. Call them zombies, call them victims of the Rage Virus, call them anything you like, but Boyle’s new wrinkle in zombies—or whatever—is still one of the scariest things to come along in years.
The Montford Park Players are back at the Carolina Asheville at midnight on Halloween with the live-cast accompaniment to a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is about as Halloween as you can get, and one that allows you to dress up yourself—not necessarily in fishnet stockings, but they wouldn’t be out of place. This week, in fact, costumes are de rigueur. Also out there is the 3-D version of Tim Burton’s the Nightmare Before Christmas.
In addition to the still-playing mainstream offerings of Saw VI and Paranormal Activity—or if you insist on being lame, The Stepfather—Rob Zombie’s Halloween II makes a return to some local screens. It’s not a great film, but neither is it a disaster, and it is a pretty interesting movie—both in spite of and because of its flaws.
The big to-do this week is the Michael Jackson tribute/documentary This Is It, which opens on Wednesday. Of course, interest in it is predicated on whether or not you’re a fan of Mr. Jackson. If you are—and you’re really keen on this—you might want to note that you can be among the first on your block to see the film if you want to tackle a midnight showing at the Carmike on Tuesday night.
Otherwise, the week is given over to less mainstream items. The German film The Baader Meinhof Complex opens on Friday at the Carolina Asheville. You can read the review of this remarkable movie in this week’s Xpress, but I’ll go ahead and say that it’s worth your while—and I’ll caveat that by noting that it’s also extremely violent.
The French Coco Before Chanel arrives at the Fine Arts this Friday, and apart from the mere fact that it stars the always welcome Audrey Tautou, it also looks to be a lot more interesting than last week’s sanitized biographical offering Amelia (review in the Xpress this week). In fact, Coco stands a chance of being the best thing going this week.
What almost certainly doesn’t stand a chance of being even passable is the independent movie Play the Game, which has somehow found its way to the Carmike 10. The movie is a sex comedy starring Andy Griffith of all people. Under the circumstances, it’s probably just as well that it’s a PG-13-rated sex comedy. Still, every single review of the film makes note of a scene in which Griffith receives oral sex as something that will burn itself into your brain for all eternity. You’ve been warned.
Moving into the “catch ‘em quick” category are (500) Days of Summer and Capitalism: A Love Story, which make their exits this week.
If you missed Woody Allen’s Whatever Works when it was in theaters, it comes out on DVD this week, and as far as I’m concerned, is the title to seek out. It’s Allen’s funniest film in years—and one of his most brilliantly barbed from any period of his career. Come to think of it, it’s simply one of the best movies of 2009. Also coming out are Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which I didn’t see, but which underwhelmed co-critic Justin Souther pretty completely. And there’s the preposterous horror film Orphan, which, unfortunately, I did see. Despite having obtained a good bit of unintentional mirth from Orphan, I can see no reason that I’d want to repeat the experience. The tepid Nothing Like the Holidays also shows up. It’s reasonably harmless, but not much more.
In the realm of the box set is a new edition of the TV series The Prisoner for less than 50 bucks. Seems to me I paid about 90 bucks for the original DVD release. While this 1960s Brit series from Patrick McGoohan still strikes me as the best thing ever made for TV as a series, I’m not sold that the extras (a lot of which were in the original package) and the remastering make a second purchase compulsory. If you don’t have it, however, it’s certainly worth picking up. If you’ve never seen it, you should. After you make it through the final episode, you and your friends can have hours of fun arguing about what it means. My friends (well, the older ones) and I have been doing that for 40 years.
Notable TV screenings
Targets, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 8 p.m., TCM
It’s Peter Bogdanovich’s first film and people like to call it Boris Karloff’s last one (even though it isn’t). It’s also a particularly stunning debut work and a powerful piece of filmmaking that still holds up, despite its paucity of budget. Roger Corman gave Bogdanovich footage from The Terror (1963), Boris Karloff signed on, and what resulted is Targets (1968), a remarkable work that serves as a rumination on how the old horror films couldn’t hold a candle to the real-life horrors of the modern day. To this end, Bogdanovich crafted a work that ties together a deranged sniper and a drive-in premiere of Byron Orlock’s (Karloff) latest picture, with an appearance by Orlock himself. A gripping film—and the almost hallucinatory ending is still one of the finest things Bogdanovich has done.
Behind the Mask, Friday, Oct. 30, 6 a.m., TCM
Absolute nonsense, but Behind the Mask (1932) is the finest kind of nonsense. If it didn’t have Boris Karloff in it—in a fairly minor role as a gangster (saying improbable Karloff lines like, “That’s all right, baby, the Doc expects me”)—it’s a film that would probably never be shown today. As it stands, it’s not shown very often. Though lumped together with more true genre films, this isn’t really a horror movie. It’s an amazingly silly story about an unbelievably stoic government agent (Jack Holt) breaking up a drug ring. The best thing in it—and the real reason for watching it—is Edward Van Sloan (usually a good guy) as the unhinged and extremely sadistic head of the drug dealers. The scene where he prepares to “operate”—minus anesthetic—on Holt in a phony hospital is absolutely priceless: “The pain when I am going through the layers of skin will not be unendurable. It is only when I begin to cut on the inside that you will realize that you are having an experience. Wasn’t it Nietzsche who said that unendurable pain merges into ecstasy? We shall find out whether that was an epigram or a fact!” Dialogue doesn’t get better than this.
The Ghoul, Friday, Oct. 30, 8:30 a.m., TCM
For years this 1933 British picture starring Boris Karloff—not to mention Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke and the great Ernest Thesiger—was thought to be a lost film. In the late 1960s a battered, censored print with Czech subtitles turned up in Eastern Europe. It made the rounds, but failed to generate all that much interest. It was so dark and so muddled that it was hard to judge. Then a complete British print—an absolutely pristine print that looked like it had been made yesterday—turned up and wow! It turned out that The Ghoul was one of the great horror pictures from the Golden Age. It’s got atmosphere to spare, terrific villains and an amazingly grim performance from Karloff as an Egypt-obsessed scholar who at least appears to return from the dead. His final scene is still startling. My own suspicion is that he really did return from the dead in the film as it was shot, but that the British censor insisted on adding a scene—a very brief intercut one—with a lot of palaver about catatonia. Whatever the case, it’s a horror picture any fan should see.
Murders in the Zoo, Saturday, Oct. 31, 10 p.m., TCM
A real curio from Paramount Pictures in 1933, Murders in the Zoo comes from director A. Edward Sutherland—a man usually associated with W.C. Fields comedies. It’s a silly tale of an overly jealous—though not without cause—scientist played by Lionel Atwill at his gleefully sadistic best. When we first meet him, he’s just sewn together the lips of his wife’s (Kathleen Burker) latest boyfriend (“He didn’t say … anything”) and left him to almost certain death in the jungle. Turns out, alas, that the woman is no more faithful when they get to the States and the zoo of the title. In fact, he finally shoves her into the alligator enclosure—with occasional time-out for a few murders with a portable snake head that makes killings look like misadventures. It was released on VHS, but has yet to hit DVD, so a TV screening is in the not-to-be-missed realm.