- Angel (Ernst Lubitsch)
- George Washington (David Gordon Green)
- 101 Night of Simon Cinema (Agnés Varda)
- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy)
- The Shadow Within (Yoshitaro Nomura)
- Tales of the Golden Geisha (Juzo Itami)
- The Raven (Lew Landers)
- The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)
- The Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton)
- The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale)
1- October is here. Hurrah. The end of that ghastly season summer and the lead-up to the best holiday of the year: Hallowe’en. In my house this has always been celebrating by gorging on classic horror. I am not interested in slasher porn and I am not interested in seeing beautiful teenagers trapped in a house or a forest or a cabin with a maniac who is picking them off one by one. I want classic horror with a tinge of romance. Not lovey-dovey romance, but atmospheric romance. See this post I wrote a few years back for a clearer explanation of what makes me happy at this time of year.
Thanks to the Criterion Channel, I have had easy access to the early Universal Horror films from the 30s. I had seen The Black Cat decades ago and remembered that it was a Art Deco fever dream, but I had forgotten how nutty and truly scary the plot is. Devil Worship, Necrophilia, a fantastically ‘modern’ castle built over a mass grave on the site of a notorious WWI prison. What else do you need? Oh, yes…..also Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Bela has an intense case of ailurophobia which doesn’t do much for the plot but ties it into the ‘immortal Edgar Allan Poe’ story that gives the film its title and not much else. It does check all the horror romance prerequisites: Mitteleuropa locale? Check? Longing for dead love mysteriously brought back to life? Check. Karloff? Check? Lugosi? Check? Bach Toccata and Fugue in D, the theme song of so much Universal Horror? Check. It is an enjoyable nutty and creepy production. Not quite sure what the point of it all was. But you get to see the very handsome David Manners.
2- You don’t need me to tell you that The Bride of Frankenstein is a masterpiece, but you do need me to remind you that it is quite a funny film. Karloff is not given his due as an actor.
3- The Raven is a Universal horror film I had never heard of. It is another film that is ‘inspired by the immortal Edgar Allan Poe’, but there is nothing in evidence about the film except for the title. We do get a taste of the Pit and the Pendulum and the Cask of Amantillado, for good measure. But this movie is an absolute mess and just perfect for this time of year.
4- A greater masterpiece than The Bride of Frankenstein and most other movies is The Island of Lost Souls. It was a treat to watch this on the Criterion Channel with the commentary on. It was fascinating to hear the trouble this film had with the censors, being banned outright in many countries. The main controversy doesn’t seem to be the graphically shown vivisection or the human/animal breeding experiments. It was the line that Charles Laughton says with his amazing delivery, “Mr. Parker, do you know what it means to feel like God?” It is also has a twisted apology of the theory of evolution. Apparently H.G. Wells hated the film as it had missed the point of his novel. Meanwhile, who reads the book anymore, where the movie has achieved cult status.
More on horror as the month wears on
5- There are lots of examples of perfection among the films of Ernst Lubitsch but there are also lots of misses. Angel is a miss, even though it stars a luminous Marlene Dietrich. I guess the main problem for me is that apparently in the 30s Melvyn Douglas was an irresistable leading man, and I just don’t get it. I sense zero chemistry between him and Dietrich and, for that matter, zero chemistry between him and Garbo in Ninotchka and The Two-Faced Woman.
6- 101 Night of Simon Cinema is a delightful confection from Agnes Varda made to celebrate 100 years of film history. Michel Piccoli plays the eponymous M. Cinema, and the film references, either visually or verbally, just about every film you can think of. Every single French actor you can think of makes a nutty cameo, as well as many Americans (“Wait, is that really Robert Deniro speaking French?”) Highly recommended to all art-house cinema nerds who will have a ball catching all the references. For the rest of humanity it may be a big ball of confusion. I had a GREAT time watching it and laughed out loud several times.
7- George Washington is a film I had been meaning to catch up with. It was an independent film sensation when it came out about two decades ago. I found it…..well, I don’t know. It kept me interested in its depiction of poor disaffected pre-teens in North Carolina. But…..but….. There is an unsettling moral relativity that is never addressed. This is a hallmark of Independent film, it seems, and it seems to pass for philosophical profundity, but I think it is just laziness. Glad I saw it, though.
8- I didn’t remember anything in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg watching it this time, but I had a nagging suspicion that I remembered not liking it. Well, I still don’t like it. I think it is dull and the conceit of the sung-through score gets tiresome since there are only one or two memorable tunes. The leads look great but the entire thing seems to be a rip-off of the great Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille Trilogy.
9- Tales of the Golden Geisha (which has a more explicit title in Japanese) is by the team that brought us the delightful Tampopo. This film is a little delightful, but overstays its welcome
10- I watched The Shadow Within as a prelude to the Hallowe’en horror film lovefest. It is a tight little horror mystery with a scary kid. You can see the resolution coming from miles away, but it was still quite satisfying. Those Japanese sure can make an elegant horror film.