The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)
  2. The Wolf Man (George Wagner)
  3. The Invisible Man (James Whale)
  4. Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava)
  5. Creature From the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold)
  6. Kuroneko (Kaneto Shindo)
  7. The Body Snatcher (Robert Wise)
  8. Bedlam (Mark Robson)
  9. Horror Hotel (John Moxey)
  10. Zodiac (David Fincher)

Halloween is upon us and in my house that means an orgy of classic (and not-so-classic) horror film viewing. This year The Criterion Channel is featuring a slew of Universal Horror films from the 30s, 40s and 50s. I have been working my way through them, and supplementing my viewing with goodies from my own DVD collection. Forget what they say about Christmas. Halloween is ‘the most wonderful time of the year”.

Back in 2013 I wrote this, which might shed a little light on my classic horror film obsession.

1- The Universal horror films I watched ranged from the sublime (The Bride of Frankenstein) to the ridiculous (The Creature From The Black Lagoon). This time around I really came down on the side of the auteurists since I noticed that pedestrian creators create pedestrian creations, and artists with a clear vision and signature create works of art. The Wolf Man is just fine as your typical lycanthropic adventure. It is even fun when Maria Ouspenskaya shows up to intone her famous couplet:

       “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night

         may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and Autumn moon is bright.”

And on top of it, Bela Lugosi is her son!   But the film is a mess.  It takes place supposedly in England but hardly anyone has an English accent, especially Lon Chaney, Jr. who plays the lunkhead of a wolfman.

2- What a difference the two James Whale films I watched were. Along with the spookiness, Whale provides a very quirky sense of humor to The Invisible Man, especially as Claude Rains (in an unseen US film debut – he is invisible until the last moments) goes more and more bonkers.  I remember The Old Dark House being both spooky and quite funny.

3- I had never seen a giallo before, and Blood and Black Lace is enough for now.  I quite enjoyed especially the over-the-topness of the whole proceedings.  I could have done without the gruesome violence.  But the film is gorgeous (and lurid) to look at.

4- The Creature of the Black Lagoon was curated by Criterion in their Halloween Universal Horror film series.  The glory days of universal horror were long over by the time this turkey was filmed.  It looks like a cheap episode of Gilligan’s Island but without the Howells.

5- In the midst of all this horror, I re-watched The Rules of The Game.  It is still astounding every time.  This time around it made me think of in its sonic and visual density.  I need to go back and watch that again.

6- Japanese horror is both gruesome and gorgeously elegant. Kuroneko is a good example of what I mean.  A horrifying but tragic story that is absolutely stunning to look at.

7- Genre actors don’t get the love they deserve.  Who ever thinks of John Wayne as on of America’s greatest actors, but he is. Rewatching Bedlam and The Body Snatcher made me realize that Boris Karloff is an incredible actor.   Each villain is nuanced.  No one does ‘evil behind a smiling face’ better.

8- I was leery to watch Zodiac. I had heard how upsetting Se7en was, and was afraid I was in for more of the same.  There were some rough scenes – it is about a notorious serial killer after all!

But the script is so smart and so fascinating. And kudos to Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.  Can those boys act.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Angel (Ernst Lubitsch)
  2. George Washington (David Gordon Green)
  3. 101 Night of Simon Cinema (Agnés Varda)
  4. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy)
  5. The Shadow Within (Yoshitaro Nomura)
  6. Tales of the Golden Geisha (Juzo Itami)
  7. The Raven (Lew Landers)
  8. The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)
  9. The Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton)
  10. The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale)

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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.