Tales of Terror (1962, Roger Corman)

I was going to watch this right after Southbound then realized they were both anthology horrors, so spaced it out by a few days. My second Corman / Poe / Price movie this month after Pit and the Pendulum


“It’s Lenora, father.” Maggie Pierce (The Fastest Guitar Alive) hasn’t seen her dad Vincent Price in 26 years, and is visiting now because her marriage has failed and she has a mild cough (and therefore, since this is a movie, only a few months to live). Price still blames her for the death of his beloved wife Morella, is wasting away in his Miss Havisham house. Poor Lenora doesn’t even know how her mom died since she was an infant at the time, so Price explains that she collapsed at a party while yelling “it was the baby.” Hardly seems fair, but apparently Morella (Leona Gage of Scream of the Butterfly) still blames the baby, rises in the night to murder Lenora and burn the place to the ground.

The Black Cat

Montresor Herringbone is a hopeless drunk who steals from his working wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson, who’d costar with Lorre and Price again the following year in Comedy of Terrors) to get enough wine to stop the hallucinations. He’d be a hateful fellow if he wasn’t being played by Peter Lorre in comic mode… and speaking of comic mode, Price plays Fortunato Luchresi, a foppish wine expert whom Lorre challenges to a tasting competition in order to get free wine. Surprised by Lorre’s knowledge and (lack of) technique, Price follows him home and falls for Annabel. When Lorre finds out he chains them in his cellar and walls them in – the perfect crime if not for the black cat he accidentally bricks up, whose howls alert the police.

Loved the acting, the reptile hallucinations and dreams (Fortunato and Annabel playing catch with Lorre’s severed head, the picture smeared and distorted). Each scene ends with a 400 Blows zoom. Price calls the wife “my treasure,” but isn’t that what Lorre’s name “Montresor” means?

The Case of M. Valdemar

Valdemar (Price) is dying of an incurable disease, and mesmerist Carmichael (Basil Rathbone, Sherlock Holmes of the 1930’s and 40’s) agrees to relieve his pain for free in exchange for participation in an experiment – to mesmerise Price at the moment of death to see if they can extend it. Medical Doctor James (David Frankham, who worked with Price in Return of The Fly) is against all this, of course, but Price insists, and also wishes his devoted wife Debra Paget (the dancer in Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic) to marry Dr. James when he dies. But the hypnotist has other plans, and when he successfully has the dead Price’s soul trapped in mesmeric limbo, he holds it hostage until Paget will marry him instead. Price solves this problem himself, rising from his death bed and melting all over the amoral Carmichael.

The Good Doctor and Good Wife:

The Changeling (1980, Peter Medak)

Halfway-decent haunted-house movie inexplicably appearing on a few lists of best horrors. I get annoyed with Medak, feel like he’s over-emphatic, harping on things, but at least he did this to a lesser extent here than in his headache-inducing The Ruling Class.

Well-off composer George C. Scott (year after Hardcore) loses his wife and kid in an accident, moves elsewhere to teach music and rents a huge haunted house from the historical society. Ghosts lead him to a boarded-up bedroom upstairs, and a combination of visions, a really well-staged seance, and good ol’ historical research in the city library lead him and his realtor companion Trish Van Devere (Scott’s wife and costar in Stanley Donen’s Movie Movie) to uncover the ghost’s identity. It seems the house’s owner in the early 1900’s killed his own sickly, crippled son and replaced him with a sturdier orphan, whom he raised as his real son and inheritor. That kid has grown up to be elderly Senator Melvyn Douglas (The Old Dark House star, quite active in his 70’s appearing in The Tenant and Being There and Twilight’s Last Gleaming), who doesn’t want any of this history brought up right now.

“Who you callin’ a changeling,” asks Melvyn:

Apparently it’s a based-on-true-events ghost story, but this is before filmmakers splashed these things across their posters and opening titles. Besides the cool seance (the medium writing, her assistant narrating, like a more efficient ouija board) there’s much generic ghost business with clanking noises, whispers on audiotape, a creepy music box and a discarded rubber ball repeatedly appearing. My main complaint is that the ghost succeeds in getting Scott to help him out, then repays him by burning down the house with all Scott’s possessions inside.

George and Trish at the microfiche:

Probably not interesting to anyone but me: John Colicos plays an asshole cop in this, and in the following year he was murdered by Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Crap Italian filmmaker Lamberto Bava later made a movie called Per Sempre which was conceived as a sequel to Postman and released on video as The Changeling 2.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman)

Wasn’t planning it this way, but I guess my viewing of Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers, and last year’s SHOCKtober screening of the 1956 original (and I suppose The Invasion) were all prelude to this wonderful Alamo screening of the best Body Snatchers movie. It loses the 1950’s prudishness, ramps up the energy and paranoia (and humor, when Jeff Goldblum is onscreen) and lands on an even bleaker ending than the original tried to imply. It could almost be a sequel instead of a remake – the 1956 ends (not counting the dumb framing story) with Kevin McCarthy screaming on the highway, unheeded, and early in this version McCarthy appears on a city street yelling “We’re in danger – you’re next!” just before getting killed.

“A disquieting paranoid thriller informed by the conspiracy theories of the period and the jaded cynicism that followed the death of the counterculture movement,” per Adam Cook.

Donald Sutherland is our new McCarthy, a San Francisco health department investigator and the boss of Elizabeth (Brooke Adams: The Dead Zone, Shock Waves). Donald likes Liz but she’s married to Art Hindle (lead dude in The Brood), who is the first to be invaded – not counting their psychiatrist guru friend Leonard Nimoy, who was probably a pod from the start. While uncovering the plot and figuring out what to do about it, they huddle with friends Goldblum and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright, in The Birds as a teen, later Alien and Witches of Eastwick).

The Shaun of the Dead trick of pretending to be a zombie and walking among the others seems to work, until Donald and Liz get shocked by something and scream. Donald spotted a pod next to a homeless dude (and his dog) and kicked it – a few scenes later the dog is walking around with the dude’s face. As in the original, Liz is only left alone for a few minutes when she falls asleep and gets replaced, melting in Donald’s hands as her pod version rises up, telling him to join them.

Screenplay by W.D. Richter, later director of Buckaroo Banzai with Goldblum. Fun angles and shadowplay, and perfectly balanced tone of terror and action – no wonder a couple movies later Kaufman’s The Right Stuff got eight oscar nominations. Sutherland was later in the quite bad Puppet Masters, in which Earth is invaded by mind-controlling alien parasites, and McCarthy would reprise his role yet again in Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Film Quarterly:

Visually, the movies couldn’t differ more. Siegel’s unadorned black-and-white has yielded to Kaufman’s lyrical color, tilts, handheld shots, and high key lighting. Michael Chapman’s photography is both lustrous and penumbral, with deep shadows and crowded, mobile frames. Annexing the genre’s salient mood of engulfing dread, he has made the new Body Snatchers a film noir in color.

Mia Madre (2015, Nanni Moretti)

Margherita Buy (the pope’s analyst in Habemus Papam) is in the middle of a difficult film shoot (“a lame social drama about workers occupying a factory,” per Cinema Scope) with attention-hog lead actor John Turturro while her mother Ada’s health is failing. Involved in the family crisis are Margherita’s daughter Livia, her brother Giovanni (played by the director) and two exes (I think Federico and Vittorio).

Not a straightforward crisis-drama. There are dreams and flashbacks, which aren’t always clearly defined. The emotional build is consistent, but the scenes are allowed to stand alone, not necessarily progressing narratively from each other. A standout moment was Giovanni quitting his job without real explanation or plan of what he’ll do next, just an example of the grief and confusion in the family’s lives. Apparently made as a tribute to Moretti’s own mother (a Latin teacher like Ada) who died while he was working on Habemus Papam.


It’s not just the work/life balance that this film gets so right, but also — and more crucially — how you can never master your own life to the point where a personal hardship can’t make you feel like an utter amateur.

Won a prize at last year’s Cannes, was Cahiers’ pick for film of the year, and won Buy her fifth Italian best-actress award. It’s really good.

Women He’s Undressed (2015, Gillian Armstrong)

This worked nicely with our True/False documentary theme – a talking-heads interview doc about classic Hollywood costume designer Orry Kelly that also features slippery gossip and actors portraying Orry (Darren Gilshenan, murdered realtor Bob Platt in Top of the Lake) and his mom and others. Armstrong allowed the interviewees to be contradictory, even questioning the purpose of the film. I’m not usually so into the personal lives of stars (had no idea that Cary Grant and Randolph Scott were “roommates”) but this movie was charming as hell and full of classic clips and fabulous gowns, so we dug it all.

First movie I’ve seen by Gillian Armstrong. Note to self: I have never seen her movie Charlotte Gray, starring Cate Blanchett. I always get it confused with Veronica Guerin, also starring Cate Blanchett, which I saw on video and disliked.

Southbound (2015)

Anthology movies are a SHOCKtober tradition – a tradition of uneven movies with at least one entirely bad segment and a hodgepodge of acting. This one’s pretty consistent in tone and instead of a framing story, the episodes transition into each other and even loop back-to-front. Doomed sketches set in a Twilight Zone-ish small-towns-and-wasteland universe, the sort of place a latter-day Hellraiser sequel would be set (the title perhaps a play on Hellbound). It’s also the second movie I’ve seen this month to feature David Yow, so that’s something special.

The Way Out and The Way In (Radio Silence)

The segments get named in the credits. Radio Silence = guys who made one of my favorite V/H/S segments. Blood-spattered Mitch and Jack are fleeing from floating grim-reaper demons, but caught in a time loop. Finally Jack is tired of running and a (really well-designed) monster just tears him apart. Mitch ends up in a hotel…

Siren (Roxanne Benjamin)

Three girls in a rock band leave the hotel and break down, are rescued by a family who turn out to be in a demonic cult. Reference to a fourth band member who died, which seems to be an artificial time-filler, discord-spreader. No need, since Ava and Kim eat the mystery meat at dinner and become possessed by the devil, while Sadie escapes, only to be hit by a car. The director was a producer on the three V/H/S movies, and survivor Fabianne Therese was in John Dies at the End.

The White Tights:

Kensington Twins:

The Accident (David Bruckner)

Bruckner made the V/H/S segment where two dudes bring a large-eyed hellbeast girl home from the bar. I’m starting to sense a connection between this movie and the V/H/S series. This one was my favorite. The guy Lucas who hit Sadie with his car calls 911 and follows their advice, to load her into his car and drive into town looking for help. Panicky Lucas (Mather Zickel, Jon’s bodyguard on Delocated season 2) finds the town abandoned, loads the girl into the local hospital and continues to follow phone instructions to save her life. He ends up killing her and the voices on the phone laugh at him.

Jailbreak (Patrick Horvath)

Transition via one of the “911 operators” at a pay phone to a forsaken town full of cult symbols where Danny (David Yow!) busts into a bar (named The Trap, ugh) with a gun to rescue his sister Jesse (Omaha’s Tipper Newton), for whom he’s searched for over a decade. But Jesse doesn’t want to leave, and despite his gun everyone here seems more dangerous than Danny. Horvath made no V/H/S episodes, but wrote/directed The Pact 2.

The movie kinda peters out from this segment into the next one, a generic home-invasion scene by masked intruders avenging something or other, killing the parents and tenacious, bat-wielding daughter. As demon-creatures rise from the corpses, the masked killers turn out to be the dudes from the first episode.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, Ana Lily Amirpour)

T. Robinson for The Dissolve:

Amirpour has said she was inspired in part by the way wearing a chador made her feel like a bat, and that mental image becomes clear in a moment where The Girl leaps, and looks both like she’s spreading her wings and like she’s wearing a superhero’s cape.

That image (and the girl “floating” down sidewalks on a skateboard) and some lovely widescreen cinematography, slow posing and cool rock music are mainly what we’ve got here. Sure there’s a story: Arash’s slick car is repossessed by local drug dealer because of dude’s hopeless drug-addict dad, then when the dealer is murdered by a wandering vampire, Arash finds himself in an unexpected position of power. The story is almost beside the point though, as the movie drifts along on atmosphere and mood – not a horror mood really, but a derivative Jarmusch aloofness which would be more valuable had he not made his own vampire movie the year before.

Matt Lynch:

Doesn’t really do anything else besides be gorgeous, occasionally letting its pieces click together into something thoughtful like the way she finds her moral boundaries blurring as she interacts with different people. It’s funny and beautiful and mostly disorganized and definitely overlong, but as stylish mood pieces go you could do a lot worse.

Amirpour is Iranian but this was shot in California. The local prostitute was Mozhan Marnò (star of The Stoning of Soraya M.), the girl was Sheila Vand of Argo, and Arash just appeared in another Iranian horror film, Under the Shadow.

Varieté (1925, E.A. Dupont)

Another great night with the Alloy Orchestra. Probably the number one advantage to living in Lincoln is that they come through every year with a different silent film – last year was Man with the Movie Camera, the year before was Son of the Sheik. Now I’ve bought their Phantom of the Opera on DVD, and I’ll see if I can sync the CD of their Lonesome score with the Criterion blu-ray – unlikely, but it’ll be fun to try.

Emil Jannings (same year as Tartuffe) is introduced as a sonofabitch who mistreats his woman, soon leaving her and their young child and running off with Lya de Putti (Murnau’s Phantom and the Joe May Indian Epic). They work circus acts until noticed by trapeze star Artinelli (Warwick Ward, who became a producer in the 1930’s) and asked to join his act. Artinelli easily steals away Emil’s girl while Emil spends all his time drinking and gambling (don’t trapeze performers have to stay in shape?), and when he realizes the betrayal he plots revenge. Some fun first-person shots from the trapeze were this film’s main attraction when it opened. Emil envisions his boss having a fatal “accident” – somehow he can’t bring himself to drop the guy, but is okay stabbing him to death

Ouch from Dave Kehr:

The blatancy that makes it so easy to teach is also its chief drawback as art. Expressionism needed the taste and insight of a Murnau to be transformed from a manner to a style; this film, untransformed, is the work of the negligible E.A. Dupont.

Targets (1968, Peter Bogdanovich)

P-Bog’s first (official) feature is a doozy, following two stories and expertly building tension until they collide at the end. I’d seen P-Bog’s latest movies, She’s Funny That Way and the Tom Petty doc and The Cat’s Meow, but none of his most famous work, so I checked this one out for Shocktober.

Cranking out a cheapie thriller with Boris Karloff, P-Bog himself plays film director Sam who cranks out cheapie thrillers with Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff) – although the Orlok pictures look like more generic costume/castle/monster flicks (Corman’s The Terror, specifically), while Targets is up to something else entirely. After his latest screening, Sam is plotting something new, a more self-reflexive movie which will use Orlok’s star power in a different way, but Orlok is sick of it all and decides to retire immediately (Sam: “I’m gonna go offer it to Vincent Price”). Orlok will go back and forth over the next day, finally agreeing to read the new script and un-canceling his speaking appearance at the local drive-in.

Meanwhile, Bobby (a clean-cut Matt Damon-type) has a bland life with his mom, gun-nut dad (James Brown of Objective, Burma!) and inattentive wife (he tries to tell her he “gets funny ideas”, but she fatally doesn’t listen). After calmly scouting locations, he shoots his wife and mom, leaves a note for the police then heads out on a murder rampage, first targeting highway drivers then positioning himself behind the drive-in screen. He starts shooting spectators – real violence erupting from behind/inside a horror film – until Orlok marches over and slaps him down.

Long takes, unusually naturalistic movie, complete with stumbled lines and people talking over each other. Orlok/Karloff watches himself in Howard Hawks’s The Criminal Code and Sam comments “all the good movies have been made.” Fascinating blend of P-Bog’s cinephilia and realistic violence (based on a California sniper attack a couple years prior). Uncredited script work by Sam Fuller, apparently, and shot by the great Laszlo Kovacs.

K. Uhlich:

Struck this time by how mercilessly this Corman-produced quickie portrays the banality of evil. One of the finest treatises on the subject, in addition to how viewing movies as an escape is an outright denial of their much more ambiguous function in society.