Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)

Took a couple weeks off the blog, now back to the SHOCKtober backlog. Got a new visual theme to support larger images (and incidentally phones/tables/etc) so beginning with this post, screenshots are no longer limited to 640px wide. Party!

After enjoying The Tenant, I decided to rewatch the rest of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy:” this and Repulsion, both of which I’d seen on cable so long ago that I may as well have never seen them at all before now. Obviously these movies were the highlight of Shocktober this year, alongside Hellraiser, Scanners and Possession. After not paying him much attention until 2011, I’m a big Polanski fan. All three apartment movies have terrific peephole shots, and this and Repulsion both have a dream sequence in which a ticking clock is the only sound. I found out in the extras that Polanski threw off the lipsynch in another dream sequence on purpose – I’d been annoyed at the technical flaw but he meant it to add to the unreal atmosphere.

Omaha native Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and husband Guy (John Cassavetes, same year as Faces) shop for an NYC apartment with realtor Elisha Cook (Phantom Lady, The Killing), settle on a place with nosy neighbors whose previous tenant passed away just a few days before. Mia’s first friend (Victoria Vetri, Playmate of the Month right before this filmed) jumps to her death soon after they move in. Already this is sounding like The Tenant, but instead of the new tenants going slowly insane, aspiring actor Guy makes a deal with the intrusive Castevet couple next door to have his wife impregnated with the antichrist.

Collateral damage: the suicide woman, who it’s assumed was meant to be the demon child’s host before Rosemary came along, Hutch, the couple’s best friend before the whole demon pregnancy thing (Maurice Evans, a lead ape the same year in Planet of the Apes), Guy’s competition for a major acting role (he goes inexplicably blind). I think Rosemary’s doctor, the great Charles Grodin (as opposed to the doc the Castevets choose for her, Ralph Bellamy of The Wolf Man), is allowed to live.

Even without the demon baby, moving in next door to the Castevets seems like horror movie material – this may be what led to The Tenant. Paradoxically, the crazy Castevets also keep the mood light, injecting humor into the horror. Ruth Gordon won an oscar (beating the star of Cassavetes Faces), would star in Harold and Maude a few years later, and Sidney Blackmer played Leslie Nielsen’s dad in Tammy and the Bachelor. The ending is intense, though – Rosemary discovering the whole conspiracy, walks into a room with her demon baby, her traitor husband and a bunch of revelers yelling “hail Satan,” and instead of hurling herself out the window or burning the place to the ground, she approaches the cradle and starts to rock it gently.

Polanski’s first American film after Repulsion and two others in England. There was a sequel! It starred Pontypool‘s Stephen McHattie as the demon kid now in his twenties, with Patty Duke and Ray Milland. Mia Farrow starred in Secret Ceremony, another disappearing child/hysterical mom movie the same year as Rosemary’s.

Author Ira Levin in 2003:

Lately, I’ve had a new worry. The success of Rosemary’s Baby inspired Exorcists and Omens and lots of et ceteras. Two generations of youngsters have grown to adulthood watching depictions of Satan as a living reality. Here’s what I worry about now: if I hadn’t pursued an idea for a suspense novel almost forty years ago, would there be quite as many religious fundamentalists around today?

Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski)

Catherine Deneuve is pretty and timid, a bit spacey, but nobody suspects (except possibly her older sister Helen, if she has ever paid that much attention) the extent of her psychosis until Helen goes on vacation with her awful boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry, philandering zombie in Tales from the Crypt), leaving Catherine alone in their apartment with her thoughts. It turns out her thoughts are dangerous.

Maybe this is just a 1960’s thing, but when Catherine finally starts murdering people (first her stalker who thinks she’s in a relationship, then her landlord who offers an alternate method of paying the rent), I felt they were creeps who deserved it. But it seems from the extras that the movie just wants us to believe that Catherine is mad (and has always been mad, according to the final zoom into a childhood photo where she looks distracted/possessed).

A stylistic triumph on a tiny budget. Polanski’s follow-up to Knife in the Water and his UK debut, bankrolled by porn producers who would work with him again for Cul-de-sac. This one was written as the commercial hit that would fund the next one, a more personal work for Polanski. It’s lovely that slow-moving one-woman psychological horror with unproven stars (Deneuve had done Umbrellas of Cherbourg but wasn’t yet internationally renowned) used to be considered a sure hit.

Michael: John Fraser of Tunes of Glory

and Helen: Yvonne Furneaux, of La Dolce Vita

When Catherine is alone, the walls crack and ooze, rapist ghosts appear, hands grab her through the walls (a Cocteau-meets-Cronenberg effect using latex sheets bought from a condom factory). Polanski already showed a strong visual style with Knife in the Water, and here he’s got a ringer of a cinematographer: Gilbert Taylor had just shot A Hard Day’s Night and Dr. Strangelove. The film won a silver bear in Berlin alongside Le Bonheur (Alphaville got the gold).

TV 2014: New Shows and Old

Girls season 1 (2012)

“I don’t want to freak you out, but I think I might be the voice of my generation… or at least a voice… of a generation.”

I loved this. Most comedy shows look sloppy, like Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, The Thick of It, I assume as part of the improv/spontaneity/rewrite routine of ensemble comedy, but I love them anyway because of the actors, the characters, the writing. But this show has all those things plus a strong visual style.

I know Lena Dunham from Tiny Furniture. Best friend Marnie is Allison Williams, daughter of NBC News anchor/30 Rock guest-star Brian. British friend Jemima Kirke was also in Tiny Furniture, and her hyperactive virgin cousin Zosia Mamet is daughter of David. Lena’s boyfriend Adam Driver is the bass-voiced guy who says “outer… spaaace” in Inside Llewyn Davis. Marnie’s now-ex-boyfriend is Christopher Abbot of Martha Marcy May Marlene, Lena’s boss/Abbot’s best friend Ray is Alex Karpovsky, also also of Tiny Furniture and Inside Llewyn Davis.

Derek season 1 (2013)

The episodes follow a formula: Story setup, negativity and unappealing behavior, suspicion that the whole thing is exploitative of the aged residents who barely get any lines, gradual story resolution featuring Derek-provoked awkwardness, then beautifully compassionate Derek comments that leave me extremely happy and wanting to watch more episodes. Sometimes it’s too Derek-glorifying, like Gervais is compensating for his infamous The Office character by playing the most inspirationally compassionate character he could dream up, and the ending’s a total tearjerker but I think it’s setting up Derek’s dad for season 2. Regulars: Derek, Hannah, handyman Dougie (Karl Pilkington), gross hanger-on Kevin and volunteer Vicky.

Peep Show season 1 (2003)

The longest-running show by Mitchell & Webb (of two other self-titled shows, plus Bruiser and the new Ambassadors). Never seen these guys before, but I like ‘em. Mark/Mitchell is the guy with the steady job and Jeremy/Webb is the outgoing slacker roommate. The show’s gimmick is a first-person camera, swapping frequently between the two guys plus other people they meet, accompanied by voiceover of their thoughts, all quite well done.

Mitchell:

Webb:

Olivia Colman of Look Around You and Hot Fuzz (“Accidents happen all the time. What makes you think it was MUR-DUR?”)

30 Rock seasons 6 & 7 (2012-2013)

Still a good show, even if it stopped being a great show. Tina settles down with Cyclops and adopts babies. The show is cancelled, Baldwin becomes CEO of GE and appoints Kenneth president of the network.

We missed Tina Fey’s new Muppets sequel. Tracy Morgan did a voice in the Boxtrolls, was reportedly in a critical car crash this summer. Jane Krakowsi has a star-(and Adam Sandler)-studded sci-fi video-game comedy out next year. Jack McBrayer (from Macon, not Stone Mountain) is in They Came Together (and hopefully Wreck-It Ralph 2). Scott Adsit’s on some of the Adult Swim shows I’ve been missing and voices the inflatable robot in Big Hero 6. Judah Friedlander played Toby in American Splendor, appears in lots of horror sequels. Alec Baldwin’s upcoming films are still confidential or unconfirmed (there’s still hope that Boss Baby will fall through). Toofer’s got the lead in a drug-addict drama, Cerie appeared in horror Nurse 3D, Grizz has a show called Common Sense Police, Dot Com is in a romantic comedy about food in NYC which Katy will definitely watch on netflix someday, Lutz is a writer on Seth Meyers’s talk show, Jonathan does voices for two current cartoons, and Dr. Leo Spaceman is on Suburgatory and Archer.

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996, Dario Argento)

Someday I’d like to visit Italy and see if everyone acts the way they do in Argento films, moving all artificially and speaking poor dialogue out-of-sync with their mouths. Probably it’s just a very bad movie. And that’s not even counting the fact that it’s about a rape investigator (played by Argento’s daughter) who gets repeatedly raped (she’s also a cop who repeatedly gets her gun stolen), then it justifies this in the second half by having her become the killer. “He forced his way into me and now I can’t get rid of him.” Worse, I’m not even sure why I watched this. I’d previously read up on Argento and decided which movies might be worth watching (just the ones I’ve seen plus Crystal Plumage, Grey Velvet and Opera), and Stendhal Syndrome was not on the list. Maybe I put it on the netflix blu-queue as a placeholder? Anyway at least the picture on the disc looked fantastic.

The earliest Asia Argento I’ve seen, two years before New Rose Hotel. After being kidnapped and raped the first time she acts prickly towards a creep coworker (Marco Leonardi, love interest Pedro in Like Water For Chocolate) who is relentlessly trying to date her, starts seeing a psychologist (Paolo Bonacelli of Salo, one of the few films more icky than this one), and eventually returns to her stress-inducing family (to relax, haha), where she’s followed by both creep Marco and blood-obsessed rapist Thomas Kretschmann (Argento’s Dracula, also in Queen Margot with Asia).

Then she kills the rapist but keeps insisting he’s still alive, as she carries on his work, taking out the psychologist, her new French boyfriend Marie (a boy with a girl’s name as the movie continually mentions), Marco and a couple others.

Moo Orleans:

And by the way, Asia has the Stendhal Syndrome, which causes you to become entranced by works of art, but the movie doesn’t know what to do with this, plot-wise. It combines well-staged practical effects with the worst computer graphics I’ve ever seen, which is used with Fight Club excess (why, when she swallows pills, must we follow them down her throat?). It’s not just 1996 CGI – it’s Italian 1996 CGI. The movie has story problems (a half hour in, it’s already explaining its first scenes in flashback), missed opportunities (Marco brings Buster Keaton videos to a girl who imagines herself falling into paintings, but we get no Sherlock Jr. clip) and the unsurmountable flaw of having no recognizable human behavior. After reading that interview about invisible acting in The Dirties, and watching well-performed horrors like Hellraiser and The Tenant, this is especially disappointing. At least I could enjoy the paintings, the cinematography and the blatant Vertigo references.

Asia takes up painting:

Things I remembered while going through screenshots: (1) Asia gets amnesia between passing out at the art gallery and being raped by the loony, (2) she kisses a fish in a dream sequence, which looks like the romantic opposite of the zombie-vs-shark scene in Zombi 2, (3) she sees graffiti come alive in the loony’s lair, (4) her dad is freaky.

Asia loves fish:

A Summer’s Tale (1996, Eric Rohmer)

Currently my favorite Rohmer movie. I’ve always thought his movies looked nice, but never thought they looked glorious until now, and I’m worried that’s because I watched this one in theaters, which I’ve got little chance of doing with the others. Either way, the color cinematography, its look naturalistic but never at the expense of style and framing, was perfect.

The story doesn’t seem like all that, but the lead boy’s girl problems become increasingly engrossing. Don’t know how this fits with the Moral Tales, since we wait for our hero to make moral (or at least hastily-justified) life decisions, but he can’t seem to manage, finally ditching all three of his women to pursue a music career.

Melvil Poupaud (of Genealogies of a Crime and Mysteries of Lisbon), with black tousled Garrel-hair, is at the beach awaiting his girlfriend Lena. He befriends Margot (Amanda Langlet, title star of Pauline at the Beach), they hang out, go on long walks and once to a dance club where he sees Solene. Margot claims to be in a relationship, boyfriend is away for the summer, but doubts that Melvil’s is gonna last since his girl is a week late, encourages him to date Solene instead. Lena finally shows up, they have a great day then a less-great day, and Melvil has to decide if he’s taking his long-anticipated trip to a nearby island, and if so, with which girl (at this point, he’s invited each of them separately).

Not officially released in the U.S. until this year.
Third of his four seasons films, which I’m now tempted to watch all of.

G. Kenny:

As Gaspard tries to juggle his girls, he fails to perceive that he’s sinking into the quicksand of little white lies. And the more confident he gets, the more insufferable he becomes. Looking at the picture’s mostly sun-drenched and drolly cheerful surface layer, one marvels at Rohmer’s unerring sense of what drama kings and queens young people can be. But not too far below that surface is an ironic parable about how people, regardless of their age, use their romantic lives to construct their self-images.

The Boxtrolls (2014, Laika)

Another delight from Laika. Think we both enjoyed this even more than Coraline. Insect-eating Boxtrolls live beneath the city, taking scraps and bits of shop signage from the above world and transforming them into machinery. Also they have a human boy who thinks he’s a boxtroll until, while fleeing from the town’s obsessive boxtroll exterminator Archibald Snatcher (whose reward for total extermination will be admittance to high-society cheese tastings), he bumps into a macabre little girl who helps him discover that he’s the long-lost son of a missing inventor.

I particularly liked the armatures.

Stop motion inventors with an obsession for cheese obviously brought to mind Wallace & Gromit, so we watched The Wrong Trousers a few nights later.

Hellraiser (1987, Clive Barker)

First time I’ve watched this in HD.

Larry: Andrew Robinson, a regular on Deep Space Nine, formerly a soap opera star, bad guy in Dirty Harry, also in Pumpkinhead 2 and Child’s Play 3

Julia: Clare Higgins, apparently I missed her in season 3 of Downton Abbey

Kirsty: Ashley Laurence returned in three sequels, including Hellseeker which I don’t remember too well, also in a Lovecraft movie called Lurking Fear with Jeffrey Combs

Frank: Sean Chapman was in Barker’s Transmutations, and much later a Charisma Carpenter movie called Psychosis

Besides playing Pinhead, Doug Bradley has been in Pumpkinhead 3 and Proteus, and appeared in Nightbreed with two other cenobites.

Clive always claims to have a bunch of movies in development, but nothing has come out since the burst of originals in 2006-2009: Dread, Book of Blood, Midnight Meat Train and two (not great) Masters of Horror episodes.

The Keep (1983, Michael Mann)

A movie about nazis being killed off by aliens should’ve been more entertaining – besides a really fantastic smoke-monster effect, this was only pretty good. It tries to be very serious and sets up many conflicts (good alien/bad alien, good nazi/bad nazi, nazis/jews, etc.) then doesn’t do anything wonderful with any of these things.

Trevor: “it fell apart for me when none of the story mattered… mystery invincible guy with glowing eyes walks in and defeats the beast, the worst execution of deus ex machina.”

Smoke Monster, de-smoked:

Okay, Nazis led by Jurgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane in In the Mouth of Madness, and I think Kyle’s dad in Dune) occupy a Romanian town and camp in an empty fortress watched over by a priest (Robert Prosky of Christine and Gremlins 2), who calls in his professor friend Ian McKellen with daughter Alberta Watson (Hedwig/Hansel‘s mom) to translate ancient writings after soldiers keep showing up dead. Prochnow isn’t murdering enough villagers, so the more ruthless Gabriel Byrne (three years before Gothic) is sent to take charge, later shoots Prochnow dead. Smoke Monster heals the formerly-crippled Ian McKellen, says he’s a golem-like Jewish avenger who will crush all nazis if Ian frees him. The priest gets all shitty and tells Ian he can burn in hell (admittedly all the nazis might be stressing him out), meanwhile Mystery Invincible Guy (top-billed Scott Glenn, Jodie Foster’s boss in Silence of the Lambs) has sex with Ian’s daughter until she notices he has no reflection. I think Invincible Guy and the nazis and Smoke Monster all kill each other at the end?

Alberta with sex alien:

Ian under Smoke Monster’s spell:

Second movie I’ve watched this Shocktober where the first death is by exploding head. TV veteran Mann’s second feature, which he has since disowned, based on a story by the guy who wrote Pelts. The actors act as big as possible (apparently Ian McKellen has mellowed with age) and the then-trendy Tangerine Dream soundtrack does the nazi-horror atmosphere no favors. But it’s a startlingly different movie, anyway.

The Maze (1953, William Cameron Menzies)

Oh this was awful! The worst, slowest, MST3K-worthy British (“made in Hollywood USA,” the end titles promise, but trust me) “horror” movie, back when horror meant anything out of the ordinary. And yeah the movie turns out to be about a 200-year-old frog who is lord of a castle, and that ain’t a bad concept, but nobody dies except the frog (one old woman is frightened, and a younger woman screams!) and nothing happens for the first 75 minutes except rich British people speak slowly and properly and act put out by things. Oh, and someone is menaced by an even worse rubber bat than the one in Black Sunday.

Also: the maze isn’t even really important.

Giant frog suicide:

Unwelcome houseguests:

Richard Carlson (of The Ghost Breakers and It Came From Outer Space) is to marry Veronica Hurst (a small part in Peeping Tom) but his uncle dies and Carlson disappears to tend to the family castle. Hurst arrives with her insufferable relative Katherine Emery (Isle of the Dead), and they worry for over an hour then invite some friends who worry more, then Hurst gets out of her room and sees the frog and it jumps to its death and the couple who’ve shown no affection for each other can finally get married. The second-to-last feature by Menzies, who made Things to Come in better days, adapted from a novel by Daniel Ullman (writer of a hundred westerns). I was surprised to see that a 3D version exists, since dull people worrying aloud in 3D is no more thrilling than in 2D.

Carlson conspicuously reading his teratology guide:

Narrator Emery begins the movie centered in-frame but her chair slowly sinks. Here she is at her lowest, pleased as punch after the giant frog suicide: