Anton Yelchin (Ian in Only Lovers Left Alive) likes ice cream girl Olivia (Alexandra Daddario of Texas Chainsaw 3D), is tired of his vegan environmentalist girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene of Butter) but before he can break up with Evelyn she’s killed by a truck (unconvincing death scene weirdly scored by a Phosphorescent song) and later comes back as a bitchy zombie.

Full of easy horror references, out-of-date gender politics and default-sounding movie-dialogue. Anton’s half-brother, the Ed to his Shaun, is Oliver Cooper (Project X) who I think gets nearly killed by Evelyn but comes back at the end, or wait, does he come back as a zombie? I’m trying not to give this too much thought and pretend it’s not by the same Joe Dante who made Gremlins and Matinee. Also: it’s another movie where someone is keeping a secret for no reason other than plot contrivance, and Anton is a massive horror movie fan but doesn’t know how to dispatch a zombie.

My sole SHOCKtober feature this year. Still upset that I missed this in its one-week, Atlanta-only theatrical run. It opened with no publicity on a week that I didn’t check the papers assuming nothing was playing. Anyway I was determined to watch Joe Dante’s newest, excited despite the average-ish reviews it got. And it’s a pretty average movie – imaginative, but still a gentle teen horror flick about growing up and overcoming your fears.

Gearing up to battle evil:

Bringing to mind The Gate and The Handsome Family, two boys with a hard-working mom (Teri Polo, Dan’s girlfriend in Sports Night) and violent, imprisoned dad team up with the hottie next door (Haley Bennett of Kaboom) and find a bottomless hole in the basement of their new rental house. This is where the 3D effect would shine – all the experimental lowering of things into the camera/hole.

Teri:

Killer Klown – good puppetry in this movie:

The kids’ darkest fears start following them around town (except older boy Dane who is afraid of nothing). Neighbor Julie is haunted by her best friend who died when they were younger. Little Lucas is just afraid of clowns. After Dick Miller’s wasted silent cameo as a pizza guy, the kids venture to the abandoned glove factory “Gloves by Orlac” to ask former homeowner (and holeowner) Bruce Dern (a couple decades after The ‘Burbs) what is up – but he’s little help and is soon silenced by the Hole.

Dick:

Bruce:

Dane has a fear after all, that his dad will come back and beat the hell out of his family, so the movie turns nightmarish as he battles his Danzig-looking father (played by “one of the tallest actors in Canada”) in a CG-assisted Caligari-house. Fears conquered, the hole becomes a simple crawlspace.

Dante’s version of kids today hasn’t changed much since Explorers – it’s definitely set in the present (The Killers and Jonas Bros are mentioned) but these boys’ ideas of fun include sketching, reading books (including the other Dante’s Divine Comedy) and throwing the ol’ baseball around (though they do have a Playstation).

Good gag: the kids turn away when mom comes home, missing the giant eyeball recorded by the camera they lowered into the hole:

Someting Dante and I have in common: Morristown!

From the nerdist interview:
“When you’re shooting for 3-D, do you feel a bit like John Goodman in Matinee?”
JD: “I always feel like John Goodman in Matinee.”

“So if there were a hole in Joe Dante’s basement, what would come out of it?”
JD: “Financing for my next picture!”

From skimming the extras, it sounds like this was a labor of love by American Cinematheque programming head Dennis Bartok, friend of Dante and Hellman, who wrote and produced. So on one hand, I respect the years spent assembling this, getting the help of excellent but underworked filmmakers, crafting an old-time hollywood-referencing haunted-house anthology story. On the other hand, it’s neither scary nor visually interesting nor creatively written – not exactly destined to be a horror classic.

Looks like the only non-Dante-directed films Dick Miller has been in since 1995 are a Lou Diamond Phillips thriller and a sci-fi comedy from the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra guy:
img

In the wraparound story directed by Joe Dante, bunch of Hollywood residents have received free tickets to tour an abandoned studio. Henry Gibson drives them around, getting an ornery Dick Miller to open the spooky gate leading them to the haunted house set. Or is it a real haunted house?!? The bunch (eight or so) seem to be trapped, so Henry prompts them to each tell a personal scary story in hopes of coaxing the house to let them leave.

Cool model shot from the haunted house:
img

GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN BREASTS

The latest work I’ve seen by Ken Russell since I wasn’t able to finish Whore. He’s still at it, making flamboyant, perverse little pictures. Girl gets breast implants to make herself more appealing to casting directors. It works, and soon she’s bonking some stud (both in a picture and behind the scenes), but her breasts have a tendency to bite, which is upsetting her man.

img

She goes back to the plastic surgery joint, but her doctor is on ice so she’s confronted with these guys instead:

img

The middle one is Mad Ken himself. Boobs, computer graphics and campy hilarity… it’s all downhill from here.

JIBAKU

Sean S. Cunningham (who hasn’t done anything I’ve heard of since Friday the 13th) immediately drags everything down after the blitz of fun provided by Ken a few minutes earlier. Julia and her husband are in Japan for some boring business. They run into a dead guy, so a monk (Ryo Ishibashi – warden in Big Bang Love, star of Suicide Circle and Audition) tries to comfort them.

He was also in Dream Cruise:
img

Julia has an affair with a young dude named Seishin (is it the guy who killed himself earlier?), goes to some kinda sex-hell which awkwardly combines live-action and anime. Her husband saves her, whew. Key line: “I was sexually molested by a dead monk and dragged into the mouth of Buddhist hell.”

Hell looks like a Japanese cartoon; Why am I not surprised?
img

STANLEY’S GIRLFRIEND

Monte Hellman, formerly known for such awesomeness as Two Lane Blacktop and The Shooting, now this is his first film since Silent Night, Deadly Night III. A shame. The movie itself is a shame, too…

John Saxon (Nightmare on Elm St., Mitchell), looking good for being in his seventies:
img

This is a deadly dull segment (with some classic film references, including L’Atalante) about a young filmmaker (no longer played by John Saxon, alas) who hangs out with his talented friend Stanley, who stops going out one month after he gets a hot girlfriend. Stan suddenly disappears, leaving the hot girlfriend to our man Leo, who proceeds to have a torrid affair with her.

img

But she ruins his life and sucks away his talent, leaving him a hollow shell of a failed Hollywood burnout for the rest of his life. While Stanley (last name withheld) moves to England, freed from the woman’s curse, and makes such classics as A Clockwork Yellow, Half Metal Jacket, Dr. Lovestrange and The Shinning, leaving Leo in his will a short film from the early 1900’s of the girlfriend, an ageless vampire!

Nice color for 1900:
img

MY TWIN, THE WORM

John Gaeta, VFX guy from the Matrix series, shines here. Maybe it’s because he had more to prove, or because he’s had recent practice making decent films, but this is pretty good.

img

The story is nothing much… woman is unable to get a tapeworm removed because she’s pregnant, so baby and worm develop together, and as girl grows up, she has a secret worm-sister who avenges her against evil babysitters. Some nice visual style almost makes up for the by-the-books plainness of the previous two episodes. The last three segments need visual style to survive, because they’re talky and the dialogue is boring (I have the feeling Ken did some uncredited writing on his bit).

img

Back to our framing story and it turns out everyone here is… dead? Or damned? Or supposed to be dead but escaped Final Destination style and now being rounded up by grim reaper Henry Gibson?

Oh no, Henry Gibson (Magnolia, The ‘burbs, The Nutty Professor) died last month. I hadn’t heard. This was his second to last film.
img

“Trapped Ashes is a reflection of Hollywood as a place that’s sort of between living and dying, between being famous and being forgotten.”

More of a kids movie than I’d expected, after Looney Tunes was more of an adult movie than I’d expected. Has the kids-in-charge feeling of Explorers, but the kids are more horny, troubled teens than young dreamers. The movie, with its innocent toy creatures threatening a whole town and all its makeshift inventions, references its own debt to Gremlins by throwing the word “gizmo” around as David Cross’s computer password.

Sets up a fight between the military-chip-implanted Commando Elite (voiced by Tommy Lee Jones, Bruce Dern and the cast of The Dirty Dozen) and the peaceful alien Gorgonites (Frank Langella and the cast of Spinal Tap), joined by a frankensteined group of mutant barbies (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Christina Ricci).

Purple whirling Gorgonite reminds of the Tazmanian Devil and one of the Twilight Zone creatures:
image

I admit the barbies were my favorites:
image

Dick Miller, making his umpteenth Dante film appearance, plays the twinkle-eyed adult who connects with our young protagonist (and gives him the devil toys).
image

Robert Picardo doesn’t get mentioned enough in these pages. He’s appeared in nine Joe Dante movies, most memorably as the cowboy in Innerspace.
image

Apparently it got somewhat-screwed with its PG-13 rating but still made a tidy profit, and probably helped get Dante Looney Tunes: Back In Action, which probably killed his career for a few years. Dedicated to the great Phil Hartman, murdered a month and a half before its release.

image

I was expecting that this would be very bad, and was hoping to find a few inspired moments or some cool animation to pick out of the wreckage, but then I liked the whole movie so now I don’t know what to write. I don’t get why Brendan Fraser has to be in every single live/animation hybrid flick, but he and Jenna Elfman were just fine in this. Lotta jokes at the expense of movie studios, the Warner Brothers (played by Don & Dan Stanton from Terminator 2 and Gremlins 2), Brendan Fraser, product placement and movie conventions.

image

Timothy Dalton plays the star of a suspiciously James-Bond-like franchise, and is just-fired studio security guard Fraser’s father. Fraser heads to Vegas with also-just-fired Daffy Duck while studio exec Elfman in league with Bugs looks for them. Note Dick Miller as Fraser’s security coworker.
image

Tim Dalton turns out to be an actual spy, working against the evil Acme corporation (headed by Steve Martin, who is acting strangely Mike Myers-like in this screenshot.
image

Good to see Joan Cusack as a secret government scientist (not to mention Robbie the Robot).
image

Roger Corman cameos, believably enough, as a film director.
image

Kevin McCarthy reprises his Body Snatchers role – in black and white!
image

Of course the plot is a thin excuse for a thousand gags and highlight scenes for every major Looney Tunes character. Yosemite Sam and Wile E. Coyote work for Acme, Tweety and Sylvester are Fraser’s neighbors, Marvin Martian is captive in Cusack’s lab, Pepe Le Pew appears in a sidetrack to Paris (where there are Jerry Lewis movie posters all over). Super fun movie… I’m actually so impressed that this was so good, after I’d heard everywhere what a failure it was. Even Dante seems to be making excuses for it in recent interviews (I’m guessing the terrible Scooby/Shaggy cameo is one of the last-minute studio changes he complains about).

Some highlights: a split-screen phone call where the screen effect smashes Daffy:
image

And a romp through famous paintings at the Louvre… here’s Elmer as Munch’s The Scream:
image

Turns out the movie wasn’t as universally hated as I’d thought. According to Slate, writer and director were fed up with the studio by the time the movie came out, and neither them nor any of the stars participated in the DVD extras. The NY Times and AV Club sure disliked it, but good reviews were posted by J. Rosenbaum (“I had a ball”) and G. Kenny (“comedy of the year”). After reading a couple appreciations I am anxious to rewatch and look for some of the hundreds of gags I missed. I guess it comes down to how much fun you’re willing to have with it. For instance, some reviewers cringed at Steve Martin trying to be funny again, and called him out as a fraud (as if he’s Robert De Niro in Rocky & Bullwinkle), while others bothered to notice that Martin completely succeeded… David Edelstein:

Steve Martin, moreover, is a miracle. Determined not to be upstaged by his flamboyant Warner costars, he has concocted a “supertwit” that is at times at least their equal. His red hair parted in the middle, he staggers around the set in sneakers and an ill-fitting suit, jerking his torso, windmilling his arms—stopping his gyrations only to saunter up to one of several repulsed women, convinced that he is catnip to the ladies. This is the old Steve Martin, the whirligig genius of The Jerk (1979), The Man With Two Brains (1983), and All of Me (1984). To see him this way after at least a decade of domesticated dreck is to love all the more the liberating influence of Warner Bros. cartoons.

Katy and I each saw this movie when we were little. She has always hated it because it gave her nightmares, and I have always loved it because it seemed weird and awesome and had Corey Feldman in it. Watching it again, it seems neither love nor hate is appropriate… it’s a pretty good movie. Pretty well made, pretty funny, with pretty good acting and a pretty satisfying ending. As a Joe Dante fan I was cheering for another Matinee, but it seems I got another Explorers instead.

Tom Hanks (between Big and Joe vs. the Volcano, on his way to permanent movie-stardom) is a listless suburban dad with wife Carrie Fisher and nosy neighbors Bruce Dern (manic, scuzzy, Busey-esque – he should be in every movie), fat Canadian comic Rick Ducommun, and still-cool Corey Feldman (I don’t know if he lives on the block or has just been hired to paint somebody’s porch). They get into comic situations trying to spy on new neighbors the Klopeks, suspicious that they have kidnapped or murdered toupee-wearing little-dog-toting neighbor Walter (1960’s TV star Gale Gordon). Finally they break into the house when the Klopeks are away, accidentally blowing it sky high by activating the overpowered furnace in the basement. Hanks thinks they’ve proven nothing except how smallminded they’ve been, but in an incredibly unsurprising twist ending, it turns out the Klopeks were murderous evildoers after all and Hanks’ gang is off the hook.

Dante throws in some cartoonish visuals, has Feldman talk into camera at the end, but it’s not as stylish or fun as his other movies, feels more tied to the obvious script. The story seems like a mystery, then starts developing into a satire of suburbia, making the suspicious neighbors look crazy and the weird reclusive family seem like the victims, culminating in a speech by Hanks (who barely comes alive in the movie otherwise) – but this is undercut by the ending.

A good Jerry Goldsmith score – in fact that might have been the best thing about the film. Robert Picardo (theater manager in Matinee, lead in 976-EVIL) and the wonderful Dick Miller cameo as garbagemen. Besides the ever-hungry comic-relief Rick Ducommun and our blank lead Hanks and his wife, the other characters are all exciting and worth watching, especially gun nut Bruce Dern and the Klopeks. The diminutive doctor is Henry Gibson of Nashville, inbred-looking young Hans is Courtney Gains, five years after playing a lead corn kid in Children of the Corn, and horrible mean uncle Reuben is Brother Theodore, who I hear was “one of America’s most respected humorists and monologists.” Dante, or whoever was responsible for casting, put an excellent enough group together to compensate for any script problems.

I read that the ending of the script had Tom Hanks getting killed at the end, leading to the same studio-mandated rewrite that Gremlins got. Wasn’t until the Masters of Horror episodes that Joe could finally execute all his main characters at the end of the movie, just like he’s always wanted to.

This must be the best book I’ve read on the work of a director. It’s organized just how I’d like, with articles covering all aspects of Tashlin’s work (with little overlap), interviews with Tashlin and with others about Tashlin, excerpts from his cartoons, plenty of photographs, critical write-ups of each film he directed and detailed chronology and filmography of all his work. I read the library copy straight through. Gotta adjust myself to not being able to put it on my shelf of film books since it’s so far out of print… can’t own everything, ya know.

Some edited excerpts:

Jonathan Rosenbaum:

It seems to me that “Tashlinesque” can mean one or more of five different strains in the contemporary cinema which I will list below, with appropriate examples…

A. Graphic expression in shapes, colors, costumes, settings and facial expressions derived from both animated and still cartoons and comic books: The 500 Fingers of Dr. T., I Want To Go Home, Dick Tracy

B. Sexual hysteria – usually (if not invariably) grounded in the combination of male adolescent lust and 1950s’ notions of feminine voluptuousness: Seven Year Itch, The Nutty Professor, Lord Love a Duck, The Man With Two Brains

C. Vulgar modernism: a “popular, ironic, somewhat dehumanized mode reflexively concerned with the specific properties of its medium or the conditions of its making” (Hoberman): Duck Amuck, Hellzapoppin’, Sullivan’s Travels, The Patsy, Real Life, The Purple Rose of Cairo

D. Intertextual film references: Shoot The Piano Player, Zazie dans le metro, Celine & Julie Go Boating, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

E. Contemporary social satire: products, gadgets, fads, trends: Christmas In July, A King in New York, Mon oncle, Tampopo


J. Hoberman

Tashlin’s films ultimately have less to do with the production of cultural forms than with their packaging and consumption. His America is a nation of robotic image junkies whose minds have been colonized by the media. Jerry Lewis’s landlady in Rock-a-Bye Baby does exactly what TV commercials tell her to do, even to the point of dying her hair vermilion; the movie fans in Hollywood or Bust and Rock Hunter are little more than popcorn and fan-mag consuming zombies. The protagonist of The Girl Can’t Help It is made to hallucinate singer Julie London every time he hears one of her records on a jukebox.


Bernard Eisenschitz

Although Truffaut and his colleagues at Cahiers knew little English and even less about contemporary trends in American theater and jazz… they were not caught unawares by The Girl Can’t Help It and Hollywood or Bust. Rivette, Rohmer and Truffaut rated them “masterpieces” in the same month as The Wrong Man and Chikamatsu monogatari. A phantasy view of America to be sure, but no less valid than the recent sociological approach, in which films have little place. Tashlin not only identified and denounced the contradiction of American cinema, but also embodied it, since the ambivalence of his films makes it impossible to say which side he is taking, or to be sure that he is not exploiting the very thing that he is denouncing. The Cahiers group did not only see Tashlin as radically destructive, they also appreciated the sheer beauty of what he showed.

Playing to the French title of Hollywood or Bust, Charles Bitsch wrote, “A true movie nut, Tashlin is the first to have made films for other true movie nuts.”


Tashlin in 1964

Cartoons are a very stimulating medium. For animators, the joke reigns supreme. But it’s also a world of enslavement. The world of an animator, no matter how fertile his ideas may be, is in the end, a confined frame, a tiny glass cel where his creations come to life. It’s as though the whole universe were reduced to a series of postcards. You spend your whole life splicing, flipping through cel sheets, drawing frame by frame. After a few years the whole thing becomes so debilitating that you lose all contact with the real world.

same interview, after he’d quit working at Disney in 1941…

I sought refuge at Leon Schlesinger’s where I worked on the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons, then went to Screen Gems at Columbia where John Hubley and I developed the “Fox and Crow” series. I became a gagman for Harpo Marx in A Night In Casablanca. The mirror sequence, which I invented specially for him, was a series of variations on an old gag … Then I worked for Eddie Bracken, and later for Bob Hope.


Tashlin in 1962

I really hate television. It’s no experience. You sit at home, you don’t get dressed and go out. It’s free – the audience doesn’t participate – they sit there and turn the dial and be critical. I detest it.


1994 interview with Bill Krohn and Joe Dante:

BK: So much live-action filmmaking today is influenced by cartoons which he was the first to do, but so little of it has any social pertinence.
JD: That’s because he was influenced by better cartoons. The people who are doing cartoons today are basing them on The Flintstones. That was the nadir; cartoons were disappearing as cartoons and becoming radio shows. Doing live-action cartoons – movies like L’il Abner, Popeye – it’s a very tough thing to do. But the Flintstones themselves were so uncartoonlike that it’ll be a little easier to translate them into live action. Whereas to do Bugs Bunny, or to do characters that really are fanciful, you just can’t do that in live action.


Mike Barrier interviews Tashlin in 1971

MB: I understand you worked on the very first development of Lady and the Tramp too.
FT: That’s right, Sam [Cobean] and I did that whole story; I’d forgotten about that.
MB: Were you working from the story that Ward Greene wrote?
FT: I don’t recall the book. Joe Grant had modeled the dog, Lady, and Sam and I did a story. I never saw the film… I think we had rats coming after the baby at the end… did they have that? Then that’s what we did.

MB: You’ve mentioned that when you made your cartoons, you were looking forward to feature work. Now that you’ve been making features for many years, have there been occasions when you’ve looked back to your cartoon work and tried to get a cartoon flavor in some of your films?
FT: Oh I guess quite often, because all the reviewers – Truffaut and Godard and all these people when they were reviewers on Cahiers du Cinema, they always treated my films, my Jerry Lewis films and all, as a cartoon. I did a picture with Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield [The Girl Can’t Help It] and as far as they were concerned, that was a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and the fact that his name was Tom and hers was Jerri – which I never thought of – they said, “She is the cat and he is the mouse.”


From the chronology:

1952 – Tashlin spends nearly six months working with Robert Welch on the script for “Sapphire Sal,” later re-titled Red Garters. Tashlin is originally set to direct, but when he checks off the Paramount lot in late August the production is put on hold awaiting the loan-out of Jane Russell from RKO. (Red Garters, not produced until 1954, ultimately stars Rosemary Clooney, with screenplay credit going to Michael Fessier.)

Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey
Short doc of the duo band at SXSW. Funny! Seen below massaging the feet of Peaches.
image

Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008, Nick Park)
This was as fast-paced as the action scenes in the Wallace & Gromit full-length, and packed full of jokes and puns. Our heroes are bakers now, and a former bread company model, now grown fat on breads and pastries, is out for revenge on the bakery world. She gets cozy with Wallace, plotting to murder him with a giant cartoon bomb (among other things) while Gromit and the woman’s terrified pet poodle try to ruin her plans. Lovely movie, probably inspired by the name of cowriter Bob Baker and/or voice actor Peter Sallis’s appearance in the movie Who Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe. Must check out Nick Park’s series Shaun The Sheep.
image

Living in a Reversed World
Educational doc. Sadistic Austrian professor, trying to prove a point about perception, gets students to wear special mirror/prism glasses which reverse left/right or up/down and see if they can adjust. They can. He also puts goggles on a chicken, which I don’t think is a good idea.
image

The Contraption (1977, James Dearden)
Closeups of construction. What’s he building in there? What the hell… is he building in there? Turns out to be a giant mousetrap for our suicidal handyman. Dearden later made Matt Dillon thriller A Kiss Before Dying. Contraption-builder Richard O’Brien had lately been in Rocky Horror, would play Mr. Hand in Dark City. Tied for best short at the Berlin fest… this is pretty neat, but I wouldn’t have thought it an award-winner.
image

Cameras Take Five (2003, Stephen Woloshen)
Abstract hand-drawn animation set to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. Liked it, not super busy, didn’t think people were doing stuff like this anymore.
image

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Double Feature (1966, Hubleys)
John & Faith animate two short musical numbers to Spanish Flea and Tijuana Taxi. Not slick like the Doonesbury short, homemade-looking. Cute pieces though (predictably about a flea and a taxi). Beat out a Pink Panther short and an anti-smoking PSA for the oscar. Rough year for animation, I guess. Lost at Cannes to a documentary on Holland (not by Bert Haanstra).
image

The Tortoise and the Hare (1935, Wilfred Jackson)
Hare is kinda an asshole – supposedly his character was stolen by Warners as a prototype for Bugs Bunny. This plays like the other Silly Symphonies, not as good as the Three Little Pigs though.
image

A Perfect Place (2008, Derrick Scocchera)
Sharp b-w cinematography and two very dryly comic actors (Mark Boone Jr. of Memento & Thin Red Line and Bill Moseley of all the Rob Zombie films) make for a good movie. In the first second, MBJ “kills” an acquaintance who was cheating at cards, then they spend the next 25 min trying to dispose of the body. Not the usual over-the-top situations either, movie keeps it cool. I guessed early on that the cheat wasn’t really dead but that didn’t make it less enjoyable. Dig the theme song by Mike Patton.
image

MANT! (1993, Joe Dante)
Tracigally not a full feature. All the scenes shot for the film-in-a-film of Dante’s awesome Matinee were assembled into this short included with the laserdisc.
image

Three excellent shorts by Norman McLaren. Fiddle-de-dee (1947, painted to an upbeat fiddle tune), Boogie-Doodle (1948, drawn with pen to a piano boogie) and Serenal (1959, etched and hand-colored to a Trinidadian string quartet number)

Fiddle-de-dee:
image

Boogie-Doodle:
image

Serenal:
image

Two of my comic/horror heroes, John Landis and Joe Dante, make a Twilight Zone movie alone with Steven “Raiders/E.T.” Spielberg and George “Mad Max” Miller. The result could’ve been a masterpiece, but you know how anthology films always turn out… nobody does their best work, and half the episodes are always weak.

John Landis’s untitled episode has a very unlikeable Vic Morrow getting his supernatural comeuppance, becoming a Jew in nazi germany, a black man at a klan rally, a victim of the vietnam war, then back to germany, after making racist, hateful comments to his buddies (both of whom have been in John Carpenter films). It’s a grimy, unpleasant episode, a bad way to start the series, and of course it’s incomplete due to the untimely decapitation-by-helicopter of the lead actor during shooting. Landis was tried and acquitted for Morrow’s death, as well as an assistant director who Alan Smithee’d himself in the credits. Landis’s intro to the movie almost makes up for the Morrow segment – Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks in a car singing TV theme songs for seven long minutes while the audience wonders if they’re in the wrong theater. If they’d have gone from that part right into the Spielberg, we would’ve had an improved 75-minute movie, and Landis’s longer piece would’ve achieved legendary status. Better that everyone wonders about a possible lost masterpiece than get to see the disappointing reality.

Vic Morrow: last known photo
image

Spielberg offers nothing but a big name to sell tickets and some Scatman Crothers. Explores the young-again themes he’d later revisit with Hook – Scatman gets some old folks to play kick the can at midnight and they turn young again – most opt to go back the way they were, but the British guy stays young and runs off into the night. Bill Quinn (of Dead & Buried, which I should be watching right now but I’ve stupidly turned on Organ which I don’t think I’ll finish) looks sadly after him wishing he’d gone out to play and turned young instead of being an old grump. Overly saccharine flick, maybe meant as an antidote to the unrelenting hatred of the previous piece, but maybe we’d have been better off with neither. Hmmm, but then we’ve got a great 50-minute movie, too short for theaters.

Murray Matheson in his final role, with the Scatman three years after The Shining
image

Dante had made The Howling and Piranha, but not yet the creatures-and-cartoons Explorers or Gremlins, so this was a sign of things to come. SFX master Rob Bottin, fresh off John Carpenter’s The Thing, created the ‘toon extravaganza at the end. Dante’s segment has the most sinister ending here – the woman and the kid drive off into the world to unleash unknown havoc. Unlike Spielberg, Dante has actual malice and danger behind the cute TV-and-toon-influenced worlds he creates. Anthony’s sister played by Nancy Cartwright (in her film debut), who would be a saturday morning cartoon regular three years later, followed by a 20+ year stint as Bart Simpson, plays the sister who gets beamed into the television. Kathleen Quinlan (later oscar-nom for Apollo 13) was the teacher, and Jeremy Licht (who spent six years on a Jason Bateman TV show) played Anthony. Dante faves Dick Miller and Kevin McCarthy show up as a scuzzy diner operator and Anthony’s terrified “uncle”.

I wonder what happens to Kevin McCarthy after the kid leaves the house
image

George Miller tries to go over the top of the Joe Dante piece, and maybe even succeeds, with Nightmare at 20,000 Feet starring John Lithgow. Lightning and wind, loopy camera angles, a plane monster, and an outrageous performance by Lithgow (as good as Raising Cain) keep this one humming. I forgot Lithgow ends up being taken away by an ambulance driven by Dan Aykroyd, ha.

Lithgow, acting sane while the stewardess is watching
image

I must’ve watched this a whole lot of times on HBO in the 80’s – I remembered almost all of it. DVD quality isn’t great, or maybe the film quality wasn’t all that to begin with. Half the movie looks dingy, slightly under-lit. The sound was nice though, and I cranked it. Good thing the disc has chapter stops – I think next time I’ll go from the intro straight to Good Life and 20,000 Feet – two stories which were also well done on The Simpsons, coincidentally.

Seemed like a good time to watch the season 3 episode of the original Twilight Zone starring Buster Keaton, “Once Upon a Time” from 1961, the final credited work directed by Norman McLeod (who worked with Marx Bros., Lloyd and Keaton), written by Richard Matheson (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet). Keaton, a scientist’s janitor in 1890, tired of noise and inflation, uses a time-helmet to transport to the year 1960, where he meets another scientist (Stanley Adams of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and High School Big Shot) who desperately wants to live in the past, a simpler time. The helmet is stolen, broken and repaired, while Keaton steals some new pants and discovers traffic, television and vacuum cleaners. They both travel to 1890, where the scientist is miserable for lack of transistors and TV dinners. Pretty nice episode, obviously not creepy in any way, but then neither was that Spielberg thing.

His first good role in nine years:
image