FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Poe Excursions!

 

An Excursion in Poe

by Kristin Battestella

 

A little bit of Edgar can be found in anywhere – if you know where to look.

 

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Oval PortraitStormy nights, carriages, red velvet, and antiques accent this loose 1972 adaptation alongside candles, staircases, ominous housekeepers, late relatives, and ghostly piano playing. The titular painting, apparitions, and haunted house atmosphere come early with eerie music, lovelorn letters, and fainting ladies. However the inaccurate Civil War costumes, shabby uniforms, off kilter voices, and dark print make it difficult to tell who’s Union or Confederate. The echoing overlays, visions of past couples, and angry artist can’t overcome the lookalike characters, soap opera stylings, and rip off plots. Sure Poe’s tale is thin, but here the new wife shocks everyone by coming down the stairs in Rebecca’s clothes – and yes that’s the late subject’s name. More people keep arriving, but the ghostly possessions are put on hold for flashbacks with rally calls, cavalry, and a soldier on the lamb that look borrowed from another picture. If this scandal is where the story starts, why not begin there? Of course, there’s also confusion between this movie and another with the same cast called One Minute Before Death, and the bookends make it seem like the two movies are combined into one on top of weak scripting, fly by night production, and jumpy flash cuts between the back and forth that never lets the forbidden love build. The muddled dialogue and stalling gothic romance feel like part of the story is missing – compromising the illicit, funerals, and grave robbing before more hysterics, wills, and tacked on ghosts. Though watchable – bemusing even thanks to the overlong, nonsensical dancing with the corpse finale that’s probably followed by some good old fashioned necrophilia – this could have been a better, faithful adaptation of Poe’s story instead of some kind of two for the price of one messy that doesn’t go together.

 

The Fall of the House of UsherThere’s not a lot of information available on this elusive 1949 British adaptation of Poe’s famously flawed siblings. The opening here is weird, with Brit pimps in their boys club chatting up their Poe favorites. When the story moves into the tale itself, however, solid dialogue from the book, lovely period décor, and bizarre designs put on the right demented atmosphere. Piano interludes, candlelight, unique photography, and one very creepy crazy mama add to the fun. Yes, today’s audiences may feel the plot meanders a bit with seeming slow or quiet scenes. Fortunately, the fade-in editing, ticking clocks, and slow-burning wicks encapsulate the tomb-like mood. This actually does what an adaptation should do- I want to go read the source again! It’s a bit dry, but this one is worth the Poe study or classroom comparison for the scares and macabre it gets right.

The Raven He’s hamming it up and quoting death as his talisman – Bela Lugosi is creepy as ever behind his doctor’s mask and a suave god complex for this 1935 Poe based hour. The bearded, raspy, demented looking Boris Karloff (also of the unrelated 1963 mash-up of the same name with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre) is trying to reform his criminal ways, but Lugosi’s twisted doctoring wrenches that! This quick plot wastes no time thanks to car accidents, desperate medicine, titular quotes, mad love, and torture gear. Though not a full-on, proper adaptation of the famed poem, great shadows, interiors, organ music, furs, fedoras, and screams accent the obsessed with Poe layers and madcap style. A large ensemble can make it tough to tell who is who, and we don’t see much of the Poe-esque devices or their violence compared to the torture porn we expect today. However, the time here is steeped in an entertaining interwar gothic atmosphere – the wild contraptions are fun yet there are poignant moments and comeuppance amid the haunted house attraction mayhem. Edgar aficionados and fans of the cast will enjoy the uncanny charm here.

 

Spirits of the DeadI’m not really a Jane Fonda fan, but she looks superb in this colorful 1968 Italian anthology with designs from Edgar Allan Poe. Perfect locales, music, horses, castles, and foggy coasts set an ethereal, dreamy mood for the first tale here. The period costumes and sixties fusion might be a bit too Barbarella, and some will be put off by the spoken French and reading subtitles. Yet Fonda fans will enjoy the suggested kinky and ménage taunts- even if it’s her brother Peter (Easy Rider) sparking the obsessions. ‘Metzengerstein’ is more sauce than scares, but it might have made a nice fantasy movie by itself.  By contrast, ‘William Wilson’ adds Italian occupation and religious motifs for the second installment.  Iffy kid acting, look a likes, and flashbacks can be confusing to start and some of the butchery won’t be for everyone. However great fashions, sweet cadavers, autopsy educations, and historical brutalities are scary good- not to mention a dark-haired, poker playing Brigitte Bardot (And God Created Woman) to keep the questions on one’s conscious and duality from getting too dry. Terrence Stamp (Billy Budd) is a wonderful drunkard in the almost too trippy ‘Toby Dammit’ finale, but cool Roman amusement, bizarre locations, and weird play within a play production keep the plot from being too nonsensical. Though the final ten minutes get tough, the well-edited and intense driving scenes make for a fitting overall conclusion.  Not all will enjoy the near-psychedelic period and foreign sensibilities, but this is some twisted fun for fans of the players and all involved.

 

Tale of a Vampire – A delicious Julian Sands (Warlock, people, Warlock) leads this 1992 brooding character study brimming with “Annabel Lee” and Poe references to match the bleak back alleys, dark morgues, abandoned blue buildings, and dreary British mood. Despite the underlying urge to bite, predatory love, black cats, creepy vampire beds, and sucking on some bloody fingers, this isn’t a gorefest thanks to multilayered social awkwardness, melancholy, loss, and conflict. This lovelorn vampire spends his time in the rare books section of a sweet old library – you use that card catalog! The plot is unfortunately very slow, the isolated characters have no sounding board, and confusing flashbacks of lookalike women and lost bliss don’t explain much. The centuries ago golden patinas are well shot, however the uneven pacing and flawed constructs interfere with the storytelling. We should have seen the past to start, using that previous to accent the current torment and slightly unreal, demented fairy tale tone. Why is the audience more sad than creeped by this thirsty stalker? Fine performances carry the drama once the characters actually interact by quoting history and poets in insightful two-handers. “’Tis better to have loved and lost” and all that. Lighting and shadow schemes add to the mysterious rivals, for good love or ill pain possibilities, and strange seductions. Can it really be love if a vampire’s idea of romance is to consume the life of his lover? It’s oddly pleasing to see this kind of twisted vampire bite symbolism rather than teenage moon eyes, and this simmer builds to a fine finale with some interesting surprises. While not scary, the Gothic romanticism and Victorian waxing on forever and death not being the end of love provide a solid helping of morbid and memento mori.

 

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FRIGHTENING FLIX Horror Holiday Gift Guide Video

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz discusses what type of affordable, family friendly, or full on scary Frightening Flix to give this Holiday season included Bela Lugosi and Universal Horror, Tales from the Crypt versus Tales from the Darkside, and more!

 

 

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Kbatz: Horror Documentaries

 A Macabre Documentary or Two

By Kristin Battestella

Looking for some non-fiction programming to spice up this festive, macabre season? Here’s a round up of informative and spooky documentaries, biographies, and shows for demented minds young and old!

anneAnne Rice: Biography – This 2000 television hour focusing on the Interview with a Vampire author is nothing new. Ironically, it is actually dated and somewhat inaccurate thanks to Rice’s more recent life and literary changes and thus this feels somewhat incomplete. A one-minute add-on to encompass the new millennium doesn’t cut it. That aside, it’s still great to see photos from Rice’s early life, hear friends and family recount her childhood and road to publication greatness, and listen to Rice herself talk of religion and the personal tragedies that inspired her writing. In fact, Anne’s familial losses and literary struggles may even be more poignant thanks to the conversations with her late husband, the poet Stan Rice. I’d like to see A&E revisit Rice with an updated two-hour special, but until then, scholarly studies and Rice aficionados can always enjoy this quick profile.

A Cemetery Special – PBS’s 2005 hour-long spotlight doesn’t have enough time to explore this exhaustive subject matter- and it bemusing admits that along with a respectful dedication to those buried in the featured cemeteries. From Pittsburgh to Vermont and Key West to Alaska, lovely footage of graveyards and gardens accents the bent but thought provoking discussion on death, remembrance, art, and the monuments we leave behind. Perhaps lesser-known graveyards are featured, but interesting tales from the Civil War and sleeping place origins are recounted in an almost heartwarming manner. This is the perfect little video for classrooms studying the specific locations and history or macabre scholars researching burial customs. I wish there had been a whole series like this!

hammerFlesh and Blood: Hammer Heritage of Horror – It took forever for this elusive 1994 documentary to arrive from Netflix! Nonetheless, this hour and forty minutes narrated by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing is chock full of great photos, retro posters, archive footage, and film trailers illustrating the behind the scenes stories and production highs and lows of the famed Hammer Film Studios. Lovely reflections by Michael Carreras and Anthony Hinds help recount the earliest Hammer films- from struggles in the thirties and World War II to The Quatermass Xperiment and budding science fiction success. Interviewees such as Hazel Court, Freddie Francis, Ingrid Pitt, Caroline Munroe, Joe Dante, Rachel Welch, and our dear narrators seemingly touch upon nearly every Hammer picture- the Frankenstein series, assorted gothic monsters, the Dracula disagreements, blood, bosoms, and the studio’s eventual seventies downfall. Understandably, some of the footage is lower in quality, the sound remixing is tough, and there’s an obviously dry, British style to the presentation. This documentary also shouldn’t be confused with The Horror of Hammer trailer compilation companion or several other similarly themed documentaries. However, this treat is essential for die-hard Hammer fans, horror enthusiasts, and film historians.

His Name Was Jason – Everything you’d ever want to know about the Friday the 13th series, with clips from all the films and extensive behind the scenes interviews with every one who was ever involved with Jason-plus his or her grandma!

In Search of Dracula –  Christopher Lee hosts this old school look at the history of Dracula and vampire lore. Young folks might not like the old styles and footage, but vintage vampire fans will delight. You don’t catch classics like this on television anymore!

karlKarloff: The Gentle Monster – This 2006 38 minute documentary is not the hour long Biography episode of the same name but rather a lovely little retrospective found on the Frankenstein blu-ray releases. Although the beginning briefly mentions Karloff’s pre-Universal film appearances, the focus here is with the subtle, silent sympathy of Karloff’s monstrous characters and his long lasting horror appeal. From Frankenstein to later stage work beyond horror such as Arsenic and Old Lace, film scholars and historians discuss early comparisons to Lon Chaney, difficulties with horror make up’s infancy, and more scary film glory with classics such as The Mummy and The Black Cat. Attention is given to Karloff’s quiet success as a character actor thanks to his physicality and ability to be both frightening and sensual at the same time along with his spooky television series and his tireless work across mediums and generations. This is the voice of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, people! It’s also interesting to see movie buffs theorizing on the over reaching and decreasing quality of the studio’s Frankenstein series, beating it into the ground as the franchises, sequels, and remakes do today. Boris fans and horror lovers can eat up the clips and nostalgia here, for sure.

Lon Chaney: Behind the Mask – Rare, unseen silent film footage, vintage photos and clips, charming family home movies, and archive interviews with co-stars and crew anchor this 76 minute 1995 documentary illuminating the Man of a Thousand Faces. From early bit parts to his iconic horror heights, the pain, emotion, and melodramatic catharsis of his tragic portrayals is examined against Chaney’s stanch need for privacy amid the fame orchestrated Hollywood system. Collaborations with director Tod Browning are highlighted, and quotes on the craft from the man himself are smartly reiterated – wisdoms on how to utilize makeup or character flaws to accentuate the performance and create redemption in villainous roles. Of course, the presentation focuses on The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera but ends somewhat suddenly with Chaney’s death rather than any retrospective summation or legacy. Fortunately, there are lots of behind the scenes snippets, photographs, and factoids, for it’s really quite sad to realize how much of Chaney’s work is gone – over 30% of his films have vanished. 56 lost pictures – that’s more movies than some people today make in their entire lifetimes! The dated nineties design, uneven editing, jumping back and forth timeline, and a very dry narration don’t quite hit home here. However, this informative presentation remains classroom ready and will delight new film enthusiasts, longtime Chaney fans, and horror historians.

vlcsnap-5876655Lugosi: The Dark Prince – Like Karloff, Bela Lugosi’s early life and acting career before Dracula go unnoticed in this 36 minute documentary accompanying the 1931 Dracula blu-ray video. Interviews with genre directors Joe Dante, Jimmy Sangster, and other film scholars and authors instead spend the majority of time here on Lugosi’s quintessential appearance in the budding horror cinema and discuss how his phonetic learning of lines accentuated his hypnotic, handsome, somewhat scandalous and always sensual acting style. This masterful paranormal charisma of course unfortunately typecast him, but clips and analysis on Murders in the Rue Morgue, White Zombie, Son of Frankenstein, and The Raven will be a treat for those interested in the irony of Lugosi’s long lasting iconography but relatively short-lived success and underatedness as an actor. Even if the talk isn’t about the man’s personal life per se, there are great insights into the craft here, making for a lovely little bittersweet study on the quick rise and fall of a horror icon.

Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film – In covering a hundred years of scary cinema, this 2009 documentary was bound to miss a few things. However, this hour and half also provides extensive clips from early silent films, Universal monsters, the Roger Corman era, seventies zombies, eighties slashers, and more. Interviewees like George Romero, John Carpenter, and more experts on the genre examine how the social and political statements onscreen, both overt and veiled, influenced film making and audiences thru the decades. Horror has gone from early B-movie child’s play to red scare allusions and now a blockbuster industry- who knew? Some of the more recent conversation and post 9/11 thoughts are perhaps nothing new or could have been dealt with more deeply, for today’s viewer is familiar with these sociopolitical cinema influences, after all. But seeing the paces of vintage horror film thru the years is a real treat for both new and veteran fans. This one’s a great starter for younger folks just getting into horror films or a good accompaniment to a sociology discussion.

Tales from the Crypt: Comics to Television – Very insightful special about the ups and downs of the naughty in naughty comic books and how the guts and glory survived in serial television. Maybe not for mainstream fans, but horror and comic enthusiasts will love this.

HorrorAddicts.net 108, Alexander Beresford

Horror Addicts Episode# 108

Horror Hostess: Emerian Rich

Intro Music by: Cancer Killing Gemini

Click to listen:

40 days till Halloween!

alexander beresford, post rapture party, whitechapel

coolest little monster, john zacherley, halloween prep, whitechapel tv series, jack the ripper, eden lake, wolf creek, dating a zombie, c.a. milson, zombie town, pet cemetery, crystal connor, devil, m. night shyamalan, cam2cam, post rapture party, cropsey, dark wave, music, venus de vilo, queen of the pumpkin patch, a taste of murder, chocolate coconut oblivion cake, end of the world radio, zombies, 809 jacob street, marty young, christine sutton, all the little children, suffer the children, craig dilouie, apocalypse, flash fiction friday, ken macgregor, horror addicts guide to life, events, count dracula and his daughter boocula, reanimator, h. p. lovecraft, the ring, japanese novel, 30 days of night, comic, movie, clive barker, oscar wilde, bela lugosi, dracula, alexander beresford, doll face, charla, www panel audio, emerian rich, heather roulo, laurel anne hill.

 

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1930’s Horror Flicks!

The Ghoul is a 1933 British Horror film starring Boris Karloff as THE GHOUL!

What’s interesting is that after it’s release, it disappeared and was considered to be a lost film. The current copy that we all watched was found in the early 1980’s, in a forgotten film vault at Shepperton Studios. The vault was cleared and inside — the dormant nitrate camera negative in perfect condition. The film was kinda like The Ghoul in the film, kept in a sarcophagi, until after death, when it awoke! The film didn’t kill anyone that we know about, but the image of The Ghoul will stay with anyone who watches it.

This is one of those classic tales— the Egyptian curse, those that don’t believe, those that do and suddenly… the monster rises from the tomb to attack everyone! What I loved most about the movie was the huge mansion all dark and looming with Egyptian carvings casting interesting shapes on the walls. It really gave it a spooky sense of appeal.

Another movie of the era, Dracula, had the same sort of foreboding sets. Dracula is my all time favorite horror classic.

Here’s what David had to say about it:
Dracula was released on February 14th 1931 and was directed by Tod Browning and starred Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing, and Dwight Frye as Renfield.

The story begins with a stage coach riding through the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe, carrying Renfield to Castle Dracula to meet with the count to talk about property he is buying in England. Dracula feeds on Renfield and turns him into a slave and then heads off on a ship to London where he meets Lucy Weston and turns her into a vampire. Dracula then turns his sights on Mina, but before he can turn her Dr. Van Helsing and Mina’s fiancé, John Harker, discover that he is a vampire and try to stop him before it’s too late.

Dracula is not one of the best movies of all time but Bela Lugosi gives a great performance that makes this movie a classic.

What do you think about these two films? What is your favorite 1930’s horror flick?