BUNUEL’S “UN CHIEN ANDALOU” (1929)

“Moving pictures merely repeat what we have been told for centuries by novels and plays. Thus, a marvelous instrument for the expression of poetry and dreams (the subconscious world) is reduced to the role of simple REPEATER of stories expressed by other art forms.”–Luis Bunuel

Although Un Chien Andalou (1929) is believed to be one of the first intentionally Surrealist films, its iconoclastic milieu is predominantly subservient to the sovereign elements of systematic realism.

 

True to surrealist tenets, the film’s naturalistic texture is the quintessential ingredient in its theatrical absurdity. In this sense, Surrealist film is antithetical to Expressionist film. For instance, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) utilized distorted set designs to convey dream worlds. In direct contrast, Luis Bunuel conveys the phantasmagoric reveries here through expressive, primarily organic compositions.

In “Sculpting in Time,” Andrei Tarkovsky  locates the pulse of Buñuel’s texture:

The driving force of his films is always anti-conformism. His protest—furious, uncompromising and harsh—is expressed above all in the sensuous texture of the film, and is emotionally infectious. The protest is not calculated. Bunuel’s work is deeply rooted in the classical culture of Spain, born on one hand of a deep love for country, and on the other of his seething hatred for lifeless structures, for the brutal, milking dry of brains. The field of vision, narrowed by hatred and disdain, takes in only that which is alive with human sympathy, the divine spark, ordinary human suffering, which has steeped into the hot, stony Spanish earth.

Andalou‘s cinematography is classic, elegant and traditional. Again, Buñuel utilizes minimalistic compositions (i.e. point of view) to frame complex psychological acts of voyeurism. Buñuel often stated that he was completely uninterested in the aesthetics of filmmaking. While that flamboyant claim might be suspect, this deliberate choice astutely serves his Surrealist agenda.


Extreme close-ups (like the still shocking opening sequence) are utilized only when absolutely necessary. Much of the camerawork is rudimentary and unobtrusive. This allows the viewer to engage with the dialectic thrust between the film’s protagonists and its symbology.

The editing further validates Buñuel’s claim of disinterest in aesthetics. Freudian affiliations, naturally, abound. Dissolves are employed merely to inspire emotional tension. The ants in the stigmatic palm are weaved into a woman’s armpit, followed by the image of a sea urchin. The result is shrewdly discomforting and challenging film poetry. Through editing, Buñuel propels the viewer into an idiosyncratic subconscious mirage.

As a silent film, Un Chien Andalou thinks differently than sound film. ( Charlie Chaplin, when asked near the end of his life, why he felt he was one of the extreme few silent filmmakers who survived the transition to sound, answered: “I suppose because I realized silent film was a different art form.”) This is clear in the use of Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” as a soundtrack and a subtext (the music was conceptually there from the beginning, although the sound was only added later). Shot in two weeks on a meager budget financed by his mother, Buñuel could hardly afford a score. However, his choice of music and its context in relation to the film was influential in the “non-writing” of the piece.

Buñuel was an erudite cultural omnivore who raided different art forms to enhance his own art. He was well aware of “Tristan”’s impact and influence. “Tristan und Isolde” boldly introduced dissonance to opera, and the world reacted. Isolde’s “Liebestod,” taking place after the death of Tristan, synthesizes the preceding dissonance through her own transcendental, sensual death.

Buñuel filters this potentially incandescent vignette through a natural, highly lit filter. This serves as a compelling visual counterpart to the narrative context supplied by the usage of Wagner.

Buñuel’s aural editing, again, reveals a psychological rather than an aesthetic choice. Isolde’s immolation gives way to bawdy brothel music. Bunuel’s editing style parallels the traditional rhythmic continuity editing prevalent in the period. Low angles, overhead shots, et. al., employed conservatively, symbolize the relationship between the highly stylized performances and the participatory camera work. Melot’s murder of his friend Tristan is also mirrored by the shooting of Andalou‘s protagonist, rendering Buñuels claim the film was merely a catalog of random absurdities as highly suspect.

Buñuel’s predilection for not so subtle swipes at clerical hypocrisy is already present in this, his first film. He would continue taking such shots throughout his body of work, of course. Some have confused this with anti-religiosity. With a Jesuit education, Buñuel was well-equipped to shock and delighted in doing so, as did Alfred Hitchcock in a slightly more conventional way. (Hitchcock also received a Jesuit education).

Buñuel’s shocking religious imagery here involves a dead jackass and two priests. With dangling cigarette, Buñuel sharpens his razor for the bourgeoisie. Sergei Eisentstein saw Un Chien Andalou as the disintegration of bourgeois consciousness, and Buñuel hoped bourgeois audiences would prove that point by rioting in reaction to the film. They didn’t riot, and naturally, this inspired Buñuel to surpass this clerical mockery in L’ Age d’Or (1930). The government of Spain reacted with banishment.

Salvador Dali, the co-writer who was in some quarters credited as co-director, claimed, after the fact, to have been a more prominent force in the production. While Dali did repeat the infamous eye slicing in the dream sequence he composed for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), Un Chien Andalou is more characteristic of Buñuel’s oeuvre.

1976 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART ONE: THE OMEN & CARRIE

1976 is such an astoundingly productive year in exploitation and horror that we’re forced to divide it into two parts. Religious-themed horror takes front and center in this first part, beginning with Alfred Sole’s Communion [better known today as Alice Sweet Alice], one of the most substantial cult films ever produced. Beginning with a young Brooke Shields torched in a pew, dysfunctional Catholicism is taken to grounds previously unseen. Mantling the most pronounced trends of the 1970s, Sole plays elastic with multiple genres (slasher, psychological, religious, independent movies, horror) with such idiosyncratic force that the movie’s cult status was inevitable. It should have made Sole a genre specialist, but his career as a director never took off, and he only made a few more films. Surprisingly, critics have been slow in coming around to Communion. It’s essential viewing and we hope to cover it in greater detail here at a later date.

Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To remains one of the most relentlessly original films of the 70s, already covered at 366 Weird Movies and a solid List contender.

Richard Donner made a bona fide pop star out of a pre-pubescent antichrist with The Omen. It was a marketing bonanza, spawning endless sequels and a pointless 2006 remake. Sensationalistic, red-blooded, and commercially slick, in a National Enquirer kind of way, it’s predictably most successful in coming up with ways to slaughter characters—the most infamous of which is a decapitation by glass. In that, The Omen is a product of its time. The creativity in many of the later Hammer Dracula films was often solely reserved for ways to dispatch (and resurrect) its titular vampire. The Abominable Dr. Phibes took tongue-in-cheek delight utilizing the plagues of Egypt to annihilate everyone in sight. It was also the decade of Old Nick and deadly tykes. Throw in apocalyptic biblical paranoia, and The Omen is practically a smorgasbord of 70s trends.

The Omen is helped tremendously by Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which is reminiscent of Carl Orff and still remembered (and imitated). Three character performances stand out: Billie Whitelaw, who literally lights up as a nanny from the pit, David Warner as a photographer obsessively trying to avoid his predestined end, and Patrick Troughton as a priest who “knows too much” (and gets his own Dracula-like finish). Unfortunately, the film is considerably hindered by its two leads. Gregory Peck, nice fella that he was off screen, is his usual wooden self and poorly cast as Damien’s adoptive ambassador father. The role was first offered to Charlton Heston, whose old school conservative machismo and hammy charisma would undoubtedly have been a better fit. Alas, even though he rightly predicted it would be a major success, Heston objected to a film in which evil triumphed over good, and chose instead to star in the awful Midway, which was also a box office hit that year. Almost equally uninspiring is Lee Remick as Peck’s wife. Like Peck, she’s too wishy-washy, coming to life most when she’s about to die. Together, Peck and Remick throw the film off-balance. In contrast, director Donner rightly doesn’t take this nonsense seriously. Harvey Stephens is effectively stoic as Satan Jr., which renders him even an even creepier beast, but surprisingly, his is more of a supporting character.

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BARRY MAHON DOUBLE FEATURE: THE WONDERFUL LAND OF OZ (1969) & THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN (1965)

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

Barry Mahon is another 366 weird movie saint awaiting canonization.  His directing breakthrough was with the Errol Flynn fiasco Cuban Rebel Girls (1959), which is essential bad film viewing. For another eleven years, Mahon made one godawful film after another until someone wised up and quit funding this hack (he died in 1999, never making another film after 1970). He was something of a Zach Snyder for his time, although no one was stupid enough to give Mahon millions of dollars.

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

Most of Mahon’s films were  Z-grade nudies (International Smorgas-BroadThe Adventures of Busty BrownFanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico), but there are a few execrable standouts, with The Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969) and Thumbellina (bundled into 1972’s certified weird Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny) being among the most memorable.

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

Literally looking like garage filmmaking, The Wonderful Land of Oz opens with a warbled song and introduces us to hanging sheets, Glinda (still annoying, regardless of who plays her), a papier-mâché purple cow with blinking eyes, and badly costumed characters, including the Wogglebug: a man with antenna, bug eyes, and a walrus mustache.

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

The Tin Man and Scarecrow are obligatory characters, but Pumpkinhead has replaced the Cowardly Lion. Someone forgot to give him a microphone under that oversized head because we can barely hear him. It hardy matters, because he seems to be struggling with his lines. His fellow cast members, who frequently talk to themselves, are no help, mumbling their cues as they move lethargically, seemingly having overdosed on tranquilizers.

Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969, Barry Mahon)

Tip (Channy Mahon, Barry’s rugrat) replaces Dorothy. Tip is loaded with dull angst over his evil stepmother, the Wicked Witch Mombi ( played by someone named Ziska). She makes the boy go to bed on time, and when he attempts to rebel against such parental sadism, she vows to turn him into a statue. Comatose slapstick and phlegmatic sing-a-longs are visually accompanied by a cardboard fence (which we keep expecting to fall over) and half a gallon of straw on the soundstage floor to represent a stable. Tip flees with the aid of Pumpkinhead, who is brought to sort-of life via magic powder. The two run afoul of an obnoxious high school band (is there any other kind?) headed by teenaged brat General Jinjur. Tip and Pumpkinhead manage to make it to Emerald City (it’s a short walk around the garage), but rather than encountering a wizard behind the curtain, Tip gets magically transformed into a girl (he doesn’t put up much of protest) by Glinda, who confirms what we have always known: she is more Dolores Umbridge (the real villain of Harry Potter) than goodwitch (although she is called a fairy here). That sickening, bloated pink dress and K-Mart tiara fools no one. After that suburban porn reject Glinda forces a sex change on poor Tip, she does an exit stage left, cruelly depriving us yet again of the chance to see her die a horrible death.

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THE ACID EATERS (1968) RIP Buck Kartalian (1922-2016)

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Plot-spoiler police beware!

The Acid Eaters (1968)…

Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock…

up the pyramid of white blotter.

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock goes the white clock and…

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

a man climbs down a tree and then climbs up another tree.

Tick Tock… telephone operators at work, Tick Tock…man stamps checks, Tick Tock… man paints pictures, Tick Tock…man pours booze for shaking, hungry awaiting hands, Tick Tock…

Whistle blows… man eats sandwich with mouth open, Whistle blows…toilet flushes…woman eats McFries with mouth open, toilet flushes, 60s chicks do … well, something, toilet flushes…Whistle blows…  TickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTock

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Peopledowalk. Carsdodrive. Therebeawhitepyramidofacid…People dowalk. Carsdodrive…Therebeawhitepyramidofacid…People dowalk. Carsdodrive… boomchickaboom, boomchickaboom,boomchickaboomboomchickaboomboomchickaboomboomchickaboomboomchicksintightminiskirtshuggingbuttsboomchickaboomguysintightjeanshuggingbuttsboomchickaboomboomchickaboom…wahwahwah…rusty trumpet….wahwahwah…dudes and chicks on harleys…adoo ado dodo… sniffle, sniffle…awah…dowah…do d…d…rahdowah…acid eaters skinny dip…

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“Mumblemumble…I’m ready for another crash drive.”

“Take a deep breath Ally baby, I got 4 packets full!!!”

“You ready to fly?”

“Let’s crash drive once more.”

“SAVE IT FOR LATER SAILOR.”

Splishsplashboobsa’flashin’.

The Acid Eaters (1968) Pat Barrington

“Have I got the colors ! I’ll make a masterpiece. What’s your pleasure, treasure?”

“reD, RedHot.”

W…wwwwwwahwwwwah

runredpaintdownflabbyside… Wwwwwahhh. Gasp.

Chinkachongtototototototwahboomsplashsplishsplashtakinabathwahwahawahahramatamtam…

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Plane flies.

GO LSD. See your travel agent.

splishsplash.

Primary colors. Smokin’ ceegarettes  before da Lawd invents boob jobs.

Vince Guaraldi’s white blotter pyramid.

Theblondebabedoeshaveboobs. Yellowstripe. Bluecircle. Greenstripe. Redsomething.

VinceGuaraldi’swhiteblotterpyramid.

splishsplashvinceguaraldiswhiteplotterbyramid.

crepepaper streamers and a red balloon.

“High Five!”

boomchickaboomwahwahwah….duhduhratatattat…splishsplash…rubberneckin’

WAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH. Paintswirl.

dodododododododododododo.

nekkedrubberneckin…

“That little beotch. I’ll chop it off.”

Hahaha.

Wahwahwahawahwah.

The Big O face.

Smacksmacktoplesscatfightwithstick.

Runrunrun. Clapclapclap

Blankstare

toplesscatfightsgalore

blankstareblankstareblankstareblankstare

toplesschikinquicksand

He’sgotbiggerboobsthanshedoes

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“Man, I really never saw quicksand before.”

“Good bye girl,” says the man with big boobs. “I guess I’ll paint you dead.”

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“I’ll see you all downstairs. Soon , I hope,” says girl sinking in quicksand, before flipping the bird.

“Sorry I hit you so hard, Smiley.”

“That’s okay, chicky.”

It’scalledRubberneckinbabyandthat’salrightbyme

Beotchslap!

Hahaha!

“Just don’t do it again.”

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“That’s enough laughs. Let’s get on our search for the white pyramid.”

Moon Equipped.

“Let’s roll.”

Vroom, vroomvroomvroom.

 

Hmmm, white man easy to beat thinks big chief playing checkers.

“You know dang good and well, Injuns ain’t suppose to win ’round here.”

“Me no win ’em?”

“Dat’s right…no win ’em.”

topless go-go girl descends ladder.

Alululu…hand on knee….alululu.

bombombombombomisthatthebatmantheme?

The Acid Eaters (1968) Pat Barrington

boomchickaboomwahwahwahvroomvroomvroomvroomvroom

deflatedrussmeyerchicks:

“Hey honey, ya got room for some sex starved females?”

licks lips

two batman villain rejects sneak up to car

 

wimpy Marlboro man (in white shirt and tie!!!): “Hey baby, you wouldn’t happen to have a match in that breast pocket, would ya?”

KAPOW!

KABLAM!

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

Here Lies A Man Who Lost His (insert mule pic) So We Could Buy Some Grass

batmantheme

vroomvroom

topless picnic

batman villain throws tantrum

“C’mon guys. C’mon out. Didja forget bout me? First, I lose my bike, then I lose my chick in the quicksand. I’m bored.”

“Take a cold shower, Arnie.”

Hahahahahahaha

“Take a cold shower, Arnie. Who needs goils anyway? There’s more excitin’ things in life than goils. D’eres ….”

HahahahahahahaHahahahahahahaHahahahahahaha!

“D’eres… and D’eres….. ooooooohhhhhh. Wah, wah, wah.”

HahahahahahahaHahahahahahahaHahahahahahaha

Bbbbbbbbllllbbbbhhhhhh

Take a cold shower, Arnie.

wahwahwahwahboomchickaaboom a do do ado ado tum de tum

COLD SHOWER

“Well, I’ll be damned. Will ya look at that? A tree shower!”

Skip to the loo in black briefs

“La da de de,” Caruso in briefs

Calgon, take me away to a cold shower

The Acid Eaters (Byron Mabe, 1968)

“Hello ’em, white man.”

“Uh, hello ’em kemo sabe. Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a towel, would ja?”

“Mmmhmmm. Why you take ’em cold shower?”

“Well, ya see, I’m with this buncha guys, see….and day all have goils, ‘cept me.”

“Kemo sabe goils?”

“Kemo sabe, goils! Mmmhmmm! You want ‘e m goil?”

“Ya got one?”

“How much $ you got ’em?”

“I got $27.00 and one trading stamp.”

“Goil cost $27.00 and one trading stamp.”

“Wait a minute, Chief. That’s a lotta dough for a short timer.”

“No short timer. Ya getta keep ’em.”

“Keep ’em? Hey wait a minute, You no Indian giver?”

“Me do Indian dance. Bring goil.”

It’scalledRubberneckinbabyandthat’salrightbyme

boomchickaboomvroomvroom

Arnold Schoenberg orgy on Vince Guraldi pyramid  of white blotter. Sun Ra blushes. Call the Pharoahs. Call Donald Wildmon.

boomchickaboom

Interracial mixing. They weren’t born that way! It’s a choice! Call Donald Wildmon.

Wahwahwahwahwah

LSD

boomchickaboomvroomvroom

I BURY THE LIVING (1958)

I BURY THE LIVING (1958) poster

Richard Boone exemplifies the star of yesteryear. He was not a twenty-something, pretty Twilight boy chiseled out of wax. He was craggy and already middle-aged when cast as Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel,” television’s greatest westerns series. Boone was a perfect anti-hero and a memorable, complex villain in countless films, including Budd Boetticher`s The Tall T (1957). Despite his rough exterior, Boone was an erudite actor, and his proudest accomplishment may have been the tragically short-lived “Richard Boone Show” (1963) which brought repertory theater to small screen American audiences (even if, predictably, the fare was too original for that audience). Boone’s way to starring roles from character parts was a slow one, and his early body of work included low budget genre films, such as the quirky, flawed gem, I Bury The Living (1958).

I BURY THE LIVING lobby card

Boone, one year into the iconic “Have Gun Will Travel,” is as understated in I Bury the Living as the movie’s title is trashy. The film was directed by prolific Z-movie director Albert Band (father of Full Moon Productions’ Charles Band), who gives it a brooding, British noir milieu, employing psychedelic montages (shot by cinematographer Frederick Gatelyand) and expressionist sets (from Edward Vorkapich). It plays like an extended “Twilight Zone” episode with one noticeable difference: an ending which almost kills it. Continue reading

RAT PFINK A BOO BOO (1966)

Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (ad)

You do not need to consult your doctor: the sound of your jaw hitting the floor while watching Ray Dennis Steckler’s Rat Pfink A Boo Boo (1966) is perfectly natural. Even the title’s origin is enough to numb you, from head to toe, in disbelief. The original title was supposed to be Rat Fink and Boo Boo, but in the editing Fink was misspelled Pfink and somehow the ND from AND was left out. With a threadbare budget the producers could not afford to change it, and the misspelled title stuck.

Rat Pfink a Boo Boo

Director Ray Dennis Steckler claimed that the film was shot on a $20.00 budget and that he made it because of his love for the (dreadful) serial, Batman and Robin (1949). I believe him. Remarkably, this was Steckler’s sixth film. His first was Wild Guitar (1964), which became something of a cult hit despite starring would-be teen idol Arch Hall Jr. (who was cast because daddy produced). For years, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964) was thought to be more legend than actual film. Sinister Cinema dug up a print and released it, I think, before anyone else did. There went the legend. Unfortunately, it’s a dull unimaginative affair about a psycho, with nary a zombie in sight. The Thrill Killers (1964) starred Steckler himself under his pseudonym Cash Flagg (chosen because he made his checks out to cash!) Again, Steckler seemed to put more effort into a name than he did he actual plot. Steckler was Cash again, this time doing a second-rate imitation of the second-rate Bowery Boy Huntz Hall in The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (1965). Steckler claimed that he made the film as a kind of fan’s valentine to Hall. One must give him some kind of credit for authentic obsession and affection, even if the finished product was nothing more than a series of loosely assembled shorts, with Cash pitted against the Green Grasshopper and The Vampire Lady From Outer Space. Continue reading

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947): GLOSSY DEGRADATION

NIGHTMARE ALLEY MOVIE POSTERTyrone Power was 20th Century Fox’s answer to Warner Brothers’ Errol Flynn. However, as dated as Flynn’s style of acting is, he does generate a kind of cartoon excitement. Watching the bulk of Power’s swashbucklers is more of a burden. Power is typically bland. He died at 44 from a heart attack during an on-screen duel with actor George Sanders in the filming of Solomon and Sheeba (1959). Flynn died less than a year later. Both are known for iconic roles: Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Power in The Mark of Zorro (1940). They acted together only once: in Henry King’s version of The Sun Also Rises (1957), which (as per most cinematic Hemingway adaptations) is best avoided. Rumors in Hollywood have long claimed that Flynn and Power engaged in a brief affair. If so, then, yes, there was more to Zorro and Robin Hood than tights and mask. Of course, the seedier aspects of Flynn’s “wicked, wicked ways” are well known. Yet, behind that boyish persona, Power too had a darker personality. This began to surface later in his career with chosen roles, such as Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and in the earlier Nightmare Alley (1947).

NIGHTMARE ALLEY LOBBY

Power came from a long line of actors, and although he desired meatier roles, he settled on the stability of his studio contract, rarely venturing outside of assignments. Nightmare Alley was a notable exception. After reading William Greshen’s novel Power purchased the rights and begged Darryl Zanuck to allow him to play the part of the seedy Stanton Carlisle. Reluctantly, Zanuck agreed, although he did little to promote the film.

nightmare alley 1947

Edmund Goulding was given the directorial reigns after he and Power had worked together in the drama The Razor’s Edge (1946). Although that film received mixed reviews, it was a commercially successful departure for the actor and commercial success was, of course, Zanuck’s primary concern. Goulding’s reputation had been cemented with the high class soaper Grand Hotel (1932) starring John Barrymore, Greta Garbo, and Joan Crawford. A string of glossy, star-powered melodramas followed: Riptide (1934) with Norma Shearer and Dark Victory (1939), The Old Maid (1939), and The Great Lie (1941), all with Bette Davis. Zanuck’s choice of Goulding was strange but purposeful (for Zanuck). Nightmare Alley lacks the visceral quality of the novel (whose author, not surprisingly, committed suicide). With such a potent literary source, the film might have emerged as something deliriously akin to Tod Browning‘s Freaks (1932), but it lacks an obsessive director at the helm. Where Nightmare Alley does succeed is in Goulding’s direction of the superb Joan Blondell as the affable clairvoyant Zeena, Colleen Grey as the dainty circus girl Molly, and Helen Walker as the icy Dr. Lilith. (Goulding, a woman’s director, had gifted Academy Award winning performances to Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, Mary Astor, Joan Fontaine, and Anne Baxter). Continue reading

MICHAEL REEVES’ THE SORCERERS (1967)

THE SORCERERS (1967)Michael Reeves’ The Sorcerers (1967), starring Boris Karloff, became a barely noticeable cult film in a cinematically innovative era. A few prominent, hip critics took note of Reeves, and, in some quarters, predictions were made that he could become a horror director of the caliber of James Whale, Tod Browning, Jacques Tourneur, or Terence Fisher.

THE SORCERERS IN EASTMAN COLOR

Reeves’ had only made one previous film, the low budget The She Beast (1966) starring horror icon Barbara Steele, but it was imitative of Mario Bava‘s work and received scant notice. In contrast, The Sorcerers was stylish, quirky, and unique, although it was also low budget and barely made a profit. Still, it resulted in Reeves’ being given a larger bankroll to work with in his third film: the critical and box office hit Witchfinder General (1968) starring Vincent Price.

THE SORCERERS DRIVE-IN ADThe Sorcerers (1967 dir. Michael Reeves) Boris Karloff lobby card

Reeves’ death of a drug overdose at twenty-five, shortly before the release of Witchfinder General, affected that film’s reputation. Reeves was hailed as a tragic auteur in the James Dean mold. Since then, Witchfinder General has long been lauded as one of Price’s finest films. Its was considerably helped by the actor/star himself, who listed it as one of his two personal favorites, along with Theater of Blood (1973). Having a historical subject, Witchfinder General defies its period, is highly esteemed, frequently revived, and has been readily available throughout the video age.

THE SORCERERS (STILL)The Sorcerers (1967 dir. Michael Reeves) Boris Karloff screenshot

In light of Witchfinder General’ s reputation, The Sorcerers was considered a lesser, obscure effort, partly because it seemed more dated and did not have a vital star to promote it (Karloff died a mere week before Reeves). Nor did the actor’s fans promote it. Instead, of Karloff’s late films, they waxed sentimental about Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968), feeling that film was a truer coda for the “King of Horror.” It was only this year that The Sorcerers was finally made available on DVD as part of the Warner Archive collection.

THE SORCERERS POSTERThe Sorcerers (1967 Michael Reeves) Boris Karloff

The aged and poverty stricken Professor Marcus Monserrat (Karloff) is a long publicly disgraced hypnotist who invents a machine (cue sci-fi mumbo jumbo) which allows him and his wife Estelle (the delightfully vile Catherine Lacey) to project their consciousness into the minds of others. The Monserrats live in a dilapidated London flat during the swinging 60s (cue sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll), and Estelle is corrupted from bitterness due to her husband’s fall from grace. The couple find a willing guinea pig for their gizmo in stud Michael (Ian Ogilvy). Michael, bored with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, agrees to be strapped into the Professor’s mind-altering gizmo (cue psychedelia). Although clearly a product of the 60′s, The Sorcerers is imbued with a stylish, compact, contemporary impudence that transcends mere period novelty.

THE SORCERERS POSTER 1967The Sorcerers (1967 Michael Reeves) lobby card

Once the couple psyche into Mike’s experiences, Estelle begins making up for lost years. She quickly becomes addicted to the experience, which causes her to become increasingly imbalanced. After she forces Mike into hedonism, theft, and murder, a battle of wills between Estelle and her husband leads into Being John Malkovich (1999) and Scanners (1981) territory.

KARLOFF THE SORCERERSThe Sorcerers KARLOFF LACEY

The Sorcerers stands out as a respite from Karloff’s humiliating last years. Although seriously ill, the actor gives an admirably subdued performance that rises to a crescendo in the final showdown with his wife. As good as Karloff and Ogilvy are, it is Lacey who steals the film.

The Sorcerers (1967 Michael Reeves) Boris Karloff

The lower budget trappings actually enhance the grittiness of a film that seems to be saying something about the jaded nihilism of the “I, me, mine” culture (well, at least it noticed it).

THE SORCERERS LACEY

 

SIMIAN WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Boulle Monkey PlanetIn the 1960s Arthur P. Jacobs purchased screen rights to Pierre Boulle’s novel “Monkey Planet,” for Twentieth Century Fox. It became Jacobs’ dream project, facing an uphill battle with skeptical executives. Not helping the producer’s cause was Boulle’s public statement, calling “Monkey Planet” his worst novel.*

POTA HESTON

Rod Serling and Michael Wilson co-wrote the screen adaptation for Planet of The Apes (1968), which is far more Twilight Zone in construction than Boulle. Jacobs wisely cast Charlton Heston in the lead role. Heston, who loved the script, was helpful in influencing studio heads to green light and assign director Franklin J. Shaffner, who the actor had worked with in the underrated The War Lord (1965).

POTA HESTON EVANS 1968

Studio misgivings were laid aside when Planet of the Apes (1968) proved to be a monstrous success. Before Star Wars, Batman, etc, Planet of the Apes was the original blockbuster franchise, spawning four sequels, a short-lived television series, an animated series, and a comic book. The original film still retains its classic pop status, despite revisionist opinions, usually by those who have not seen it and dismiss it as a cheesy byproduct of the sixties and seventies. Actually, it is science fiction at its most preferable: the cinematic equivalent of Cracker Jacks with its prize being smart dumb fun amidst caramel popcorn and salty peanuts. Who, in all honesty, would find  Kubrick’s academic  psychedelia 2001: A Space Odyssey, made the same year, as fun an experience as American icon Heston being put through Sterling’s pulp karma in the form of gorillas on horseback? Heston’s Col. Taylor, disdainful of mankind, is replete with character flaws, yet we root for him as he is catapulted through a physical and emotional nightmare, in which he is forced to do a philosophical about-face, only to learn he was right all along. Heston’s physicality  perfectly responds to Sterling’s blunt ironies. It is the hippest performance of the actor’s career and one can understand his hesitancy regarding the sequel; Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970). Continue reading

CARL THEODOR DREYER’S VAMPYR (1932)

Vampyr (1932) poster

Most agree that ‘s Nosferatu (1922) is the greatest and most unique screen incarnation of Bram Stoker’s iconic character (although, as blasphemous as it sounds, I would place ‘s 1979 remake on an equal plane. Yes, I said that, but that is a subject for another week). However, the greatest cinematic treatment of  vampire folklore is a world removed from the titular Transylvanian count: ‘s Vampyr (1932). But it is not for attention span-challenged vampire fans.

Vampyr (1932)  poster

Vampyr is a film of relentless, static beauty, almost demanding chimerical concentration and phantasmagorical imagination of the viewer. After the predictable box office failure of the greatest film ever made—Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)—the director deluded himself into thinking he could produce something commercial. He had what seemed to be the right source of inspiration (slight as it is): Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 pulp hit “Carmilla,” taken from the collection “In a Glass Darkly.” “Carmilla,” with its theme of a lesbian vampire would, of course, be enticing fodder for the dull masses. But it turned out Dreyer was too original and too much in possession of an authentic, artistic spiritual substance for titillation. Fortunately, Dreyer, who wrote the screenplay, jettisoned the lesbianism and, with it, any anticipation of appeasing puerile genre fans. Vampyr was a financial flop, resulting in Dreyer’s nervous breakdown and the dissolution of his production company. He would  not make another film until Day of Wrath(1943). If period aficionados found Vampyr‘s deliberate pacing and intense, ethereal milieu too challenging, then many contemporary viewers, saddled with grand guignol expectations, often find the film provocative. Despite this, Vampyr proved to be a profound influence on both the German Expressionists and the Surrealists.

Vampyr (1932) poster. Carl Theodore dreyer

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