Showing posts from 2005

Danger: Diabolik: Honor, Romance, and Sensory Overload Among Thieves

Sometimes calling a movie 'stylish' seems like damning with faint praise. But Danger: Diabolik earns bragging rights as one seriously, sublimely stylish pop art explosion. It plays at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum until January 5, and its marriage of comic book zing and paisley-hued trippiness couldn't be more irresistible. Based on a popular Italian fumetti (comic book), this 1968 opus details the adventures of Diabolik (John Phillip Law), a world-class thief who defies authorities with increasingly courageous (and outrageous) jobs. There really isn't a plot to speak of; just a succession of heist sequences and eye-popping hues and imagery as Diabolik slinks his way into and out of scrapes. Danger: Diabolik was directed by Mario Bava , a humble but extremely talented Italian with an uncanny knack for sculpting ostensibly formulaic films (horror movies, crime flicks, action programmers) into distinctive works of visual art. He found an ideal avenue for his pa

Passings: Herbert L. Strock, Director

The high-fallutin' fools who write cinema history for the ages probably won't give much cop to the passing of film and TV director Herbert L. Strock. But Strock, who passed away on November 30 at the ripe old age of 87, slugged it out in the business for six decades, kept working it right to the end, and birthed some of the most entertaining horror and sci-fi efforts during the heyday of '50's drive-in cinema. He was also a genuinely nice, sweet guy. Strock began his career as a newsreel cameraman for Fox Movietone News before being drafted into the military in World War II. After completing service, the budding filmmaker found work as an editor on several films (including assistant-editing the 1944 classic Gaslight ). Strock logged time in the director's chair on various early television programs before helming Gog , his first solo directorial project, in 1954. The next three decades saw Strock direct all manner of film and television projects, impressing produc

Someday, I'll update this damned thing, I swear...

Some Bloggers have the super-strength to be able to compose great Blog entries on a daily basis. Or even a weekly basis. Not me, obviously. My apologies for disappointing the four of you who regularly read the Petri Dish. Lame as it sounds, I've been really, really busy of late. And being the earnest basher that I am, I can't just bang out a few sentences and go on my Bloggy way. I've gotta do a decent-length piece. I promise that, within the next week or so I'll post something up to my usual windy-but-thoughtful standards. In the meantime, I'll just make a random plug for one of the places I've been hanging out in of late, namely a fine Podcast called The Pop State Show . Pop State's hosts, Bob Bohan and Bob Suh, are funny guys who really know their stuff, pop-culture-wise, and they occasionally invite this fellow dork to partake in the fun. All of the episodes are great listening, but in the newest, Episode 1540: A Wrinkle in Time , we divulge scoop on

Give Thanks for BLOOD FREAK

There's a classic movie for almost every holiday. Christmas possesses several lovely cinematic stocking stuffers, including the 1951 Alistair Sim adaptation of A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra's beloved It's a Wonderful Life (although I cast my personal vote for Rene Cardona's Santa Claus myself). Of course, Halloween begat Halloween . Hell, even Groundhog Day got its own Bill Murray comedy . But what about Thanksgiving? Sure, the perfectly competent Jodie Foster-directed comedy Home for the Holidays and the modestly successful indie flick Pieces of April possess their followers. But my official nominee for the ultimate Thanksgiving Holiday Classic--the one film that captures all of the awkwardness, gluttony, surrealism, and absurdity of the holiday--is 1971's Blood Freak, available from Something Weird Video on DVD. Steve Hawkes plays Herschell, a chopper-riding, pompadoured and well-muscled Vietnam vet who stops and offers some Good Samaritan help to a

The Stooges' Fun House: Iggy Pop Culture Petri Dish

Rock and roll always wore danger on its sleeve, but punk godfather Iggy Pop just snarled, tore the shirt off, and carved the danger all over the exposed skin with a broken liquor bottle. Rock heroes in the late sixties usually tempered the sex and violence built into their music with mysticism (The Doors), technical chops (Hendrix), political righteousness (The MC5) or a knowing Bacchanalian twinkle (sixties-vintage Stones). But Iggy--and his never-to-be-rivalled cronies, The Stooges --came crawling out of the grime of industrial Michigan with no such agenda. The Stooges' primal, aggressive, sexual throb hurled the Rolling Stones' white-boy blues, the Doors' throaty psychedelia, and the blue-collar scrape of US garage rock into a pressure-cooker cranked to maximum. It was a direct livewire between Iggy's Dionysian id and the listener's ear, and it changed the world. That change was a gradual one. The first two Stooges albums, 1969's The Stooges and 1970

More Essential Lugosi

I hate leaving loose ends. To wit: Some delusional notion entered my skull for the entire latter half of October, and in honor of Halloween I decided to do a Blog a day, all horror-related, until the arrival of All Hallows' Eve. It was a really frickin' hard--but fun--challenge for me, largely because I have real difficulty with keeping things brief (I know, big surprise). My windy ass remains in awe of Bloggers who can keep it down to one or two perfect paragraphs--and do it every day. Anyway, one of the reasons I lean towards the meandering side is that perennial geek's fear of missing something. And, to make a long story short, I did. When preparing my entry on vampire icon Bela Lugosi, a looming deadline made me forceably omit one film from my list of Lugosi essentials, and I also accidentally omitted two others. So pencil these three movies in alongside all of the other essential Lugosi's. I guess that makes this: Lugosi Essentials: Previously Unreleased Foot

The Warriors: Walter Hill comes down with George Lucas-itis

Don't mess with perfection. Or at least with anything that was perfectly worthwhile the first time through. That's my humble but emphatic plea to any director out there who's following George Lucas' anal-retentive lead. You can add Walter Hill , the oft-underrated tough-guy auteur who helmed some of the best white-knuckle action flicks of the last three decades, to the ranks of the Anal Tinkerers. He's taken his 1979 cult opus, The Warriors , and glopped it up with some needless tinsel and obvious visual cues (more on that later) for the new 'Ultimate Director's Cut'. Blessedly, the movie stands up nicely despite the tinkering, and in all fairness, the lengthy documentary on the new edition's pretty spiffy, too. The screenplay by Hill and David Shaber strips the ambiguity of Sol Yurick's earnest social drama novel away, leaving an essentially straightahead adventure in its place. In the movie, nine members of the titular Coney Island street ga

Gone for Halloween, kids...

I'm going off for a short vacation beginning October 30 (Halloween's my anniversary, kids). Here's hoping that you, dear readers (all four of you rule!!), have enjoyed the Posts O' Horror this last week plus. Meantime, go to these sites to see some reeeeaaallly scary things. Gallery of the Absurd (warning: pants-soilingly funny pics of scary celebs) Dark Dreams: The Films of Dario Argento (warning: some violent content) The Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray (warning: Contains masked wrestlers, vampires, and guys in moth-eaten animal suits) The Frantic Flicker Ted V. Mikels' Official Website William Mondo Digital (warning: contains some graphic content) Ciao, folks. See you in a few.

Cool movies that should be on DVD: The Mask (1961)

The Mask holds the distinction as one of the best overlooked gems I've ever seen. No, I'm not talking about the wet-fart of a '90's Jim Carrey blockbuster that spawned a braying jackass of a sequel with Jamie whatisface. I'm riffing on the 1961 Canadian horror flick directed by Julian Roffman. Until some very smart video company gives Roffman's finest movie the grand digital treatment, a 3D copy can be tracked down on VHS from Rhino Home Video (tho' I think it's out of print; get thee to Ebay, citizens). It's a stark Twilight Zone -ish setup about an ancient Etruscan mask that, when worn, induces hallucinations of the most phantasmagoric kind. College professor Allen Barnes (Paul Stevens) comes into possession of the artifact and discovers to his helpless dismay that in addition to sending its wearer on one epic bum trip, the mask induces uncontrollable homicidal urges. Roffman constructs a well-paced thriller that makes good ambient use of its

Petri Dish 101: Bela Lugosi, Dark Emperor of the Vampires

This entry is dedicated to my lovely wife Rita, who turns one year older today. Consider this an electronic birthday card, My Sweet. At an age and era when most girls were carrying crushes on Leif Garrett and Donny Osmond, Rita harbored a grade-school crush on Bela Lugosi's Dracula. As it states on the intro to this Blog, Rita's pretty cool for a girl. No, let's amend that: She's really cool for a girl. Put bluntly, there would be no Dracula without Bela Lugosi . The Hungarian horror icon's indelible performance as that most famous of cinema bloodsuckers created the template for the character. And his formidable shadow looms large over every single actor who's portrayed the Count since. Born in Lugos, Hungary in 1882, Bela Blasko rechristened himself Lugosi in homage to his town of birth when he first began steadily acting onstage with the Budapest Academy of Theatrical Arts at the turn of the twentieth century. A passionate political activist, he organized

Petri Dish 101 is Going to EAT YOU!!!

The films of Ingmar Bergman radically changed cinema by turning the director’s point of view inward. The Swedish master's quiet, personal films emphasized inner conflict, eschewing action for psychological substance… Just kidding. Some people experience waves of childhood nostalgia from The Wizard of Oz , or from a comfy childhood quilt. Some are propelled into the reverie of remembrance by a favorite old song. Me, I get warm nostalgic fuzzies from Italian zombie movies. Blame the Parkland Theater, which screened 'em with reassuring regularity. The Italian zombie film, like a lot of other exploitation genres, first took root in the good old U S of A. George Romero's Dawn of the Dead was a huge international hit upon its release in 1978, and its combination of flesheating zombies, action, and graphic violence registered strongly with audiences all over the world. Since there was no NC-17 rating back then, Dawn was released by Romero without an MPAA rating, to avoid t

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: If you don't love it, you can lick my plate...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, Tobe Hooper's 1986 sequel to his seventies horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , has gotta be one of the most maligned sequels in the horror pantheon. Cannon Films --the studio that put The Apple , Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo , and Hospital Massacre into wide release, no less--treated TCM2 like a sack of dirty diapers, barely releasing it in theaters and pushing it onto home video in record time. This is sort of like Anna Nicole Smith rejecting an especially garish pink hoochie skirt because it's in bad taste. No one but no one, it seemed, wanted an unapologetically sick and gory horror comedy during the Reagan Years. I missed Tobe Hooper's sophomore 'Saw's original theatrical release, but my brother John caught it during its triumphant one-week run at the now-long-deceased Village Cinemas in Lakewood, Washington (the only theater in all of Washington State that ever screened it, to my knowledge) back in the d

Max Cady makes Freddy Krueger look like a Candy-Ass

If you want to split hairs, you may wish to call me a dirty liar after reading today's entry. You see, I swore I'd only write about horror things for the next several days, and I'm about to discuss the original Cape Fear , a movie that's pretty much a straight, by-the-book, decidedly un-phantasmagorical thriller. But just 'cos it's not a horror movie (in the strict sense, at least) doesn't mean it ain't scary as hell. I've been watching all manner of horror films for the last week or two, in anticipation of my unholy Blog-a-Day deal with the Devil. But of all of the chillers I've screened lately, none features a character that puts as much of a bolt-upright chill through my spine as Max Cady, the antagonist played by the late, great Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear . Between Cady and Preacher Harry Powell in the classic Night of the Hunter , Mitchum created two of the most terrifying human monsters in cinema history. Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), an

Vampire as Valentino: Dracula (1979)

Every generation, it seems, must attempt the definitive Gothic Horror Epic. But no one ever seems to be able to create one that knocks it out of the park. It's hard to gauge why. With infinite financial resources and all the special effects technology that said resources can buy, you'd think some big studio-backed director would hit the nail on the head (or drive the stake through the heart) and create the penultimate combination of gothic epic and pure shocker. Sadly, it never quite happens. Stunt-casting even the most inappropriate A-list actors in gothic drag seems to be a primary cause. Keanu Reeves as bitchin' Jonathan Harker in Coppola's Dracula ? Tom Cruise AND Brad Pitt as eighteenth-century bloodsuckers in Interview with the Vampire ??!? Get thee away from the coke mirror, casting directors. Such wrongheadedness makes for an easy scapegoat, but the real root cause likely runs deeper. Our jaded modern society looks to be a more likely culprit. In our imagina

Cat People: Elemental Fear in Film Noir Drag

Last night, I labored from 11pm til about 3 am on a Petri Dish entry about the original Val Lewton-produced 1942 version of Cat People , perhaps the finest horror film of the forties and one of the most influential efforts ever to grace the genre. I did promise an entry a day, y'know. After my usual ritual of merciless hacking, slashing, and self-proofing I finally finished the little guy. No, it wasn't gonna rouse Pauline Kael from the grave with shouts of Hosanna. Nor would it send a pack of literary agents to my door clucking like hungry poultry and waving six-figure checks. But it was a decent little entry, and, weary but satisfied, I hit the 'Save Draft' key. You know, the one that saves your work for you before you actually publish it. Then I got every blogger's most dreaded screen: Cannot Find Server. I'd been in such a composing fever dream for the preceding four hours (with the movie playing in the background as I wrote) that I'd forsaken my usu

It's a (um, not quite) HORROR-pa-LOOZA at the Petri Dish!!

In honor of Halloween, I swore to myself at the top of the month that I'd inundate this here Blog with heaps of horror. But a combination of work and slackerly slackishness has eaten away the first two-thirds of the month like a werewolf chowing away on a hapless night traveller. If you've visited in the past, you know that it takes very little to get me to wax rhapsodic, episodic, or sardonic on horror cinema. So, in a fit of customary over-compensation, I've declared the rest of October a Petri Dish Horror-pa-LOOZA!! Every day, until the end of the month, I will post an entry on something horror, except for Halloween itself (it's my anniversary, kids--cut me some slack). Today: a welcome follow-up to one of cinema's greatest fright factories. A crash course on Hammer Films , Britain's best-known and most beloved purveyor of horror movies, lay buried in the June 2005 archives of this here Blog. In said entry, I lamented the absence of some of the studio'

Rabbit test(y): Night of the Lepus on DVD

It's the early seventies. Audiences everywhere have been galvanized by a whole new generation of filmmakers pushing envelopes and boundaries undreamt of by the contract employees laboring under the old Hollywood studio system. And no topic, no approach is off-limits. Hell, in this era an X-rated movie ( Midnight Cowboy ) even wins the Best Picture Oscar. Most of the horror and science-fiction films that see release in the first third of the decade stare audiences square in the eyes, daring them to flinch. Whether they're meditations on violence ( A Clockwork Orange ), the loss of individuality ( THX-1138 ), or man's lack of control over disease ( The Andromeda Strain ), these genre flicks force viewers to confront fears that are, at equal turns, contemporary and elementally universal. So how does 1972-era MGM--one of Hollywood's biggest film studios--compete with this vogue for ecologically-and-socially-aware thrillers? Simple. It releases a horror film-- Night of t

Even a non-nerd can enjoy Serenity. Really.

Flightplan , the new thriller with Jodie Foster, won the box office last weekend with a $14 Million take. Just behind it, at about $10 mil, was the new sci-fi opus, Serenity . I haven't seen the former, but I suspect that Serenity (which I have seen) is better. Way better. What writer/director Joss Whedon has rustled up with Serenity is an honest-to-God western in space, in the best possible ways. Meaning: one, it's largely character-driven, and two, it's a great, rip-roaring action flick made all the more engaging because you're emotionally invested in the characters. The principals, headed up ably by Nathan Fillion, display easygoing, humorous, and unaffected camaraderie. The self-contained mythology that Whedon and company create feels nuanced and genuine. The special effects impress without drawing attention to themselves. The villain (an assassin played with icily charismatic inscrutibility by Chiwetel Ejiofor) exudes unforced charisma. The script, while rooted

The Night Stalker (2005 redux): Eh, shrug...

The original Night Stalker TV series holds a very dear spot in my heart. It covered the adventures of Carl Kolchak (played by Darren McGavin ), a hard-nosed scrapper of a newspaper reporter who zeroed in on stories that skirted the bizarre and supernatural, much to the chagrin of his eternally flustered editor, Tony Vincenzo (played by the eternally-blustering Simon Oakland ). Week after week, Kolchak chased scoops involving vampires, zombies, werewolves, and all manner of other unexplained phenomena, only to be consistently thwarted in his attempts to deliver the truth by the skeptical (and occasionally conspiratory) authorities. The Night Stalker was one of the first TV shows to hurl supernatural boogeymen into modern urban life, and it was a freaky mix. That collision of the monstrous with the mundane made the show scary as hell, a lesson not lost on Chris Carter, the creator of another beloved TV fantasy-- The X-Files . The key to the original Night Stalker's success w