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Showing posts from October, 2006

The Innocents: All of Modern Horror's Promise, Held in its Grasp

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For decades, I've known the hallowed reputation held by The Innocents , Jack Clayton's magnificent 1961 cinematic adaptation of Henry James' novella The Turn of the Screw . But I only caught up with it last week, and I could kick myself--repeatedly--for having let the movie elude my grasp for so long (Fox issued it on DVD late last year). As a horror tale, as a psychological study, and as a work of art, it rivals anything produced by any major studio at the time. Only Robert Wise's nigh-peerless The Haunting comes close. The basic storyline details the travails of Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), a quintessential proper Englishwoman who's accepted a job as governess to two precocious youngsters, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin). Giddens takes to her two bright and initially pleasant charges, until their behavior begins subtly--and scarily--changing with time. Those changes force the governess to dig further into the history of the house and its re

Give Give Give me More More More Horror on DVD

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We horror fans are an insatiable lot, and video companies know it. Thus, DVD manufacturers have put out an astonishing amount of horror product over the years, so much so that you'd think a big nerd like me would have no need to create a wish list of horror flicks that have yet to make their digital bow here in the United States. You'd be thinking wrong. Enclosed please find a short list of genre movies that, as of yet, have not made their way onto domestic DVD. Some are sublime, some are ridiculous. Some have made the digital translation in foreign countries, only narrowly missing these shores; some are so embedded in legal quagmire that the only way to find 'em is on a crappy sixth-generation VHS dupe with Greek subtitles (I speak from experience, God help me). Most of these can be located on out-of-print VHS if you look hard enough, But all of the included films could really benefit from the DVD format's improved picture quality, capacity for extras, and penchant fo

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula: One Very Bad Doggie

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Zoltan, Hound of Dracula : The title packs a fair amount of menace, but don't let it freak you out too much; this 1978 B flick, out on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment, also played theaters under a more straightforward name-- Dracula's Dog. And the latter moniker feels a lot more apropos. If anything, Zoltan earns bonus points for originality. The movie opens in The Old Country (probably Romania, despite the US Navy jeep driven by the soldiers of the region), where an earthquake opens up two coffins in the crypt of the Dracula family. One casket holds Veidt (Reggie Nalder), immortal servant of the bloodsucking clan, and the other houses plasma-lapping undead pooch Zoltan. Soon this duo finds their way to sunny California, where the final living member of the Dracula line, Michael Drake (hard-working character actor Michael Pataki , a frequent Klingon on the original Star Trek ), is heading into the woods for a camping trip with his family and dogs. Veidt and Zoltan, it seems

Petri Dish 101: Dario Argento, Horror Cinema's Most Gifted Savant

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Some of the most flawless, seamless so-called cinema masterpieces evaporate from the mind the instant you finish watching 'em. But there are certain filmmakers who can nail you to the edge of your seat during even their lesser efforts. Dario Argento , for me at least, is one of those directors. I've always thought of Argento as a bit of an artistic savant--goofy script tangents and cardboard characterizations pepper nearly all of his films. If you don't take a glass-half-full stance with a lot of his work, you could get irritated. If you don't have a tolerance for extremely strong onscreen violence, you could get nauseated. So why bother watching any of his movies? Because--warts and all--he's one of modern horror cinema's greatest visual stylists. No, scratch that: He's one of modern cinemas greatest visual stylists, period. Warts, absurdities, and all. At their best, the Italian director's movies bypass rational explanation and imbed themselves dir

Random Fragments o' Fright and F@#kery

Damn Blogger. A server issue kept me from posting this last night, so my Blog-a-day deal with the devil has been effectively scuttled by the deficiencies of modern technology. Oh, well, I wasn't using my soul this week anyway. Random bits of goodness: My friend (and fellow Blogger) Sarah stumbled upon a fun little Zombie Quiz in her 'net explorations--go here for a look-see. Sarah knows well the value of a good sopping-gooey gory zombie flick, having braved a late-night showing of Lucio Fulci's Zombie with me a few years back (and take a look in the archives of her Zeitgeist blog while you're at it--her wry wit merits repeat viewings). The Fuse music cable channel aired the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards recently, and I caught about 30 minutes of the telecast this morning. It was an interesting, sometimes disheartening view at what's currently in vogue with horror culture (when Hollywood pretty guy Jared Leto wins the 'Prince of Darkness' award for fronting h

Shock Waves: Nazi Typical Zombie Movie.

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Sometimes modesty becomes a horror movie. Not every fright flick needs to be the grandest, goriest, or most outrageous on the block. There's something to be said for a movie that economically, entertainingly gets the job (that's goosebump-raising here, folks) done. Shock Waves hit theaters and drive-ins back in 1977, and it demonstrates this truism nicely. This humble little horror thriller shows its seams, but its resourcefulness and imagination make for an entertaining hour-and-a-half. The movie opens like a sort of twisted Sunn Classics documentary, with an offscreen narrator spilling the setup (specifically, reputed attempts by the SS to create a squad of super-soldiers) as the camera pulls back on an archival photo of a Nazi squadron. It's a really effective intro (and it beat The Blair Witch Project to the mockumentary conceit by a couple of decades). The story proper follows a small pleasure-boat as it collides with an imposing hulk of a shipwreck just off th

Horrorpalooza 2: Electric BOOgaloo!

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Yeah, yeah, I've been really lax on updates to the Dish lo, these last two (yipes!) months. Only the recent demise of the spellbinding Tamara Dobson (and the recent visit of the spellbinding Ms. Tura Satana) shook me outta my torpor. It's not like I've been slumped in the Barca-Lounger mainlining Cheetos and Old English for the last sixty days. Life's been pretty tumultuous at home and work, plus the missus and I just got back from an adventurous two weeks in England. Rest assured, I'll bore you faithful readers (all six of you!) stiff with the details on the latter in the coming days/weeks. But it's that time of year again, when even the most fair-weather film lovers glom onto all things frightful and when I get the hubris to attempt a sustained stretch of written productivity. I signed a pact with the devil in 2005 to do a Blog daily, for an extended stretch of October until Halloween, each entry devoted to that most cherished of my cinema mistresses--the ho

Viva Tura Satana, Woman's Woman

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With the passing of Arthur Lee and Tamara Dobson in the last few months, it's a joy and a relief to celebrate an awe-inspiring pop-culture figure who's still around. And what a figure. Tura Satana's raven tresses, va-va-voom curves, and animal charisma graced a mere handful of movies in the 1960's and '70's, but she rightfully earned cinematic icon status as a result. Tomorrow night, Seattle's Egyptian Theater will serve as Tura's altar, with her signature movie, Russ Meyer's 1965 pulp-trash classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, screening and the lady herself in attendance. In his excellent Russ Meyer biography, Big Bosoms and Square Jaws , author Jimmy McDonough describes her as "sexy, proud, and heartbreaking all at the same time." Survivor of a childhood stay in a California internment camp during World War II, juvenile delinquent, exotic dancer, black belt in karate, and reputed paramour to everyone from Billy Wilder to Elvis

Passings: Tamara Dobson, Ass-Kicking Goddess

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Blaxploitation Fans, fly your flags at half-mast. With her amazonian six-foot-two frame, gravity-defying afro, and striking good looks, Tamara Dobson was a natural for a modeling career in the seventies, and her face and figure adorned major magazines throughout the first third of the Me Decade. But that's not what made Dobson--who died October 4, 2006 at age 59--an honest-to-God pop icon. Movie studios invariably beckoned, and in 1972 Dobson appeared in the Burt Reynolds action programmer Fuzz as Yul Brynner's squeeze. Her big breakthrough--and her legacy to the ages--came one year later, however, when she assumed the title role in one of the hallmarks of the blaxploitation genre, Cleopatra Jones . In Dobson's hands, Cleo--a high-kicking, fashion-forward, sportscar-driving federal agent--offered audiences a distinctive feminine alternative to James Bond. Cleopatra Jones has inspired awe and worship in this neck of the woods for years: Hell, the one-sheet poster (pic