Category Archives: Sunday NIght Movie

Halloween Horror Movie #12 The Haunting

Performing double duty last night as my Sunday Night Feature and the next up in the Halloween Horror Festival I watched 1963s The Haunting. (Not the terrible 1999 remake. I saw that one in the theater and once was far more than too much.)

Directed by Robert Wise, a talented and one of my favorite filmmakers, The Haunting is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s unsettling novel The Haunting of Hill House. The story concerns Professor John Markway who is investigating the supernatural. He has discovered Hill House, a 19th century mansion with a terrible past. Certain that he has found the location that will allow his research to advance to the next level he rents the house and attempts to bring together a group of sensitive persons to provoke events and document them. This is how the story point of view character and protagonists, Eleanor Lance is pulled into the plot. Eleanor is an unbalanced woman. She has spent her entire adult life caring for her bed-ridden mother, which has sparked and nurtured a deep resentment in Eleanor, and now longs for a life and a love of her own. Most of the people Markway had planned to assemble cancel leaving him with only one other sensitive Theodora, a woman with a talent for ESP and an unconventional sexual orientation. Rounding out our cast of ghost hunters is Luke Sanderson, a young man who believes not in the supernatural but rather in drink, women, and money. Luke stands to inherit the house and is on site to protect his future interests.

Filmed with a lens that presents a very mild distortion of the image, and several shots using filmstock that is sensitive to UV light, Robert Wise crafts a horror film that is built upon mood and disquiet rather than gore and monsters. The move boasts a terrific cast all of whom portray their characters with truth and credibility. It is interesting to me that I can watch Russ Tamblyn as a child in the noir Gun Crazy, a young adult man here in The Haunting, and as a senior actor in Twin Peaks: The Return, Claire Bloom as Theodora plays her character with a sublime subtlety. Yes, the production code forced all gay characters to be either coded and villainous but with this film it was required that her character be portrayed more discreetly and her attempted seductions and interest in Eleanor are better for their low key approach.

Among the classic horror films The Haunting ranks as one of the best.


Halloween Horror Movie #9 The Devil’s Rock

Searching through the offerings on Shudder I stumbled across this 2011 film from New Zealand. The description caught my attention and with low expectations I streamed the movies.

The Devil’s Rock, set during World War II, follows two Kiwi commandos. Ben and Joe, as they land on a channel island to destroy a big gun as part of that allies’ plans of confusion and deception before the D-Day invasion of Nazi Occupied Europe. Ben is distracted by persistent screams coming from the blockhouse and decided to expand their mission into rescuing the tortured prisoners of the Germans. Inside the concrete fortification they discover a charnel house, blood stained walls, more screams, and everywhere violently torn apart corpses. Uncovering the mystery and the German’s plots is a tale of terror, violence, and patriotism.

A low-budget movie The Devil’s Rock exceeded my expectations. The filmmakers understood the limitations of their production and made the use of their limited recourses. A limited cast, very restricted use of special effects, and an understanding of what can be done with practical effects all served the story well. The script is in fairly decent shape. I do think it could have benefits from one more pass, as there are a few elements that do not quite flow smoothly. All said though this movie worked, presenting a tense situation, conflicting characters thrown into a situation that tests all of them, and it even raises a few questions about how far is acceptable in service to your country and your ideals. This is worth your time to stream this horror season.


Halloween Horror Film #6 Coherence

Sunday afternoon my sweetie-wife and I went out for a San Diego Film Geeks presentation of the 1972 Italian crime movie What Have You Done to Solange? That was enjoyable and salacious but it left me wanting a shorter movie for my later night Sunday Night Movies feature. Most of the shorter horror films in my library are of the classic Universal period and were ones I have watched recently but I wanted something newer. Browsing the selection on Shudder I stumbled about this low-budget SF/thriller Coherence. Decent rotten tomatoes score (88%) and it looked interesting

Coherence is the story of a dinner party, the friends collected for the evening all have tensions pulling at them but seem gamely dedicated to having a good time. Strange events being occurring, cell phones shattering in their hands, power-outages and more, as a comet is passing overhead. When they notice that there is one house that seems to have power and lights while the entire neighborhood is blacked-out, pair of the men venture to it in hopes of contacting relatives. This is when the SF aspect takes over and this film becomes the stuff of a Twilight Zone episode. That perhaps is the best point of reference for this movie, as being very low budget (IMDB reports $50,000) this story is driven by the characters and not special effect or cinematography. Frankly I was surprised by the quality of the story. This movie worked very well and I am not going to discuss its details because this is one best watched, like hobbits returned to Isengard, unspoiled.

There are two flaws that bothered me in the movie. First off, I understand the need to keep the camera work simple, but the focus going in and out from an ‘auto-focus’ mirroring effect became quite annoying, and secondly a comet is terrible explanation for the events. Comets are nothing more than dirty snowballs in space. With just five minutes though I devised a better rationale that would have changed nothing in the actual production.

Those flaws aside, Coherence, was a good film, taunt and tense, with properly dark turns. If you have access to the streaming site Shudder, give it a view.


Halloween Horror Film #3

Sunday night movies, keeping in line with my plan for nothing but horror films between now and Halloween, was the Swedish ghost story Alena.

I was fortunate enough to see this movie at 2016’s Horrible Imaginings Film Festival where it struck me as one of the best movies in a festival filled with fantastic films. It was also at the Festival where I learned about the streaming service Shudder, which is dedicated to Horror cinema and has a better selection for that genre than any other streaming site. I had not seen Alena in the time between last year’s festival and this weekend and I had a few concerns that perhaps it was not as well made as my memory insisted.

Those concerns were misplaced.

Alena is the story of a low-class girl, Alena, who following a personal tragedy transfers to an all-girl upper-class private school. Poor and a new comer Alena is quickly targeted for bullying by leader of the in clique, Fillipa, while also picking a new friend and potential romantic entanglement with Fabienne. Complicating matters is a friend from the wrong side of the tracks, Josefin who acts as Alena’s personal protector and confidant. Things get out of hand and soon girls are being attacked and terrible tragic secrets surface.

Alena is based on a graphic move but I have not read the source material so I cannot speak to the quality as far as adaptation goes but this film is stylish and well crafted. You would do far worse for seasonal viewing. The most serious flaw in the films productions deals entirely with the foreign edition. As I mentioned the movie is from Sweden and it is presented in Swedish with English subtitles. However, whoever performed the subtitling was not fully fluent in English. There are word choices and grammar constructions what come of at the very least as clunky and in some cases are simply wrong. Do not let the occasional translator failing distract you from this terrific movie.


Sunday Night Movie: A Cure for Wellness

Kicking off the Halloween season with my home video habits over two nights I watched the horror film A Cure for Wellness. (Sunday night proved to be so exhausting that even though I was thoroughly into the film I simply could not muster the endurance to complete it in a single night.)

Directed by Gore Verbinski, who also brought us The Ring (US version), Wellness is about a young ambitious and morality challenged young man, Lockhart (Dane DeHann) who has been dispatched to a mysterious sanatorium in the Swiss Alps to retrieve an financial; executive because someone in the company has to take the fall and it is either the executive of Lockhart. The sanatorium is run my the smoothly menacing Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) and caters to a rich clientele that never seems to have any desire to leave this place, its amazing waters, and of course ‘The Cure.’ Lockhart becomes a prisoner/patient of the sanatorium and falls into a world of hallucinations, mystery, and body horror.

A Cure for Wellness has Verbinski’s distinctive sense of style. Unlike many who have worked in the horror genre, Verbinski understands that the most effective horror is powered by mood not by gore or a sudden jump scare. As Lockhart’s world crumbles and the mystery deepens the horror grows, bubbling up organically from strange and unsettling characters, the disturbing visual, and just the right amount of body horror. Like many a good horror story, curehas a mystery at its heart and the unwinding of those threads form the core of the plot. This is not a film build around ‘kills’ but around the omni-present threat and the terror of not understanding what is happing to you or what it all means.

Sadly, this film is flawed and flawed enough that the style and the visual ultimately are not enough to carry it across as satisfactory finish line. The story has structure problems, Lockhart escaping twice from the sanatorium is one escape too many, giving the movie a repeated beat that weakens the raising stakes. The third act’s mystery is a good one but in order to have Lockhart resolve it requires the character to have a strength of self that is not well established. The climatic fight between Lockhart and the films ultimate threat breaks what had been up until that point a very well established sense of physical realism, but during the combat falls that would break bones and leave a person unit for further resistance become mere set-backs undercutting a film that had been working.

I am glad I watched A Cure for Wellness but it will not be added to my collection and when I need horror from Verbinski I will turn to The Ring.


Sunday Night Movie: Seconds

The third in director’s John Frankenheimer’s paranoia trilogy, the previous two films being The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May, Seconds turns the attention from external threats to questions of identity and conformity.

The main character of the story is Arthur Hamilton an upper middle-aged man, white, Protestant, wealthy, and entirely dissatisfied with his life. Mysterious communication from a ‘deceased’ friend leads him to a company that services men as himself, creating for them new identities, new lives, in younger, stronger bodies. Arthur undergoes the processes and is reborn as Tony Wilson, now played by leading man actor Rock Hudson. Arthur, living as Tony, is relocated to California and given a life that is designed to fulfill those emotional voids from his previous ones, but they do not. Despite a reignited sexual drive and capacity, a young exciting woman professing her love, and absolute freedom, Arthur/tony remains deeply unhappy. Questioning his choices and seeking solutions puts Arthur/Tony on a disastrous course that he may never recovery from.

There is no doubt that Seconds is a science-fiction story without the intense and complex procedure to take an old man and transform him into a young one the story simply falls apart. The movie is tough, brutal, and disturbing. By brutal I do not a bloody festival of violence, but rather that the handling of the characters and their issues are not softened by sentimentality. Arthur Hamilton is not a particularly likeable man and his transformation does not change this aspect but his journey is intellectually challenging and emotionally wringing which I found compelling and fascinating. The philosophical questions raised, by the film and left unanswered I might add, concerning the conflict between the individual and what society expects of an individual, are deep and powerful. This is an SF movies with a point, it is not a pretty film, it is not a feel good film, and it is not an adventure film, but it is an adult film with adult problems and an adult resolution, Filmed with techniques that were terribly difficult before the advent of SteadyCam, and with distorting lenses, Seconds can be difficult to watch and perhaps even physically uncomfortable for those susceptible to motion sickness.

This was the first time I watched Seconds and with the benefit of historical knowledge Rock Hudson’s performance takes on greater depth, meaning, and nuance, In 1966 Rock Hudson was at the top of his game as a leading man in Hollywood. Young, tall, and handsome he played vigorous, virtuous, and virile men that reflected back to America and the world the illusion of the man that men should strive to be and he did this while living a deeply closeted life. Normally I do not consider an actor personal life or orientation when watching their performance but in this case I think it transforms the acting into a sublime achievement. Taking on the role of ‘Tony Wilson’ Hudson plays a man who is hiding his core identity, who is living a lie, Hudson gives a performance that is layered with its own hidden truth. Frankenheimer wisely doesn’t spoil the subtlety of the Hudson’s acting with cheap close-up of things like a single tear, but lets many of the scenes play out in uncomfortable long takes

Produced when science-fiction cinema was truly becoming an adult art form Seconds is about as far from escapism as a move can get. It is a story unconcerned with heroic gestures, preening villains, or simplistic clashes of good and evil but rather it attempt to plumb the depth of the human soul and what it finds is deeply unsettling. It is a classic film from a master filmmaker, but by far it is not for everyone.


Sunday Night Movie: Cleopatra Jones

Last night’s feature, Cleopatra Jones, was the third, following Black Caesar and Blacula, in my experiencing the genre of Blaxploitation cinema. It was interesting watching this movie on the same day that I went out with my sweetie-wife and watched Atomic Blonde. Though separated by four decades the two films have very similar elements. Both films are centered on strong females characters who are agents for their government, dress in fantastic fashion, who are sexually liberated, deadly in combat, and who operate in a venue where ally and enemy are deadly categories to confuse.

Cleo (Tamara Dobson) is a United States Special agent whose jurisdiction extends from Ankara to Watts Towers as she tried to shut down the drug trade poising the youth of Los Angeles during the early 1970s. After destroying a poppy field worth 30 million dollars, Cleo angers the L.A. Crime lord, Mama (Shelly Winters) and Mama declares an all out war on Cleo. Manipulating her contacts with the police department Mama fixes it so that a facility dedicated to getting kids off the hard drugs is raided and incriminating evidence (planted) is found, provoking Cleo’s return to L.A. The film follows Cleo’s attempts to clear the anti-drug house, keep the residents from exploding into violence against the racist, oppressive police, and ending Mama’s criminal empire.

Cleopatra Jones was a fun film that wasted very little in terms of time or momentum. There are a number of film makers that need to learn these filmmakers lesson in economy of storytelling. With stronger elements of wish fulfillment that either of the other two film I have watched, Jones, fulfills one of the purposes of fiction, displaying for people a world that can be better, a world that can be made into reality, even while dealing with the subject matter in a never-lose James Bond method.


Sunday Night Movie The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

The next movie up from my 5-disc DVD collection of film noir is The Asphalt Jungle. Directed by John Houston this is the story of small time hoods, one famous and brilliant criminal tactician, a crooked lawyer who is not as bright as he thinks he his, and the big jewel heist that they attempt to complete.

Starring Sterling Hayden as Dix a gambler and muscle man, Sam Jaffe, who often played geniuses, as ‘The Doc,’ a legendary criminal, and James Whitmore as the wheel man, The Asphalt Jungle is a film about the lower levels of criminality and the vices that crippled the men who dream beyond their abilities. This movie certain hits what I think are the central themes of classic film noir, an unmistakable cynicism about particularly concerning greed and characters who are consumed by their appetites or vices. With a story lacking in heroes, The Asphalt Jungle is about flawed people making bad decisions and the inevitable ruin of their lives. I think even without the Production Code requirements the only applicable end for this story was one of tragedy and failure. These are characters defined by their failures, even Doc, the mastermind, has only just been released from prison. The man hailed as a great crook, is still one captured, tried and imprison by the fumbling police forces.

Lacking snappy dialogue and a plot filled with unexpected reveals The Asphalt Jungle‘s power lays in their gritty portrayal of the street criminal life. There are no lovely costumes, no grand high-flying life, even the most successful characters are shown to be living a lie and that their material wealth of all illusion. The feel of the film is more like something you would expect from Warner Brothers, a studio that made its image one based on a ‘realistic’ portrayal of life rather than MGM which tended to focus more on glitz, glamor, and beautiful productions. The tone and look of the film comes from its director John Houston, an old- Warner Brothers man it should be noted. Produced post-war but before the material boom of the later 1950s, I like the film’s atmosphere of depression and limited resources.

A gritty, realistic, and entertaining film The Asphalt Jungle is a film noir worth seeing.


Sunday Night Movie Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Last night I was in the mood for something from yesteryear. Now some time ago Universal put out boxed set for their classic monsters until the branding of ‘Legacy Collections.’ I have many of the set including the one for Frankenstein. The Legacy Collections include the original film for each series, some decent bonus material about the classic horror film, and several of the sequels or associated films.

Ghost of Frankenstein is the fourth film is the series and it continues the story from the previous entry, Son of Frankenstein. Ghost is used metaphorically as the Frankenstein of this film is the second son of the original mad scientist but titling a movie Second Son of Frankenstein seems underwhelming.

The population of the village of Frankenstein, convinced that the area is under a curse dues the action of Henry and his son Wolf Frankenstein dynamite the standing castle where in the previous story the monster had fallen into bubbling sulfur pits. The explosions free the monster and aided my Ygor, who has somehow survived the hail of bullets from the last movie, escapes fleeing the town. Ygor takes the monster to Ludwig Frankenstein, Henry’s second son, in hopes that the creation might be healed and returned to full ability, allowing Ygor to manipulate it to continue his own evil schemes.

The creature kills of the Ludwig’s associates and this after much turmoil with the local populace, prompts Ludwig to plan to transfer the brain of his dead associated to the monster’s body as a way of undoing the crime and transforming the monster into a non-dangerous creation. Ygor, working on the ego of Ludwig’s disgraced mentor gets his brain placed into the monster without Ludwig’s knowledge. These villagers arrive, torches are barred, great manor houses are burned, and Ygor in the monster’s body goes blind because the great mentor hadn’t considered blood type mismatch.

Over all this is pretty standard fare for a Universal monster sequel. It pays fair attention to continuity but hand-waves is way past anything that would actually kill the story, such as Ygor’s ability to survive the gunshot wounds without medical care. Dr. Frankenstein once again pays the price for meddling in things that ‘man was not to know.’ (Hmm we should really have a Lord of the Rings moment in some film like this where the female mad scientist proclaims she is no man.) In terms of the Universal classic monster cycle, which was the first cinematic universe, this is purely a middle-grade entry. The movie did not descend in unintentional farce as with Son of Dracula casting Lon Chaney jr as the Count,, but neither did the film come close to matching the atmospheric heights of Frankenstein.

As this film was from 1942 I did ponder a sequel in which Nazi’s took the castle and ended up dealing with mad scientists and the classic monster. Ah movies that were never even considered.


Sunday Night Movie The Babadook

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this past weekend presented me with more writing work than I normally engage in during this blissful days away from the day-job. When I finished editing a potential piece for submission to Viable Paradise I rewarded myself with a movie, The Babadook.

Hailing from down-under this 2014 horror film is about a widowed mother and her young son, still scarred by the traumatic death of their husband and father, being tormented by a malicious spirit.

Horror often works via isolation. In lesser quality stories and films that isolation is achieved by the creators via hard barriers to prevent the characters from escaping the threat. The car has broken down in the middle of nowhere, the bridge has washed out, the ghost can fill the doors and windows with red bricks at will, there are no bars on your cell phone, so on and so on. With better-crafted material the isolation is psychological, for example in the novel and film The Exorcist in addition to the fact that the demon is within the child, the fact that no one outside of that home could possibly accept the reality of its events isolates the characters. The Babadook successfully employs the psychological isolation.

In terms of visual style the film reminded me of both David Lynch and the American version of The Ring. The images are not straightforward literal monsters, but more subjective and impressionistic interpretations. Much of the dread, unease, and horror is created by the stylistic and unusual visuals.

The movie did not work 100 percent for me however. I had a difficult time get engaged with the material at the start because the emotionally troubled young son was very difficult to bear. This is by design as we are meant to emotionally connect with the mother who is struggling to manage with a son who has serious emotional issues while having not yet processed her own grief. Once I managed to get past the establishing acts of the story I did find myself more engaged and invested in the outcome.

It is interesting that one valid interpretation of the film is that, like with The Haunting, there is no spirit and that the mother is suffering from a mental breakdown. While Shirley Jackson has made it clear that Hill House is haunted and evil, I have no knowledge about the intent for The Babadook so it is up to you if the evil spirit has a reality or if it’s a tale of madness. While this film had a difficult opening for me, holding me at a distance, in the end I am glad I watched it. Creepy, atmospheric, and ultimately about the power of grief The Babadook is a worthy film in the horror genre.