Scarecrow Video Picks from the Romanian Film Festival Seattle Staff!

By the Romanian Film Festival Seattle staff

The Romanian Film Festival (5th Edition): “One Eye Laughing, One Eye Crying: Uncanny Worlds” is coming to SIFF Cinema Uptown November 2-4, 2018!

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The Seasoned Ticket #23

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

 

Winding down to Halloween proper now, so a grab-bag of items—a little Karloff, a little Esperanto, a little Oscar Wilde. Trick or treat? The Karloff note talks about one of the great man’s Val Lewton films, Isle of the Dead, which has a peculiar, almost Samuel Beckettian sense of waiting around for death to come. The Esperanto is that daft 1962 film Incubus, with William Shatner, which really does unfold entirely in the international language intended to promote world peace. The Wilde is a piece I wrote for my blog about The Picture of Dorian Gray, where I talk about the (quite interesting) 1945 film adaptation but also its appearance in one of Seattle’s early-1970s horror-movie showcases, a late-night series hosted by Dr. ZinGRRR (the horror-host persona of a legendary local radio deejay, Robert O. Smith). Mild-ish spoilers included.

Isle of the Dead

Val Lewton and Boris Karloff, on a Greek island in 1912, war and pestilence raging on the mainland. Karloff and reporter Marc Cramer leave the dead zone—persuasively summoned in a few shots of mangled bodies and smoking battlefield—to visit Karloff’s wife’s tomb on the island. Cajoled into spending the night by an antiquities scholar (Jason Robards, Sr.), they must stay when someone dies of plague. The house also has a spooky housekeeper, a young hottie (Ellen Drew) who may or may not be a vorlvolaka, a Greek mythical monster; a British consul (Alan Napier) and his invalid wife (the extremely unsettling Katherine Emery). The invalid has a fear of being buried alive, since she is prone to cataleptic states—and of course she ends up being carted off to the tomb; great revelation scene, as we hear her scratching away at the wood from inside. When she breaks out, she drifts around in a diaphanous gown, grabs an ancient trident, and stabs the peasant woman and Karloff with it.

Another good character: a philosophical Greek doctor (Ernst Dorian aka Deutsch), who perishes early on. The Karloff character, a general, holds no faith, but eventually becomes convinced that Drew is a vorvolaka, and pesters her until she has to sneak away with the reporter. They are all waiting for a sirocco, the wind that will blow the plague away, which results in a static but interesting idyll. The antiquarian has a little kettle in the backyard, to which he makes burned offerings to Hermes. A three-headed statue of Cereberus serves as an oft-seen totem. Some good windy, outdoor atmosphere, when Drew goes out walking and hears a strange birdcall and possibly a human voice. Not too suspenseful overall, but the air of civilized resignation is palpable, as people (except Karloff) meet their deaths with stoical acceptance. Mark Robson directed, in the house style, with some tone-deaf line readings. Karloff’s hair is gray and curly (cf. Bava’s Black Sabbath).

Incubus

Only movie shot in Esperanto, 1965, with William Shatner. If that’s not enough to recommend it, and of course it is, Incubus was shot by Conrad Hall, and the black-and-white images are truly stunning—a lot of Val Lewton, a lot of Ingmar Bergman. The story itself is almost certainly influenced by the Bergman of Seventh Seal and Virgin Spring, and the language makes it sound arty and European.

Succubi lure sinners to their deaths in some vague oceanside landscape, but one such siren (Allyson Ames) wants to corrupt a pure man—that’s Shatner, just returned from a war. He leaves his hauntingly gorgeous sister (Ann Atmar) to go off with the vixen, who later summons up the incubus from the earth. Much daffy good-evil stuff and a lot of fantastic lighting later, Shatner crawls mortally wounded to a church, bringing the girl with him, but not before she is apparently raped by the Incubus in the form of a goat. Final shot is a freeze-frame solarized image of the goat’s head.

Great longshot: the Incubus emerges across a dark hillside, his arms spread, stops in his tracks, and gives the arms a sudden jerk—freaky. He is played by Milos Milos; a year after filming, he killed his girlfriend (Mickey Rooney’s estranged wife) and himself. Ann Atmar killed herself after filming ended, leading to the official “Incubus curse.” (On the commentary track for the DVD, Shatner insists the curse was laid by a hippie wandering around the Big Sur set, after having been roughly treated by the crew. He also says the shooting was conducted in Esperanto.) Written and directed by Leslie Stevens, of Outer Limits fame. He captures some Bergmanesque compositions—two women’s faces side by side in the frame—a year before Persona. There’s a brief topless shot during a demonic rite that probably got cut in the U.S. Also great 60s-style credits, a la the Corman pictures of the time. Pretty flabbergasting movie.

And a link to my piece on Dorian Gray.

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Beauty and Death: Stylish Horror That Gives Off Those SUSPIRIA Vibes

by Emalie Soderback

Dario Argento’s Suspiria has gained an intense cult following since its release in 1977. The film is an accessible and gorgeous entryway into the world of horror, and more specifically the Italian giallo films of the ‘70s. From film professors to frat boys, feminist scholars to those who “hate scary movies,” Suspiria’s fanbase is wide and varied. The technicolor thriller follows an American ballet student who uncovers some terrifying and possibly supernatural things going on at a prestigious German dance academy. Girls end up missing or brutally murdered, bugs fall from the ceiling, and rumor has it the instructors are actually witches. With every frame the equivalent to an achingly gorgeous neon-lit photograph, and a synth score for the ages by Italian prog-rock band Goblin, Argento crafted what many consider a perfect piece of art.

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The Seasoned Ticket #22

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

 

More horror this week, this time from George Romero, a filmmaker whose pointed blend of politics and horror was always welcome. Herewith some 2008 notes on Day of the Dead, a 2005 Daily Herald review of Land of the Dead, and a 2010 piece on The Crazies from my website. I have a feeling Romero’s best films are going to last a long time.

 

Day of the Dead

Poorly released and mostly ignored at first, this 1985 film has always been considered a letdown compared to the undisputed horror champs Night and Dawn (and by the time Land and Diary came along, Romero was automatically getting the love from critics and fanboys). But this is actually a really strong movie.

Before going underground for virtually the entire picture, we begin in a helicopter, as searchers land in a Florida city and look for survivors of some terrible cataclysm. No humans are present, but maybe it depends on how you define “survivors,” ‘cuz we got zombies all over. A newspaper, blown by the wind, has a headline declaring THE DEAD WALK. Back at the missile silo that is now home, a medical team fiddles with the revenants and tries to divine a solution, while a belligerent group of Army soldiers goes increasingly bonkers (cf. final act of 28 Days Later). The heroine (Lori Cardille) has only a couple of sane accomplices, the chopper pilot and a Scots radio man.

The doctor in charge, a loopy budding Frankenstein, is trying to find ways to re-train the zombies so they will do our bidding; he’s got one, Bub (named after his dominating father—this is weird), chained up and listening to the “Ode to Joy,” which actually brings a few moments of peace to the zombian brain. This is splendid. He rewards Bub with fresh entrails, which doesn’t sit too well with the other folk. (The movie is highly original in having its authority figure, the aged doctor—upon whom one would presume the future of civilization to depend–just as crazy as the bad guys.)

Like a demented rodeo—leave it to Romero to poke around at conventions of the Western as he pursues his horror ways–the crew wrangles zombies for the doctor’s experiments in a peculiar corral in a tunnel. The missile silo also houses financial records of great corporations, movie negatives, a repository of mankind’s now-pointless ambitions.

And here the true awesome design of the movie becomes clear: there is no hope for the future, no “solution” to be found nor even consoling human trappings (the silo has bare walls, except for the ersatz “backyard barbecue” trailer that the pilot and radio guy have set up). The only chance is to find an island and escape and start the hell over.

Each of Romero’s zombie pictures has been ingenious about responding to its moment, and there are a lot of ideas running loose in this movie—it puts the political simplicity of 28 Days Later to shame. Among other things, this movie is the antidote to Rambo, which was released the same year; the crowning moment for the chief military nutjob is a death scene where he shouts at Bub, “You pus fuck! You pus fuck!” over and over.

Tom Savini’s makeup effects are incredible—guts spilling from bellies, heads torn off in mid-shot, wild corpses with only brain stems left (but apparently still alive?), and a great coup with a decapitated head, upside down, its eyes moving from side to side.

 

Land of the Dead

The zombie movie is all the rage again, thanks to a bite in the arm from 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and the comedy “Shaun of the Dead.” But now it’s time for the Elvis of zombie movies to show ’em what for.

George Romero, who concocted the enormously disturbing Night of the Living Dead on a shoestring back in 1968, is back in the realm of the reanimated. George A Romero’s Land of the Dead is Romero’s fourth zombie picture, trailing after the epic Dawn of the Dead and the scrappy but interesting Day of the Dead. As is customary for Romero, the film has massive helpings of gore mixed with wry servings of social commentary. Land presents a world that has barricaded itself in against the onslaught of the zombie population.

Specifically, a fatcat aristocrat (Dennis Hopper) has created a little upper-class utopia in a luxury high-rise building. The poor still live, somewhat precariously, in the city streets below, and the dead clamor outside the electrified fences that surround the place. The main thing zombies lacked in the previous films was the ability to think. (Well, their manual dexterity wasn’t too swift, either.) For this film, Romero depicts the spark of cognition, when a zombie leader named Big Daddy suddenly realizes that pulling the trigger of a machine gun will make it go bang. It’s the zombie equivalent of the apes using bones as weapons in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Our hero is a mercenary (Simon Baker), who runs errands for the rich folk (which means stealing into zombie-land and retrieving valuables). He’s accompanied by a loyal sidekick (Robert Joy) and a streetwalker (Asia Argento, the bewitching daughter of horror director Dario Argento), the latter liberated from a cage fight with two hungry zombies. The story isn’t much—both too simple and not quite clear enough—and Romero may be running out of ways to shoot zombies. His outlook is pretty bleak this time, and his attempt to draw a parallel between the threat of terrorism and his plot is tenuous.

He’s better at sorting out the haves and the have-nots, particularly in a scene where a hired mercenary (John Leguizamo) stakes his claim with Hopper to be allowed to buy his way into the luxury Metropolis. Hopper’s withering reaction is entitlement at its most unruffled. Romero is also good, since Dawn, at showing the absurd lengths human beings will go to create systems of living, despite the unpleasantness around them.

And, of course, the movie has brains. Also entrails and organs. And a scene that gives a new meaning to “finger food.”

Land of the Dead probably won’t attract anybody except zombian enthusiasts, but it should be noted that this is an effective film (its terse dialogue exchanges had me wishing Romero would make a Western). In the way that genre movies can, each of Romero’s Dead films has reflected its era, and given a skeptical verdict. At this point he doesn’t seem to mind if the zombies win.

 

And The Crazies here.

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

SHRIEK for Halloween

 

 

 

 

SHRIEK is back!

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