Sunday, August 28, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 333

The Date: August 28

The Movie: The Vampire Lovers (1970)

What Is It?: Hammer’s first adaptation of le Fanu’s Carmilla. Ingrid Pitt transcends the exploitation with her energetic presence and committed acting. She plays a lusty vampiress who goes around biting and bedding everyone in sight. Well, everyone but Peter Cushing. The depiction of a predatory lesbian vampire is homophobic, but Pitt plays her with such humanity that she earns our empathy much more so than her vacant-eyed victim, whom she genuinely seems to love.

Why Today?: On this day in 1814, Carmilla author Sheridan le Fanu is born.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 332

The Date: August 27

The Movie: Lord Love a Duck (1966)

What Is It?: Insane satire in which Tuesday Weld dreams of transcending her lowly high-school girl status to become a beach party movie star and wacko school mate Roddy McDowall (a 38 year-old school mate, no less), somehow makes all her dreams come true.

Why Today?: On this day in 1943, Tuesday Weld is born.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: 'Theatre of Blood' Blu-ray

Vincent Price was adored by fans but ridiculed by critics for his out-sized, hambone theatrics in nasty horror flicks. So it’s little surprise that Price’s personal favorite of his own ghoulish filmography was supposedly Theatre of Blood. Price plays Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor thought to have committed suicide who returns from the dead to bump off the critics who ridiculed him for his out-sized, hambone performances. As Lionheart employs a gaggle of homeless people and a hippie henchman who could pass for Ian Hunter to help cross the snooty, upper-crust critics off his list, there’s a whiff of social revolution about the movie. The fact that he is also criticized for only acting in ancient plays and loses an award to a young actor named William Woodstock (ba-dum!) will also help the film appeal to preservation societies.   

With its gimmick murders (theyre based on the killings in Shakespeare’s plays) and copious campy humor, Theatre of Blood has much in common with another key Price film, but Robert Fuest shot The Abominable Dr. Phibes as a vibrant psychedelic hallucination. Director Douglas Hickox realized Theatre of Blood with grittier, dirtier, greyer realism, though cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky’s use of distorted, fish-eyed lenses really heightens the film’s nightmarish, stomach-churning grotesqueries. 

The grungy palette of Theatre of Blood looked wretched on home video, and as much as I love Price and the film’s satirical premise, I always found Theatre to be off-putting and inaccessible because of its ugly presentation on VHS and DVD. As I was hoping it would, Twilight Time’s new blu-ray has really turned around my feelings about the film. Although white specks are constant (as they tend to be on a lot of Twilight Time releases), the picture is clear, bright, organic, and sometimes even colorful, allowing the wicked brilliance of Hickox and Suschitzky compositions to shine through. Sound is very tinny, sometimes distorted, but the picture looks so good that I was only mildly bothered by the audio issues. More importantly, I’m grateful that I can now truly enjoy one of Vincent Price’s best roles. A lively and interesting commentary by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and journalist David Del Valle, who performed an extensive video interview with Price in 1988, completes this blu-ray, which is available from Twilight Time's official site here.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 331

The Date: August 26

The Movie: Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

What Is It?: Al Pacino gives one of his less AL PACINO! performances in a based-on-a-true-story bank heist flick in which his main motivation for grabbing the moola is to pay for his boyfriend’s gender reassignment surgery. Pacino’s love for Chris Sarandon humanizes the crook and scrambles the usual seventies super-macho, anti-hero stereotypes. Godfather co-star John Cazale is great as Al’s partner in crime.

Why Today?: Today is National Dog Day, which certainly applies to the afternoon too.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 330

The Date: August 25
The Movie: Beetlejuice (1988)
What Is It?: An ace melding of the darkness of Frankenweenie and the freewheeling, plot-be-damned comedy of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Screenwriters Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren pull the neat trick of making their heroes recently deceased young marrieds whose newly purchased home is invaded by a ghastly nuclear family. As the title spook, Michael Keaton doesn’t so much steal this show as he hijacks it with dynamite strapped to his chest. Drawing on classic cartoons (particularly those of Max Fleisher, Tex Avery, and Chuck Jones), Salvador Dali, and his own trademark stripey, swirly design scheme, Tim Burton builds a detailed environment spewing imagination.
Why Today?: On this day in 1958, Tim Burton is born.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: 'Comic Book Fever: A Celebration of Comics 1976-1986'

It may be hard to fathom in an age when adults literally get violently angry about reading bad reviews of the latest big-screen superhero explosion fest, but there was a time when comic books were lighthearted, fun, and almost exclusively intended for children. They could thrill to Superman’s escapades and laugh at Casper’s antics without the requisite shovelful of “darkness” and “grit.” The Dark Knight might hawk Hostess snack cakes in full-page ads and Spider-Man might team up with SNL’s Not Ready for Prime Time Players. Comics could also be just as complex and artfully illustrated as they are today, but they were still generally aimed at kids.

George Khoury— and his guest writers, such as Mary Skrenes and Roger Stern— celebrate and eulogize the era in which comics transitioned from child to adult-child fare in his new book Comic Book Fever, presenting a series of topical articles focused on the decade between 1976 and 1986. It begins with Captain America’s goofy bicentennial patriotism, the last gasp of Harvey comics and Archie’s wholesome frolics, moves through a more thoughtful period in which Marvel and the Hernandez Brothers (Love and Rockets) introduced progressive ideals into superhero adventures, and ends with the inevitable “maturing” of the form with Alan Moore on the left and Frank Miller on the right and buckets of blood and aimless cynicism splattered everywhere in between.

Khoury only really criticizes the dark turn comics took in his final pages, but his writing about the industry’s more carefree, youth-oriented days is so celebratory that he makes his preference clear throughout Comic Book Fever. There are certainly few “serious” studies of comics that would make room to laud such wacky side roads as Jack Davis’s “Streetball” ads for Spalding, Rock & Roll comics, toy-based comics (Masters of the Universe, Rom, GI Joe, Strawberry Shortcake...), Colorforms, and Dynamite Magazine. Those of us who don’t take comic reading so deathly serious will relish binging on this nostalgia feast. There’s also fascinating drama in many of these stories, such as the troubled creations of the iconic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali comic and Marvel’s KISS series.

Khoury also emphasizes the fun side of the medium in his presentation. Every page of Comic Book Fever overflows with images of comics pages and covers, advertisements, and memorabilia: toys, place mats, pencil cases, lunchboxes, records, greeting cards, and so on. I remember being a kid ogling all this stuff at my local Heroes World, a comics shop chain that Khoury lovingly profiles in his book. I have much fonder memories of thumbing through issues of Star Wars there than I do of seeing Batgirl getting shot through the spine in The Killing Joke. There are innumerable online forums for those who prefer the latter. Comic Book Fever, however, is for kids like me.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 329

The Date: August 24

The Movie: Peeping Tom (1960)

What Is It?: The tale of  a serial killer who photographs his victims at the moment of their deaths using a dagger concealed in his camera’s tripod. By emphasizing the link between sex and violence, director Michael Powell took his content several ticks beyond even Hammer’s controversial pictures. The film was ravaged by U.K. critics and butchered in the U.S. where it was dumped in the grind houses. That’s rough treatment for perhaps the first film to examine the filmmaker’s responsibility in presenting violent material to audiences, as well as the audience’s own dicey desire to look at the sick and the horrible.

Why Today?: On this day in 1891, Thomas Edison patents the movie camera.
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