25 September 2011

More Classic Horror Viewing

More Classic Horror, What Else Can I Say?
By Kristin Battestella

I can’t help myself; I’ve been reliving the undead scary spooky greats of yesteryear!

The Brides of Dracula – Peter Cushing returns- without the titular Big D- for this 1960 Hammer sequel directed by Terence Fisher (also of the precursor Horror of Dracula).  Here the once again young, suave, taking names and staking dames Van Helsing puts the cross to Yvonne Monlaur (Circus of Horrors), Martita Hunt (Great Expectations, Anastasia) and Andree Melly (The Belles of St. Trinian’s).  Though the Hammer sets are a little familiar, naturally; the scary sound effects, Goth Victorian dressings, lots of candles, and plenty of red velvet work toward a great, old fashioned, classy atmosphere. This chick spin on Bram Stoker’s plotting is unique, juicy, and dangerous-all these sexy women with secrets, screams, and fangy hysteria!  This probably wasn’t the first of the Hammer Dracula series that I saw growing up, but it’s the one that sticks in my mind best- mostly because of a sweet climatic finale.  Granted the inconsistencies are iffy, but that windmill of danger, doom, and retribution is classic awesome. 

Creature from the Black Lagoon – Despite director Jack Arnold’s (It Came from Outer Space) scary but well done creature design, clear underwater photography, and crisp black and white action still looking damn fine, today you would never know this 1954 classic was a 3D release.  Sure, it’s tough to tell the men apart sometimes, and you have to wonder about the latent kinky between Julie Adams (Tickle Me) and our eponymous amphibian.  However, there’s an extra touch of science versus nature, revenge reversal, and sympathy here that trumps any visual gadgetry of the time.  The music is great, accenting some fun but no less scary jump out moments, and it all combines for a damn entertaining eighty minutes.

The Evil of Frankenstein – Baron Frankenstein is back!  Once again solo, Cushing handles this 1964 third film in the mad scientist focused Hammer set with gravitas and complexity.   Not so innocent assistant Sandor Eles (Countess Dracula), Kiwi Kingston (Hysteria) as the more traditionally styled monster, and creepy hypnotist Peter Woodworthpe (Inspector Morse) do drag a few scenes down.  However, there’s great spooky and demented music, delicate Victorian accents, cobwebbed castles, and all kinds of cool evil laboratory Rube Goldbergs to keep things pretty and entertaining.  Yes, longtime horror studies may notice the flashbacks and continuity here doesn’t always make sense.  Big whoop.  Other than a few inconsistencies and some screen or matte work, there’s actually very little to woefully date this movie- unlike modern effects laden films that rush for the now and get passé within five years.  Director Freddie Francis (Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors) keeps things in the ‘made to look old’ classy vein, with plenty of tragedy, smarts, and some fun horror hysterics, too.  Frankenstein uses an oil lamp as a weapon, beat that!

The Haunted Strangler – Boris Karloff (Bride of Frankenstein) stars as a meddling novelist in this 1958 Victorian thriller packed with amateur detective mayhem.  Despite our oft horror expectations of Big BK, he’s on form as a pesky do-gooder highly motivated in digging up an old serial murderer case.  Even if it’s black and white and a little small scale for 1860s London and I’m not sure one can call this one total horror, this all looks period spooky good.  Bones, rats, gravestones, and some kinky for the time on screen and off- intense prison whippings, lengthy can can routines, and drinks splashing all over up close be corseted bosoms!  Yes, perhaps things get silly and obvious for the big reveal; but Karloff keeps the plot intense and entertaining. Besides, one of the victims is named ‘Martha Stuart’, which has to account for something.  And there’s even subtitles and features on the new Criterion DVD release.  Sweet.

London After Midnight – This pseudo restoration of the 1927 lost Lon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) classic uses script, score, and stills to recreate director Tod Browning’s (Dracula, Freaks) murderous vision as best as possible. Film students or old school enthusiasts will probably want to take a gander just for the novelty or Chaney’s masterful get-ups. Others- like my Dad- will find the not so silent non-moving motion picture annoying as hell.  Technicalities aside, this is a dang fine drama of suspense and mystery.  The eerie presentation and well-styled plot easily captivates the viewer for its short less than an hour run time and doesn’t let up.  And yes, you have to, like, pay attention, and not, like multitask, and like read some stuff- because there’s no talking…What horror! 

Mark of the Vampire – Okay, maybe London After Midnight isn’t for everyone. However, this 1935 remake sanctioned by director Tod Browing has all the grassroots vampire hysteria, cobwebs, and creepy crawlies a viewer needs in a horror mystery. Toss in some suspense, legalities versus the supernatural, and a few twists, and there isn’t anything hokey or un-entertaining here. The then-contemporary thirties onscreen charm and scary effects look lovely with the layered black and white photography, though the European townsfolk is stereotypical and Brit-ified like the usual screaming maid and mousy butler. Lionel Barrymore (It’s a Wonderful Life) is great, and while Bela Lugosi (Dracula) doesn’t say much, he looks downright spectacular.  On a personal note, I’ve come to the freaky conclusion that I look just like Carroll Borland (Scalps) as the undead Luna.  Make of that what you will.

22 September 2011

70s and 80s Horror Gems

Seventies and Eighties Horror Gems
By Kristin Battestella

At last, my husband has decided to tune in for some ‘old’ horror films.  And by ‘old’ he means seventies and eighties nostalgia.  So, here’s a quick but by no means exhaustive sample of some horror jewels from those fabled decades!  

An American Werewolf in London – Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run), Griffin Dunne (My Girl), and David Naughton (My Sister Sam) star in writer and director John Landis’ (Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Coming to America) very fine 1981 ode to the Universal classics and werewolves of yore.  The plotting and pace is realistic and natural, yet there’s room for fun, sexiness, and modern humor amid the scares.  Now that it’s been thirty years, that extra touch of period vibe adds to the lovely British locations as well.  Landis’ isn’t afraid to go where his horror predecessors couldn’t with nudity, ironic peep shows, graphic designs, and Oscar winning make up. However, there’s also a sweet homage and seriousness to the personal monster torment and the fear of the beast within.  Some today may find the ending a little abrupt, but this is still a darn entertaining ninety minutes of quality wolfy. 

Dawn of the Dead – This 1978 sequel to Night of the Living Dead from George A. Romero has a lot of subtle humor thanks to Ken Foree (Kenan & Kel) and Gaylen Ross (Creepshow) holding out against a zombie infestation in a very, very sweet mall. I mean, wow, did malls like this really exist back in the day? Our local malls have none of this magic- just clothing shops and empty spaces. But here, rednecks use the reanimated dead as target practice, the government and media are nonexistent, and the ills of people- not zombies- ruin this little retail paradise. Yes, there’s fun, nostalgia, and great zombie effects. However, the somber social statements, serious reflection, and the dynamics of what plague can do to people are just awesome. Seriously, nowadays the best place to survive zombies would actually be a dang Wal-Mart- groceries and guns!

The Evil Dead – Bruce Campbell (The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.) battles zombie babes, rapacious forestry, and wondrous 1981 isolation in this the first in Sam Raimi’s (Spiderman) trilogy of Sumerian undead running amok in rural Tennessee and beyond.  Simply put, the natural horror and backwoods elements build up the scares tremendously.  There are no cell phones to save anyone here, people! Even if some of the effects and zombie make up are perhaps dated, it all still looks good, dirty, gory, and frightfully nasty. Raimi and his cast aren’t afraid to get silly, either, with self-referential humor and necessity is the mother of invention absurdity in taking down those titular problems.  The conclusion is wonderful, and there’s more to be had in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.

The Fog – This 1980 original from John Carpenter (Halloween) may seem hokey to some- deadly glow in the dark misties preying on two generations of scream queens Jamie Lee Curtis (Prom Night) and Janet Leigh (Psycho) what not and wow all that. However, several spooky sequences and isolated lighthouse in peril action scenes can still bring a few scares. You know if you were alone on a foggy night along a desolate coast you’d be scared witless!  Carpenter’s scoring also adds heaps of atmosphere, along with those hook wielding and seaweed wearing wronged spirits out to set right ye olde injustice. Though I would have liked a little more time with the players and their consciences over said errors, Adrienne Barbeau (Maude) is a cool character; a single mom disc jockey we can all get behind. Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild) is also perfect as the lone priest trying to do right.  Now then, I had seen the 2005 remake several years ago, but dang if I can recall anything about it!  I suppose the proof is in the pudding there.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers Naturally, this 1978 science fiction remake from director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) is not the original, I grant you.  It’s a little slow to start and spends more time on outer space photography and explanations, creepy plants, kinky pods, and brief duplicate nudity.  Nevertheless, stars Donald Sutherland (M*A*S*H), Leonard Nimoy (Spock, people, hello), Jeff Goldblum (The Fly), Brooke Adams (The Dead Zone), and Veronica Cartwright (Aliens) are all likeable and fun to root for against the paranoia and conspiracy.  It’s also intriguing to guess who becomes a pod person when while rewatching for all the red herring details. The fear of violation, distrust, and alien peril are damn entertaining; it’s still all about what you don’t see and even more scary, what we don’t know onscreen and off. And that is a damn killer ending!

Return of the Living Dead - John Russo’s 1985 split sequel to Night of the Living Dead brings a little too much punk to the series- yes, these fashions have not stood the test of time. Thankfully, self- reverent humor, a dang intelligent set up, tongue in cheek fun, and a sweet ending go a long way in the whole eating brains of it all.  Brains! Brains! Not only do we have characters ironically named Burt and Ernie, but there’s still some social analysis and sexy balancing the gore, too.  While some may not like this departure from the seriousness of the original or Romero’s follow up series, you have to be able to laugh at all these zombies at some point. Others new to the somewhat confusing franchises might like the fun nostalgia and a comparison marathon as well.  

Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The firstest is the mostest! Despite being one of the grandpappies of the genre, there’s actually little gore in this 1974 film when compared to today’s torture porn.  Sure, there’s some smartly placed bloody splatter, skulls and bone furniture, Leatherface and his skin wearing chainsaw wielding self.  However, most of the grizzly is blessedly off camera, creating a level of audience suggestion that really ups the fear. The implications of what has happened or will happen are allowed to germ with the viewer. I frankly always wonder about the sexual disturbia that must go on in this domestic. The hidden paranoia formula is far, far superior to the modern shock and awe desensitization, and I really don’t know why this glorious style was abandoned in favor of unsubstantiated guts and glory.  The smart, cheap, desperate, and thus brilliant filmmaking also looks dang sweet on blu-ray. Amen. 

19 September 2011

House of Dark Shadows

House of Dark Shadows Creepy Fun for Long Time Fans
By Kristin Battestella

Naturally, House of Dark Shadows- the 1970 big screen debut of the hit soap opera- is essential for fans of the series.  All the scares, screams, and treats are here with an extra dose of theatrical panache.  Woohoo!

Collins handyman Willie Loomis (John Karlen) is obsessed with finding the family jewels- especially after Roger Collins (Louis Edmunds) fires him for his angry behavior.  Unfortunately, Willie discovers the family secret is not riches, but the vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid).  Once released from his chained coffin by Willie, Barnabas preys upon Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett), the daughter of matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett).  Although Resident doctor Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) believes she can cure Barnabas of his vampire affliction, he plots to make governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) his vampire bride- something he was unable to accomplish with his lookalike love Josette 175 years before.  

Of course, this cinematic update is a redo of the 1967 Barnabas introduction, and it is sweet to see it all in color and without television restrictions.  The camerawork is horror film perfect- cut off points of view and askew angles up the scares with claustrophobic and intimate photography. The intense vampire filming wonderfully contrasts Jonathan Frid’s nonchalant onscreen arrival, but we should know better than to believe this ‘cousin from England’ story!  Though the pacing and editing is well done, the plot and style is perhaps slow to those who don’t know the tale whilst also seemingly rushed for familiar viewers.  Director Dan Curtis (Burnt Offerings) and house writers Sam Hall and Gordon Russell have to tweak and condense months of storyline after all, and these ninety minutes do pack a lot.  Barnabas’ rising, Carolyn as a vampire, a romance with Maggie, and a vampire cure all at once; it’s a bit like the 1991 Dark Shadows: The Revival actually.  

It is odd though that characters originally present for this TV plot are absent- namely Victoria Winters, Joe Haskell, and no mention of Jeremiah Collins’ relations with Josette nor Angelique’s foil of Barnabas. Instead Maggie Evans and Jeff Clark are combined into an awkward couple. Barnabas’ love obsessions and motivations, though great and more malignant than could be shown on the show, are also a little uneven thanks to this summarizing in House of Dark Shadows. Fortunately, it’s totally amusing to see police arming with crosses and handling out silver bullets montages.  Fuzz standing guard against vamps, no questions asked!  The stakings are bloody like the likes of Hammer Horror, too- again without the hampering from television restrictions.  However, the swift filming is blessedly more for the drama then the sensational. Vampires love, feed, die. Fin.  

The transferred cast for House of Dark Shadows also has its fun and drama. Even knowing what Barnabas is- or perhaps even if you don’t- Jonathan Frid is slick as always as our favorite sad and lovelorn vampire. He’s tragic, and yet Barnabas must continually cover his bloody indiscretions. Early in the film, its great to see the humble changes to John Karlen’s Willie and the violent abuses he suffers thanks to Barnabas’ unglamorous vampire rage.  The rapidly aged Barnabas segment is also disturbing, again showing the dark side of twisted vamp love. This is how a real vampire would be, after all- old, nasty, lurching towards the luscious necks for blood! Kathryn Leigh Scott is of course lovely as Maggie, but she screams an awful lot and doesn’t look quite right with any of her leading men. Thankfully, the innocence and naivety of the ladies are great against their own hot and bothered jealousies.  Nancy Barrett, usually a straight Carolyn or another demure and ditzy role in the series’ period storylines, makes a great slutty vampire! Likewise, Grayson Hall gets to play Julia Hoffman as a little more creepy.  She chain smokes and practically stalks her unrequited vampire love. Thayer David is also his usually cucumber cool Professor Stokes, but eh Roger Davis as Jeff Clark is quite the yawner as our good guy. Everyone else is on form, subdued in the scares, and delightful without the famous Dark Shadows same day tape flub ups and obvious glances towards the cue cards. Yet Davis is still over the top.  Did know one else notice?

Don Briscoe also gets some big and sexy action for House of Dark Shadows as Carolyn’s willing jugular, but I don’t understand why the character’s name is some sort of Tom Jennings/ Todd Blake combo.  Who the heck is that?  Lisa Richards (Sabrina Stuart in the series) is also a fun wink to the audience in playing a Collins secretary named Daphne before Kate Jackson entered the series as Daphne Harridge.  Mrs. Johnson, however, looses a bit of fun with fill in actress Barbara Cason (It’s Garry Shandling’s Show) instead of regular Clarice Blackburn.  Collins staples David Henesy, Louis Edmunds, and the ever-classy Joan Bennett also don’t have much to do beyond some cursory scenes in the first half of the picture. Nevertheless, it’s fun to see other stock players in quick cameos- including wicked Reverend Trask actor Jerry Lacy as a minister, the devil’s henchman himself Humbert Allen Astredo as a doctor, Quentin’s love Terry Crawford as a nurse, and gypsy henchman Michael Stroka as a pallbearer. Even Dennis Patrick (on the show as Jason McGuire) as Sheriff Patterson gets into the vampire chase- he comes into the ladies’ bedrooms to check the garlic strands!

 In addition to cast and character juiciness, House of Dark Shadows looks so, so sweet.  Though the voices are low and tough to hear, some scenes are a bit dark, and opening and closing credits strangely run over some of the action; the now period design, great nighttime suspense, red coat symbolism, and wolf howls and spooky sounds set the mood perfectly. Everything looks old and dirty as it should- not TV low budget hokey or 70s stink.  The Lyndhurst Castle and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery locations are excellent, too. I should know- I visited there last year.  No, not solely for a Dark Shadows pilgrimage, but that was certainly reason enough!  A serious scholar could have a lot of fun studying scenes versus locations frame by frame. Yes, some of the interior filming might seem crowded- most of the scenes are comings and goings in the hallway around people and through museum like antiques.  Others might also find it incredibly odd to see Dark Shadows without the familiar Collingwood and Old House sets.  Fortunately, candles, cobwebs, and a scary pool house add heaps of atmosphere.  Robert Cobert’s music is also wonderful as always- perfect for a 70s horror film. You’d never know it was originally scoring for a 60s soap!  Although I could do without a brief but dated costume party scene and annoying evil echo effects, the gore and sexy of House of Dark Shadows looks dandy. Though perhaps still too gory and mature for kids even if it’s all tame compared to today, the lengthy bites and bright red blood are just a tiny bit naughtier than the series proper.  Men rip open their shirts; victims tear off their neck bandages and submit willing for the bite!  There’s even man on man vampire attacks, too- a little homoerotica television couldn’t quite touch. There aren’t any hokey bats in House of Dark Shadows, either. Well, almost!

Despite being a flashy consolidation feature, this is not an introductory piece.  New audiences perhaps can’t appreciate all the bells and whistles similarities and/or differences, and that’s part of the fun of House of Dark Shadows.  Certainly, some fans might also disown this theatrical adaptation thanks to the ending.  However, longtime viewers can eat up this or the sequel Night of Dark Shadows for a quick fix.  In fact, I would like to see Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s upcoming Dark Shadows film have a similar plot and style to House of Dark Shadows.  Seventies horror film fans familiar with the series can enjoy the ride here purely as a juicy vampire movie, and I hope the remake can tie together both the essentials of the soap and the spirit of great horror cinema of the decade.  None of that Alice in Wonderland hokey this duo keeps re-treading, please!  Fortunately, it looks like a proper DVD release of House of Dark Shadows is finally forthcoming ahead of the remake- but I’d hang on to my VHS copy or catch an October airing just in case.  Fans of the gothic soap or vampire film can have a lot of fun in the House of Dark Shadows!

11 September 2011

Dracula: Dead and Loving It

Dracula Dead and Loving It Witty and Full of Gags
By Kristin Battestella

I’m not a hardcore Mel Brooks fan, but I adore the 1995 spoof Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  Though perhaps not as classic as Brooks’ earlier delights to some, the whole family can have a fangtastic time here.

English Solicitor Renfield (Peter MacNicol) travels to Transylvania so his mysterious client Count Dracula (Leslie Nielsen) can sign the contract for the Carfax Abbey property.  Unbeknownst to Renfield, Dracula is a vampire! He makes the dimwitted lawyer his servant; and upon arriving in England on the Demeter, Renfield is committed to Dr. Seward’s (Harvey Korman) sanitarium. Dracula meets Dr. Seward’s assistant Jonathan Harker (Stephen Webber) and preys on his fiancée of five years Mina (Amy Yasbeck) and her sultry best friend Lucy Westerna (Lysette Anthony).  As the ladies weaken, Dr. Seward calls in occult authority Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Mel Brooks) to thwart the vampire.  

Largely a spoof of the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula and other traditional Dracula films, director Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs) and co-writers Steve Haberman (Life Stinks) and Rudy DeLuca (The Carol Burnett Show) have plenty of room for repressed English jokes, latent Victorian innuendo, and stereotypical vampire myths. Though some of the humor does fall flat or seems like filler even in a short ninety-minute movie, most of Dead and Loving It sticks to a traditional Dracula retelling with witty anachronistic jabs and slapstick fun to lighten the tale.  Even the excessive, totally unrealistic gags work in the first viewing; the jokes smartly slide into the vampire frame with fourth wall breaks and individual wink wink and all in good fun performance.  While this obviously makes the film un-uber scary, there is a very pleasing element of goth atmosphere and spooky décor. I think it’d be a lot of fun to play dress up and fang out with this gang!

Dracula - Dead and Loving ItWhile not as perfect here as in classics like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, the late Leslie Nielsen is always a treat to watch. The script hampers him at times, but his physical comedy and mock Dracula hold Dead and Loving It together.  Harvey Korman (Mama’s Family) is also a delightfully stuffy send up as the enema obsessed Seward.  Wings alums Steven Weber and Amy Yasbeck do their best feigning at the stiff upper lip British cliché, and each have some great slapstick moments.  You can tell the cast was having a good time, and Lysette Anthony (Dark Shadows: The Revival) clearly enjoys being sexed up as Lucy.  Ironically, the person who seems the flattest here is director Mel Brooks as Van Helsing.   Perhaps he adds too many of his old school ethnic quips and quick nonsensical interplays, and this style doesn’t quite fit with the Dracula themes elsewhere in the film.  For me, he’s the least funny player here and actually, he becomes kind of annoying in the bumbling battle against the Count.  Thankfully, a goofy cameo by the Oscar winning Mrs. Brooks Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, The Graduate) is unexpected and very bemusing.  In truth, Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal, Ghostbusters II, ‘He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!’) is the one who steals all of his scenes. Perfect as the clichéd Englishman, MacNicol is a riot as Dracula’s insect eating squire. His simple yet over the top actions get me every time.

I know it’s usually a cop out to say a film is meant to look bad, but Dracula: Dead and Loving It really means it!  The cardboard sets are somehow accurate, yet stupid and fun.  The Victorian dressings all look well and good, even lush and to the hilt with big mirrors, bustles, and chandeliers.  However, we know Styrofoam columns, fake tombstones, and Astroturf greenery when we see it.  Dead and Loving It pokes fun at the cheapness of early horror predecessors whilst also making the basic smoke and mirrors work.  The classical music and up-tempo score also adds a layer of fun rhythm- along with the usual crackles of thunder and lightning for ambiance.  Though the costumes for the ladies are the Victorian satin sweets we expect- and they are very corseted and low cut- there isn’t anything major naughty here to shy away a family viewing.  Adults will notice some of the sexual repression and innuendo in the dialogue, but a lot of that is mostly harmless or will go right over tween and younger heads.   Yes, some audiences may find the entire picture an unfunny preposterous miss.  However, there are enough witty twists and amusing performances to keep Dracula: Dead and Loving It entertaining.  Fans of the cast or Mel Brooks completists can enjoy even if serious vampire audiences may want to skip the spoof and parody. Those looking for a lighthearted Fall viewing or Halloween party filmage can certainly sink their teeth in here.  Bad pun, I know! 

05 September 2011

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir a Delightful Little Ghostly Romance
By Kristin Battestella

I really dislike modern repetitive romantic comedies with that hint of tearful seriousness and sap sap sap.  However, classic romances with fun and paranormal do wonders- and I can’t help myself, I’m watching the 1947 treat The Ghost and Mrs. Muir yet again!

Widow Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) - along with her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and beloved maid Martha (Edna Best) - leaves her in-laws and takes a cottage on the Whitecliff coast.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Muir soon discovers the late owner Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) already inhabits the seaside escape.  Captain Gregg agrees to keep his hauntings to a minimum for Anna’s sake and soon helps Lucy financially by collaborating on his memoirs with her.  Could it be there is something more between them? Unfortunately, artist Miles Fairley (George Sanders) also romances the Widow Muir, and he is a ‘real’ man after all, much more able to return Lucy’s affection than the ghostly Daniel.  But which does she really love?

Though played a little spooky to start- a widow moving in to a mysterious cliff side house all alone- director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Cleopatra, Guys and Dolls) and writer Philip Dunne (How Green Was My Valley, The Robe) keep Josephine Leslie’s source tale progressive and fun. Instead of wasting time on major ghostly special effects or uber kinky relationships as today’s films might, time is taken to know the characters and enjoy the mix of the living and the dead while the romance blooms. Even as much as I love creepy fair, it’s simply wonderful that The Ghost and Mrs. Muir remains simple, innocent, and not totally spooky. Yes, the corporeal barriers and introductory scares might be enough to get a viewer in the door- but the interplay of the cast carries the film.  The focus on two shot debates and fore blocking camerawork shows that these two people can hotly interact, inhabit the same space, even coexist and fall in love, but sadly not actually be together-especially when that two shot becomes a jealous three way scene.  The lovely dilemma and heart of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is allowed to play itself out onscreen instead of being squashed by ghostly glitters or Meg Ryan’s lips. And what an ending!

The Ghost and Mrs. MuirTragically, Gene Tierney (Laura, Leave Her to Heaven) didn’t make very many films and is more well known today for her health issues and off screen romances if at all.  Fortunately, she did indeed leave us with a set of classics! The turn of the century costumes on Tierney look great, adding period flavor, grace, and an element of change as Lucy herself sways between men over the years.  Tierney really is just lovely inside and out- even if the presentation is a little too post-Victorian by way of forties for some viewers.  However, there’s also a fine modern contrast, for Lucy-being a single mother disbelieving in such paranormal ‘fiddlesticks’- is in many ways ahead of her onscreen time.  She defiantly calls out the ghostly instead of being the little widow in black and blossoms as a woman because of it.  Although I’m not sure about Tierney’s accent amid all the really English folks, her tone is still proper and classy nonetheless. Not many actresses today can handle material like this- not without it getting cliché like those aforementioned run of the mill contemporary romances. I also confess, penning a book to save the finances of one’s house is perhaps the dream of every down on his luck writer, and it’s just another fun, personal and endearing element I love in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Oh, that crusty and delightful Rex Harrison!  Though initially seemingly a silhouetted menace with a great bellowing voice, Captain Gregg is built up carefully and creepily toward a sweet and stormy reveal. We expect Daniel to be so upper class and debonair ala My Fair Lady, but Harrison’s rough around the edges opposite to Lucy and near swashbuckling style is wonderful.  His dialogue, delivery, and no holds barred attitude are somehow also suave; Gregg compliments Lucy on her figure and quotes poetry!  The way the grizzly ghost mellows is utterly bittersweet, and it’s all done without losing any charm or gruff.  Of course, George Sanders (Rebecca, All About Eve) is also his usually slick and exceptional self.  We might not find either man uber attractive or Team This and Team That in today’s standards, but the juicy choices and whirlwind escapades both men offer is just that- an onscreen delight.  Sanders just as easily sweeps the viewer away by painting scandalous portraits of Lucy in a bathing suit as we are also charmed by Harrison’s dreamy soliloquies.  Edna Best (The Man Who Knew Too Much) is a little annoying as the stereotypical English maid who always talks so sassy, knows what’s what, and makes no Cockney about it! However, she earns her stripes as the film progresses. Little Natalie Wood (The Searchers, West Side Story) is also a somewhat goofy, but her fans will enjoy seeing her 10-year-old charm.

The black and white photography of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir hampers the visuals a bit, but the silver screen layers also add plenty of atmosphere.  The ghostly lighting, candles, gas lamps, creepy paintings, and the shadows created work beautifully.  The fake long shot stills are obvious, yes, but understandable. Besides, the sweet cottage interiors are more Victorian mansion than cottage as we would think of it, and the seaside locations are dynamite. The great ghost laughter, the usual glory of storms and wind, and Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, The Devil and Daniel Webster) crescendos add the audio icing.  The paranormal hints and hijinks still work, and I love how the darkness surprises us into never knowing quite where the Harrison appearing and disappearing tricks are. Turn of the century cars, glorious feathers, furs, hats, and gloves! Sigh, but those bathing suits! Those are a definite no.

Yes, I’m sure a lot of this can be merely quaint or hokey to some, but fans of the cast or classics in general surely already know and love The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Fortunately, there’s also nothing so ghostly or romantic to dissuade younger viewers, and recent audiences of contemporary paranormal or standard romance should most definitely try this treat ASAP.

03 September 2011

Pirates (2005)

Pirates (Not of the Caribbean, but It Was Their Intention to Knock Off and Sexually Confuse You!)
A bodice ripping review by Leigh Wood

Long story short, I ended up watching the R rated version of Pirates, the 2005 purported porn blockbuster, late one night on Showtime. It is so weird- top-notch production values, a plot. It’s stupid, it’s funny, there’s sex. I must discuss!

Pirates Victor Stagnetti (Tommy Gunn) and Serena (Janine Lindemulder) capture newlywed Manuel (Kris Slater) and search for some sort of pirate treasure map key thing. Though inept at pirate hunting but a mighty mast in the bedroom, Captain Reynolds (Evan Stone) and his slutty second Jules (Jesse Jane) rescue Manuel’s soon to be not so innocent wife Isabella (Carmen Luvana). The trio pursues Stagnetti and bump uglies with Madelyn (Devon), Christina (Teena Presley), and Marco (Steven St. Croix). They fight skeletons and sail into the sunset. But really, why bother with the details?

I jest, sure, because critically looking at a porn film does take a tongue placed firmly in cheek after all. However, the story from director Joone and co-writer Max Massimo isn’t that bad. Though I’m not sure who or what Joone actually is, the attempt at something more than your average smut is much appreciated. So, Pirates is by no means high drama, granted. Yet there are huge strides towards action beyond the bedroom, non-sexual drama, even character development not seen in run of the mill pornos. Of course, a flair of self reverent humor helps, too. The character names are also a joke- but I don’t think that was intentional! Perhaps meant as some sort of anti or parody, there are even priests and church talk here amid the brothels and, uh, pirate booty. Not that it’s given any serious depth or presence, but honestly, were you expecting a priest in peril in Pirates? The dialogue presented also isn’t uber woeful as expected. It’s a bit anachronistic and badly delivered, but we do have some ye est olde speaketh like- let’s not push it. Such dialogue, humor, and irony work for the sardonic men drooling over the wenches- and even the nautical terms sound in the spirit. I kept picturing the guys on Hornblower giving the same seafaring directions and that sounds just fine. So what’s the difference in Pirates? Talent. 
PIRATES RATED R (DVD MOVIE)Even for porn, Pirates has a woeful cast brimming with too many too modern pretties who can’t act out of a paper bag- much less a pirate sash. Both those who act like rookies and the regulars who should know a little something get caught between horribly weird spoofy combinations of Jack Sparrow and Captain Hook. Oiy. While some may genuinely attempt to ham it up or others at least try to portray something more serious, most of it falls flat. Yes, the audience likes that there is a real story beyond those standard ‘6 people in a hotel. How many sexual combinations can you make? The end.’ snoozers to tie scenes together, the acting in the non-sex scenes really makes you want to fast forward. The stereotypical supporting players add nothing, and in some scenes, you can’t tell who is who- with both the pirate dudes and the blonde chicks. I think there was a brunette in there somewhere! Not that it matters much, but the positives of Pirates are hindered by the same old traditional porn failings. Though Janine Lundemulder (More famous to the mainstream world perhaps as one of the other women in Sandra Bullock’s married life.) as sexy pirate Serena is somewhat decent, I swear Evan Stone is just the same guy over and over again. Yawn!

Fortunately, the stylized production makes Pirates worth the watch. The original music is great- far beyond the usual bow chica wow wow staples. Its period rousing and even dare I say it, romantic. Sure, the ship sets probably aren’t any good when compared to mainstream films, but the art and décor is damn fine in comparison to those angled in the corner hotel room beds of Skinamax fair. Real and authentic locations go a long way as well. The costumes are also fun and jazzed up enough in the high seas fashion to look one grade above the satin or crushed velvet Halloween costumes we expect. And yes, there’s plenty of open corsets, too. Even the CGI in Pirates is halfway decent-again not on par with blockbusters but it’s superior for smut. Most scenes are, however, damn dark, or at least, everything seems to take place at night. I suppose this is a smart cheat on the CGI or in reuse of slim set pickings, which I understand, but I wish it were a little brighter. Nonetheless, the candlelit interiors do look nice. Although I’m not sure about some of the bottle blonde hair styles, over done makeup, or hot pink dressings in ye olde Caribbean. Again, the blank stare acting ‘performances’, plastic boobs, and big manicure nails detract from the lovely production strides. I wish the smart style would have been all out including cast appearances, but let’s not push it! (Ah, push it. Push it real good!)

Naturally, I should mention the erotic quotient, as after all that is the point, isn’t it? Even in this Pirates R release, we jump into the bumping uglies immediately. However, do to the editing of hard-core pornographic content for this mainstream release, things are over pretty quickly. A man could get a complex on these brief durations, but I understand why the filmmakers sought to double their profits with a safe version. The bim bam editing in the tame edition here is good for people who want to enjoy an amusing higher end porn picture and get their share of boob shots, too. In fact, the getting right to it is a lot better than all those damn slow motion undressing yawners. Unfortunately, those who like their hard core and want the down and dirty, uh, length won’t find it here. Sure, there isn’t as many explicit sex scenes as expected; but the obligatory multiple brothel action, assorted positions, and lady action keeps the porn pace. However, I do find the pirate dudes who have their hands safely on their beer mugs whilst chanting over two chicks grinding for their sport totally unbelievable!

Honestly, I don’t care if we have plastic Barbie women in soft-core films or not. It’s an unrealistic trashy male ideal with which we must deal: the unsexed school marm in need of a Big O who somehow magically already has double D silicone, a tongue piercing, and a back full of tattoos? I think not. I can handle if the women are all not that pretty or are easily interchangeable, even indistinguishable from one another. I just don’t understand the obvious soft-core girls rapidly smacking the inside of each other’s thighs and moaning as if it is best thing since sliced bread. They aren’t doing anything! How is this hot? Alas, my complaints don’t technically apply here- as Pirates was eunuched from hard to soft. But what really bugs the hell out of me is the way all the soft-core men are treated as Ken dolls. Can’t we not loose an eye on those explosive detailed shots- like the ones in the uncut Pirates XXX version- and have a ‘medium-core’ with some realism to it? Most soft-core tosses in the racial and lesbian varieties for well rounded flair, but penis never gets any equal opportunity exposure. Penis, people! It’s about penis I say! Fin rant.

Sexy period piece films can indeed be done with the right mix of decoration and cast, but only half the attempt was made for Pirates. It might be reaching for too much to have real actors and mainstream film come down to this kind of dirty, but you also can’t set your sights too high when hoping soft-core will, hee, rise up. Is the XXX version any better on the acting front? I’m going to go ahead and say that’s a no. The version I saw was 87 minutes, and Netflix offers an 85-minute DVD. The original 129-minute intact (Anybody got a circumcision joke?) Pirates Special Edition set looks expensive and tough to find but could be worth the pursuit. Of course, those interested in harder action can easily find more juicy smut if you know where to look. However, even the toned down version of Pirates can be amusing for at least one viewing. It’s fun for a mature or kinky party and obviously best enjoyed away from innocent eyes. Yes, it could get seriously confusing and is probably a real mess if you really get into the nitty gritty, but really, how many times does one watch a porno all the way through?