Artificial Suns


OK everyone, from my ivory tower here in "home office day" it looks like the icy conditions are steadily lifting, and there's no more precipitation for tonight, so we are a "go" for Movie night. Got steady traffic through the neighborhood here, with no ice on the roads.

'Course, use your own discretion: if your neighborhood is still iced in or there's major blockage on your route, don't worry about making it. Stay safe and warm!
Artificial Suns


Movie night update: Seeing as how the weather for tomorrow is still looking uncertain for making the roads safe to travel, much less clear up the catastrophic traffic we've been afflicted with, it is a strong possibility that movie night will be postponed until Friday. I will update before noon tomorrow, but regardless, anyone who makes it over will be welcome whichever day they turn up.
Artificial Suns

"What kind of fiend are you?" "The kind that wins, my friend!"

Well, I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that the weather this week will warm sufficiently to lift the current mandated panic here in the snowbound (2 inches) Atlanta, and we'll have movie night as scheduled. Watch this space for updates.

This week will be a contemplation of revenge. You see, after considerable thought, I've decided to blame all of you movie night attendees for my... uh.... nebulously terrible fate. Walking the land as I do, an undead, disfigured, insatiable consumer of the very worst films the world of horror has to offer can only be a result of my constant efforts to supply some meager fare, some entertaining pittance, for movie night every week. Naturally, this realization has condemned you all to a series of ironic, elaborately designed, and highly imaginative death-traps. As I have only the small apartment, I think you'll find that most of the death-traps center around a bear-trap in the popcorn bucket, but I make do with what I have. Nonetheless, I think you'll all find your fates suitably Abominable...

The Clockwork Musicians: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (94 minutes, 1971) With just short of 200 credits to his name, the fact that the virtuoso Vincent Price never developed a particular figure as "his" ("Lon Cheny's Wolfman" or "Bela Lugosi's Dracula") seems strange. His only real attempt (excepting Dr. Goldfoot which we would rather you forgot) would be in these, the profoundly odd pair of "Dr. Phibes" films. It essentially proposes a world in which there is a larger-than-life, high-vaudevillian evil mastermind bent on nasty, ironic, mechanical revenge against those who had wronged him, and there exists no competent good to oppose him. To describe Phibes as a "proto-Jigsaw" has some parallel, but is mostly just insulting. To compare the cartoonish kills and nasty comeuppance received by Phibes' targets to the straightforward moralizing of EC comics may coincidentally include a parallel to the arch gallows humor of a Crypt Keeper, but ignores the overwhelming Britishness of if all. The Phantom of the Opera would imply a manic insanity that isn't present, a Phantomas comparison would neglect the motive behind Phibes' evil. Moreover, any comparison would leave out the essential fun of the film: it's peppered with inside jokes and Price is hamming it up in one of the most essential camp performances of his life, having a riotous good time with it. Legend says that he kept ruining his makeup by bursting into laughter during takes. Which is all the more insane considering that Price had no lines, and doesn't speak until over 30 minutes into the film. (Figure that one out...) How camp is it? Price plays the titular character, a surgeon/concert organist, and is introduced while feverishly playing on a rising platform to the accompaniment of mechanical musicians. Price has to display an enormous range of emotion without ever moving his face. Acting the true moustache-twirling, Simon Bar-sinister menace that he is, Phibes sets about avenging himself against a series of surgeons in mid 1920's London. While I won't reveal the nature or motivation of his needlessly elaborate revenge (which would make Blofeld green with envy), let's just say it requires a fairly liberal reading of scripture and a series of cumbersome props. Pursued by only a righteous (but rather dull) do-gooder and a couple of bumbling police officers, the ending of the film still manages to surprise.

The Sexy Assistant: Dr. Phibes Rises Again (89 minutes, 1972) The second, and unfortunately final Dr. Phibes film unfortunately feels a bit of a shadow of the original. We have more ridiculous death-traps and Price again easily handling all the unique difficulties of this character, but significant budget cuts, late re-writes, and on-set clashes with his costar Robert Quarry all hamper the essential fun of the piece. We do, however, get a lot more of Vulnavia, Phibes' strange, sexy assistant. (Her return being almost as inexplicable as Phibes' own.) Taking advantage of the resurgence of interest in ancient Egypt (offering a parallel between the film's setting in the 30's and the film's release in the 70's), it centers on Phibes' obsessive search for a papyrus scroll containing a map to the secret of eternal life. Opposing him is the strangely obsessive Dr. Biederbeck, a character introduced with a hilarious bluntness in the first few minutes.

WARNING: Second film a little slow.
Artificial Suns

"Everybody Happy?"

Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the greatest Movie Night on earth! We've had man eating lions! We've had contortionists! We've had parades, fish people, carnivals, music, strong men, fat women, magicians, illusionists, and wild animals of every shape and size! Plants from outer space! We've even had a Hobo with a Shotgun and a display of Freaks! Is there anything under this great big top that we've overlooked?

Well, yes. Yes there is.

Let's not forget that king of all merrymakers... that figure who fills prank squirting flowers with acid and pops up to reassure that we all float down here. The ones who find magnets miraculous. The pallid face, the drunkard's bulbous red nose, weirdly applied war paint, and the garishly colored clothing of a flannel factory gone through a combine. That wide, red, soul eating grin. Hey everyone! Break out the greasepaint and your best oversized shoes! This week we're going to be Clowning Around...

The Seltzer Bottle: Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988, 96 minutes) True "camp classics" are among the rarest breed of films you'll ever encounter. Those that don't try hard enough come off as films too lazy to be bothered to be serious. Try too hard, and they overreach into sly-winking-to-the-camera territory that just denigrates everyone... the actors by putting them in an admittedly trash piece, and the audience by bothering to pay money for it. Killer Klowns is the rare film that falls into the Goldilocks zone of being outrageously stupid without being insulting. Made forever famous for its seemingly infinite rotation on early HBO in the summers of 89-90, it purposefully apes the concept of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but putting everything in clown makeup. A series of hideous, rubbery, malicious clowns start making forays into town following the appearance of a mysterious Big Top just outside of city limits. Agressively low-budget and amateurish, the simple absurdity of every scene somehow works, and continuously drives home the point that you're watching a movie about clowns from outer space... and enjoying it. So who, exactly, is the joke here? Great fun, if a touch bloodless and nonsensical.

The Whipped Cream Pie: Stitches (2012, 87 minutes) An interesting thing happens when someone earnestly tries to update the 80's slasher, and does so without either ridiculing them or being too beholding to them. When done with a touch of skill, you discover how universally the formula still works. This derives from two things: the timelessness of the concept (wronged figure returns for revenge), and the timelessness of the setting (adolescence and high school still royally suck). Another in the recent rise of honestly amusing Irish horror films (Grabbers being another notable addition), it has everything you could ever want in a living-dead-clown-attack film. We have a secretive cabal of clown crypt keepers, we have a Leprechaun-like punny approach to the material, a menaced set of children-who-grew-apart, horny teens, house party, and a coulrophobic hero. The centerpiece, though, is genuine splatstick of the highest order. This film contains one of the greatest gore gags (emphasis on the joke) I've ever seen, and innumerable lesser additions. (I should note a startling, excessive inclusion of a Black Sheep/Feast moment that comes out of flippin' NOWHERE.) The film even includes the thing with the eggs. This isn't a horror film breaking new ground or inspiring deep introspection. It's about an undead clown. But it is damn funny.
Artificial Suns

"Communication with the Dead"

Wellp, miscalculated. Movie night is still Friday, but I got a call up in Nashville to tend to that day. Should I not make it back in time, I designate Casey to do his usual bang-up job of covering for me if he's available, and I'll join once I arrive. (Shouldn't come to that, though. It's just an introductory visit for the new area manager.)

This week we'll be revisiting some familiar territory, though we've only grazed it lightly of late, seeing it in combination with other concepts or odd environments. Gather everyone into the parlor, stoke up the fire to a roaring blaze, and gather close into the flickering light. Hand out the brandy snifters, and prepare a couple of mugs of 'flip. Ol' uncle Ebeneezer will be enthralling us with one of his famed Lonely Ghost Stories...

The Silent Figure: The Woman In Black (2012, 95 minutes) (I'd originally intended to show this with a little known flick called The Woman in White, but that's proved near impossible to track down.) While this film adaptation has only been around for a little over a year, the play upon which it's based is practically an institution. First premiering on London's West End in 1989, it's been running continuously ever since, becoming the second-longest non-musical run for a play in the city's history (behind, naturally, Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap). I was even told by a Londoner on the plane that it was a tradition at his school for the teachers to take the entire class out on a field trip to see the play. Which is all the more remarkable, as the play is set in the Victorian era, and involves only two actors. This film adaptation has only a slightly larger cast, but is still seen almost entirely through the solitary experiences of the widowed Arthur Kipps, played by Daniel Radcliffe. (...does this mean that Hermione didn't make it?) He arrives at an ancient, moor-bound manor to catalog the accounts left by the deceased owner, but his own grief seems to have stirred up a nasty local legend. A figure in black with a strange affinity for children... While the film was widely lambasted for a... less than tragic ending that is apparently not in keeping with the original play, I found it, at the least, an interesting and unexpected twist. Surprisingly nasty for a stage adaptation (though not nearly as bloody as Sweeny Todd so don't get your hopes up), this is a very well executed atmospheric piece.

The Weeping Angel: The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2012, 80 minutes) Another enormously short-staffed piece! Those who have been coming to movie night for a bit are likely to remember the short piece The Eyes of Edward James (which we may watch again, considering how short this week's flicks are). That oddly dreamlike, highly atmospheric piece was directed by one of the regular Canadian writers at RueMorgue Magazine, Rodrigo Gudino. This film represents his first feature attempt, and never let it be said he tried an easy subject. With a main cast of only two people (and one, the Vanessa Redgrave, present only in voiceover), we are treated to a haunting film about family, religion, and the influence of the dead upon the living. A man in his late 20's returns to the home of his estranged mother after her death, to find it overfilled to bursting with strange religious iconography... and possibly something else. Dealing weirdly with angel and candle magic ideas, the film's real star is its amazing sound design. Seamless integration of soundtrack, effects, and beautifully balanced atmosphere weigh more and more heavily on the audience as the film proceeds. Although I can't say that I appreciate the film's thesis, revealed in the movie's final moments, I won't deny the amazing craft that went into it.

Artificial Suns

"Carlo You know, sometimes what you actually see and what you imagine...get mixed up in your memory"

Back in town and ready to roll. Be warned, the travel back from the great state of Lutefisk left me with a touch of the sore throat (which only really blossomed with the new year), so take under advisement. I will report if it gets any worse, but for the moment it's just a little raw and annoying.

I know I say this a lot, but with another year rolling around, I find myself falling further into deficit as far as movie watching and having clever comparisons/pairings turn up. That doesn't mean I'm out of flicks to show... not by a long shot... but it does mean that the cleverness of the pairings may taper off a bit. This week, for example, I just decided to try and cover a neglected master whom we've only touched upon once before with Suspiria. Yes, this week we're emptying the pantry... piling up the pasta, tomatoes, and lots of garlic. Then we're stepping back, and watching a True Italian Master at work.

The Cheeky Red: Profondo Rosso aka Deep Red (1975, 126 minutes) As we've noted before, the "giallo" film is a uniquely Italian genre best described as bloody, sadistic, voyeuristic thrillers, usually centered around a mystery serial killer. While essentially invented by Mario Bava (The Girl Who Knew Too Much), the most recognized giallo director is easily his student, Dario Argento, and Profondo Rosso, his masterpiece, is generally regarded as the best film ever made in the genre. (Argento even named his shop in Rome after it.) The film centers around an American Jazz musician living in Rome who happens to witness a spectacular and very bloody murder by an unseen assailant. From that point, his efforts to identify the killer (with the assistance of a plucky female journalist) drive the story forward, but the real attraction is in the craft of the flick. Suspense is expertly built, the framing and imagery grows increasingly surreal and absurdly violent. It even contains one of the most honestly freak-out-WTF-jump-out-of-my-chair moments I've seen on film since they opened that closet door in House. A genuinely puzzling mystery and probably the best employ of a memory device Argento used first way back in The Bird with Crystal Plumage: that of a scene observed, but not correctly interpreted.

NOTE: Very long. If we get started late, the second feature may be switched to something shorter.

The Bold Chianti: Opera (1987 107 minutes) Whereas Profondo Rosso is generally regarded as the best giallo ever made, Opera is considered to be the last good giallo Argento assembled. Perhaps a little indulgently, Argento plotted this film around a horror director attempting to break through into legitimate theater with an avante-garde production of Verdi's opera Macbeth. (Argento has complained about his inability to get people to see him as anything but a horror director. Fulci similarly confronted this in his own delirious manner with Cat in the Brain.) Centering around the opera's understudy after she takes over the lead role of Lady Macbeth, we againg have a muder mystery. Another unseen serial killer is on the loose, apparently a fan of the young diva, but weirdly obsessed with making the young woman witness the deaths (literally) of all her loved ones. Admittedly, the story frequently reaches to absurd lengths in order for the plot to work, but the film is well shot and the unveiling of the killer is one of the more spectacularly fun (if a bit silly) ones in recent memory.

WARNING FOR BOTH FILMS: Very Italian. In other words, not particularly progressive...