Archive for the literature Category

Walpurgisnackte

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , on November 1, 2014 by dcairns

Sabbat from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Surprisingly raunchy witches’ sabbat from LA LE DESTIN EXECRABLE DE GUILLEMETTE BABIN (1948).

Sadly, I am forced to reflect that a black mass or sabbat would not be as much fun in real life as the IDEA of one is. I can’t even see myself enjoying it as an onlooker. Uncomfortable, draughty, mainly.

An idea: William Shatner must and should record a spoken word album rendering of Rabbie Burns’ immortal witch poem Tam O’Shanter, said product to be called, inevitably but attractively, TAM O’SHATNER.

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Happy Day of the Dead!

Dark Continent

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , on October 31, 2014 by dcairns

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THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (1945) sounds like it ought to be terrible, to match its title — it’s a low-budget horror from Republic, it’s devoid of stars, it has Lesley Selander as director, who has little reputation that I’m aware of… But it’s quite diverting. The script is co-written by Leigh Brackett of THE BIG SLEEP and THE LONG GOODBYE fame, and one is tempted to assign most of its interesting qualities to her influence. Though not a horror author, her literary works included pulp noir and sci-fi, so she could turn her hand to a variety of genres.

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The movie is set in a sound stage Africa and authenticity isn’t exactly a priority. Still, it’s probably less racist than most Tarzan type adventures. The worst moment, when a group of white characters complain that the recent spate of vampiric killings have so spooked the natives that they aren’t doing any work, could almost be a critical commentary of the colonial mindset, though perhaps I’m giving the film too much credit here. Still, there are a few black characters who actually ARE characters. A shame to see Theresa Harris (I *think* — she’s uncredited) wordlessly wasted in the opening scene, though she does make a seductive scream queen.

Not many horror movies are narrated by the vampire — this one is! And we begin with a subjective camera bloodsucking, so we’re preconditioned to take his point of view, and when he turns up, played by gaunt, gimlet-eyed John Abbott, he’s easily the most appealing character n the film. Even after he announces his intention to destroy the virtuous hero and heroine, hypnotizing her and plotting some kind of “destruction” for her — seemingly he wants her to REIGN THROUGH ETERNITY AS HIS BRIDE or something — we still kind of like him. Brackett has saddled him with the name Webb Fallon — a heavy burden to carry through the centuries — and made him a survivor from the first Elizabethan age — he carries the soil from his grave in a box gifted to him by the Queen. The noir-corny name and the historic backstory (had any vampire save Dracula boasted such a heritage at this point in the movies?) suggest to me that the writer had in mind a more handsome, Byronic type of vampire — plus he runs a gambling house in Africa so he should be a tough guy — but budgetary considerations evidently prevented Cary Grant from receiving the fateful call. A more on-the-nose casting choice — make him sepulchral, corpse-like — resulted in the bulb-headed Abbott being handed probably his best-ever role, a leading man role of sorts, something

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Like Wesley Snipes, Fallon is a daywalker, though he needs sunglasses in the African glare. This kind of imaginative detail, simple in itself, just wasn’t being seen in Hollywood B-pictures. Even Val Lewton, who made films immeasurably superior to this one, didn’t explore his genre elements in this practical way, because he was more interested in using a mythic pretext to get to a thematic subtext. Good Hawksian that she was, Brackett was interested in what you might get up to as an immortal with superpowers. (But I doubt even she could tell you why there’s a statue of Kali, shorn of half her arms, in an African temple.)

Abbott/Fallon is persistently glum, seeming to take no pleasure in his role of corruptor. This makes the victory of the good guys — achieved through a combination of religious iconography and murderous violence — ring more hollow than usual, especially since Abbott has prophesied that those he has bitten will rise from their graves. The prospect of a sequel with a fanged Theresa H and lusty Adele Mara rampaging across the Gold Coast is positively mouth-watering, but it was not to be.

Five Little Dancing Fingers

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2014 by dcairns

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Getting in the mood for Halloween. It had been years since I saw THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS — I remembered it being slightly disappointing, and Fiona didn’t remember it at all. The heart sinks slightly at Curt Siodmak’s script credit, yet his scenario isn’t in any way laughable. It does have dull stretches, though. Director Robert Florey seems to come awake in fits, thrusting wildly canted angles or serried rows of faces at us, then falling back into soporific busywork. But from the time of the first death, the good scenes start to slowly outnumber the dull ones, and there’s always Peter Lorre…

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It’s surprisingly brutal for its time, with the severed hand scuttling about like it owns the place, flashing its stump brazenly. There’s a wet, meaty back view complete with wrist bones, apparently painted trompe-l’oeil fashion on the hand actor’s wrist, while the rest of his arm is blacked out. Apart from the various stranglings, it’s the hand who suffers most of the violence, crucified and burned by the neurasthenic Lorre (playing a character called Hillary, a mild-mannered name that doesn’t seem to quite suit him).

The source novel surely owes a debt to Guy de Maupassant’s short story The Hand, which likewise plays with the idea of a disembodied hand strangling victims from beyond the grave, only to offer a not-quite-reassuring rational explanation. But we can go further back and credit the inspiration to Algernon Swinburne — when Maupassant saved the poet from drowning, he rewarded his rescuer with an ashtray made from a human hand. As you do. I have to presume that the young writer, sat at his desk, Gauloise in hand, casting around for inspiration, seized upon the first interesting thing to catch his eye. A good thing for French literature he didn’t alight upon his waste-paper basket made from a human arse, or his paperweight made from a fossilised spleen. In fact, Maupassant’s study was decorated with the disassembled parts of an entire human being, gifted to him by Swinburne. Possibly they were the parts of Swinburne himself. But astute readers will have realized I stopped telling the truth here some time ago, though they may be surprised to learn how late in the paragraph the fantasy takes over.

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A very good bit — Lorre hears scuttling, and the previous astrology books on his shelves start to nudge outwards in a creeping series — the hand is crawling behind them! Swiping the volumes to the floor, Lorre searches out the stray extremity, and Florey tracks along INSIDE the bookshelf, behind the books, until the wriggling thing is discovered, cornered, and Lorre smiles with genuine pleasure at catching it. He then hammers a nail through it, seals it in the safe, and reports to Robert Alda, “I locked it up.” But Fiona misheard this, owing to Lorre’s thick accent, as “I looked it up,” and imagined that he had somehow tracked it down on the bookshelf under H for Hand, or possibly B for Beast. It’s a nice idea — why has there not been a remake to exploit this possibility? One thinks, of course, of the very good “A Farewell to Arms” gag in EVIL DEAD II…

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