Archive for Halloween

Grave-y Browning

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2020 by dcairns

Halloween is coming! Don’t forget to buy Sight & Sound with me and D. Riccuito interviewing Barbara Steele!

I grew up mad at the BBC because they rarely honoured All Hallows Eve with the kind of zeal I felt was required. In general, Scotland was more into witchy stuff in late October than the English, and the BBC is essentially English. There was rarely anything on to mark the occasion. And now here I am on Shadowplay not doing my bit. That must change. Expect some horror posts.

My favourite thing in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is the George Romero zombie groaning that accompanies every appearance of Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland as the vampires. There’s no explanation for it. It’s also mixed way down low on the soundtrack, so it qualifies as subtle, especially compared to the Lionels, Atwill & Barrymore, hammering the single notes of their respective performances until repetitive strain injury of the thespic kind sets in.

The best BAD thing, in a film with many bad things — Tod Browning was surely defrauding MGM by pretending he was coming in to work on this one — is the opening “transition” from a painting of a church roof by daylight, to the live action set, which is a night scene. It’s one of those optical printer moves, which works so well at the start of CASABLANCA for instance, and works so NOT well here that it’s momentarily hard to tell what’s meant to be going on: are we panning off a movie screen that’s been hung on the side of a church?

Six men worked on this script, each devotedly removing anything of quality the others saw fit to add — an unending task — some say you can still hear the clack of typewriters as you pass the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on a dark night. Even if this weren’t already a remake, it would be fatally unoriginal — even the gratuitous opossum looks tired.

We-ell, I been sick…

I guess we know Tod was about because of the opossum, and the various rats and creepy crawlies — not just fake bats, but fake spiders and a — is that meant to be a CRAB? — inapparopriate fauna are very much a Browning trope.

Anything that’s any good, apart from the groaning, in the movie, is via James Wong Howe’s cinematography and Cedric Gibbons and his unnamed worker elves who cobbled together the spooky sets. You could cut the thing down to about five minutes of master shots and lose nothing but verbiage and folderol. Every spooky shot looks absolutely iconic — maybe because THIS seems to be the principle inspiration behind Edward D. Wood, Jr.’s Gothic imagination.

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE stars Mr. Potter; Mrs. Copperfield; Dr. Vitus Werdegast; Inspector Krogh; Dr. Paul Christian; Mr. Twiddle; Nurse Peggotty; Amschel Rothschild; Daffy Dolly; Fat Girl with Hamburger; Rula Murphy; Dr. John Lanyon; and Dr. Kluck.

Autumnal

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2019 by dcairns

These two title sequences are how you get into Autumn. Listen and watch and you will be resigned to it.

I have melancholic mixed feelings about James Horner’s music for SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES — it was imposed by DisneyCorp against director Jack Clayton’s wishes, after Georges Delerue’s original, beautiful score was rejected. I really like Horner’s derivative, evocative, hammy theme tune, though. But I’d love a restored director’s cut. They say Disney never throws anything away…

Michael Kamen’s opening theme for THE DEAD ZONE may be the best thing he did in his two-short career. I guess it’s the first of Cronenberg’s snazzy title sequences — he’s had them ever since, and then his films settle down to being visually quite flat, which works because usually there will be some startling imagery, and if the camera is just resting its chin in its hand in an apathetic way, that can be quite effective.

OK, you can have this one too:

Everywhere

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , on October 31, 2018 by dcairns

BEEEEEEP!

I hadn’t seen THE FOG since a screening at my school film society and HALLOWEEN had been viewed since then only on a TV airing, probably in the wrong aspect ratio. I remember as teenagers we found them both utterly unsatisfactory on a story level, and that’s still somewhat true today. HALLOWEEN is the better one in narrative terms: as writers John Carpenter (also director) and Debra Hill (also producer) admit on the audio commentary, their plans for a classic ghost story didn’t come to fruition and they ended up adding more jump-scares, killings and one zombification in order to make a modern horror movie of it.

Still, the atmosphere of both films is very strong (and the jump-scares etc effective). THE FOG in particular begins with weird electronic malfunctionings, alarms going off and lights coming on, a modern take on ghostly manifestations. Later, a character will complain about her dog going mental in the night, which is a more traditional augury of the supernatural, but we never see it happen: what we get is machines reacting.This was in the wake of Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, with its toys coming to life, which MUST have been an influence.

Both films are driven by a purely cinematic logic of foreboding phenomena, suspense, atmosphere, tightening and slackening of tension, music… which is to say, not really any logic at all. And the filmmakers are well aware of this and use Donald Pleasence in particular — apparently the voice of sanity, reason, law and order, society — to drip in the idea that Michael Myers is much more than a lone psychopath, is in fact a manifestation or invasion of pure spiritual evil into the world.

Which is what makes the ending of HALLOWEEN so fine. Pleasence goes to the window to look at where Myers’ body has fallen, but it’s not there anymore: the unkillable killer has performed his final, and most clearly impossible resurrection. The actor asked his director if he should look surprised, or merely satisfied, as if what he always knew has been confirmed. What we see in the film is Pleasence looking at the empty patch of ground, and then up into the night, the dark neighbourhood in general, almost up into the sky.And as Carpenter’s synth tune plays us out, he cuts to the hallway, to the stair, a series of static, empty shots taking us out the door and into a wide shot of the house, a sort of fragmented reversal of the movie’s opening shot, which had taken us indoors and upstairs (in a different house, admittedly) through the killer’s POV. (A minor cheat: though the killer is a little kid in scene one, his viewpoint is definitely at adult height to begin with.)

And then to other houses, ending with the now-shuttered house from scene one. (“The night HE came home,” is the tagline.) And through this sequence, in another exercise of pure movie (il)logic, we hear Myers’ breathing — a terrific piece of recording, the close, cramped effect perfectly evoking the sensation of wearing a mask, which is disturbing and uncomfortable in itself. From being a POV fixed to a defined character, he has now become omnipresent yet invisible. Like God. Or the movie camera.

As Carpenter & Hill’s key invention, the unstoppable knife-wielder, heads out into the movie landscape to be adopted by generations of imitators, it feels, in retrospect, incredibly apt that Myers’ first movie ends thus, with him expanding beyond his mere physical form and becoming everywhere. He’s no longer a man, more an atmosphere, a fog, no longer what the writers called him, “the Shape.” He is now “the Presence.”