Archive for Stephen King

The Fearful Vampire Hunters

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2021 by dcairns

I’ve been writing limericks for the run-up to Halloween — you can read them here.

Despite, or maybe in part because of, the outrageous lifts from PSYCHO, part two of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot TV adaptation satisfied and startled. Fiona screamed several times. It’s fashionable to disparage jump scares, and with the modern soundtrack’s capacity they might seem too easy, somehow, but I think they still have a place in the horror film. I can respect a movie that’s too clever and disquieting to need them, for sure, but for the kind of thing SL is, they absolutely belong.

Stephen King has said that horror comes in three basic shapes — (1) is the subtlest and noblest, the suspense/dread kind, (2) is shock, the jump-scare or startle effect introduced by Tourneur (usually associated with dread and suspense but he liked to mix things up) and (3) is the gross-out. King states that he aims for (1) for preference, but resorts to (2) when necessary, and then to (3) when he has to. The trouble always seemed to me that (2) and (3) can push out (1). But I note that Hitchcock pushed graphic violence in PSYCHO and it HELPED with the dread and suspense, and that the Lewton-Tourneur school purveyed not only subtle psychological tension, but shocks AND had more blood than other ’40s horrors.

The acting in Salem’s Lot helps hugely. Reggie Nalder, as noted by David Ehrenstein, is a formidable living special effect who didn’t even need all the makeup he’s given to be alarming. When you’ve hired Reggie, youdon’t have to paint him blue. As Simon Kane notes, they’ve taken away all his dialogue and that makes him scarier, less human. James Mason’s Mr. Straker is basically playing Renfield, but a Renfield hugely empowered and elevated, suave and cunning and not loony at all, whereas Nalder’s Mr. Barlow is a Dracula degenerated, pure animal will, a semi-sentient walking plague.

Small-parts supporting vampires add to the general mood of abjection: Mason’s real-life wife, Clarissa Kaye-Mason (whom he met while casting for a Miranda to his Prospero in Michael Powell’s never-made THE TEMPEST) gets probably her best onscreen moment; Geoffrey Lewis is fantastically creepy, the screen’s best blue-collar neck-biter; the two kids, Ronnie Scribner and his recruit, Brad Savage are legit terrifying.

Credit also to David Soul, who plays a hero who can actually be terrified. The way you or I would be. I don’t know why this obvious bit of realism isn’t used more often in horror films, other than that you need good actors and you need to spend time showing their reactions. Leading man vanity may also be a factor. But David Soul, rarely discussed as an acting talent, wets himself with real conviction.

Who keeps a drawer full of rats and eyeballs?

The show is peppered with instances where Hooper clearly just didn’t have time for a second take or reshoot, but it succeeds where it counts. It’s impressive that he was able to make the haunted house a memorable, beautifully-designed set that lives up to the two-hour build-up: production designer Mort Rabinowitz does a grand job. The place seems alive with mould. And Barlow’s lair is, magnificently, reached by descending an absent staircase and passing through a tiny, scary door. These bits of architectural surrealism enhance the terror in hard-to-analyse ways. They do make us feel like we’re leaving the domain of the human.

Fiona was much taken with the way Barlow’s recruits are just lying around in the dirt around his coffin. Only he gets a box. Stephen King probably deserves some credit for the way the film makes vampirism seem really grubby and nasty and degraded, a new development in the genre. True, both the Murnau and Herzog NOSFERATUs (from which Nalder’s makeup is derived) associate their head vamp with vermin, and he doesn’t look as sexy as Chris Lee. But at least he has a nice coat. Barlow’s black robe makes him a shapeless mass with a little blue head and hands grafted on, a shred of midnight torn loose and apt to pop into frame from odd angles, and he’s maybe the first screen vampire you gotta assume must smell really bad.

Maine Arteries

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , on October 21, 2021 by dcairns

Why is Ralphie Glick in his pajamas?

He disappears in the woods, walking home from a friend’s house with his brother Danny. The vampires have got him. But then he appears, hovering in the fog at his brother’s window. In his jim-jams. What’s that all about?

I turned to Stephen King’s book for answers, and learned that the window-floating scenes (it happens again, when Danny’s in hospital: kid just can’t catch a break) aren’t in it. So I have to take my hat off to Tobe Hooper and screenwriter Paul Monash (THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE). The scariest thing in the show, possibly; certainly the thing everyone was talking about at school the next day. And it’s pure filmic invention, born out of the inference that the vampires must have gotten at Danny somehow.

I put my hat back on again so I can take it off to Ronnie Scribner, who plays the littlest vampire. Good work, kid! You’re terrifying in that show.

This might be a question best put to regular Shadowplayer Scout Tafoya, whose book on Tobe Hooper is here.

Salem’s Lot stars Original Hutch; Prof. Humbert Humbert; Ramey Holvak; Holly McClane; Dr.James Kildare; George Peatty; Mr. Creepy; Father Dyer; Brisbane Bird; Eddie Goody; Baron Vladimir Harkonnen; Ed Harken; Sherry Peatty; and Needles, Yellow Jacket Assassin.

The Sunday Intertitle: Chimproper Behaviour

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 16, 2020 by dcairns

SUDDEN CHIMPACT

LE MANOIR DE LA PEUR (1927 or thereabouts) chimpressed me no end. Though the story of Alfred Machin & Henry Wulschleger’s thriller is fairly naive, mainly an opportunity to exploit the services of chimpanzee actor Monsieur Schey, the photography (by Mario Badouille), design (unknown), editing (maybe the directors?) and performances are terrific.

A mysterious stranger moves into the MANSION OF FEAR (turn left at the cemetery). Soon, the village is plagued by a crime spree. But we’ve already been shown who’s doing it: the sinister stranger’s servant (Cinq-Leon) has been training a lab chimp, Hello (Monsieur Schey), to burgle the burghers. He chalks a kind of HOBO SIGN on the door of each home to be ransacked, then dispatches the chimpetuous Hello to do his hairy bidding.

Cinq-Leon, a self-described wretch, is a remarkable presence. Every part of him is in an advanced state of decay, from his teeth to his face to his walk, a scuttle that’s equal parts infantile, senile, rodent and crustacean.

He seems to be playing his part in English, as you can see his hideous mouth parting wide in a repeated exhortation of “Yes!” as he instructs his chimpressionable protege. I imagine this being delivered in a fervent, Ben-Kingsley-in-SEXY-BEAST manner.

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Hello chimplements his crimes with chimpetuous chimpiety. What are they gonna do, lock him up?

Look how beautiful the photography is, though.

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Most of this joint is location-based, but we get some terrific interiors when we visit the town hall, which has seen better days. Unsightly ducts, heaps of neglected books, and a massive fissure in the ceiling. Plus terrifyingly tall doors. It’s expressionist in its exaggeration, but very solid and tactile and real at the same time. And we’ll probably never know who was responsible.

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SLIDESHOW!

The mayor gets his flunky to check the town’s history to see if something like this has happened before. And you know what? Something like this has happened before! Only that time, the stranger was the devil and they got rid of him by burning him in the town square. Simpler times.

I was struck that this plot idea — a demonic force descending periodically upon a small town, its backstory discovered in the archives — anticipates Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (and Stephen King’s It, but we know where HE got it from).

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One of the wacky and advanced things about the film is the sudden appearance of the Devil and the scary house during the opening titles. Spliced in without warning. They ought to be subliminal flashes I suppose, but the filmmakers didn’t quite have the nerve for that. But you could argue the non-diegetic and pseudo-subliminal Satan anticipates THE EXORCIST. Or I’ll argue it. Hold my coat.

Dig that zigzag

Hello the Chimp has been trained in one more trick — when Cinq-Leon is worried that he’s going to be unmasked, he sends his chimplacable avenger out with a bottle of poison to spike the ale of his potential denouncer. But Hello goes astray, murders a signalman instead, thus sending a locomotive hurtling towards a collapsed viaduct… Cue exciting rail chase…

So there’s a lot going on here. It’s a film of sensations. Many of them involving a chimpanzee. I really want to see more by this team. They all collaborated with the versatile Monsieur Schey in LES HÉRITIERS DE L’ONCLE JAMES (1924 or thereabouts) but alas that isn’t readily available. But I’ll let you know what I find.