Archive for The Fly

Don’t grab that scabby hand…

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2021 by dcairns

…it belongs to Mister Sniff-‘n’-Tell, it belongs to the Candyman. So sang David Bowie in his least cool phase, as frontman of Tin Machine, in an anti-drugs song called Crack City, which recycles the ahem, hook, from Wild Thing and is quite catchy, but still un-cool.

I mention it because it mentions the Candyman (as does Sweet Transvestite from ROCKY HORROR) and because in the new CANDYMAN reboot or rehook, protag Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has a scabby hand. I kept expecting him to sprout a hook, which might have been cool, but he doesn’t. If this guy is getting a hook, he’ll have to do it the traditional way.

The scabby hand gives us some of the most visceral and wince-making stuff in Nia DaCosta’s revision of Bernard Rose’s 1992 film of Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden — one moment is borrowed from Cronenberg’s THE FLY and got the strongest reaction from us of anything in there. Because CANDYMAN is quite a good film, but we were never actually scared. It’s made with great skill, the performances are good, it has ideas, and the use of colour and architecture (the title sequence!) is beautiful — a touch of Argento, who will also be all over A RAINY NIGHT IN SOHO, coming to your screens soon. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s score is lovely, though close enough to Philip Glass’s original in essence that it feels like Glass should get a credit somewhere. (Rose’s unconventional choice of Glass was one of his smartest choices.)

I’m not sure why we didn’t feel fear. Candyman mainly kills white people and we fit that demographic. He mainly kills unsympathetic white people, or people we barely know, but that needn’t be an overwhelming problem… I thought at first the film was going to be too hurried, that it would fail to spend the anxious time anticipating its kills, something Argento used to be so good at. In fact, the movie has a pretty good command of pace, but it doesn’t protract things to that ridiculous level where even though you may feel (a) this is silly (b) I don’t believe it (c) I don’t care if this person dies (d) I’ve seen gory deaths before, you still curl up a bit and want to cover your eyes. Argento could do all that, and part of it was having the courage to linger on things beyond the point where sane judgement would tell you to quicken it up just a little.

I always found Candyman a bit of a messy guy. His origin story just piles everything on — dismemberment, the meat hook added by his persecutors (WHY?), bees, and burning. It gets les disturbing the more effed-up details are thrown in. And then his M.O. is just to show up, when summoned, and kill everybody. The attempts to give him some more complex motivation got the first film into a fankle, and it kind of does the same here. There are a lot of threads in this, which is better than having too few but not as good as having the right number. Why do we get a flashback to Teyonnah Parris’s father’s suicide? Does this connect to something in the first film I’ve forgotten? Because it connects to nothing at all in this one.

One more thing that still kinda bothers me, like Columbo. DaCosta and co-writers Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld introduce a couple of likeable gay characters right off the bat, and I found myself wondering about what their fates would be. It seemed obvious that you couldn’t bring in sympathetic gay characters and then graphically butcher them — everyone would hate that, and rightly so. You couldn’t even kill just one of them. Unless you had other gay characters who would survive as an intact couple. We’re not at the point yet where gay characters can enjoy an equal right of becoming splatter fodder.

The solution to this that occurred to me is that you could ENDANGER these characters — that would get the audience really tense. Not only because we like them (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Kyle Kaminsky are the film’s most appealing characters) but because we would know that murdering them would be a critical error. The film could actually play with our fear of the story going wrong (as it does in the original for various reasons I can’t quite recall — I just remember feeling it went off the rails somewheres). It’s mostly so assured we don’t feel that, and when it does go wrong (a nice character turns out to be a bad crazy person, but also a kind of narrative cul-de-sac who robs the protag of the chance to go to Hell on his own choices) it does so without warning.

The trouble with Candyman is there’s no endangering while he’s around — he always gets his man, or woman, until the end of the movie, when it seems to break its own rules. Maybe that’s my fundamental problem: when you KNOW the monster is going to kill everyone he meets, suspense is lessoned. Hard to get fond too of corpses-in-waiting, even though that’s what we all are, if you think about it.

The Ghouls Go West

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2021 by dcairns

I never had any interest in seeing BILLY THE KID VERSUS DRACULA because it was obviously a stupid idea. But then I suddenly realised it’s a BRILLIANT idea. Well, maybe not brilliant. Maybe stupid. But the fact that star John Carradine was in STAGECOACH and wore a cape, and also HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN/DRACULA, makes him the perfect actor to bridge the seemingly insuperable gap between the Gothic horror of Bram Stoker and the western programmer. One could go further: Stoker’s novel was written and takes place around the time of the wild west, and features a cowboy character. John Findley’s comic strip Tex Arcana is a delightful fanged oater. It CAN be done.

BTKVD (which also stands for Bind Torture Kill Venereal Disease, a superior title) is quite watchably terrible. Carradine, breaking his own rule of “Never do anything you wouldn’t be caught dead doing,” is caught dead doing this, with a red spotlight on his face when he acts scary, and theremin underscoring, vanishing via jump cut (a dissolve would have been acceptable), and emerging from behind scenery just after a beautifully unconvincing plastic bat has flapped on its wires out of view.

Billy the Kid is a dull fellow called Chuck Courtenay who worked mainly as a stuntman. It’s a shame the filmmakers didn’t go with history and make Billy a psychopath, it’s a shame they didn’t think to include some Indian lore, the scenario is a collection of such shames and pities and alases.

Melinda Casey, as Betty the female lead, looks hilariously sullen and pissed-off when under JC’s hypnotic whammy, as well she might.

The supporting players are pretty OK — Olive Carey and her boy Harry are down the bill. Virginia Christine from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is in there too.

There’s a surprisingly good mirror moment, followed by Carradine snarling like a cougar and hurrying from the room.

The same year of our Lord 1966, co-writer Carl K. Hittleman penned JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER, which only has Steven Geray as “Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein” to commend it. Naturally, I rushed to see it after being bored through BTKVD. It’s on YouTube. Connoisseurs of line flubs will find a certain amount to enjoy in both films, the concept of the retake having been seemingly unknown to the filmmakers.

This time Jesse is a proper bank robber though still not much of a bad guy. He’s escaped his legendary death at the hands of Bob and Charlie Ford and hooks up with the sad remnants of the Wild Bunch (mildly surprising that the title didn’t try to incorporate those guest stars too). Hittleman had previously penned THE RETURN OF JESSE JAMES, in which JJ WAS dead but was being impersonated by an impostor, so even the title in that case was a cheat.

Actually… since the wondrously-named Narda Onyx is playing the daughter of A Frankenstein, not THE Frankenstein, this one’s title is somewhat deceitful also.

Best bit is the “creation” scene — in fact, merely the outfitting of Jesse’s hulking buddy with a new, “artificial” brain (which is very small). Both “Igor” (Cal Bolder, another great name) and Onyx wear science hats made from old army helmets gaily painted, and equipped with neon tubing. Probably pretty dangerous to wear, actually.

Jesse has basically nothing to do once the film effects its midway DUSK TILL DAWN genre switch, spending most of the climax doped on a gurney. A better idea might have been to have the assassinated James revivified by Frankensteinian mad science. In this kind of story, there’s little room for anyone who’s not the scientist or the monster. If you can merge THOSE characters, as in THE FLY, you’re doing above-average, economically speaking.

The flat TV lighting in both cases is by Lothrop B. Worth (the names in the credits are the closest to poetry these films attain). Both movies are directed, poorly, by William Beaudine, who was well into his seventies, had been making movies since 1922 — none of them seemingly any good. THE APE MAN was back in 1943, and that was pisspoor. He managed to kill off Philo Vance in PHILO VANCE RETURNS: nobody’s gone near the character since 1947. If anyone wants to nominate a GOOD Beaudine movie, I will raise an eyebrow in skeptical gratitude.

Under the Hood

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2018 by dcairns

If I was Kim Newman I’d begin this post on Spike Lee’s BLACKKKLANSMAN by pointing out the existence of the 1966 Ted V. Mikels joint THE BLACK KLANSMAN, and the black sort-of klansmen in SHOCK CORRIDOR and THE KLANSMAN (O.J. Simpson, name-checked in Lee’s film). And then reference THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR, Ivan Dixon’s genuinely revolutionary version of the conceit, in which a black man joins the CIA to learn guerrilla techniques he can use in the struggle. But I’m not Kim Newman. I don’t even own a cape.

I would cheerfully go along with the critical mainstream and call this Lee’s best film in years, but I stopped watching his stuff around the time of SUMMER OF SAM, which I thought was really hatefully ill-thought-out. Lee was attacked for exploiting real-life murders in a way that seemed, and was, unfair, since nobody, or nobody much, ever used similar grounds to attack Richard Fleischer (COMPULSION, THE BOSTON STRANGLER et al), Richard Brooks (IN COLD BLOOD) or the countless other filmmakers to labour in the true crime genre. But Lee’s movie has, for example, a throwaway reference to THE FLY — a talking fly as part of the killer’s hallucination. Lee’s director’s commentary at this point explains his choice: “hommage to THE FLY.” But what he doesn’t explain is why he thinks that belongs in this film. (Lee has always had a screwed-up willingness to go a mile out of his way in order to include a meaningless and inappropriate hommage, and it still hasn’t left him, even in this much better movie.)

So, in a sense, the criticism of this film was justified — it used real-life murders as an excuse to include a joke about a fifties horror movie. If I were the relative of a victim, I’d be offended. In fact, I’m just someone who’s seen THE FLY and I’m still offended.

But I did belatedly see INSIDE MAN and liked it a lot, so I’ve been thinking about giving him another chance.

The Independent has a fairly good, informative piece on where Lee’s film departs from the facts of his latest true crime story — probably best read after you see the movie which, as I’m trying to imply, is well worth seeing. The screenwriters seem to have invented A LOT, though the story’s unlikely set-up is indeed “fo’ real.” I wondered, after reading it, if the film’s romantic interest even existed in reality. The piece doesn’t tell me. She’s at the centre of an ethical dilemma involving the hero — is he sleeping with her while undercover? — which the movie never answers. (Turns out she didn’t exist — the real Ron Stallworth had already met his future wife before this story begins.)

The movie is shot on 35mm for an authentic blaxploitation look, although the design seems to consistently situate it bang in the middle of that decade. Nothing said 1979 to me, although maybe Colorado Springs moved a touch slower than elsewhere. Having just watched THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT, whose attention to verisimilitude was a little marred by some unconvincing wigs and cookie-dusters reminiscent of Spike Jonze’s Sabotage video, I was relieved that the wig-work here was convincing and, to me, the movie didn’t cross over into seventies parody. Any time you watch an actual blaxploitation movie, there will be several costumes worn in apparent earnest that you could never use with a straight face in a modern movie set in that period.

What the movie does give us is some excellent performances — John David Washington is an instant star, funnier than his famous dad, Adam Driver is as good as we’ve come to expect, and there’s an extremely powerful cameo from Harry Belafonte which forms a major part of the best sequence I’ve ever seen from Lee. Now THAT’S an hommage, if you like. (Lee’s always been good at finding roles for iconic black actors, and I’m grateful to him for giving Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis plum late-life parts). And at the end there’s one of his patented dolly-the-actors-with-the-camera shots, and it’s the best iteration of that particular conceit I’ve seen from him. And I got a fleeting sense, from the way the movie folds in bits of Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION and implicates it in the resurgence of the Klan, that the technique has some special meaning for Lee (it must, for him to use it so insistently), having something to do with the intrusion of movies into life.