Monday, December 21, 2009

The National Film Board of Ivanlandia Recommends “The Comedy of Terrors” (& reviews 2 other flicks)

"Mr. Tremble..."
said ‘Tremble.’ ”

The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
Directed by Jacques Tourner
Written by Richard Matheson
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff & James H. Nicholson
Director of photography: Floyd Crosby
Production design and art direction: Daniel Haller
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone and others
Released by American-International Pictures
83 min.

It was the Day of the Big Snow here in NYC, and after a week of exhausting activities, I had slept for 13 hours (usually I clock 5 hours of log sawing per evening).
When I woke up, I decided to stay in and accomplish something.
Meanwhile, I threw on Jacques (The Cat People) Tourner’s The Comedy of Terrors, written by genre ace Richard Matheson, on the old televizer unit, thinking that the flick would be background noise.
Instead I wound up enthralled.

Give this movie some time, the humor will eventually get quite sick, as Vincent Price
(hilarious as a bitter drunk, with great lines like, “Get up! You’re sitting on my money!”)
and Peter Lorre play down-on-their-luck undertakers in late-1800s New England who resort to homicide to increase their business.

This flick was produced by American-International Pictures (AIP) to capitalize on the success of the Poe/Price series, and was given the green light after Roger Corman’s spoof The Raven, also written by Matheson, was a hit.

(And The National Film Board of Ivanlandia have been a big fan of Corman’s The Raven since we first viewed it on the old ABC-TV 4:30 Movie about a million years ago—
it’s a must-see for at least this weird semi-factoid:
in The Raven, a shockingly young and fresh-faced Jack Nicholson plays Peter Lorre’s son—it’s truly a WTF moment—
which only begins to make a certain sick sense once the shock wears off and you think about it.)

AIP is Mecca to all genre movie fans—you cannot claim to appreciate the Cinema of the Weird & Fantastic, if you do not recognize the importance of AIP to genre movies and B-flicks of all stripes!

I’m fucking serious:
If you pooh-pooh AIP because they made cheapo B-movies, you miss the whole point—
you’re a New Yorker-worshipping film snob with your head so far up your ass, you’re tongue-fucking your own colon—
and you’re only welcome at the Ivanlandia table so’s the rest of us can pick on you.
Grrrr! I’m tough. Grrrr! Bow wow wow!

Watching Matheson’s supplemental interview on the DVD, I wondered if AIP co-chief James Nicholson (no relation to Jack) championed making Comedy of Terrors just to keep AIP workhorse Matheson happy.
95% of those Corman/Poe flicks were written by the great scribe
(who also wrote both the novel and script for the sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man),
and while Nicholson didn’t think that horror-comedies made money, after Raven’s success, he may have been willing to take a chance—if anything to keep a great asset like Matheson happy.

Boris Karloff has a hoot playing a senile undertaker going deaf, and the scenes with Price, Lorre, Basil Rathbone (completely whacky as a “Macbeth”-quoting miser) and a coffin are classic comedy moments; this is a damn fine B-movie.
(And I like how throughout the movie, the family cat is a silent observer--just a nice touch.)

The style and pace of The Comedy of Terrors is much less frantic than today’s comedies, but big props should be thrown at director Tourner who shows some flair here and there.

The movie used to be available on the two-sided Midnight Movie series that MGM put out—The Comedy of Terrors is the B-side to Roger Corman’s The Raven
It’s well worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of the old American International Pictures (to me, their logo is always a serious sign of quality—Grrrrr!) or of sick humor or Vincent Price, and The Comedy of Terrors goes down well with a six-pack or other intoxicants.

(Hey! Netflix doesn’t have The Comedy of Terrors available, or even listed! Sorry, folks…check your local libraries…)

And for shits ‘n’ giggles, here’s my review of The Baader-Meinhof Complex:

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) (2008)
Directed by Uli Edel
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Screenplay by Bernd Eichinger and Uli Edel
Based on the book by Stephan Aust

In The Wild One, when surly biker Marlon Brando is asked what he’s rebelling against, he replies, “Whaddya got?”
And that answer from 1954 provides more depth of character than what we get from 2008’s The Baader-Meinhof Complex.

It’s an exciting, action packed, heavily detailed flick that, like the Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorists themselves, seems full of sound and fury, but also “signifying nothing.”

A movie should offer answers more comprehensive than superficial surface details, I feel, and had the filmmakers taken a less objective stance, they would have created a much more powerful film.

Ulrike Meinhof is the only character whose descent/ transformation into an “urban guerilla” is given any sort of examination, but hers is so unique a story (upper class, left-wing journalist, wife with two children who ditches it all to play revolutionary) that it cannot really be applied to the others---
and we never really learn why any of the other major players joined “the cause.”

Meanwhile, I found Bruno Ganz’s thoughtful and intelligent police commissioner to be the most interesting character: He may represent “The State,” but he also wants to understand why this insanity is happening.
Unlike our “heroes,” Ganz is the only one who shows, and deserves, compassion.

Overall, The Baader-Meinhof Complex is an interesting misfire.
Lots of sexy German terror-babes, though….

Here’s another review/
I’m not sure of this movie’s DVD history, but it only recently became available on Netflix, from whence the Ivanlandia Film Board screened it…

The Girl On a Motorcycle (1968)
Directed and
photographed by Jack Cardiff
Produced by William Sassoon
Screenplay by Ronald Duncan
Adapted by Jack Cardiff
From the novel “La Motorcyclette”
by Andre Pieyre de Mandirgues
Edited by Peter Musgrave

This isn’t a great flick, but The Girl On a Motorcycle (also released as Naked Under Leather) is a heap of super-saturated ultra-camp that needs to have a cult following, and toot sweet!

Beautifully photographed, the movie is an often-entertaining relic, both in style and content, like a British mash-up of Russ Meyer and Douglas Sirk---
saved by a brilliant ending (spoiler) that Easy Rider, made in 1969, one year after this, must have stolen!
Or else it’s a really far-out and crazy coincidence. (end spoiler)
A must-see for fans of Marianne Faithfull, the flick’s got a stinker of a script, but overall kind of feels like a heterosexual John Waters movie, with some heavy doses of trippy solarized madness.

The Girl On a Motorcycle is certainly worth a look for weirdness value.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Down on the Street

Sure, sure, sure, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air is getting all sorts of raves, etc., etc., and good for him and his movie.

But unless George Clooney’s corporate downsizer gets smashed in the face with a tire-iron by the end of the flick, I don’t want to see it.
(And no, I have not seen either of Reitman's previous film, neither Thank You for Smoking (great book, though) nor Juno (HELL NO!)

How the fuck am I supposed to feel sympathetic to a guy flying first-class everywhere who fires people for a living and is so handsome that he can get laid by a beautiful chick within five minutes no matter where in the world he is?

Existential dilemmas are even less interesting to me when they come from “the landed gentry.”

(Not that I have anything against Mr. Clooney personally, he seems like decent sort of chap, and when he isn’t coasting, can actually act.)

And yeah, I’ll probably see Up in the Air eventually, but what’s the rush? Does a film like this need to be seen in a theater? Doubtful.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Druids! Druids! Druids!: Ivanlandia Visits Summerisle--to roast some pigs!

Ivanlandia is jumping on the Final Girl Wicker Man Blog-a-thon Film Club, providing its own entry about that classic film, The Wicker Man.

In junior year high school English class, the teacher told us that the reason the Romans has such a hard time conquering England and Ireland was because the inhabitants of those islands were Druids, and, as old Mr. Hayden asked the class rhetorically, “How can you defeat people who worship trees?!?

With its close affinity to the cycles of nature, Druidism often seems more “logical” (or natural) that the monotheistic Desert Religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) with their seemingly arbitrary, random, contradictory and often cruel rules.

Xmas is around the corner, so let’s not forget that much of this supposedly Christian tradition was swiped and co-opted from “pagan” rites and rituals.
Christians didn’t invent the Christmas tree: crazy heathen krauts living in the Black Forest came up with that.
And there’s a reason why Easter (yea, He is risen) is situated near the vernal equinox….

With that in mind, one approaches the story of The Wicker Man with no small amount of dread…

The Wicker Man (1973)
Directed by Robin Hardy
Written by Anthony Shaffer

It’s unnerving watching a noose tighten for about 90 minutes, but that’s my metaphorical description of The Wicker Man.
It’s probably one of the smartest horror flicks ever made, more about cross-cultural collision, than any sort of monster, and it’s a heck of a lot of food for thought.

The cast is swell, but Christopher Lee (in what’s really an extended cameo) is marvelous, and Edward (RIP) Woodward is fantastic as the virginal cop who gets in well over his head.

Sui generis, it’s a mystery with music (!), and
The Wicker Man certainly challenges your feelings about religion and sexuality, almost uncomfortably so.

If you have any seriously religious relatives, you can easily image them being quite shocked by the movie’s seemingly pro-druidic viewpoint and casual nudity.

But it's a flick all fans of "fantastic" cinema need to see.

Check HERE for a synopsis/plot….

And is the movie’s viewpoint truly pro-Druidic? Facing death, Howie finally gets around to mentioning science, warning the villagers that crop failure is natural in their region, especially since the fruits being grown are not indigenous to Summerisle, then what happens if the crops fail again?
Howie screams that Lord Summerisle will have to be sacrificed next if the crops fail again, and Lee’s expression tells us that that may be true.
When Howie (a child’s name, or better yet: a childish name) is informed that his sacrifice for the Druids means martyrdom as a Christian, it’s essentially the same for the viewer: who wins? Perhaps no one. The massive joke played on Howie may be for naught---but Howie’s such a close-minded jerk, that it’s hard to feel sympathy for him, but after a while, you do—because you know he’s doomed.

When Howie’s plane is sabotaged, that’s the point we know the noose is tight around his neck, and it’s only a matter of time: we’ve been given no indication that the cop has any idea of how to get off the island, even if he does find Rowan Morrison.

For more about Druids, make sure and watch Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Author Anthony Shaffer also wrote Sleuth (the original from 1972 is one of my faves; I won’t watch the remake, just like I forget that there’s a Wicker Man remake out there—even though some are it calling camp-o-riffic)
and Hitchcock’s Frenzy (which a lot of people love, but that, well, my review’s below….).

Shaffer is the master of the brilliant and twisty script, and but his output wasn’t that prolific, which is too bad, but if you enjoy brain-teasing puzzles, you must check out his films.

Additional review:

Frenzy (1972)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Anthony Shaffer
Based on the novel by Arthur La Bern

I get the feeling Frenzy was Hitchcock’s attempt to show those young upstarts who were popping up in the late-1960s/early-1970s who was boss and how it was done.
But compared to Targets, Last House on the Left, Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead and others, Frenzy is a contrived mess.
The actors are given mannerisms and attitudes only to the extent that those personality characteristics push the plot in a certain direction. In no way are the characters fleshed-out or fully drawn people.

Because of that, the film’s clinical and cold style becomes an annoyance. I don’t mind if a flick is mean-spirited or ruthless, but it absolutely needs some depth and logic, something Frenzy doesn’t seem to have.
For a film called Frenzy, it’s hardly very frenzied. A generic title, dull.
I rented the movie wanting to like it, but after seeing it, I’m starting to think Hitchcock is overrated.

(I’m not really a fan of Strangers on a Train, either….)

Lately, I’ve been finding myself re-assessing all of Hitchcock’s films. On the whole, I’m not as impressed with Hitch overall like I used to be.

Except Psycho.
Ahhhhh, there’s a different story:

It’s still an almost perfect movie—even with the goofy psychiatrist scene at the end.

Psycho (1960)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Joseph Stephano
Based on the novel by Robert Bloch

Monday, December 7, 2009

Autopsy Turvy

Ivanlandia has been very busy of late, making bucks as a stooge for the chemical industry.

Here's the Dr. Jekyll to Ivanlandia's Mr. Hyde; check 'em out!

Reviews and madness to resume soon enough...