Monday, 30 August 2010

The Changeling (1980)

Country: CANADA

The Changeling would have seemed antiquated and anachronistic at the time of its release. But the intervening years and current trend in horror for mindless torture and sadism have conspired to make this film seem a lot more intelligent than it actually is. The value of restraint, minimalism, and subtlety, has reached a premium in the horror genre, and although we may look back on The Changeling as an example of how to achieve this difficult blend, one must caution against a temptation to dilute the horror to such a degree that it becomes irrelevant. Nevertheless Peter Medak’s film is vastly superior to one of its immediate contemporaries of the haunted house sub-genre The Amityville Horror (1978 - a film I particularly dislike). But vastly inferior to another - The Shining (1980). In the former director Stuart Rosenberg failed to curb the hysteria and excessiveness, in the latter Stanley Kubrick achieved a finely balanced bland of subtle scares and exaggerated horror. The Changeling falls somewhere in between the two - neither hysterical or over the top, but also lacking the punch, drive, and energy one requires of a horror film.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Roger Corman Poster Gallery

After the positive reception and popularity of my Amicus Productions and Stanley Kubrick poster galleries I’ve decided to make this a regular feature of The Celluloid Highway. So every Friday or Saturday I will offer up some visual stimulation for those who enjoy the odd break from reading reviews. This week I bring you the films of producer/director Roger Corman. Corman emerged at a time in the 1950’s when the vertically integrated foundations of Hollywood were beginning to crack and the major studios monopolisation and domination was beginning to fragment and weaken. A number of independent producers sprung up who were able to use their limited budgets and enthusiasm for genre product in order to capitalise on the rise of the affluent middle class teenage market. Corman’s difference was his innate ability to shoot his films with astonishing speed, as one film rapidly followed another onto the drive-ins screens. In the 50’s Corman produced westerns, science-fiction, historical adventures, and contemporary tales of rock n roll juvenilia. In the 1960’s he shifted his attentions to the horror film and under the auspices of American International Pictures directed a number of films based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, often featuring Vincent Price in the lead. During the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s Corman’s output as a director was greatly reduced as he concentrated on production and distribution. Although his work as a distributor is incredibly important, this gallery concentrates entirely on Corman’s work as a director. I hope you enjoy it, as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Swamp Women aka Cruel Swamp (1953)

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Manitou (1978)


This misguided embarrassment is illustrative of the type of excessive and exaggerated production that emerged in the wake of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977). In the late 1970’s independent producers (home and abroad) with a fraction of the money and even less know how felt their substandard shockingly written train wrecks could pass muster as long as they threw in some half convincing special effects. Whereas the Hollywood blockbusters generally possessed a consistent style and a coherent narrative, many of their lesser imitators opted for the strategy of hurling everything into the mix and hoping that somehow the spectacle would help it to stick. The result was a series of hollow, but mildly distracting, mid to low budget effects extravaganza’s. All these films did is add to a myth that is now all pervasive; that a summer blockbuster is a film totally devoid of intelligence and social value (this isn’t actually the case). The Manitou is a messy failure because it is never able to make up its mind what it actually wants to be. The narrative is pushed and pulled in a myriad of directions and the plot holes begin to build. The special effects orgasm that fills out the last twenty minutes of the film attempts to distract from these numerous weaknesses, but this type of stupidity cannot be overcome by some pretty colours and a few flashes.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Not of This Earth (1957)

Country: USA

Not of this Earth (1957) is one of director/producer Roger Corman’s earliest science-fiction efforts, and one of his best. It followed on the heels of Day the World Ended (1955) and It Conquered the World (1956) and directly preceded one of his more notoriously enjoyable titles Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957). These films possess charm chiefly through the obvious enthusiasm for the material, but in terms of filmmaking were never able to escape their poverty row production values. Not of This Earth is slightly different, and feels like a much more professional production. The performances are of particular note and Corman composes some finely structured sequences of suspense. But the major difference is in the tone and atmosphere of the piece. This film perhaps more than any illustrated the manner in which the horror film had been absorbed into science fiction in the 1950’s. The writers Charles B. Griffith (who also wrote a number of other Corman films such as A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and The Wild Angels (1966)) and Mark Hanna offer up an interesting interpretation of vampirism for a post war America paranoid about nuclear annihilation.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Peeping Tom (1960)


Face of Fear
Le Voyeur

When opening a discussion on Michael Powell’s highly divisive British psychological horror film Peeping Tom (1960) it is very easy to get drawn into a reductive debate about the films critical reception in the United Kingdom. For horror fans the film has become something of a cause celebre. The one clear cut occasion when the middle class critical establishment got it wrong and were proven by time to be inadequate to discuss cinema. For those unaware of the films critical reception, suffice it to say it caused a scandal. The film was unanimously panned by middle class and right wing bluster - the same idiots that had become hysterical over imported horror comics and the productions of Hammer. Often the rhetoric and abuse of the reviews were far worse than the actual content of the films. The resulting furore had dire consequences for the films gifted director who found it increasingly difficult afterward to mount a production the UK. Powell would suffer a type of unspoken blacklisting and was forced abroad to make films that became increasingly sporadic during the 1960’s.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Stanley Kubrick Poster Gallery

Stanley Kubrick is one of the few (if not the only) filmmaker to make me feel stupid and intellectually inadequate. My first encounter with his films as a 16 year old weened on a steady diet of mindless Hollywood blockbusters and dumb franchise horror made me aware for the first time of the intellectual potential of cinema. The film was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and never has a film made me feel so small and insignificant. The sense of space and the eternity of the stars was somehow deeply disturbing too me, and the philosophical propositions only something I could feebly grasp at. The questions the film raised, its formal audaciousness, its method of storytelling, were all things that would eventually lead to me studying film up to and including post-graduate level. I only have a phd left, and I have Kubrick's film to partly thank for this. I could also lay my student debt at the pod bay doors of The Discovery, but I dont think I'll get much financial assistance from HAL. For doing this once I admired Kubrick greatly, but he did it again many years later. In my late 20's I found myself buried deep within a dissertation for my Masters.  I was in Nottingham, it was grey and bleak and the rains were unending it seemed. I'd ran out of Malt Whiskey, my internet connection was on the blink and my motivation had vanished into a black hole. I then did something I'd been putting off for over ten years...I watched Barry Lyndon (1975). This was a major undertaking for me because the film runs for 180 minutes (my perfect film length is 100 minutes). I was once again captivated, but this time by the stillness and beauty of the images - each shot like a gorgeous painting. I once again felt small, but this time it was history and the fleeting passage of time that disturbed me. Suddenly my dissertation become an insignificant irrelevance, and I realied that more value lay within a single composition in Barry Lyndon than anything I could write about it. This poster gallery celebrates the films of Stanley Kubrick - a director who will forever be a part of the cinematic landscape I tread...Enjoy!

Fear and Desire (1953)

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Iron Rose (1973)

Country: FRANCE

La rose de fer
Rose of Iron

The production of horror films and works of fantasy have been sporadic during the history of French cinema. Unlike the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy or even Germany, French horror has never successfully coalesced into a cycle or movement. This is somewhat of a surprise when we consider that much of the visceral quality of horror owes its origins to the French theatrical tradition known as Grand Guignol. Furthermore the elements of fantasy and dislocation that form the backbone of horror’s nightmare logic can be seen in the experimental work of the surrealist art movement - which found its greatest prominence in France in the 1920’s. The work of Georges Franju in the 1940’s and 1950’s offered a link to these past traditions, most notably in his abattoir documentary Blood of the Beasts (1949) and his outstanding cosmetic surgery nightmare Eyes Without a Face (1959). But it would be the offbeat cinematic offerings of Jean Rollin that would make this link to the past most implicit. Whether you rate his films or not his importance within French traditions of fantasy and surrealism are notable.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Phantom of Death (1988)

Country: ITALY

Un delitto poco comune
Off Balance

This Italian obscurity by sadist director Ruggero Deodato has been given a new lease of life (perhaps its only ever lease of life on UK shores) thanks to the efforts of Shameless Screen Entertainment. But after sitting through this retarded mess you may well ask why did they bother? A vast number of gialli from the 1980’s remain in DVD distribution limbo, and on this evidence we should be thankful for that mercy. Most gialli take a poetic license with narrative structure, gaping plot holes and yawning chasms of devastated continuity are the order of the day. But many of them emerge as pleasurable and entertaining because of their attention to wildly exaggerated and inventive set pieces, and their funky soundtracks. Unfortunately this cinematic excrement from Mr. Deodato lacks style and narrative cohesion, and it’s so hamstrung by an incompetent screenplay by Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino and Gigliola Battaglini (a multitude of writers usually indicates a disaster) that even excellent actors like Donald Pleasence and Michael York are unable to save the day. Deodato is of course well renowned for his sick but deceptively well made circus of sadism Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and the even more reprehensible and shatteringly dull The House on the Edge of the Park (1980). If one is expecting the ferocity shown in either of those films, then you will be sadly disappointed. For not only is this badly plotted, but it is also very tame by gialli standards, and especially by the base standards of Deodato.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Amicus Productions Poster Gallery

I thought I would do something a little different and present for your viewing pleasure a guide to the film productions of Amicus in poster form. I imagine the majority of my regular readers are familiar with the output of this Anglo-American independent producer. But for those who arent Amicus was formed by writer/producer Milton Subotksy and resourceful producer Max J. Rosenberg. After a few early attempts at success such as Rock Rock Rock! (1956) under the name Vanguard Productions and The City of the Dead (1960 - aka Horror Hotel) under the name Vulcan Productions the duo emerged in the 1960's as Amicus and soon found their niche: low budget horror and science-fiction films made in Britain. They particularly excelled at the portmanteau or anthology film format, and in the 1960's were serious contenders to the throne which Hammer sat upon.

It's Trad, Dad! (1962 - aka Ring-a-Ding Rhythm!) - Dir Richard Lester

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Kuroneko (1968)

Country: JAPAN

Yabu no naka no kuroneko
The Black Cat
The Black Cat from the Grove

Japanese filmmaker Kaneto Shindo is best known to western audiences for his shattering and moving tribute to the survivors of atomic destruction in the drama Children of Hiroshima (1952) and his sultry and sensual historical horror film Onibaba (1964). The latter is an evocative and oppressive allegory of Japanese class and social divisions and the tragic effects of a corrosive sexual jealousy. For Kuroneko Shindo recycled the basic premise of Onibaba (in which two resourceful women lure samurai to their death for material gain) and retained the same historical setting, war torn landscape and aesthetics of hunger. Kuroneko is a more conventional horror film in the sense that it foregrounds aspects of the supernatural, demon curses, and the quasi-mythical image of the cat. It makes use of the Kaidan or avenging spirit motif which unites much traditional Japanese horror and is brought to atmospheric life by beautiful monochrome cinematography and a formal eloquence that marks it out as one of Shindo’s most visually elegant productions. Despite these familiar signifiers however the film is still strange and otherworldly, and in its attention to traditional theatrical modes of narrative address possesses an inherently alien quality which is eminently fascinating.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Oblong Box (1969)


Edgar Allan Poe's The Oblong Box

This troubled production from American International Pictures initially began life as the next project for young British filmmaker Michael Reeves. He had clearly impressed his backers with the strength of his third film Witchfinder General (1968). The death of Reeves during the pre-production of The Oblong Box was a major blow, not only to the film, but to British filmmaking in general. With the death of Reeves any ambition the film might have had began to dwindle and this was signposted by the arrival of the undistinguished Gordon Hessler as his directorial replacement. Hessler was a capable director, but one who rarely achieved any kind of inspiration - and this derivative and clichéd piece of gothic horror was badly in need of inspiration.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Alligator (1980)

Country: USA

By accident rather than design I seem to be watching quite a few ‘Revolt of Nature’ horror films of late, and this production from 1980 is easily one of the most enjoyable. The 1970’s was without doubt the pinnacle of this durable subgenre thanks in part to the commercial success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), but also to a wider social consciousness about the ecological and environmental impact of industrial capitalist endeavour. These worries fed into a general culture beset by paranoia and the film industry was swift in capitalising on this trend. A number of animals and insects stepped up to the plate to challenge human supremacy - from bears in Grizzly (1976) and Prophecy (1979) to worms in Squirm (1976) to wasps in The Swarm (1978) and bees in…wait for it - The Bees (1978) mankind was not safe from a natural world hell bent on avenging a variety of abuses and claiming dominion of the earth. By the end of the decade the commercial steam was slowly running out of this subgenre due in no small part to the cheap rip offs produced in Italy that masqueraded as American productions. Alligator appeared at a time of diminishing returns but still possesses an energy and wit which is refreshing to this day.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Season of the Witch (1972)

Country: USA

Jack's Wife
Hungry Wives

In the wake of Night of the Living Dead (1968) George A. Romero found his career as a filmmaker stalling. It would be three years before his second film - the bland and indifferent drama There’s Always Vanilla (1971) saw the light of day. This has rightfully become a forgotten obscurity and the same fate befell his third film Season of the Witch (1972). It seems Romero was intent at this point in his career in distancing himself from the horror genre in an attempt to maker serious films with a ‘message’ for an artier audience. Unfortunately the results are boring and tedious. Although he uses the generic device of witchcraft for his third film one shouldn’t be fooled into thinking this is a horror film. It is in fact a very tepid domestic drama that lacks the vitality and energy of his landmark debut film. It does improve on Night of the Living Dead in one key area though - this is a far more professional production. The editing is intriguing and interesting and the sound design is less clunky. The acting is also far superior, but these aspects add mere decoration to a slow moving and rather preachy stab on Romero’s part to make some kind of half assed feminist statement.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Another Award for The Celluloid Highway

My esteemed blogging colleague Venoms5 over at Cool Ass Cinema (easily one of the best film blogs around) generously bestowed this award upon The Celluloid Highway So I only thought it is right and proper to thank him and continue the charitable impulse by passing it on to those blogs who I am currently enjoying and admiring. The rules for claiming this award are simple; one must list ten things they enjoy and list ten deserving blogs.

10 things that bring me joy

01 Ice cream (especially raspberry ripple)

02 Flood, famine, pestilence...and plague (thats four things, but they are all kinda inter-related)

03 Klaus Kinski (very similar to the above actually, if you believe Werner Herzog)

04 The continual failure of the England football team

05  A really creepy and well written horror/ghost story in winter time.

06 Beer or cider or lager or whiskey or rum or vodka or......

07 The films of Rutger Hauer (even 'Bone Daddy' and 'Blast!')

08 Nuns

09 A nice restaurant, with an excellent menu, moody and romantic lighting...and then the mother of all arguments.

10 Those who follow my blog  - such charming, intelligent and discerning people.

10 Deserving Blogs

Breakfast in the Ruins
Cult Movie Reviews
Quiet Cool
The Agitation of the Mind
The Death Rattle
The Film Connoisseur
The Spooky Vegan
Too Much Horror Fiction
Totally Jinxed

Thanks to all those who take the time to read my reviews - it is most appreciated :-)

© Shaun Anderson - 2010

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Night Flier (1997)

Country: USA/ITALY

Stephen King's The Night Flier

The short story The Night Flier by Stephen King first saw the light of day in the 1988 horror anthology Prime Evil: Stories by the Modern Masters of Horror which was edited by Douglas E. Winter. King later chose to include the tale in his patchy 1993 collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It remains one of King’s pulpiest and most self aware stories, full of the usual post-modern intertextual tricks one has become accustomed too in his work. However it does cleverly combine vampirism and sensationalist journalism and offers an implication that the two are closely linked. Generally speaking King’s short stories do not make for good movies. The shorter form is more usefully suited to the anthology television series format - but as this type of programming has pretty much died a death in the last twenty years we have to endure heavily padded movies. The Night Flier is no exception and does drag and meander along, but fortunately it never does so aimlessly. There are scenes of repetition (the journalist Richard Dees in unconvincing flight for example) and there one or two notable scenes that do not further the narrative at all (Dees encountering a car accident and ghoulishly moving the corpses in order to get a better photograph). This scene is particularly superfluous because by this point the film has rammed it down our throats that Dees is a rotten bastard.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Car (1977)

Country: USA


In the 1970’s the flip side to the primal ‘revolt of nature’ film heralded in by the blockbuster success of Jaws (1975) was a series of films that sought to interrogate questions of technology and the machines created by capitalist and industrial endeavour. Although these ‘revolt of technology’ films functioned within the parameters of the horror and science-fiction genres they also owed a great deal to the paranoid thrillers that arose in the wake of the Watergate scandal. In this respect they can be seen as the fantastical flip side to such thrillers as The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976). In those films and many others of that form an emphasis was placed on a shadowy and terrifying superpower manipulating events in order to maintain the status quo and whilst films of the ‘revolt of technology’ form reduced the emphasis on these qualities there was still the sense that they possessed a subtext which depicted the government and the scientific institutions in an unsavoury light. The automobile is so central to conceptions of the American dream that it only seems natural in an uncertain 1970’s that saw fundamental challenges to freedom and democracy that it too would become a device of subversion and fear. The screenplay of The Car by Michael Butler and Dennis Shyrack opts to relieve itself of much of the baggage of paranoid thrillers in favour of the supernatural, but the symbolic resonance of an automobile as a weapon of death feeds strongly into the fears of the day. Despite this The Car was a commercial (somewhat surprising) and critical (no surprise at all) failure. The spectacle this film offered simply paled in a year that saw Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo begin their adventures in a war torn galaxy far far away!

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