Monthly Archives: October 2008

More Halloween Quickies

The Little Girl who Lives Down the Lane ~ This is one of my favorite movie-of-the-week-style suspense thrillers from the 1970s. Very straightforward, only a few characters to worry about – heck it could be a stage play easily, and most importantly, it’s scary without being bloody or gory. Are you paying attention, Eli Roth? These things do not go hand in hand. Now I may have gone a bit hard on Jodie Foster earlier this month, but I really do like her. She is a talent powerhouse and here she shows just how good she was even at a young age. Also showing his superior acting chops is Martin Sheen, always a favorite of mine (pre-“West Wing” at least). He is the epitome of the creepy pedophile in this flick. Excellent fodder for a popcorn-filled Halloween Friday night.

The Batman Vs. Dracula ~ I was kinda put off by “The Batman” animated series when it began with its manga design, obsession with the telling of the early stories and its changes for the sake of change. This made-for-DVD movie pitting this new animated version of Batman against the real prince of darkness turned my head and got my attention. In my opinion, this movie was also the turning point for the TV series as well. Dracula is a real vital threat outside the safe constraints of ‘children’s programming’ and the creators take full advantage of it. This is a rare Halloween treat for genre and non-genre fans alike.

Invisible Enemies ~ This is what I get for stopping on one of the Christian broadcasting stations in the middle of the night. Actually this mini-movie with a lesson is pretty good. Like a “Twilight Zone” episode crossed with They Live with heavy evangelistic overtones poured on top, this is the tale of a young man who finds a pair of magical glasses that allow him to see demons in our world. As good as it could be to teach a lesson, and still hold your attention.

Kongo ~ This entry from 1932 is a talkie remake of the classic Tod Browning flick West of Zanzibar. It’s okay but it lacks the power of the original. Walter Huston is good, but he’s no Lon Chaney. But then again, no one is, and few approach him.


The Films of Harry Houdini

What better time to talk about master magician Harry Houdini than Halloween? It’s actually eighty-two years ago to the day when he died.

Many folks know of Houdini’s career as a magician, illusionist, escape artist and debunker of spiritualists, but did you know he was also a movie star? Yep, in the 1920s, Houdini embarked upon a career as a silent action star.

While he had appeared in some of the earliest films ever made in France performing parts of his act, his first real foray into Hollywood was the 15-part movie serial The Master Mystery in 1919. The cliffhanger format of the serial suited Houdini’s skills to perfection as each episode ended with his character, the appropriately named secret agent Quentin Locke, in predicament after predicament that needed a ‘magical’ escape from.

Other films followed, including The Grim Game, notorious for its real life collision of two bi-planes 4000 feet in the air, and The Man from Beyond, about a man revived after a hundred years of being frozen in the Arctic. There was also Terror Island and Haldane of the Secret Service.

While none of these four were movie serials, they were rife with the cliffhanger formula allowing Houdini to do his thing. But that was part of the problem. On the screen audiences could not be sure whether the stunts were real or just Hollywood trickery. And the fact that Houdini was not the best dramatic actor around certainly didn’t help the situation. So while the films were quite successful, these factors helped him decide, along with the fact he could make more money live on stage, that Hollywood was not for him.

These films, being made back in the 1920s, in an ever-growing age where more and more movies are considered lost, are not intact for us to see, but what remains has been restored and put into a DVD collection called Houdini – The Movie Star.

As complete as possible, restored here are Haldane, Terror Island and Master Mystery. Also included are intensive notes, clips and information about the other films as well as much about Houdini’s life in Hollywood. You can see footage of the bi-planes from Grim Game, as well as actual escapes from his act. This is an excellent collection for any fans of Houdini or film in general. Recommended.

Who Is the Phantom Stranger?

Another darn fine blog from Rob Kelly, this one about The Phantom Stranger, is coming your way on October 31st. Check it out here.

Halloween Quickies

Premonition ~ When I heard the plot to this one, I thought that surely Sandra Bollock must have lost her mind – another freaky anti-logical time travel story? With the bad headache of The Lake House fresh in my mind I tentatively watched this one, and was pleasantly surprised. While traveling backwards and forwards in time, a young housewife and mother attempts to right her life which has become a tragedy. This is a smart thriller and worth seeing.

Mystery of the Wax Museum ~ Fay Wray is just a delight as fast-talking spunky reporter Charlotte Duncan in this two-strip Technicolor horror classic from 1933. Lots of fun and spookier than any of its rip-offs and remakes. This is the real deal.

Angel Heart ~ This flick made quite a bit of press when it came out because of the nude scenes featuring Lisa Bonet, at the time a co-star of the top ten “The Cosby Show.” If memory serves, it lost her the gig. Beyond that, we have Mickey Rourke, back when he could act and wasn’t quite so sleazy – pre-Barfly in other words, along with a phoned-in performance from Robert DeNiro in a film written and directed by Alan Parker. The trick to enjoying this movie is to not pay too much attention. If you do pay attention, it becomes predictable and very transparent, and it’s a long way to the end. Worth seeing once, but that’s about it.

The Happening ~ I’m a huge M. Night Shyamalan fan, but this 2008 film is nothing but a disappointment. I still think he’s one of the best writer/directors working in the business, just he maybe got lazy or perhaps was knocked in the head or something. The Happening, while showing off M. Night’s direction and cinematic skills, is nothing but a derivative rip-off/homage of Hitchcock’s The Birds only with plants enraged at man rather than our feather friends. The similarities are shockingly unoriginal and I have to admit I’ve lost more than a bit of respect for M. Night. He’s better than this, or at least I thought he was.

Near Dark ~ A very young Adrian Pasdar, Nathan Petrelli from “Heroes,” is the naïve lead in this 1987 vampire flick written and directed by Kathryn Bigelow – the woman behind Blue Steel, a film solidly in my bottom ten. Near Dark must have been quite innovative when it came out, but now it feels dated, and yes, a bit cliché.

Superman Vs. Raiden??

Above are preview scenes from the new Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe video game due out in November, available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

I’m always intrigued by crossovers of any sort, but shouldn’t they at least follow some sort of logic? Shouldn’t Superman, Green Lantern and Captain Marvel be able to take any (or all) of those MK guys? And heaven forbid, superheroes should not have ‘kill moves.’

Yeah, it might look cool, but count me out on this one.

Boo Who

For real this time, not a Sun rumour, David Tennant is leaving his role as The Doctor.

Tennant, the second Doctor of BBC’s new “Doctor Who” series, brought the intensity and reality for folks new to the TARDIS while bringing the quirky fun and eccentricity that made the original version so cool for classic fans.

We’ll still have him in the role for four movie-length specials throughout the year as well as in the annual Christmas special at the close of 2009, titled “The Next Doctor.” Three guesses what that one will be about, and the first two don’t count.

We’ll miss you, David.

Flesh Fries

High School Musical 3

Coming Very Soon

2006’s Casino Royale was a fantastic action flick, and a serious return and restart for the James Bond franchise. If I had one nitpick about it, it would be that it was missing the wit and wry sense of humor the Bond films had developed over the years. While it’s true it wasn’t something that was a major part of Ian Fleming’s books, it was sorely missing in that film. I’m guessing that it will definitely be gone in this second installment, Quantum of Solace, a Fleming story in name only, with James out for revenge. So very unBond-like.

Too Much Free Time?

Really, Bill? Come on, man, George’s wedding was more than a few months ago. Why are you still fuming? Priceline and “Boston Legal” not keeping you busy enough?