Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dark Shadows the Original Series (1966-1971)


[Knock, knock,knock]
Maid: [answering door] Yes?
Man in top hat: I'd like to see Mrs. Stoddard,if you'd be so kind.
Maid: Mrs. Stoddard?
Man in top hat: This is Collinwood, isn't it?
Maid: Yes.
Man in top hat: And the mistress here is Mrs. Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard, is she not?
Maid: Yes.
Man in top hat: Then perhaps you'd do me the courtesy to inform Mrs. Stoddard that her cousin is calling and wishes to pay his respects.
Maid: Her cousin?
Man in top hat: Yes. Her cousin from England.
Maid: From England? [clutches chest] Oh! Um, please come in.

And so was the entrance of one of the most interesting modern vampires, Barnabas Collins (played by the dark and regal Jonathan Frid). The word modern being relative. There have been a slew of shows with a vampire theme in recent years. But I don’t think many are as interesting as the original “vampire with a conscience”.

Dark Shadows was a soap opera that ran on ABC from 1966-1971. It's audience was housewives and eventually, as the series gained steam, school aged children. Those kids included Johnny Depp and Tim Burton.  Eventually Depp and Burton created a mediocre movie adaption. The gen-x goths really couldn't bottle the magic of the original series.

My experience with Dark Shadows began in the mid 90s  while watching reruns on the Sci-fi channel. I didn't watch them in order and I mainly put it on as background noise, while studying for my undergraduate degree. Rubber bats hung in the air with visible fishing wire; camera guys were walking into the shots. The show was painfully low- budget and taped live. The DVDs note where the only available footage is damaged. The series didn't expect more than a one time run.  Dan Curtis, the creator, had no idea that the show would have a life of its own many years later.

If you have never seen the show, I recommend starting at story arc episode # 209 where cousin Barnabas (the recently departed Jonathan Frid) comes knocking.

He bites the wrist of groundskeeper Willie Loomis (a young John Karlen Daughters of Darkness) in order to gain vitality.  It was deemed less "gay" than a man to man neck bite (which wouldn’t pass by censors at the time).

Sci-fi enthusiasts will enjoy the story lines involving parallel time. It's pure camp when Barnabas goes back in time to rescue a family member (in 1969) by invoking the "I-Ching".

The show includes some great actors. Joan Bennett, who was the most famous actor in the series, was a film actress dating back to the silent film era. She plays the role of matriarch of this crazy family with a straight face. She is always pouring some kind of drink. And with the things that are going on in the house, she needs it.  Bennett must have had a heart for horror films, as her final role was Madame Blanc in Suspiria. Actress Grayson Hall, who plays Dr. Julia Hoffman, is great fun as the psychiatrist, who sympathizes with Barnabas and helps him by medically treating his vampirism.

The character Angelique (played by Lara Parker, also in the film Race with the Devil) is a witch from French Barbados who will not leave Barnabas alone. She is one nightmare of a one-night-stand. I love Parker's evil stare. Her acting is all in her eyes. They really creep you out!  Revenge is sought after Angelique is humped and dumped in the 1700s, while Barnabas is vacationing. He wasn't aware that she is a voodoo practicing witch on the island. She follows Barnabas in his time travels, always taunting and destroying lives of the ones he loves. The dynamic is the most interesting element of the show. You know when she gets out her voodoo doll, someone is gonna catch some serious shit. Each time Angelique is killed or cast back to Hell, she reincarnates and takes possession of another body; usually entailing Parker sporting a different colored wig. It's hilarious and intriguing at the same time. I’ve always been a sucker for doppelganger stories.

As you progress in the series, it goes from black and white to color. It's so neat to see the opening credits read: Dark Shadows, in color! You imagine what an event it must have been to see blood in color on a television screen!

There are a few great comic book series that have been made, based on the show.  Dynamite Entertainment currently has a series out that takes a darker view of Barnabas than daytime TV would allow. I prefer it to the Tim Burton remake.

Netflix, at this time, has one set of the show, starting with the arrival of cousin Barnabas (episode #209) viewable through streaming. The entire series is available on DVD.

When I see modern vampire tales today (think Twilight, True Blood, the list goes on) I think about what the cast and crew of Dark Shadows were able to do with so little, in regard to special effects , to make a compelling story. According to the actors, in interview, there were no retakes. Rubber bats, fumbled lines, and plastic vampire teeth add to this kooky marvel of a show!

Vampire Josette
Victoria Winters and the cast of crazy kooks!


Maggie Evans's vampire induced reality blur becomes Josette Du Pres

Dynamite Comic's dark adaption of the series

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

MOVIE THEMES AND GIMMICKS/THE BROODING TEENAGER IN THE BACKSEAT

I don't wanna live in the creepy old house 
in the woods with the Boggles and Ogres!
I love to look for recurring themes, motifs or plain old fashioned gimmicks in any sort of movie genre. Horror movies are so full of these type of recurring characters and situations that the theme themselves often become mere parodies in movies anymore. An example might be the jumping, squealing cat (usually that appears to be in a state of being tossed by a stagehand) or the closing of the medicine cabinet and revealing, or not revealing though creating the anticipation, of someone in the background being reflected back in the mirror. Maybe it will be the killer or the gal's boyfriend, or nothing at all. Who knows. What we do know that is almost every other horror movie being made these days employs some sort of trick like this to either jolt the audience with a cheap shot or to make the filmmakers appear clever. In this little series I will explore some of these little themes and characters I have come to notice over and over  as they are  repeated ad nauseam in horror and thriller type films. Is it always a bad thing? No, not really. In fact I would go so far as to say these little tricks are necessary to move the story along, and to veer too far from the formula can make a movie unwatchable. That is why pop songs are popular. They follow a formula that usually works. Music that tries totally different ways to structure a song may be better in some higher artistic sense, but no body for the most part listens to that stuff. Except weirdos like myself maybe. But that is why when people talk of pop music you will hear them talk abut The Beatles and Elton John more than King Crimson or Steve Vai. And so, after that vague analogy,  onto the film aspect of this post.

I don't wanna live in the house in the country 
with the spooky people in the basement!

In this first post I will talk about a character we have all come to recognize -though hopefully not identify with- in  modern horror films, and that is the brooding, bitter teen in the backseat of the car. This character is usually introduced at the very beginning of the film and often has tuned out the rest of the family and world with their MP3 player. They are usually pissed off about something like the fact they have to leave the big city and relocate to the country, thereby leaving their friends and familiar surroundings, like cool pizza parlors, music stores and coffee shops. The reasons for this are usually something like the parents have gotten divorced and -typically- the mother has to find a new job and live in a decrepit old mansion that is located next to a cemetery, funeral parlor or crop circle.  No wonder the teenager is pissed off. I would be too. The teen is often dealing with issues, like the screen capture I gave from the film The Spiderwick Chronicles, where the boy Jared Grace (Freddie Highmore) is coping with the split up of his parents and subsequent relocation to a dark old mansion in the woods.

I guess I can live in the house in 
the country with the psycho.
The theme is all the over the place these days but I only have this film on my hard-drive to make a screen capture of a teen actually in the state of brooding in the backseat. It is a really good movie I think and I am not meaning to pick on it. More I am just saying that this character is as common in modern horror movies as the young gun in an old western who wants to make a reputation for himself and so challenges a character played by John Wayne or Gregory Peck to a gunfight. Again not to say that that character can't be developed more, as is Jared in Spiderwick. But more often they can get a bit stuck in the mud early on and stay there, sinking, as did the Kristen Stewart character in Messengers, who is also begrudgingly leaving the city for the a new life in the sticks. This time there is no divorce and the whole family is trying to start over  and their last make-or-break chance in life seems to be by becoming sunflower seed farmers. Again, who wouldn't sit in the backseat and brood over this. The way Stewart's character is introduced is similar to the girl in the slasher film Bereavement, who is (as I recall) suddenly orphaned and has to leave the big city to go live with uncle Micheal Biehn and sort out things in life while local folks are being butchered by a freaky serial killer. Of course all these characters wind up confronting the evil force in the film eventually. In some of these films I mentioned they conquer evil and in at least one other evil defeats them in the "surprise twist ending" (another gimmick/motif to be explored later, along with the "written out of the script adults" who pay the room and board for these melancholy teens while they are fighting the forces of hell but who seem to vanish from the storyline suddenly).

There is no way I could list all the movies that come to mind and that I have forgotten about with this character. Or maybe more with how this character is introduced into the story. It is a plot gimmick and not really a bad one but a little worn. If readers can think of some more such characters I will compile a little list and share it. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Taliesin Meets: Jesus of Montreal

It struck me that having looked at the entire Omen pentology I really needed to flip the coin of Christian mythology (and before anyone comments, to me it is mythology, my opinion, live with it). Also I am all too aware that everything I have looked at here at the Cult Cinema Club is horror and I do watch more than horror films.

Jesus of Montreal was a 1989 film directed by Denys Arcand and is, without a doubt, one of my favourite films. However, before I look at the film itself I wish to moan about the DVD, Arrow films are normally marvellous and they have released a special edition of this now (which might prove superior), but this was their first effort.

The box says it is a 16:9 anamorphic print, but actually it is 4:3 full screen. The print is a straight video lift with no enhancement for digital media and thus looks muddy and the English subtitles (the film is primarily French language) are hardcoded and difficult to read at times. Poor, poor, poor… but even so it cannot truly distract from the genius of the film.

Lothaire Bluteau as Daniel
The film begins with the final scenes of a play, which ends with a suicide and rapturous applause. An advertising executive in the crowd suggests she wants the lead actor’s head… for her new campaign. The actor is surrounded backstage by sycophantic critics but excuses himself when he sees an old friend, Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau), whom he describes as a real actor. He and Daniel embrace and he asks Daniel what his next role is… Jesus is the reply. The actor, of course, is the equivalent of John the Baptist.

Johanne-Marie Tremblay as Constance
Daniel meets Fr. Leclerc (Gilles Pelletier). Leclerc is in charge of the Passion Play in the Montreal basilica but knows that the script (in place for 35 years) has become stale. He wants Daniel to modernise it and direct the new Passion Play. Daniel watches a video of the old script being performed and recognises Constance (Johanne-Marie Tremblay). He finds her working in a soup kitchen and later discovers that Leclerc is sleeping with her. The other members of the new troupe are Martin (Rémy Girard) who does porn voice over, Mireille (Catherine Wilkening) who is an advert model known for a fine ass and René (Robert Lepage) a more conventional voice over actor who only joins if they can squeeze in the Hamlet soliloquy for him.

walk on water
The play they develop is controversial, to say the least. It points out that there is little to no contemporary evidence for Christ, that the gospels were written 100 years after his death, that there is a chance that he was the bastard son of a Roman soldier and Mary was an unmarried mother. Yet throughout all this they maintain the essence of Christianity at the core of the play. This is, of course, of no consequence to the Catholic hierarchy – whose representatives are berated by Daniel via a biblical reference during the second performance. This underlines the true satire of the film, whilst many might see it is anti-Christian, due to the ‘heretical’ concepts it espouses, actually it is anti-establishment but pro-message.

stabbed with the spear
The play itself is marvellous, you would pay to go and see it if performed as portrayed on screen. However the role and the actor begin to merge. There is a scene that is Christ and the moneylenders in the temple but is actually ad-men in a theatre. There is another scene that sees Satan (this time a lawyer) offering Christ (Daniel of course) Montreal. The film, like the Passion Play itself, is a tragedy but in his own way Daniel does bring sight to the blind, life to the dead and it is the established religious orders that condemn him.

This is a fine, fine film and one that I cannot recommend highly enough – I am going to link below to the Koch Lorber Films version in the hope that it is a better print. The imdb page is here.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Taliesin Meets: The Omen (2006)

Remakes… I am torn over the concept generally as there are good and bad examples. I may be alone but I prefer the US remake Let Me In over the original (and still damn fine) Let the Right One In. For every remake that is worthwhile (Dawn of the Dead is brilliant both as the original and the remake, for very different reasons, for instance) there is a rubbish one – I’ve been trying to expel the memory of the Haunting remake since I saw it and the least said about the Wicker Man the better.

There are also remakes that are fairly pointless and I have to say that this John Moore directed remake of the Omen is just that. Why? Because there is nothing about it that improves over the original and the original still stands the test of time.

There is a modernisation – clearly it was set in contemporary times. We get involvement of the Vatican that was conspicuously missing from the first film. In this case the Vatican discuss the impending birth of the antichrist – known because they are aware of the prophecies and have spotted a comet in the night skies – but actually do bugger all to prevent the antichrist’s coming so their presence at prologue and epilogue is pointless.

newborn
There are slight changes to the story, Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) is a diplomat, rather than Ambassador, in Rome and godson of the President. Again Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is swapped for his dead baby without his wife Kathy (Julia Stiles) knowing. He is named deputy ambassador to England and gets the full Ambassadorial role due to a bizarre (and infernally manufactured) accident that kills the Ambassador (Marshall Cupp) and leaves thorn the US’s youngest ever Ambassador. But it is window dressing to explain why such a young man becomes ambassador.

aesthetic change
The changes thus are minor; when the Nanny (Amy Huck) kills herself the hell hound is a black German Shepherd rather than a Rottweiler but then the motif is switched back to Rottweilers for the rest of the film, she hangs herself but doesn’t smash through a window and it is Robert not Kathy who clutches Damien. It is all aesthetic changes.

impaled
Similarly the impalement of Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite) sees the rains already pouring when he meets Thorn, it is a railing not a lightning conductor that falls and impales him, and said railing passes through a strangely positioned piece of stained glass that then peppers the corpse. Window dressing once again and no more effective for it. Indeed the scene is slightly weaker than the original. A zoo scene replaced the safari park but the gorilla cracking glass was not as powerful an image as the baboons attacking the car in the original.

suicide fantasy
There is the addition of bad dreams haunting the protagonists. Kathy dreams of killing herself and a demonic presence. There are also presences that seem to flit pass Brennan, indicating a demonic presence. This ignores the “less is more” concept that made the first film so powerful. Part of the problem was the acting. I am not suggesting that either Liev Schreiber or Julia Stiles performances were necessarily bad but they lacked the obvious chemistry that underpinned the characters when portrayed by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick.

just not as creepy
The ending itself made a little more sense as police put there to guard people such as Thorn would be armed, however that would only account for the police at his gate that follow him. The armed police who actually kill Thorn would not have had chance to be scrambled in the timeframe suggested by the ending.

All in all, however, this is not a bad film. It is just pretty darn pointless. If you want the Omen then I think you’re better off watching the original. The imdb page is here.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Taliesin Meets: Omen IV: The Awakening

Okay… so I’ve seen it now and will never be able to scrub the memory of this facile piece of junk from my mind. The fourth Omen film was a TV movie (that managed to get a theatrical release in the UK and Australia, somehow) made in 1991. It tied itself into the other films with the name Damien Thorn but it also missed a lot out. It was directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard who walked out during production to be replaced by Jorge Montesi.

Now I had heard a lot about this being about the return of the antichrist (Damien having been killed at the end of the third film) in the form of a girl – named Delia (Asia Vieira) – in actual fact this is most definitely not the case. Delia is not the antichrist… what she is, is… well that would be a huge spoiler and I do intend to spoil it, but not just yet. After all, if you haven’t seen it and I do spoil it, I may save you the pain of watching it.

adoption
So we start with the adoption of a baby by the Yorks, Karen (Faye Grant) and Gene (Michael Woods). She is a successful attorney (he may be as well but he is about to turn to politics) and whilst they are both fertile they haven’t been able to have kids. The nuns at the orphanage tell them that the baby’s parents were at college together (this of course is a lie that we will unravel later). Once the new parents have left the younger nun (Megan Leitch) goes bonkers, whilst the older one has a heart attack. During this we discover that the older one thought it more of a sin to kill a child, despite knowing whence it came from.

Kirlian photography
So we get the growing up of Delia, her father becoming an honest politician (really, he is painted whiter than white all the way through) and Karen becoming more and more distrustful of the child. During this we see them adopt a Rottweiler after it save Delia from being squished by a truck, her behaviour in school becomes more and more errant and the priest who baptised her manages to be killed by satanic powers. They get a new age nanny who sees her healing crystals turn black and a kirlian photo shows Delia to have a murky mess of an aura.

infernal choir
Eventually, when Delia reaches the age of eight, a suddenly pregnant Karen hires a private eye (Michael Lerner) to uncover the truth about her daughter… this he does, discovering that the listed parents were just names of two people who died in the thirties, that sister Yvonne (the younger nun) turned prostitute and then snake handling prophetess and he gets the father’s name (if he got the mothers then it wasn’t mentioned in film). Following posting his findings he sees a nativity scene turn evil, a Christmas choir become a demonic choir singing the omen theme (which was seriously one of the worst bits of the movie) and is killed by a possessed wrecking ball.

Delia... not the antichrist
So, who were Delia’s parents and is she the antichrist? We discover her father was Damien Thorn… we will ignore the roughly 9 year gap (there is nothing in this that offers a date and so, at a push, it might be 1983 rather than 1991). There is some conjecture online that Kate Reynolds was the mother but no reason to suppose this other than the fact that Reynolds and Thorn slept together in The Final Conflict. Delia, however, is not the antichrist. She does talk about being told things by her father (whether she referred to the devil or the antichrist is not established) but the antichrist is mostly referred to (in film) in the masculine. The question is asked once as to whether the antichrist could be female.

666
We discover also that Delia carried her twin in her body in such a way that the foetus was viable. During the film there is a horse accident and she is hospitalised. The satanic doctor (Madison Mason) admits that he extracted the foetus at this point and subsequently implanted it into Karen (how this occurred with no physical trace on her body is not gone into and we must suppose that her body accepting the foetus was supernaturally aided). The son, Alexander, is the antichrist – indeed when Delia suggests to Karen that she really see him there is the 666 birthmark in his palm.

dead nanny
Piffle… absolute piffle. Beyond in film issues and the dating problems perhaps inherent in the film, there is also the fact that the film overlooks the fact that there had been the second coming of Christ in the third film – something the world would have noticed, one feels. The acting is about what you’d expect from a TV movie, the character Delia is drawn as sociopathic and nasty – rather than charming and insinuating as one would expect. It is just a bad old way to end the series.

If I was you I’d pretend it never happened. I, however, will now turn my attention to the 2006 remake of the first film but, in the meantime, The Awakening’s imdb page is here.