there are all kinds of reasons to celebrate here at vitagraph today. this entry marks my 100th post and october is here, the best time of year, as it contains both my birthday and halloween. so, in honor of this miniature milestone and these seasonal delights, i thought i would take the opportunity to launch a project that i hope a number of you folks take part in - twice the thrills! twice the chills!
the concept is pretty basic - you have one theater for one halloween night. what double feature do you program and why? two films and your motivations for selecting them, otherwise no limits. i leave it to your unfettered imaginations.
the first thing you'll notice when you get down to making your decision - this is hard. there are so many choices. do i go with a theme? do i choose what i would like to see on the big screen, audience be damned? how about interactive elements a la the rocky horror picture show (1975) or the midnight spook shows of yore? slow zombies or fast zombies? there's a lot to consider and a lot of winnowing to be done. time to start making some cuts!
my selections for this experiment, much like the blog (right down to the title), are a reflection of my personality as a film fan. at heart, i am a classics guy. i like things that stand up over decades. initially, i thought these picks were a little on the safe side, but, in retrospect, they are just honestly what i love and would like to share with an audience. most of you have probably seen them, but i think that fits in with my general approach as well. i like to encourage re-examination and i enjoy finding the surprising relevance in things once we blow the dust off them. plus, there is a different dynamic that takes place with an audience that is re-watching a film together. there is a camaraderie. there is a bonhomie. there are other french words. you can relax, enjoy the familiarity of a thing together, share the anticipation of the scare that's just around the corner. it also frees you to look for the more subtle surprises you may have missed the first time around. with that in mind, let's dim the lights...
my first selection for the evening is karl freund's the mummy (1932).
i couldn't very well do without the universal monster pantheon and the mummy is, without a doubt, my favorite of the lot. it is the most romantic horror film i have ever seen. the horror lies not so much in the supernatural elements, but in the agony of a forbidden love suspended through centuries of decay and torment. karloff "crossed oceans of time" to find his girl a full sixty years before gary oldman, only to have the opportunity he waited so long for crumble to dust, with his bones following suit soon thereafter. it's a beautiful film and i would show it, first and foremost, because no one has done it better in the ensuing seventy-odd years. the new series with brendan fraser is just CG idiocy, in my opinion. they are cinematic cotton candy, completely devoid of anything that makes the original resonate to this day. it's a shame they are even loosely associated via the title. hammer films produced a version of the film in 1959 that i like a great deal. it delivers shocks with a more violent monster than the 1932 version and does so all in lurid technicolor but it still lacks the gravity of the universal version. i think the center of that gravity, the key to the original's endurance, is boris karloff.
karloff's quiet dignity and implied strength is the other reason why we should watch this film again. sorry bela, but boris was it, the real deal, the king. no one else in the genre could make me believe so steadfastly that their character was capable of the grim tenacity that it took to cheat death. no one else could make me believe they could harbor the nearly-unendurable ache that could propel them through centuries. and no one else could so effectively make me pity and sympathize with what i should have instead feared. his expressive eyes, his measured gestures, not a single wasted movement - it's my favorite performance from one of the true masters of horror cinema.
the criticism i hear leveled at these universal films by contemporary audiences most often is that "they're not scary". my senses may be a bit blunted from the consumption of a lifetime of these films, but all i can think in response is "how many movies really are?". i don't watch any film expecting to be scared. i wish i was, and i'll keep chasing it because it's such a great feeling, but it seldom happens. i watch them as more of a barometer of what we, as a culture, are afraid of. in the case of the mummy, king tutankhamun's tomb had only been discovered a few years prior and accounts of a "curse" associated with it were reported in the ensuing years by sources as reputable as the new york times. the anxieties of a culture frequently turn up, sometimes exaggerated, sometimes frighteningly not, in the horrific and fantastic art of the time. it's no coincidence that the villages that spawned the universal horrors of the thirties and forties were vaguely german, with world war two looming. most of the mutations and paranoia of atomic age horror aren't exactly subtle. and the second feature of my dream double bill is perhaps the seventies' most shining example of just what we were all afraid of then...
ladies and gentlemen, the texas chain saw massacre (1974).
wonder what's about to happen there?
there are a lot of reasons for me to show this one. top of the list - it's scary as all hell. close second - there is no one i would rather see taking a saw in the belly than that whiny bastard, franklin. go cry in hell, franklin!
yes, i know he's a paraplegic. i stand by my declaration.
seriously, the real reason why this makes the cut is because this thing is a watershed film - all hideous zeitgeist and pitch black humor piled on top of jangling nerve endings. not to mention, you have the introduction of the first iconic mask in seventies horror. the unprecedented televisual access to the meat grinder of vietnam changed horror forever in america. we exchanged "us against them" for "us against us". it might as well be the eisenhower era that's about to be put on that hook in the picture above. couple this with gas shortages/manson family/watergate/a million other things and you have an environment that is ripe for this hysterical, in connotation and denotation, skewering of the american family. the incongruous comedic elements and jarring sound design serve to keep you off balance and make the brutality even more distressing. by the time we get to the family dinner sequence that comprises the bulk of the finale and marilyn burns essentially screams for twenty straight minutes, we know how she feels. laughing, crying, howling - all of it, one unending scream. this may be my austin-based bias talking, but i think it's nearly perfectly terrifying. it's cacophonous. it's exhausting. it's one of a handful of films that leaves me feeling wrung out and i think that alone is reason enough to show it. it safely allows you to experience hell. you have survived, but what is left of you?
well, there it is. hope you enjoyed the show. i'm not the type to do that "tag five people, blah, blah, blah" thing but i sure would appreciate seeing what the rest of you would choose. if you have a blog and you feel like participating, please feel free to do so. and please send a link so i can post an update and point people to you. if you have friends that would be interested, please let them know, by all means. or, if you don't blog and just want to participate via the comments section here, jump right in. the more, the scarier. thanks.