The Professor’s Fall Journal: October Week One

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The Professor’s Fall Journal, October 1st:  The season of the witch is upon us. Silver Shamrock time.  Now that I have your attention with the horrors of that earworm, it’s time to begin recording my journey through the season. Today I started at the beginning, with who else? George Melies, the famous French silent film pioneer memorialized in Hugo, among other places.  Le Cauchemar/A Nightmare (1896) clocked in at less than 2 minutes long but contains at least five if not ten minutes worth of whimsy and numerous camera tricks.  It also arguably sets the stage for many a later dream sequence, with jump cuts standing in for nightmare logic.

While making dinner while waiting for my wife and kids to get home I listened to some Old Time Radio, which always makes me wonder if the ghost of some former listener who was doing similar kitchen chores while listening might not be there with me. First up was Quiet Please: “Not Responsible After 30 Years” which is more of a sci-fi story than a horror story, featuring an American who time travels to post-Fall of Rome Roman Britain during the Great War, and then during the next war is there when his watch is exhumed on the body of a Dark Ages skeleton. I followed this up with Sears Radio Theater: “Going Home”, which features far more horror from the oh-so-sensitive sculptor’s admiration of the lead than it’s very predictable anthology show stand-by plot.  Sears Radio Theater comes complete with Vincent Price bumpers (who doesn’t love a little Price in their Fall?) and 1970s Sears ads, which bring forth existential horror by evoking a working class existence long gone from this world that I barely remember.  As a bonus you get the horror of square marketing execs invoking the Disco fad after it already lost favor with anyone who might conceivably buy jeans from Sears.*

 

October 2nd: Mask of the Red Death (1969):  One of the things I like about making sure there is at least one Poe adaptation in my October is the sheer variety of ways his tales have been adapted.  I’ve heard this story read by Basil Rathbone and adapted by CBS Radio Mystery Theater as an (unpleasantly dated, and not in a good way, if I can trust my memories) near future Sci-Fi tale. Roger Corman directed his famous 1960s version for AIP and then produced his own remake in 1989 with Adrian Paul (?) instead of Vincent Price.  I’ve never seen the 1989 one or even read its cast list, so you’ll excuse me while I imagine it has a slumming Warwick Davis in the “Hop-Frog” adaptation that Corman surely folded into both versions. Growing up, Brother Grimm and Moms Mortis both swore up and down that The Animals’ Black Plague was an adaptation of “Mask of the Red Death”, but I can only assume they meant in spirit because the details are very different.  This year I watched 1969’s animated short adaptation Maska Crvene Smrti (Mask of the Red Death), directed by animators Barnko Ranitovic and Pavao Stalter in what was then Yugoslavia.  It’s a 10 minute adaptation that hits all the major plot points of the short story with limited animation that recalls classic  medieval artworks brought haltingly to life in the manner that Terry Gilliam animated 19th century photographs and drawings for his Monty Python  bumpers.  The result is a moody and occasionally unsettling retelling of the classic tale (which is itself, I was reminded later this October, unsettling).

I listened to a little Old Time Radio-Dark Fantasy, “Rendezvous with Satan” which was no great shakes but didn’t go exactly the way I expected it to, which is a nice change of pace.

October 3rd:  The real horror at this point is that I’ve a list of 46 movies I was theoretically going to try and watch by the 31st and I still had 37 of them to go…and I knew full well many of my movie watching pals weren’t going to join me for silent movies and terrible prints of 1970s TV-movies off of YouTube. The Baroness is another consideration as she’s not much of a horror fan nor does she appreciate silent movies.

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The clear path to take, then, was to inflict the 1970s TV movies on her.  Thus we watched 1978’s Cruise into Terror which seems to take every single then popular paranormal/fringe science thing except UFOs and stuff them in to a murder mystery on a small  ship with just 13 suspects.  There is the Egyptian mummy of the son of Satan/anti-Christ sent (by Cleopatra VIII-no, not the famous one, her daughter by Mark Anthony!?!)  to Mexico around the time of the birth of Christ. The people Cleopatra VIII sends create the Pyramids and culture of the Maya, which thrives until 1000 AD-ish when the son of Satan destroys the Maya.  Naturally there is a curse on opening the tomb, and the ship is nearly lost at sea a la The Bermuda Triangle, there’s possession, seduction by Satan’s agent, and a faith-doubting minister who gets to play exorcist.  In the tradition of disaster movies and The Love Boat (which premiered less than a year before this movie…hmm…) we get a mix of soon to be (TV) stars like Dirk Benedict and Roger Mosely and former big names like Stella Stevens, John Forsythe, Christopher and Lynda Day George, Ray Milland, Hugh O’Brien, and Lee Merriwether.  I can’t exactly recommend it because it is slow and a little boring, but man if I want to anyways.  Why? If you know the tiniest bit about Egyptian and Mayan history and Mayan and Egyptian archaeology the film is often laugh out loud funny in just how ridiculous the scenario it posits is (if you aren’t being too busy being insulted for the Maya, implied to have no culture of their own and “mysteriously disappearing” when the reality was a slow decline).  There’s also a tiny, breathing (!) sarcophagus and a lot of scenery chewing by veteran actors.

No trailer, but this clip shows how the “13 people in an isolated place must figure out who the killer is before it’s too late” set up the movie works:

I also listened to “Murders in the Rue Morgue” on my travels and while you can congratulate Poe for inventing the genius detective, I found this one pretty hard to get through, as it combines a relatively tedious version of the concept with a really weird mystery  solution AND some serious gore…it is a strange concoction.

October 4th: Thursdays are South Shore Movie Guild night.  The South Shore Movie Guild rotates houses monthly in a sort of movable movie feast, but in “SHOCKTOBER” it’s weekly, in part because it all started in October on that schedule, in part because we all love horror movies so much.

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South Shore Movie Guild’s Shocktober Night 1Creep 2 and Another Wolf Cop

This was our Werewolf Night, since the killer in the Creep movies has a terrible werewolf mask and a thing about wolves.  I’ve never given Creep a real shot; the one time I saw it I arrived late and I disliked it enough that I never saw the beginning of the film. I’ve said this elsewhere, but I’m torn between admiring and resenting the audacity of making Mark Duplass’s obnoxious tool the focus of a serial killer thriller.  The films aren’t for me but I do grudgingly respect their commitment to what they are and other people’s enjoyment of them.

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Wolf Cop was an unexpected SSMG favorite, and we’ve been trying to get a copy of this sequel since it was first hitting the festival circuit.  Having finally seen Another Wolf Cop it is mostly more of the same, a rollicking good time in bad taste, but as a full-time Kevin Smith hater I resented his presence in the film (even if he doesn’t sink it).  Definitely worth a watch if you liked Wolf Cop; if you haven’t seen Wolf Cop yet, maybe give it a watch first.

For audio horror I listened to “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Mask of the Red Death”.  So much of Poe’s horror is felt in the later work in the genre in many mediums and it remains fresh and modern feeling in terms of just how much of the horror is really described.

October 5th:  The First Taste of Failure

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It’s Day 5 of October and I experienced my first taste of failure.  Trying to find something that both BVH and I would enjoy, we ended up starting but only watching half of Poirot: Hallowe’en Party.  We’d seen it before but we were tired and it was late. So I’ll count this one for the day we finished it.

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What I did finish was an Old Time Radio episode (does the 1970s count as “Old Time Radio”? Is it more “Neo-Old Time Radio?” “Old-Time Radio Revival?”) CBS Radio Mystery Theater Episode 629:”Sensitive”. “Sensitive” features one of the series many complaining, grouchy skeptic husbands, this time one who goes to his boss’s seance and unexpectedly discovers he can channel the ghost of a Napoleonic soldier.  The soldier takes part of the husband every time he appears-will he figure it out before materializing the ghost kills the husband? (I can’t believe I’m going to indulge in spoiler space for a 41 year old radio show but more at the end under the **)

I also listened to “Bon Voyage” from Lights Out for about half the episode before I gave up.  Look, I don’t know about you, but what I did not need in my life was a combination of Oboler’s “hysterical woman freaks out” plot with his “person who did bad things slowly realizes they’re in hell” ones.  Finally, I finished off the Poe audio-book with “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado”.

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“Hey, Mort, what do you want? I find women losing their shit and people being punished to be the pinnacle of horror, alright! I’ve heard the “radio” show you made in 3rd grade, don’t make me release it!”-Arch Oboler.

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October 6th:  La Maison Ensorcelee aka The House of Ghosts: A 1908 short from relatively unsung early Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomon.  de Chomon worked in France, and made films similar to George Melies without the later critical acclaim and recognition of the pioneering nature of his work.  Having seen just this one film I’m not able to comment, but in this one, at least, there seems to be less of Melies charm and more straightforward slapstick and amusement from film tricks.  It may have been hurt by the fact I saw either it’s predecessor or possibly a film that ripped off Chomon’s similar short made in 1906 that no longer exists.  The American film that’s either ripped off Chomon or was ripped off by him was Stuart Blackton’s 1907 Haunted Hotel, and either way Chomon’s version of the same idea is better, though there is a certain amount of creepy weirdness in Blackton’s that’s less present here.

October 7th Stalwart Dan Night

My movie watching chum who has probably seen more insanely terrible films with me than anyone who is not a blood relation, Stalwart Dan, reached out to me because he had a week off this month and we set up a movie night like back in the old days…and it just happened to be happen on the 7th, the same day that we went to see Foxy Brown at Harvard Film Archive with Pam Grier and Henry Louis Gates speaking afterwards two years ago.  We didn’t quite end up watching an on-point for October horror heavy schedule-instead we got in The Curse, The Shape of Water and Cry Wilderness-sci-fi/horror, prestige period drama/horror, and…uh…a family film about a monster that isn’t horror at all.

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The Curse posits the age-old question:  what if David Keith directed an adaptation of Lovecraft’s classic sci-fi horror short story “The Colour Out of Space” with second unit gore footage by Lucio Fulci and produced by Ovidio G. Assonitis (director of Jaws knock-off and old actor vacation time share pyramid scheme Tentacles and producer of The Visitor)?  What if the person doing the adaptation was David Chaskin, who spun guaranteed box office gold into homoerotic straw with Nightmare on Elm Street 2, and what if he decided to work as much 80s toxic waste fear into it as he could?  What if the cast included Claude “General Aldo” Akins as a overalls wearing, tyrant farmer stepfather to current nerd darling Wil Wheaton between his career defining roles in Stand By Me and Star Trek the Next Generation while one of the Duke Boys (John Schneider) plays against type as a dweeb-y Tennessee Valley Water Authority investigator caught in the middle of the madness?  The result isn’t much good,  pitched somewhere between dysfunctional Italian film industry working in America epic Troll 2 and Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal.  Should you see it?  I’ll just quote Schneider in the opening (which gives the game away immediately) DON’T DRINK THE WATER! IT’S IN THE WATER!

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The Shape of Water disappointed me greatly. Del Toro has had better movies, and while Michael Shannon is appropriately terrifying as the goon and, in the end, we find out that this fairy tale does have a reason for it’s heroine to immediately be attracted to a fish man, I mostly felt this was really just about how much Del Toro loves Creature From the Black Lagoon and wished the bad men would stop hurting it, kind of like how Peter Jackson’s King Kong was more about how much he loved Kong and wished the bad men would stop hurting it. Del Toro’s effort is more credible, has good performances, and has the novelty of a mute woman, a black woman, and a gay man teaming up to save the Creature from the patriarchy and I appreciate that he was able to tell his story in 2 1/2 hours instead of the full week Jackson needed. I didn’t hate or even dislike this totally acceptable Del Toro film; I just felt he’s done way, way better.

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I am so glad I was able to introduce SD to the joys of the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 via what I feel is it’s best episode:  a bat shit crazy sort of Christian family sort of New Age family film about a boy whose friendship with Sasquatch allows him to wear a giant medallion/chain restaurant pager around his neck that warns him that his dad is in risk of being killed by an escaped Tiger and an overzealous big game hunter brought in to get it.  The film is disjointed, full of animal footage padding and “WTF” moments and the new crew of the Satellite of Love roasts it perfectly so we had nearly as a good a time as we did many moons ago with the old crew’s Laserblast.

I also caught Transylvania 6-5000 (no, not the terrible 80s movie, the 60s cartoon) with the kids and had a blast watching MicroMort laugh his butt off over the jokes.

That wraps up our first week!  Due to a lot of factors, my tracking of what I was doing, October-wise, kind of collapsed after this, so the rest of this series may end up being a little less wordy.

*Then again, maybe Sears jeans weren’t just marketed to white working and middle class kids who were through with Disco already…here’s an add for Tough Skins jeans from 1979 with…a total Soul Train knock-off?!?!

**The twist ending has the husband dying and the ghost appearing to his delighted wife.  There’s not a lot to support her being on board in the rest of the episode, so I think it’s just a strange last twist rather than “Cucked by a Ghost” but if I were to remake it I would totally title it “Cucked by a Ghost”. I’m pretty sure that Arch Oboler is now loudly and bitterly complaining about all the times I’ve criticized his work so I’ll be going now.

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