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Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Reviewed

No film reached the giddy heights of Drag Me To Hell this year, but there were some notables.

The Social Network is hitting the top of many critics' "best of" lists, and with good reason. I reviewed it with much enthusiasm earlier, so there's no need to elaborate. Suffice to say it's a wicked, wildly entertaining film about what sounds like a stultifyingly dull subject. Good work by Fincher, Sorkin, Jesse Eisenberg and...yes...Justin Timberlake.

Get Low, with Robert Duvall as a strange hermit who decides to throw his own funeral party—while he's still alive—is just terrific. With great support from Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray and Lucas Black, this offbeat, charming film wanders into Horton Foote territory...and does it well.

Let Me In, Matt Reeves' Americanization of the great Swedish original, Let the Right One In, was a perfectly acceptable remake, with some notable changes. The children are the focal points in this version, and the adults are reduced to near-"Charlie Brown's teacher" status. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moritz are wonderful as the kids, and it's a shame—audiences stayed away in droves. The only sour note for me was the rather ridiculous speeded-up Gollum-style computer animation for the vampire, which really wasn't necessary at all.

127 Hours, Danny Boyle's excellent but hard-to-watch survival drama features a star-making performance by James Franco. Jackass 3D is, of course, a guilty pleasure and delivered everything you expect from these guys...hilariously rude antics that test the gag reflex, funny nudity and frat-boy camaraderie.

Another film that was fun in 3D was The Final Destination. The Wolfman was okay, but I actually enjoyed it more when I caught it on cable a second time. Daybreakers was terrific, while The Crazies was just so-so.

I liked Black Swan and Toy Story 3 very much, but Leo DiCaprio struck out twice in my opinion with Shutter Island and Inception. The Fighter was cliched, shrill and enervating. Splice was fun and Polanski showed some of his old spark with The Ghost Writer. I really hated How To Train Your Dragon, but Tony Scott's Unstoppable was a surprisingly enjoyable, old-fashioned thriller. And I thought the remake of Clash of the Titans was far more enjoyable than the original. What can I say?

I'm burned out on bad remakes, so I didn't even bother with Nightmare on Elm Street or I Spit on Your Grave. George Romero really gave his fans the raspberry with the ridiculously bad Survival of the Dead. I'm looking forward to Kevin Smith's political horror film Red State, set for a March release, and I'm curious about what the hell Dario Argento is going to do with Dracula 3D.

The Oscar race will surely involve The Social Network, Get Low, The Kids Are All Right, Inception (sigh) and Black Swan. I think Eisenberg, Duvall and Franco are going to duke it out for Best Actor.

Television provided more diversion. After a slow start, The Walking Dead picked up steam and I'm looking forward to its return. It's a challenge to make a continuing series on a subject as finite as a zombie apocalypse, but it's smart how they're handling it. And it's certainly the goriest show ever aired on basic cable!

Also making a welcome debut this year was HBO's Boardwalk Empire, a riveting story of Depression-era bootleggers and gangsters. Steve Buscemi is great as "Nucky" Thompson, the boss of Atlantic City, and Michael Pitt made a really smart career move by taking the role of Jimmy Darmody, Nucky's protege. The always-welcome Kelly Macdonald is also good as Nucky's on-again, off-again mistress. And Michael Shannon—the creepiest FBI agent ever!

Michael C. Hall is bound and determined to win his Emmy for Dexter, and this season introduced many new layers to his character, which always helps when vying for the little gold statue. And speaking of smart career moves, Julia Stiles was just terrific as Lumen Pierce, his partner in crime.

It's also smart that the other characters are involved in interesting dramas of their own—LaGuerta and Batista's rocky marriage, Deb's revolving bedroom door—even the stepchildren are developing interesting stories.

I can't wait for the new season of Breaking Bad. This insanely entertaining show was rewarded with two well-deserved Emmys for Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as methamphetamine manufacturers Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. They get into such nail-biting situations, and you just know it's not going to turn out well.

I wasn't crazy about this season of True Blood, but it doesn't mean I'll stop watching it. The werewolves aren't doing much for me. We need more weird creatures and less soap opera. Hopefully it'll pick up.

I'm looking forward to HBO's miniseries, Mildred Pierce, stars Kate Winslet as the long-suffering mother of nasty. scheming Veda, played by Evan Rachel Wood, who is making the move over from True Blood now that she's (maybe) dead. It's directed by Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven). I wonder if Winslet is going to channel Joan Crawford or make the character her own. You just know it's going to be nice and warped.

Well, this is the last post of 2010. I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Grim Reaper Visits Weird Movie Village

Along with the lists of best and worst movies of the year, fashion disasters and the latest news from the Kardashians (gag), there's always a grim rundown of the year's celebrity deaths. I thought I'd take a look at this year's list and point out just a few of the passings that had an effect on Weird Movie Village. Some of them may surprise you.

Andreas Voutsinas. The name may not immediately trip off your tongue, but he was the original Carmen Ghia, the hilariously effeminate assistant of Broadway director Roger Debris in the original film version of Mel Brooks' The Producers (not the musical debacle with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick). A member of the Actors Studio, he befriended Brooks' then-girlfriend Anne Bancroft (also much missed), who recommended Voutsinas for the role. The rest is history.

Although his screen time is brief, his feline appearance and aggressive sexuality (which freaks out Gene Wilder) was memorable and hilarious. My favorite line occurs when he instructs Wilder and Zero Mostel to take off their shoes before entering Debris' apartment with the warning: "White, white, white is the color of our carpets!" And, of course, the really uncomfortable ride in the extremely small elevator. He had roles in a couple of other Brooks films, but he also worked as an acting coach for such luminaries as Jane Fonda and Warren Beatty. Andreas, I'm sure the carpets are white in Heaven.

Jackie Burroughs. A shock. Within a month after my post, "Playing By Their Own Rules," Burroughs was dead of stomach cancer. I didn't even know it until I was doing research for this post—that's how good mainstream media is at covering stories that aren't of interest to "average" audiences. I mean, Brad Renfro's untimely demise in 2008 wasn't even recognized during the 2009 Academy Awards "In Memoriam" segment. That's a crime.

You can read more of what I thought about the wonderfully strange Burroughs in my earlier post, but her last role was in Small Town Murder Songs, made in Toronto (of course), and it does sound intriguing. Burroughs, who played an old lady for decades before she actually was an old lady, shuffled off this mortal coil at age 71. The picture I'm using here shows her in 1966 (she's the one on the right).

Beverly Aadland. Another name that may have disappeared into the sands of time (except here in WMV) was Aadland, who was the 16-year-old girlfriend of 50-year-old, dissipated swashbuckler Errol Flynn, and was with him when he died of a sudden heart attack in 1959. She was also in his last disastrous film, Cuban Rebel Girls. But that was just the beginning.

In 1960, her boyfriend entered her home and was found the next morning, "shot by his own weapon." Ahem. She claimed that he'd attacked her and they'd grappled for the gun. She was made a ward of the court, but soon drifted into dancing and waitressing, marrying twice before she met Ronald Fisher, who seemed to be able to give her the needed stability. However, Aadland told Fisher that she still loved Flynn, and if he was around, she'd be with him. Fisher replied, "Well, it'd be crowded, wouldn't it?"

Cuban Rebel Girls was one of those PD features that was available on super 8mm back in the day, but I was never interested in buying it. It cost $200, it was black and white, and it didn't sound particularly exciting. I wanted to save up for a color print of The African Queen, which I did.

Jamie Gillis. One of the major porn superstars of the newly permissive 70s (after Deep Throat), Gillis was a legend in the industry. He appeared in such legendary epics as The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Barbara Broadcast and Dracula Sucks. He was the go-to guy who could deliver complicated dialogue believably and still...perform. Some called him porno's Harvey Keitel. He made some notorious roughies involving brutalization, rape and forced enemas. He also performed in those squalid Times Square live sex shows (a glimpse of which can be seen in Lucio Fulci's nasty New York Ripper).

He appeared in nearly 500 movies right up to 2005, but he officially retired in 2007 as a gift to his partner, Zarela Martinez. He played a few "straight" roles—Joel M. Reed's Night of the Zombies, the Sylvester Stallone-Rutger Hauer thriller Nighthawks—and, ironically, his last credited performance is in the film, Die, You Zombie Bastards. Amazingly, it's not a Troma film.

Zelda Rubinstein. I saw Zelda in person back in the 1980s when she was accompanied by Franklyn Seales (Silver Spoons) for a terrific Los Angeles production of Larry Gelbart's Broadway show, City of Angels, starring Christine Ebersole (Grey Gardens). Whew. Have I dropped enough names? Indelible as the mini-medium in Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist, Rubinstein seemed to drop out of sight, except for her outspoken activism for little people and against HIV/AIDS. Good for her.

She appeared in Bigas Luna's 1987 Anguish (Anguista), which is such a bizarre film. When I saw it on video in 1988, I said, "Huh?" It reminded me of the Kent Bateman film The Headless Eyes (1971) in that both of the films' killers have an eye-gouging fetish. And yes, Kent is the father of Jason and Justine. Rubinstein plays the mother of a psychopathic murderer who urges him to kill, much like good old Mother Bates, but she's in a film-within-a-film being screened in a grubby Los Angeles theater where a real killer is afoot. Or something. It didn't make much sense to me.

I saw her for the last time in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, which cult film fans seems to treasure and compare to Man Bites Dog in terms of being a spoof documentary about a murderer, but it just doesn't have the same bite. Get it?

Guess I'll have to do another installment of this post before the New Year. Happy holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Swan Song

In October I did a post about the New Beverly Cinema and reminisced about other Los Angeles revival theaters that have faded into history. This past Monday, I was meeting a friend in South Pasadena for lunch, so I took a quick stroll down Fair Oaks Avenue to look at what was left of the Rialto Theater.

As I approached, I was saddened to see what an empty shell it had become. Posters for Rob Zombie's Halloween and Grindhouse still hung in the glass frames outside (I guess they had special screenings there). And then I saw the dreaded red tag on the door—"unsafe for habitation." Fortunately, since it's on the national Register of Historic Places, it won't be demolished, but it really needs an angel to provide the funding needed to restore it.

South Pasadena is a classic American small town, and when you take a walk down Fair Oaks, you're really taking a trip back in time. I can't believe that such a neighborhood would be unable to support a single-screen showplace like the Rialto.

I took these pictures with my camera phone. Man, talk about your Last Picture Show. The photo on the right shows a portion of the lobby, providing a glimpse of the art deco magnificence of the auditorium. It's got an orchestra pit, a balcony and one of those swooningly elaborate ceilings that hearken back to a time when "going to the pictures" was truly an event.

The last time I went to the Rialto must have been back in the early '90s, but I still remember how they'd ceremoniously open the stage curtains at the beginning of the program. Now that's showmanship! Do movie theaters even have curtains anymore? But even back then, they'd closed off the balcony because it was too much of an insurance risk.

The Rialto is supposedly haunted: stories abound that a girl slit her wrists in the bathroom, then made her way to the balcony to bleed to death; a man went insane in the projection booth (he must've been running Wings of Desire); and that there's even a phantom cat roaming the aisles!

This post's title has a double meaning (ha-HA!), so here's the second part—my review of Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. Although still in limited release, it's generating a lot of critical praise and there's even some Oscar buzz.

It's the story of a neurotic ballerina, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) who is chosen to play the lead in a new production of "Swan Lake." Pressured to succeed by her mother (Barbara Hershey) as well as her manipulative director (Vincent Cassel), she's further stressed by the appearance of a competitor (Mila Kunis). Of course, she snaps and starts hallucinating events that never happened, the appearance of a doppelganger who shows up everywhere she goes. Oh, yes—she also happens to be transforming into a swan.

So how good is it? Well, it's crazy—I was often reminded of Polanski's Repulsion in that the main character is a sexually repressed woman given to hallucinatory episodes. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Portman bearing most of the weight of the story (including some really great dancing) and That '70s Show alum Kunis delivering a truly career-making performance as Portman's competition, a deliciously vulgar, free-spirited ballerina who makes Eve Harrington look like Mary Poppins.

Another standout is Barbara Hershey as the ultimate stage mother from hell. Wielding an implacable emotional grip on her daughter, she's infantalized Nina to the point that she's as naive as Sissy Spacek's Carrie. Winona Ryder appears as the diva who Cassel's director has cruelly dumped for the younger Nina, and she has a couple of memorable scenes, including a shocking self-mutilation.

Sumptuously photographed, the film is never grounded in reality, and viewers must either completely embrace it (as I did Aronofsky's earlier The Fountain) or dismiss it as complete whack-a-doodle. I embraced it.

It maintains such a high level of uncomfortable tension throughout. In one scene, Nina takes her director's advice to "touch herself" and enjoys a vigorous bout of morning masturbation, only to turn and see her mother sleeping in a chair by her bed. And she imagines a lovemaking session with Kunis' Lily, but Lily's face transforms into her own during a—ahem—critical moment.

I have to give Aronofsky props for his audacity. With each of his films, he keeps pushing the envelope. He hasn't yet become a "brand," thank God. He showed the world he could make a memorable "straight" film with the superb The Wrestler, and Requiem for a Dream remains one of the most horrifying studies of drug addiction available on celluloid. Plus, Ellen Burstyn was so so-o-o-o great in it!

Black Swan is full of moments that could be perceived as goofy, unless you're truly committed to the story and are willing to walk in Nina's slippers. Is it Oscar bait? Certainly it will be nominated for cinematography, and Portman and Hershey will get nods, but it's too eclectic for the Academy to consider it as Best Picture. I'm sure The Social Network will win that statue, and that's okay, too.

And you know what? If the Rialto was still open, it'd be showing Black Swan.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Those Holiday TV Classics

I'm late this week. I'll have to do two posts to catch up. I'm seeing Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan on Sunday, so expect to see a review soon. In the meantime, I think it's the appropriate time of year to reminisce about some of my favorite holiday television classics, so indulge me as I take a stroll down Memory Lane.

The first holiday special I remember seeing was a repeat broadcast of the Mary Martin 1960 Peter Pan. Although not technically a Christmas show, it's performed annually in England to raise funds for the Great Ormonds Children's Hospital, an institution to which J.M. Barrie contributed all the rights to his play.

Watching the show now really takes me back to my childhood. Video was so blurry then, and the production values were cheap and cheerful. But it was in color! I remember going to my grandparents' house (they were the only ones in the family with a color television) to watch it and, in the spring, The Wizard of Oz in saturated, fuzzy, unnatural color.

I've never been a big fan of musicals, so Peter Pan never did anything for me in particular. And as a kid, I thought, "Why are they calling that lady a boy?"

Yes, I admit it. I am old enough to have seen the very first showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the holidays only really begin for me when it's aired. It's still charming 45 years later, with the hilariously precocious lines delivered by the Peanuts gang and Vince Guaraldi's too-hip jazz improv score. I love Linus' soliloquy about the true meaning of Christmas and poor Charlie Brown's miserable little tree.

Sure, it's made with limited animation and there are some continuity errors. You can also tell that the sound editors had to piece together the young actors' performances, sometimes word by word. But none of that spoils the show for me. A Charlie Brown Christmas never fails to take me back to a time when Christmas meant sparkling, snowy nights, multicolored outdoor decorations, a shimmering tree in the living room and surprises around every corner. Sentimental, ain't I?

1964's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is another favorite, even though its cheese factor is high. Maybe I like it because its cheese factor is so high—this is Weird Movie Village, after all.

I don't recall having seen stop-motion animation before Rudolph, and the living, breathing "puppets" transfixed me. And the Abominable Snowman scared (and thrilled) me when I was small. But I still hate the ending when he's been neutered and all his teeth have been pulled out by Herbie, the dentist elf.

And talk about cultural influences—I love this Verizon salute to "The Island of Misfit Toys":



One of my very favorite holiday specials is How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), and it's easy to understand why. It's the most "horror film" of all the shows, with its creepy green anti-hero and the Frankenstein monster himself—Boris Karloff—doing the narration! He won a Grammy for the recorded version of the story, and I just love it.

But the Whos are sure as hell a bunch of hyperactive little buggers, particularly the kids after they receive their bizarre Christmas loot. As I get older, I can appreciate more and more the Grinch's desire to spoil the holiday for that town full of noisy, endlessly grinning morons.

I have never seen—and will never see—Ron Howard's film version. The idea of watching that overpaid buffoon Jim Carrey hamming his way through a story I hold dear makes my flesh crawl.

Though it was made in 1966, I somehow didn't discover A Christmas Memory until the mid-80s when it aired on a local PBS station. How could I have missed a Truman Capote-written story starring Geraldine Page for so long? Thanks to home video, it became a holiday tradition every year afterward.

It's the bittersweet story of the author and his last Christmas with his beloved Sookie, the elderly cousin with whom he lives (along with a couple of really mean aunts). Every year Buddy (as she calls him) and Sookie bake a slew of fruitcakes to distribute to friends; not necessarily neighbor friends, but people who strike their fancy, including the Roosevelts. The hour-long special follows the unlikely pair as they acquire ingredients for their fruitcakes, including the hard-to-get whiskey, which they must purchase from Mr. Ha-ha Jones, owner of a fish fry and dancing cafe.

Here's a clip of Sookie and Buddy heading for Ha-ha's:



The film was made by Frank Perry of Mommie Dearest fame, and you can tell that editor Ralph Rosenblum literally had to piece it together—but it still works. Really well. Page was only 41 or 42 when she played the elderly Sookie, and she looks startlingly young, but such was her talent that you completely believe her character. The actor who played Ha-ha, Josip Elic, also had a diverse career. He was in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, the perennial kiddie matinee mess, and he also played Bancini, one of the inmates in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!

At one point in the 90s there was a viewer revolt over the treatment the classic holiday specials were receiving. In order to shove in more and more commercials, they were shown digitally speeded up and heavily edited. It got so ridiculous that A Charlie Brown Christmas became a continuous onslaught of Dolly Madison commercials with a few scenes from the show thrown in. The networks didn't take into consideration that these were beloved treasures whose millions of viewers knew virtually every frame.

Since they were all available unedited and at the correct speed on home video, viewers went there instead, and ratings plummeted. Realizing the error of their ways, the networks began advertising "complete, restored editions"—sometimes with special (and often lame) features. Even Rudolph aired in hi-def this year!

Holiday specials are still being made right and left, but I don't think of them are going to be considered classics even ten years from now. I mean—Shrek the Halls? New holidays classics are like new classical music. They just don't work. The closest they've come in recent years was with the funny and sweet 1991 Opus and Bill special A Wish for Wings That Work, but even that show only aired a couple of times before being consigned to the discount video pile.

Sigh. Season's Greetings, all.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Wild World of Ken Russell

Of all the directors whose names have become synonymous with their style of filmmaking (Hitchcock, Bergman, Spielberg), perhaps none is as polarizing as wildman Ken Russell. You either love him or hate him. I happen to love him.

Certainly, he's not consistent. He followed up his master musical Tommy (1975) with the lame Lisztomania (also 1975). Years after his sleaze masterpiece Crimes of Passion (1984), he ripped himself off with the ridiculous Whore (1991), also released under the even more absurd title If You're Afraid to Say It...Just See It.

But when he's good, there's nobody who can compare to him. Nobody heaps on the hallucinatory visuals, wild set decoration and stylized acting like Russell. One of his favorite shots is to start in on a tight closeup of a strange-looking person (often singing) and then speed-zoom out to reveal an entire tableau of oddities. But he's also capable of producing extremely literate works. His biopics of classical composers (except Liszt) are amazing, and his adaptations of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love (1969) and the 20-years-later sequel The Rainbow are memorable.

Women in Love was controversial upon its release due to the infamous nude wrestling scene between Oliver Reed and Alan Bates, and Glenda Jackson won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the cold-blooded Gudrun, who drives Gerald (Reed) to suicide. Not only does it contrast the stories of two couples, it adds an unrequited love between the two men. The dialogue is symbolic and over-the-top, but in Russell's world, it works. Reed and Jackson were part of Russell's informal troupe of regulars, and they would appear in many of his films.

Of the notoriously problematic Reed, Russell said that he would simply ask for "Mood One," "Mood Two" or "Mood Three" from him. Certainly both Reed and Jackson's work for Russell ranks among their best.

1970's The Music Lovers tells the story of Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) and his troubled marriage to Nina (Jackson). As Russell himself said, "It's the story of the marriage between a homosexual and a nymphomaniac." Christopher Gable, another Russell regular, plays the object of the composer's lust, and the most memorable scene involves Nina, who's gone out of her mind, giving her body to the eagerly groping inmates of the asylum she's been committed to. It's also a sublime marriage of filmmaking and classical music.

The Devils (1971) is his most notorious film, Russell's indictment of organized religion. Vanessa Redgrave stars as Sister Jeanne, the disfigured head of an order of severely repressed nuns. Reed is Grandier, the priest she secretly lusts after. Redgrave's performance is really creepy; she does a wonderful job of showing the conflicting sensations that pass through the physically and emotionally crippled nun's mind.

Butchered by censors for its "blasphemous" content, its most famous sequence featuring naked, hysterical nuns raping a life-size statue of Christ, is pretty shocking. It's packed with other shocking scenes of torture and barbarism at the hands of pious hypocrites. Strong stuff, for sure, but it deserves much more recognition than it's ever gotten. The U.S. Warner Home Video release is heavily edited, but there are more complete DVDs of varying quality available. I got a good import copy from Luminous Film and Video Wurks.

Probably his most successful film in terms of boxoffice was 1975's Tommy, featuring a fearless performance by Ann-Margret and a surprisingly competent one from The Who's frontman Roger Daltrey.

Russell and this work were a match made in Heaven. Packed with wild visuals to accompany the musical numbers, it's still great entertainment after 35 years. And composer Pete Townshend made the smart choice to speed up the music and give it more punch for the film. When I heard the original version after I saw the film, I was shocked at how slow and dull it sounded. I took my Dad to see Tommy on its original release (in Quintaphonic sound!) and I wasn't sure he really got it. But later he bought me the original recording as a birthday present, so who knows?

Who can forget the star-studded musical numbers? Eric Clapton's "Eyesight to the Blind" with the Church of Marilyn Monroe, Tina Turner tearing it up as the Acid Queen (love that distorted mouth-twitching closeup!), the late Keith Moon as Wicked Uncle Ernie and Elton John as the Pinball Wizard. Jack Nicholson shows up as the doctor Tommy's guilt-ridden parents take him to, and he's awful—but it fits into the crazy framework.

1980's Altered States did well at the boxoffice, but Russell's behavior on-set and battle with the film's screenwriter, Paddy Chayevsky, caused him to become a pariah in Hollywood. His last American film, Crimes of Passion (1984), showed that he could still do controversial with the best of them.

The story of an architect by day and prostitute by night (Kathleen Turner) being pursued by a kinky, insane, poppers-huffing street preacher (Anthony Perkins), it features some of the most explicit sexual content seen in a non-pornographic film, including a cop being sodomized by his own nightstick.

Turner is sexy and sleazy; she wouldn't show her wild side quite this way again until her sensational turn as John Waters' Serial Mom (1994). Perkins plays the preacher like Norman Bates had moved to the big city and fallen into a life of dissolution, which isn't a bad choice. Russell stages it all in an obvious, exaggerated, studio-bound milieu. Crimes of Passion was one of the first films to be offered on home video in two versions: there was the R-rated cut (in the blue box) and the steamy unrated cut (in the red-hot box).

Happily, a home video company that had branched out into theatrical releases (the now-defunct Vestron) offered Russell a multiple-picture deal in the latter part of the 1980s, all made on his home turf, resulting in a couple of somewhat diverting peculiarities (Gothic and Salome's Last Dance), another nice D.H. Lawrence adaptation (The Rainbow) and one bona fide cult classic (Lair of the White Worm).

Lair (1988) stars Sammi Davis, Catherine Oxenberg, Hugh Grant and the incomparable Amanda Donahoe as Lady Sylvia Marsh, the mysterious, sensuous, snake-worshipping aristocrat whose arrival in a small country village causes no end of trouble. This film also finds Russell in one of his most cheery moods. Though it contains numerous sexual and blasphemous scenes, both the director and his actors seem to be having a wonderful time. Much of the dialogue is extremely folksy (someone even asks, "Are we playing 'happy families'?") and the match-ups between the snobbish Lord D'Ampton (Grant at his most hilariously arch) and Lady Sylvia are a riot. A sample bit of dialogue:

Lord D'Ampton: Do you have any children?
Lady Sylvia: Only when there are no men around.

Lady Sylvia also has the ability to sprout gigantic fangs at will and can spit venom a good ten feet. Oh...and she is also "charmed" by music. And there's a really great song about the legend of the D'Ampton Worm, a bit of which can be heard in this trailer:



Recently, Russell has made television movies, online videos and even written a column for The Times. He's also an exhibited photographer and published author. In 2008, he returned to New York to direct an off-Broadway production of "Mindgame," a thriller with Keith Carradine.

At age 83, he shows no signs of losing his taste for the outrageous. His 2007 online video A Kitten for Hitler proves that. This quote from the master himself really says it all:

"This is not the age of manners. This is the age of kicking people in the crotch and telling them something and getting a reaction. I want to shock people into awareness. I don't believe there is any virtue in understatement."

Monday, November 22, 2010

127 Intense Hours

MINOR SPOILERS

I'm a huge fan of Danny Boyle's work. He's made films in almost every genre: drama, action, comedy, horror, sci-fi—everything except a pure musical, but music is so important in his films, it's almost redundant.

Music also plays an important part in his latest, 127 Hours, and it's a good thing too—it helps to alleviate the tension. What makes this film so tense right off the bat is that you already know what's going to happen...it's only a matter of time. Everyone knows it's based on the true story of Aron Ralston, a young outdoorsman who is trapped by a fallen boulder in a Utah canyon for five days until he makes the desperate decision to amputate his arm in order to free himself.

Boyle's challenge was to make a film whose protagonist is stuck in one place for most of its running time and still manage to make it involving. To that end, he brought along collaborators from his multiple award-winning Slumdog Millionaire, including screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, composer A.R.Rahman and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, to make it happen. The film even opens like Slumdog, with hyperkinetic, color-skewed shots of people rushing along crowded streets and cheering in stadiums, accompanied by appropriately adrenaline-charged music. This makes for a nice juxtaposition to the empty silence of the Utah wilderness Ralston finds himself helpless and alone in just 20 minutes of screen time later.

Casting is key, and James Franco was a fortuitous choice to play Ralston. He's believably athletic in the role of a thrillseeker, and he's not afraid to look awful or appear foolish. And as depicted in the film, Ralston is something of a dick. He doesn't bother to answer his mother's call when he's getting ready to head out on his trip, and he takes two young women he'd just met on the trail through a hair-raising shortcut in a chasm with seemingly no regard for their safety. Of course, it turns out fine, and the girls love the adventure—that's when his charm shines through.

Franco has shone in supporting roles roles (Milk, the Spiderman series) for years, but he's onscreen for virtually every second of 127 Hours, and he carries the picture beautifully. When Ralston becomes trapped in the canyon, his mind swims with images of regret—leaving his Gatorade sitting in his truck when his thirst becomes acute; realizing he hadn't told anyone where he was going—and Franco really makes us feel his desperation. He also gives us nice glimpses of the character's different personality aspects: methodically examining all the tools at his disposal (including a very dull knife); laughing at the ridiculousness of his plight; and even toying with the idea of masturbating after a particularly vivid reminiscence of his ex-girlfriend, who left him because he was...well, a dick. But he also makes a visual diary of his experience with his video camera, entreating anyone who finds his remains to deliver the tape to his parents.

The film is also packed with "Boyle-isms," and that's a good thing. He's got a way of injecting surreal visuals that are still comprehensible and organic to the story he's telling. 127 Hours has a talk show sequence, recalling a similar scene in Trainspotting, in which Ralston pretends to interview himself and points out all of the mistakes he's made. I'm sure you've seen the trailer—when Franco says, "Oops," it's part of that sequence.

And, like Trainspotting's "filthiest toilet in Scotland" sequence, we get a squirm-inducing "drinking-one's-own-urine" cam. On the other hand there's also a spectacular fantasy segment in which the dangerously dehydrated Ralston fantasizes about a sudden, violent rainstorm that not only gives him mouthfuls of life-giving water but also lifts the boulder up and carries it away from his crushed arm.

As for the big moment—I'm not going to sugar-coat it—it is excruciating and tough to watch, but it's not in the least bit exploitative. As a matter of fact, it's integral to the plot to show how difficult and agonizing the actual act was to perform. And it's necessary to make the scenes that follow more of a relief and imbue them with a real sense of triumph.

I realize I've neglected to mention the other actors, among them Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn and Treat Willliams. They are all fine in their roles, but it's hard to compete against a man and his boulder!

127 Hours is a hard-to-classify film. It's not a date film for sure, and it's definitely difficult to watch, but it also fits neatly into Boyle's oeuvre. He's never been afraid of pushing the envelope, and he doesn't really care if what he makes is a commercial success (although he was well-rewarded with Slumdog). He's determined to tell stories his own way, and for that I commend him.

I also predict the upcoming awards season will involve Franco, Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network and Robert Duvall in the wonderful Get Low.

As for the rumors that Boyle is going to direct the three-quel to his 28 Days Later, he has confirmed his interest in doing it, but it may not be for a while. Rats.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Freak Shows

There was a time when freak shows were commonplace on the regional carnival circuit. When I was a kid, I even saw a couple of them. They were appalling—not only because the conditions these people existed in were so deplorable—but by the very fact that they had to make a living by exhibiting their disfigurements. Advancements in medicine have made many such afflictions a thing of the past. Not only is it politically incorrect in this day and age to exploit them, there just aren't that many of them anymore.

It was at the St. Joseph County Fair in South Bend, Indiana, where I first saw "Popeye" (pictured here). I was fourteen years old. This guy could force his eyeballs out of their sockets and pull them back in again. I can still vividly recall seeing the ocular fluid splashing out into the spotlights when he pulled his eyes back into their sockets after popping them out. It gave me nightmares. There was also the Alligator Woman (who must have had chronic shingles or some other skin disease) and a contortionist, but the image of Popeye is the one that really burned into my memory.

Our family would also travel to Walkerton, Indiana, on the Fourth of July and attend one of those creepy traveling carnivals you'd imagine some young girl would go to at night and never be heard from again. The rides were scary—they felt like they could fall apart at any moment. The Mad Mouse in particular was the roller coaster from hell.

The carnival's sideshow was limited—I think they just had some pathetic pickled "Siamese twins" and the fat man. You'd pay a quarter, walk into a filthy trailer and there he'd be, lying on the bed, looking bored. He'd answer questions if you had any, but I was really uncomfortable. After all, I was standing in a stranger's bedroom and I just wanted to get out.

The next day we went to the town's truck stop for breakfast, and there he was, sitting on a stool (or two), having steak and eggs. I wanted my twenty-five cents back!

Many films have been made featuring "freaks." Legendary director Tod Browning often had his star, Lon Chaney, play physically-challenged characters. Chaney starred with Joan Crawford (in one of her earliest roles) in The Unknown (1927). He played an armless knife thrower who propels the daggers with his feet. Actually, he's only pretending to be armless, but when he falls in love with Crawford, he goes to the doctor to actually have his limbs removed because she's revolted by the idea of being touched by a man!

Now that's one messed-up relationship. It's certainly the inspiration for cult favorite Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre (1989), which features a similarly armless woman in a circus and her incestuous relationship with her son.

Browning went on to make Freaks (1932), still the classic of the genre and a film that tries to turn a kind eye to these physically challenged people. The problem is—probably due to the film's vintage— he still tends to infantalize them and includes scenes that invite the audience to chortle warmly as if they're watching monkeys frolic in a zoo.

Still, the wedding party sequence in which the "freaks" welcome the gold-digging trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova)—who marries and plans to murder one of their own (Harry Earles)—is extraordinary. They chant, "One of us! One of us! Gobble, gobble!" to her increasing revulsion. And when they realize she's actually having an affair with the circus strongman (Henry Victor) and is slowly poisoning her new husband, they exact their revenge during a violent nighttime rainstorm, slithering through the mud toward their victim. And of course she gets her just desserts.

Audiences were horrified by Freaks, and Browning's studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, quickly sold it off to exploitation pioneer Dwain Esper, who heavily re-edited it to emphasize its more unsavory aspects, and gave it the offensive new title Nature's Mistakes. Fortunately, the original became something of a cult classic in the 1960s and '70s for stoned college audiences, and the restored version can now be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

Baclanova also appeared in another classic of the genre—The Man Who Laughs (1928), directed by German emigre Paul Leni and starring the great Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). He plays Gwynplaine, the son of a Lord who is punished by the King's men, having a permanent smile carved into his face as a result of his father's treachery.

He joins a traveling carnival to exhibit his "deformity," and falls in love with a blind girl (Mary Philbin from Phantom of the Opera) who is unable to see his face but is drawn to his gentle nature. It is a terrific film, and a shame that Leni (who also directed The Cat and the Canary) died prematurely of blood poisoning here in Los Angeles. The only unintentional laugh for contemporary audiences is that Gwynplaine's dog is named Homo.

Prolific producer David Friedman, who invented the splatter genre with director Herschel Gordon Lewis in 1963 (Blood Feast), remade Freaks in 1967 as She Freak. Some fans say it has real verisimilitude in depicting the '60s carny atmosphere, and that's certainly Friedman's ouevre, but I find it difficult to sit through.

Joan Crawford returned to the circus in 1968 with Berserk!, which has been covered here previously. One of the highlights of the film is a bizarre, cringe-inducing musical number sung by the sideshow performers while Crawford chortles warmly.

Famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The African Queen) made a bizarre career move by directing The Mutations (1974), starring Donald Pleasance, Tom Baker (Dr. Who), Julie Ege and Jill Haworth. I tried to watch it in the 90s (on a really miserable quality rental VHS cassette), but it just didn't do anything for me—except that it featured Popeye and the Alligator Woman whom I'd seen during my visit to the St. Joseph County Fair years before! Now that was a "freak"-out.

Although not set in a carnival environment, Universal's train wreck The Sentinel (1977), directed by Death Wish's Michael Winner, features real "freaks" in its (allegedly) terrifying climax. A young model (the gummy-smiled Cristina Raines) moves into a haunted apartment building and is forced to confront the very Gates of Hell, guarded by minions with physical deformities, some of whom were the real deal. This was supposed to be a horrifying conclusion to a really goofy film, but all I can remember is that one of the guys looks like he has testicles swinging from his chin. I don't know if he's really malformed or just a product of Universal's make-up department, but it's pretty hilarious, and the film caught flak for exploiting these unfortunate people.

Actually, the whole picture is of the "so bad it's almost good" variety. Sylvia Miles and Beverly D'Angelo play lovers who live in another apartment, and when Raines first meets them, D'Angelo masturbates vigorously while Miles is out of the room. Later, she plays cymbals topless, which—considering her endowment—made me fear for her safety. I think Beverly would probably like to delete this credit from her resume.

Gil Melle's score is bombastic and continuous. I swear, there's not a moment of silence in the entire film, and "legendary" actors are dragged out for bits—Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Jose Ferrer, Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Eli Wallach. A young Christopher Walken even appears in the role of a detective. But it's a hilarious mess, peppered with "hip" '70s gore and nudity.

But Sylvia gets to deliver the memorable line, "Heah, dah-link. Hef a hat and a noisemakah...for zeh pah-ty!" And Miles was destined to appear in another Universal carnival horror, Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse (1981), in which she gives a Happy Ending to the disfigured killer right before he puts her out of her misery.

I thought Alex Winter (The Lost Boys, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) and Daniel Stern's Freaked (1993) was pretty funny, and an unbilled Keanu Reeves, as the Wolf Boy, adds to the fun. But these are all latex creatures, not real freaks (unless you count Randy Quaid—but that just happened recently).

I guess you could consider the Jackass boys to be carnies, especially in the setups involving tiny Wee Man (Jason Acuna) and enormous Preston Lacey, but they have such an endearing camaraderie.

The Freak Show is still alive and well in America, but—shades of David Cronenberg—its performers now have intentionally manufactured physical differences, and the emphasis seems to be on sadomasochism: being suspended from hooks piercing the flesh, forcing liquids into their bodies and expelling them again...well, you get the idea.

Even bodybuilders use the term "getting freaky," which means taking lots of diuretics before a competition to ensure that all the veins and muscle tissues show through their skin.

And now, on with the show!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

David Cronenberg and the New Flesh

When I was 16, I saw David Cronenberg's Shivers (aka They Came from Within) at the State Theater in South Bend, Indiana. It was my first exposure to the filmmaker's work—and indeed it was his first full-length feature as well.

Although I was too young to fully appreciate it at the time, I was certainly creeped out by the parallels between sexuality and disease, and this film introduced a different kind of zombie—one that doesn't want to eat you but instead wants to screw you to death! In the shocking opening scene, an older guy beats a very young-looking girl unconscious, throws her on a table, strips her naked, slices open her abdomen and pours acid inside her guts before slitting his own throat. And that's just the first few minutes!

The seemingly crazed murderer was actually a physician in an exclusive gated luxury community who developed a parasitic creature he hoped would take over the functions of diseased organs in humans, but it instead acts as a powerful aphrodisiac and hallucinogen, transforming its hosts into ravening sexual animals who are also "turned on" by the invasion. The attack at the beginning of the film was actually the doctor's attempt to quell the outbreak, but the promiscuous young girl already had encounters with other men in the building, and the infection spreads rapidly.

Cronenberg exploits the subject to make his audience as uneasy as possible. The parasites are passed from one host to another via bodily orifices. Legendary scream queen Barbara Steele receives hers in the bathtub before passing one through an open-mouthed kiss with comely neighbor Janine (Susan Petrie). Janine's husband, Nicholas (Allan Kolman), is one of the guys who'd slept with the infected girl, and he's reproducing the parasites rapidly. In one queasy scene, he lifts up his shirt and strokes his abdomen, practically cooing to the parasites as they ripple beneath his flesh.

Joe Blasco's creatures and makeup effects are very well done, especially considering the film's conservative budget. When Cronenberg hired him to work on the film, Blasco said he prepared for a career in horror makeup by working on the "Lawrence Welk" show! The film is clammy and claustrophobic, features the trademark bleak Cronenbergian finale...and it really gets under your skin.

His fascination with mutated and transformed flesh continued with his next feature, Rabid (1977). Adult film star Marilyn Chambers takes a straight role as a young woman who develops a taste for human blood after receiving an experimental treatment at a mysterious clinic.

She's been in a serious motorcycle accident, and the clinic's head uses radiation-treated skin to graft to fire-damaged areas of her body. As a result, a barb-like appendage has grown under her arm, and she uses it to pierce the flesh of her victims and ingest their blood. She doesn't kill them, but her "sting" causes them to contract a virulent form of rabies. The contagion quickly spreads, but she's unaware that she's the cause of it.

Chambers is quite good in her role, and although it doesn't quite have the "ick" factor of Shivers, the film is better crafted and gives Cronenberg some opportunity to express his jet-black sense of humor. There's a memorable scene at a shopping mall where cops shoot down Santa Claus while combating rabid shoppers!

The Brood (1979) stars Oliver Reed as a psychologist who is treating a patient with anger-management issues (Samantha Eggar) with unorthodox methods, causing her to give birth to vicious little mutant kids who attack and kill those who raise her ire.

It's one of the most personal films he ever made. He'd recently undergone a painful divorce and then kidnapped his daughter because he feared his ex-wife had joined a lunatic cult. It's a story that's far more interesting than the film, which is a little too complicated in my opinion to be completely satisfying.

Scanners (1981) was a big hit for Cronenberg, opening the doors to Hollywood and allowing him to make Videodrome for Universal and The Dead Zone for Paramount, both released in 1983. Videodrome explores the idea of melding flesh and machinery, and though it's high on kink, it's too cold and complicated for me.

The Dead Zone
proved that he could make a "straight" film based on the work of another (Stephen King), and it's very good. Christopher Walken's central performance is great, and an air of real melancholy hangs over every frame. It's interesting in that instead of mutated flesh, it features a mutated mind, as Walken's character awakens from a two-year coma to find he's acquired the gift (or curse) of telepathy. And a serial killer's suicide near the beginning of the film should be mandatory viewing for today's "torture porn" auteurs. It's not particularly explicit, but it's just...horrible.

After Zone, the Hollywood door opened even wider, and Cronenberg remade The Fly for 20th Century Fox in 1986. Here he was given a big budget and free reign to explore his themes of mutated flesh—and it was a huge hit! Giant actors Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis are a perfect match, and the film is packed with his trademark grotesqueries. As Goldblum's Seth Brundle is mutating, he begins to lose his useless human body parts. In one memorable scene, he watches himself in the bathroom mirror as he pulls his teeth painlessly out of his mouth and then opens the medicine cabinet to reveal his redundant penis sitting on the shelf!

Dead Ringers (1988) stars Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle, who share sexual partners without said partners realizing there's been a switch. When Beverly embarks on an affair with actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold), he becomes obsessed and doesn't want to share her with Elliot.

They've both had a lifelong fascination with the female reproductive system (hence their career), and the fact that Claire has a uterus divided into three separate chambers makes her irresistible to Beverly. Of course, it doesn't take long for the psychological damage to occur, and soon Beverly is designing a set of "gynecological instruments for mutant women."

Irons is magnificent as the twins, providing each with just enough difference in character to tell them apart. The word in Hollywood is that his later Oscar win for Reversal of Fortune was in fact a reward for this film, which was considered too "extreme" for nomination at the time. And Cronenberg's gallows humor comes through in several scenes. Here, he manages to wrangle an outrageous plot, but keep it entertaining, comprehensible and...well, moving.

Next, Cronenberg tackled William S. Burrough's "unfilmable" Naked Lunch (1991). Many have complained that the film is comprised of a series of seemingly unrelated scenes of bizarreness, but I've read the book and that's what happens there, too! Peter Weller is the Burroughs surrogate and Judy Davis is his wife. He works as an exterminator, and she's been shooting up his insect spray ("It's a Kafkaesque high," she says. "Makes you feel like a bug.").

Exposure to the spray causes him to hallucinate that he's an agent for Interzone Incorporated and has been assigned to assassinate her, initiating a descent into one of Cronenberg's most outrageous visual forays yet. There are talking typewriters with particularly sensitive anuses, giant bugs, bizarre aliens and Roy Scheider in one of the strangest roles of his career. Lessons learned from his two previous films, he manages to wrangle the surrealism and absurdity of the novel into a bizarrely entertaining and funny film.

After M. Butterfly (which I frankly had no interest in seeing), Cronenberg embarked upon his most ambitious epic of weirdness yet—Crash (1996). Boasting a great name cast, including James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas and Rosanna Arquette, it's based on the J.G. Ballard novel and, as the tagline proclaims, it's about "sex and car crashes." It's also his most successful work, in my opinion. It's so sleek and shiny, the sex is intense, and his obsession with flesh melding with metal is eloquently communicated.

It's also really, really funny. There's just no way this film can't be viewed as a black comedy. With every outrage, Cronenberg seems to be winking at the audience and saying, "You didn't think I'd do this, did you?" And again, he gives the central figure the name of the original work's author.

After James Ballard (Spader) survives a horrendous car crash, he enters into a sordid sort of sex club with similarly afflicted individuals, including the woman (Holly Hunter) he'd collided with.

Some time later, he's in bed with his equally kinky wife (a terrific Deborah Kara Unger). She encourages him to talk about the genitalia of Vaughan (Koteas), another member of the "club." Her verbiage is oddly clinical ("Imagine his anus," she says. "Describe it to me."). Of course, Cronenberg follows this up with a vigorous sexual encounter between Vaughan and James in Vaughan's convertible, which later becomes a penis surrogate itself when Vaughan uses it to ram James' car.

And when Arquette's character exposes a vagina-shaped wound in her thigh, which James can penetrate—and he does—it's just too much. There's also a scene in which Hunter is simultaneously massaging the crotches of Spader and Arquette while they're watching car crash footage on television...whew. It's certainly not a film for all tastes.

eXistenZ (1999) sounds disturbingly like one of those "lasting erection" pills, but it's actually a film about a video game whose creator and marketer get trapped in. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law, it's not without its charms, but it's kind of "Cronenberg lite." It's really a lark, but it's well-done and entertaining, and there's a lot of hilarious mutation.

Lately Cronenberg has essentially become an arthouse director, and while I've admired some of these films—Eastern Promises, A History of Violence and Spider, I keep leaving the theater disappointed that they weren't weirder. They certainly have audacious moments: Violence has a surprisingly explicit oral sex scene, and everyone still talks about Viggo Mortensen's naked, brutal battle in Promises, but I just wish they were even more "out there."

I'm optimistic that Cronenberg isn't done yet, and I'm confident that he's got another sticky, messy, wonderful opus to give to us. Unlike George Romero, who seems intent on delivering a bunch of not-very-interesting zombie films toward the end of his career, Cronenberg can give us something special.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Beloved New Beverly Cinema

Last night I attended a showing of Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Trick 'R Treat at the beloved New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles. I'm sure my money and time were better spent going to see this double feature than the latest Saw installment or—ugh—Paranormal Activity 2. And it's none other than director Quentin Tarantino who keeps this theater going.

The New Beverly was a porno theater when Sherman Torgan took over in 1978 and began running eclectic double features. Tarantino was a fan, and when the theater was in danger of closing in the mid-oughts, he quietly began paying its bills. Torgan died suddenly of a heart attack in 2007, and Tarantino shortly thereafter bought the property outright to prevent it from "becoming a Super Cuts," as he says.

He programs many of the theater's "Grindhouse" movie nights, but Torgan's son Michael still manages the day-to-day operations. Far from being a grindhouse itself, it attracts a diverse Hollywood crowd (Kate Mara and Max Minghella were at last night's screening) and the filmmakers often appear in person to speak about their work.

When I moved to L.A., home video was still a novelty, and pay channels like HBO were only interested in new releases, so there were a bunch of "revival theaters" flourishing in town: the Nuart, the Fox Venice, the Tiffany, the Vista, the Rialto in South Pasadena and —of course—the New Beverly. They'd run double or triple bills of classics, recent releases or foreign films with the occasional first-run independent film thrown in. The programs changed either daily or every couple of days, so there was always a variety of films to choose from.

I first saw Pink Flamingos during one of its infamous Friday midnight showings at the Nuart, and my mind was expanded by a Pasolini triple feature at the Tiffany. At the Rialto—a double-feature of Eraserhead and Night of the Living Dead. When the Fox Venice screened a program of Cronenberg films, Joe Blasco's infamous slugs from They Came from Within (aka Shivers) were on display in the lobby, and the actor who played the guy who starts the contagion made an in-person appearance, much to the audience's delight. My first connection with the New Beverly was to see Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris and Luna. Like Tarantino, I got a great education in world cinema from these theaters.

Last year I saw The Decameron and Arabian Nights at the New Beverly. Even though I've owned these films in various formats (Beta, laserdisc, VHS and DVD) over the years, there's just no substitute for enjoying them with movie lovers of the same stripe on the big screen. And sharing the same experience when the film is a clinker can be even more fun. I've actually stomped my feet laughing so hard during communal viewings with like-minded audiences howling over classics like Fulci's City of the Living Dead, part of the aforementioned "Grindhouse" festival.

Some of that magic was captured last night with Halloween III. We all chortled over the repeated use of the obnoxious "Happy, Happy Halloween" jingle, and Stacy Nelkin's eagerness to hop into bed with doughy Tom Atkins was also greeted with laughter.

I didn't see H3 during its original theatrical release. I thought that Halloween II was pretty lame, (except for the kid going into the hospital with a razor blade wedged in his mouth—eww), and I wasn't interested in seeing a third installment that didn't have Michael Myers in it. But I watched it on video a couple of years later, and I must say it's one of my favorites in the franchise.

Don't get me wrong—it's not a classic by any means. The story is ridiculous and the acting is terrible, but it has a strange '50s sci-fi charm and the gore effects are still pretty good. Director Tommy Lee Wallace was scheduled to appear for a Q&A after the final show, but I caught the earlier one, unfortunately.

Home video quickly shuttered the revival houses. The Rialto became a foreign/art theater in the 80s but eventually had to close its doors. The Tiffany became a legitimate theater before becoming an "actors' studio." The Fox Venice became a swap meet. The Vista and Nuart are still going strong as specialty houses (and the Nuart still has its midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday night), but only the New Beverly survives as the true revival showcase.

Thanks, Quentin!

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