Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Oh no! Not the Criterion Flash Sale!

NEWS FLASH! If you also enjoy The Criterion Collection releases, you should stop reading this right now and get yourself over to Criterion.com to obtain some great films on DVD and Blu-Ray for 50% off before time runs out on the current 24 hour flash sale. At the time of posting, there are less than 2 HOURS LEFT! Sorry for the last minute notice. Make sure you pick up a copy of Night of the Living Dead on Blu-Ray if you haven't done so already. You don't need to be a zombie fan to enjoy this movie, and the presentation is amazing!

I first developed a love for The Criterion Collection after picking up a copy of Children of Paradise back in the early days of the new millennium, which led me to think favorably of the Criterion brand and inspired me to pick up all sorts of odd releases that were available at the time. What I enjoy about Criterion releases are the excellent presentation, and the many informative features that help deepen the viewer's appreciation and understanding of the film being watched.


Here's what I picked up from the Criterion Flash Sale:

Brazil
I'm surprised it's taken me so long to get this film. It's Terry Gilliam! It's dystopian! Why have I been on the fence so long about buying and watching it? Well, along with the other titles on this list, all it took was a reduced price to finally tip me over. I expect to find out why others enjoy this film so much.
 
Blood Simple
This is the Coen brothers' first film, and I'm intrigued to see what's been described as "film noir for a new generation." I don't know why I haven't seen more of their films, since I've enjoyed all the films of theirs I have seen. I'm particularly fond of The Big Lebowski.
 
Quadrophenia
I wasn't expecting to add this movie to the shopping cart, since I wasn't enthusiastic about Tommy, but the soundtrack and the positive reviews encouraged me to give this one a chance.
 
The In-Laws
I've been considering this one for awhile since so many reviewers have described it as the funniest film they've ever seen. Since it involves the team of Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, I am inspired to find out if I agree with them or not.
 
The Lady Vanishes
This was the first of Hitchcock's early films I watched, and while I don't always choose to upgrade a classic film when a restored version is released, I think it's imperative to have the best quality Hitchcock films available whenever possible, though it's always best to do so at reduced cost.
 
Eclipse Series 22: Presenting Sacha Guitry
Les enfants du paradis was my gateway to French film, and led me to discover other French film directors. I came across Sacha Guitry when I picked up La poison because it had well-known actor, Michel Simon. I thoroughly enjoyed the humor in that movie, so I'm hoping to find more films I enjoy in this collection.
 
I have not seen any of Raymond Bernard's films before, but was interested in seeing what has been described as the best adaptation of Les misérables on film, as well as his depiction of WWI.


A new media shelf will be arriving soon, which will only enable me to continue buying more movies than I possibly have time to watch.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Season of Horror 2: The Baby (1973)

There's something that intrigues me when I see a film described as "one of the most bizarre horror movies ever committed to celluloid," especially when it's from the 1970s. It makes me wonder if it will somehow top all of the other bizarre horror movies I've seen from that era, and it's what led me to pick up the movie I'm watching tonight, The Baby.


I recently acquired the special edition release from Arrow Video, which has great picture quality and some interesting special features. This movie was also described as "a twisted, psychedelic nightmare of suburban depravity," which might help sell it, but I disagree that there's anything psychedelic about this film, and any scenes of depravity are minimal. If that's what draws you to this film, you may want to skip it, but if you want to see an unusual film that's good for an evening's entertainment, this may fit the bill. It's not a scary film, but is tense and suspenseful, and will probably creep you out.


My baby. What have you done to my baby?

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Season of Horror 2: Twins of Evil (1971)

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Fall is here, and a whole slew of restored classic horror flicks are being released in October! I am looking forward to checking out The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, and Trilogy of Terror in all their restored glory in October. Fortunately, I have plenty of other horror movies on hand to watch while I wait.

It is only fitting to kick off this year's Season of Horror with Twins of Evil, another movie I remember watching late one Saturday night on Creature Features with Bob Wilkins when I was young, though mostly what I remember about this movie was being shocked that some nudity was allowed to be shown on TV. It wouldn't be Hammer Horror if bosoms weren't busting out of bodices, but in the 70s, they came all the way out.


The aristocracy of this country is decadent. Their whole lives are devoted to sinful pleasures. The pursuit of lust. Is it any wonder that the devil comes amongst us?

Friday, July 6, 2018

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Beta Delta Gamma (11/14/1961)

"We're not the lost generation, we're the stupid generation."



Why I'm Watching

I have been patiently waiting nearly 5 years for Season 7 of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be released on Region 1 DVD. I don't understand why people in other parts of the world are getting to enjoy hassle free AHP episodes while those of us in Canada, the US and Puerto Rico are left in the lurch. It's just wrong, people! We've suffered enough! Give us our AHP and AHH to soothe our souls in these troubling times! Apparently, Universal Studios is unaware of the meaning of the word universal! I'm going to stop writing exclamatory sentences now!

Not long ago, I was gifted copies of S7 AHP episodes that appear to have been recorded from a late night broadcast on a cathode-ray tube TV by someone's beat up VCR in the 80s. It is not a fitting presentation of the Master's work, and I've been unmotivated to see them in such shabby condition, which is quite silly, because it's better than nothing.

So, I've decided to dip my toe in the water and relive the inferior broadcast conditions of the 1980s to explore an episode with our boy wonder from Dark Shadows, Joel Crothers, in his only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the first time I've seen him outside DS.


Hitch Intro

Good evening brothers and sisters. This evening's story is concerned with high education. Specifically with members of Greek letter fraternities. I presume there are fraternities for other nationalities as well. This is a fra... [notices fraternity paddle is upside down and turns it right side up] 
 ...is a fraternity paddle. Apparently they have very small canoes. In keeping with tonight's theme, we shall first see a short educational film, and then a story. As the story opens, you will find the students hard at work, wrestling with the complex problems which face man in his never-ending quest for truth.


The Gist

Some frat guys and gals are preparing for finals by consuming copious amounts of alcohol. When Alan accepts a challenge to slam a pitcher of beer and his challenger subsequently forfeits, he gets predictably belligerent and takes a swing at him before passing out. The gang decides it will be good fun to set up a scene to make Alan believe that he killed the guy when he regains consciousness. The prank goes off without a hitch and they have a good laugh, but in the end, the joke's on them.


Memorable Moments

Mark: Get drunk, stay drunk, forget about finals!


Alan is just not into Barbara Steele.


It's not a real college party if you don't have wannabe Allen Ginsberg beatniks reciting prose.


Mark: Prove your manhood.


The Battle of the Beer begins. Will Alan be able to slam a pitcher of beer without stopping?


Burt Brinckerhoff looks like an old pro. No stunt doubles used here!


Mark wimps out on the beer challenge, but Alan is seeing too many of him to make his fist connect.
 

After encouraging Alan to poison himself with alcohol, the gang decides to play a joke on him. They first plan to make him up to look like he's dead, then decide it will be funnier to make him believe that Mark is dead, and that he killed him. Robert decides to play doctor, injecting a drug from his daddy's doctor kit that will make Mark's respiration and pulse rate barely perceptible.


Robert: Ah, c'mon now, Mark, as a future member of the medical profession, I can assure you there's almost nothing to worry about.
Mark: Almost nothing to worry about! I hear you loud and clear!


Robert: I'm joking, Mark. No really, it's perfectly harmless stuff. As a matter of fact, you'll wake up later feeling like a new man. Okay. Alright? Now, don't...don't move your arm, we don't want to break the needle now!
Mark: How much of that stuff are you putting in me?


Phyllis puts the finishing touches on the prank and the gang heads out to chill at Robert's dad's house down the beach.


It's a scene worthy of a Hitchcock picture.


Alan is beginning to get the picture.


Alan thinks Mark is dead and I'm not completely sure that pre-med Robert didn't actually kill him with the injection.


Alan finds the gang playing it cool at Robert's dad's house, and Robert tells him they left the frat house because it wasn't fun partying with him while he argued with Mark.


Alan doesn't tell them he found Mark unconscious with a bloody head, and they burst out laughing after he leaves to return to the frat house. This was probably the point where they should have let him in on the joke.


At sunrise, he heads back to where the gang is and tells them Mark is dead, that he didn't know how it happened or why, but assumes he was responsible. Phyllis tells him he should call the police, but Robert stops him before he can, letting him in on their funny joke.


Alan confesses that he tried to conceal the crime by wrapping Mark in a blanket and burying him in the sand on the beach.


The gang rushes out to the beach to dig up Mark, believing there's a chance he's still alive.


Unfortunately, Alan can't remember where he buried him, as the incoming tide has washed away the area where he dug.


If Mark was lucky, he died from the injection, otherwise he was buried alive. How horrible! On the plus side, he gets to forget about finals.



Hitch Outro

Yes, poor Alan left more than footprints in the sands of time. If you think college students don't learn anything, you are sadly mistaken. These people certainly learned something that night. They've never done anything like that again. They were assisted in their resolve by the police, for justice was meted out to the pranksters. I have more to say, but it can wait sixty seconds while our dear sponsor speaks to you on his favorite topic.
How he does go on. By the way, we would like it known that the foregoing story does not constitute a condemnation of fraternities or sororities or Greeks or universities or young people or the seashore or saltwater or sand. I yield to no man in my firm adherence to an uncompromising policy of offending no one. So, until next time, good night.


Thoughts

Sadly, Hitchcock was wrong. College students haven't learned anything, and the topic of this episode has remained relevant to this day. While Mark's burial was predictable, I think that may have been to show that these co-eds weren't able to anticipate the foreseeable disaster because they had their beer goggles on. Giving viewers the chance to hope that Mark might be saved makes the ending cruel and truly horrifying, which makes it an enjoyable episode.

As far as the dismal presentation, it was watchable, and takes me back to the days when this was the norm for watching classic TV shows. We are all so spoiled nowadays. And like a spoiled child, I am stomping my feet and screaming for my AHP! AHP! Give me my AHP on DVD!

Joel Crothers plays well as the privileged, foolhardy prankster, just as he thrived as the villain, Nathan Forbes, on Dark Shadows. He's good when he's bad. Though I enjoy his portrayal of good, old reliable Joe Haskell, he doesn't really flourish in that role as he does with Forbes.

I learned that he started acting when he was a young kid, and appeared on more than a dozen TV series before landing a regular gig on Dark Shadows. He would go on to make regular appearances on The Edge of Night and Santa Barbara.

A fresh faced youth in 1959.

Crothers in "The Old Goat" episode from The Many Loves of Doby Gillis.

A short clip of an appearance on The Edge of Night.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Twilight Zone: It's a Good Life (11/3/61)

Every now and then, I like to revisit a Twilight Zone episode that speaks to current events or my own particular frame of mind. "It's a Good Life" is an episode I loved when I was younger because it has one of the most terrifying monsters ever encountered on screen, and one of the scariest moments on the show, but I also appreciated it for portraying what most children would like to have: absolute control. This episode is so alarming that Rod Serling delivers an extra long opening narration just to adequately prepare the viewers for the chilling horror they're about to see:

Tonight's story on the Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States, and there's a little town there called Peaksville. On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only Peaksville left untouched, or whether the village itself had somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing--the cause. A monster had arrived in the village.
Just by using his mind, he took away the automobiles, the electricity, the machines, because they displeased him. And he moved an entire community back into the dark ages. Just by using his mind.
Now I'd like to introduce you to some of the people in Peaksville, Ohio. This is Mr. Fremont. It's in his farmhouse that the monster resides. This is Mrs. Fremont, and this is Aunt Amy, who probably had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. But one day she forgot. She began to sing aloud. Now, the monster doesn't like singing, so his mind snapped at her and turned her into the smiling, vacant thing you're looking at now. She sings no more. And you'll note that the people in Peaksville, Ohio have to smile. They have to think happy thoughts and say happy things because once displeased, the monster can wish them into a cornfield, or change them into a grotesque, walking horror. This particular monster can read minds, you see. He knows every thought. He can feel every emotion. Oh yes, I did forget something, didn't I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster.

His name is Anthony Fremont. He's 6 years old with a cute, little boy face and blue guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you'd better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This is The Twilight Zone.

The episode opens with a lighthearted tune that somehow portends disaster against the backdrop of a rustic, country lane, as delivery boy, Bill Soames, rides up on his bike and stops in the yard where Anthony is sitting on the grass, playing with something out of view. The sweaty grocery boy greets Anthony cheerfully, commenting on what a good day it is, and Aunt Amy calls out from the porch that it's a hot day, drawing an unhappy look from Anthony.


Bill disagrees and says it's a fine day, and when he asks Anthony what he's doing, he tells him that he made a gopher with three heads. He then makes it dead, which somehow seems worse than killing it, because he was bored with it. Bill praises him for his pioneering work on genetically modified organisms, and lets him know repeatedly how much he is loved by all.


He brings the grocery box inside to Mrs. Fremont, who is putting a pot on her antiquated wood burning stove. She asks what he brought and he tells her they're out of laundry soap, as well as regular bar soap, which hasn't been available for over a year. He mentions that he brought some cans of tomato soup he found and asks that she let Anthony know he brought it especially for him, because he had heard he loved it.


She tells him not to be frightened of Anthony because he likes him. He asks her if she knows about what he's up to outside, and she correctly guesses that he's making furry animals. She tells him he invented something the day before that she's never seen before, with sharp teeth that tried to bite him, and trails off when she begins to say what she was hoping might happen. He says that he's glad he's making those things. She asks if he'll be coming over for television night, saying that Anthony is putting on a nice show, and that they would also be giving a surprise party for Dan Hollis. Bill confirms that he'll be attending.


Mrs. Fremont goes outside and asks Aunt Amy where Anthony is. She says he's in the barn and that she keeps telling him he shouldn't go there. She tells Amy that what he's doing is a good thing and that she needs to think good thoughts because he can hear what they're thinking no matter where he is. Amy complains that it's hot and hopes it will cool off for Dan Hollis' birthday party that night. She tells her it's not hot, and insists it's a real good day, while she waves to Anthony with a forced smile on her face as he approaches from the barn.


Mr. Fremont is inside washing up when he senses Anthony staring at him from behind. He says he was looking for him and heard he was in the barn. Anthony tells him he was looking at the cow, and he asks him if he was playing tricks on him, reminding him of how he turned the pigs into monsters, and praising him for his good work.


Anthony shares that he's going to make television for everybody and his dad tells him how much everyone enjoys that he makes television every week, adding that they'll also be having a surprise birthday party for Dan Hollis. Anthony complains that nobody came over to play with him all day, and his dad reminds him that the last time kids came over to play, he wished them into the cornfield, which made their parents unhappy, and that if he keeps wishing people away, there won't be anyone left, neglecting to educate him on what it means to be a caring friend, so that others will want to play with him.


A dog barks outside and Anthony recognizes that it's Bill Soames' collie, and his dad remarks that there aren't many dogs left since he wished them away. He claims he did it because they didn't like him, and says that he hates anyone who doesn't like him. His dad misses another teachable moment by insisting that everybody loves him and that he's their favorite. Anthony recounts a time when he heard someone thinking that he shouldn't have wished away cars and electricity, and asks his dad to remind him who it was. His dad tells him that Teddy Reynolds was the guilty party, and Anthony starts getting worked up, saying he set him on fire for thinking such bad thoughts.


The dog continues barking and Anthony goes to the window, saying the collie doesn't like him and is a bad dog. His eyes widen and the dog whimpers pitifully and then becomes silent.


His dad asks if he did something to the dog, and he says he put him in the cornfield. Mrs. Preston comes rushing into the room asking about Bill's collie in the yard, and her husband tells her Anthony put him in the cornfield and says it's a good thing. They try not to appear distraught as they embrace.


Anthony is making TV for the neighbors, which consists of some bloody stop-motion dinosaurs battling. Too bad the kid that could create a three headed gopher couldn't come up with CGI. Judging by the looks on the faces of the viewers, it's a good thing that he got rid of Nielsen ratings.





Mrs. Preston says it's time to celebrate Dan's birthday, and she tells Ethel to give her hubby his big surprise, that turns out to be a Perry Como record. He asks if they could play it. As everyone in the room exchanges nervous glances, he suggests they could listen to just the beginning instrumental before Como sings. Anthony looks displeased. Mr. Weston says he doesn't think they should take the chance, and tells him to wait until he gets home. This guy is clearly not doing his job as a dad.



Mrs. Weston says it's time for Pat Riley to play the piano, and he asks Anthony to tell him what he'd like him to play, while Dan Hollis is off in a corner with a bottle, working on getting wasted. Anthony tells him to play anything, and Riley decides on Moonglow, which everyone agrees is a good tune. Dan is starting to get sloppy and rattles the glassware as he continues to imbibe, which draws Anthony's ire, and he asserts that he doesn't like any noise when the music's playing.


Pat Riley is sweating and Dan Hollis is attempting to reach alcohol poisoning levels. Mrs. Weston signals Ethel to intervene, which she does, but he gets loud and claims he's only enjoying his birthday gift of peach brandy. Pat stops playing and Mr. Weston tells him to continue. Dan starts talking about how good the brandy is, and decides it's a good time to inform everyone about the specific details of the town's dwindling liquor inventory. He gets upset and complains about not being able to play his Perry Como record, and stupidly smashes one of the few remaining bottles of liquor in town in the fireplace.


Ethel runs to him, but he walks away from her, and tells Pat he wants him to play the Happy Birthday song, as he begins to sing it to himself. Anthony starts to look angry, and Ethel begs him to stop singing. He asks Pat again to play it, but he continues to play Moonglow. Dan stumbles around the room, knocking over a lamp, and blames the Westons for having the kid.


He starts to sing You Are My Sunshine and Anthony gives him an angry look. Dan calls him a dirty, little monster and murderer. He tells him to think bad thoughts about him, and suggests someone with guts could sneak up behind him and bash his skull in to end their torment.


Anthony says he's a bad man and Dan encourages him to keep thinking that, and begs someone to sneak up on him and end it while he's thinking about him.


He implores someone to get a lamp or bottle and end it, but Anthony points his finger at him and turns him into one of the most terrifying things ever seen on screen.






His dad pleads with him to wish it into the cornfield, and the sickening jack in the box disappears.


Anthony tells Ethel that she also shouldn't think bad thoughts or he'll do the same thing to her. His Dad and Pat Riley tell him that he did a good thing to Dan. Aunt Amy starts saying how she liked it better when there were cities and they could get real television, and Mrs. Weston stops her and asserts that Anthony's TV is better than anything else on TV. His dad agrees, and a wind suddenly blows through the window. Mr. Weston observes that it's snowing outside, and asks if Anthony is responsible. He admits that he is, and his dad gets angry and says it will ruin half of their crops. His mom stops him in time so he can pull himself together to say that it's a good thing.


Before he can say any other dumb things, Rod Serling interrupts him with the closing narration:
No comment here. No comment at all. We only wanted to introduce you to one of our very special citizens. Little Anthony Fremont, age 6, who lives in a village called Peaksville in a place that used to be Ohio. And if by some strange chance you should run across him, you had best think only good thoughts. Anything less than that is handled at your own risk. Because if you do meet Anthony, you can be sure of one thing, you have entered The Twilight Zone.


Thoughts:

Since Mr. Serling has no comment, I assume he wants us each to draw our own conclusions from this disturbing half hour of television, which is quite appropriate since this is a real meaty episode of TZ, with many different takeaways to ponder. I believe the crux of the episode is when Dan Hollis blames the parents for the little monster they created.


It underscores the notion that children will learn to be hateful or caring as a result of their parents' child rearing efforts. It may also present the horrifying possibility that a child may behave in a sociopathic manner, despite caring interactions and proper guidance from loving caregivers. The question is whether you agree with Dan Hollis that the parents are to blame or not, and I appreciate that Serling allows viewers to decide for themselves.


It should be acknowledged that the Westons abdicated their responsibility to teach Anthony that it's wrong to hurt others, and give him proper guidance on how he might use his powers in a positive way to benefit his family and community. When he says he hates anyone that hates him, they should have informed him that not everyone will like him, and that's to be expected, especially when he treats others cruelly. Imagine if he became a powerful leader of a country with that attitude, and subsequently called people rude names, sowed discord among citizens, and caused the breakdown of critical negotiations between nations as a result.

Anthony's lack of care or respect for animals, by tinkering with them, causing disfigurement and suffering, and then killing them at his whim, prepared us to hear that he set someone on fire for thinking thoughts he deemed unpleasant. His willingness to torture and kill animals was a sign that he would do the same to people. How did he miss out on learning to respect all living things?

It's interesting that Anthony decided to stop the electricity and machinery from working. Is he a luddite, believing that the world is better off without advanced technology? He seems a little young to be satisfying an urge for nostalgia. You'd think the kid might at least appreciate the benefits of having an electric fan on a hot day, or would miss having ice cream from a freezer. I have to wonder what's up with the car lying on its side on the property. When Anthony got mad at machines, did he use his mind to toss it around like a toy car?


Surely Rod Serling is getting in a dig about TV production by allowing Anthony to have complete control over what is presented on TV, which he only provides once a week, denying anyone else the right to choose anything other than his vision on screen. It suggests that Anthony had to create his own programming because he was unhappy with what was available.

At the end, when Dan Hollis begs someone to bash in his skull, it's hard not to hope that Aunt Amy will be the one to do it, and then be horrified to realize that we're hoping for the murder of a child. With WWII still fresh in the minds of people when it aired, it was probably difficult not to see the connection between those following despicable orders out of fear, and the way Anthony terrorizes those around him to support his unspeakable acts, and not wish for the destruction of the monster. His ability to read people's thoughts and emotions, and thereby exert control over what they think, may be his most terrifying ability.


Dan's drinking may cause some reflection on the consequences of overindulging in alcohol. If he had been more in control of his faculties, he could have come up with a better plan to garner support to take down the kid, so he could listen and enjoy his beloved Perry Como record. On the other hand, it could have been the alcohol that lowered his inhibitions, allowing him to consider taking the little monster out and setting the town free.


This episode may inspire you to consider what you might do if you had Anthony's powers, or what you would do if someone else had those powers and used them the way Anthony did. I love this episode! The acting is fantastic, the horror has a lasting impact, and it inspires deep thought. After all, what is a good life?