Thursday, October 31, 2013

Classics: A Review of House of Wax By Lauren Ennis

Nothing suspicious about this...

When one hears the phrase “movie star” one most often imagines the glamorous images of leading actors. Some of film’s most talented and versatile stars, however, are character actors who defy the stereotypes that often restrict leading players. One such character actor is the consistently entertaining master of horror, Vincent Price. Through his combination of dry wit, commanding presence, and an unforgettable voice, Price rose above the restrictions of character roles to become an icon in his own right and the face of horror for a generation. In honor of horror’s high holy day, Halloween, I’ll be presenting a review of one of Price’s earliest and most well known forays into the genre, House of Wax.

The film begins innocently enough as struggling sculptor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) presents a potential buyer, Sidney Wallace (Paul Cavanaugh), with his impressive museum of historical wax works. Jarrod lovingly shows Wallace each of his masterpieces, which he regards as his prized possessions. Wallace expresses interest in the pieces and offers to settle on a deal upon his return from a trip abroad in three months. The film takes a sinister turn when Jarrod gleefully informs his business partner, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts), of the impending deal. Rather than chance Wallace changing his mind during the three month trip, Burke insists that the most assured way for both of them to prosper is to embark upon an insurance fraud scheme. After Jarrod refuses to take part in the scheme, Burke takes matters into his own hands by setting the museum on fire; with Jarrod still inside. Miraculously, Jarrod survives the fire but is crippled and disfigured by his injuries. Rather than resigning himself to his seemingly hopeless fate, Jarrod uses his sculpting skills to start over with a new, macabre, wax museum aimed at procuring ticket sales rather than attaining artistic value. Life seems to be taking a turn for the better for Jarrod until his party girl date, Cathy (Carolyn Jones), and several other people are found murdered, and later disappear from the local morgue. When Cathy’s roommate, Sue (Phyllis Kirk), sees that Jarrod’s sculpture of Joan of Arc bears an eerie likeness to Cathy, she becomes convinced that there is more to the wax museum than manufactured horrors and sets out to find Cathy’s killer.

Horror is a genre that is often unfairly maligned as trivial and mindless. While some horror movies unfortunately fall into this category, many earlier efforts at the genre avoided this trap by utilizing implied scares in favor of pandering to audiences with cheap shocks. Although it does delve into some frightening sequences, most of the violence in House of Wax is carried out off screen. Although this relatively bloodless approach is likely due in large part to the Hay’s Office Production Code, it provides the film with a more subtle and genuinely unsettling plot. While the acts of murder and corpse desecration certainly make for horrifying visuals, the implication of such acts can often be far more disturbing. When viewing violence on screen, viewers are often prevented from being fully engaged in the scares that they are seeing by knowledge of the fact that what they are viewing is fiction. This lack of engagement would only have been exacerbated in House of Wax by the limitations of 1950’s special effects, which would have prevented any on screen violence from looking realistic enough to cause any actual thrills. As a result, the film incurs far more fear by allowing viewers to create their own images of violence, uninhibited by studio effects, than it ever could have through the use of graphic or explicitly violent scenes.
A possible reason the movie is no longer in 3D

The film also rises above horror’s stigma by taking a unique approach to its villain. While most horror films feature villains that are either mindless monsters or one dimensionally evil, Henry Jarrod is a complicated and sympathetic figure. By showing Jarrod’s near rise and tragic fall, the film enables viewers to identify with him and see him as a person rather than as a stock villain. During the film’s exposition, the audience becomes familiar with Jarrod as the mild mannered artist that he is before his disfigurement, and is meant to view him as tragically wronged man. Even after his escape from the museum fire, the film continues to show Jarrod as a cultured man about town and invites audiences to root for his renewed success. Similarly, when Jarrod executes Burke in an act of vengeance, it is difficult for audiences to condemn his actions given the damage that Burke inflicted upon Jarrod’s life. As a result, when Jarrod does start inevitably taking in fresh corpses to supply his museum, the audience is clearly meant to view him as an anti-hero rather than as an outright villain. By utilizing a sympathetic character foundation, the film provides audiences with an even more disturbing prospect; if circumstance could change a seemingly average person like Henry Jarrod into a twisted maniac, couldn’t the wrong circumstances do the same to each of us? It is this notion of the evil lurking in all of humanity that creates the most lasting and effective scares in House of Wax.

Overall the cast provides the script with ample support through solid performances. Phyllis Kirk is a refreshingly strong and resourceful heroine, especially for a 1950’s horror film. Similarly, Carolyn Jones does well as a gold digging ditz, making her character both daffy enough to be an ideal target for Jarrod’s schemes and likeable enough for the audience to want her killer brought to justice. Paul Picerni provides an adequate performance in his underwritten role as Sue’s artist boyfriend and eventual rescuer. Despite the fine quality of the supporting cast’s performances, Price completely steals the film with his by turns mild mannered and chilling portrayal of the vengeful sculptor. Price alternates between his character’s extremes with ease, lending credibility to both the cultured, Dr. Jekyll-esque, artist, and the tormented, deranged, killer.

Through its combination of layered characterizations and subtle thrills, House of Wax is a bit of Halloween horror that the whole family can enjoy. The story avoids the typical genre tropes of monsters and gory mayhem and instead takes on the more complex task of making us examine the dark side lurking within us all. The film cemented Vincent Price’s place as the face of horror in the 1950’s and 1960’s, providing audiences with a true genre icon. Get into the Halloween spirit by taking a trip into Price’s wax museum for a night of thrills, chills, and vintage horror frights…if you dare…

Wax women are the best listeners

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A History of Horror pt. I: The Silent Horror Films.

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A History of Horror Films

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Hello My Loyal & Awesome Readers, this is Das Film Junkie here introducing a new Mini-Segment to the Blog.  Now I mostly only review Straight to DVD Horror films made between 2001-and-the-present, but I wanted to try something different.  Instead of me tearing apart some Blood & Gore crap-fest, I decided that I wanted to talk about the Good Horror films that have left a lasting impression on filmmaking and open some of you up to some Horror films, that you may not have heard of or even seen.  This is a Mini-Segment that I am introducing to the blog called “A History of Horror Films”.  I am going to still post my regular reviews (and other things like Top 5’s, Retrospect’s, and 2-4-1 Specials), and I will try to limit these postings to only 1 per month so as to not overwhelm you the reader, but to also give you all the opportunity to provide feedback to this new segment of the blog.  Please, let me know what you think, and be sure to check out Part I of the “History of Horror” here on “Confessions of a Film Junkie”.
PART I.  Silent Horror Films

     Since the earliest days of motion pictures, there have been Horror films.  Since motion pictures were new form of visual medium and artistic expression, many of the early silent films relied and trial and experimentation.  Many early films had short running times as well.  Some films ranged from only a few minutes long to as much as an hour long.  This is quite a stark contrast between films today that typically range from 90 minutes to 120 minutes.  The shorter the film, the less time the filmmakers had to tell their story.                                
   Following the end of World War I in 1918 there was an emergence of “Expresionist” Art films that came out.  These films bounced across multiple genres and eventually managed to influence the earliest Horror films.  One such film was the 1920 German classic, “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” (translated into English: “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”).                    
“Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer.  Both Janowitz and Mayer were both heavily influenced by their experiences from World War I as well as some pre and post war activities.  For example, while attending a carnival in 1913 in his native Germany, Janowitz came across a young girl (whom he had never met before) named Gertrud.  The next day Janowitz was shocked to find that Gertrud had been found murdered in the woods.  While attending her funeral, Janowitz re-marked that he had an unsettling feeling that the killer was—perhaps—among the mourners attending Gertrud’s Funeral.  These experiences from Janowitz’s own life are a very good explanation as to why the murders in the film occur after the two main characters leave a carnival.                    
I ADORE these sets; they are phenomenal
   Another distinctive characteristic that set’s “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” apart from other early Silent Horror films was its creative and unique sets.  The set design for the film was heavily influenced by Austrian Expressionist artist Alfred Kubin, whom both Janowitz and Mayer wanted to personally design the set’s for the film.  However, the film’s producer, Erich Pommer would not give Janowitz or Mayer the funds to pay for Kubin and instead, Pommer paid his own studio crew to design the set for the film.  Most of the sets—actually—had to be painted in the dark because Pommer didn’t want to spend the extra money on his electricity bill.  Many of the sets were painted in black and white and contain spirals, curves, and many other German Expressionist designs.                   
Doctor Caligari & Cesare
What “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” is known most famously for is for being the first film to have a “twist-ending”.  Many film scholars and historians claim that “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” was the first film to an incorporate a twist ending into its plot.  This new idea shocked and impressed audiences who thought they were just walking in to see a film with a basic plot.  To this day, many people still consider it one of the best “Twist-endings” in film of All-Time.  What is this twist-ending, you may be asking.  I dare not spoil it for you.  This film is far too important for me to ruin the ending, and it simply must be viewed by all to appreciate its influence it has left on filmmaking.                                                   
    A shot-for-shot remake was done of the film in 2005.  The plot remained unchanged and the film studio actually re-created the entire set from the original 1920 film, which speaks volume of their dedication.  This fan has two benefits for modern movie watchers; it includes Sound and it was done in English.  It is ideal for those of people who find it difficult to make it through “silent films”.                                               
One year later, in 1921 another film following the German Expressionist art trend was made.   The name of the film was “Nosferatu”.  “Nosferatu” was another important early Silent Horror film, but unlike “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari”, which was an original story, “Nosferatu” is an unofficial (Or “unauthorized”) adaptation of Bram Stoker’s popular Horror novel, Dracula.  Since the film studio could not obtain the film rights for Stoker’s novel, some changes had to be made to avoid legal troubles.  The word “vampire” was replaced with “Nosferatu” and Count Dracula became “Count Orlok”.  Despite the name changes to all the characters, the films makers were still sued by the family of Bram Stoker, who ordered that all copies of “Nosferatu” be destroyed.  Fortunately, a few copies of “Noseferatu” were saved.                                          
    “Nosferatu” was a direct rip-off of Dracula, and even though Universal Film Studios got the rights to make an official adaptation of “Dracula” in 1931, many people still praise “Nosferatu” and believe it has left a legacy on all Horror films made since its release in 1922.                                   
Not all that Subtle, eh, Count Orlok?
    The make-up worn by actor Max Schreck’s for Count Orlok is still quite frightening, and has become one of the most iconic images in Horror films.  Despite its influence, and popularity, I still don’t get the appeal of “Nosferatu”.  I’m not saying it’s a bad film, I just feel like Bela Lugosi’s “Dracuala” (1931) is much better.  The problem with Max Schreck’s Count Orlok is that he looks like a monster, so there’s no subtlety or suspense whatsoever.  Lugosi actually looks like a person in “Dracula”, and so it’s much more suspenseful.           

The Most Iconoic Shadow in Horror Film History
     I hope you all enjoyed this article, and stay tuned for next week when we will be discussing the Universal Movie Monsters of the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s as well as other “Pre-Code” Horror Films

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Classics: A Review of All About Eve By Lauren Ennis

Fasten your seatbelts; its going to be a bumpy night

Acidic theater critic Addison Dewitt remarks that Eve Harrington is “the golden girl, the girl next door, the girl on the moon” before going on to tell viewers all about the Broadway starlet. Despite the implications of the film’s title, All About Eve is about far more than the manipulations of an ambitious fan turned stage sensation. Instead, the film is an endlessly witty critique of stardom, artists, and traditional gender roles. Over sixty years later, the film’s insights still resonate and its numerous barbs remain as sharp and quotable as ever, making All About Eve a classic in the truest sense of the word.

The film begins as Eve (Anne Baxter) receives top honors at the Sillerton Awards (a fictional stand in for the Tony Awards) before relating the story of her over-night success through a series of flashbacks. The flashbacks reveal that prior to her stage career, Eve was just another fan waiting for an autograph from previous toast of the town, Margo Channing (Bette Davis). After anxiously approaching Margo’s best friend, Karen (Celeste Holm), Eve is brought backstage and introduced to Margo and her circle of theater associates. Eve reluctantly relates her sad story to Margo, explaining that she is a poverty stricken war-widow and that Margo’s performances have been the one outlet keeping her going. Touched by Eve’s seeming modesty and tragic story, Margo takes Eve under her wing, offering Eve a job as her personal assistant and a room in her expansive penthouse. Although she initially appears to be a dedicated friend and humble assistant, Eve quickly sets to work using the connections in Margo’s life to her advantage. Distracted by the problems in her relationship with her boyfriend and director, Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), and the effects of reaching middle age upon her career, Margo fails to recognize Eve’s duplicitous nature. After she successfully schemes to win a part originally written for Margo and attempts to seduce Bill, Margo realizes that Eve is not the innocent ingénue that she appears to be. Despite Margo’s warnings, her friends refuse to see Eve for what she really is, and unwittingly aid her in her quest for success at any cost. Over the course of the film, Eve lies, cheats, and sleeps her way to the height of Broadway success, leaving emotional devastation in her wake.

While the film follows the well-worn path of critiquing the acting profession, it does so by using a refreshingly realistic approach. For instance, while films such as Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane show aging actresses obsessing over their past successes as they descend into madness, All About Eve regards Margo in a lovingly critical manner. Although she does worry about the effects of aging on her looks, she is far more concerned with its weightier implications such as the way in which her age will limit the roles that she can play and alter her relationship with her younger boyfriend. Similarly, her fiery temper and theatrical mannerisms reveal Margo to be a constant showman hiding behind the safety of her larger than life persona, rather than delusional and unable to differentiate between her public persona and her personal self. The film also resists the temptation to utilize over the top plot devices and storylines to make its point, instead using the absurdities of the theater and its inhabitants to their full potential.

While many Hollywood critiques often resort to industry stereotypes, All About Eve presents audiences with a cast of divergent and multifaceted characters. For instance, Bill provides Margo with the emotional and career support that she needs, while still holding her accountable for her mistakes. He is also able to walk the line between good natured and cynical as he sees the world around him for what it is, but still maintains a positive outlook. Margo’s playwright, Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), and his wife, Karen, possess an equally realistic relationship as they struggle to maintain their marriage amidst the temptations and suspicions of celebrity life.  The only characters that are reduced to types are Eve, whose villainy and ambition know no bounds, and theater critic Addison (George Sanders), whose life seems to hold no purpose other than damaging others’ careers in order to inflate his own ego. Fortunately, the performances of Anne Baxter and George Sanders are nuanced enough to ensure their characters’ believability.
Why do producers always look like sad rabbits?

The film’s critiques of artists and stardom are by turns hilarious and sobering. While Margo and her friends believe themselves to be elevated beyond the reach of the “little people” upon whom their careers depend, it only takes one fan to throw their lives completely out of focus. It is this same lack of awareness that creates many of the film’s misunderstandings and confrontations. For instance, Margo’s fixation on her age leads her to immediately suspect that Bill’s interests in Eve are more than professional, despite evidence to the contrary. Similarly, Lloyd’s need for praise and recognition makes him all too easy prey for manipulative Eve, and nearly costs him his marriage. Sophisticated Addison falls into this same trap when he takes Eve on as his protégée after failing to admit that a ‘mere actress’ could possibly match wits with him. Even Karen, who consistently provides the story with a voice of reason, lets her resentment towards Margo blind her to Eve’s increasingly obvious avarice.

One of the most daring aspects of the film is the way in which it calls traditional gender roles into question. While all of the male characters are interesting and intelligent people, it is the ladies who move the film’s action. The arc of the story is propelled by the juxtaposed ascent of Eve’s career and the corresponding descent of Margo’s career and the changes that both women undergo. The story’s plot relies just as heavily upon its leading ladies; besides Eve’s constant machinations, there is also Karen’s attempts at behind the scenes assistance that  set much of the film’s plot into motion. The film defies the mores of the 1950’s by portraying each of its female characters as independent and successful people, regardless of their looks or marital status. It also calls the double standards of its time into question by showing Margo as an interesting person and talented actress regardless of the fact that she is middle aged and unmarried. At one point, Margo says “Bill is thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago and he’ll look it twenty years from now. I hate men”. As funny as this line is, it also underscores the basic reality that while women in acting are ‘put out to pasture’ when they reach middle age, the concept of a man’s prime has nothing to do with his age. Margo’s eventual acceptance and embracing of her age shows that women are much more than pretty faces, and as such are just as complex and valuable at forty as they are at twenty (if not more so). Thus, the film’s original 1950 poster is entirely accurate; All About Eve is "all about women...and their men".

With its combination of scathing satire, razor sharp dialogue, and compelling drama, All About Eve is a film that grows more fascinating with each viewing. Through its criticism of celebrity, the story’s plot may be even more relevant in today’s celebrity obsessed culture than it was upon its initial release. The film’s top tier performances include personal bests for Bette Davis and George Sanders and a star making bit part turn by a then unknown Marilyn Monroe; all in parts in which art eerily imitates life. So fasten your seatbelts, and settle in for one hilariously bumpy ride courtesy of Margo, Eve, and the witty world of theater that they inhabit.
You can always put that award where your heart ought to be

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A review of "Self Storage"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Self Storage”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     Praise Odin, there is hope for low budget Horror Film making!  That hope is coming courtesy of an up and coming film studio from East Greenwich, Rhode Island called Woodhaven Production Company.  I find this very exciting because I work in Rhode Island, and I lived in city of Woonsocket, RI for the first three years of my life, so I think it’s great to see a film company emerging from a State that I have many close ties too.  Since 2011, Woodhaven Production Company, led by CEO/ producer Chad A. Verdi has produced four feature length films; “Inkubus” (starring Robert Englund), “Loosies, “Infected” (which I reviewed earlier this year), and the film that I am reviewing today “Self Storage”.                                             
“Self Storage” was written, directed, and stars Tom DeNucci.  Along with the acting talents of Eric Roberts and Horror movie legend Michael Berryman, these three are just a small part of well thought out, low-budget Horror film.  It is the story of a young adult named Jake (DeNucci) who works—and lives—at a self storage lot.  Jake spends most of his time at work goofing off, smoking pot, and doing other things he shouldn’t do at work.  The storage unit is owned by a man named Walter (Roberts), who was a decorated War Veteran.  Unbeknownst to Jake, Walter is using his storage unit as a major cover up for something much more devious.  Walter begins to tell his friend and head of security Trevor (Berryman) that they may be in danger of being found out, and he is planning to move them and their secret operation to a different location.  Jake over hears this conversation and thinks that he is getting fired, so he decides to do what anyone would do in that situation:  he calls up his friends and tells him that he is throwing a party down at the storage yard.  Jake’s friends arrive and they begin partying like there is no tomorrow.  Unfortunately for Jake and his friends Walter is expecting a pick up from a buyer, and since Jake, involuntarily, destroyed their secret stash Walter & Trevor decide to make Jake and his friends their new supply.       
    I really dug the story to this film.  It had some basic rudimentary story plot ideas, but it still managed to have some originality to it, but I don’t want to give away too many details.  I will say that I don’t think I will ever look at a storage unit the same again.  I also really like the soundtrack to the film as well.  The music was original and sounded good as well.                                                    
Eric Roberts is quite the enjoyable psycho
    Another great aspect of the film was its actors.  I’m not surprised that Tom DeNucci played the role of the films hero Jake.  If I got the opportunity to direct one of the films that I wrote, I’d want a big part in it too.  Jake’s a pretty basic, screwball twenty-something-year-old, who never-quite-got-his-life-together and works a dead end job.  He’s a pretty basic character, but is not detestable.  At times he’s actually an enjoyable character.  Michael Berryman also gives a competent performance as Trevor, the kind-hearted older security guard.  The best actor in the film—hands down—is Eric Roberts.  I’ll be perfectly honest; I am not that big of a fan of Eric Roberts as an Actor.  There’s only a couple of performances he’s given in films & TV that I actually enjoy, but he is so good in this film.  Roberts character is deviously sinister, and he gives a chilling performance.  You can tell that he is enjoying playing this character every second that he is on screen.                
   Now as much as I am praising this film, I have to address it has faults. It is a low-budget Horror film after all.  My biggest complaint I have about the film is the character, Rip.  Rip is this drug dealing, wannabe ghetto boy.  The actor who plays them is named Ben Gracia.  The way I’d best describe his performance is he’s like a TV After School Specials interpretation of what a drug dealer looks and sounds like. There is nothing positive or likeable about his character, and the only scene he was in that I enjoyed is when Michael Berryman’s character stabbed Rip to death.                            
   Another problem I had with the film is that I felt the special effects were a little too cheesy.  And I know I shouldn’t be that surprised that a low-budget film doesn’t have great effects, but some of them will just make you shake your head.  There’s one scene where Michael Berryman’s character strikes one of the girls with a baton, and then we see her dead on the ground with her brains leaking out on the floor.  What was her skull made out of paper-Mache? I don’t think a baton strike would do that much damage.  Another scene shows a different girl being struck in the eye with her own high heel and an excessive amount of blood comes out as a result.  I think the only way a high heel could do that much damage is if the person was still wearing the shoe and stepped and then drove the heel through the person’s eye.
Yay!  Michael Berryman
    This is a good film, and I think that if it would have had a larger budget and a few better actors, then it could have been a great film.  I would definitely recommend this film not only for fans of Horror films, but just to anyone.  I was also very excited to find out that there is a sequel film in the works.  I’m hoping the sequel will have a bigger budget and take this film to a level that is either on par or better than its predecessor.  So make sure you long on to Netflix and check out “Self Storage”. 


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Classics: A Review of Leave Her to Heaven by Lauren Ennis

Always sleep with at least one eye open

Before Rebecca De Mornay rocked cradles and Glenn Close boiled rabbits, Gene Tierney was the frighteningly beautiful face of domestic horror. While horror is a genre often associated with brutal violence and grotesque monsters, some of Hollywood’s most effective scream fests are those that show us the horror within the seemingly mundane aspects of every-day life. One such film is the 1944 classic Leave Her to Heaven, which shows the unnerving lengths at which a seemingly average woman will go once scorned. In this tale of love gone terribly wrong, Tierney’s lovely psychotic reminds us that sometimes the most dangerous monsters are those that walk in broad daylight.

The film starts as once renowned novelist, Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), returns home after a stint in prison. As the locals speculate about Harland’s mysterious past, his friend and lawyer, Glen Robie (Ray Collins), attempts to dispel rumors by telling the tale of Harland’s crime and conviction. The film then flashes back several years as Richard is riding a train to Robie’s New Mexico ranch. While on the train, Richard meets, and is instantly infatuated with, beautiful Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney), who also happens to be traveling to the Robie ranch. During his visit, he is increasingly fascinated by the already engaged Ellen, and pursues her against his better judgment. Ellen coyly encourages his affections and eventually tricks him into proposing to her when she tires of her district attorney fiancée (Vincent Price).

The couple is quickly married and seem on their way to marital bliss until Richard’s polio stricken younger brother, Danny (Darryl Hickman), moves in. Although Ellen initially appears devoted to Danny and dedicated to helping him recover, it is later revealed that she has less than selfless motives. When Danny’s doctor insists that he is well enough to come along on Ellen and Richard’s delayed honeymoon trip, Ellen becomes furious at what she sees as an intrusion upon her marriage. She begs the doctor to lie to Richard in order to prevent him from taking Danny on the trip. Although Ellen attempts to rationalize her motives, the doctor sees through her façade and realizes with disgust that she is jealous of Richard’s relationship with Danny. Ellen’s jealousy becomes increasingly problematic when the trip is interrupted by not only Danny, but also Richard’s friend, Thorn (Chill Wills), and a surprise visit from Ellen’s family (Mary Philips, Jeanne Crain).  By the end of the trip, it is obvious to all concerned that Ellen’s relentless need to possess Richard is a symptom of something far more serious than spousal affection or personal insecurity. Despite her best efforts, Ellen is unable to stop herself from “loving too much” and takes increasingly drastic measures to ensure that her husband remains hers alone.

Always wait one hour before swimming with a psycho
One of the most notable aspects of this film is the way in which it delivers chills without relying upon typical genre tropes. For instance, while most horror films take place at night, almost the entire story is set in glorious sunshine. Similarly, Richard is trapped not in an isolated location befitting a serial killer, but in the friendly crowds that spark his wife’s fatal neurosis. Also, the characters are plagued not by a supernatural or external force, but instead by the increasingly erratic behavior of someone they love. Through its refusal to rely upon the standard horror formula, the film is able to present viewers with an unusual set of scares that lead us to question the supposed safety of our own mundane lives.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of this film is its villain. While numerous films before Leave Her to Heaven have used the femme fatale stock character, few have been able to present a deadly beauty who is also three dimensional.  While Ellen does commit atrocities against her friends and family, she still manages to incur some level of sympathy. For instance, in her first meeting with Richard, her unwitting criticism of his novel is charming rather than abrasive, and shows that she is an intelligent woman capable of making her own opinions. It is difficult for viewers to fault her later in the story when she adheres to standard Hollywood advice and follows her heart to marry Richard, even if it is at the expense of her dull fiancée. Similarly, Richard’s constant refusal to be alone with his wife is understandably frustrating and initially seems to indicate a problem with his psyche rather than that of the neglected Ellen.

The most disturbing aspect of Ellen’s character is the fact that those around her possess the resources to help her cope with her compulsions, but refuse to utilize them. After an outburst at a family gathering, Ellen confesses to Richard that she knows something is “wrong” with her and begs him to help her overcome it. He then speaks to Ellen’s mother and asks what is causing Ellen to act out. Mrs. Berent dismisses the matter saying that Ellen “just loves too much”, and Richard is content to leave the matter without asking for further explanation. Through these two scenes, it is obvious that Ellen’s family are well aware of the fact that she is suffering from a mental illness but choose not to provide her with the help she so obviously needs. As a result, Richard and Ellen’s family are in many ways the true villains in the story as they watch Ellen put herself and others at risk, but consistently fail to stop her.

Although Leave Her to Heaven contains a riveting story, it would not have been nearly as successful without an able cast to support it. Gene Tierney earned her star status in her subtle portrayal of Ellen’s gradual descent into madness. In Tierney’s hands, what could have easily been a one-note or hysterical performance is an unnervingly believable portrait of a woman who has succumbed to her own worst instincts. While his performance is not as strong as Tierney’s, Cornel Wilde is likable and genial enough to garner audience sympathy and interest. Although her character takes time to become relevant to the plot, Jeanne Crain holds her own as Ellen’s sensible sister, particularly in the siblings’ final showdown. Vincent Price makes the most of a thankless role as Ellen’s jilted fiancée, and adds entertainment value to the otherwise out of place trial scene. Finally, Darryl Hickman adds genuine warmth and innocence to his portrayal of Danny, but his “awe shucks” performance style so common to 40’s child actors has not aged well.

Leave Her to Heaven remains one of the most interesting twists on horror through its combination of excellent cinematography, ample performances, and a truly gripping story.  At one point in the film, Glen tells Richard that “Ellen always wins”, and her unforgettable portrayal by Tierney ensures that Ellen will continue to win amongst classic film audiences. I recommend this film to fans looking for an unconventional approach to Halloween happenings and a twisted take on love.

Stop yelling at me!!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A review of "Open Graves"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Open Graves”

By: Brian Cotnoir

     So American Film Studios have a bad habit of taking good foreign films and Americanizing/ Bastardizing the hell out of them. Well in Europe they have a habit of taking crappy American films and making an even crappier version of whatever film they’re ripping off.  So when you take a screenplay written by a Father-Son Team, and give a Spanish Director, with little filmmaking experience, a couple of B-List Actors you get a film like “Open Graves”, and it is bad.                              
“Open Graves” is a film set in Spain and it starts off during the “Spanish Inquisition”, and we see a witch (who we later find out is named “Mamba”) being tortured to death for here “crimes [against the church, presumably]”.  The Monks/Priests/Christian leaders skin her alive and make a board game out of her skin.  The film flashes forward to 500 years later and we are on the Spanish coast where we meet Jason (played by actor Mike Vogel) and his friend Tomas (played by Ethan Rains).  Jason and Tomas are Graduate Students from America who are Spain to “find themselves”.  While at a shopping market in a quaint Spanish Village Jason is given the game “Mamba” by a double-amputee named Malek.  Jason accepts the game from Malek and that night at a party he and his friends decide to play it.  The legend behind “Mamba” is that whomever wins the game will get any wish they so desire.  The game play is simple you roll the dice and you can land on one of two possible squares: Heavens gate (the safe zone) or Open Grave (draw a card/you lose).  So anyways, after playing the game Jason’s friend start dying from some horrendous and mysterious deaths.  Jason’s new love interest (played by Eliza Dushku) notices that the death of Jason’s friends sound similar to the fates they got in the cards they drew in “the Mamba” game.  So is this all just merely a coincidence or is this all a part of “Mamba’s” sinister revenge from beyond the grave.             
    This film is “Final Destination”.  Actually I take that back.  This film is an even crappier version of “Final Destination”.  Of all the American Horror films that they could have ripped off, why did they choose “Final Destination”?  “Final Destination” wasn’t even that good of a film; I didn’t even like they idea/story to “Final Destination”, and I have no idea how the hell they’ve gotten the funding and the demand to make five of them!  So that is the first thing wrong with this film.                     
I'd rather be playing Jumanji
    Oh and let’s talk about “Mamba: the Game” for a quick second.  You know for a game that is supposedly over 500 years old and was created in Spain, it sure was convenient for our American Characters that all the cards to the game were written in English, I mean, that way they at least didn’t have to ask someone to translate the cards meanings for them.   Seriously, were the screenwriters just too lazy to give a bilingual character a couple extra lines of dialogue so they didn’t have to translate the cards into English from Spanish or even Latin?  That is a pretty huge plot hole!                               
The CGI in the in film is atrocious!  
My third problem I had with this film was the crappy CGI.  Oh your God, the CGI in this film is terrible.  All the animal/creatures in this film are done in CGI and they all look terrible.  The first CGI animal you see in this film is a dragon fly and what does the dragon fly do?  He flies by the head of one of the guys who lost in “Mamba” and he get’s freaked out so much that he falls off the cliff he was standing by (while taking a piss).  Who the hell is afraid of a freaking Dragon Fly?  Never mind the even more obvious question of who the hell stands by the side of a cliff to take a piss?  We also get some CGI snakes and CGI crabs, and they all look terribly cheap!              
You're too good for this film, Eliza!
   Eliza Dushku, you make me so sad sometimes.  You’re a good actress.  I enjoyed you in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Doll House”.  You’re even good in films that are not good like “The New Guy” and “Bring it On!”, so why did you take this role?  Part of me is really hoping that deep down she knew this was a terrible film, and that she only accepted it because it was a paycheck and she’d get to Spain to film it.  According to the film she’s a “Goth with a wet suit”.  Now, she’s not a Goth in this film like she is as Faith on “Buffy”, but rather she is classified as “Goth” because she reads old books and owns a Ouija board...that is an insult to “Goths” and people everywhere.  That is stereotyping at its worst.                 
So some of you may be wondering why did I decide that this film might be worth giving a watch.  My reasoning was simple.  The girl on the DVD cover looked like a half-naked Eliza Dushku, and the film said it was Rated R for “Disturbing Images, Violence, and Brief Nudity”.  I assumed/hoped that the “Brief Nudity” was going to come from Eliza Dushku, but instead I was disappointed to find that it only came from some old woman in a hospital.  F*ck you, movie!  F*ck You and your enticing, but deceiving DVD cover.  So do yourself a favor and do not see “Open Graves.  It is not worth your time.       

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Classics: A Review of Night and the City By Lauren Ennis

This makes Dickens' London look downright jolly
Like jazz and rock and roll, film noir is considered a quintessentially American art form. The genre was most noted for its uncanny ability to capture the cynicism, paranoia, and grittiness of life in Cold War America. Like its musical counterparts, however, film noir soon found its way across the pond and into the hands of British filmmakers. These artists used their skills to add a distinctive, bleak, quality to the already grim genre, and provided viewers with Europe’s view of post-war life. One of the most interesting of these British imports was the 1950 thriller Night and the City, a film that delivers the best of both continents as it follows an international cast through an American plot set in London’s underworld.

The film begins as down and out American hustler Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) sprints to the safety of the apartment he shares with his fellow expat girlfriend, Mary (Gene Tierney). He quickly sets to work rifling through Mary’s purse so that he can pay back a group of local thugs he owes money to. Mary returns home from work just in time to catch Harry stealing from her. Her resignation reveals that this is not the first time that Harry has found himself in financial straits, or the first time that he has stolen from her. He ignores her disappointment and explains to her that the money is all part of a plan that will help them both “make it big”.

Harry eventually finds the big idea that he’s been searching for when he attends a wrestling match run by local gangster, Kristo (Herbert Lom). He overhears Kristo’s once renowned wrestler father, Gregorious (Stanislaus Zbyszko), lamenting that his son has sold out his family’s Greco-Roman traditions in favor of flashier, modern, wrestling. Knowing an opportunity when he sees one, Harry works his charm on Gregorious and offers to bring Greco-Roman wrestling back to its former glory if Gregorious will be his business partner. Gregorious eagerly agrees and proceeds to take Harry under his wing as a surrogate son, much to the dismay and frustration of Kristo. Kristo agrees not to interfere with his father’s affairs, but makes it clear that more than money will be at stake should this venture prove to be a failure. Harry pays no attention to Kristo’s threats and immediately seeks investment funds from his sometimes employer and owner of the club Mary sings in, Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan). Phil, who has been hustled by Harry before, pretends to support this latest scheme and offers to provide Harry with the necessary four hundred quid, while actually planning to rescind the funds at the last minute. Meanwhile, Phil’s much younger wife, Helen (Googie Withers), approaches Harry with a proposition to provide him with even greater funds in exchange for the forged liquor license she needs to start her own nightclub and leave her empty marriage. This tangled web of deals and double-crosses sets events in motion that will lead to tragedy for all concerned.
An artist without an art
One of the most intriguing aspects of this film is the way in which it breathes new life into the well worn noir genre by adding its own twists and turns. For instance, while most noirs portray their heroes as ordinary men who are led astray by the forces surrounding them, Harry is far from a victim of circumstance. Unlike most noir heroes, who are often little more than pawns in the villain's greater scheme, he is consistently offered opportunities to change his life and seek a legitimate career. As a result, the only fate that Harry succumbs to is the one which he knowingly puts himself on the path to. Richard Widmark’s manic performance so thoroughly captures Harry’s desperate need to succeed that his schemes appear  to be indications of a compulsion rather than ambition. Despite the uniqueness of his character, Harry’s eventual downfall follows noir tradition by showing the dark side of the American Dream when taken to its most extreme.   

Because Harry is constantly tempted by his own delusions of greatness, there is no need for a femme fatale to enter the plot and lead him astray. The lack of the sultry genre staple leaves the film open to utilize more complex and believable female characters. For example, although Helen used her younger age and looks to win Phil years before, she is now relying on her wits and business savvy to leave her sordid past behind. While her eagerness to discard Phil calls her moral character into question, it also highlights her independence and ambition. Similarly, although Mary acts as Harry’s enabler throughout the film, she does so both knowingly and willingly. Unlike many noir heroines, who are blissfully unaware of their men’s dark sides, Mary understands and sympathizes with Harry’s misplaced dreams, which reflect her own desire to rise above life in the slums. Through these nuanced characterizations, the film creates female characters who are just as complicated as the men in their lives and mirror the reality of women’s changing roles in the post-war years.

The film excellently juxtaposes the idealized image of post-war prosperity with the reality of national recovery. Throughout the film, the characters attempt to utilize the supposed freedom of opportunity that was available after the end of the Great Depression and World War II. Despite their best efforts, however, their plans are blocked at every turn, diminishing their hopes for a better future. This conflict between dreams and reality is further emphasized through the juxtaposition of the city’s quaint tourist sights with its sleazy dives surrounded by bombed out ruins. The film’s cynical view of post-war life can be traced to it's director’s own fall from grace. After being accused of participating in communist politics at the start of the infamous Red Scare, Jules Dassin found himself shut out from Hollywood, and like Harry, exiled himself to London. Dassin’s bitter experience with Hollywood soured his view of the supposed advancements of modern life and what he viewed as a futile, never ending, rat-race. Fortunately for audiences, Dassin’s bitter experience provided him with the inspiration needed to make a truly unique addition to the film noir canon, which also serves as an honest portrayal of an often romanticized time and place.

Night and the City remains one of the least known, but best made film noirs. Its stifling vision of a society trapped by its own delusions is eerily relevant in today’s increasingly conflicted and economically limited era. The film’s performances are uniformly engaging, dynamic, and realistic. The film successfully combines ambition, greed, betrayal, and redemption in a way that creates a thrill ride that few films can match. Join Widmark, Dassin, and company for a walk on the dark side, it will be a night on the town to remember.

Skip the femme and go straight for the fatale

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A review of "Paranormal Asylum"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A review of “Paranormal Asylum”

By: Brian Cotnoir

Who says that Hollywood Film Studios have run out of original ideas?...Oh, wait everyone!  It should come as a surprise to no one that when a film studio has a successful film, other studios will try their best to copy, make, and release their own interpretation of the film in hopes of finding similar success.  Case in point: “Paranormal Activity”.  This 2007 “Found-Footage” Horror film was written and directed by Oren Peli and shot on a budget of $15,000.  The film has made more than 100-Million dollars worldwide. That is an astounding amount of money made by a film with a relatively low budget.  Studios began collaborating and clamoring to create their own versions of “Paranormal Activity”, some of them were made with much bigger budgets than its predecessor, and in the past 5 years we’ve been treated to films like “The Devil Inside”, “Paranormal Entity”, “Grave Encounters”, “The Conjuring”, and dozens of others.  Many—but not all—of these films fail in comparison to the original “Paranormal Activity”.  The film I am reviewing today, “Paranormal Asylum” is one of those films.            
You two suck!
    “Paranormal Asylum” was released in September of 2013 and was directorial debut for Nimrod Zalmanowitz ...seriously ...with a name like Nimrod, are you expecting anything less than total crap?!  Sorry, getting away from the point, let’s talk about the film.  So the plot to the film goes like this: Mark and Andy are two good friends who decide to rekindle their friendship by making a documentary film in New York City.  Through their research they come across a supposed Haunted Asylum.  They’re main lead to the story is an old legend of a patient called “Typhoid Mary” who was apparently a resident of one mental hospital before she was transferred to another hospital—in secret—to be used as human test subject.  Mark, Andy, and Andy’s fiancée decide to go in search of spirits.  Everywhere they seem to go something strange and unsettling happens, and our cast begins to retreat deeper and deeper into their own madness.           
What a Pathetic looking camera
Holy crap!  This film sucks.  There is just so much wrong with it.  The film is shot in two major perspectives. The first person camera P.O.V. (like in “Paranormal Activity”) and basic camera shots (like any other film release).  I don’t think it’s a good idea two have to different styles of camera making, because it looks like they’re trying to combine two styles of filmmaking and it’s just so inconsistent.  The first person P.O.V. camera shots are much worst than the regular camera angles, because both Mark and Andy have their own camera’s and they’re these tiny digital photography cameras, that look so pathetic.  It doesn’t look professional to show them using digital photography cameras to make their film instead of an actual video recorder.      
What do you plan on doing with that, Mark?
    Not only that but all the scenes in this film seem rushed.  One of the great things about the “Paranormal Activity” Franchise is the build up and amount of suspense that occurs in each film.  The atmosphere created in those films is intense.  Sometimes the most tense scenes that occur in the film is when nothing is happening:  there’s no sound there are no images, and the slightest little motion has you gripping the arm rests of your seat with fear in anticipation because you’re terrified of what might happen next.  Your mind begins to race as wait and anticipate for something to happen, and most of the time nothing happens until the climax or very end of the film, but still leaves an impression of dread and terror in your memory.  Now this film has no build-up.  It has now suspension or anticipation.  Most of the scenes are rushed, so there is nothing about it that’s scary.  Some scenes in the film go by so fast that it makes you wonder if they were just running behind film schedule or if they didn’t have an actual film permit and they were rushing to get scenes done before the authorities showed up.  There is just nothing to look forward to in this film.                                 
How I loathe you both!
    The acting isn’t very professional as well.  Mark is the films protagonist, but he just sounds so bored and uninspired in this film. His character just sounds like he doesn’t want to actually be there making this documentary.  He just leaves no impression on you at all, he’s that dull.  The worst actor in this film, hands down, is Nathan Spiteri, who plays Andy.  What I think makes Spiteri’s acting worst is his voice.  The way he speaks in the film sounds like he’s trying to cover up a foreign accent.  There’s just something about the way he speaks that’s just so totally off.  Besides Andy, the other terrible characters in this film are Evelin, who eerily enough reminds me of the Mother from “Troll 2”, Dr. Brooks, and George Sheffield.  They’re all terrible in this film. 
   Absolutely nothing of importance or interest happens in this film.  For the most part this film is just arguing and exposition, and that’s not entertaining, it’s boring.  Really, really boring.  The ending also very stupid. It comes out of nowhere, and isn’t even like a “great twist-ending”.  You have no reason whatsoever to want to see this film.  It’s not good at all, and everyone should just avoid it entirely.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Classics: A Review of The Shawshank Redemption By Lauren Ennis

No frienship is complete without a a voice over narration

Prison ‘lifer’ Andy Dufresne tells fellow inmate, Red, get busy living or get busy dying. This line encompasses the entire message and appeal of the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption. Based off of the Stephen King novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”, the film relates the struggle of a falsely convicted man to maintain hope and dignity while enduring the trials and humiliations of life in prison. Though it made little commercial impact during its theatrical release, the film, like its hero, triumphed above the obstacles in its way and went on to gain a devoted following and critical acclaim.  The film is a truly resonant story which uses the harsh realities of prison as the backdrop for a tale of injustice, corruption, friendship, and ultimately, hope.

The story begins in 1947, as bank vice president Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) loads a gun and drinks a bottle of whiskey in his car after discovering his wife’s affair with another man. The scene then flashes ahead as Andy is facing trial for the murder of his wife and her lover. Although Andy relates a consistent story and repeatedly proclaims his innocence, his seeming detachment leads the jury to convict him of first degree murder. He is then sentenced to a life sentence in the notoriously brutal Shawshank Prison. His mild manner leads fellow lifer, Red (Morgan Freeman), to place a bet that Andy will be the first of the new recruits to break down upon entering prison. To the prisoners’ surprise, Andy “never made a sound”, earning him Red’s begrudging respect ,which later forms the basis of an enduring friendship between them. Unfortunately, it is this same dignity that makes Andy a target for a particularly brutal gang of prisoners known as “The Sisters”, who do all that is in their power to assert their dominance and break his spirit.

Despite the seemingly endless degradations that he is forced to endure, Andy eventually discovers an opportunity when he overhears a guard (Clancy Brown) complaining about paying taxes on his recent inheritance. Using his banking expertise, he helps the guard use various legal loopholes to avoid paying the unwanted tax fees. The guard is so delighted that he brings Andy’s work to the attention of the other guards, and eventually to the attention of the prison’s hypocritical warden (Bob Gunton). Rather than using his new position as the guards’ favorite strictly to his own advantage, Andy uses his influence to obtain favors that benefit his fellow prisoners as well, including the instituting of a prison library and education program. Through his efforts, he reminds his fellow inmates of their humanity and provides them with the motivation to keep going. Eventually, Andy learns that the warden ordered the execution of a fellow inmate (Gil Bellows) in order to prevent the truth of Andy’s unjust conviction from coming to light.  Upon learning of this revelation, he concocts a plan that will make him a legend amongst his fellow prisoners.

An all-purpose pin-up girl
Through the performances of its excellent cast, The Shawshank Redemption is able to take the relatively simple tale of an unjustly convicted man, and elevate it to epic proportions. Tim Robbins provides the film with its emotional core as the quietly defiant Andy. His understated approach to the character enables him to embody both the mild mannered banker that viewers are first introduced to, and the courageous hero who goes on to inspire his fellow inmates. Despite Robbins’ excellent portrayal, it is Morgan Freeman who turns in the film’s most memorable performance as Andy’s wise best friend, Red. Freeman imbues Red with both a wry sense of humor that allows him to appreciate life’s ironies and an innate dignity; qualities which are essential to survival in prison. Freeman’s voice over narration moves the story along while adding poignancy to the film’s proceedings. The supporting cast is also exemplary in their portrayals of the warden, guards, and inmates that make up the prison system. Each of these actors create three dimensional characters that add to the story’s sense of authenticity. After viewing these performances, it is little wonder that the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two Golden Globe Awards.
One of the most striking aspects of the film is the way in which it portrays the reality of prison life while still maintaining an uplifting tone. One of the keys to the film’s balance between authenticity and outright resignation is its emphasis upon justice. Although the events of the story are set in motion by the miscarriage of justice at Andy’s trial, a greater, divine, justice later comes into play and works the prison system's corruption against itself. For instance, when Bogs (Mark Rolston) is finally forced to answer for the atrocities he has committed against Andy and countless other prisoners, it is not at the hands of the abused inmates, but those of the equally abusive guard, Hadley. Similarly, when Andy learns information needed to exonerate himself, he does so through an inmate he has been tutoring, rather than through his own research. In both of these instances, Andy is provided with assistance in unlikely places, which hint at the possibility that his prayers may be heard after all. When Andy is finally able to attain his revenge against the warden and prison staff in the film’s climax, he assumes a Christ-like pose, revealing that a greater justice has indeed been served.

The film’s greatest strength and most uplifting aspect is the bond between Andy and Red. Upon their first meeting, the men appear to be complete opposites. Despite their racial, socio-economical, and experiential differences, however, they are able to see through to their basic similarity; their mutual need for freedom. The film makes this friendship believable by having Andy gradually earn Red’s trust and respect over time, rather than having the men form an instant friendship. Over the course of the next twenty years, they provide each other with the humor, emotional support, and basic human interaction that they need to cope with life behind bars. It is this mutual support that enables them to hang onto what little hope they have left and keep working towards a bearable, if not better, tomorrow. Ultimately, it is not Andy’s attainment of justice or revenge, but the final reunion between these two friends that proves to be the film’s most effective moment.

The Shawshank Redemption is a true classic that speaks to the humanity in us all. The film relates the importance of friendship and hope in all our lives through one man's struggle and eventual salvation.  The story is heartfelt without being sentimental, and authentically gritty without being despairing. Few films have been able to explore the highs and lows of human nature so convincingly. So, get busy living and try a stint in Shawshank; it will be one sentence you won’t want to end.

Freedom's rain beats prison plumbing every time