This will be a looong post—one of my longest ever! Hope you don’t find it TLDR! On or about the beginning of this month, my wife—the Beautiful & Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk (Figure 1)—said “Hey, Halloween is on the 31st! Why don’t we watch a scary movie every night this month?” My response was on the order of “Capital idea, my sweet! Let’s do this!” I also decided to post a micro-review or description of each movie on Facebook every night or morning after. (Fair warning—I might have to cheat and very slightly edit some posts…but these are generally what I posted on Facebook.)
Oct. 1 – So our first “Halloween movie” is actually a TV show: We just watched two Lovecraft Country eps in a row, ending with “I.AM.”… wow! Although I know I’m not guilty, it sure makes me feel guilty on behalf of men and white people.
Hippolyta needs to know, however, that the “diminishing” thing is in effect for all women, not just Black women. It’s something all men who love and live with women need to guard against.
What a powerful episode! Jordan Peele and his cohorts deserve an Emmy (as do the actors) for this one!
Oct. 2 – Well, we should watch scary movies all October, I’m told. So tonight we’re going for Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall in Popeye. With music by Harry Nilsson, I think. And I think we’ll have frozen pizza (Delissio) with added cheddar cheese! Yum! Om nom nom! …and it was still a very fun movie. Nilsson did a good job with the music and lyrics, with standouts “He’s Large” and “He Needs Me,” for two. (Although I’m a big fan, often his songs sound so much alike; for example in The Point.)
Oct. 3 – And tonight’s movie was What We Do in the Shadows, which holds up. It’s a fun little thing, a bit different from the series. Written by, and starring, Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi, it’s about several vampires who share a house in suburban New Zealand (I think Wellington, but I’ve forgotten already); the oldest is over 300 years old, and the rest are varying ages, but all are old. They don’t cope well with modern life. Hilarious.
Oct. 4 – Tonight’s “Halloween” movie was The Cabin in the Woods, a Joss Whedon special filmed right here in Vancouver. It’s a classic! Stars Chris (Thor) Hemsworth and a whole bunch of people whose faces you know, but not their names: Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker. A bunch of college students decide to go to a cabin in the woods for some fun and frolicking. Ha! Like Steve King says, “Dance the funky chicken…” (and if you know the rest of that quote, the ending will be no surprise.) Top-flight fun with SFX exceedingly excellent.
Oct. 5 – Tonight’s movie (and thanks to Graeme Cameron for the suggestion!) was Hardware (1990). Dylan McDermott is the only “name” actor, although Iggy Pop’s voice is heard a lot as “Bob” on the radio. First time we saw this one was on VHS, many years ago. It holds up really well. “Well, we all walk the wibberly-wobberly walk/and we all talk the wibberly-wobberly talk….” The guy who played Lincoln was perfect.
Oct. 6 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was a new one called (where do they come up with these ideas? Who woulda thunk it?) A Werewolf in England. It was a C- movie with British actors struggling to become a B- movie, set approximately in 19th-century England. Written, directed, produced, edited and with cinematography by the same guy, whose name I’ve already forgotten. Occasional humourous spots—the first werewolf diarrhea on film, I think—but overall lacking. Not sure why we stuck with it. (Werewolf makeup could have been better, and the first 3 stomped around waving their arms a lot; the last two bounced around a bit.) Not sure I’d recommend it except to maybe the most dedicated werewolf fan.
Speaking of werewolves, anyone remember The Howling (the first one)? The main McGuffin was a guy named Eddie Lack, who Dee Wallace found out was a werewolf… he was played by Robert Picardo (of Star Trek fame). Just found that out by watching the last half-hour of that movie today.
Oct. 7 – The Veep Debate. Scary stuff, kids! (I think she won, but she could have done better.) Like the Internet meme says, “I’m gonna stay up late on December 31. Not to welcome the New Year, but to make sure 2020 is gone!”
Oct. 8 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was Fright Night (1985), starring Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, and a few people who were never heard from again. Still holds up, though the makeup is kinda crude by today’s standards. Some decent FX, though; Richard Edlund headed the SFX team, and Matthew Uricich worked on them too. A fun little film.
Oct. 9 – Tonight’s Halloween movie (Oct. 9) was called The Hunt (2020), with Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Wayne Duvall, Emma Roberts, et al. A bunch of people wake up and find themselves the objects of a hunt to the death. A bit bloody/gory in spots, but much better than the blurb would lead you to think. In fact, we liked it a lot!
Oct. 10 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was 1957’s Night of the Demon, also called Curse of the Demon, with Dana Andrews, loosely based on M.R. James’ short story “Casting The Runes.” I watched very closely and didn’t see a prune anywhere. Although it doesn’t follow James’ story a lot, it keeps the basic idea. I thought it was well paced and well acted, with good SFX for the day.
Oct. 11 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was the remake of Carrie (2013), with Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Ansel Elgort, and Judy Greer.
If you’d never seen the original, this would be a fairly good B-movie. But it adds nothing to the original, and indeed, the jump shock at the end is weakened by the rewrite.
I have no complaint about the acting or effects, but here’s one thing: Sissy Spacek was very plain as Carrie, prior to the prom. Ms. Moretz has a very distinctive look, and doesn’t fit the template. The religious stuff was downplayed and Carrie’s telekinesis was emphasized. Altogether, I prefer the original in every way.
Oct. 12 – Tonight’s Halloween movie (Stalker, 1979) was highly recommended to us by some friends; Russian-made (with English subtitles), it was based on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic, with screenplay by the aforementioned Strugatsky brothers. I vaguely remember reading the book (1972), which won all kinds of awards. Unless you are in need of sleep—and not restful sleep—avoid this movie! It’s putatively SF: we hear talk of a Zone where the laws of physics sometimes don’t apply, and there’s a room where your fondest wish will be granted.
At no point does anything even vaguely SFnal occur. The three main characters wander for 2 1/2 hours(!), through a vaguely apocalyptic landscape that is supposed to be deadly without a guide (the aforementioned “Stalker”). Two of the characters disobey the stalker’s instructions and—
NOTHING HAPPENS TO THEM! Ooh, how deadly! Also, none of the characters actually enter the room where wishes are granted. One of the characters has a “10-kiloton” bomb that fits in a pocket so he can blow up this room to prevent thousands of people flocking to it…
but he disassembles the bomb. A dog appears… and does nothing but whine and follow the stalker. The characters talk endlessly in what appears to be approved Russian doom-and-gloom psychology. Nobody is changed or affected in any way by the “dangerous” trip. A total waste of our time and barely related to the novel, IMO.
Can anyone who speaks Russian tell me why “Strugatsky” is rendered (in Cyrillic) as “Strugatogo”? (I can transliterate Cyrillic letters, but I don’t know much Russian.)
Oct. 13 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was Thir13en Ghosts (2001), with Tony Shalhoub, Shannon Elizabeth, Matthew Lillard, and F. Murray Abraham. I enjoyed this when I first saw it… it’s very heavy on SFX (CGI), but it has a story and a couple of distinctive characters. (Lillard is, if possible, even more annoying than in Scream or Scooby-Doo.) I thought it held up well, but Lynne didn’t like it as much this time as when she first saw it, though she didn’t articulate why. So your mileage may vary.
Tomorrow we plan to watch the original William Castle 13 Ghosts….
Oct. 14 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was the original William Castle 13 Ghosts. Pretty tame stuff by today’s standards. All the actors were pretty forgettable except Margaret Hamilton and Martin Milner. And the kid, whatever his name is… he was memorable because he was so bad. The ghosts were typical laughable Castle stuff (like the skeleton in House on Haunted Hill); the plot was weak. Very little of it was used in the newer version. (Someone on FB said “That “kid” is my wife’s father’s sister’s husband’s brother!” Don’t know if he was joking or not. But probably.)
Oct. 15 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was the original Tod Browning Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi. (I’ve got several of Universal’s “Monster” packaged movies. The Creature From the Black Lagoon one [a blu-ray] even has the 3D version! And I’ve got a 3D TV!) What a great, well-done movie.
Understated compared to modern Dracula movies; almost no blood and no violence. Dwight Frye as Renfield gives a scenery-chewing performance that’s extremely understated; someone should make Nick Cage watch this until he gets it. Edward Van Sloan was a terrific Van Helsing, and the attendant, Martin, was a good comic relief—”Come along, old fly-eater,” he said to Renfield on more than one occasion.
And Lynne appreciated that there was no background music.
Oct. 16 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was the 2019 Addams Family animated movie. Wish it was more like Charles Addams’ Addams family. It’s a bit hip, inclusive, slick animation with numerous A-list actors as the voices (like Charlize Theron), but in the end leaves you (well, me) with a kind of “meh” feeling. It was okay, but soulless. (BTW, wasn’t it Cousin “ITT” rather than Cousin It as this movie has it?)
No Charles Addams feel to it at all.
Oct. 17 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was 1948’s Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein, with Lon Chaney (Jr.), Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange as the Monster, and an uncredited Vincent Price as the voice of the Invisible Man. If you don’t get tired of A&C’s schtick—Bud is always a butthole to Lou—it’s funny. Lynne said “It’s loud and silly,” and I replied, “Yes, sweetie, it’s supposed to be!”
Chaney was again sympathetic as The Wolfman, and Bela was a bit rounder-faced than 17 years previous when he played the original Dracula in Tod Browning’s film.
Oct. 18 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was 2019’s Ready or Not, a fun little B-movie about family mayhem. Described as a “Horror/Action/Mystery/Comedy,” it’s about a woman who marries into a rich family. This family owns & manufactures board games and the like, but her fiancé doesn’t tell her she has to play a game of “Hide and Seek” as part of the marriage ritual. Things turn weird.
It’s a bit gory, but fun nonetheless. Only name I recognized was Andie McDowell. (Thom Walls commented that the Bride was in the new Bill & Ted movie, Bill & Ted Face the Music.)
Oct. 19 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was courtesy of TCM (Turner Classic Movies): 1958’s Horror of Dracula, from Hammer Films, and starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Michael Gough. Basically a cleaned-up version of Stoker’s Dracula, with different settings and some name changes for no reason we could figure out. The Foley people went crazy with footsteps echoing all over the place; Dracula’s castle (which appeared to be in Germany, as was everything else) was spacious and immaculate. And nobody’s tomb/sarcophagus had a lid! (Only one coffin, and that was Dracula’s fancy white one for traveling.) All in all, reasonably entertaining, however.
Oct. 20 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was, thanks to artist Jim Burns (who suggested it), Host. It’s a 56-minute short about a Zoom seance. No surprises, very predictable, but I thought it was the right length and not padded. Lynne wanted more, however.
Then we watched episode 10 (the Season ender) for Lovecraft Country. Well done, but I hope they let it end; anything after this would be superfluous. Like the little coda at the end with Christina and Diana. Unnecessary. But I must say this series was extremely good, and maybe woke up a few white folks. (But probably not; the people who need that kind of awakening won’t be watching dark fantasy; they’re too “conservative.”)
Oct. 21 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was SF: 1955’s The Quatermass Xperiment, by Nigel Neale, with Brian Donlevy, Lionel Jeffries, Jack Warner and others, directed by (and screenplay co-written by) Val Guest. It’s black and white, like many terrific British genre movies of the ‘fifties. Okay, the science has overtaken this, but nonetheless it is a terrific movie. It’s also known in the US as The Creeping Unknown. It’s only an hour and 18 minutes, but the pacing is excellent. I first saw this on TV in the 1960s, and I haven’t changed my opinion since then.
Oct. 22 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was 1993’s Body Snatchers which, like The Invasion (2007), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1978), was based on Jack Finney’s Collier’s magazine serial The Body Snatchers (1954). Had Gabrielle Anwar, Meg Tilly, R. Lee Ermey, and Forest Whitaker. Some decent pod effects and, for male watchers, some female nudity. Very little tension; it doesn’t build well, and the “surprise” was expected. Maybe we’ll do the better ones next few nights.
Oct. 23 – Tonight’s Halloween movies were courtesy of TCM: 1958’s The Blob, with Steve McQueen; 1959’s The Tingler, a William Castle “gimmick” movie with Vincent Price; and the flying saucer destruction of 1951’s The Thing From Another World, directed by Howard Hawks, with Kenneth Tobey, and James Arness as the outer-space carrot.
The Blob and The Thing From Another World hold up well, though I’m saddened to find out that Steve McQueen was obnoxious during filming. The actual blob was bought in 1965 by some film obsessor; it was made of silicon and red dye. The Tingler was a gimmick film, like several of Castle’s movies, with theatre seats wired to buzz some of the patrons. The ending didn’t even make sense, although Price was his usual urbane self. Guess who wrote “The Blob” theme song? Burt Bacharach!
Had we not been tired, we might have stayed up for the rest of The Thing From Another World, which—despite its departures from John W. Campbell’s original story “Who Goes There?”, remains a classic SF film.
Oct 24 & 25 – Last night’s and tonight’s Halloween movies were, respectively, 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (directed by Philip Kaufman), and 1955’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (directed by Don Siegel). Both based on Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (serialized in Collier’s magazine in 1954). (IMDB says the latter movie was 1956, but the copyright date on the movie itself says 1955.) The former stars Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams, and Veronica Cartwright (as well as the director of the latter in a cameo as a cab driver, with another cameo by Kevin McCarthy). The latter stars Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones, and has a bit role for director Sam Peckinpah—who was an unknown at that time, I believe.
Both movies are very good, with the edge on paranoia maybe going to the Don Siegel version. (The former movie is based on the latter movie—that is, the 1978 version is based on the 1955 version—more than it’s based on the book.) Did I confuse you? 🙂
Oct. 26 – See Oct. 27.
Oct. 27 – Tonight’s (and last night’s) Halloween movie was Carl Laemlle Jr.’s “The Mummy,” directed by cinematographer Karl Freund–his first shot at directing. He was, for example, the cinematographer in “Dracula.” (The reason it’s a two-night movie is that last night we were so worn out we stopped the movie mid-stream and went to bed at 8 p.m. I, personally, slept for ten hours, only getting up 3 times to use the washroom.) The movie stars Boris Karloff as Imhotep/Ardath Bey, Edward Van Sloan as Doctor Muller (except they all pronounced it the German way, making it sound like “Miller”), Noble Johnson as “The Nubian,” and Hungarian stage actress Zita Johann as Helen Grosvenor/Princess Ankh-es-en-amun, plus a couple of actors you probably won’t know, like David Manners as Frank Whemple and Arthur Byron as his father, Sir Joseph Whemple. (And let’s not forget Sir Joseph’s assistant, Ralph Norton (sounds like Jackie Gleason married Art Carney!) played by Bramwell Fletcher, with his maniacal laugh and assertion that “He [the mummy, Imhotep] just went for a little walk…”.) If you haven’t gotten confused by all the remakes, this is what E.E. “Doc” Smith would have called the “pure quill”… real hieroglyphics, real Egyptian names: Imhotep was really the chancellor to Djoser, whose step pyramid was one of the earliest; Ank-es-en-amun was the real-life wife of King Tut! And no “Kharis” or “Tana/tannis” leaves as in later mummy pix. This screenplay was written by John L. Balderston, who also wrote the screenplay for “Dracula” from the stage play.
This is just about a perfect movie, if you can allow that walking mummies and Egyptian gods/goddesses, reincarnation, and curses/magic are real. Although she looks a bit weird by today’s standards, Zita Johann‘s looks and large, emphasized eyes were perfect for a “half-Egyptian” woman who was the reincarnation of Ankh-es-en-amun. Untypically for a stage actress brought into a movie, she didn’t overact; she was as restrained as her dual role would allow. And her voice was in the alto range, not soprano like so many actresses of the thirties. Karloff, naturally, was not only the star, but the standout actor in the movie. His “mummified” skin makeup–of glue, tissue, and collodion–and his beautifully-sculpted face brought forth the character of Ardath Bey.
At no point did he overact, yet he dominated the screen with his tall, spare figure, restrained walk and manner of speaking. Van Sloan’s character, Dr. Muller, was almost exactly like his Van Helsing character in Dracula–in fact, a lot of the dialogue and action were pretty much the same as some in Dracula. The story was simple: 3600 years before 1933 (when the movie was made and set), Imhotep was in love with Ankh-es-en-amun, the pharaoh’s daughter, and she with him. (But she was a priestess of Isis, and theirs was a forbidden love.) She fell ill and died; Imhotep stole the Scroll of the god Thoth, with which Isis had raised the dead god Osiris, and broke into Ankh-etc.’s tomb to read the rite of raising the dead. But he was caught, and sentenced to the Nameless Death, in which he was mummified alive; his sarcophagus was defaced, so he could never get into the afterlife. The Scroll of Thoth was buried with him and most of those who knew where his unmarked grave was located were killed, so as to make sure it was never retrieved.
3600-odd years later, in 1921, Sir Joseph Whemple led an expedition which found said unmarked grave, and the mummy and scroll were dug up. Ralph Norton translated some of the Scroll and read it out loud, which woke Imhoteph; he stole the Scroll and departed, leaving Ralph a raving madman. Sixteen years later, Whemple’s son is led to Ankh-etc.’s tomb by a very withered-looking Egyptian named Ardath Bey, who when asked how he found it, replied “By inference and intuition.” Frank Whemple meets half-Egyptian Helen Grosvenor, who turns out to be the reincarnation of Ardath’s sweetie, and he determines to kill all the guys, steal the Scroll, and turn Helen back into his lost love Ankh-etc. But to do that, he’ll have to kill her. If you haven’t seen it lately, you might have forgotten all the details, but I’ll leave this out of this review for now. All I’ll say, again, is this is a near-perfect movie that if you are a serious lover of film, you should see.
Oct. 28 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was James Whale‘s Frankenstein (1931), with Colin Clive, Mae Clark, Boris Karloff, Edward Van Sloan, John Boles, and Dwight Frye. This is the first and the best of all Frankenstein movies. Interestingly enough, the “Universal Monsters” boxed DVD set seems to have scenes I’ve never seen, such as the “tossing Maria” scene which is usually cut before the kid hits the water. In this DVD, she sank without a trace, while the Monster moaned and waved his arms in anguish. Henry Frankenstein (Clive) was definitely maniacal as the grave-robbing scientist with a mania for creation; Frye as Fritz, his assistant, was an extremely acrobatic hunchback. Ms. Clark as Elizabeth No-Last-Name, Frankenstein’s fiancée, was there, but not really present, if you get my drift. Van Sloan was a bit different from his Dracula and Mummy characters as Henry’s old teacher, Dr. Waldman, but still competent. Victor Moritz (Boles) was Henry’s friend, but was in love with Elizabeth. But the real star was Karloff as the “Monster”–a true innocent, childlike, trusting–until Fritz drove him mad by taunting him with fire and whipping him. His wonder-struck face when Henry opened the skylight to show him his first glimpse of sunlight (he had previously been kept in a windowless dungeon) was a delight to behold, as was his confusion when Henry closed the skylight and the sun went away. A performance for the ages! One of my favourite movies (and actors–Karloff) of all time!
Oct. 29 – Tonight’s Halloween movie was (thanks to Troy David Boyle for the suggestion) The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020), written, directed by, and starring Jim Cummings. Also starring Riki Lindhome (we mostly know her from Big Bang Theory), Chloe East, and Robert Forster (his last role, I believe). Forster is the Sheriff of Snow Hollow County, and Cummings is Frank, his son—also the chief deputy (I don’t think they ever said what state, though it was filmed in Utah). Frank is divorced, and six years sober (he’s in AA or an AA-like program), and has a 17-year-old daughter Jenna (East). It’s a full moon late in the year, and a young couple has come from Orange County to frolic—and get engaged, but she is brutally murdered. There are problems with the crime scene, and one deputy starts muttering “werewolf,” but Frank states emphatically that “werewolves don’t exist; they’re fantasy!” After the third murder Frank is back on the booze, secretly—well, he thinks so (I can tell you that non-drinkers can tell when you’re secretly nipping), and things are tense between him and his co-deputies as well as his ex-wife and daughter. It’s a black comedy, and really well done. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes black murder comedies.
Oct. 30 – Because this column is published before Halloween, I can’t do the reviews for tonight (the 30th, Friday) or tomorrow, Halloween itself without cheating. You’ll have to look at my Facebook postings (they’re under my name) for the actual reviews. Tonight’s film will be Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (1987), with mostly Bruce Campbell. We like it best of all Evil Dead movies.
Oct. 31 – And on Halloween, since our co-op has banished trick-or-treating, we will be watching Ju-On (2002) written and directed by Takashi Shimizu, the original movie that was remade as The Grudge, with Sarah Michelle Gellar (Shimizu also directed this one). I’m looking forward to seeing this with fresh eyes. Remember, to see the last two reviews, go to my Facebook page.
One thing I’ve noticed from a full month of genre movies & TV, both old and new—I can see new things when I watch movies I really know well. Maybe I’m getting older and smarter, as I can see things I’ve missed even with movies I can quote verbatim. I can now go watch almost anything and find it fresh! (Plus I think I understand more than I did when I was much younger.)
Do you have a comment? I hope so–comment here, or on Facebook. Or send me an email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). Anything you want to say to me is welcome! (Just keep it polite, okay?) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!