Eli Roth and AMC make History with a seven part look at horror cinema.
Those of you in the U.S. who appreciate horror cinema may want to carve out a little time Sunday night for the final episode of the retrospective Eli Roth's History of Horror. It's been airing weekly on the cable network American Movie Classics, aka AMC, since mid-October. Though the British network BBC broadcast a very good three part horror retrospective in 2010 (and it even had a similar title—A History of Horror), genre landscapes shift quickly. The Brit series was made before important films like Get Out, It, Let Me In, its remake Let the Right One In, et al hit cinemas. Eli Roth's History of Horror is a newer and deeper look at fright films. Each 60-minute episode focuses on a specific type of terror, such as vampires, monsters, demons, and slashers.
Overall the series is great. Roth discusses not just the movies, but horror's cultural impact, and weights those observations toward the last ten years. Because of the change that has occurred this decade those sections resonate nicely. Horror's ability to make social issues digestible as allegories is a key part of the form's worth. For instance, Get Out's idea of the sunken place, a metaphor for living (and dying) while black in America, would be rejected by many white filmgoers if it were in a standard narrative. But for us the social impact of horror movies is merely a bonus. We love them viscerally first, intellectually second. We lovethe tension that results from not knowing—usually, at least—which characters will survive. We love how the films' kinetic and often low budget natures lead to amazing little accidents, such as the bit in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when Leatherface grabs Teri McMinn on the porch of his house and both the girl's sandals fly off. That sort of detail isn't in a script. It happens during the shoot, and the director thanks the filmic gods for the extra iota of serendipitous realism.
While very good, the series isn't perfect. In the episode on zombies, Roth discusses slow moving zombies for a while, then erroneously credits the arrival of speedy zombies to Danny Boyle 2002 hit 28 Days Later. But it was 1985's Return of the Living Dead that featured the first sprinting zombies in an American movie, and this was preceded by the 1980 Italian zombie epic Incubo sulla città contaminata, aka Nightmare City. We also were surprised Near Dark was ignored in the vampire episode. Timehas shown it to be better and more influential than The Lost Boys, which was discussed at length. If you doubt that, note that Near Dark's critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is 88%, while Lost Boys' is 27%. Critics are often wrong, especially when it comes to horror, but that level of variance is no fluke. And just to settle the argument, the audience rater on that website also prefers Near Dark. We suspect either box office receipts or Roth's personal preference played a role there, when quality should have been the deciding factor.
But we were gratified to see that many of our cherished beliefs were echoed by Roth and his co-hosts Rob Zombie and The Walking Dead producer Greg Nicotero. Yes, the towering werewolf from The Howling is the scariest ever put on screen. Beyond a doubt, John Carpenter's The Thing, which was close to universally panned upon release, is a top tier thriller. We're anticipating the segment on ghosts, the focus of Sunday night's series finale. We imagine these were saved for last because viewers are most interested in the subject, a curiosity that derives from the fact that many people actually believe ghosts exist. We expect the episode to discuss such old and new classics as The Haunting, The Shining, The Ring, and The Woman in Black. We'll see. But no spoilers, please. If you're in the States you can watch it before we do, whereas we'll have to (totally legally, we swear) download it the next day. But whenever you watch it, the show has been a nice treat for horror aficionados.
Humans aren't highest on the food chain anymore.
Above, a West German poster for Joe Dante's groundbreaking werewolf movie The Howling, which we discussed in detail back in May. We found the art on this promo rather weird and thought it would be a worthwhile share. The movie premiered in West Germany as Das Tier—The Animal—today in 1981.
It isn't the wind making that howling noise.
Above you see two colorful Japanese posters for The Howling, Joe Dante's 1981 werewolf thriller starring Dee Stone, Patrick Macnee, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers hero Kevin McCarthy. As werewolf movies go, The Howling was a bit of a gamechanger simply because the principle werewolf was more terrifying than any that had been put on screen to that point. It looks more than anything like a ten-foot tall Wile E. Coyote, with a long crooked snout, and devilish ears that stick out from its head like horns. Covered with wiry hair and perched upon long canine legs like a walking dog, the brute physicality of this beast is cringe inducing. On the other hand, the ancillary werewolves might make you laugh. The filmmakers obviously wanted to genderize the creatures, which led to the idea of making the female wolves somehow cute. Instead they end up looking like Ewoks. The giallo-styled soundtrack might also be jarring for modern audiences. We love it, though it's right in your face like doggie breath.
But the film is definitely worth watching these thirty-six years later. The plot involves a television reporter whose investigation into serial killings in New York City result in her—seemingly in random fashion—spending time in a rural retreat to recover from emotional trauma. There she realizes a coven of werewolves rule the woods. Dante went for a slow build-up to the big reveal, and when that first encounter came it forever recalibrated the werewolf genre. Today some of the balloon effects may look quaint, but objectively they're more visceral than anything computer graphics have managed thus far. Other effects, including a brief animation, aren't as convincing, but no movie is perfect. The Howling is a landmark, and our only regret is we were never able to see it in a cinema (though that may change if ever our local horror festival screens it). The film premiered in the U.S. in March 1981, and first howled across Japan today the same year.
In retrospect, maybe this solo hiking trip wasn't the best idea. Oh well, I'll be fine. But next year: Burning Man.
Hmm. So she disappeared down there in that bizarre nimbus of light? I think it's about time for my donut break.
Okay, okay! Let me just find the leash and we'll go. Geez—sometimes I can't tell who's the owner and who's the pet.
Arooooooo! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Baaaaacooooon!
So, you loaded this with the silver bullets, right? Right? Baby, did you hear me?
Well, the thing is, werewolfing helps me relax. Fronting my speedmetal band is really stressful.
I think the night went bad after the third Jäger shot. Could be worse, though. Garth got a tribal tattoo on his calf. Man, these beasts are seriously horr— Whoa. Single white werewolf at twelve o'clock. Bitch got some fucked up teeth but I can work with that.
The sun always shone on Silvia.
Above, a shot of French actress Silvia Solar, aka Geneviève Couzain, who appeared in the films Night of the Howling Beast, The Wicked Caresses of Satan, Death and Diamonds, and other cult classics, from 1957 to 1992. This shot dates from 1963. Solar died today last year, aged 71.
He’s not only the president of Skull Club for Men.
The Big Brain series, written by Howling author Gary Brandner, with the debut entry The Aardvark Affair coming in 1975, concerns a secret agent with x-ray intelligence—which is to say, he’s so smart he can tell what you're thinking. This is doubtless an advantage when he plays Texas Hold 'em or goes on a date, but you're probably wondering how a secret agent can possibly survive his enemies when all they have to do is grab a big handful of that soft brain matter and sling it against the nearest wall like strawberry Jell-O. Well, sad to say, the cover art takes a bit of creative license—lead character Colin Garrett is, in fact, be-skulled. We know—it's a serious a letdown. We were really looking forward to him having a seizure after a clumsy waiter spilled a martini in his head.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1919—Zapata Is Killed
In Mexico, revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata is shot dead by government forces in the state of Morelos, after a carefully planned ambush. Following the killing, Zapata's revolutionary movement and his Liberation Army of the South slowly fall apart, but his political influence lasts in Mexico to the present day.
1925—Great Gatsby Is Published
F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby is published in New York City by Charles Scribner's Sons. Though Gatsby is Fitzgerald's best known book today, it was not a success upon publication, and at the time of his death in 1940, Fitzgerald was mostly forgotten as a writer and considered himself to be a failure.
1968—Martin Luther King Buried
American clergyman and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., is buried five days after being shot dead on a Memphis, Tennessee motel balcony. April 7th had been declared a national day of mourning by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and King's funeral on the 9th is attended by thousands of supporters, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
1953—Jomo Kenyatta Convicted
In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta is sentenced to seven years in prison by the nation's British rulers for being a member of the Mau Mau Society, an anti-colonial movement. Kenyatta would a decade later become independent Kenya's first prime minister, and still later its first president.
1974—Hank Aaron Becomes Home Run King
Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run, surpassing Babe Ruth's 39-year-old record. The record-breaking homer is hit off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with that swing Aaron puts an exclamation mark on a twenty-four year journey that had begun with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, and would end with his selection to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.
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