Ghostwatch (1992)

Ghostwatch (1992) movie poster

director  Stephen Volk
viewed: 07/17/2018

Arguably a descendant of Orson Welles 1938 radio play of War of the Worlds, Ghostwatch aired on BBC in 1992 and freaked out much of the viewing public.

I’m rather late to the game on this one, but it’s rock solid in its facsimile of a live BBC show investigating a poltergeist on Halloween night. Also in featuring recognizable contemporary program presenters in the narrative.

Extraordinarily well done.

Oddly it also reminded me of the bizarre “docufiction”, Mermaids: The Body Found (2011), though this recent fake documentary was more a ballsy lie on the Discovery Channel, which doesn’t typically traffic in fiction.

Hat tip to my Letterboxd community for helping me discover Ghostwatch.

Stir of Echoes (1999)

Stir of Echoes (1999) movie poster

director  David Koepp
viewed: 01/14/2018

I didn’t have the fondest recall of 1999’s Stir of Echoes, but having just read the book, I thought it might be worth a re-visit.

Richard Matheson might not have been a great novelist, but he was certainly one of the cool horror-sci-fi idea men of his generation  and lots of great stuff emanated from his work. I became keened in on him through TV’s The Twilight Zone, and I still hold him in esteem.

Unsurprisingly, the book is better than the film. Not that the film is bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. The book develops the main character as having developed all kinds of psychic ability as a result of hypnotism, but writer-director David Koepp, probably to try to hone in, focuses the story on the ghost that starts haunting him. That, and adding the psychic powers of his kid, winds up giving Stir of Echoes a poor man’s The Sixth Sense, though that also came out the same year.

Koepp employs some visual effects that I liked: the Hitchcockian flares of red when Kevin Bacon senses something amiss with the babysitter. But the film suffers a bit from some computer-developed effects, like the ghost movement, an effect that hasn’t aged well.

Blithe Spirit (1945)

Blithe Spirit (1945) movie poster

director David Lean
viewed: 12/22/2017

“In Blushing TECHINICOLOR

I love falling into a world of “blushing Technicolor,” and David Lean’s 1945 adaptation of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is just the ticket. It’s a very British form of Screwball comedy, with wry and suggestive witticisms for which Coward was so well-known.

Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings are a happily married pair, both on their second marriages via widowhood. Happy, that is, until they toy with the supernatural through the help of Madame Arcati (the sublimely scene-stealing Margaret Rutherford). This brings back Harrison’s first wife, in blushing Technicolor green, the playful Kay Hammond, whose haunting at first only Harrison can see.

Maybe it’s not as perfect as Coward’s original theatrical version, in which both Hammond and Rutherford both appeared as here. But for my money, it’s a dark and coy frolic. Lustrous in color, charming all around.

The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents (1961) movie poster

director  Jack Clayton
viewed: 10/28/2017

Are two young Victorian children possessed by evil spirits and driven to acts of incest? Or is their governess a pent-up Christian woman so full on repressed that she’s projecting psychosis and death everywhere?

On this particular viewing of Jack Clayton’s classic The Innocents, the latter reading struck home more so than the former. Though always part of the film’s (as well as the Henry James The Turn of the Screw) power is the uncanny variance between the supernatural and the psychological.

Another thing that struck me this time through The Innocents was how the horror imagery earns its eerie value. So many things that are “designed” to be scary (look scary at a glance) are imbued with nothing but surface horror. When the image of the woman standing in the far reaches of the pond recurs in the film, it’s still just a figure in the distance, but it is what has been impressed upon the children and upon us the audience, that gives the figure its essence and evil.

One of the great Gothic ghost story films of all time, The Innocents stands up time and again as truly classic horror. And Freddie Francis’s amazing cinematography – amazing stuff.

Castle of Blood (1964)

Castle of Blood (1964) movie poster

directors  Antonio Margheriti, Sergio Corbucci
viewed: 06/12/2017

After watching The She Beast, I found myself falling headlong into a mini-Barbara Steele marathon. That face. Those eyes.

I really liked Castle of Blood. The version I watched on Fandor switched at brief times from English to French, which added a hint of surreal to this tale of a castle haunted by the ghosts of those murdered there, reenacting their demises and seeking fresh blood to carry on.

Black and white Italian 1960’s horror never looked so good outside of Mario Bava.

Castle of Blood tips its hat to Edgar Allan Poe, but pipes in its own gothic airs of eerie merriment. It is infused with that nightmarish sensibility, in which glimpses of things appear and disappear, happen out of nowhere. Really quite good.

Carnage (1984)

Carnage (1984) movie poster

director Andy Milligan
viewed: 05/29/2017

I’ve become an Andy Milligan aficionado of late. But I am still exploring. I have yet to really construct my understanding of the man and his movies.

Carnage is Milligan making a horror film in the 1980’s, but yet also making something sort of out of time.  For all his acquired skills and knowledge of film-making, he also exhibits a completely, amazingly amateurish qualities as well. And there is something vaguely surreal about the bizarre production.

Carnage is a ghost story, of sorts. Actually, it’s kind of like Beetlejuice (1986) in a way. A ghost couple is trying to scare (or kill) the new humans that have moved into their house. And initially, they do it with some really silly moving of objects. But wherein Beetlejuice Alex and Geena took a liking to little Winona, these ghosts eventually up their game and start dismembering everybody.

It’s quite hilarious in a variety of ways.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I just want to see more and more Andy Milligan movies.

The Headless Ghost (1959)

The Headless Ghost (1959) movie poster

director Peter Graham Scott
viewed: 02/07/2017

As Wikipedia describes the plot: “Some teenagers – two American exchange students and a Danish girl – visit an old English castle. They discover a ghost.”

While that description fails to convey that The Headless Ghost is a comedy/sort-of-horror film, cheaply and quickly made to double-bill with Horrors of the Black Museum, it does manage to capture the ho-hum reality of how vacant and banal the whole thing is.

It’s neither laughably bad nor laughably funny. I think as a child I might have been amused by the ghosts stepping out of the paintings, but really, there is nothing to recommend here. Really. At all.

Tormented (1960)

Tormented (1960) movie poster

director Bert I. Gordon
viewed: 10/05/2016

Childhood love of old horror movies introduced me to Bert I. Gordon, though I can’t say that we were formally introduced.  I watched Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and its sequel War of the Colossal Beast (1958) one summer, interested in those no doubt from an issue of Famous Monsters.   I’m sure I’d seen The Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants (1977) as well.

Gordon had quite the career in horror and camp, and interestingly is still alive at age 94.

Tormented is a ghost film, lacking one iota of terror.  Though there is a vaguely noirish angle to the story, it plays very, very closely to straight out comedy.  Easy pickings for your MST3k brand.

It stars Richard Carlson, who I’ve liked so well from It Came from Outer Space (1953) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1955).  Here he’s a jazz musician marrying a rich girl, only he’s got some skeletons in his closet.  Actually, he makes his skeletons, or ghosts, if you will, not rescuing an ex-girlfriend and letting her plunge to her death…this for trying to blackmail him.

Her ghost pops up.  In funny inventive ways.  Footsteps in the sand.  A disembodied hand stealing a ring.  A disembodied head.  The effects a cheap but kind of funny, amusing but not the least bit scary.

And then Carlson’s character has a rather odd relationship with the 8 year old younger sister of his fiancee.  It’s one of those paternal, friendly 1950’s style relationships that now just seem kind of troubling nowadays, lots of added weird and comedy therein, too.

But you know, it’s kind of fun.  It gets strangely dark, and maybe it’s just strange because it seems like it really just wanted to be a comedy.  Quirky stuff.

Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters (2016) movie poster

director Paul Feig
viewed: 07/17/2016 at the AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

First and foremost, if you are going to hate this movie because of its female cast filling the re-boot, then fuck you.  If you hate re-boots in general, fair enough.  Hollywood is creatively bankrupt, ’tis true.  But if you hate them because they are ladies, you are an imbecile.

The new Ghostbusters will never be as good as the original for one clear reason: it’s not an original film concept.  Perhaps the most underappreciated thing about the original Ghostbusters (1984) was that it was an original concept by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, and as great as that movie was at the time, as fun as the characters were, coming up with something new for the cultural canon is something that the new Ghostbusters cannot begin to claim.

But you know what?  It’s good.  It’s fun.  In a lot of ways, it’s quite refreshing to swap out your typical re-boot mentality by gender-swapping the leads (even though they are all new characters, not literal versions of the originals).  Kate McKinnon is great, but so are Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth.  They’re a fun group and they are fun together.

My kids and I, we all enjoyed it, maybe my 12 year old daughter the most.  The end gets a bit CGI-heavy, but what action/fantasy/science fiction movie these days manages to avoid that?  It could have been funnier, sure, but what movie couldn’t be improved upon?

It’s good fun.

Empire of Passion (1978)

 

Empire of Passion (1978) movie poster

director Nagisa Oshima
viewed: 11/01/2015

For all the movies I’ve seen, I was surprised to realize that before watching Empire of Passion, that I’d only ever seen one other Nagisa Oshima film, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983).  This despite the notoriety and acclaim of films like Cruel Story of Youth (1960), Night and Fog in Japan (1960), and In the Realm of the Senses (1976).  As I oft note, nobody has seen everything.

I put this out there because I feel it’s perhaps hard to comment well on Empire of Passion without understanding Oshima’s cinema a bit more in context.  His career evolved rather rapidly and Empire was made, apparently, as somewhat a complimentary piece on In the Realm of the Senses, the film considered his best and most important.  Having not seen that one is probably a more glaring omission than most.

Empire of Passion is set in 1895, and tells the story of the murder of a rickshaw driver by his wife and her lover, their conspiracy, their guilt, and their haunting by his ghost.  I glibly thought that you could call this, “The Rickshaw Driver Always Rings Twice” because there is indeed a passionate noirish quality, though ghosts rarely inhabit noir.  And the rickshaw driver is the victim, not a red herring.  Anyways, glib one-liners always sound better than they typically are.

I’m now compelled to see In the Realm of the Senses, and other films of Oshima’s oeuvre.  Better context doubtlessly leads to better understanding.  This film feels packed with meaning.