Wednesday, June 29, 2011

THE DEADLY SPAWN


Douglas McKeown, 1983
Starring: Charles George Hildebrant, Tom DeFranco, Richard Lee Porter, Jean Tafler, Karen Tighe, James Brewster, Elissa Neil

Despite all of my misconceptions, this movie is amazing. Also known as Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn, it is not actually a sequel, but like several other horror films in the '80s, the studio attempted to link it to other films (Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, anyone?) with a tricky name change. It has nothing to do with Ridley Scott's Alien.

Using a tried and true plot device, a meteorite crashes to earth, unleashing a holocaust of demented alien beings that look like a cross between the Shai Hulud and Venus flytraps. And by a holocaust, I mean a handful of creepy crawlies that infect a small, suburban neighborhood. They find a nesting place in a family's basement, growing large enough to do some real damage and eating the occasional family member who wanders downstairs. The primary victims are a group of hormonal teenagers and a luncheon for older vegetarian ladies.

Though the acting and dialogue are terrible, I couldn't help but root for the characters. There are some nice effects and some truly hilarious moments that get better the higher your blood alcohol content rises. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of Evil Dead II, Peter Jackson's early films, and most '80s horror that straddles the line between gore and comedy. Also, anyone who enjoys fun should like it. Visit the awesome website and check out the DVD, which has some amazing commentary.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

COUNT DRACULA


Jess Franco, 1970
Starring: Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Soledad Miranda, Herbert Lom, Maria Rohm, Fred Williams

Normally I'm right there with Jess Franco. His films might not be the most popular, but I usually respect what he's doing and leave his movies feeling entertained and like I've shared some sort of private joke with this anarchistic director. That was sadly not the case with his rendition of Count Dracula. I suspect a large part of the problem is that the world absolutely does not need another Dracula adaptation.

You know the story. Jonathan Harker is hired to travel to Transylvania and aid Count Dracula in securing several properties around London. The Count turns out to be a vampire, puts the bite on Harker, travels back to London, and spreads his vampiric plague, namely to Harker's wife and her hot friend. Harker, with the help of an eccentric doctor and some friends, tries to stop him. Blah blah blah race against time, gypsies, blah.

Count Dracula is a flawed, but entertaining attempt to make a successful adaptation of Stoker's novel. Like Macbeth, I'm pretty sure Dracula is cursed. Instead of accidents and deaths, Dracula is plagued with a dozen "faithful" film adaptations, none of which really try to stay true to the novel. Count Dracula comes relatively close, but Franco and Harry Alan Towers still felt the need to change a number of things in the script, which infuriates me. I know it's irrational, but why claim you're faithfully adapting a novel if you're not going to. Plus, I'm pretty sure Franco has no business adapting anything. His original films are always the most interesting, bizarre and rewarding. Vampyros Lesbos puts this film to shame.

With that said, there's a great cast, which makes the film worth checking out at least once. Lee shines as Dracula, though feels strangely out of place in this German/Italian/Spanish co-production. I expect him to be surrounded by a bevy of generously-bosomed British babes, not exotic beauties like Franco regular Soledad Miranda. She is lovely, as always, though she should have gotten more screen time. Fred Williams, another Franco regular, is perfectly cast as Jonathan Harker, though, like his character, is a bit bland. Herbert Lom is only second to Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Klaus Kinski was pretty much born to be Renfield. He's insane.

Moody, but kind of slow, it's at least worth watching to see such an interesting combination of actors under Franco's direction. Interestingly, this is the first film to show Dracula as he is in the novel -- an older man, growing younger only when he gorges himself with blood. It's also one of Franco's most beautiful films, despite the crushingly low budget. Check out the cheap DVD that claims to be a "special edition."

Monday, June 27, 2011

LAST DAYS HERE


Don Argott and Demian Fenton, 2011

Usually I refuse to review things if I know people involved, but Last Days Here is just too good to neglect. Directed by Don Argott and Demian Fenton, along with producer Sheena Joyce, the team that respectively directed and edited Rock School and 2009's acclaimed Art of the Steal. Last Days Here is a totally different kind of film than their previous work.

The documentary concerns the potential rebirth of forgotten metal singer Bobby Liebling of Pentagram. For non-metal-heads out there, Pentagram should have gone the way of Black Sabbath and probably would have if not for Bobby's extreme drug problems. The film starts with Sean "Pellet" Pelletier, a motivated music fan who unearthed some Pentagram records, fell in love, and was determined to bring their music to a new generation of fans. After forging a friendship with Bobby and getting some of their unreleased material on the market, the film is mostly concerned with Pellet's efforts to get Bobby on a reunion tour and back on his feet.

Bobby is a frustrating, but ultimately sympathetic figure who makes an incredible transformation. At the start of the film he looks about ninety years old, is covered with sores and openly smokes crack in the sub-basement apartment he lives in at his aged parents' house. But Pellet's loyal friendship and dedicated managerial role help him turn his life around. He gets off drugs, moves to Philadelphia, gets a new record deal and falls in love. That love becomes the new primary focus of his life and when it goes south, he completely falls apart. Can Pellet, who has now staked much of his personal life and money on the band, help him get it together before it's too late?

On the surface, Last Days Here seems like the kind of documentary that would only interest metal or Pentagram fans and, at least from a marketing stand point, that might be true. But the reason I'm reviewing the film at all is because I think it manages to push past any genre or thematic tropes and presents an incredible story about one man turning his life around against insurmountable odds. I've heard a couple of people mention that this is the documentary of the year and, though I don't watch a lot of them, I'm inclined to agree.

Where the film really succeeds is its choice of main character. Bobby, though fascinating, is too slippery and unreliable to really keep us with the story. Pellet's passion, kindness and absolute loyalty keep us going through out the film and provide much of the drama. Will Bobby let him down once and for all? Or will he reach a breaking point and simply give up?

The ending, which I'm not going to give away, is also very powerful. You would expect a documentary about a drug-addled rockstar to either end with his death by overdose or victory by reunion show. Fenton, Argott and Liebling take us somewhere unexpected, giving more than you ever would expect to get from a documentary about a forgotten rocker with a penchant for crack and a Peter Pan complex.

Last Days Here premiered at SXSW, but was recently purchased by IFC's Sundance Select label and should be out on DVD late this year. I had the good fortune to see it at the Brooklyn BAMfest screening last week. Keep your eyes peeled for the DVD. It comes highly recommended.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES


Barry Levinson, 1985
Starring: Nicholas Rowe, Alan Cox, Sophie Ward, Anthony Higgins

While I have read and continuously re-read the complete works of Conan Doyle, I'll also expand my love to non-Doyle related stories from time to time. For instance, I just finished reading Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which is an absurd modern reworking of Holmes, where he is addicted to cocaine, has to visit Sigmund Freud and tries to prevent WWI. I suffered through the entirety of Shadows Over Baker Street, the Holmes vs Lovecraft short fiction collection. I collect Holmes adaptations -- there are some good ones with Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, whom I love endlessly, and Jeremy Brett -- and hopefully I will review more of these in the future. Let's face it, Sherlockians are probably the original fan-fic devotees and, as far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier. As long as Holmes isn't boxing with his shirt off.

The title Young Sherlock Holmes pretty much explains exactly what this film has to offer: Holmes and Watson, at school together, solving crimes. It was written by Chris Columbus, who is a genius when it comes to kids' movies. He wrote Gremlins and Goonies and directed the first two Home Alone films, the first two Harry Potter movies, and Mrs. Doubtfire. That alone should be some sort of reassurance. In a lot of ways, Young Sherlock Holmes reminds me of an awkward Harry Potter precursor, down to the actors, the sets, the music, and even loosely, the film's plot. A group of misfits in a British boarding school encounter a mystery than none of the adults believe in, so they band together and use their motley talents to get to the bottom of things. Mostly because they're bored and don't have friends.

Nerdy, kinda chubby, good natured, rational Watson: check
Haughty, well-spoken, brilliant Holmes: check
Violin: check
Deduction: check
Snotty blonde nemesis: check
Stuffy British dialogue: check
Lestrade giving Holmes the brush off: check
Inverness cape: check
Deerstalker hat: check
Fencing: check
Clever nods to trivia only a true Sherlockian would notice: check
Love interest for Holmes: unfortunate check

This film has a wonderful air of fantasy, adventure, and imagination that makes me not want to ruin anything for you. Suffice to say that there is a bizarre, highly fantastical plot that involves an Egyptian religious cult that celebrates rites of mummification, hallucinogenic poison that makes people kill themselves, a shady instructor, and Holmes stringing it all together. There is also a curiously bleak ending that probably never would have made it into production today.

It's available in a cheap single-disc DVD from Paramont, who is clearly trying to hop on the coat-tails of the marketing from the new Robert Downey Jr version. Also, I feel the need to include the review of this film from DVDVerdict.com. The reviewer loves it, if possible, even more than I do. Cheerio.

P.S. The film includes some of the first fully developed computer-based special effects in cinema! And thanks to computers, you can watch the whole thing here:


YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN


Mel Brooks, 1974
Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars

I was going to start this review off by talking about how Young Frankenstein stars the great Gene Wilder -- and he is great -- but upon reflection, so is everyone else in this film. Arguably Mel Brooks's best work and certainly the best horror spoof ever made, this is one of those films that, if you haven't seen it, I demand you stop reading and go watch it, immediately.

Wilder stars as Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced "Frahnk-en-steen,"), a brilliant scientist who gives impassioned lectures at an undisclosed American medical school. When a strange man contacts him about his grandfather's will, he is forced to return to Europe, despite his deep disdain for his grandfather's attempts at science -- reviving the dead -- which he regards as ridiculous superstition. He sadly parts with his fiancee, the vain Elizabeth, and is soon greeted by Igor, a servant descended from his grandfather's famous hunchbacked henchman. They also meet with Ilsa, a sexy lab assistant, and Frau Blucher, caretaker of the castle. After a series of disturbing dreams, Frankenstein discovers his grandfather's hidden laboratory and notebooks and embarks on an attempt to recreate the famous Frankenstein monster. Of course this goes wrong and the monster escapes. When the townspeople get a whiff of what's happened and his fiancee arrives, all hell breaks loose. Can he find the monster and put things right before it's too late?

Co-written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, this is one of the funniest films I've ever seen, though it does help to have a familiarity with the Universal Frankenstein films, as it references both Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and some of the lesser sequels -- plus it was shot on some of the same set, amazingly enough.

It's really difficult for me not to ruin any of the jokes by quoting them incessantly, so I'm going to quit while I'm ahead. Needless to say, there's a ton of brilliant humor in the film. It's widely available on DVD in a cheap region 1 from 20th Century Fox.


WRITER OF O

Pola Rapaport, 2004

As I've previously mentioned, I've been branching out lately and watching a lot of documentaries. Typically, the subjects are already of interest to me and, in the case of
Writer of O, of great interest. The novel, Story of O or Histoire d'O, was published in France in the mid-'50s under the nom de plume Pauline Reage. It is an erotic novel about one woman, the titular O, and her love-inspired journey through a world of dominance and submission. She agrees to a number of tortures and violations to prove her love for her boyfriend. Shocking and pornographic, though with a strong literary merit, the novel's authorship remained a mystery until fairly recently. Writer of O is the story of the real author, her life, and why the novel was written.

Story of O is another important work of fiction that helped shape my existence as a writer, reader, and critic. I first encountered it when I was sixteen or so, post-Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher Masoch, and was suitably impressed and surprised. Though Sade opened my eyes to a world of extreme perversions and the sublimely political power of subversion, Story of O presents the world of dominance and submission in a more realistic light, adding a uniquely personal perspective and an almost religious desire for personal obliteration and oblivion.

The people interviewed in Writer of O seem to be of a similar mind. They all speak of the novel reverently. Time is not wasted discussing the merit of a potentially pornographic work, rather writer and director Pola Rapaport spends most of the film exploring the identity of Pauline Reage and her motivations behind the racy novel. It turns out the author is none other than Anne Desclos, though she was more frequently known in post-War Paris as Dominique Aury.

In an interview with John de St Jorre for The New Yorker and later for his book Venus Bound: The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press, which also includes chapters about the allegedly pornographic novels published by other literary figures like Nabokov and Henry Miller, Aury finally came out to the public, almost forty years after the novel was first published. During her younger years, she was a member of the inner circle of the illustrious Gallimard Publishers and became a literary figure herself. She was an obsessive reader and rose quickly above her position as secretary to become a respected critic, writer, and jury member. Her boss and lover, Jean Paulhan, initially spawned the genesis of Story of O when he told Aury that a woman could not write a successful erotic novel. Coupled with the fact that the unmarried Aury struggled to find a way to keep her married lover and renew their relationship, she wrote Story of O for him in a series of love letters. He, in turn, was delighted and soon saw to the novel's publication and included its introduction, "Happiness in Slavery."

That's probably the most romantic thing I've ever heard of, which is really where the power of the story comes across. Writing is a soothing and calming activity for me, particularly because it is a way to express emotions I otherwise ignore, so I definitely empathized with Aury. Despite the fact that she was in her late seventies during the time of the interviews, she spoke with a whimsy and frankness that made the younger author of O shine out. Ultimately the documentary reminded me why I write: to experience passion, regardless of the form.

Overall the documentary is sadly bland. It's a mixture of interviews, shots of scenery from around France, reenactments of Aury's life, past interviews, and reenactments of the novel itself.
I can't help but feel that most of the material Rapaport has to work with is literary. Writer of O would make a much better book than it would a documentary and it frequently seems like she is grasping at straws. The reenactments are silly and the adapted scenes from Story of O would be better replaced by clips from the various feature length adaptations already in existence.

Though I almost always neglect to mention this in my reviews, the documentary is in English and French with subtitles. It was released by Zeitgeist films and contains few extras, namely some interview footage with John de St Jorre. It's really only of interest for people who love the novel and either have not read St Jorre's book or want to see interviews with Aury. Finally, though the advertising and reviews refer to it as an "adults only" documentary, I would put it closer to PG13 than R. Particularly if we're considering Graphic Sexual Horror as rated NC-17. There is some nudity and sexually suggestiveness in Writer of O, but that's about it.

What the hell happened to Rosemary?!

This is a crucial way to start anyone's day.

WITHNAIL AND I


Bruce Robinson, 1987
Starring: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths

The first time I saw Withnail and I was a few years ago when I began my crusade to see and own every Criterion film ever made. While that battle is still on going, I like to revisit my favorites time and again. I'm a compulsive re-reader and re-watcher and I'm not ashamed. With Withnail and I I'm happy to say that the humor, acting, and charm has held up. However, a couple of years later, as someone who does a lot of drinking and spends a lot of time around other people doing a lot of drinking, it is, if anything, a hell of a lot funnier. Or at least more relevant. And vaguely depressing.

Richard E. Grant plays the titular Withnail. Though he claims to be an actor, this hilarious, disaster of a drunk uses his considerable intelligence and wit to look for booze, drink it, and then deal with the inevitable hang overs instead of acting or going on auditions. Paul McGann costars as his unnamed roommate, a nervous, passive fellow who does much of the same and is in the same profession. While he is at least a little more responsible than Withnail, he follows along with Withnail's schemes with a kind of submissive mania. The two decide they are reaching the pinnacle of unwell and need to take a vacation. They persuade Withnail's urbane, gay Uncle Monty to let them use his country cabin for a time. When they get to the cabin, nothing is as they expected. It is cold, raining, and muddy. They have no food, firewood, or fuel, and little booze. The locals are unfriendly. The situation slowly begins to turn around, but Monty shows up and throws another kink in their plans. What will become of their accidental vacation?

If you've never seen this film, get on it immediately. There are an appalling number of instantly quotable lines and should you meet anyone out at a bar who has seen the film, you will probably make an instant friend. It richly deserves the cult status it has achieved, as well as its Criterion release, which I recommend buying as soon as possible. The documentary, "Withnail and Us" is almost as funny as the film itself.

It's amazing that this was Grant's first feature role and probably his best performance to date. Despite the fact that he is an avowed non-drinker and I believe is allergic to alcohol, he's perfect as Withnail. McGann is also quite good as his roommate, hovering constantly between paranoid, drunk, and outraged.

This is definitely a black comedy, but if you hate British humor, it doesn't really fall within the same boundaries as most films of that category. It's more drinking-because-life-is-miserable-and-I-hate-my-job-or-am-unemployed humor than anything else.

I leave you with two of my favorite scenes:



WILD ZERO


Tetsuro Takeuchi, 2000
Starring: Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf, Drum Wolf, Masashi Endo, Kwancharu Shitichai

This has pretty much everything I've ever wanted in a move: zombies, gore, aliens, a punk band, transgender love, a drinking game, motorcycles, muscle cars, guns, hot Japanese dudes, and the spirit of true rock'n roll. It's an absolutely fun time and bears a lot in common with the spirit of Return of the Living Dead. Anyone who likes that film will surely enjoy Wild Zero (and anyone who doesn't like Return has no business reading this blog).

Ace (Masashi Endo) is the biggest Guitar Wolf fan in the world. While he is following them on tour he runs afoul of some zombies, who have come to earth because a flying saucer crashed somewhere in Japan. He has to protect Tobio, a cute girl he develops a crush on. Guitar Wolf, who are actually extra-terrestrials with super powers, become blood brothers with Ace and come to his aid. They wind up in an abandoned warehouse with a rag-tag band of people who have managed to survive the zombie invasion. Can they fight the zombies and the Captain, a club-owner and drug dealer who has come to defeat Guitar Wolf once and for all?

It's utterly ridiculous and joyful. I love this movie. It borrows mercilessly from Western horror, particularly over the top films like Evil Dead II and the aforementioned Return of the Living Dead. There are a couple things you need to know. First Guitar Wolf is a real band. They're actually pretty awesome. It's a mix of rockabilly, punk, and noise. In the film they play "themselves": Guitar Wolf, Seiji, the singer and guitarist, Bass Wolf, who is now deceased and has been replaced by a dude named U.G., and Drum Wolf, Toro.

Instead of the normal method of contagion found in Western zombie films -- toxic chemicals -- a couple of Japanese movies feature zombies that comes from space and are brought to earth by crashed UFOs. It seems a little ridiculous at first, but you get used to it. Wild Zero and Zombie Self Defense Force (2005) are my two favorite examples of this plot device. If you like to consider these things, it says a little something about cultural differences and unconscious fears. Obviously we aren't as concerned about things falling from the sky. But then, we've never been hit with an atomic bomb. Let alone two.

One of the best things about the movie, ridiculous though it may be, is its message: love has no boundaries. It openly supports love regardless of race, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender. Fuck yeah, Guitar Wolf.

I'm reviewing the Synapse DVD, which has a number of cool special features. The best of which is a drinking game you can select like a commentary track. A little foaming beer mug pops up in the corner anytime someone drinks or combs their hair, says "rock'n roll," a zombie's head explodes, anything explodes, or fire shoots out of something. Supposedly there are about 100 drinks total. I've made it halfway through with serious drinking and all the way through with little sips of beer. Hang over city.

I leave you with this...

WALLACE & GROMIT: CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT

Nick Park and Steve Box, 2005
Starring: Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes

I love
Wallace and Gromit. If you haven't seen any of the shorts, march yourself over to Netflix or just directly purchase the complete set, which includes "A Grand Day Out," "The Wrong Trousers," "A Close Shave" and "A Matter of Loaf and Death." I could and have and will watch these over and over. I was briefly skeptical of a feature length Wallace and Gromit, but then I realized how great of an idea that would be. And it comes highly recommended.

Wallace, a strange, but clever inventor lives and works alongside his intelligent but mute dog, Gromit. In Curse of the Were-Rabbit, they run a business called Anti-Pesto that humanely removes garden pests. Tottington Hall is having their annual vegetable contest, so all the local inhabitants are growing vegetables as large as possible. Wallace and Gromit are doing an admirable job catching the pesky bunnies that attempt to eat any of the prize produce. With a series of alarms, they respond to the scene, capture the offending rabbits and take them home where they live in comfort in the basement.

This is getting rather out of hand, with Gromit struggling to feed and house the dozens of bunnies down in the cellar. He is also struggling with Wallace's weight gain. Due to his obsessive love for cheese, he rarely eats anything healthy. In a moment of genius, Wallace decides to brainwash the bunnies with his newest invention, in order to convince them they aren't interested in any vegetables. The machine backfires, melding his brain with one of the bunnies. Everything seems fine and the other rabbits refuse to eat vegetables.

Of course, that night they discover all is not as it seems. A giant "were-rabbit" tears through town, terrorizing the local minister and eating as many vegetables as possible. The town members are outraged, but so is Lady Tottington, who Wallace has quite a crush on. Her beau, Lord Quartermaine, loves hunting and wants to shoot the were-rabbit along with all the little bunnies, despite the fact that Lady Tottington loves all furry creatures. Soon the race is on to see if Lord Quartermaine or Anti-Pesto can get to the were-rabbit first.

The ending is glorious and I absolutely won't ruin it for you.

If you're sick, grumpy, or just plain having a bad day, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is the perfect remedy. Even if you're having a great day and you just want to curl up with a movie, this is always a good choice. I don't believe I've already mentioned this, but Wallace and Gromit is British claymation from Aardman Animation studios and was produced by DreamWorks. I believe Aardman has since broken their agreement with DreamWorks, but allegedly a new feature length is on the horizon.

If you won't take my word for it, the film received tons of positive critical attention and won many awards. I believe they even won the Academy Award that year for best animated feature. Plus, it's described as the first "vegetarian horror film" and what could be wrong with that? Buy it here. I promise, you won't regret it.

Vincent Price - Happy Vincentennial!


Today, Vincent Price turns 100. Well, would if he were still living, though as far as I'm concerned he lives on in the multitude of great films he left behind and the people whose lives he touched. Yes, that is cheesy, but I really don't care. If I had to pick a single figure in the horror world who has forever changed my life, it would be Vincent Price. Sure, there's a long list of writers and directors whose work is near and dear to me, as well as a smaller list of actors, but Vincent Price has been there from the beginning and has always been the most beloved.

Along with his dear friends Peter Cushing, whose birthday was yesterday, RIP, and Christopher Lee who is also celebrating an amazing 89th birthday today, Vincent Price brought charm, class, talent and heart to a business that is frequently maligned, misrepresented and grossly under-appreciated. I grew up watching his films, still watch them as often as possible and always love introducing his work to newbies.

It's well outside my ability to write an article length memorial for the great actor, but I had to add something to the hundreds of articles already on the internet for this wonderful man who always brings a smile to my face. He's incredibly inspiring to me because of his genuine enthusiasm and love of the horror genre. He gleefully accepted starring roles, cameos and guest spots alike and is also known for his work in the theatre. He is well-known for his passionate love of the arts - he was a voracious collector and has a museum named after him - and his talent for gourmet cooking.

There's nothing I can say that you don't already know or can't find out elsewhere in more detail, so I thought I'd just give a video retrospective of some of my favorite highlights from Price's fabulous career.

Though his first horror film was the Boris Karloff vehicle TOWER OF LONDON, I prefer his first horror starring role in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS:



In the '40s he established himself as a villain in some classic films before moving on to straight horror in the '50s. He was also in a ton of television this decade, including an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Perfect Crime." 1953's HOUSE OF WAX is one of my favorite films. It's also notable for being the first color, 3-D feature from a major American studio.



Though THE FLY is pretty amazing, Price's next film, William Castle's HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, was one of my first favorite films. It's in the public domain, which means you can watch the entire thing for free right now.



He closed out '59 with THE BAT, RETURN OF THE FLY and another William Castle great THE TINGLER. Watch the whole film below, including the amusing introduction by Castle.



The '60s is probably Price's greatest decade. It includes the Roger Corman series of films for AIP that adapted a series of Poe stories and started with HOUSE OF USHER (1960).



Next came one of my favorites, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), where Price co-starred with the ravishing Barbara Steele.



Then the anthology film, TALES OF TERROR, with the great Peter Lorre, which you can watch here.



While the TOWER OF LONDON remake starring Price is recommended for serious fans only, THE RAVEN with Lorre and Karloff is kind of a ridiculous treat that I try to watch every year around Halloween. DIARY OF A MADMAN is also of minor note. None of these really have anything to do with the Poe cycle, though AIP tried squeezing THE RAVEN in despite the fact that it has little to no connection with Poe. Next up is the wonderful Lovecraft adaptation, THE HAUNTED PALACE, that I recently reviewed. It's another one of my favorite Price-Corman films. Watch it below.



We move back to anthologies with the Hawthorne inspired TWICE TOLD TALES and then to the silly comedy/horror mash up COMEDY OF TERRORS. It's a bit ridiculous, but I love it. How can you deny Price, Lorre, Karloff and Basil Rathbone in one film?



LAST MAN ON EARTH, an adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, takes a more serious turn as Price is confronted not only with hordes of vampires, but with the last woman on earth who may not be what she seems. Watch it below.



Next comes another one of my favorites, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, which I recently reviewed and had the pleasure to watch on both DVD and laser disc. It also brings us back to the increasingly amazing Corman-Price-AIP Poe cycle. This is certainly one of the loveliest horror films I've ever seen. Watch it below.



TOMB OF LIGEIA is the last in the Poe cycle and I'm happy to say that the series goes out on a strong note. I'm also happy to say that this is another Price film that you can watch in its entirety on the internet!



After this ol' Vinnie lightened things up with the hilariously wonderful DR GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE, which went on to spawn two sequels. He also had a cameo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and had a regularly occurring role as the villain Egghead in the original Batman series.



His only film of '68 is the impressive, mean-spirited WITCHFINDER GENERAL, probably the only time I've ever actually been afraid of Vincent Price. It's also one of the greatest masterpieces of British horror. Watch it below.



Next came a series of pleasing, but average films, THE OBLONG BOX and SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, both of which co-star the clearly bored Christopher Lee, as well as CRY OF THE BANSHEE, another attempt to put Price in a witch-hunter role. He also hosted the memorable Canadian children's show, The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein. This show has a cult following and I recommend seeking it out.



1971 brought us one of my all time favorite Price films, the legendary ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES. It is surely one of the cinematic loves of my life and has to be seen to be believed. I must have seen this a good thirty times over the years, but it never gets old. Watch it below.



I also recommend the sequel, DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN, co-starring the hammy Robert Quarry. '72 also ushered in the average, but entertaining AN EVENING OF EDGAR ALLEN POE, which he narrated. He also starred in a few Night Gallery episodes that year. THEATRE OF BLOOD, which hit theatres in '73, is another film high on my list of Price greats. It shares a lot of similarities with DR PHIBES, but is more violent and less goofy. Watch it below.



I also recommend the much sillier MADHOUSE, where Price stars as an aging horror actor attempting to revive his career while being framed for murder. Or is he? Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry co-star. "To those among you who are easily frightened, we suggest you turn away. Now."



The early '80s brought the painful MONSTER CLUB and the whimsical HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, both of which are generally lame attempts to cash in on the past success of various horror stars and are fortunately saved by Price, despite the absurd scripts.

Despite his age, Price kept working. He narrated the Tim Burton short "Vincent," recorded some dramatizations of Poe stories and poems, lent his voice to Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare and Michael Jackson's Thriller, then narrated some episodes of Faerie Tale Theater, which is where I first encountered him when I was a child.



Another place I let him terrify me was on the Scooby-Doo spin off The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo, where he had a regularly occurring role as Vincent Van Ghoul.



I also want to mention his somewhat earlier contribution to The Muppet Show, which is amazing and needs to be seen by any Price fan. He was on a few episodes and here's a good one. Coincidentally, The Muppet Show is the only place Vincent Price ever played a vampire! I love The Muppets almost as much as Vincent Price, so the two of them together blows my mind.



While we're still on the subject of Price and children's film, he had a co-starring vocal role in the wonderful Disney film THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. This is the part where I start giving away my age. He plays, of course, the Napoleon of Crime. Growing up as a kid obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, I just about lost my mind when I realized who Professor Ratigan's voice belonged to.



He sadly finished his career with EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, after he finally succumbed to lung cancer. Did I mention he loved to smoke? He looks so old and feeble in this scene that it breaks my heart to watch it.



He was truly an inspiring man. He performed his own one-man stage play, Diversions and Delights, about the sad end of Oscar Wilde's life, where he was broke, ill, socially stigmatized and love sick. I've already written about that here.

I've already posted so many videos I'm sure my head is going to explode if I post any more, but I'll wrap it up with these.

Price's brave stance against racism in 1950 on a radio broadcast of The Saint:



An episode of The Price of Fear, Price's mystery/horror radio show. This is the first episode and is particularly amusing.



I mentioned his art history prowess and here you can take a brief class with him.



He was also a hilarious man and put his cleverness to use in TV interviews, namely on Johnny Carson. Here he's witty, urbane, and talks about his love for horror.



I could keep going, but I'm going to stop myself. Check out Vincentprice.org, the biography by his daughter Victoria and this great interview with Roger Corman on Cinefantastique for the Vincentennial.



I love you, Vincent Price! Happy birthday!

VIRGIN SUICIDES


Sofia Coppola, 1999
Starring: James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Joh Hartnett, A.J. Cook, Hanna Hall

Though I enjoy Sofia Coppola's work, all of her films tend to be about the boredom and malaise of life, as well as the trouble of discovering one's identity or purpose. After a botched attempt at an acting career (Godfather 3... ouch), she kicked off a much more successful stretch as a a director with this film, which is an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel of the same name.

This drama/black comedy is about the five blonde Lisbon sisters who are secretly loved from a distance by four of the neighborhood boys, until their surprise suicides one summer. Narrated by one of the boys, the film starts with the botched suicide attempt of the youngest, Cecilia, who cuts her wrists. Her shrink convinces the parents to let the girls have some more social interaction, namely a party with some of the neighborhood boys. Cecilia responds by jumping out of her bedroom window onto the spiked garden fence, successfully killing herself. Their parents, consumed with grief, instate an increasingly controlling lock down. When the girls go to prom and the beautiful Lux stays out all night, they are pulled from school and essentially cloistered within the house. The boys attempt to intervene, but it is too little too late.

Though love, longing, and teenage suicide are some of the main themes of Virgin Suicides, this film manages to be melancholic but not depressing. The well-executed '70s summer setting makes it feel dreamy and nostalgic, rather than grim and realistic. Cecilia, Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese exist more as objects of mystery and desire than as real characters, which for better or worse dulls the impact of their inevitable loss at the end of the film.

Aside from being very visually appealing, the film says some interesting things about the mystery of female adolescence and sexuality, as well as the role of pubescent girls in society. The Lisbon sisters attempt to figure out identity and sexuality, but utterly fail. Experience doesn't come from a vacuum. They live vicariously through records, high school, TV, and catalogs, all of which gradually get shut out over the course of the film. Though Cecilia is the first to dare for something more, the others take baby steps in this direction, namely Lux. She is the only sister to directly experience sex, which becomes her ticket to freedom. Her attempts to escape via promiscuity is the only truly heartbreaking part of the film.

Overall this is a debut that signifies a promising future. It is a delicate, elegant film that is a lot more ambitious than it lives up to, but still a work worth seeing if you haven't gotten around to it yet. There's a very basic region 1 DVD from Paramount.

VENGEANCE (2009)


Johnnie To, 2009
Starring: Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Wong, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam, Lam-Suet

If you like triad/crime/action neo-noirs, then Johnnie To's newest effort, Vengeance, is for you. I had the fortune to see it during the Danger After Dark festival a few weeks ago and it definitely benefited from a theater audience.

Francis Costello (Johnny Hallyday), French chef and ex-hit man, comes to Hong Kong to get vengeance on the men who put his daughter in critical condition and killed her family. He has no knowledge of Cantonese or the Hong Kong triads, so he hires three native hit men (Anthony Wong, Gordon Lam, and Lam-Suet) to help him out, offering them all of his worldly goods which are extensive. They agree, mostly because of some sort of hit men camaraderie and set out on a dangerous, yet frequently warm and funny path to track down the Triad hit men hired to kill Costello's daughter, and eventually their boss, the adorably bratty Simon Yam. Unfortunately things don't go as planned. It is revealed that Costello is suffering from some neurological damage he sustained from a bullet to the head twenty years ago. He experiences increasing memory loss and is forced to take pictures of everyone to remember who they are. SPOILERS: When it gets too bad, the hit men deliver him safely to the island home of a young woman who cares for orphaned children. They return to complete the mission, but are ambushed. The young woman and children help Costello track down the Triad boss once and for all, but can he hold out long enough to complete his vengeance?

Overall I very much enjoyed Vengeance. It isn't anything new or special, but is a solid genre film and is populated with actors I would watch in just about any shoot 'em up noir/crime drama. The directing and cinematography are successful and enjoyable. The film is charming, entertaining and is worth watching, but only if you're in to the genre. There's a particularly fun fight scene at night, in a park, that is one of the high points of the film.

The real problem is the script. Apparently there was a lot of on set improvisation, which just doesn't work. It results in some shoddy, stilted dialogue that ups the cheese factor immensely. The writing is also not doing anyone any favors. What starts off as a solid film goes downhill about halfway through when the memory loss idea is conveniently introduced after the first major fire fight. It's what I like to call a convenient inconvenience. A character is doing too well and is provided with an obstacle, usually a cheap twist he or she has no control over that is randomly introduced halfway through the film. The drama is increased because the margin for success is much smaller, but this doesn't hold up to any sort of critical scrutiny or plausible character development. Casablanca is a noteworthy exception.

In retrospect, the script is split strangely in half. The first half is funny, unpredictable, and bad ass. The second half loses most of the humor, throws in weirdo plot twists and sends all the characters to hell in a hand basket in annoying, implausible scenarios.

Vengeance bizarrely opened at Cannes, which is not known to embrace genre films. Despite that, it garnered mostly positive reviews, probably due to a theatrical release in Hong Kong earlier this year and screenings at the Toronto International Film Fest last year. It also reunites a lot of the cast and crew from To's previous, much loved efforts Exiled and Mad Detective. It is also the third installment in a loose trilogy with The Mission and Exiled, insuring at least a rental from To fans.

Vengeance also has a close knit relationship with Jean-Pierre Melville's wonderful noir Le samourai. It's star, Alain Delon, was originally supposed to take the role of Costello, but allegedly turned it down due to disliking the script. Delon's character in Le samourai is named Jef Costello (like Francis Costello) and looks and dressed quite similarly to Vengeance's Costello. They are both hit men, though Delon's Costello is a young man in his prime.

For some reason I really get a kick out of productions, of which their are many in Hong Kong, split between different countries, cultures, and languages. Vengeance is co-production between France and Hong Kong, so that characters jump back and forth between Cantonese, French, and English, which everyone except Anthony Wong speaks badly and with a heavy accent.

If there is any real reason to see this film, it is probably the star power. It's directed by the great Johnnie To, stars Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Wong, Gordon Lam, and Simon Yam. What more do you want? For those of you who don't know any of these names, Johnnie To is a Hong Kong director and producer, most famous for crime/Triad films, for which he has gained a cult following. He has a distinctive style, but is usually able to say something interesting and relevant about Hong Kong society. Critically, he's known for his ability to combine commercial accessibility with artistic vision. And gun fights. If you want to check him out, rent All About Ah-long, his first action film with Chow Yun-fat, Exiled, Election, Mad Detective, The Mission, and Fulltime Killer, which is ridiculous, but is one of my favorite. Most of these are available on Netflix.

Johnny Hallyday is probably lesser known to Americans, but he's basically the French Elvis. He's been insanely popular in France and has branched out into acting, also like the King. He was influenced by Elvis and '50s rock and has had about a billion platinum albums in Europe. As an interesting side note, Jimi Hendrix opened for him on an early tour! He has also hired the likes of Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton and the Small Faces to play with him on studio albums.

The real reason I went to see this, aside from the fact that it's To's newest film, is Anthony Wong. I love him. He's a super famous Hong Kong actor who sometimes gets typecast as villains because he's half-English and half-Chinese and you can't really blame the Chinese for hating the English. He was in Hard-Boiled, The Heroic Trio, The Untold Story, a bunch of Johnnie To films, Infernal Affairs, etc. He is also a director and screenwriter and has produced some Chinese exploitation films. How can I not love a man who made a film called Raped by an Angel 4: The Raper's Union? I'm not kidding.

Finally, it's also nice to see Simon Yam and Gordon Lam. They're both regular supporting actors in dozens of Hong Kong action/crime films, though fans of the genre will probably recognize Yam from To's Fulltime Killer and Lam from Infernal Affairs. I realize it's probably confusing that they have similar sounding last names. Also, I almost forgot to mention Sylvie Tested, who plays Costello's injured daughter. She's a famous French actress and Western audiences should recognize her from La vie en rose, where she plays Piaf's troublesome best friend.

Vengeance is available on DVD and Blu Ray in France and Hong Kong (regions 2 and 3, respectively), but there's a cheap region 1 DVD available from MPI.

UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US


Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, 2009

Disclaimer: If you don't like metal, this is probably not going to be of much interest to you.

Black metal documentaries and books tend to leave a really bad taste in my mouth. I honestly don't think it is that difficult of a subject to capture, but I because it is a relatively obscure subgenre, it tends to attract non-academics with poor scholarship and worse journalistic practices, or fans with all the knowledge and interest, but no perspective or writing/filmmaking talents.

Until the Light Takes Us has all the same problems as Lords of Chaos without the ability to provide a lengthy context. I think the film fails for seasoned fans -- I certainly didn't learn anything new -- and for beginners, because if you don't already know a little about Norwegian black metal, you'll be totally lost. When I finished watching it I was on the fence, but felt entertained. Now that I'm thinking about it critically, I hate almost everything about it.

I'm going to do something I never do and make a list of why this documentary is garbage, instead of wasting my time writing a real review:
1. It's 20 years late and rehashes information found in other books, documentaries, interviews, blogs, etc. Yes, everyone remotely into metal now knows that they burned a bunch of churches, Faust killed a gay man, and Varg was imprisoned for killing Euronymous.
2. The editing is shitty and the film is totally unfocused.
3. It wastes the two interesting, charismatic central figures, Varg from Burzum and Fenriz from Darkthrone.
4. It either doesn't ask any good questions or asks them in the wrong ways, completely failing to challenge any of the interview subjects. For instance, Varg basically repeats everything he has already said elsewhere. They don't bother to dig deeper.
5. Harmony Korine, really? Why the fuck would you include this? I actually had to leave the room I got so angry.
6. At least half an hour is wasted on Bjarne Melgaard, a talentless hack who decided to form an art exhibit around black metal. He blew up a bunch of pictures from the scene, made some shitty paintings that any 4 year old could have done and voila. This alone is enough to make me hate this documentary.
7. It provides no context whatsoever. The bands aren't introduced and the fact that there is a black metal scene outside Norway is never even mentioned.
8. A lot of the music featured in the film is metal, but otherwise not related to Norwegian black metal from the late '80s or early '90s. Boards of Canada, really?

I don't want to write anymore about this. The best thing about Until the Light Takes Us is Fenriz, who is the only person that genuinely cares and isn't a complete asshole. Give me two hours of interviews with Gylve (Fenriz) and we're good. I'm reviewing the single disc DVD. It is also available in blu-ray and as a special edition two disc. I'd actually be interested to see the second disc, which includes a black metal short film, whatever that means, lots of outtakes and a 45-minute class on the history of metal with Fenriz. Hopefully he's drunk. Either way, he's amazing. Unlike this garbage film.

UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948)


Preston Sturges, 1948
Starring: Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Rudy Vallee, Barbara Lawrence, Kurt Krueger

Rex Harrison, how I love you, let me count the ways. Though he's wonderful in most things, Unfaithfully Yours is basically the Rex Harrison show and comes highly recommended for fans of the late, great actor, as well as for anyone who enjoys black comedies from the '40s and '50s.

Harrison plays Sir Alfred de Carter, a well-known English composer. He has recently married Daphne (the lovely Linda Darnell), a younger, beautiful American girl. Despite their social differences and age gap, they have a loving, romantic marriage. Sir Alfred, who has recently been away touring Europe, has an unfortunate meeting with his stuffy brother-in-law. When Sir Alfred casually asked him to look after his wife while he was away, his brother-in-law took this to heart quite literally and sent a private detective after her. In a rage, Sir Alfred scathingly admonishes his brother-in-law and tears up the report without reading it, though a seed of suspicion has been planted in his mind. Soon he accidentally comes across the real information. They live in a fancy hotel and his wife was in another man's room late at night, wearing lingerie. This man, as it turns out, is his private secretary, the young, handsome Anthony. Almost instantly, he is transformed from a loving husband into a jealous maniac.

During a sold out concert, while conducting pieces from Rossini, Wagner, and Tchaikovsky, Sir Alfred has a series of fantasies of how he will deal with the situation. First, he dreams up a diabolical plot where he murders Daphne and frames Anthony. Second, he imagines himself as sad, but forgiving. He writes Daphne a large check to support her and Anthony and willingly lets her go to the younger man. In the third fantasy, he forces Anthony to play Russian roulette, but takes his turn first, resulting in suicide. After the concert, the now frothing mad Sir Alfred flees home and begins to prepare for his wife's murder as he imagined it in the first scenario. Nothing goes as planned and Sir Alfred unintentionally destroys his apartment in a lengthy comedic scene. When his wife returns home will she be able to set things straight? Or will Sir Alfred succumb to his murderous rage?

Of course he won't. This is a black comedy, but it's still a comedy. And a damned enjoyable one. Though it is available streaming on Netflix right now, I'm reviewing the Criterion release, which is obviously the best available edition. It is the single disc, special edition version of Unfaithfully Yours, but is more reasonably priced than most Criterion releases. Granted, the extra features aren't really that special, other than the commentary by Sturges scholars -- but I'll take whatever Rex Harrison-Criterion combo I can get.

Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition


Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, 1990 - 1991
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Lara Flynn Boyle, Michael Ontkean, Madchen Amick, Joan Chen, Richard Beymer, Eric Da Re, Sherilyn Fenn

Twin Peaks is one of my favorite television shows - maybe my favorite - and those of you who haven't gotten around to watching it absolutely must. At its core, the show is about FBI Agent Dale Cooper (the wonderful Kyle MacLachlan) who comes to the small town of Twin Peaks, Washington to investigate the murder of teenage beauty queen Laura Palmer. It is more of a mystery than a crime drama, full of side plots, absurdist comedy, surrealism and soap opera mockery. There are also a lot of genuinely terrifying moments that borrow directly from supernatural horror films. Like a lot of Lynch's other early works, it focuses on the gulf between wholesome suburban life and its seedy underbelly. If you've seen it all or don't want to spoil it for yourself, skip down to the end. There are two seasons made up of 30 episodes, roughly 45 minutes each, including a 90 minute pilot. It initially aired on ABC, who cancelled it after dwindling viewership for season two. Each episode is supposed to represent a single day in Twin Peaks.

Season One: Though only 8 episodes, this is undoubtedly one of the best single seasons in television history.

Pilot: Northwest Passage
A body, wrapped in plastic, is discovered on the riverbank. To everyone's horror, it turns out to be high school prom queen Laura Palmer. Good hearted Sheriff Harry S. Truman works with FBI Agent Dale Cooper, who has been called in because another of Laura's classmates, Ronnette Pulaski, has gone missing. Ronnette turns up, catatonic, very much the worse for wear and soon slips into a coma. After finding a cut-out letter jammed under Laura's fingernail, Cooper stays to work the case due to its connection with an earlier murder. Laura's mother has an emotional meltdown and a strange dream, which alludes to the future importance of psychic or otherworldly dreams in the show. Sheriff Truman arrests Bobby, Laura's volatile, football star boyfriend, who has been secretly dating the married, but abused Shelly.

Episode 1: Traces to Nowhere
It turns out Bobby wasn't the only one with something on the side as suspicion falls on James, Laura's secret, motorcycle-riding boyfriend. Her innocent best-friend Donna decides to undertake an investigation of her own with the unlikely help of vixen/misfit Audrey Horne, whose father Ben is a prominent local businessman with plenty of secrets of his own. Suspicion also falls on ex-con and trucker Leo Johnson, Shelly's abusive husband, and weirdo Dr. Jacoby, who was secretly Laura's psychiatrist.

Episode 2: Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer
We begin to see some of Cooper's more flamboyant eccentricities manifest themselves when he shows Sheriff Truman and his team an inspired way to discover the murderer. Ben Horne and his brother Jerry visit a casino just over the border, One-Eyed Jack's. We learn more about Josie Packard, a young, beautiful widow who has inherited the local mill. Her bitchy sister-in-law, Catherine, plots against her. We also meet FBI forensics specialist Albert, whose over the top cynicism offends Sheriff Truman and his team. Agent Cooper has a mysterious dream that sheds new light on Laura Palmer's death.

Episode 3: Rest in Pain
Laura's funeral gives a number of people a chance to air their emotions, while Cooper tries to unlock the code of his dream. It involves a one-armed man named Mike, who tells Cooper that Laura's killer is another supernatural being like himself named BOB. Bob is terrifying. Laura's identical, dark-haired cousin Maddy shows up to support her aunt and uncle. Her aunt is still prone to fits of hysterics and her uncle Leland is slowly losing his mind. Drama unfolds at the Double R Diner. Its owner, Norma Jennings, discovers that her con-man husband Hank may be up for parole. She is actually in love with her childhood sweetheart, Big Ed, who returns her feelings, but has to conceal them from his manic, one-eyed wife, Nadine. Sheriff Truman tells Cooper about a secret society that has been in Twin Peaks from many generations, the Bookhouse Boys. We learn that James and Big Ed are also part of this group that was initially established to protect Twin Peaks from a mysterious evil in the woods.

Episode 4: The One-Armed Man
A character from Cooper's dream, a man with one arm, turns out to be real. Cooper and Truman find him in a local motel, though he is a shoe salesman, nothing more sinister. At the same motel, Ben Horne and Catherine have an affair and discuss their plan to double cross Josie and destroy the mill. Josie, working on some of her own back-stabbing, gets a message from Norma's husband Hank, who will soon be out of prison.

Episode 5: Cooper's Dreams
The Log Lady is an older Twin Peaks resident who carries around a log that whispers secrets to her. Cooper, Truman and some others travel into the woods to ask her log a question about a new suspect in Laura's murder, Jacques Renault, a bartender at One-Eyed Jack's. His cabin may play an important role in the night of Laura's death. Audrey has developed quite a crush on Agent Cooper and is determined to help him with his investigation. She learns that Laura used to work at her father's department store at the perfume counter and weasels her way into a job. Donna, also continuing with her own investigation, has developed a relationship with Laura's secret boyfriend James.

Episode 6: Realization Time
Cooper and Big Ed go undercover at One Eyed Jack's, which we have now realized is a brothel as well as a casino. They are looking for Jacques Renault, who has become the primary suspect in Laura's death. They don't realize that Audrey Horne is also there. Her prying at the department store has led her into a "hostessing" position at One Eyed Jack's, which quickly goes bad. Donna and James discover a series of tapes Laura has made as a confession to Dr. Jacoby and become determined to steal them back.

Episode 7: The Last Evening
This episode is insane. Ben Horne and Leo Johnson set about to destroy the mill and double cross Catherine. Leo decides to throw Shelly into the mix too. Jacques Renault gets taken into custody, which turns nasty. Nadine, aware of Big Ed's feelings for Norma, decides to kill herself. Cooper has a very bad experience in his hotel room.

Season 2 is considerably longer than the first season, which makes little sense. Part of the reason it tanked so badly is because of the pressure put on Lynch and Frost to reveal Laura's killer.

Episode 8: May the Giant Be with You
A lot of crazy things happened at the end of last season that essentially all get resolved in this episode. Cooper, who has been shot, is helped by an imaginary giant. Albert returns to help with the investigation and to help find the shooter. Bobby has successfully landed James in prison and things are tense between he and Donna. Leo and Nadine are in comas, Catherine and Josie are missing, and Shelly and Pete suffered injuries in the mill fire. This episode has my single favorite scene in all of Twin Peaks, in which Leland, Ben and Jerry Horne all sing and dance a song together in the office.

Episode 9: Coma
Introducing crazy side plot number one with Windom Earle, Cooper's old, vindictive partner who has escaped from an insane asylum and is on the loose. Donna, hurt by James's involvement with Maddy, has continued her own investigation and taken up Laura's volunteer spot with Meals on Wheels as per the Log Lady's advice. She has a creepy meeting that may or may not be real and introduces the concept of creamed corn as a symbol for pain and suffering.

Episode 10: The Man Behind the Glass
Donna finally meets Harold Smith, an agoraphobic man on Laura's Meals on Wheels route. He has her secret diary hidden at his house. Audrey, who has also progressed quite far in her own investigation at One-Eyed Jack's is now being dosed with drugs and held hostage by the madam Blackie, who begins doing some plotting of her own. Nadine, who has been in a coma due to her suicide attempt, wakes up and gives everyone quite a surprise.

Episode 11: Laura's Secret Diary
Leland is arrested for murdering Jacques Renault. When he heard of Renault's hospital stay and his clear suspicion in Laura's death, he went on a crazy rampage and smothered Jacques and attacked Dr. Jacoby. Ben becomes aware of Audrey's imprisonment and Jean Renault, Jacques's brother, demands a ransom. Cooper gets involved in an unofficial capacity. Norma has drama at the Double R and several missing characters return.

Episode 12: The Orchid's Curse
Cooper decides to rescue Audrey from One Eyed Jack's, which he and Truman do off the radar. Donna's relationship with Harold gets more intense, but she plans to steal Laura's diary. Leo has come home to live with Shelly and Bobby, and Ben is put in a tricky position by a stranger.

Episode 13: Demons
Ben continues to strike deals and Leland goes back to work. Gordon Cole brings news of Windom Earle and Cooper gets more information about BOB from the one-armed man.

Episode 14: Lonely Souls
Donna's meddling with Harold Smith has tragic consequences. Ben is questioned about his involvement in Laura's death and his relationship with Audrey changes dramatically. We learn the identity of a mysterious stranger and, much to my dismay, the identity of Laura's killer.

Episode 15: Drive with a Dead Girl
Someone makes a deal with Ben to get him out of prison for Laura's murder and the real killer further implicates him. Things are difficult at the Double R, as Norma has to deal with her mother and Hank, while Shelly is having trouble with Leo and Bobby. BOB surfaces.

Episode 16: Arbitrary Law
Craziness ensues and strange dreams are once again important. Catherine, back and better than ever, gets the ultimate revenge on Ben, who is eventually revealed as being innocent of Laura's murder. Much to Donna's dismay, James leaves town. Lucy, the police station receptionist, has her own drama.

Episode 17: Dispute Between Brothers
Laura's killer is buried (sort of) and Cooper's case is closed. He is unable to leave Twin Peaks because he is being investigated. More of the ridiculous subplots continue, like Nadine's amnesia and subsequent re-enrollment in high school. Major Briggs, one of my favorite characters on the show, has an unfortunate run in with the woods.

Episode 18: Masked Ball
The investigation against Cooper continues. This episode is full of stupid subplots, like Nadine is a high-schooler, James goes to stay with a troublesome blonde and Catherine tortures Josie in more ways than she knows.

Episode 19: The Black Widow
We learn more about Major Briggs's trip in the woods, which reveals more about the mystery of Twin Peaks and the secret evil. Bobby tries to advance himself in the world and, much to my dismay, Ben Horne looses his mind.

Episode 20: Checkmate
Cooper and Renault have a face off and the side plots continue, particularly with James, who is falling for the treacherous blonde. Nadine begins a relationship with Mike, which allows Ed and Norma to finally be together, though Hank, up to as much trouble as he can possibly be in, doesn't approve. Windom Earle ups the ante.

Episode 21: Double Play
Lots of little elements unravel. We learn about Windom Earle's past, Ben travels further down the path of crazy and Audrey takes over, making some business decisions. Leo wakes up, James realizes he's a big huge moron and we meet Thomas Eckhardt. He is Josie's ex-lover and ex-boss and orchestrated the plot to kill Andrew Packard, which we now learn failed.

Episode 22: Slaves and Masters
Pete, one of my favorite characters, is given a bigger role in this episode when he helps Cooper with a serious chess problem. More minor plots unravel. Donna gets involved with James's problems, Ed and Norma have hope for the future and Catherine faces off against Eckhardt.

Episode 23: The Condemned Woman
Relationships pay a major role in this episode. Some come together, some fall apart and Audrey meets the man who will potentially distract her from Cooper's unrequited love. Audrey, Shelly and Donna may be in danger from Windom Earle. Josie succumbs to tragedy.

Episode 24: Wounds and Scars
My least favorite character of the entire series is introduced in this episode. Annie Blackburn, Norma's younger sister, comes to Twin Peaks after leaving a convent and attracts Cooper's attention. Ben comes back to his senses a bit, while Catherine continues to run the show. Everyone gets excited for the upcoming Miss Twin Peaks contest.

Episode 25: On the Wings of Love
Truman tries to recover from Josie's loss and gets into some trouble. John Justice Wheeler heats things up with Audrey and Cooper explores Owl Cave, which may lead to some clues. With his newly restored sanity, Ben seeks to correct old wrongs in his life.

Episode 26: Variations on Relations
Cooper and Annie get closer while Gordon Cole loudly declares his appreciation of Shelly, which helps Bobby rekindle their love. Cooper struggles with the clues found in Owl Cave and Catherine struggles with the puzzle box left to her by Eckhardt.

Episode 27: The Path to the Black Lodge
Major Briggs gets captured by Windom Earle and Audrey finds love, though it is unfortunately fleeting. The mysterious power in Twin Peaks begins to have a bigger influence.

Episode 28: Miss Twin Peaks
The women of Twin Peaks gear up for the pageant as Cooper and Truman figure more out about the Black Lodge with a little help from Andy. Predictably, Windom Earle chooses the Miss Twin Peaks contest to strike his final blow.

Episode 29: Beyond Life and Death
Cooper will risk anything to save Annie from Windom Earle, who has taken her to the Black Lodge. Everything goes wrong for everyone else as well. Nadine wakes up, Donna's life takes a turn for the dramatic, things go wrong at the bank and BOB refuses to be banished.

I cannot express how much I love this show. There's great writing, great characters and a great score by Angelo Badalamenti. It's a risque show with themes of sex, drugs, pornography, prostitution, rape and murder, as well as regular use of the surreal and absurd, elements of horror and the occult. There is also the implication that everyone has a double life and a dark secret. I think the show's most important element is that it presents the refreshing idea that not all questions can be answered or problems can be solved.

It's amazing that in a mainstream television show, plot frequently doesn't matter. Sure, genre fans are used to going out on a limb on a regular basis, but the fact that the average viewer was so enthusiastic about season one is astounding. Twin Peaks won and nominated for many awards and has found its way into popular culture. Here's the most wonderful example of that:



Watch it. Love it. Get the gold box here, which includes plenty of special features when you are finished with the hours and hours of Twin Peaks episodes. There are deleted scenes, the Log Lady intros, a feature length documentary and more.

The Valerie Project


The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY
October 28, 2007

Bizarre construct of film screening and live music performance, The Valerie Project is one of the most beautiful experiences I have had in a long time and if I could go back and see it every week I would die happy.

The Film:
From the moment I saw Czech film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a tyden divu, 1970), it catapulted itself up into the list of my favorite movies. It is is magical, beautiful, erotic, sad, and transformative. And, in my opinion, absolutely perfect. I flat out refuse to say anything about the plot, other than that it is about the young Valerie and a very surreal week where she realizes her family is not what they seem. In the style of horror influenced “adult” fairy-tales like Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural and The Company of Wolves, Valerie is the queen of them all. Directed by Jaromil Jires and based on surrealist Czech writer V√≠tezslav Nezval’s book of the same name, this is a one of kind, new-wave, surrealist experience. The film is available on Region 1 in a serviceable release by Facets, but it was also finally re-released in by Second Run. It comes with a much needed new digital transfer, new subtitles and a really cool booklet that includes an essay by my friend Joseph from Exhumed Films/Diabolik DVD.

The Music:
The Valerie Project’s band doesn’t really have an independent name; rather they are a collective of ten musicians from the Philadelphia area. Fronted by Greg Weeks, the members are from such Philly bands as Espers, Fern Knight, and Fursaxa. Though the musicians seem to consider themselves indie and/or folk, the Valerie soundtrack is none of these things. With strange and seemingly organic sounds, Weeks and his companions forged the music of Valerie out of cellos, flutes, harps, a variety of bells, subtle female vocals, and more conventional electric instruments. It is a beautiful soundtrack to accompany a beautiful film and I think Weeks was successful in every way with this composition. There is a touch of classical, folk, actual soundtrack style sounds and a big dollop of the surreal. The CD and double LP were released by Drag City.

The Performance:
I had seen Valerie once before at the International House in Philadelphia, but the Museum of Modern Art’s production put that screening to shame. The music was crisper, louder, and in a more acoustically appropriate venue. The print of was flown in especially from the Czech Republic and looked brand new. The only thing I can complain about is the audience. The theater was packed and many people were standing, but the New York audience was definitely not as receptive to The Valerie Project or as captivated by the film as the Philadelphia audience. Some of the people around me laughed uncomfortably during more surreal parts of the film, which I found idiotic and immature. There was also a good deal of whispering and cell phone checking. What gives, New York? There was also a crowded after party featuring free food, drinks, and music, as well as a lovely numbered print by Tracy Nakayama whose artwork graces the posters, flyers, and CDs.

I hope I get to see this again at some point!