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Old School Horror

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This week in the New York Times, the first of a two part round-up of recent horror film releases, which for some reason seem to proliferate in late October, looks at some examples of old school horror, before the gore revolution of the late 60s. Included are “The Walking Dead” (1936), one of the surprisingly few horror films by the Hungarian master of light and shadow, Michael Curtiz; some Universal B-pictures of the 1940s that show off the cinematography of Woody Bredell and Stanley Cortez; and Columbia’s big box of William Castle films, which include a couple of titles new to video as well as his classic gimmick movies of the 1950s.

I didn’t have the space to get into this in the paper, but what impressed me most about the Castle collection were his two comedies starring Tom Poston, “Zotz!” (1962) and “The Old Dark House” (1963). Castle’s gregarious personality finds a more natural expression in these pictures than in his straight horror films, and Poston turns out to be a genuinely gifted light comedian — too nice a guy for the early 1960s, but someone who might have been a star in the 20s or 30s in the mold of a Harold Lloyd or Stu Erwin.

427 comments to Old School Horror

  • Griff

    Joseph, thanks very much for your sage, restorative remarks on the Schickel hatchet job piece on Altman — “choleric and absurd” are good descriptives. The Zuckoff oral biography is quite interesting, and an indispensable companion to the excellent Patrick McGilligan bio. Its practical limitations have much to do with the oral history format — Zuckoff was unable to interview (or get substantial archival quotes from) various deceased key Altman associates (Tommy Thompson, Lou Lombardo, Brian McKay and others), and the absence of their perspective is keenly felt. It would have been useful to get Shelley Duvall’s cooperation, as well; her active participation is missed.

  • Still, has anybody else ever come up with a final film as unconsciously appropriate as career summation and meditation on death as A PRAIRE HOME COMPANION?

    I’d nominate the “Roi d’Yvetot” sequence in “Le Petit Theatre de Jean Renoir” as a far more uplifting and thoughtful reaction to impending death, and the difficulty and necessity of handing one’s beloved art form over to another generation, than Altman’s bathetic and solipsistic “Prairie Home Companion.” I haven’t seen “California Split” in decades, but I did look at the new Blu-ray of “MASH” a few weeks ago and found it every bit as smug, rampantly misogynist, mean-spirited and poorly filmed as it seemed in 1970.

  • Kent Jones

    Jean-Pierre – LES NAUFRAGES DE L’ILE DE LA TORTUE was made in 1976. Pierre Richard is a travel agent who comes up with a novel idea for customers who are disgusted with pre-packaged modern civilization: dump them off in the middle of a wild uninhabited tropical island and let them fend for themselves. Jacques Villeret joins him. It’s very loose, kept on the edge of chaos, and stays extremely fresh throughout, arriving at passages of great beauty. It’s also really funny.

  • Barry Putterman

    jbryant, maybe I was simply up past my bedtime. COLOSSUS:THE FORBIN PROJECT is indeed Joseph Sargent and a pretty good film no matter who made it.

    Our very own Craig’s List is pretty much why I don’t participate in this practice. Once you get started, where do you stop? And if you go all the way to the end, what exactly have you got?

    Which, and let me make this perfectly clear, crystal clear; is in no way intended as a criticism of Craig, his choices, or his endeavor.

  • Blake Lucas

    Craig (and also Alex), you probably just read fast but a number of titles you name had been cited already (it’s true, Alex, that A Fistful of Dynamite was named under it’s original title Duck, You Sucker but it’s the same film).

    Like Barry, I find it hard to be precise so compromised by naming some favorites and emphasizing I was sure I was not covering it.

    But thanks to Tom for Islands in the Stream, which few people would name I guess though I would also. A film most auteurists won’t even think about but beautiful and moving even so. Another for me is When the Legends Die.

  • James L. Neibaur

    Tardily joining the conversation and wanting to respond to those who seemed hard pressed to find good films directed by David Butler, let me remind all of the Bob Hope vehicles he helmed, including Road to Morocco, The Princess and the Pirate, and They Got Me Covered, all of which show the star at somewhere near his best. That he also directed the bizarre Jump Into Hell, reminds us of how versatile a contract director had to be in the 30s, 40s, and 50s

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Dave, your reaction to “MASH” was exactly mine in 1970. I doubt that watching it again in blu-ray would change my opinion, although I’ve read and heard many words of praise for the film (it’s one of the few movies we disagreed about with Bertrand (he wrote that part of the Altman entry in “50 Ans”).

  • Barry Putterman

    James, I did make a passing comic reference to JUMP INTO HELL which, of all things, is a war film about the French at Dien Bien Phu. A friend of mine who had great affection for Butler said that he had expected it to be a musical version of “The Divine Comedy.”

  • Joseph McBride

    I admit I have never liked M*A*S*H either. It draws from what
    Robin Wood criticized as Altman’s wiseass streak, which is juvenile. WELCOME TO L.A., which someone mentioned, I found virtually unbearable (I won’t say “unwatchable,” since I watched it). Altman wouldn’t screen it for the trades, so my editor, Tom Pryor, reacted angrily by telling me to fly to Seattle to see it. It was being given its theatrical debut there. I booked the flight (grumbling), and Altman relented, saying he would screen it for us at his hq in West LA. Tom said no, screw him, go to Seattle anyway. So I did. I had to fly there, get a cab, go right to the screening, and then go right to my hotel and go to sleep so I could wake at about five AM and fly right back, since Tom wouldn’t let me stay an extra day at Variety’s expense. Not a good way to see the film, but I tried, as always, to watch it with an open mind. Keith Carradine, as someone said, looks like a goat, singing his sullen and witless songs and rutting with various women. The film offers some kind of pretentious overview of LA life filled with dull caricatures. Alan Rudolph is a director sans talent, in my view. Why Altman was so loyal to him, I don’t know, but then loyalty was one of his traits.

  • dm494

    “The film offers some kind of pretentious overview of LA life filled with dull caricatures. Alan Rudolph is a director sans talent, in my view.”

    That’s an interesting take on Rudolph, at least on this site, where many people consider him a far better filmmaker than Altman. As someone who likes both directors while acknowledging the flaws in them which irk their numerous detractors, I have to admit that Rudolph IS quite pretentious, that his pseudo-literary dialogue warrants every cringe it induces; and that, even if deliberate, the anachronism of THE MODERNS, which portrays flappers as if they were beatniks, with Hemingway as a Kerouac-like poseur and Carradine reprising his hipster role for the umpteenth time, looks like a failure of historical imagination on Rudolph’s part and pretty much sinks the film for me.

  • Alex Hicks

    If there’s been arty U.S. independend like Rudolph back back before 1967, Sarris could have come up with a category of “Strained Aestheticism” to complement his “Strained Seriousness'”

    (Sorry for the duplications. Blake: working for a while in a context without an e-Search or e-Find capability, the wealth of 70s cinematic excellence overcame my scanning and storage synapses.)

  • Joseph McBride

    MRS. PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE is an egregious waste of a good subject, with a shockingly awful and misguided performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who, when she’s really cooking, is as bad as it gets, even though she sometimes displays actual talent (as in Altman’s SHORT CUTS).

  • Stephen Bowie

    I paid Lamont Johnson a visit when I was in Monterey in 2004, and at the time he was still very sharp and quite a commanding presence. He was doing some work in local radio there (directing? announcing? I can’t remember), just for fun, I gathered.

    Joseph, your dismissal of Alan Rudolph sounds uncharacteristically churlish. I actually agree with you that WELCOME TO L.A. is overrated, but there are a half-dozen other Rudolph films that I think are very special.

  • Joseph McBride

    “De gustibus non est disputandum.”

  • Kent Jones

    Blake, I was very fond of ISLANDS IN THE STREAM back in the day. I do remember thinking that in its final stretch it strained a little too hard to sustain an elegiacal note, but it had a lovely autumnal quality. Of course, insipid bathetic sexist that I am, I like several Alan Rudolph movies, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION and M*A*S*H*, so what do I know?

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Well,speaking of Schaffner, I would have voted for Patton for best picture in 1970 over MASH. Have to ponder whether I would have over Five Easy Pieces – close call.

    Seriously, Schaffner is a seriously underrated director, at least through Islands. Sort of Ridley Scott without the bombast and more commitment to his characters.

  • Joseph McBride

    Check out this nice piece of direction by Schaffner.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Looking at that clip and it looks like Jacqueline Kennedy’s hairstyle is one of the biggest influences on Mad Men’s design.

    The Schaffner film that seems to have disappeared is The Stripper. I saw 40 years ago maybe on tv panned and scanned of course. Anyone know why it has disapppeared? (Perhaps Fox just hasn’t bother to ever remaster it letterboxed; I don’t think they’ve shown in p/s on the FMC.)

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘THE MODERNS, which portrays flappers as if they were beatniks, with Hemingway as a Kerouac-like poseur ‘

    DM, I cannot agree about this. I have read all 9 biographies of Jack Kerouac, some was very hostile to him, but none was describing him as poseur.

    Especially since last week October 21 was 40th anniversary of Kerouac’s death there has been discussion of his writing. To me he is great writer, he is writng novel similar to Japanese ‘I Novel’ genre, from view of outsider wanting to be accepted, also exploring unconcious mind, religious sensibility, sexual ambiguity, having unique prose style, also writing great poetry.

    I know he is not accepted by mainstream American critics, but avant garde writers admire his work and he has had influence on them in America and Japan.

  • dm494

    Junko, I’m sorry I don’t share your enthusiasm for Kerouac, but you’re probably right that he was not a poseur, and what I meant was that Kevin O’Connor’s Hemingway seems like a poseur modeling himself on Kerouac (or popular depictions of Kerouac), not that he models himself on Jack Keroauc, the poseur. It’s really some stereotypically self-absorbed beatnik that O’Connor gives the impression of being; and it probably occurred to me to link the film’s Hemingway with Kerouac because of O’Connor’s performance a year or two earlier as the Kerouac-loving (and Hemingway-hating) teenager in PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘It’s really some stereotypically self-absorbed beatnik that O’Connor gives the impression of being’

    Yes, that is true DM. THE MODERNS is having disdain attitude toward artist. Do you think it is Rudolf’s intention about Hemingway character or O’Conner’s performance?

    About Franklin Schaffner, THE WARLORD is his movie that I like best.

  • Kent Jones

    Junko, what you say is true – Kerouac influenced many American “language poets.” For instance, John Yau, Clark Coolidge and Michael Gizzi collaborated on a book called LOWELL CONNECTOR, which they composed after a visit to Lowell and Kerouac’s grave. I wonder – have you read MAGGIE CASSIDY? I’m sure you have. It’s been a long time since I read Kerouac, but I have fond memories of that novel.

  • Gregg Rickman

    In the October 11 thread we spent some time discussing the excellent John Heard. Does anyone here like his performance as Kerouac in John Bryum’s HEART BEAT?

  • Junko Yasutani

    Yes Kent, I have read MAGGIE CASSIDY. It is good book showing Kerouac’s versatility as novelist, interesting to me to read about American New England life of 1930s from recollection of high school boy’s life.

    Gregg, I remember John Heard as Kerouac in HEART BEAT. It was good performance, especially later part when Kerouac is suffering depression, Heard’s face is showing pain in subtle expression.

  • Tony Williams

    For those of you, who still venture here, I’d thought I’d express my appreciation for your stimulating posts stuck as I am in a world resembling “BLADE RUNNER by daylight! I really enjoyed Joseph’s observations on BROKEN BLOSSOMS and Gish and regard WELCOME TO LA as really dire. The reference to that song desribing LA as the “City of a 1,000 one night stands” certainly beats those Western lyrics we all quoted previously.
    Finally, thanks Kent, for your kind words.

  • The William Castle box set topped my list of the top 10 horror DVDs and Blu-rays of the year. The documentary (feature length) is as good as anything in the set. “The Tingler” and “13 Ghosts” hold up beautifully and Sony has shed more of its excellence on the remasters.

    Also making the list from Sony was the non-P&S version of “Mothra” on the Toho Collection.

  • RvB

    Shawn, it’s not Doris Day who gets slagged in Confederacy of Dunces, it’s “that sweet little Debbie Reynolds. Ain’t she precious?”