Friday, October 14, 2011

Worth Mentioning - The History of the Unusual

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.


This week, Cody witnesses classic monstrosities and feasts on supernatural bologna, Jay gives an update on his own movie and finds himself Lost. 


TARANTULA (1955)

Professor Gerald Deemer is concerned with world hunger. There will be 3.625 billion people on Earth in the year 2000, he (under)estimates, and how will they all be fed? To prevent future food shortages, Deemer has come up with a special formula that he's been testing out on animals. As a result, his lab now houses several super-sized creatures. As the film begins, Deemer's partners are also experiencing side effects from dealing with the formula. Very unfortunate side effects: deformity and madness.

While local doctor Matt Hastings tries to get to the bottom of what exactly is going on at Deemer's, and he gets involved with Deemer's new assistant Stephanie "Steve" Clayton, things in town start to get even stranger. People being attacked, cows eaten down to the bone... A tarantula has escaped into the desert countryside from Deemer's lab and is continuing to grow bigger and bigger.

This is a really fun flick, one of the most enjoyable monster movies of the '50s. The talent involved is impressive on screen and behind the camera. Tarantula was directed by Jack Arnold, director of Creature of the Black Lagoon. Leo G. Carroll is great as Deemer, and as the Rocky Horror Picture Show lyric says, "I knew Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills." John Agar and Mara Corday play Matt Hastings and Steve Clayton. This tarantula is just one of many monsters they faced in their careers, Corday dealt with The Giant Claw and Agar met all sorts of oddities. This same year, Agar and Arnold also teamed on the Black Lagoon sequel Revenge of the Creature.


Clint Eastwood made his first screen apperance in Revenge of the Creature, in a small uncredited role as a lab technician. Eastwood turns up uncredited in Tarantula as well, this time playing the leader of a squadron of fighter jets.



IT'S ALIVE (1974)

Lenore Davis lies in a hospital bed, giving birth while her husband Frank waits outside in the waiting room. This is Frank and Lenore's second child, but something is different this time. Lenore tries to tell the doctor that something's strange, but she can't explain it. The baby starts to crown...

Frank sees an orderly stumble out of the room and collapse to the floor, dead. He enters Lenore's room to find a bloodbath, the dead bodies of doctors and nurses surrounding a screaming Lenore. The baby is missing, the umbilical cord looks like it's been bitten in half.

The logical assumption is that someone has stolen the baby, but soon it becomes clear that the Davis baby is the killer, a monstrous mobile mutation with claws and large, sharp teeth.

If handled differently, this film could've been ridiculous. Moments like the police noting that "something small" has busted out of the hospital through a third floor skylight could be laughably absurd. But writer/director Larry Cohen elevates the story by playing it straight and grounded, giving the film a strange atmosphere and focusing on the parents who have to deal with the nightmarish idea of their baby being a homicidal creature. While Frank is tormented by the thought of bringing a monster into the world, Lenore sympathizes with her child, knowing that it is also still just a scared newborn.

Cohen was able to expand the ideas presented here into a trilogy, following this one up with It Lives Again in 1978 and It's Alive III: Island of the Alive in 1987.
   



THE BLACK CAT (1934)

Horror legends Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff are pitted against each other in this film, the first of eight movies which they appeared in together.

The story follows a young couple on their honeymoon, who accidentally get caught up in the rivalry between the characters played by Lugosi and Karloff, Werdegast and Poelzig. Poelzig was Werdegast's commanding officer at Fort Marmorus during World War I, and when Poelzig sold the fort out to the Russians, ten thousand men were killed and Werdegast was captured. During the last 15 years that Werdegast has spent in a P.O.W. camp, Poelzig stole his wife and daughter - telling them that Werdegast had been killed - and built a mansion on the foundation of Fort Marmorus.

When Werdegast and the unlucky couple arrive at Poelzig's mansion, the wife and daughter are nowhere to be seen. Werdegast goes about trying to get the information of their whereabouts from Poelzig before he gets his revenge, meanwhile Poelzig develops an unhealthy interest in the young newlywed bride and has strange things going on in the cellar.

The movie claims to be "Suggested by the immortal Edgar Allan Poe classic", but really has nothing to do with it. The only connection, as far as I can tell, is the fact that Werdegast is terrified by a black cat he sees walking around in Poelzig's mansion, as he believes that black cats are the living embodiment of evil.

The interaction between Lugosi and Karloff is great and makes this film a lot of fun to watch, especially since it's surrounded by fear of a black cat, life and death chess games, Satanic rituals and dynamite.


Jay's mentions:

Bill Pacer in my VHS-C film, Pumpkin.

First, an update on my newest film, Pumpkin. I should be wrapping principal photography within the next month. We've been shooting basically weekend to weekend and picking up other scenes as we go. We've also benefited from having a good amount of breaks in the schedule, which has helped keep us rested but I'm not so sure it's kept us fresh. Either way, things are winding down for the shoot, and I'll be posting more on my personal blog as time goes on. I'm planning to release some more casting news as well as some promotional pictures and on set pictures within the next two weeks.


Other than that, I haven't had a lot of time to watch many movies. Most of my viewing time has been devoted to rewatching the entire run of ABC's Lost, in order.


LOST (2004-2010)

Created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, Damon Lindelof
Starring Naveen Andrews, Terry O' Quinn, Matthew Fox, Josh Holloway, Yunjin Kim, Evangeline Lilly, Emilie de Ravin, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbajeand, Jorge Garcia, Daniel Dae Kim, and many others

Lost is one of those shows that I avoided at all costs when it first aired. I've never been a big TV guy either way, but the overly dramatic claims of how wonderful it was and the talk of it being the greatest thing ever was very annoying. Until I actually ended up watching the show. Turns out, all those over dramatic supporters were actually right. Now it's probably my favorite show ever.

The show is centered around a group of castaways on a mysterious island after their plane crashes. Rescue never comes, and the survivors quickly learn that there is something different about the island they now call home. Be it the huge monster stomping through the jungle or their own individual discoveries about how they've changed since setting foot on the island, it's pretty obvious that they are in a "special" place. The fact that the show is centered around an international flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California helps add a lot of diversity to the cast of characters. This really creates some interesting dynamics between them.


Watching it from start to finish (6 seasons) was very special for me. Being able to see it all in order and enjoy it at my own pace was great, and even though I already knew how it ended, I really wanted to see it transform from start to finish. Overall, it was a very rewarding experience.


Lost is a terrific mystery, and it's for this reason that the show keeps viewers so enthralled. The thing that really gets me at the end of the day is the wonderful characters. They are all extremely enjoyable and well-rounded. I believe, as a whole, they are the best group of characters out of any film or show that I've viewed. I love all of them a lot and invested a lot of emotions in finding out what would happen to them next, and if they would ever find peace or happiness. The writers (mainly Lindelof and Carlton Cuse) deserve a ton of credit for crafting them, and the actors all do a really good job of bringing them to life. If you've been living under a rock (like I was for 5 seasons of it) then I suggest that you go onto Netflix and start watching Lost. The entire run is up on Instant Streaming. Be warned though: Once you start, you'll find it hard to stop, and one episode will turn into four episodes, and so on and so forth. I've seen it happen to a few people, myself included.

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