Friday, March 30, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #13: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are as comforting a team as Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, or Steve and Edie. Hammer films, be they horror or a mystery-thriller like this, are as comforting as house slippers. Mannered, stage-bound, and always hinting at much darker thrills than they show, this studio produced gem after gem. All together, it's a match-up equal to chocolate and peanut butter.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and this is one of many versions of the film. Cushing as Holmes and Andre Morell as Watson, however, have a take on the characters that seems somewhat... breezy. Cushing's Holmes is more a sharp and insightful showoff than someone truly driven by their genius intellect and preternatural powers of observation. Just the smartest man in a roomful of dim bulbs.

He's also a fairly emotional Holmes who makes some rash mistakes and assumptions, which is a dimension you don't see enough in this character. Invited to investigate the death of the lord of Baskerville Hall, where the prologue showed us a murder committed by the debauchery-minded Sir Hugo, who was then himself killed by "something."

Sherlock Holmes, never one to suffer fools gladly in any incarnation, agrees to investigate the death and descends upon Sir Henry (Christopher Lee). The son of the deceased Sir Charles, he's the new lord of Baskerville Hall, and a bit of a jerk. (Okay, he's a big jerk.) Sir Charles dropped dead, perhaps running from the mythical hell hound that curses the family. It's equally possible, though, an escaped murderer named Selden might have had a hand in the proceedings. So is the threat something supernatural, or just a prosaic murderer? Worse, will the family heart condition knock off Sir Henry before anything else gets a chance?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #12: Nightmare (Stage Fright, 1980)

Nightmare is definitely a product of its time as a circa-1980 slasher film. In such a film, a couple having graphic sex in an alley can't really complain if someone comes along and finds them. This includes the audience gaping at the indulgently gratuitous nudity (and those round vaccination scars anyone who doesn't have one has probably forgotten about by now). The couple is, however, allowed to be startled by a high-heel wearing slasher. To sum the plot up in one run-on sentence: a young girl is traumatized by inadvertently causing the death of her sexually active mother then grows up to be an actress in a theater production where all the understudies are getting promoted because someone is killing off the leads. Could these two things be connected? Well, not to spoil things up front, but there's no real mystery to the proceedings. Helen (Jenny Neumann), our protagonist, spends most of her screen time flashing back to either a death scene or yelling at herself behind closed doors. When a film doesn't bother to have you guessing whodunnit, the shots from the killer's point of view seem more appropriate to an experiment in first-person character study.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

That's A Lotta VHS Tapes

Part of getting the house in order (my quickly lapsed "2012 Project") in order to a) shack up and b) be less of a pack rat, means sorting things. Last night, I felt it was high time I addressed my VHS collection. Some of these movies I bought nearly 20 years ago, others are tapes with over 20 years of viewing under their belts than I picked up at one sale or another. Making the list was a full evening's reflection on both how my tastes have changed over the years and my compulsions. I couldn't tell you what possessed me to buy Miss Congeniality. In my defense, almost everyone my age owned Pretty Woman (well, every gal my age).

I doubt I'll ever watch any of them again. I haven't hooked up my VCR in over 2 years to even try and play a tape. More importantly, I'm learning that if I spend this much time intending to do something... I don't do it.

So, my friends, if there be VHS here you're interested in, make me an offer! It need not be a big offer -- or even a medium offer. This is about seeing beloved movies going to good homes with still-working VCRs... offers may also include spare change, cookies, in-trade items, and (non-intimate) hugs.

(That said, I think I might hang onto the Anchor Bay titles and the fairly rare copies of Gregg Arakai's Nowhere and Ken Russell's The Devils and have some viewing parties, unless you're really interested in them?). Also, I can lug 'em to HorrorHound if I'm going to see you there this weekend:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #11: Snow White: A Deadly Summer

David DeCoteau is doing something right... I just can't quite figure out what for all the wrong here. (Originally reviewed for

Official Synopsis:
In this edgy tale of horror, a troubled teenage girl finds herself in a web of lies and deceit when her stepmother attempts to murder her by sending her to a discipline camp.

Our Take:
The ever-prolific David DeCoteau has made classic Eighties B-movies, lots of Full Moon features, and created the “Horror Guys in Underwear” genre (The Brotherhood and 1313 series). This genre of bad, bland horror films, light on gore and heavy on tease, is mostly notable for being unable to decide if the target audience is straight women or gay men, then failing to reach either. DeCoteau has evidently decided to take a break from being the only director surrounded by more hot young guys than Chi Chi LaRue and audition for the ABC Family Channel. (I can only assume as in Snow White: A Deadly Summer there's gender equity and everyone keeps their shirts on...)

The plot of with this teen-centric “horror” feels like a TV movie, but TV generally requires higher production values. Here, between a borrowed mansion and a camp for teens that resembles a neighborhood public park, DeCoteau makes the best of limited resources with a quickie take on the Snow White story. (Beating the upcoming big-budget ones to the punch?)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #10: Suspicion (American Playhouse, 1988)

I stray from my usual horror and genre fair with something a little more high-toned, like a stifled remake of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Verdict: They were asking for trouble from the get go.

Marry in haste. Remake in leisure. Watch in boredom. (Originally reviewed for

Official Synopsis:
A powerfully tense remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, this British production of Suspicion boasts a dynamic cast, making it a worthy descendant of the original.

Anthony Andrews (The King's Speech) stars as notorious playboy Johnnie Aysgarth, a seemingly wealthy and carefree bachelor. Jane Curtin (Saturday Night Live, Coneheads) plays Lina, a lonely American who is instantly charmed by Johnnie's arrogant wit. After a whirlwind romance, the couple marries, after which unpleasant truths begin to emerge. Johnnie is broke and a compulsive gambler, a deadly combination. Desperate for money, he starts borrowing against her life insurance policy, and curiously develops an interest in murder mysteries. Lina soon fears for her safety, her paranoia exploding into hysteria after one of Johnnie's friends suffers an unfortunate accident.

A white-knuckle thriller directed with elegance and a morbid wit by Andrew Grieve (Agatha Christie's Poirot), Suspicion is a well-executed mystery that will raise goosebumps, and perhaps some suspicions about your own spouse.

Our Take:
The original Suspicion is one of the few Alfred Hitchcock films I haven't seen. A failure for a film reviewer, but it means I can't compare it's style, flair, or big stars against this American Playhouse television adaptation from 1988... which is good as this remake lacks both style and flair.

Johnnie is a dead-broke blue-blooded playboy who meets Lina, an American her own wealthy parents describe as “spinsterish.” Their short courtship, based on mutual-but-incompatible needs, leads them to marriage while they're really still strangers. Lina quickly learns it's not a good idea to get involved in a man you think might be trying to murder you. Is she paranoid, observant, or just working out how much she screwed up by marrying this cheap jerk?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week Reviews #9: Aenigma

I'm going to start calling my One-A-Week reviews my movie of the week. Why? Why not? No better way to start than this howler of a horror that actually gets better the more you think about it...
I haven't liked any Lucio Fulci movies made after The House By the Cemetery (with the possible exception of Cat in the Brain). They're awful; totally overrated by fans. I know this, and yet I keep watching. I guess it's just the completest in me. Aenigma came out in 1987, and didn't even make it to the states until 2001 on DVD. Is it any good? Well... a bit?

In the world of horror movies, everyone attends school well into their thirites. Seriously, some of these students look older than the headmistress. Eva Gordon arrives at St. Mary's school in, evidently, Boston-Herzigovina. (This is Yugoslavia standing in for Massachusetts.  All she wants to do is make out with "as many boys as possible." It's a shame she winds up quickly possessed by Kathy, a student hit by a car after being humiliated in a prank played by her classmates. Kathy is supposedly brain-dead, but evidently psychic. She make your reflection break through the mirror to kill you and also turns snails into carnivorous murderers. (Yes, snails, and it's hilarious.)