Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stubs – Halloween (1978)

Halloween (1978) Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J.Soles, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay by John Carpenter, Debra Hill. Produced by Debra Hill, Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad  Run Time: 91 minutes. U.S.  Color, Horror

Concluding Trophy Unlocked’s Halloween tour of horror movies that launched franchises is John Carpenter’s original Halloween. Not only did this film start a trend (I’ll let you decide if it’s good or bad) of slasher films that became the norm for horror in the 1980’s and 1990’s, this is also the film that put John Carpenter on the map. 

He had written and directed two films before (Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13) and had written two others (The Resurrection of Brocho Billy and The Eyes of Laura Mars), but after Halloween he was a very big name in Hollywood. Also this film is responsible for introducing the world to yogurt eating Jamie Lee Curtis.

The film starts back on Halloween 1963 in fictional Haddonfield, Illinois. Judith Myers (Sandy Johnson) is murdered by her younger brother Michael (Will Sandin) using a butcher knife after having sex with her boyfriend (David Kyle).

Michael as a kid (Will Sandin) right after dispatching his sister, Judith.
Fifteen years later on October 30, 1978, Michael, who has been institutionalized since the murder, escapes and steals a car. Three guesses where he’s headed.

Back in Haddonfield, on Halloween, high school student, Laurie Strode (Curtis), is being stalked by Michael, who is wearing blue overalls and a mask. He appears outside her classroom and drives past her on the street. Laurie notices, but her friends Annie (Nancy Keyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) dismiss her concerns. Laurie sees Michael again, this time standing in her front yard staring at her bedroom door.

Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) with her friends, Annie (Nancy Keyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles).
Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), has come to Haddonfield looking for Michael. He stops at the local cemetery and finds that Judith’s gravestone has been taken. Loomis goes to see Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), who happens to be Annie’s father. The two go out looking for the escaped mental patient.

Donald Pleasence plays Michael's psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis.
That night, Laurie is babysitting a boy named Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) while Annie is babysitting a girl named Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) across the street. When Annie’s boyfriend Paul calls her and tells her to come pick him up, Annie takes Lindsey across the street to the Doyle’s and leaves her in Laurie’s care. When Annie gets into her car, Michael is waiting in the backseat and slashes her throat.

Meanwhile, in the Doyle house, Laurie and the kids are playing hide-and-seek when Tommy spots Michael carrying Annie’s body from the house across the street. He tries to tell Laurie, but she doesn’t believe him. Lynda and her boyfriend Bob (John Michael Graham) show up at the Wallace’s house and go upstairs to have sex. Afterwards, Bob goes down to the kitchen to get Lynda a beer, but Michael is waiting for him and impales Bob to the wall with a knife. Michael then heads upstairs with a sheet on, pretending to be Bob in ghost attire. Lynda though is suspicious and calls Laurie, just as Michael strangles her with the phone cord. (This is in the days before cell phones.)

An unsuspecting Laurie about to be strangled by Michael.
Unnerved by the call, Laurie puts Tommy and Lindsey to bed and heads over to the Wallace house. There she finds a gruesome scene, including Annie’s dead body next to Judith Myers’ headstone and nearby the dead bodies of Lynda and Bob. Michael attacks Laurie, who falls down the staircase. Fleeing the house, Laurie screams for help, but no one appears to hear or take notice. Running across the street to the Doyle’s house, Laurie realizes that she’s lost the key and the door is locked. Banging on the door, Laurie screams for Tommy to open the door. Lucky for Laurie, the kid comes through just in time, but Michael is not far behind.

Laurie has the kids hide and then discovers the phone line is dead. Michael gains entry through a window and Laurie sits down next to the couch. Michael appears and tries to stab her, but Laurie is cunning. She counterattacks and stabs Michael in the neck with a knitting needle.

Believing Michael is dead, Laurie goes upstairs and tells the children she’s killed the boogeyman Tommy had seen. But Michael doesn’t die so easily and is coming up the stairs. Telling the kids to hide again, Laurie tries to make it look like she’s gone out a window and then hides in the closet. But Michael isn’t fooled and tears a hole in the closet door and grabs at Laurie. Frantically, Laurie undoes a wire hanger and sticks Michael in the eye, causing him to drop his knife. Laurie picks up the knife and then tells the children to run outside and try to get help.

Michael breaks into the closet where Laurie is hiding.
Dr. Loomis happens to see Tommy and Lindsey flee and suspects correctly that Michael is in the Doyle’s house. Meanwhile, Michael has started to strangle Laurie, but Loomis arrives to stop him. Loomis shoots Michael once in the head and five times in the chest, but Michael doesn’t go down easily. Falling out of a second story window, Michael falls to the lawn. But when Loomis goes to look out the window, Michael’s body is gone. 

The movie ends with the speculation that Michael is still out there somewhere, accompanied by Michael’s heavy breathing. And the sequel is set up.

Honestly, it has been a year or so since I’ve seen this film, but I don’t remember there being any real motivation for any of the murders. While Michael clearly has a thing against pre-marital sex, since half of his victims have engaged in such during the movie, why does he go after Laurie, who is virginal? Unlike Annie and Lynda, she doesn’t even appear to have a boyfriend. But hey, Michael’s crazy, right?

I also find it interesting that the mental hospital only dispatches Dr. Loomis to find Michael and that Loomis brings a gun. I guess there is only so much talking you can do with the criminally insane.

As in all horror films, the main monster seems impervious to being killed. The same was true with Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula. Those monsters returned for sequel after sequel. The same is true with Michael in Halloween for which there were seven sequels: Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), and Halloween: Resurrection (2002); not to mention a remake by Rob Zombie, Halloween (2007), with its own sequel, Halloween II (2009).

Michael Meyers proved to be a very popular horror villain.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention our star of the future from Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis. The daughter of actress Janet Leigh and actor Tony Curtis, Halloween marks her acting debut, which means she made a big impression from the get go. The success of the film lead to roles in other horror films: The Fog (1980), Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980) and not to mention Halloweens II and III, earning Curtis the title of Scream Queen. She shed her horror persona, and her top, in the comedy Trading Places (1983) and had a prominent part in John Cleese's A Fish Called Wanda (1988). After starring in Blue Steel (1989) and True Lies (1994), opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ms. Curtis' career has been somewhat uneven. She's returned to the Laurie Strode character in Halloween H2O and Halloween Resurrection; appeared in lackluster comedies like Freaky Friday (2003), Christmas With the Kranks (2004) and Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008); written children's books and is now the spokesperson for Activia, the yogurt that makes you poop.

While Halloween did not start the slasher genre, you might say Psycho (1960) was the first one, it was a milestone of sorts. Audiences found out they liked to be scared. While there had been a few slasher films since Psycho, like Black Christmas (1974), Halloween is seen as really starting the trend that led to such films (and their franchises) as Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Child’s Play (1988).

As the 80’s and 90’s continued, slasher films tried to out-do one another, with more and more novel ways of killing victims and more blood and more gore. While the genre has been parodied by Scream (1996) with its sequels, and satirized by Scary Movie (2000), with its own sequels, it has never completely gone away. As mentioned in our review of Friday the 13th, last year’s The Cabin the Woods is a recent variation on the theme.

Now I am admittedly squeamish when it comes to these types of movies. As a rule I don’t like gore and I have a production code level of acceptance for blood. I only saw Halloween because my sons wanted to watch it. Perhaps it’s me or the time in which the movie was made, but it is not really all that bloody or gory. There’s enough, but it is not over the top, as in movies that came after it, notably A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), another movie I saw because of my sons, which literally gushes blood like a volcano with a bleeding ulcer. I also have a thing about piercing flesh, so Michael’s impaling victims is not a favorite to watch.

If you’re like me and not a fan of the slasher genre, then I would tell you to feel free to skip this one. But if you’re put in a position where you have to watch one or lose face, then Halloween is not really all that bad. Choose it over The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) or the aforementioned A Nightmare on Elm Street. And hey, it is Halloween after all. If you can’t get a good scare in today, when can you? And if it gets to be too much, keep reminding yourself, “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie” (apologies to Last House on the Left).

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Stubs – The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) Starring: Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry, Mary Philbin. Directed by Rupert Julian, Edward Sedgwick Screenplay by Elliott J. Clawson, Raymond L. Schrock, Bernard McConville, Jasper Spearing, Richard Wallace, Walter Anthony, Tom Reed and Frank M. McCormack (all uncredited). Based on the novel The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Produced by Carl Laemmle Run Time: 107 minutes. U.S.  Black and White and Color, Silent, Horror.

'Tis the season to be frightened.

On the surface, the title and the media don’t seem to jive. A silent film about opera? Well, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. But the film is really less about the setting, the Paris Opera House, than it is about The Phantom that dwells there. Previously, Trophy Unlocked has reviewed Phantom of the Opera (1943), another version of the story. Sad to report that even with Claude Rains in the lead role, that film was not all that good.

But this is the first film interpretation and some say the definitive filmic version of the 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux. This film stars the Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney, as the masked Phantom, which is already an improvement over Rains.

It is no surprise that Universal Studios would make horror films. This is after all the studio that brought us Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy(1932), The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941),  not to mention all the sequels and associated films and crossovers. The studio has always been associated with the horror genre, going back to its very beginnings as the Independent Moving Pictures Company, which produced only one film, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913). The studio’s first big success with the genre was The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), which inspired them to make The Phantom of the Opera. Both films starred Lon Chaney.

Chaney was one of the most versatile actors in early American cinema. Using make up he was able to transform his appearance, oftentimes into grotesque and tortured characters. Perhaps best known for his portrayal of Quasimodo in 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Chaney would appear in more than 150 films between 1912 and 1930. Included in his filmography is a stranger silent drama, He Who Gets Slapped (1924), which happened to be the first film in production by the then newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. That film, directed by Victor Sjostrom, also starred Norma Shearer and John Gilbert.
Actor Lon Chaney.
Sadly, many of the films Chaney starred in have been lost in the annals of time. However, we are left with, arguably, his last great film, The Phantom of the Opera.
The film opens with the debut of the new season at the Paris Opera House, with a production of Gounod's Faust. (This piece is referred to later,)  But the new season also brings in new owners. The details are not spelled out, but you get the impression the new owners have not done very much due diligence. As the old owners depart, they inform the new ones about the Opera Ghost, a phantom who uses opera box #5, among other things. The new owners laugh it off as a joke, at least at first.
But during the performance, curiosity gets the better of the managers and they go to Box #5. They ask the woman who keeps the boxes who is in there. She tells them she doesn’t know and that she’s never seen his face. When they first enter Box #5, they see a man watching the opera. From the back, he looks like Dracula from behind with his high collar. The owners flee the box rather than speak to him. But outside the door, they regain their composure and go back to confront the man, only this time he’s not there.
After the performance, the ballet girls are disturbed by the sight of a mysterious man, whom they see passing behind a large set piece in the basement. (Honestly, I don’t know what they’re doing in the basement). Some of the ballerinas go upstairs to warn the others of the phantom’s return, while another group gathers around one of the stagehands Florine Papillion (Snits Edwards) and start describing the shadow they’ve seen.
A shadowy glimpse of the Phantom frightens the ballerinas.
They’re interrupted by the presence of a mysterious man in a fez (Arthur Edward Carewe) who continues down in to the cellar. They then scurry to seek out Joseph Buquet (Bernard Seigel), a stagehand who claims to have actually seen the ghost. Buquet, who is holding a life-like head of a man, describes a ghastly sight of a living skeleton to the girls. He takes them down to where he’d seen the phantom and the group is startled by a shadow cast on the wall. Florine is so frightened that he uses a trapdoor mechanism to escape. These antics of the stagehand do not amuse Joseph's brother, Simon (Gibson Gowland), another stagehand, who chases him off.
Meanwhile, Carlotta’s mother (Virginia Pearson) barges into the owners’ office enraged. She has received a letter from "The Phantom," demanding that Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) sing the role of Marguerite the following night, threatening dire consequences if his demands are not met.
The next evening, Carlotta is ill (we don’t know if that’s a coincidence or not) and Christine takes her place in the opera. Comte Philippe de Chagny (John St. Polis) and his brother, the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry) are in attendance. Christine is Raoul’s sweetheart.
Christine's performance draws a standing ovation.
Christine receives a standing ovation from the audience and afterward Raoul visits her in her dressing room. After clearing the room, he proposes to her saying, “At last you have realized your ambition, my darling, and now we shall be married.” But Christine turns him down, telling him that she can never leave the Opera. 
Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry) proposes marriage, under his terms, to Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) 
Disappointed, Raoul stands outside her door, after the others have left. He hears the voice within the room. The Phantom (whom the audience sees as a shadow on a wall behind the dressing room) tells her, "Soon, Christine, this spirit will take form and will demand your love!" She responds with “Call for me when you will. I shall be waiting.” Raoul, of course, hears this exchange.
Christine listens to her muse.
Carlotta receives another discordant note from the Phantom. Once again, it demands that she take ill and let Christine have her part. The owners also get a separate note from the Phantom, telling them that if Christine does not sing, they will present "Faust" in a house with a curse on it.
The following evening, despite the Phantom's warnings, a defiant Carlotta (Mary Fabian) appears as Marguerite. At first, the performance goes well, but soon the Phantom's curse takes its effect. The house lights flicker and the shadowy Phantom causes the great, crystal chandelier to fall down onto the audience. Mayhem ensues and the Phantom gets away.
The crystal chandelier falls onto the audience.
Raoul breaks into Christine’s dressing room and hides. Later Christine enters and is entranced by the mysterious voice through a secret door, who says “Christine, I have come for you.” And she willingly goes. She goes through the mirror which has a hidden passage. Raoul is too late to stop her. Behind the mirror, the phantom makes contact. Even wearing a mask, she is somewhat frightened by his appearance. He tells her “Look not upon my mask – think rather of my devotion which has brought you the gift of song.” He takes her descending, in a dream-like sequence, semi-conscious on horseback down a winding staircase into the lower depths of the Opera House.
First contact between the Phantom (Lon Chaney) and Christine.
She is then taken by the Phantom into a gondola which they use to transverse a subterranean black lake to his hidden lair, five cellars underground. The Phantom declares his love for her. Christine looks for some way out, but there really isn’t one. He introduces himself as Erik and Christine faints. Erik carries her to a lavish suite fabricated for her comfort and lays her down in a gondola shaped bed.
Under the Paris Opera House is a lake which
is only a short gondola ride to the Phantom's lair.
The papers report the news that an opera singer has mysteriously disappeared following the chandelier disaster.
The next day, when she awakens, after a night of tortured dreams, Christine finds there are clothes and shoes and other accessories for her to use and wear. She then finds a note from Erik telling her that she is free to come and go as she pleases, but that she must never look behind his mask. “You will be free as long as your love for the spirit of Erik overcomes your fear.”
The Phantom, wearing a mask, introduces himself as Erik to Christine.
In the next room, the Phantom is playing his own composition, "Don Juan Triumphant" on the organ. Christine, drawn by the music, enters. Her curiosity gets the better of her, and she sneaks up behind the Phantom and tears off his mask, revealing his hideously deformed face. Christine screams in horror.
Christine can't resist seeing what is under the Phantom's mask.
Enraged, the Phantom tells Christine “Feast your eyes – glut your soul, on my accursed ugliness!” He asks her why she couldn’t heed his warnings and she begs him to let her go. To prove his love for her, he allows her to go back to her world one last time to sing in the opera with the condition that she never sees her lover again. “If you do, it is death to you both!”
Released from the underground dungeon, Christine sends a note to Raoul, saying that she wants to meet with him the next night at the Bal Masque de l’Opera, but that she won’t be alone. “Beware!”
The Bal Masque is a yearly party where all of Paris mingles together regardless of their class. This part of the movie is shot in color to show the bright costumes. The Phantom attends in the guise of the 'Red Death' from the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name, wearing a skull mask. He warns the party that The Red Death rebukes their merriment. When he leaves, the party picks up where it left off.
Raoul finds Christine and they flee to the roof of the Opera House, where she tells him everything that followed the chandelier crash. But despite their caution, they are not alone. Perched on the statute of Apollo, the Phantom overhears Christine call him a beast and Raoul plans to whisk Christine safely away to England following her next performance.
The Phantom, astride the statue of Apollo, hears Raoul and Christine's plans.
As they leave the roof, the mysterious man with the fez approaches them. Aware that the Phantom is waiting downstairs, he leads Christine and Raoul to another exit.
In the next scene we’re given some background on the Phantom. Someone, the film never says who, shows one of the owners a card about “Erik”. Born during the Boulevard Massacre, he is a self-educated musician and master of Black Art. Exiled to Devil’s Island for the criminally insane, he has escaped and is still at large. This is your man, the man tells Monsieur le Prefect – “The Phantom of the Opera!”
The following evening, Raoul brings a barouche to the Opera house and goes to meet Christine in her dressing room. She has heard the voice of the Phantom, who has revealed that he knows their plans. Raoul has arranged for a carriage and reassures her nothing will go wrong.
Meanwhile, backstage, Simon finds his brother Joseph’s body, strangled because he knew too much about the Phantom. Simon vows vengeance.
During the performance, despite security, the Phantom kidnaps Christine off the stage during a blackout. Raoul rushes to Christine's dressing room, and meets the man in the fez, who reveals himself that he is Inspector Ledoux, of the secret police. He has been studying Erik's moves as the Phantom since he escaped as a prisoner from Devil's Island. Ledoux reveals the secret door in Christine's room and the two men enter the catacombs of the Opera House, looking for Christine. Ledoux warns Raoul to keep his arm up to avoid the Phantom’s noose.
They descend into the catacombs, where they are greeted by the Ratcatcher (William Tracy), who is serving as a messenger for the Phantom. He warns them to turn back or perish. Despite the warning they continue down into the depths.
Meanwhile the Phantom lets Christine know how upset he is with her. He calls her an ungrateful fool who has spurned the love that made her great. And warns her that she will now see the evil spirit that makes his evil face.
Ledoux and Raoul meanwhile fall through yet another trap door and find themselves in a torture chamber the Phantom has designed.
Philippe has also found his way into the catacombs looking for his brother, and a clanging alarm alerts the Phantom to his presence in the gondola on the lake. The Phantom leaves and swims out and overturns the boat and drowns Philippe. The Phantom returns to his lair and finds the two men in his torture chamber. Turning a switch, the Phantom subjects the two prisoners to intense heat.
Up on the streets of Paris, a mob is gathering and is marching towards the Opera House.
Ledoux finds another trap door and the two men escape the heat, but find themselves in a cellar with barrels of gunpowder and no way out.
The Phantom gives Christine a choice of two levers: one shaped like a scorpion and the other like a grasshopper. One of them will save Raoul's life, but at the cost of Christine marrying Erik, while the other will blow up the Opera House. After much internal debate, Christine picks the scorpion, but it is a trick by the Phantom to "save" Raoul and Ledoux from being killed by heat — by drowning them, filling the cellar they’re in from water from the black lake.
Christine begs the Phantom to save Raoul, promising him anything in return, even becoming his wife. At the last second, the Phantom opens a trapdoor in his floor through which Raoul and Ledoux are saved.
A mob, led by Simon, infiltrates the Phantom's lair. As the clanging alarm sounds and the mob approaches, the Phantom attempts to flee with Christine by hijacking the carriage Raoul had brought to whisk away Christine.
Raoul, who recovers his strength, takes chase, followed by Ledoux leading Simon’s mob. They spill out on to the streets and give chase after the carriage. During the frightening chase, Christine jumps from the carriage and when the Phantom tries to stop it too quickly, the carriage itself falls over.
While Raoul saves Christine, the Phantom is pursued to the banks of the Seine, where the mob kills him and throws his body into the River.
The production of the film was not without issues. Director Rupert Julian did not get along with Chaney or the rest of the cast. The first screening of the film occurred in January 1925, with a score by Joseph Carl Breil, the same man who had composed music for Birth of a Nation (1915). However, there is nothing left of that score. But the initial reception was poor and Julian was ordered to reshoot much of the film. Instead, Julian walked.
Edward Sedgwick, who would later direct Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman (1928), was brought in to do the reshoots. But his version which, of all things, made the story more of a romantic comedy was also scrapped.
A third and final version of the film was made by reediting the existing footage, with most of Sedgwick’s work eliminated. This was the version of the film that was released in September, 1925 with a score of French airs and Faust cues.
The film, despite all the problems, was a huge success, grossing over $2 million. The film would be re-issued as a sound version in 1930 and gross another million, despite the fact that Chaney could not participate in the sound recording, due to his being under contract to MGM by then. The success of Phantom would encourage Universal to continue making horror films, such as Dracula and Frankenstein.
It is interesting that the film uses different colors throughout with yellow, blue and purple tints added over the black and white and color is used during the Masked Ball sequence of the film. As was common practice at the time, the black and white footage was tinted various colors to provide mood. Amber was used for interiors, blue for nighttime exteriors, green for mysterious moods, red for fire and yellow for daylight exteriors. While I was aware that the tints were being used, I can’t say I was consciously affected by them nor was really aware what they were trying to convey when they were used. I did notice the blue tint was a sort of day for night effect, but that’s about it. My indifference may be due to my previous viewing experience and the tinting may have been quite effective when the film was released.
The crown jewel as it were of the film is the makeup by Lon Chaney. A master of disappearing into his characters, the reveal of Chaney in full Phantom make up had been a very well kept secret until the premiere of the film. And it was widely reported that people screamed when they first saw the hideous face of the phantom.
The film itself is very melodramatic and Mary Philbin’s acting can be very over the top in reacting in horror. The choice she is given, to turn a scorpion or a grasshopper figurine, just seems odd, why not just a yes or no, but perhaps that was in the original book. And it doesn’t make any sense to me why Raoul and Christine would wait to make their escape. Why not leave for England right away, why go back one more time to the haunted Opera House? I mean the show must go on, but that’s just seems like a very stupid choice to make.
While this version is much better than the 1943 version we reviewed last year, it doesn’t really hold up as well as I would have hoped. I can’t imagine viewers of the 1920’s weren’t thinking the same things I was thinking while watching it.
However, the film should be seen if only for the reveal scene, which I had to imagine at the time was very powerful. Sadly, we’ve all seen at least that part of the film by now, so that power has been reduced to curiosity.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Stubs – Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th (1980) Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Jeannine Taylor, Kevin Bacon, Mark Nelson, Robbi Morgan, Ari Lehman. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham. Screenplay by Victor Miller. Produced by Sean S. Cunningham Run Time: 95 minutes. U.S.  Color, Horror.

No critical tour of horror films which begot franchises would be complete without a look at Friday the 13th. (That and the fact that there are five weeks in October.) Friday the 13th was made in reaction to the success of another of our films, though still to come, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Studios are always looking to jump on the trend bandwagon and Halloween proved that the kids like slasher films, so someone took the Halloween blue print, adapted it to a lake shore camp and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Our story opens, just like Halloween, with a flashback. In this case, it’s 1958. Barry (Willie Adams) and Claudette (Debra S. Hayes), are two camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake. Being horny teenagers, they sneak away from a camp gathering to have sex. Big mistake, as an unseen assailant stalks the two and then kills them, one with a hunting knife and the other with a machete.

Don't be fooled. Camp Crystal Lake is very unwelcoming.

Flash forward twenty-one years later and on Friday, June 13th, 1979, a young girl named Annie (Robbi Morgan) is making her way to Crystal Lake. She is one of the new camp counselors hired by the original camp owners' son Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), who intends to reopen the camp, despite its history of murders, water poisonings and fires. Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), a local man, warns Annie that the counselors are doomed. Naturally, Annie shrugs off the warnings and hitches a ride to the camp with a truck driver Enos (Rex Everhart), but he has similar warnings for her.

Annie (Robbi Morgan) is the counselor who never makes it to camp.

Meanwhile, the other counselors arrive at the camp and begin to fix the place up. There is the jokester Ned Rubinstein (Mark Nelson), his best friend Jack Burrell (Kevin Bacon), Jack's girlfriend Marcie Cunningham (Jeannine Taylor), handyman Bill (Harry Crosby), Brenda (Laurie Bartram), and Steve's ex-girlfriend Alice Hardy (Adrienne King). In between chores, the group enjoys some free time.

The counselors at Camp Crystal Lake may be doomed, but don't they sing pretty?

Annie is still on her way to the camp and has hitched a ride with an unseen driver in a Jeep CJ-5. But when the driver refuses to stop at Crystal Lake, Annie flees the Jeep. She runs into the woods, where she is chased, before her throat is slashed with a hunting knife.
After Steve returns to town for supplies, Crazy Ralph arrives at the camp and tells Marcie, Ned and Alice that they're all doomed. (He will be proven to be not so crazy after all.)  Ned encounters a stranger at the camp and goes into a nearby cabin in search of the others. Meanwhile Marcie tells Jack about a dream she had that terrifies her during storms. Surprise, surprise, a storm comes up, and the two seek shelter in their cabin and, what else, have sex. They are blissfully unaware that Ned is lying dead on the top bunk, having had his throat slashed.
Soon after they’re done, Marcie leaves the cabin. Jack, still lying in his bunk, is killed by an assailant who impales his throat with an arrow from under his bed. The same assailant then follows Marcie to the outhouse and kills her with an axe to the face. (Once again proving that pre-marital sex is a killer.)

Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) is dressed for her hot date with an axe.

Steve, whose Jeep has naturally broken down on the way back from town, hoofs it into camp. He recognizes the killer before being stabbed by the still unseen assailant.
Meanwhile, Alice, Brenda and Bill have just finished their game of strip Monopoly (I guess strip poker would have been over too quickly) when Brenda suddenly realizes the cabin windows are open. When she turns in for the night, she is lured out into the storm with what sounds like a child calling for help. She is killed out on the archery range.
Suspicious of what is happening, Bill and Alice find many strange things wrong with the camp but are unable to find the other counselors. Thinking it is all a joke, Bill convinces Alice to return to the cabin. The killer turns off the generator and Bill heads out alone to fix it as Alice falls asleep. (Note: Never do this.) Soon after, Alice awakens, goes out to find Bill and discovers him pinned to the generator room door with arrows.
Horrified, Alice runs off just as a vehicle pulls up to the cabin. The driver is Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), who at first tries to comfort the very hysterical Alice. But very quickly, Mrs. Voorhees begins to grow violent as she talks about her son Jason, who had drowned as a boy at the camp in 1957.

At first, Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) seems comforting, but not for long.

Mrs. Voorhees pulls a hunting knife on Alice, who naturally flees. She tries to escape in the vehicle Mrs. Voorhees arrived in, but discovers Annie's body in the driver’s seat. Alice runs off and encounters Steve's body (still with a knife in his chest) which falls from atop a porch.
Alice tries to trick Mrs. Voorhees into thinking she has a loaded gun, but the rouse fails. Mrs. Voorhees slaps Alice in the face multiple times and throws her onto a table. But Alice fights her off with a gun and escapes, locking herself in a spice closet.
Mrs. Voorhees, using a machete, breaks into the closet, but Alice hits her in the head with a frying pan. Alice then goes and sits on the side of the lake. (Seriously, why not try to escape across the lake?) Mrs. Voorhees, of course, attacks her with the machete. But Alice fights back, takes control of the machete and decapitates Mrs. Voorhees. Alice then climbs into a canoe and falls asleep offshore.

Pamela Voorhees comes looking for Annie down by the lake.

The next morning, police arrive to find a dazed Alice still in the canoe. When they call to her, she is attacked by a young decayed Jason, who pulls her out of the boat. But that turns out to be a really bad dream. In reality, Alice awakens in the hospital and discovers her friends are all dead, but remembers and asks about the boy, Jason.

Jason is about to attack Alice, but it's only a nightmare.

The sheriff tells her that no boy was found, and Alice says "Then he's still there..." as the final shot shows the peaceful lake, with some air bubbles erupting at the surface, before fading to black.
Not a critical success, (are these films ever?), Friday the 13th proved to be a moneymaker. Made on a budget of $550,000, backed by an advertising budget of $1 million and distribution by a major studio, Paramount, (Warner Bros. distributed the film internationally) Friday grossed nearly $40 million at the box office. Not a bad return on the investment.
And thank God the original film left it open for a sequel, right? Why else would there have been Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981); Friday the 13th Part III (1982); Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984); Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985);  Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986); Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988);  Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989); Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993); Jason X (2001); the crossover with A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy vs. Jason (2003) and, the wait for it, reboot Friday the 13th (2009). Ironically, it wasn’t until the third film that someone got hip to releasing them on Friday the 13th, but that release model only lasted a couple of sequels (III, Final Chapter, Part VII, The Final Friday and the reboot).
Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, in Friday the 13th we find a future star at the beginning of his career. While Kevin Bacon is no Johnny Depp (and I guess we can all be thankful for that), he was fairly new to film acting at the time. This was only his fourth film, though he had already appeared in the seminal National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). Diner (1982), Footloose (1984) and the rest of his career though were still ahead of him.

Kevin Bacon as Jack Burrell, just another victim in Friday The 13th.

And again, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, the movie is kind of slow in places until people start being killed. I really can’t say I got all that attached to any of the kids who were doomed or really cared which one made it out alive. By the time I saw this film, I already knew what to expect (teenagers + woods + sex + night = gruesome death). That equation still has the same answer today, see The Cabin in the Woods (2012). Some things never change.
The twist for future Friday the 13th films is that Jason, not his mother, is the killer going forward (Oh yeah, oops spoiler alert; like you didn’t already know). In the original film, we’re told about how Jason was allowed to drown because the camp counselors who were supposed to be watching him were giving into their hormonal urges, but he doesn’t start to take revenge until the sequels. In the original, he’s pretty much not a player, except for Alice’s dream, rather nightmare.
Of our five Halloween flavored films, this one seems to be the most innocuous, so if you really want to see a slasher film for the season, then I would recommend this one. Since this was such a model for so many films to follow, it might be worth your while seeing it. However, if you’re planning a marathon of Friday the 13th films, I think I’m busy that year. Thanks for asking.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Stubs – It Came From Outer Space

It Came From Outer Space (1953) Starring: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson. Directed by Jack Arnold. Screenplay by Harry Essex. Based on The Meteor, a story by Ray Bradbury. Produced by Wiliam Alland. Run Time: 81 minutes. U.S.  Black and White. Science Fiction, Horror
There is an old expression that everything old is new again. That’s true for two things that are popular staples in theaters today, science fiction films and 3D technology. These were also quite popular back in the 1950’s, when our film, It Came From Outer Space, was released.
Some have declared the 1950’s as the classic period of science fiction films. However, much of the science fiction films from this decade were low budget affairs. (Note: Practically every film made in the 1950’s was made on a shoe-string budget when compared to the $200 million productions of today.) Major studios were often involved, if not in a production capacity, then definitely as distributors.
In my review of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, I wrote that fifties’ sci-fi and flying saucers go together like milk and cookies. And this is certainly true. Post World War II and pre-Apollo moon landing, there seemed to be an obsession with space and especially visitation from other worlds. While Mars was a popular choice, it was certainly not the only origin point for aliens. That fascination has never died and is carried on today fueled by films like Cloverfield (2008) and Super 8 (2011) to name a few (JJ Abrams) films.
Film studios, which were not the media companies we know today, were finding themselves in a pitch battle with this thing called television. One way they could differentiate themselves from the little box in the living room was to offer a bigger, more spectacular experience. Large formats, color, stereo sound and, of course, 3D, were all designed to separate the movie experience from the stay at home one. (Even today with large screens capable of showing 3D in Dolby 7.1 surround sound, the experience is not the same. Cheaper maybe once you buy all the equipment, but not the same.)

3D makes it better, doesn't it?
3D was a gimmick then and it is still a gimmick today, despite what the majors may say. They want you to pay extra to see something that might be passable in 2D, but is supposed to be awesome in 3D. And even more if it is in IMAX. Face facts that if the story is good the dimensions don’t matter. 3D, as long as it is projected correctly, can certainly enhance the storytelling and the visuals, but it can’t make up for a lousy script or bad acting.
Considered the Golden age for 3D, the early 1950’s saw several of the major studios release their first films in this new format. The first color stereoscopic film was Bwana Devil (1952) produced, directed and written by Arch Oboler, famous for his ego and for writing the radio series Lights Out. Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros. took stabs at 3D with Man in the Dark and House of Wax respectively, both released in 1953. House of Wax is notable as well for its use of stereo sound.
The craze would die down starting in the summer of 1953, when 3D was viewed as hard on the eyes (sound familiar?). When the two strips of film got out of synch or the projectionist was careless, the resulting viewing experience would cause headaches and eyestrains. When the craze kicked up again a few years ago, there were the same complaints. But rather than withdraw the format, the studios have gone so far as taking beloved classics, like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and transformed them to 3D. Nothing is sacred these days.
But before the craze started to die, Universal-International (“Doesn't the fact that it's universal make it international?” apologies to MST3K the Movie) got into the act, releasing It Came From Outer Space, its first 3D film and accompanied with “Amazing Directional Stereophonic Sound”.

Time to put on your 3D glasses.
It Came From Outer Space tells the story of writer and amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) who has recently moved from the city to the small town of Sand Rock, Arizona. (In fact his character starts narrating the film, but this device is quickly dropped.) Still considered an outsider, John has won the heart of schoolteacher Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush). Early one morning, after midnight, while John and Ellen are about to kiss (hey it was the 50’s and kissing was all that you could do on film) there is a flash of light streaking across the sky. John searches through an enormous telescope he has set up outside (not Mount Wilson big, but big for an amateur) for the meteorite crash site, nearby in the desert, near the abandoned Excelsior mine.
Sometimes a telescope is a telescope, other times it's a phallic symbol.
Waking up Pete Davis (Dave Willock), a pilot with a topless helicopter, John and Ellen visit the crash site. John, against better judgment, goes down into the crater created by the object and he follows a glittery trail that leads him to the spaceship which has caused the damage. In the open hatch is an alien, which only looks like a glowing eye. Before you can say “Danger Will Robinson”, the alien causes an avalanche by closing the hatch and the craft is buried.
This just looks dangerous.
John narrowly escapes being buried, too and by the time he’s made it out of the crater the local newspaperman, Dave Loring (Alan Dexter) and the Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) have arrived. But when John tells them what he’s seen they think maybe he suffered a blow to the head in the avalanche. The fact that Matt has a thing from Ellen doesn’t help matters either.
Just before the avalanche, John (or a model replica) gets close the spaceship in the crater.
After a helicopter ride back to the airport, John takes Ellen home. On the way, he explains that even though the townspeople may deride him, he must pursue his discovery. Ellen agrees to help him. Then in the desert, they glimpse a nebulous image that crosses in front of the car. Sure they have hit whatever it is, John stops the car, but there is nothing they can see. The two do not realize that the alien is watching them.
Ellen (Barbara Rush) and John (Richard Carlson) look for an alien lifeform.
The next day, activity at the crash site has increased. There is a phalanx of reporters, print and television, including Dugan (Robert Carson) as well as law enforcement and the army. When John arrives with Ellen, he is happy to see his old friend, Dr. Snell (George Eldridge), and his assistant, Bob (Brad Jackson), are already at the site, taking samples and readings. But the good doctor is unwilling to commit the resources necessary to dig up whatever caused the hole. He doesn’t seem to appreciate what John had been through the night before.
The press, Dugan (Robert Carson), hounds John for details about his supposed find.
After Matt warns John that he’s ruining Ellen’s career as a school teacher by keeping her out of the classroom, John and Ellen leave. On the way back to Sand Rock, they encounter their friends, phone engineers Frank Daylon (Joseph Sawyer) and George (Russell Johnson). They’re investigating an eerie whistling over the phone lines and Frank asks John and Ellen to check one area of the lines while he and George check another. John and Ellen find nothing and return to report to Frank and George. But they discover their telephone truck abandoned on the road with a blood stain on the door. John follows glittery tracks into the desert, where he encounters a glassy-eyed, robotic-sounding George, who assures John and Ellen that nothing is wrong. (Yeah, right.)
Frank (Joseph Sawyer) invites John to listen to the whistling noise on the telephone lines.
But John spies Frank's body on the ground behind a rock. He grabs Ellen and the two race back to town to enlist the sheriff's help. As soon as they leave, the real Frank and George wake up from having been knocked out and see before them their robotic replicas. Alien Frank and George explain to the real Frank and George they are aliens and have taken on the men's appearances. The aliens reassure Frank and George that they are peaceful and will merely detain the men at their ship until the aliens are ready to leave Earth.
Naturally, Matt does not believe John's story. Reluctantly, he accompanies them back to the desert; he leaves when they find no trace of Frank or George or their truck. All three return to town, where Matt watches as John spots alien Frank and George and chases them down the street. Hidden in a dark alleyway, the aliens, who sense that John understands them, inform him that if they are left alone to repair their ship, they will remain peaceful. They wish to harm no one, especially John.
Alien Frank and George tell John they just want to be left alone to finish their repairs.
That night, as John frets over whether he is doing the right thing by not attacking the aliens, he is called to Matt's office. The sheriff, concerned about that day's disappearance of Frank and George, as reported by Mrs. Daylon (Virginia Mullen) and George’s girlfriend, June (Kathleen Hughes). According to them the “men”, who had been acting strange, left on a special assignment for a couple of days and took clothes with them. The sheriff promises to let the women know what he finds and asks Ellen to drive them home.

June (Kathleen Hughes) is George's girlfriend. She certainly makes an impression in her one brief scene.
After they’ve gone, Matt tells John about the other people who’ve disappeared, including Dr. Snell and Bob, and about electrical equipment stolen from a local hardware store. Matt is finally beginning to believe John. 
Meanwhile, the alien Frank abducts Ellen and brings her to the mine.
Ellen being abducted by Alien Frank.
There is a mysterious phone call, after which John knows the two men need to visit the mine and that the aliens have Ellen. They hope the mine will lead to the buried spacecraft and its occupants. When John and Matt arrive, Matt reluctantly agrees to wait in the car while John explores outside, which seems to have been arranged in the call.
But within minutes, an alien uses Ellen's form to lure John into the mine. There, an obscured alien instructs John that its race is an advanced one, but they are good and have souls and want nothing more than to repair their ship and leave. While they desire contact with earthlings, humans are not developed enough to accept the aliens' frightening appearance. The alien tells him that he must keep the other humans away or they will have to destroy them.

John refuses to agree until the alien shows itself, but he then turns away in horror from the huge, one-eyed, bulbous jellyfish-like being. Back at the car, Matt is waiting anxiously. John reveals to Matt what he has seen and that he’s learned Ellen is okay as long as they don’t interfere. The aliens are afraid humans kill what they don’t understand. Matt reluctantly agrees to wait and the two return to town, where John finds that the aliens have visited his house, leaving their tell-tale glittery path. He discovers that his clothes are also missing.

John couldn't handle seeing the alien in his true form.
Meanwhile, the sheriff and his deputy, Reed (William Pullen), discuss what to do. The sheriff wants Reed to evacuate the area, but Reed thinks they should attack the aliens and questions Matt’s manhood for listening to John. So when John informs Matt that the aliens have taken some of his clothes, Matt decides that maybe the aliens have been lying to him.

Deputy Reed (William Pullen) challenges the Sheriff's decisions.
The nervous sheriff changes his mind about waiting things out. John has to restrain Matt from interfering with alien Frank who is in town getting supplies. But as soon as the truck has gotten safely away, Matt rounds up a posse to stop Frank. They set up a roadblock and shoot the alien, forcing his truck off the road and into a boulder causing it to explode.

Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) puts together a posse.
Alone, John takes the sheriff’s car and drives back to the mine to warn the aliens of the pending attack. He encounters alien Ellen, who first tries to lure him into a pit. She then tells him that the aliens no longer trust him and they must resort to violence. She tries to shoot him with a laser like device, but he shoots back with a handgun, killing alien Ellen, who transforms back into her alien form before falling into the pit and dissolving in the water.
When the aliens stop trusting John, alien Ellen tries to kill him.
Meanwhile, the sheriff and other armed men arrive at the mine ready for a fight.

John follows the sound of electric motors and finds the aliens, in their human forms (?), working on the engine they’ve been developing for over a thousand years. The head alien, who now looks like John, knows there is a mob after them and informs real John that the aliens have no choice but to use their deadly laser weapon if they are prevented from leaving.

Alien John tells real John once again they just want to leave earth.
John counters, proposing that the aliens release the earthlings as a show of faith. Then the men outside will cease their attack. Reluctantly, the aliens agree, and the unharmed humans are freed. They exit through the mine shaft. John sets off dynamite to seal the abandoned mine and to protect the aliens from the posse. Given the time to complete their repairs, the aliens leave while the townspeople stand together to watch.

John leads Ellen and the other townspeople to safety.
When Ellen asks if they are gone for good, John explains that they will return only when humans are ready for them to meet and they’ll be back.

While the 1950’s was the golden age for 3D sci-fi, that only meant there were a lot of them, that doesn’t mean they were necessarily good or made huge box office. It Came From Outer Space grossed only about $1.8 million in the U.S. and Canada, making it the 75th biggest film of the year, which is really nothing to brag about. Reviews at the time were lackluster. The New York Times wrote that it was “mildly diverting” which isn’t fodder for the movie poster.

The film is viewed now as one of those iconic 50’s sci-fi alien films, even earning mention in The Rocky Horror Show’s opening theme “Science Fiction/Double Feature” in the line: Then at a deadly pace it came from outer space.

The low budget film is not without its charm. As an example, the alien ship and their form are actually done pretty well and both seem original, at least to the casual viewer of 50’s sci-fi. One thing that adds to the film is its use of the Theremin in the score. The Theremin is an early electronic instrument controlled without physical contact and invented by Leon Theremin in 1928. The instrument is known for the eerie sounds that it creates and was already a staple of Sci-Fi and Horror soundtracks, having been used in Rocketship X-M (1950), The Thing From Another World (1951) and The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). Before that the instrument had been used as far back as 1936 on The Green Hornet Radio show and in films as such as Spellbound (1945) and The Lost Weekend (1945) and The Spiral Staircase (1946). The soundtrack for It Came From Outer Space was written fairly equally by Herman Stein, Henry Mancini and Irving Gertz. The Theremin itself is played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman, who apparently was the go-to man for Theremin play.

The alien spaceship in flight from the beginning of the movie. This probably looked awesome in 3D.
There is also an originality to the story. The aliens really don’t want to do us harm nor take over planet Earth or tell us how to run things (as they do in say The Day The Earth Stood Still). Instead, they just crashed here on their way somewhere else and all they want to do is be on their way; the equivalent of an intergalactic flat tire. While that is a refreshing sentiment and sets the movie apart from most of the alien sci-fi fare, the story is still full of holes. To name a few: Why did the aliens pick John as someone to trust? Why would alien Frank and George know their way around the small town and manage to lead John into a trap of sorts? Who calls John at the Sheriff’s office to tell him the aliens have Ellen? Why do the aliens need human clothes? Why are they working on their ship in their human forms, rather than their true forms?

Much of the action consists of travelling to and from the crash site by helicopter, car and truck. And while the pace is slow, the story never really stands still.

The acting is all right though nothing spectacular. The lead actor, Richard Carlson, had been working in films as an actor since 1938’s The Young in Heart. While he would go on to appear in Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), his film career would slow down after It Came From Outer Space. Carlson did work in television, where he would appear as Herbert Philbrick in I Led Three Wives (1953-1956). He would continue to act as well as direct and write until 1975.

The lovely Barbara Rush, who will apparently scream at the drop of a hat or at least the sighting of a Joshua Tree, had been acting since 1951, appearing in such films as When Worlds Collide. She received a lot of attention from this film, winning the Golden Globe for most promising female newcomer for her role as Ellen Fields. She would go on to appear in Magnificent Obsession (1954) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964) but never really obtained stardom. She also acted on television, appearing for example, in 68 episodes of Peyton Place (1968-69).

I would be want if I didn’t mention Russell Johnson, who plays George, Frank’s assistant. While Johnson appeared on television as far back as 1950 on a series called Fireside Theatre, and in films in 1952’s For Men Only, he is best known for the role of The Professor aka Roy Hinkley, Jr. (or as part of … and the rest, depending on which version of the theme song) on Gilligan’s Island (1964-1967). He appeared in This Island Earth (1955) along with numerous sci-fi and western films and had guest spots on such television series as Adventures of Superman (1953), The Lone Ranger (1955), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1957), Twilight Zone (1960-61), Route 66 (1962) and on and on. But every time he appears on screen in any movie, you’re attempted to say, “Hey, it’s the Professor” and possibly make some bad Gilligan-related joke. Such is the power of television than an entire career can be overshadowed by one role.

Watch out Professor, I mean George.
Interestingly, Kathleen Hughes, who played June, George’s girlfriend, got fairly big billing for a pretty small role. She certainly stands out in the one scene she’s in, but it’s more her look than her acting that is noticed. While I’m not familiar with her career, which included about twenty films, It Came From Outer Space seems to have been the biggest one she appeared in, or at least the most memorable. She had been in films for about four years prior to this film, so I wonder if she was a bigger star than I realize or were people expecting more from her in the future? Hughes, like everyone else from the cast, would go on to act in episodic television, making guest appearances in everything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1956-57) through Perry Mason (1962). I Dream of Jeannie (1967) to Quincy M.E. (1980).

Overall, I would say that It Came From Outer Space is not a bad film, however the pacing is a bit slow. While I am not an aficionado of 50’s sci-fi, I do like watching the “classics” from time to time and I would consider this film to fall into that category. Fairly entertaining, this is very much worth viewing.