3 from the Queue

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Status: Watched!

Notes: I’m not a big Matthew McConaughey fan which is why I held off watching this movie despite sort of liking the premise. Mick Haller (McConaughhey) is a questionable defense attorney, on-the-go so much that he  conducts many of his client meetings from the back of his Lincoln. While this is basically a “crisis of conscience” piece, the plot is good and the characters are likable. Even when Haller is being sleezy, he’s charming and admirably resourceful. William H. Macy is fun as a private detective that works with Haller.

Trivia: The Lincoln Lawyer opened on March 20, 2011. I watched it nearly a year later on March 17, 2012. It’s nominated for a Saturn award in Best Action/Adventure Film (go figure!).

The Black Donnellys (2007, TV)

Status: Removed

Notes: I wanted to like this series when it first came out, but I didn’t care for it enough to keep track of it. My opinion of it has gone down after rewatching the Pilot. I don’t quite like these characters enough to spend more time with them.

The Ropes (2012, Internet)

Status: Watched!

Notes: This web series was produced by Vin Diesel, based (somewhat) on his past as a bouncer in NYC. Diesel also wrote and directed quite a few episodes. While it’s available on Crackle for free, it’s not PG. There’s lots of sex, lots of violence, and lots of language. The one thing I’ve found lacking with most web series is plot. The Ropes actually has something of an arc and isn’t just a progression of 8 minute vignettes (collected as 6 episodes of 3 mini-episodes each). While I might not want to spend a great deal of time in this world, with these characters, it was pretty watchable for its 150-ish minute total runtime.

Current Netflix Queue Count: 72

Horror Comedies: Two Werewolf Tales

There was a surge of horror comedies in the 80s and 90s. The horror genre had come of age, as it were, and it was therefore easier to produce parodies or spoofs of it. Also, it was now a valid genre to pay homage to. All these things engender an explosion in the number of, though not necessarily the quality of, horror comedies.

1981 was a banner year for werewolves.  In addition to Wolfen and  The Howling, two werewolf horror comedies were released.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Two American tourists in Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.  (via IMDB)

This is a movie I knew of, due to its impressive FX, before I had ever watched it in its entirety. For 1981, showing the transformation of a man into a werewolf, using practical effects, was a special effects feat. I contend that it is still outstanding in 2011.  The movie itself is an earnest homage to 1941’s The Wolf Man, but in all its earnestness, it revels in the absurdity of a man who turns into a wolf-man for only three days a month as the full moon waxes and wans, and of the small  town that resists the encroachment of the 20th century. While at least one of the dream sequences is a little out of place, the comic potential of the newly dead friend  is fully explored (a trope that would be investigated again in, at least, Peter Jackson’s The Frightners (1996) ). An American Werewolf is enough of a classic that it is paid homage to in Steven Moffat’s 2007 BBC series “Jekyll”. While sometimes uneven in its telling, it shocks even as it sells subtle comedy.

This is certainly one of my favorites.

Full Moon High (1981)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FullMoonHigh.jpg

A teenager (Adam Arkin) becomes a werewolf after a family vacation in Transylvania.  (via IMDB)

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Full Moon High.  It’s comedy is inane and heavy-handed. The very look of the film is cheap and it’s in no way scary.  I wish Teen Wolf was available because my memory of that movie (released four years later) is much rosier.

Horror Comedies: Two from the 70s

In the 1970s, there is a shift toward parody in horror comedies. Movies like Young Frankenstein and Piranha take horror movie characters and plots and attempt to make them into comedies. Some are more successful than others. Netflix only had two horror comedies from this decade available. There is a fundamental difference between these two flicks. One chooses to re-do a movie, but has no intentions of making it different, much less better; the other takes the tropes of a genre and attempts to actually surprise the audience.

Beware! The Blob (1972)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bewaretheblob.jpg

A geologist (Godfrey Cambridge) in the Arctic makes an unusual discovery. But when he brings the frozen specimen home to study it, he inadvertently awakens a terrifying evil. The blob is back and hungrier than ever as it goes on a bloody killing spree, terrorizing a town and devouring everyone in its path.

This is billed as a sequel, but really it’s closer to a parody. The opening credits run against the backdrop of a kitten frolicking and 70s soundtrack that’s cut by intervals of panicked screaming. There is no doubt about how this movie is going to go.  This is a bad movie. It’s not scary or even mildly suspenseful. The only funny scene is provided by  as a barber (Shelley Berman) and a hippie client. These are bit characters. It’s one scene.

Murder by Death (1976)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Murder_by_death_movie_poster.jpg

Following an Oscar-nominated script penned by Neil Simon, millionaire Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) invites the five most brilliant private eyes to a dinner that turns into a murder investigation with a million-dollar prize going to the one who solves the case. The all-star cast includes Peter Falk, James Coco, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith and Eileen Brennan, all playing characters based on famous literary detectives.

Murder by Death is on the opposite end of the parody spectrum. With its pedigree, this spoof is obviously cleverly written and well-acted. Alec Guinness in particular is excellent. Occasionally, the jokes fall a little flat, and the twist-ending is a little too protracted, but over-all it’s worth watching.

My only problem is that, like Clue which is also on Wikipedia’s horror comedy list, it’s more of a mystery movie than a horror movie. There’s a murder and big old house on a dark and stormy night, but the intent is never to scare. There’s also a criminal mastermind who loves gadgets, so it could as easily be labeled science fiction-comedy.

Horror Comedies: Two “Terror” Movies

Finally, I’m in the era of color!

The Comedy of Terrors (1964)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Comedyofterrorsposter.jpg

A financial crisis forces undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) to start taking extreme measures. Rather than waiting for new clients to show up naturally, Waldo and his assistant (Peter Lorre) attract new business by killing wealthy individuals in their sleep. Now if only Waldo could just do away with his wife, Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson), and annoying father-in-law (Boris Karloff).

Star power at every turn in this movie. Not only do we have Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre, but a screenplay by horror writer Richard Matheson! Alas, the end product isn’t as good as it should be. Price is a charming comedic actor. The contrast between his tall eloquence and Peter Lorre’s wheezing shortness should be comedy gold, but the chemistry rarely comes through. Maybe it’s the direction, I don’t know. It seems like Price can’t decide whether to play Trumbull as out-and-out evil or as a man that has been turned cruel by circumstance. Regardless, the character isn’t quite funny enough or disturbing enough. Also, there are a few telegraphed physical comedy set pieces that seem out of place.

The really lovely surprise is Boris Karloff playing the hard-of-hearing dottering father-in-law.  He’s the only one that seems to be enjoying himself.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Drterrorhouseofhorrors.jpg

Ominous prophet Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing) informs five train passengers — including art critic Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) and physician Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) — about the grisly details of their imminent deaths in this anthology of eerie vignettes.

Again, there’s a ton of horror movie star power in this flick. Alas, only one fifth of it (one segment) is horror comedy. That story, involving jazz musician Biff Bailey (played by Roy Castle) is pretty humorous. It has a few physical jokes as well as snappy dialogue. The first two segments set up enough of an atmosphere of dread that an audience can be genuinely concerned about a likable character’s demise. While this movie is light on the humor overall, it is a pretty solid 60’s horror anthology. Plus it’s fun to watch a fresh-faced Donald Sutherland in the final segment, and to wonder at the movie magic involved in positioning two 6’4″ actors (Sutherland and Lee) across from each other in a train car.

Horror Comedies: Roger Corman

A Bucket of Blood (1959)

http://www.scifi-universe.com/upload/galeries/affiches/bucket_of_blood/bucket_of_blood_affiche.jpg

Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is a shy busboy at a hip coffeehouse where beatnik poets perform. Yearning to be accepted into the world of avant-garde art, Paisley finally gets his chance when his sculpture of (and containing) a dead cat turns him into an overnight sensation.

By the time  Roger Corman made A Bucket of Blood, he had directed/produced 24 films in five years. Many of those films might fall into the category of  accidentally comedic, due to production value and/or really bad writing. At least five of those pre-Bucket of Blood flicks have been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. A Bucket of Blood marks Corman’s first foray into intentional horror-comedy.

Despite the cartoonish movie poster, A Bucket of Blood is a dark satire. The comedy comes from the painful obliviousness of Walter and the face-palm pretentiousness of the beatnik art scene that he desperately wants to be a part of. Made on a budget $50K, the effects are subtle, but effective (and fairly contrary to the sensational title of this movie). Since its not concerned with taking the audience to Egypt or the Caribbean, the horror is more believable and Walter is genuinely creepy.

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LittleShop.jpg

Down-on-his-luck plant-shop employee Seymour (Jonathan Haze) thinks he’s got it made when he develops a new Venus flytrap hybrid. Not so fast, Seymour: Turns out, the plant has not only a voice but also a voracious appetite … for human flesh!

After reading the production notes about The Little Shop of Horrors, I’m really surprised at how much it resembles A Bucket of Blood. In both, the oblivious main character gains unreasonable success due to his creation through a series of (at first) accidental deaths. I contend that, while more popular than Bucket, it’s the inferior of the two. Seymour is goofier and less creepy than Walter Paisley. The humor is almost too absurd, and that’s aside from the talking man-eating plant. The epitome is Jack Nicholson’s bit character, Wilbur Force. I’m not sure why this character is in the movie other than he’s the only one that likes the very bad dentist, Phoebus Farb, who is prone to having dental pick duels with his patients. I spend too much time asking myself, “Is that actually funny?” without laughing.

One thing I did appreciate was the thread of eating, consumption, and mouths that runs throughout. There’s a character that eats flowers. Seymour’s mother only cooks foods that are “healthy.” Character interactions away from the flower shop are almost entirely based around having dinners or picnics. There’s the dentist character. Audrey Jr. is all mouth. The ending of The Little Shop of Horrors mirrors Bucket as well, but is much more appropriate to this theme of the film.

Horror Comedies: Abbott and Costello Meet…

I was tempted to skip Universal’s horror-comedy mashups. Pundits complain about Hollywood “in this day and age” taking advantage of profitable franchises, but this is not a new trend. The Universal Monsters were strong money-makers for the studio. Abbott and Costello were massively popular. Certainly, the combination of these things can only be better than the original parts! Wikipedia lists four Abbott & Costello Meet… movies. Netflix streaming had two.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:A%26cfrank.jpg

This Abbott and Costello horror-comedy flick features the bumbling buddies as railroad baggage clerks who receive a strange shipment — the last remains of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. Trouble is they’re still alive! When the deadly duo escape to a remote island, Abbott and Costello follow their trail and find not only the two ghouls, but also a mad scientist who wants to switch Costello’s brain with that of Frankenstein’s monster.

I would like Abbott and Costello more if they stuck to dialogue humor rather than physical pratfalls. For example:

Wilbur (Costello): …I was reading this sign over here, Dracula’s Legend. All of a sudden I heard…
[Wilbur imitates a creaking noise]
Chick Young (Abbott): That’s the wind.
Wilbur: It should get oiled.

That’s a funny line to me. The action sequence that encompasses the last 15 minutes of the film is big and loud and pretty much the antithesis of that exchange. Also, while involving Dracula makes a sort of sense, I don’t know what the Wolfman is doing in this movie.

Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:A%26cmeetmummy.jpg

Finding themselves stranded in Egypt, Peter (Bud Abbott) and Freddie (Lou Costello) finagle a job with an archaeologist and wind up tangling with cultists, mummies and grave robbers in this classic starring the comedic duo. There’s plenty of vaudeville bits and hilarious physical gags as Abbott swallows a sacred medallion and the pals are hunted down by a cult leader.

This was the last of the Abbott & Costello Meet… movies and the schtick is noticeably wearing thin. This one was less verbally funny and lacked any star power behind its monster to make it interesting. It is in many ways the direct precursor to 1999’s The Mummy. Some of the physical situations are similar, but the effects in the ’55 movie are so bad that you can’t forget for a moment that the movie was probably filmed on a sound stage in California.

An interesting note: the female characters in both these movies are villains, guilty of hubris.

Horror Comedies: King of the Zombies (1941)

King of the Zombies (1941)

http://www.movieposterdb.com/poster/1e5b59dc
We’re out of the silent 20s! Heck, we passed right by the 30s. On to this gem from ’41.

When a small plane crash-lands on a Caribbean island en route to Panama, its pilot (Dick Purcell) and two passengers (John Archer and Mantan Moreland) seek shelter at the home of the mysterious Dr. Sangre (Henry Victor), an Austrian scientist who harbors some diabolical secrets. It seems that the good doctor has been dabbling in voodoo in his basement laboratory in the hopes of creating an army of zombie spies.

King of the Zombies was a pleasant surprise. As expected, the zombies are of the voodoo type,  not the George Romero brain-eating type. These are the more interesting variety in my opinion, but not terribly scary. The sad thing is that The Cat and the Canary is a much better looking movie. The acting is pretty flat aside from the comedic actors.

It’s the comedy aspects that I enjoyed most.  This movie is firmly in the absurd camp.  Mantan Moreland plays the comic relief character, but it’s Marguerite Whitten that steals every scene with her matter-of-fact delivery on the day-to-day ins-and-out of zombies. Plus, there’s Dick Purcell’s character, Mac, who get’s konked on the head twice, “zombified,” and shot. “How’s your friend?” the rescued admiral asks at the end of the movie.  “Those bullets didn’t help him any” is our hero’s reply.

Netflix estimated my rating at 2.3 stars. I’m going to give it a full three.

Horror Comedies: The Cat and the Canary (1927)

Between posts by X-E and Midnight Book Girl and friends insisting there is a chill in the 108 degree air, I officially cave. ‘Tis the season to be spooky. Or near enough. To celebrate, and enjoy the last vestiges of Netflix streaming before I cancel it for a while, I’m engaging in a horror-comedy-a-thon.

Horror-comedy is one of my favorite genres. But…why? What is it about the genre that works for me? What’s its history? I’m going to take a look at as many films from Wikipedia’s list of comedy-horror films* as I can via Netflix streaming.

Without contemplation, I’d say that I like horror-comedy because of the contrast between scary and funny. It’s a matter of tension and release. It might also have to do with post-modernity,  the sort of self-referential  in-jokes and meta-analysis that can be enjoyable to fans of a genre, but may be annoying to others. I’m not a big fan of horror movies, but through an interest in visual effects and horror literature, I pretty familiar with the tropes of the genre. In the realm of comedy, my tastes tend toward the clever and the absurd. Again, that’s prime ground for in-jokes.

First movie: The Cat and the Canary(1927)

Source: http://www.hollywoodparty.net/image/136.jpg  © 1927, Universal Pictures Corp.

The heirs to a sizable fortune must spend the night in the creepy manse of their long-dead benefactor in this 1927 silent thriller. Annabelle West (Laura LaPlante) is first in line to inherit the fortune, but she must be of sound mind to do so. When the family lawyer (Tully Marshall) turns up murdered, people point the finger at Annabelle, when all she’s doing is trying to avoid the crazy, cat-clawed killer tearing his way through the house.

This set-up, stay in the haunted house and win a fortune, is a classic of horror fiction. I don’t know if John Willard, the author of the stage play that this movie is based on, is its originator, but it gets played out in very different ways in, among others, The Haunting of Hill House (the novel by Shirley Jackson, basis for the rather scary The Haunting (1963) ) and William Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill (1959). This movie, with its kookey characters arriving one-by-one and its house full or secret passages and dead bodies, reminded me more of Clue (1985). I laughed out loud once and chuckled a few times, but the physical comedy wasn’t that interesting to me.  While servant “Mammy” Pleasant was pretty creepy, the movie offered less scares than an episode of Scooby Doo.

Often, silent movies are as monotonous looking as their scores are to listen to. The Cat and the Canary is visually interesting and I withstood the re-score for an hour before I hung up my head phones.  Netflix guessed that I would give this movie 2.6 stars. I give it two. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t insufferable.

The play has been directly remade on film four times (further proving that remakes are not a 2000’s problem). The 1939 version starring Bob Hope is the only other one on Wikipedia’s list, but not available on instant view.

* Is comedy-horror the same as horror-comedy?

Queue Update

Watched:

  • River’s Edge (1986) – Not in queue. Very 80s in its style. An okay movie.
  • Brick (2006) – Rewatch. I enjoy the noir quality of this movie.
  • Macbeth (2006) – Starring Sam Worthington and directed by Geoffrey Wright. I had never seen a version of Macbeth with an orgy. Now I have.
  • Practical Magic (1998) – I expected this to be a rewatch, but i had confused it with Hope Floats another Sandra Bullock movie that came out the same year. Interesting though somewhat uneven.
  • Secretariat (2010) – It’s a sports movie, based on a true story, made by Disney. With John Malkovich.
  • Tangled (2010) – Not in queue. Second Disney movie in 24 hours. Cute. I’ve always had a thing for Rapunzel and her hair, so it probably would have been my favorite movie if I were seven years-old.
  • Exorcist 2: The Heretic (1977) – “How bad could it be?” I thought. Pretty bad. Made it through about half. Most annoying sound design ever. One of the reasons it doesn’t work is that it doesn’t keep the horror at home.
  • Luther (2010) – BBC series. I like Idris Elba. He’s a good actor. And his is the least interesting character in the series. I never have a good handle on how Luther is supposed to be as an investigator. I think he’s supposed to be a complex mixture of passionately focused and loose-cannon, but he comes off as over-dramatic and muddled. But I’d probably watch the second series because Ruth Wilson and Paul McGann are great. Highlight: Episode four. Nicola Walker does a brilliant job playing a woman in the middle of a very bad situation.
  • The Reef (2010) – My salute to shark week. An okay movie, but lacking suspense.
  • In & Out (1997) – Rewatch. More ridiculous than I remember.
  • Lost in Austen (2008) – Three hours flew by. Fun, if you like Jane Austen.
  • The Secret (2007) – Not the self-help thing, but a movie with David Duchovny. The synopsis: “A man’s wife and daughter are in a car accident. His wife dies, but her spirit enters the body of his daughter.” This is much less creepy and uncomfortable than it sounds. In fact, it’s a weirdly sweet movie about the dynamic between a mother and a daughter.

Added:
Wild Target (2010)
Red Corner (1997)
House of the Fallen (2008)

Removed:
Royal Deceit – Added and removed. I made it through 8 minutes of this movie. Seven more than Eric. And abysmally slow TV-production quality of what Hamlet might have been based on.
Camille (2008) – Tried to watch this twice. Annoyed by unrealistic characters.

I have a couple more movies, but this entry is running long. Also, we’re considering a move to DVDs only. I’m shifting Unavailable movies/shows to the DVD queue.

Queue Count: 305 / 482

Queue Update

Watched:
Savage Grace (2007) – Movie doesn’t do a good job of presenting a coherent story.
Trainspotting (1996) – Rewatch, not in queue. Didn’t recognize Kevin McKidd until he spoke.
Mansfield Park (1999) – Not in queue. As happens with me and Jane Austen, I couldn’t remember if I’d seen this movie.
Four Rooms (1995) – This was surprisingly not in my queue. It was surprisingly not that good.
Twelve (2010) – A quick in and out of my queue. Decent interlaced-story movie with a narration by Kiefer Sutherland that works surprisingly well.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) – Oh, Terry Gilliam. Often, you are just not watchable.

Working my way through the following TV shows:
Spartacus
Jim Henson’s Storyteller
Sherlock
ST:TNG
3rd Rock from the Sun


Added:

Winter’s Bone (2010)
Ride with the Devil (1999)
Dead and Buried (1981)
Masters of Science Fiction (2007)

Queue Count: 311/494