by J.D. Lafrance

Widely regarded as unfilmable because it defied normal narrative logic and for containing some of the most perverse, often disturbing passages of sex and violence ever committed to the page, William S. Burroughs’ seminal novel Naked Lunch was the ideal project for filmmaker David Cronenberg. In many respects, the themes and subject matter the book explores parallel many of the preoccupations of his films: the merging of flesh with machines, human transformation, and secret societies. One only has to look at an early film like Videodrome (1983) to see Burroughs’ influence — the mix of pulpy exploitation with high concept ideas. The characters in Cronenberg’s films, like the characters in Burroughs’ fiction, are morally ambiguous. It is not as easy to identify with them as it is with characters in more mainstream entertainment.

As Cronenberg was the first to admit, a conventional adaptation of Naked Lunch is impossible as it would be banned in every country. So, he wisely merged key elements from the book along with bits and pieces from the author’s early novels, chief among them Junky and Exterminator!, with aspects of Burroughs’ life, tempered with black humor as we are taken to surreal places. The end result is a fascinating collaboration between two like-minded artists and a film that is ultimately about the writing process as it defines the film’s protagonists much as it did Burroughs – writing acts as a catharsis, a way of dealing with guilt.

Continue Reading »

Screen capture from Bong-Ho’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Parasite”

by Sam Juliano

I want to thank all those who have sent on heartfelt condolences on the loss of my Dad, they are appreciated more than you know.  A special shout out to my longtime friend Tony D’Ambra of Sydney, Australia for his exceedingly kind words via private message.  But so many have expressed themselves in a manner I won’t ever forget.  Thank you to Jamie Uhler for his generous gift and to the many who sent on mass cards and/or flowers.  The Wonders in the Dark community in general has gone above and beyond in every conceivable manner.

Jamie Uhler’s extraordinary Horror Fest 2019 series highlight the 1973 genre masterpiece The Exorcist:

The Exorcist (W. Friedkin… 1973)
Today, I provide capsule of a rewatch that is long overdue, a negligence that led me to often slag this film off, probably unfairly*. It was somewhat understandable, I’d first seen The Exorcist as a pre-teen on vacation in New Jersey at my Aunt and Uncle’s home on an evening where they succumbed to my badgering and pleading to rent some Horror videos on a day where rain unexpectedly kept us indoors. We met somewhere in the middle of a compromise; my Uncle letting the youngsters pick one and he pick the other, which led to me being more scared of our trashy, childish excursion (the original Child’s Play) than his, the titanic film in question today. It wasn’t hard to see why I’d pass it by then, I was much too young for its themes, instead giggling in glee at split pea soup projectiles, spinning heads and little else. I’d catch up with it again freshman year at Kent State, but, though it was the recently released 2000 edition that had that extended crab walk in reverse down stairs, the sequence I always recalled most vividly, it was a time in my life where a (free to students) university theater was regularly blowing my mind with the first genuine Art films I’d ever seen. Next to Jean-Luc Godard, who I had never even heard of, a film as blasé as a 10-time Oscar nominee seemed immensely lame. It’s the ignorance of youth of course, a trait matched only by youthful hubris, but that’s more or less how my opinion shuffled the Exorcist. Until now. 
Its story is iconic, so we need only paint the barest of outlines; when a young girl Regan (Linda Blair in a breakout role she’d never have the opportunity of matching) begins exhibiting surreal symptoms her actress mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn, who is tremendous as the grief stricken, desperate single mother) begins seeking prognosis. Eventually, a full team of Georgetown doctors (where the film takes place, the campus looking forebodingly colonial) are stumped, finally turning to exorcism as a last gasp attempt. Father Damien Karras is asked to perform the ritual, a task he does so with the help of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow, in makeup to age him 40 years), eventually casting the devil aside, but giving up his life to do so. In-between all this the movie is constructed in both quiet and incredibly incendiary moments; Karras’ guilt-stricken mourning over the recent passing of his mother forms the shell over the movie, a moving plot line you could miss (I certainly did as a younger man) amidst the pyrotechnics of Regan who shouts profanities, performs head-turning hysterics and spews chartreuse colored vomit at anyone who challenges the demonic forces that have taken up inside her (I never realized Mercedes McCambridge voiced the demon, which I found incredible hilarious—being the Johnny Guitar fan that I am). The film follows this idea in its construction too—Karras scenes are allowed to breath and become contemplative, while Regan’s ride is often cut off before scenes even resolve themselves, adding alarming unease whenever we return to the home returned to a state of relative normalcy (‘relative normalcy’ is a strange way to put it I understand, but when a scene cuts as a hall tree, that is under the control of the Devil, is rapidly approaching Chris, who sits shaken on the floor bleeding, we don’t know how it ends. It can’t end well? But the next time we see the house, Chris is fine, and the room is in the most orderly state we could expect given the circumstances).
The film is revered, and I understand why now. For maybe the first time fully, I see how it’s said that it did for Horror what 2001: A Space Odyssey did for science fiction. Taking the earlier, monumental works like Psycho, that blazed Horror into the modern world even farther. Others had done it sure, but virtual none of those had the ability to latch so deeply into the mainstream. It’s as if the earlier, deeply psychological work on Pinter’s The Birthday Party matched with the filmmaking chops exhibited on The French Connection two years prior gave Friedkin his see-saw aesthetic, his last real gasp into masterful filmmaking. He’d touch it here and there afterwards (To Live and Die in LA, about half of the trash classic Jade) but he was over almost as soon as he’d arrived. You can call is a shame, but it hardly matters, as for more than 2 hours he masterfully remained in the air, performing a high-wire act for all times. 

Continue Reading »

Circus of Horrors (1960)

by Jamie Uher
Spookies (B. Faulkner/T. Doran/E. Joseph… 1986)
I sometimes can’t believe how the trashy Horror of my adolescence has grow into a cottage industry as I approach 40. Most readily, I occasionally see the exorbitant prices VHS tapes go for, tapes that a half decade ago I unloaded for free to clear up space in rental units I suddenly found myself sharing. Suddenly fetching 20 to 80 dollars on mere kitsch value, buyers never realizing that often times the films sat in better DVD releases. But that wasn’t the point they (and me, only years before) would argue, that the blown out analog tape was the whole point, damn the film! At some point, the actual film became the whole point to me, and if I watched it once, or even twice, and its charm gone, the VHS, no matter how much hipsters deemed it worth, didn’t matter to me. That so many of the films were outright bad to unwatchable, only made me realize that I was decidedly in the right.
Spookies would have been one such film. I’d seen it arrive onto my radar this year when a site that releases 80’s Horror soundtracks on vinyl—that have never seen release previously on any form!—released its soundtrack. I’d never heard of it (or so I thought, upon finishing it, the ending recalled something I might have seen decades ago), but the description seemed interesting enough. But can you imagine an economy for such an item? Made even more insane when the film is actually put on, the images and soundtrack experienced for yourself. It’s the tale of two carloads of dickheads (male and female) being marooned near a large white estate that we quickly learn is inhabited by a ghastly collection of Horror cliches. The film, cheaply made but fun in bargain special effect, nonetheless only has enough plot for about 20 or 25 minutes, but we instead strain our eyes through dimly lit, barely distinguishable action for another 75 (for a total runtime eclipsing 85 minutes). It’s a cult movie now, for a cult who’s brains are about as dead as the zombies we see aping Night of the Living Dead at the films close.
It took me several pauses and attempts to get through this, a very short film by most standards. People love it, but those people are not me. Pass.

Horrors of the Black Museum (A. Crabtree… 1959)
Circus of Horrors (S. Hayers… 1960)

Anglo-Amalgamated Productions, the great rival to Hammer in late 50’s/early 60’s British genre cinema, has largely been absent from discussion when great works of the period are debated. Hammer had the heavies in front of the camera (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Oliver Reed) as well as behind it (Freddie Francis, Terence Fisher, Jimmy Sangster) and, in the subsequent years, lucrative home video distribution deals, always insuring that their films were easily available in VHS or DVD packages across region. I wondered if that was why Hammer has so lapped AAP in genre fans opinions, as outside the two Corman UK Poe films made with AAP (Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia) you don’t often hear the films uttered positively with the greats. Perhaps when you look through their catalogue you begin to see why: nearly half are Carry On films, the British version of National Lampoon; cheeky humor, often made solely to cash in on poking fun at prevailing popular movements and genres elsewhere (akin to ‘spoof’ movies). Then there are all the dramas: kitchen sink/angry young man films that they made about about a dozen of, many of which are masterpieces of their type, but decidedly not Horror. Criterion’s release of Peeping Tom (1960) more than a decade ago helped expose it to many American fans, myself included, but it was often stated on the back of Michael Powell’s shoulders, and not anything to do with AAP’s assistance. Taken all together, it’s not hard to see why they’ve lagged against Hammer then, Hammer was committed to one type of film and they poured out variations, some having more gore than others, all having a baseline in quality insuring they were the high-water mark (still) for British Horror. But AAP, at the dawn of the 60’s, managed three films in stark relief to Hammer’s supernatural hysterics and spooky period films. There’s the earlier mentioned Peeping Tom, one of Horror’s darkly subversive and perverse masterworks, and then there’s the two being considered today. Taken as a trio, remarkably, they’re nearly able to challenge the first wave of Hammer films that grossly outnumbered them.

It’s because they’re that different. Hammer initially made inroads by remaking the Universal Monsters canon, while AAP attempted lurid, pulp modernity. Horrors of the Black Museum, the tale of a horror writer and yellow journalist who, in so being enthralled with death and mayhem, begins committing murders on his own and with his understudy accomplice (who he’s drugged to become a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-type fiend) so that he can have fodder for his weekly crime columns. Similarly, Circus of Horrors posits a brilliant facial plastic surgeon who sees a case go bad and, in fleeing arrest must live undercover (via a facial reconstruction) as a circus promoter outside Britain on mainland Europe, stocking his show with single women who have no ties, but are suddenly made beautiful after his scalpel has done its brilliance. Both stories are fronted by British gentlemen of impeccable taste—Black Museum sees Michael Gough limp around as the astute Edmond Bancroft while Circus of Horrors has Anton Diffring’s debonaire Dr. Rossitor/Dr. Schuler—but who are also very clearly deranged psychopaths living both on the margins of perverted sensibility just as they travel freely amidst the wealthy caste elite. They’re modern monsters, and the violence both films illicit is at time nightmarishly brutal (certainly for its time) and sexually titillating in equal measure. Here is truly British giallo, but a decade before the party started in earnest a few thousand kilometers away in Italy.

Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995) is a strange film. One that features Brendan Fraser covered in red paint and barbed wire, Viggo Mortensen as a mute carpenter, and the unforgettable image of large silver boot floating down a river. It is quite unlike any other film and is the brainchild of Philip Ridley, a British performance artist, filmmaker, novelist, painter, and playwright whose three feature films to date deal with the loss of innocence. Best described as a dark, fantasy tale, Darkly Noon was only his second feature film but it is a masterful one. Sadly, few people got to see the film; it was barely reviewed, and quietly disappeared to home video where it remains to be rediscovered.

Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

Our 89 year-old Dad was laid to rest Friday morning amidst pomp and pageantry, taps, nearly 2000 visitors to Macagna’s Funeral Home, a staggering number of floral arrangements, a massive contingent of motorcycle escorts from around the state, visits from Governor Murphy and his wife, Attorney General Grewal, State Democratic Chairman John Curry and in the church former Governor Richard Cody, a devout Catholic. I was deeply honored and heartbroken to deliver the church eulogy at Our Lady of Grace which ran nearly 20 minutes. Ironically, unlike our Mom, our Dad was always mortified at attention throughout his life as he was mainly reserved, quiet and gentle. The Rev. Peter Sticco’s beautiful mass was witnessed by a fully packed house, the Madonna Mausoleum was overflowing and the repast at Villa Amalfi yielded an unusually formidable gathering. What we always knew about our Dad through his long life was confirmed in the most spectacular of terms. I will now evoke our Dad’s favorite movie of all-time, John Ford’s 1941 How Green Was My Valley, specifically the ultimate death-defying tribute by young Hew Morgan: “Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still -real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever.” (from my church eulogy)

I want to thank the many, many people who have expressed condolences in the most heartfelt terms on FB, those who registered, likes, loves and broken heart icons, those who sent flowers and mass cards, those who attended mass at Our Lady of Grace, those who waited over an hour on lines into the funeral home (I was overwhelmed to see my beloved high school English teacher and mentor Patrick Shelley who drove down from northern Connecticut to attend, and was deeply moved to see our old dear friend Patty Albino who defied her own health issues to brave the long lines. But there are so so many more too numerous to mention.

I am suspending movie reports and all other arts-related news, but will post Jamie Uhler’s horror fest capsules of this week on a separate post on Wednesday or Thursday.

My daughter Melanie’s extraordinarily beautiful and deeply moving four-and-a-half minute video, which ran continuously on the back wall of the funeral home room where my father was waked is posted above.  It is set to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”


 © 2019 by James Clark

      The films of Quentin Tarantino are arguably the gold standard of amusement while indirectly excoriating the history of reverence. His recent shot, Once upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019), attends in a rather special way toward his enmity regarding pious foot-soldiers on guard for the sake of half-truths, at best. The target of Hollywood might seem to be a rather minor concern, not to mention that nearly everyone intuits its flaws already. But do they?

We take a ride with Cliff, a movie stunt man/ and double, for actor, Rick, in Rick’s cream-colored Cadillac convertible. While the actor attends to his well-known métier of Western adventures, overblown, underwhelming but passionately popular, Cliff, not being needed to spare the daring in this outing, takes up his other functions as chauffeur and handyman at Rick’s mansion in the exclusive hills. This day, there is the insupportable collapse of the perhaps, sinking brand’s television antenna, the year being 1969. Two magical events occur during Cliff’s hiatus. The first is the remarkable agility of his reaching the roof—sheer acrobatics in leaping from purchase to purchase. When on the irregular roof, his panache is not only bankable but poetry. The second surprise occurs on the freeway with the top down, of course, and music on the radio, to a tune called, “Gamblin’ Man.” The pitch and volume of the sound inundating the fast car can be discerned, with the driver in closeup, that intensity of this degree is, however unspoken, a field of grace. Much remains to be explored regarding Cliff’s solitary day off; but this film invites disparate, rare and desperate action to coalesce. Some months later, and late at night, with the sidekicks about to go their separate ways (and making a last-ditch party of the crisis), Cliff and his pit bull, Brandy, take a walk in the vicinity of Rick’s opulent (but now financially threatened) castle. The acrobat, saying nothing of the earthquake but feeling much, evokes another ecstatic song, far more explosive than the treacly film productions which made the actor affluent, namely, far from matinee-idol, Chris Farlow’s, one-hit-wonder, “Out of Time”—“Baby, Baby, Baby, you’re outta’ time…” And it’s freeway-time again, because the Stones (far more explosive than the earnest writer) know their Hollywood-Rare. The latter’s, wisely distorting the phrase, “Baby, Baby, Baby, you’re outta’ ooaa” [connoting, both “time” and “sight”]. The fateful musical presentation penetrates the mansion next door, the short-lease range of the now-pregnant starlet, Sharon Tate, where a dizzy anti-climax is about to unfold, which obliges us to consider a step far more demanding of nuance than Hollywood can afford. Back to Cliff, on the rich man’s roof, who couldn’t miss hearing the neighbor’s music, a bemusing effort by the laughably named, “Paul Revere and the Raiders.” Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

With the exception of Eli Roth, no other filmmaker has divided horror movie fans more in recent years than hard rocker turned writer-director Rob Zombie. People either love or hate his brand of grungy, white trash nihilism cinema where he makes what would traditionally be the antagonists in other movies (serial killers), the protagonists in his, be it the Firefly clan in House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005) or Michael Myers in Halloween I & II. Along with Roth and Alexandre Aja, among others, Zombie was part of a wave of filmmakers that made what were dubbed “torture porn” horror movies that pushed the boundaries on-screen violence. Unlike his contemporaries, he refused to wallow in the gore and instead focused on the characters with distinctive personalities in his films and their relation towards each other in extreme situations. He hasn’t always been successful in achieving this but the one time he got the mix just right was The Devil’s Rejects, a gritty, balls-to-the-wall horror movie cum road picture. Imagine The Hills Have Eyes (1977) directed by Sam Peckinpah.

Continue Reading »