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Archive for October, 2020

 

by Sam Juliano

We are looking at Election Day square in the face and a final end to months of voting madness, political banter and fake scandals, the last of which manifested itself in Vladimir Putin’s declaration today that there was absolutely no wrong doing in the matter of Hunter Biden and the Ukraine.  Looks like Rudy Giuliani is himself headed for criminal scrutiny now, as well he should be.  Polls continue to show Joe Biden and Kamala Harris sitting pretty but complacency is simply not allowed in this still precarious election equation.  Trump pollsters like Rassmussen though continue to try and muddy the picture with false data, just today suggesting Trump is up by one point nationally which the majority of pollster shave Biden up by 8 or 9 at least.  In the midst of all the election hoopla is Halloween, which falls on this coming Saturday.  Trick or treating will have some restrictions in place for the first time in everyone’s lives.

Jamie Uhler’s monumental HorrorFest 2020 continues in full force with stupendous capsule reviews of five horror films that many have still not yet negotiated.  This past week Jim Clark penned another sensational essay in his ongoing Ingmar Bergman series on the early-career Brink of Life, and J.D. Lafrance wrote up a splendid piece on Clive Barker’s 1995 Lord of Illusions. 

Stay safe! (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      Our film today, Brink of Life (1958), opens by way of a presence you might not notice. A muffled ambulance siren can be briefly heard. The credits chug along. And a murky way provides an endless underground cave. Periodically we can hear reports, as if from a mining concern. Panning through this terrain there are gentle, fleeting clouds, shadows from a source unknown. Why was such a configuration brought to bear upon a saga of a maternity ward? Somehow, the action becomes about something bigger than babies.

Coming one year after producing two of the giants of the Bergman goldmine, namely, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, this chamber drama here, though making a splash for a year, seemed to have become in total eclipse. Not only does Brink of Life deserve better; it is arguably even better than the panoramic two, inasmuch as its brink opens deeper dimensions.

Getting to the nub of this excitement involves, first of all, its surface of the everyday percolating into a magic of high caliber which tends to become stillborn. The woman in the ambulance, Cecile or Cissi, materializes in an Emergency Ward where, as early as three months’ time, her pregnancy were to segue to other fields. Indeed the pain and flow of blood at that crisis had its impact—a rather familiar impact. Cissi, and her entourage of a husband in a precious trench coat, elicit, from the other group waiting to see a doctor, a working-class family with a sick little girl, bemusement and vague hostility. The Hollywood dresser, calls out, “Be a brave girl and all will be fine… Remember, Cissi, Ellius [his family] expects his wife to do her duty.” (The preceding films of 1957 having been studies of pedantry and advantage.) (more…)

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By J.D. Lafrance

I’ve always been drawn to the horror noir sub-genre – a hybrid of horror and film noir that features downtrodden protagonists immersed in a nightmarish, shadowy underworld fraught with danger at every turn. Instead of the antagonists being simple criminal underworld figures they are quite often beings infused with supernatural powers. Some memorable examples include Angel Heart (1987), The Ninth Gate (1999) and Constantine (2005). One of my favorites is Lord of Illusions (1995), an adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story, “The Last Illusion” by the author himself. The protagonist in both is Harry D’Amour, a private investigator and occult detective that has appeared in several of Barker’s fiction, most notably, albeit briefly, in The Great and Secret Show, a short story entitled “The Lost Souls, and also the novel Everville.

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by Sam Juliano

Everyone is well on the domestic front, but the virus numbers all over are again surging.  Our illustrious leader is none too concerned as he criss-crosses the country staging rallies where social distancing and mask-wearing is practically non existent.  November 3rd is just two weeks away and so many of us are following every poll, every new report, every new development and all matters even marginally connected to this election of a lifetime.  Another four years of Donald Trump is unconscionable and I’ve been doing my part daily online, physically putting up lawn signs in my area and making sure voters get their ballots in the mail or in drop off boxes.  Wonders in the Dark is urging everyone to do what they can to insure a blue wave and to elect Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and all Democratic Senators and House candidates.  The importance and urgency of this election can’t be overstated and nothing should be taken for granted.  Favorable polls are real nice but we know from the past about being lulled into complacency.

Jamie Uhler’s fantastic HorrorFest 2020 movies forward with a fabulous capsule review on 1988’s The Nest and also a unique schedule of a Horror Theme night he shared with friends this past week:

The Nest (T. H. Winkless… 1988) 

Getting evil corporate dollars pumped into the rural outer stretches of the fictitious northeastern small island town of North Port local businessman and town mayor Elias thinks it’s the necessary bedfellow he must accept to eventually renovate the land for high priced condos. His small island has hit hard times, but it’s picturesque, so once INTEC is finished with their experiments on the areas insects, he figures their cash infusion will save the population flight and attract vibrant East Coast people looking for a cheap alternative to the Martha’s Village and the Hamptons of the world. But INTEC has let things get out of control, these bugs are now multiplying and changing rapidly with each generation, now sporting a dangerous ability to strike with murderous wrath when their Queen summons. The only solution to control a larger outbreak to mainland is fumigating the entire island and killing everything on it—including the humans who were never evacuated—so it’s a race against time by the town’s lanky Sheriff, his old love (the mayor’s daughter who’s returned to patch long past heartbreaks), and the hilariously eccentric exterminator (who is the link between Bill Murray in Caddyshack and John Goodman in Arachnophobia) to kill the Queen and signal the planes via the lighthouse to not drop their poisonous cloud all over the island.  
The initial reel or two in this one is a tad strained, sure, building character elements would traditionally benefit most flicks, but effects laden romps like this don’t really need arcs and emotional heft, but you don’t mind that much. It breezes by quickly enough, and there is an undercurrent of what’s building out in the woods and the fields, that thankfully fully unleashes in the last 35 minutes and change. That’s where this film lives wholly, both as a funny, cheese spectacle and in the minds of its cult of fans decades on. I totally get it, cockroaches that can take over an organism, using it as a cocoon like sack and quickly morphing into a beastly hybrid of the host is pretty entertaining. One scene we get a feline insect beast, another the geriatric old Mayor who eventually gets rocked with a few shotgun pumps, amounting to some pretty delirious laughs. With enough beer and pizza and the right friends on hand, this would play tremendously alongside something like the gonzo brilliant Slugs, both dollar bin approximations of 1950’s sci-fi shockers. Like the ’80’s The Blob remake, they’re fun, but you could make about 5 of each of those for the cost of one Blob. It was worth it. 
Also I would like to share something out that I’ve been working on. I’m having some friends over for a Horror night on Friday, so I thought it’d be really fun to program a night of festivities in the style of the old movie palaces, i.e. a cartoon, a short, and then a feature. My idea though, was to get them to all work around a theme in relation to each other. I’m doing the one on the top, but I came up with many, many ideas that would work and depending on what you see here you might want to try one or several this season (especially since all the cartoons can be seen on dailymotion, vimeo or YouTube and all the Tales From the Crypts are also on YouTube for free). I’ve also paired several with music, but that’s getting aggressively insular. Have fun!

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Screen capture from 1972’s “Night Stalker”.

by Sam Juliano

We had a very close call this week.  Lucille had a low grade fever, diarrhea and nausea on Sunday, so I rushed her up to Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck to be checked for COVID.  We waited almost three hours but she ended up negative thank God.  It was still best for her to stay home from a family wedding last night (one I attended alone) as she was still a bit under the weather from another slight viral condition.  The election continues to wind down and I am quite upbeat at the probably outcome.  Unlike 2016, this year is showing positive numbers with very few people still out there that haven’t made up their minds.  This past week J.D. Lafrance posted a splendid review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice.  Jamie Uhler has continue to pen more entries in his spectacular 2020 Halloween Horror Fest, with four fantastic capsules up there today.  Finally the Night Gallery FB countdown has concluded with my #1 posting of “Camera Obscura”.  R.I.P Yankee legend Whitey Ford and also baseball great Joe Morgan. Wishing all continued safety!

Forbidden World (A. Holzman… 1982) 
A Sci-Fi Horror film produced by Roger Corman in hopes of cashing in on the Alien tidal wave (or, more apt, ‘cash in again’ on Alien as Galaxy of Terror had been a success, and better film, the previous year [this one even borrows sets from it]) this hatches from a mutant creation of human female and spider like cocoon embryo and slithers around like a burgundy liver. It grows over the film and unleashes a wrath on a Keystone Kops like crew who have otherwise been more preoccupied with fucking and peeping on each other (how the organism gets loose is an insane bit of incomprehensible carelessness). The last remaining members eventually kill it by getting it to eat a large, bulbous cancerous tumor that a scientist on the crew had been slowly dying of. In other hands with a better script this works OK, but as it stands, pass.   

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By J.D. Lafrance

Tim Burton’s films are populated by outsiders and non-conformists with their own unique vision of life that sets them apart from mainstream society. It is this affinity for the disaffected that is perhaps the most personal aspect of his work. The success of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) paved the way for Burton’s next feature, Beetlejuice (1988), his calling card – a breakout film that led to his getting the job to direct Batman (1989). It is also one of the purest examples of his distinctive sensibilities – a skewed sense of the world as seen through the eyes of someone who is an outsider.

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Screen capture from 1990’s “Robot Jox” reviewed by Jamie Uhler as part of Halloween Horror Fest 2010

 

by Sam Juliano

The pandemic is again gathering fearful momentum as America prepares for the most important Presidential election in modern history. The President’s COVID diagnosis has shocked many, though most see reckless decision-making as paving the way for it to happen.   Both topics of course have dominated all means of coverage and attention as some are trying hard to usher in the autumnal season and Halloween.  Here at Wonders in the Dark October 31st is bring honored with our stupendous annual Halloween Horror Fest courtesy of it resident founder Jamie Uhler.  This week we have two fabulous capsules to add to the series.  This past week Jim Clark continued his seminal Ingmar Bergman series with a masterful essay on 1976’s Face to Face.  I also have added my latest entries in my nearly-completed Top 27 Night Gallery FB countdown, with only the #1 choice still to come.  Wishing everyone to stay safe!

Robot Jox (S. Gordon… 1990) 

The tale of gladiatorial bouts where men represent country company state teams while manning large (roughly) 6 story robots with the technology to match the movements of the pilots inside them. If this wasn’t enough, the twist comes in the outcome as we’re in a hellscape more or less, so the loser gets stomped to death or just parishes in explosion, approximating the fighters to futuristic gladiators, the representatives for global multinationals that fight for territories rich in resources. Early, a match between a Russian (or a generic facsimile of the Soviet bloc) and American cowboy one has Alaska’s oil and forests as the price, but it goes tits up and hundreds of lowly spectators are killed. In the aftermath the American hero retires (as this is his last contractually obligated 10th fight) and the plot spirals out of control. You could guess where it’s going when his sudden, budding love interest, a female human created in a lab as the perfect robot jock, is set to replace him against the Russian in the rematch, since the spectator murderous bout ended in a draw. Yeah, he comes back to fight and be the reluctant hero. 

For Gordon this lacks his usual exhilarating panache, the fights—all models and practical effects on sound stages—move and look hokey, and his no name cast (Jeffrey combs has just a small cameo) is mostly dull. Plus, while the concept is ripe for satire, it’s really dry, desperately calling for the razor edge of, say, Starship Troopers. Sure, Transformers begat Robot Jox, and Robot Jox certainly gave us del Toro’s Pacific Rim, but while this film has a small cult, I won’t ever be one of them. Pass, or watch Pacific Rim again, which, for what it is, is a masterful work (or, if you want obscure Gordon, do Space Truckers or Castle Freak or hell, his masterpiece From Beyond). I don’t blame Gordon, del Toro had 20 times the budget to muck about with.  (more…)

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